Tilehurst Methodist Church
(Click on the picture for worship resources)
Friday February 19th
I’m sure we can all remember long car journeys when, shortly after setting off, one particular passenger starts asking the question, “Are we nearly there yet?” To help pass the time on such trips I remember playing various kinds of travel bingo games. My sister and I were given cards with pictures of various things we might see on the way, such as a tractor, a coach, a cow in a field, and if we were the first to spot them, we would mark them off on our card. Hours, or what seemed to young children as days, later as we drew closer to our destination on the coast the game would change to be a simple, “Who can see the sea first?”
These last 10 months feel a bit like the longest car journey ever! I wonder how many times you’ve thought to yourself, “Are we nearly there yet?”. Some have tried the games to distract them and are now fed up doing jigsaws! Others are wondering if all the general knowledge they have picked up by doing quiz after quiz will ever be any use to them. There are those who have been furloughed who have perhaps just sat and watched the world go by in a blur, at the same time there are those who have been fully occupied keeping the show on the road. The experience of the journey has been different for all of us and we have each found ways, some more successful than others, of enduring the journey, passing the time or occupying ourselves as we have travelled.
Turning to the Bible to look for examples of long journey’s being cut short is perhaps not the most fruitful of exercises. Once free from the Pharaoh’s slavery in Egypt the Israelites then travelled for 40 years in the desert before entering their promised land. I’m sure Moses had to listen to many “Are we nearly there yet?” questions on that journey! We know in Matthew’s birth narrative that the Magi came “from the East” but some speculate they set off on their quest to find the new king months, if not years, earlier! Jesus’ own journey from Galilee to Jerusalem that he undertook several times, a trip that would take you less than two hours in a car today, would have been divided into 5 or more days walking to cover about 90 miles. If you are doing your daily exercise why not see if you can cover the same distance between now and Easter?
All of us are waiting to hear what Boris has to say in his Covid Update on Monday 22nd. Will he announce that the journey is almost over? Should we start looking out to see if we can see the sea? Or will we be told that in fact there is quite some distance to travel yet and we’d better pass the sweets round again to keep us going. In either case we will still be left waiting for whatever come’s next.
The seasons of both Advent and Lent in the Christian calendar are times of waiting as we journey towards Christmas and Easter respectively. But unlike our current waiting for our Covid journey to be over, Advent and Lent are time limited. When we set off we know how far we have to travel, how long the journey will be and so we can pace ourselves through the 24 or 40 days that lie ahead.
We are helped through advent by our calendars and candles and this year we have been challenged to journey through Lent by taking up a new challenge each day or to “Make Kindness a Habit” following either the SNUG Wall Chart that came with last week’s Pastoral Letter or the daily postings on the TMC Facebook Page.
On day 1 my first challenge was to write out an encouraging Bible Verse. This is what I wrote…
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified for the Lord your God goes with you, he will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31: 6)
Another one might have been this…
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psalms 27:13-14)
I know I want to scream “Are we nearly there yet?” but there is truth and a glimmer of hope in the response my Mum and Dad used to offer “We are closer than we were when you asked 5 minutes ago!”
Friday February 12th
Last Sunday the SNUG (Sunday Night yoUth Group) enjoyed experimenting with different toppings on pancakes. Sheila and I had delivered pancakes to everyone’s homes and, even though we met on Zoom, we enjoyed this annual treat. Another positive this year was that the Snug leaders didn’t have to scrape pancake batter off the floor, ceiling and walls of the Church kitchen! SNUG were of course remembering that Lent begins on 17th February.
The traditional using up of “luxury” food products on Shrove Tuesday is in readiness for a Lenten fast beginning the next day and the marking of Ash Wednesday. In the past this has been a literal marking on the forehead with ash, created from the burning of the previous year’s palm crosses, as part of a service. Revd Martin Beukes has provided some resources for Ash Wednesday you will find attached to this week’s email.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the 40 days of Lent, a six-week period (excluding Sundays) dedicated to prayer, fasting, and reflection in preparation for our remembering of Holy Week and Easter. Ash Wednesday is the best way to begin a season which calls us into self-examination as well as self-denial, into deeper contemplation about the mystery and grace of God's mercy, and towards more radical giving towards those most in need of comfort, sustenance, and hope.
This latter element of observing Lent has led to an increase in the practice of taking up something new for Lent as well as, or in addition to, giving something up. In reality, the giving up of one thing should release some time and energy to do something new.
Our Young People have been given the challenge of a new task for every day of Lent using the 40Acts Wall Chart, which you will also find attached in the notices. Why not have a go yourself?
The ancient practice of Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are mortal. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) is declared over each person receiving a mark of the cross on their foreheads during an Ash Wednesday Service. Our experience of Covid over the last 9 months has made the cycle of life and death far more prominent in our consciousness as almost every person, family and community have been bereaved in some way. It causes us to pause and look at our lives– remember what we are made of, remember where we are going- and encourages us to fully immerse ourselves in the Lenten season.
Another part of the Ash Wednesday service is more encouraging, “Almighty God, may we always remember that by your grace alone we are given eternal life.” Thanks be to God, Amen.
Friday February 5th
For my daily devotions at the moment I’m using a book called “Look Well to this Day” by Tom Gordon. I was struck by his reflections on “Selflessness” that I read this week…
“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a very small package.”
(attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and John Ruskin)
Gordon goes onto write… My Granny was one of the most generous people I have known. “She’d give you the sugar out of her tea” someone remarked of her. My Father had proposed marriage to my mother before he went on war service. He sent money back from overseas so she could buy an engagement ring. There wasn’t enough money to pay for the ring my mother wanted. So my granny put the extra money to it – and it remained secret from my dad for years.
I remember Christmas parcels arriving from my granny when I was a small boy. They weren’t much, but when you don’t have much they were special. In later years I learnt of her generosity to others. A pot of soup would be made, far too much for one elderly lady, because the rest was for “Auld Wullie, who disnae look after himself” (Old Willie being 20 years younger than his neighbourly benefactor.)
But what I didn’t know, what I certainly know now, and that is that my granny had never been a wealthy person. She never had much of her own. But she knew what it was like to have nothing. She knew about poverty. So what she had, she shared. What was hers was never hers alone, it was always for sharing with someone else, even if she went without.
My granny never gave me the sugar out of her tea. What was the point in that when she was willing to give me the whole cup for myself, sugar and all?”
“Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.’
I share Gordon’s reflections about his granny because it resonates with stories I hear almost daily about how people have been moved by the generosity of others. Whether it has been a letter in the post, an unexpected phone call, a card in bereavement or illness. A bag of food-share or a hamper at Christmas. The offer of help with home schooling or shopping. Even the precious gift of being given permission not to do something, “have a rest, I’ll do that for you”.
The danger of being isolated and locked-in is that we can too easily become wrapped up in ourselves and become selfishly focussed on our own needs and fail to recognise the needs of others.
After reading my devotions on “Selflessness” I turned back to the title page of the book where I had sellotaped a hand-written note that wasn’t in my handwriting it says “…I would love you to accept this copy as a small gift…” You see my book of devotions was itself an act of selfless generosity once afforded to me.
Friday January 29th
“We have to remember, always, but it’s never easy.”
I’m finding it harder and harder to remember what it felt like to be in the midst of a big crowd of people. Bustling purposefully amongst shoppers in a supermarket or, more leisurely, window shopping in the Oracle in town. Gathering in our Church building when the 9.00 and 10.30 services have combined for a special occasion; there is the murmurings of greetings, musicians setting up in the background, perhaps a baptism family looking out for their guests arriving; stewards politely asking those who are able, to venture upstairs because the seats downstairs are nearly full; being moved as I stand at the front before a sea of faces and then listen as we praise God as we sing the opening hymn. Walking to a football stadium amongst the crowd of supporters, brushing past people to take my seat amongst thousands of others, then chanting at the top of our voices and roaring and cheering in celebration or despair depending on the result. I wonder what memories of being in a crowd you have?
The gospel writers help us to remember the stories of Jesus and the crowds. So many wanting to hear him that the house Jesus was in was full and the friends of a paralysed man had to climb on the roof, dig a hole and lower him down so he could meet Jesus. Zacchaeus, the vertically challenged tax collector, having to climb a tree to see Jesus above the crowds. Five Thousand men and their families gathered on a hillside with no food, listening to Jesus speak and then being fed. The Jerusalem temple full of people as the tables of the money lenders were overturned or a crowd holding stones witnessing an act of forgiveness. A welcome procession with waving palms and singing as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. A crowd calling for crucifixion before Pilate. There are many other stories of crowds in both the Old and New Testaments. How many others can you remember?
The quotation I opened with could apply to the fact I’m finding it harder and harder to remember being in a crowd. But it doesn’t. It is a quotation taken from a survivor of Auschwitz and calls on us never to forget a crowd of a very different kind, the millions killed in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur. Perhaps, more than remembering, it is a call to challenge hatred and persecution wherever it is found.
Holocaust Memorial Day was marked this last week on Wednesday (27th January) the same day as in the UK the number of deaths as a result of Covid reached over 100,000. The Vice-President of Methodism this year, Carolyn Lawrence, offered this “Prayer for grief”.
Lord Jesus, As we reach the sad milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid we bring before you our sense of grief. We pray for all those who have suffered over this past year and pray that the families who have lost loved ones will know your peace, comfort, and strength at this time. We continue to pray for all those working to care for those who are sick and those who are seeking to comfort the dying and the bereaved. Help us to remember that even in these difficult days God is still with us. Amen
As we continue in our various forms of isolation and lock-down I’m encouraged by another crowd, Hebrews 12: 1 refers to those to whom God has been faithful “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses... let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
Friday January 22nd
In weeks like this last one I find words in the Psalms that help me express how I’m feeling,
“…But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? You have taken from me friend and neighbour— darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88)
Yesterday I conducted a funeral for a member from Bradfield’s congregation who died on Christmas Day. On the same day, through the Methodist grapevine, I heard that the funeral was also taking place this week of a former member of TMC, John Thorne, he and his wife Val moved to Falmouth some years ago. Having prayed last Sunday for Doug Walters and Neville Last who were both in hospital it was with more sadness to hear that both have died. The week began with the news in the circuit of the death of Revd Alison Parker, suddenly and unexpectedly. The Superintendent, Ruth Midcalf, shares a message with us…
“Revd Alison Parker: On behalf of the Circuit Staff and Circuit Stewards, it is with sadness, shock and disbelief that I share with you the death of our colleague and friend, Revd Alison Parker. Words cannot adequately express the impact that Alison and her ministry have had on so many lives and in the life of our Circuit, the District and beyond. We give thanks to God for the privilege of journeying with Alison; to say that we will miss her is an understatement.
Please join with us in praying for Michael, Emma, Chris and the wider family and giving thanks for Alison and her ministry. Every blessing. Ruth”
The Psalms of lament help us with words when we are otherwise left speechless. They enable us to cry out when we feel trapped and forgotten, sinking in the depths of the pit or stumbling around confused and directionless in the deepest darkness. Mercifully, the Psalms don’t leave us in those places, having enabled us to “cry out” and express our heartfelt anguish they gently lead us back to a place where there is more than a glimmer of light and our feet feel they are on firmer ground once more. We may not feel like we have been drawn there just yet, but the testimony of the psalmist is that God will not forget us or abandon us.
Psalm 89, coming immediately after Psalm 88 which I quoted earlier, begins…
“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.”
Friday January 15th
This year, like in previous years, TMC has set aside a Sunday in January as Guild Sunday and we are grateful for the Guild inviting Revd Alan Haine, and members of The Guild, to lead our service this week.
The Guild, also known as Wesley Guild or Methodist Guild in some places, is a worldwide Christian organisation that was founded on 30 July 1896 in Liverpool. Its founders, Rev Charles Henry Kelly and Rev W. Blackburn FitzGerald, advised the Methodist Church on the importance of retaining and relating to young people and It’s original aim was to help young people come together and stay connected to The Church as they grew older and moved on from the Sunday School. It’s age profile is a little older today.
From its earliest days the Guild encapsulated the themes of personal devotion, social action in society, fellowship, and evangelism and mission in the UK and overseas. Today the meetings follow the similar themes of Spiritual and Devotional, Educational, Service and Social. Some Guild groups are more structured than others and all have the freedom to follow other interests as well providing an opportunity for fun and friendship, interesting talks from guest speakers and speakers closer to home, and discussions, and the opportunity to support charitable projects.
A major project that our local Guild and the national organisation has adopted and supported over many years is the Nigeria Health Care Project.
As a midweek fellowship group, the Guild continues to offer a space away from the Sunday Service for people to gather to share, explore and express their faith together, although the effects of Covid have prevented the group meeting physically for a while the Guild has met on-line for those able to do so and it’s members have been in touch with one another offering friendship, support and encouragement in these challenging and isolating times.
The Guild treasures and lives out its motto, “And I will give them one heart, and one way” (Jeremiah 32:39)
For more information about The Guild you can look on their web site. May be as we hope life begins to return to a new normal later this year it’s a group you might like to become part of. The group at TMC usually holds it’s meetings on a Tuesday afternoon or evening. For more info, please contact Don Moffat.
Friday January 8th
The experience of having to self-isolate at home this week, because of the positive Covid test of a family member who has been unwell, has left me in no doubt of the seriousness of our on-going situation and the need, however frustrating or disheartening it may be, to follow the government’s new lock-down guidelines. At the same time I know that some of you have already received Covid-vaccination jabs, this gives us hope that there is light at the end of this particularly long, dark and difficult tunnel.
To help see us through the continuing tunnel of darkness some people are apparently continuing to display their Christmas lights. This suggestion that we don’t leave behind the light of Christmas brings to mind the words of African-American theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman who wrote…
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
As a new year begins the message of Christmas, the light and hope and love proclaimed in the coming of Jesus, is something we don’t leave behind or pack away with the decorations but rather carry with us and continue to proclaim in word and deed as we enter this New Year.
At the beginning of a New Year, and as a central part of our discipleship, Methodists often celebrate a “Covenant Service”, reminding ourselves of God’s Promise “I will be their God and they shall be my people” and dedicating ourselves to worship, devotion and working for social justice. The Covenant Service has been warmly embraced by our ecumenical partners and is now observed across many denominations.
It is offered as a gift, rather than a demand, to all of us. God offers a loving relationship and celebrating this covenant is our response to this unconditional offer of God’s grace and our promise to live our lives in committed, and at times sacrificial, response to God’s love.
For many of us this year the words of the Covenant prayer may resonate even more deeply within us as we speak of “in all that we endure”, or “suffer” as the traditional rendition says. This endurance or suffering has manifest itself in different ways and to different extents for all of us but none have been left untouched or unaffected by Covid-19.
Not being able to share communion as part of the covenant service may well be an aspect of our “endurance” as I know this is missed by many of us, though in the light of the other struggles, grief and bereavement many are experiencing I don’t think I would go as far as to say we are “suffering” because of our sacramental deprivation. Having said that I do look forward to the time when we can break bread together once more.
For me personally the phrase “Wherever you may place me” is particularly meaningful as half-way through this year the family and I will quite literally be moving to a different place.
We will be including the Covenant prayer in our service this Sunday. It may enrich our sharing of it together if you have had a chance to read through it yourself first…
I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
in all that I do and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me and when there is none;
when I am troubled and when I am at peace.
Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking;
when I have all things, and when I have nothing.
I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.
Glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
May it be so for ever.
Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.
Friday January 1st 2021
Happy New Year! Shh! Don’t be alarmed, Andy is on annual leave and I am attempting a New Year’s resolution – to write more. One day into 2021 and I think I am winning. Or at least going in the right direction. How about you and your own resolutions? Or are you part of the group that dare not plan too far ahead in case Tier 16 appears? Here is a New Year’s resolution to try – can you learn how to say Happy New Year in 6 languages?
Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Yoruba: E ku odun tuntun
Learning new things can be frightening. Fear can be utterly paralysing – and we can be frightened of so many things – both real and imagined. The enemy uses fear to one end – to stop us entering the fullness of life offered to us by Jesus. Fullness of life doesn’t mean everything will work out perfectly just as we planned it: fullness of life is about walking in God’s presence through everything that life has to offer and about seeing God unfold all things. 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear.
God is so much bigger than our fears. So, what can we do when we are frightened? We acknowledge that feeling. We work out why we are having that feeling. And then, we hand it over to God and trust God – regardless of what ends up happening. So often we make the mistake of pretending we are not frightened and stuffing it down. To deal with something, we have to admit it exists. As we continue into 2021, I encourage you to let your TMC family know what you need help with. Together we can navigate through God’s eternal plan for us. I mean March 2020 how many of us even knew about Zoom? By this time next year who knows what God would have enabled us to do as we help and encourage one another.
Friday December 20th
Glory be to God on high, and peace on earth descend:
God comes down, he bows the sky, and shows himself our friend:
God the invisible appears: God, the blest, the great “I AM”,
Sojourns in this vale of tears, and Jesus is his name
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
If we dig deep enough beneath the Christmas wrappings and see through the pile of amazon boxes; if we can look beyond the tree, the turkey and the tinsel; if we are willing to delve and explore the real significance of the birth of Jesus we will find a central Christian doctrine of the incarnation, that God would become manifest in human form. I struggle for words to articulate how special, how impossible, how awesome, how incredible it is to consider that God should choose to be revealed to us in such a way.
One of Charles Wesley’s carols goes some way to help me. Read the verse above again. Why would God choose to do this? Why would God come down from the glorious heavens and be exposed to our sorrow and sadness and struggle? Why would God enable the transcendent to become so immanent? Why would a God so “other” seek to befriend us? Why? Because of Love. God loves all that God has made.
SO what is our response to Christmas? May I suggest we go beyond writing the thank-you letters, may we not be distracted by the chorus of castigating covid-complainers, nor be-moan the length of the post office queue as we wait with our on-line returns parcels, nor regret having a real Christmas tree as we continue to find pine-needles everywhere for weeks into 2021. May our response to God’s incarnation be even more heartfelt, more sincere, more life transforming. I’m at a loss for words again so return to Wesley’s carol and the final verse…
We, earth’s children, now rejoice, the Prince of Peace proclaim;
With heaven’s host lift up our voice, and shout Immanuel’s name;
Knees and hearts to him we bow; of our flesh and of our bone,
Jesus is our brother now, and God is all our own.
On behalf of Sheila, Tim, Sam and Joe, may I wish you all a very Happy Christmas,
Friday December 13th
Each Autumn there is normally a competition between retailers to produce the best Christmas advert to win the hearts (and patronage) of Christmas shoppers. However, this year it seems that the add receiving the most publicity, but in a negative way, is Tesco’s, which declares that this year there is “no naughty list!”
The advert features a series of people confessing to bad behaviour, including giving dodgy haircuts and buying too much toilet roll during lockdown, not clapping for carers on a Thursday evening or sponsoring Captain Tom, but Tesco tells them all is forgiven as 2020 has been a difficult year. The Tesco narrator can be heard saying: “Guys, it’s fine - there is no naughty list, so tuck in.”
Parents have been begging Tesco to remove the adverts because they claim that they can no longer bribe their kids with the threat of Santa’s naughty list. One parent is quoted as saying, “Tesco, I would appreciate it if you stood down your latest commercial saying that this year there will be no naughty list. Us parents have kids to control during a pandemic and the naughty list is helping us control the household”. Another complained, “Tesco, how am I going to bribe my kid to behave now with no naughty list threats?”
It made me wonder if there’s a danger that we sometimes think about God like this, that we have to behave or we end up on God’s naughty list. In the past the church has been guilty of reinforcing an image of God who keeps a record of our wrongs and threatens us with punishment if we don’t behave. To a large extent many think this was also as a means of staying in control.
But is the God we see revealed in Jesus anything like this? Jesus’ teaching and actions emphasise God’s mercy and forgiveness. Yes, there are consequences to our actions and how we behave but does God seek to bribe us to believe and follow him because of the threat of a punishing alternative?
Jesus comes as The Prince of Peace. God chooses to be revealed in vulnerability and sacrifice. My response to God revealing love for me is to seek to return and emulate that love. The grace that is shown to us in Jesus, who’s coming we prepare to celebrate, means there is no naughty list! God’s forgiveness and mercy is generous, astonishing, miraculous and mysterious, so much so that none of us are out of favour with God this Christmas. That is something I can give thanks for, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.
Friday December 4th
Last week’s pastoral letter ended with the quote from Isaiah 9: 2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” On our fist Sunday in advent we thought about the voice of the prophet, calling us to have hope and to wait, prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ.
On this, the second Sunday of advent, we are reminded of the ministry of John The Baptist, described in the Gospel of John, “God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell the people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe.” (John 1: 6-7). The message of John the Baptist is a call to repentance, a call to change our ways. In its original form the word repentance literally means to “change direction”. John used it to challenge his listeners to stop living lives without reference to God and instead begin to live life in a way which acknowledged God.
The challenge comes to us afresh and, as part of our advent waiting and preparing, calls us to consider changing the way that in certain parts of our lives we live without acknowledging God. Is God only allowed in our lives for an hour on a Sunday morning or does our relationship with God seep into every part of our being?
Do we acknowledge God when we go shopping as we purchase goods that are produced sustainably and ethically? Do we enjoy our social activities, limited as they might be at the moment, hoping God isn’t watching? As we choose how to spend our time, or use our money, do we get the balance right between looking after our own needs but also the needs of others? In our relationships do we always see in others the likeness of God and treat them accordingly?
A few weeks ago June Hardcastle challenged us not to be the people who regret that we could have been the ones to light a candle. One way in which we shine the light for others is by turning our lives around so that we live in such a way as God is acknowledged.
Later in the letter to the Philippian’s the Apostle Paul calls on the early church to do just that, and in doing so he tells them, “…then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2: 15)
Friday November 27th
This weekend marks the first Sunday of the Advent season, a season of waiting and preparation as we acknowledge the darkness in our world and our need of the light and hope we anticipate being revealed in the incarnation, God breaking into our world at the birth of Jesus which we celebrate on Christmas Day.
As discussions on the news and social media have continued this last week about how we can, or cannot, celebrate Christmas this year they have all failed to include any talk of Jesus’ birth. People have spoken about the desire to get the family together, to have a big meal or party, of the joy of giving and receiving gifts and so on and how, in light of Covid restrictions, Christmas is being cancelled or isn’t able to happen.
Friends, Christmas will be Christmas whether Boris Johnson, or any body else, says it can or can’t go ahead.
God breaks into our world, not when we give God the permission to do so, or on a time schedule when it’s convenient for us, God breaks into our world because God’s love for us impels God to self-reveal afresh and anew to bring hope and light and joy and love into the midst of our darkness and despair.
I am sure we’ve all noticed that some people (you may be one of them) have enjoyed starting their preparations for Christmas earlier than usual with Christmas trees, lights and decorations appearing over the last few weeks. Perhaps this confirms that the message of hope and God’s love for us all is desperately needed this Christmas. So, far from being cancelled or abandoned it is more important than ever that we celebrate Christmas and proclaim, “The best of all is, God is with us”, “Emmanuel”.
Our current circumstances allow the message of the prophet Isaiah to resonate perhaps more deeply than ever before, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, they lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them.” (Isaiah 9: 2)
Friday November 20th
The on-going restrictions on how Churches can use their buildings for gathered physical worship continues to provide the basis for much discussion about the nature of Church. I came across two thoughts which I have shared on the TMC Facebook Group (If you’ve not joined this yet, please request to join) and which I share below for our further prayerful pondering…
“I’d rather be part of a church with messed up people who love God, than religious people who dislike messed up people”
A Prayer of Thanks for My Church
Today I thank you for my Church.
While some might think of doors and windows, I am praising you for spirits and hearts.
The people whose lives you’ve intersected are remarkable through your grace.
I can’t praise you enough for the unique way you’ve blended the talents of individuals
Into beautiful masterpieces of joy.
May we love one another to the fullest
And be evidence of your ultimate love
To advance the work of your kingdom. Amen.
Friday November 13th
The last time I climbed a high mountain I was in the Lake District in the summer of 2019. The sense of achievement at reaching the summit was amplified because not only had I managed to make it to the top, but Joe, Sam and Sheila conquered the mountain too. Along the way we had each found bits of the climb a struggle or a challenge but, together, we made it. As we undertook the journey we came across piles of stones marking the way. These cairns, as they are called, have been added to over time by other hikers who have made the journey. The piles of stones act as an encouragement and guide to other travellers, particularly when the journey is made harder in bad weather with low visibility or snow on the ground. As I came to a pile of stones, I added my own, partly to do my bit in helping to guide others but also to say “I was there”, a kind of memorial to my journey, my achievement, a way of marking its significance,
In the culture of the Biblical history of Israel mounds of stones were used as boundary markers to outline a territory, hence the passage in Ecclesiastes that there is “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them”, in other words a time to move on and at other times to settle and put down roots. Elsewhere in the Old Testament piles of stones are created or raised to mark sites of particular significance, such as when the tribes crossed the River Jordan and entered “The Promised Land” (Joshua 4:1-8) or to mark where a divine encounter took place, like Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28: 10-22).
We are in remembrance season, respectful moments of remembering taking place at raised stones, memorials and cenotaphs across the land on Armistice Day. They mark points on our nation’s journey, they act as a guide to others, a warning of the cost of conflict, an encouragement to find other solutions, for some they proclaim “I was there”, for others, “I came home”.
I placed a stone to contribute to a cairn on a mountain to help guide others and to mark that I made the journey, that I got through the challenge and the struggle, reached the summit and came out the other side. There are many different ways that we mark significant journeys. At TMC we would like to invite you to make a contribution to a creative art project that will help us remember this strange time we are experiencing at the moment. The coming together of a community, each offering something, to create a reminder of the struggle and the challenge, to be a memorial for us and others to look back on, to learn from, to be encouraged by. There are more details in the weekly newsletter and more will appear as an attachment next week.
Friday November 6th
A message from the President of the Conference about the second national lockdown in England
We are all devastated by the introduction of a second national lockdown in England as well as the ongoing restrictions imposed in Scotland and the firebreak that our sisters and brothers in Wales have been living under for the past couple of weeks. Scientific advice is being heeded to bring down the rising rate of the virus and its possible consequences. The introduction of the lockdown from Thursday in England may be necessary but its consequences will also be far reaching.
There will undoubtedly be a serious setback for the economy, and people who are struggling financially and in numerous other ways will be greatly affected. It could prove to be a tipping point for many people. The poor and the vulnerable have and will continue to be hit the hardest. There is a feeling of hopelessness for many people.
Our National Health Service staff and other keyworkers are already tired through the outstanding service they have given to us all, particularly during these past few months and this second lockdown will be especially difficult for them. They need our continued support, encouragement and prayers.
Governments, all those in political life plus medical and scientific advisers are having to make very hard decisions on our behalf which, in a number of places, are far from popular. Whilst they rightly need our scrutiny, they also need our support, encouragement and prayers, that their decisions will help people’s well-being.
One of our Methodist Presbyters commented to me recently that during this period she was trying to develop what she calls a ‘sacrament of kindness’. I like that phrase very much. In the concerns of the moment we all need in our living to develop to each other a ‘sacrament of kindness’. So much seems to be against this idea but it is something every single one of us could develop in our attitudes to ourselves, to other people and indeed the communities we serve.
Finally, as I write as the President of the Conference, I would be denying my role if I did not specifically mention something of our Faith. Bishop Leslie Newbiggin of blessed memory was once asked whether, as he looked to the future, was he optimistic or pessimistic?
His reply was simple and straight forward ‘I am’ he said, ‘neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!’.
Therein lies our hope. The God who is with us in the worst of situations, even when the flame of hope seems very weak. Such is our faith and hope in the risen Christ. Not a hope which ignores the shadows of suffering, but a hope strong and secure in the assurance that love is at the heart of all things, that the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms. The best of all is, God is with us.
A Prayer by Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Let nothing disturb or dismay us, O God, for all things are passing and you alone are unchanging. All things are wrought in patience, O God, and those who possess you lack nothing. Our sufficiency, O God, is in you alone, now and always. Amen
Revd Richard Teal
Friday October 30th
us never forget that if we wish to die like the Saints we must first live like
Let us force ourselves to imitate their virtues, in particular humility and charity”
Saint Mother Theodore, from Letters to Sisters at Saint Mary’s
As we host a different kind of All Soul’s service this Sunday and we continue to have the privilege of supporting families who have been bereaved, the question is often posed, “Where are they now?” Is there a heaven? What comes next? Will there be a meeting up again? These are not just questions of those who are religious, they are everybody’s questions. We feel a need to remain connected with those who have died whose connection to us in life we appreciated and valued.
In life we are influenced by many people; parents, family, friends, role-models, saints and heroes from the past. We make decisions based on their example and advice and our choices are informed by the relationship we have with them. It’s as if we sit down with them around a large table, asking questions, listening to one, debating with another, overhearing words of wisdom, all helping us to move on with life.
When someone dies they don’t lose their place at the table such is the depth to which they have touched our lives and leave a lasting impression on us. We go on communing with them, listening to them and having a lasting relationship with them. They are and remain our own saints around our own table.
For those of us for whom faith is part of life there is also reassurance to be found in The Bible and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate and remember this when we gather around our own table, the communion table, in church and share bread and wine, symbols of the promises of God’s love, so big and wonderful that not even death itself can separate us from it.
I know that many of us have missed this opportunity of celebrating our communion together and with God perhaps more than any other aspect of our communal worship but as a sacrament we recognise that it is an outward sign of an inner grace, an inner grace that remains as constant as God’s death overcoming love for us all.
Friday October 23rd
Some of the best stories I know involve following a trail. There’s the traditional fairy tale in the Brothers Grimm Collection, Hansel and Gretal, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to help them get home safely, or the classic Wizzard of Oz film where Dorothy and her companions follow the Yellow Brick Road, interestingly their journey was also to help them get home. I’m sure you can think of others.
This coming week TMC is taking part in the Tilehurst Pumpkin and Scarecrow Trail. Whilst we normally host a Light Party as an alternative to Halloween, this year, because of the Covid Restrictions, everyone is thinking of different ways to do things. The idea of a pumpkin and scarecrow trail was suggested as a covid-safe alternative to trick or treating. I’m sure some of the displays on the trail will be spooky, Halloween themed, scenes of ghosts, scary monsters, bats and spiders but in contrast the display at TMC will see an array of smiley faced pumpkins, lots of light, symbols of love and life, oh, and a particularly handsome, good looking, scarecrow and an illuminated cross. We hope that, in the midst of the darkness, TMC will be a beacon of light. The display will be illuminated every evening next week and we hope to be giving out goodies to others doing the trail on the night of Halloween itself next Saturday.
Having a religious element to following a trail is nothing new. The concept of going on a pilgrimage is as old as religion itself. There are certain trails that have become particularly popular such as El Camino de Santiago in Spain and in Jerusalem itself the Via Dolorosa (The way of the cross) which guides pilgrims on a trail retracing the last steps of Jesus carrying the cross.
In last week’s service Peter Frank challenged us to continue our journey even when we may be feel overwhelmed by our current circumstances, when we have a “fearful uncertainty of moving forward”. The temptation is to stop, to stay where we are, there is a fear of the unknown of what the future will hold. I wrote to Peter after the service and thanked him because God spoke through him directly into my situation in the Stationing Process this year and the fears that I am feeling about the uncertainty of moving forward. Peter went on to suggest that when we feel doubt or uncertainty that God is with us as we continue our journey, that it helps to look back and see where God has been with us at difficult points on our journey before. This was a great reassurance to me, and I hope for you too, fellow pilgrims.
Friday October 16th
Reports every day on the news about a resurgence of the Covid Virus over recent weeks is a cause of concern for us all. Nationally The Methodist Church is constantly reviewing it’s policies and practices in light of the latest Government guidelines and locally we will continue to adjust our risk assessments in response, our priority always being to ensure, as far as possible, everybody’s safety and well-being.
The rising number of positive tests, hospital admissions and subsequent deaths remind us as a community of all those who have been bereaved, not just in the last 6 months, and not just from Covid. Normally our annual All Souls’ Service gives us an opportunity to gather and acknowledge our losses and grief.
This year our All Soul’s Service will be held differently.
Sunday 1st November: Church will be open for candle lighting between 2pm-4pm.
Sunday 1st November: Zoom Service at 5pm.
Please contact Andy if you would like a name to be read out during the zoom service.
If you are not able to light a candle in Church personally and would like us to light one, or more, on your behalf, then again, please contact Andy on 0118 9427 128.
Another popular annual event we normally provide at this time of year is our Halloween Alternative “Light Party” where we receive up to 50 Junior School age children into Church for fun, games, crafts, snacks, songs and a positive message of light and hope. Again, we are having to do things differently this year. TMC will be taking part in a “Pumpkin and Scarecrow” trail around Tilehurst which will see the front of Church decorated with lights and smiley pumpkins over half term. We hope, on the night of 31st October, to be able to have a presence outside Church in the early evening with free craft packs and light sticks available.
Friday October 9th
I have been struck by God’s sense of humour this week. Trees and water featured prominently in last Sunday’s Harvest Festival service, so I have smiled this week every time something about trees or water got my attention.
In the hours just before the service last Sunday I was able to accompany Emily on the first leg of her Virtual London Marathon. There were several points on our run when we were in the woods or under trees and because of the extremely wet weather we were constantly wet and sometimes unavoidably splashing through puddles that had become mini-lakes and gravel paths that became flowing rivers, at least they felt like rivers at the time.
Then of course large parts of Tilehurst and the RG30 and RG31 postcodes had their water supply temporarily cut off on Tuesday afternoon. No water! Ironically at the time Lola and I were recording a Harvest Assembly Video for the local schools and making the point of how much we take our access to water for granted, just being able to turn on the tap and get clean, fresh water, compared to other parts of the world for whom this would be a luxury.
Cut off from water. How uncomfortable did we find it and yet it was only for a few hours? There was immediate panic buying of bottled water at the local supermarkets and Thames Water provided free emergency bottled water for those not able to obtain their own. Several people have asked me to thank Lola and others who helped distribute some of this in various places.
What a vivid reminder of our dependency on water as being essential for life. I wonder, how essential to our being do we regard our faith, our belief in Christ who proclaims, “I am the water of life…whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 14). A thought to ponder over a glass of water maybe.
A few days later a tree popped up, almost literally. Through the kindness, generosity, and quick thinking of a member of our extended church family several items that would otherwise have been thrown away as an office closed down were recovered and made available to us. Amongst the items was a Christmas tree. I was able to find a welcoming new home for the Christmas tree because of a meeting I had with the CEO of The Mustard Tree Foundation, a Christian charity in Reading involved in many projects such as Engage Befriending. I felt like a criminal handling stolen goods as I opened the boot of my car in the Mad Hatter’s car park and shifted a large cardboard box into the waiting car boot of the C.E.O. It would have been criminal if the Christmas tree and other items from the office had been simply thrown away.
The Prophet Isaiah prays for those who have struggled to remain faithful to God during difficult times, “give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61). May those of us who have found these last 6 months a difficult and challenging time hear that prayer for ourselves and have the faith and courage to work out how we can be, not Christmas trees, thankfully, but “Oaks of Righteousness” in our community, that through our lives, we might bring Glory to God.
Friday October 2nd
Steven Croft, renowned Christian Author and Bishop of Oxford has recently shared his version of the “Rule of 6”. You can listen or read more about it here.
I have reproduced the main points he makes here…
Six months is the new horizon
We need a new horizon for our hope and for our lives. I want to suggest that all of us set that horizon now on Easter, not Christmas. The spring will bring better news after a difficult winter. We now know the journey through COVID-19 will be a marathon, not a sprint.
Within that six month horizon, we will need to lean back into the great themes of the church year. You will have different ways to interpret this locally. In October we will give thanks for harvest, celebrate the beauty of creation and remember our responsibilities to care for the earth. In November we will dwell deeply on the themes of remembrance, grief, human mortality and the hope of resurrection.
In December we will celebrate God’s kingdom of justice and peace and the coming of Jesus. We will try to mark his coming at Christmas in different ways but with creativity and joy. In January, we will dwell on Christ the light shining in the darkness and never overwhelmed.
In February we will celebrate the gift of our baptism and seek to be renewed in our everyday faith. In March we look forward to Holy Week, to remembering our salvation, and looking forward to Easter.
Six days to work and a Sabbath to rest
This will continue to be a demanding season. It will be vital to watch over ourselves and to rest. Make sure you plan your Sabbath and keep it. Rediscover the gift of one day each week for re-creation, not just chores. Plan it well.
Days off and holidays are vital for us all, many are working so hard with extraordinary dedication and skill. Please ensure you encourage one another. Spread the load wherever you can and help one another.
Six people to journey with
The Christian faith began with a small group of disciples. This is a time for us all to rediscover Church as a small group of six people who support one another; pray together (online or in one place); care for each other, serve together and explore everyday faith together.
Many seasons of renewal in the church have begun with the renewal of small communities: think of the stories in Acts; or the early Franciscans; the classes and bands of early Methodism; or the underground churches behind the Iron Curtain.
Six ways to be salt and light
This will be a demanding winter for the communities we serve in so many ways. It’s a good time to ask one another, who are the people and organisations you are supporting in the wider community? What plans will be needed to strengthen foodbanks and night shelters? How will you serve those who may be isolated over Christmas? How can you encourage and support schools and teachers and health workers? Who is on the margins, who has slipped away and who is in danger of being forgotten? This is a season to remember that our communities need us to be salt and light and to bring courage to others.
Six percent to your church
This is a challenging time for church finances. Income from lettings and fairs and cash collections has dropped. We need a miracle of giving to sustain the church through this period.
Six people to pray for
All around us, people are searching for faith and meaning in these times. As Christians we must not be silent witnesses to the wonders of our faith when there is so much strength and healing in the Christian Way. Are there six people you can pray for, invite into community and encourage to discover more of Christian faith during this season?
This has been such a hard and challenging season but also, strangely, such a season of creativity and renewal and growth, by the grace of God. We need to go on encouraging one another through the months ahead. No-one can do everything. We are fallible and will fall and stumble often.
This is God’s Church and God’s mission. Thankfully the final responsibility does not rest with us. But daily we offer what we can – like the child bringing five loaves and two fish to Jesus – and we discover that God takes this and uses it to make an immense difference to the lives of those around us.
Six may indeed turn out to be a rich number, but of course the sign of completeness in the scriptures is seven. As, by the grace of God, we do all we can to make the most of these days, let us remember that our ultimate hope and assurance is in the God who will one day bring all things to completion, in the Christ who is the beginning and the end.
Together we are called to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. It is such a privilege and joy to serve with you in this season. May God bless you richly in the months ahead.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.37-39)
Yours in Christ, Steven Croft
Friday September 25th
Sunday 13th September was designated as “Creation Sunday”. I have to confess I must have missed the memo on that one but Paddy Jose’s service this week picks up the theme and of course at this Harvest Festival time of year it is extremely fitting. Our increasing awareness about our role as stewards of God’s creation is picked up in this year’s Methodist Prayer Handbook entitled “The Earth is The Lord’s”, copies now available from me (0118 9427128) at the discounted price of £4.00.
Next Sunday (4th Oct) will be our Harvest Festival Service but sadly without the joy and pleasure of meeting in the Church building, wonderfully decorated by our team of flower arrangers, and, by the end of the service, be-decked with harvest produce brought by the congregation. We still want to support the work of C.I.R.D.I.C. (Churches in Reading Drop In Centre) who normally receive our harvest produce, so we suggest you make your harvest gifts in monetary form this year, so that we can continue to support their work.
It has been a real challenge to know the best way to help you to continue to support the work of God through your giving to TMC. Thank you for those who now make your regular offerings on line by Standing Order or BACS payment and those who have posted or hand delivered cheques or envelopes over recent months. If you haven’t been able to make your offering to the Church, or any of the charities we support, but would like to do so, please contact me in confidence to discuss ways in which we can enable your giving to continue. Even when responding to an appeal we make, like for CIRDIC or Daisy’s Dream, please still make out cheques to “Tilehurst Methodist Church” and attach a note naming the charity.
Last Saturday gave us another opportunity to demonstrate our generosity of giving at the Daisy’s Dream Zoom Concert. A tremendous “Thank you!” to all who took part by performing or helping with technology. Your willingness to share your many talents with us was much appreciated. Also, a huge “Thank you!” to the many people who made a donation or pledge to Daisy’s Dream, the concert has raised over £1200!
When we looked at the “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” a few years ago (A book by Robert Schnase) we noted that one of them was “Extravagant Generosity”. In this season of Creation Sundays and Harvest Festivals we celebrate the extravagant abundance of God’s grace and provision for us and respond in grateful thankfulness through the fruitfulness of our generosity.
Friday September 11th
It has been a morning of contrasts.
It began with a zoom meeting between myself, a former President of Conference and a Team leader from Methodist Church House. In contrast, I then went on to visit Pegasus Court where an outdoor gathering of Methodists (illegal from Monday because there were more than 6 from more than two households) were enjoying a socially distanced coffee morning.
The conversation of my first meeting was about a Connexional review of a significant area of Methodist Church life for which I have been nominated to be secretary of the review group that will report to Conference in 2022. In contrast, the conversation in my second meeting was about the best way to get washing from upstairs to the washing machine downstairs (one member of the group confessed to throwing it over the banister!) and we continued to discuss the appropriate thickness of a slice of bread.
It was good to share in this second conversation with Rosemary Siddall, having just returned home after a stay in hospital, and it is with her permission that I elaborate on the story. As well as the unevenness of the sliced bread Rosemary’s further grievance was that her request for a light meal of scrambled egg on a slice of marmite-covered toast was delivered with marmalade instead of the requested marmite. I’ll leave it up to you and your taste buds to decide which, if either, you’d prefer.
We continued our conversation by deciding that if our only challenges and cause for complaint were getting washing downstairs to the machine and whether or not marmite or marmalade should accompany scrambled egg then, in fact, we are richly blessed as, in contrast to ourselves, there are others whose challenges and worries are literally life-threatening.
I’m aware that I’ve picked some silly examples and I know that there are those of us who have serious challenges and worries at this time but I’m also mindful of how our circumstances are in such contrast to others, such as, for example, the migrants on the Greek Island of Lesbos now refugees from a refugee camp following the recent fire.
Jesus came into our world and lived in sharp contrast to the people around him. He showed compassion where others turned their backs & offered forgiveness where others were judgemental. Jesus spoke of hope in the Kingdom when people had stopped dreaming of anything better, he was self-sacrificial when others were self-serving, and, whilst many withheld love, Jesus offered it freely.
Might we seek God’s help to live Christ-like lives so others see the contrast in us and, through us, come to see the Love of God, revealed in Christ.
Friday September 4th
September 1st is the beginning of a new Methodist Year, so “Happy New Year”! However, the sentiments normally associated with a New Year celebration are perhaps not the ones many of us are feeling at the moment! There is a consensus that 2020 has not been a good year and there are many funny illustrations like this one that convey that feeling.
Whilst there are some months left of the calendar year the start of a New Year in The Methodist Church gives us the opportunity to pause and acknowledge how difficult the last few months have been and look ahead, not with unrealistic hope that all will be back to normal soon, because it won’t, but with a deeply rooted and firmly held conviction that God will be with us in whatever lies ahead. The Israelites experienced Exodus and Exile and “walking through the valley of shadows” but found God’s presence revealed to them in incredible ways during those wilderness years.
The new Methodist President of Conference, Rev Richard Teal, has adopted as his theme for this year a quote from Wesley, “The best of all is, God is with us”. This was chosen well before our current circumstances were even imagined.
Whilst it has been our practice at TMC to use the Annual Methodist Covenant Service at the start of a new calendar year there are some parts of Methodism that will be using it this month as the New Church Year begins. Reading and praying through it again now at the start of this new Methodist year I have found it incredibly relevant, encouraging and challenging but also reassuring.
The Methodist Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for you, or laid aside (furloughed?) for you,
Exalted for you, or brought low for you;
Let me be full, let me be empty,
Let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Friday August 28th, 2020
Under normal circumstances this weekend Reading’s population would have increased dramatically with a massive influx of people coming to the Reading Festival. Looking at the wet and windy weather at the moment many will be glad that it hasn’t gone ahead. The festival is a rich, diverse and cosmopolitan coming together of people of many ages & backgrounds, colours, cultures & belief systems some of them we’d probably enjoy meeting and getting to know, others we might think would not be “our kind of people”.
Whenever I turn to reading about Jesus in the gospels I’m reminded of the huge spectrum of different kinds of people that Jesus encountered, all of whom it appears were “his kind of people”. Jesus caused controversy when engaging with people that others didn’t think were worthy. He upset some by talking and eating with and touching people that others had rejected. Jesus met with children, women, the sick, the foreigner and the outcast, speaking words of love and forgiveness, acceptance and invitation.
Fascinatingly, the vast majority of these encounters, which proved to be transformational for the people Jesus met, took place not in religious building, service, place or time of worship, but either in a place of public gathering, like well-side or on the road, in the work place, or in people’s homes.
Many of us are missing our visits to Church and our times of worship and fellowship together but might we be both challenged and encouraged that in these different times we can follow Jesus’ example and encounter people elsewhere, might they even be not “our kind of people”. There’s something about crossing that un-comfortable barrier of same-ness that makes our encounters with those who are different from us all the more powerful.
As I write this I’m aware that it is the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s 1963 famous “I have a dream” speech. The statement proclaimed a hope of all kinds of people coming together, crossing barriers, acknowledging their shared identity as Children of God.
If you were asked to state your dream for the future what would it be? Some of us might respond by talking about wanting to be able to sing together in church again or for things to “go back to normal”. But would that really be our ultimate vision? Surely we can be more ambitious than that!
Friday August 21st, 2020
Dear Tilehurst Family,
It is a joy indeed to be sharing some thoughts with you whilst Andy is on holiday. Nigel and I have been looking after the grandchildren’s dog whilst they have been on holiday. Bonnie is a 7 year old black poodle who was a ‘rescue dog’. I could tell you many stories about her! However, without knowing anything at all about her, if you saw me walking her around Tilehurst you would be able to tell something about her identity - that she is a well looked after, loved, family pet. In this week’s lectionary gospel reading, Jesus takes the disciples 25 miles north east of the Sea of Galilee, completely away from their usual places and to a district famous for many religious ideas and different worships. He takes them there to ask about his identity: who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?
During these last, strange months many of us have struggled with our identity as we have been restricted in being in our usual places. Who am I when I am not with family, not with friends, not at work, not very well, worrying about money, worrying about family, feeling lonely, and the supports for worship and fellowship not available, and some of us bereaved and that identity with the loved one now gone. Those of us who have been church goers for a while are most likely familiar with Peter’s response to Jesus- “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Although Peter had much to learn about what that meant, that was what he saw from being with Him. And that was His identity, who He was, when the winds and the waves obeyed his voice AND when he wept at the death of Lazarus. He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God when he healed the sick AND when he had to go to a solitary place to get some rest. He had that same identity on the occasions he challenged the Pharisees and they retreated and when He was seized and beaten.
Whatever our situation, likewise our identity is unchanged and unchallengable. We can’t make ourselves acceptable to God through any process- He has done that for us in Jesus. We are accepted by Him. That is our identity. We are His. However we feel, whatever our circumstances, nothing can snatch us out of His hand.
So, whatever you are doing and whatever strange place you are in, be there in all the confidence of our 6 year old grandson in his Minecraft T shirt! Or in more traditional terms, as Charles Wesley wrote
“Captain of Israel’s host and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath your shadow we abide
The cloud of your protecting love;
Our strength, your grace, our rule, your word,
Our end, the glory of the Lord. “
We continue to pray for each other on our pilgrim journey.
With all good wishes,
Friday August 14th, 2020
My dear friends,
One of the things I am missing most during the present pandemic is being able to join in singing with other people. When we meet for our Zoom services, I may still join in the hymns on my own, but that is certainly not the same as singing together with others in the same room. I am also missing the two choirs to which I normally belong and particularly regret not being able to sing in harmony with others, so that I can clearly hear not only my own line (the Bass or bottom line) but also the other three parts above it (Soprano, Alto and Tenor). The conductor of one of my choirs got all the choir members who were willing to record their part of a short choral piece and send it in to him and he then made a “virtual” performance by putting all the recordings together. It took him hours and sounded very impressive, but I still would have preferred to be singing normally with others, either in Church or in a hall where we could all be together.
St. Paul likes to talk about the Church as being the “Body of Christ” and in I Corinthians 12 notes how all the parts of a body are vital to its life and effectiveness, even the parts that seem small or insignificant. In the same way, in the Church of Jesus Christ, every member has their own part to play and the whole is impaired and diminished if any single member is missing. I always think that the image of a choir singing in four parts brings out the truth that Paul was getting at very effectively.
If and when we get back to normal and are able to have a choir or music group helping to lead our singing at Church, we can imagine them gathering one day to practise a hymn. However, the Choir leader decides that each of the four groups needs to work on their own part and so the leader sends the four groups (Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses) into different rooms to rehearse. If you eavesdropped on those four groups, you would probably enjoy hearing the sopranos (assuming they were singing the right notes!) because with hymn tunes they usually sing the tune. Then we go onto the next room where the basses are singing and I sing bass, so that must sound all right, mustn’t it? Next we pass the room with the tenors and they are probably few in number and have some difficult high notes which can sound odd when heard by themselves. Finally, we listen in on the altos who, sadly, so often in hymn tunes have a rather dull part that tends to be on only one or two notes and, despite their best efforts, can sound rather dreary on its own.
But then the choir leader calls everybody back together and all sing together in harmony. Providing they have rehearsed properly and are singing the right notes in tune, the sound they make together is far more impressive than even the soprano or bass lines on their own. Good musical harmony reminds us that, when we work together as one body, we can achieve so much more than we do just by working away as individuals. No matter how great our individual effort, working with others provides another dimension and, in the Christian Church, God’s Holy Spirit enables us to work together more effectively for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
I look forward to the time when I can sing in harmony again in the same room as others both in Church and in my choirs, but meanwhile I give thanks to God that all of us are part of the Body of Christ and that we can each play our part in sharing Christ’s love and message. As we each do what we can and enable others to do the same even during these present strange times, God transforms our humble efforts into something infinitely more beautiful and effective. So this week may each one of us do our best to play God’s tune, so that God can weave all the music together into something unbelievably strong and full of love.
Friday August 7th, 2020
Dear Tilehurst Friends,
This week I’ve been thinking about lament. It is a prevalent Old Testament genre of literature. They are scattered throughout the Hebrew scriptures, but are most concentrated in the Psalms. These laments often describe in strong language how the psalmist is feeling and why. The language and emotions expressed are often ones we shy away from in church. So, there’s anger, frustration, loss and a sense of this is not how it’s supposed be. In Psalm 137 made famous by Boney M in the 1970s, ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’, we get shocking vengeful thoughts. Laments give us words when we feel like that. There is permission to be real with God even if we’re hesitant with our brothers and sisters.
On the Methodist Church website there is a service called ‘Beyond Exile’. It is offered for use when churches return to the building. Within the service is a lament (see below). Personally I think the language is safe and doesn’t express the depth of some of our darker feelings as we live with Covid 19. Nonetheless have a look. See what you think. How would you express in a lament the realities of life?
Marking Loss – a litany of lament
We thought we knew how the world
was meant to be,
Day followed night, every week had a Sunday
and that was the day for church.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
We thought we knew how the world
was meant to be.
We made our plans, held our meetings,
kept the roof on the church and the show on the road.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
We thought we knew how the world
was meant to be.
We would see colleagues, friends and loved ones again,
and we would embrace, laugh and share stories as we always have.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
And now, we know something new.
We know that the world is not ours to control,
and that our plans are confounded by the smallest microbe.
God is teaching us a new song, for a new land.
And now, we know something new.
We know that church is not committees, agendas and buildings,
it is us, in homes, streets, hospitals throughout the world.
God is teaching us a new song, for a new land.
And now, we know something new.
We only have today with those we love, today is the day
to say, ‘I love you’, to mend an argument, to hold on tight.
God is teaching us a new song, for a new land.
Finally, it was my privilege to stand-in for Andy in conducting Peter Eastman’s funeral. It was good that TMC was represented by Yvonne, Janet and Gerry who led the opening prayers. What a remarkable and able man he was. I hope there will be opportunities to share some of the stories we heard in some format or other.
Friday July 31st, 2020
My dear friends,
It is truly a privilege to have been asked to write the Pastoral Letter this week, whilst Andy is away. In the Church of England’s calendar 29th July was the day to remember “Mary, Martha and Lazarus—Companions of the Lord”, but it is not just Anglicans who can learn from those sisters and brother who were so close to Jesus’ heart.
Our District Chair in his reflections for this Sunday’s service notes that even Jesus Himself needed to have a “thoughtful spot” where He could be quiet and freed from demands for help, so that He could share in fellowship with His Heavenly Father. Mary seems to have been able to find her “thoughtful spot” just sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him and basking in the love that flowed from Him.
Her sister Martha, however, was so busy doing her best to entertain Jesus and prepare an extra special meal for Him, that she didn’t feel she could possibly follow her sister and simply listen to Jesus. In fact she got rather annoyed with Mary for leaving her to do all the household chores. On this occasion Jesus said that Mary had “chosen the better part” in opting to sit with Him, but that does not mean that He was decrying the value of working hard to make others welcome and comfortable. There is a place for both in the Christian life and those of us who find it easy to rest in Jesus’ company probably need to take more opportunities to follow Martha and do what we can to give practical help to other people, whilst those of us whose natural inclination is to be practical may need to follow Mary and spend more time in our “thoughtful spot” with Jesus.
The incident to which I have just referred is recounted in Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, but in John’s gospel, chapter 11, we hear about Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus who was eventually raised to life by Jesus. In that passage Martha does show that she was just as spiritually aware as Mary because when Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, Martha reacts with a strong affirmation of faith, telling Jesus “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world”. We know that there are a number of members of our Church family who have recently been bereaved or who are worried about sick relatives and friends who need to know that Jesus is the Holy One who offers new life to everyone, both in this world and beyond it.
This week let us all seek to be better “companions of the Lord” and try to share His love and companionship with those we meet as we offer them the practical or spiritual help they require and enable them to know something of the resurrection power of Jesus.
Friday July 17th, 2020
Dear Tilehurst Friends,
[First paragraph omitted here on the web site]
This letter also gives me the chance to applaud the way churches across the circuit have risen to the challenge of finding new creative ways of worshipping. Many like you are using Zoom, but each is subtly different. We are finding these new discoveries are not just until the pandemic is over, but are here to stay in some form. Again, like you others are finding they are being joined in worship by people from all over the country and in some cases from other countries. We delight that some have found this way of worshipping more accessible than going to church. All this without forgetting those who can’t access technology. I know of people who are getting services delivered weekly, who haven’t for a whole variety of reasons been able to attend worship for years. They are feeling included more than before. We are learning so much.
To finish, a prayer that is part of my daily devotions from the Northumbria Community:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide through the wilderness,
Protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.
Friday July 10th, 2020
Hearing the words "Once upon a time..." immediately signals to the listener that they are going to hear a good story, much in the same way as hearing "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin" from the "Listen with Mother" BBC radio programme that spanned more than 3 decades from the 1950s to early 1980s.
The Bible readings for this and next Sunday are from Matthew Chapter 13 and contain some stories that Jesus told, we sometimes call them parables, and Jesus signals that he is about to tell a story with his own catch phrase, "Those that have ears, let them hear."
All the best stories resonate in some way with our own life stories, they catch our attention, challenge us, entertain us, make us think, perhaps teach us something new about ourselves and leave us with questions, wanting to know more.
Just before lock down at the Annual General Church Meeting we challenged each other to tell our own stories using just 6 words. It seemed like an impossible challenge but here are some of your 6 word stories...
Isn't it incredible how, in only 6 words, we are made to smile, made to think, intrigued to know more and drawn into wanting to have a conversation with the author to learn more about their story?
I pray that as we hear Matthew re-telling some of Jesus' stories over the next few weeks that we too will be intrigued to know more and drawn into wanting to have a conversation to learn more about Jesus, the story teller.
And I wonder if you were to write another 6 word story about yourself now, after self-isolating for 3 months in a changed world, how different would your story be?
Friday July 3rd, 2020
Let me begin by thanking those of you who have been in touch with Sheila and I during the week since we shared our news about not seeking an extension to my appointment beyond the summer of 2021, it has been very much appreciated. To pick up an important thread from our announcement last week, you may (or may not) be reassured to hear that Conference did indeed confirm my current appointment for another year, although I had to wait until the very last day of Conference for that to be decided.
Of course the Conference met "virtually" this year, several of the reports were received "en-bloc" and other business was deferred until next year, which proved challenging for many but like in so many other areas of church life we are finding creative, imaginative and different ways to enable church life to continue, and importantly, having to prioritise what is essential over what is desirable.
One of the most sobering reports at Conference was regards to Connexional finances and the stark warning that in the coming year, and perhaps beyond, the "essential" will certainly not include everyone's "desirable". This will necessarily be the case in Circuits and Local Churches too.
One report that was warmly received and supported was "God For All" the report from the Evangelism and Church Growth team which will see resources of personnel and finance being directed into this aspect of Our Calling. This direction of travel resonates with TMC's new Mission Statement that was approved by our Church Council a few days before Conference began and which states at its core that Tilehurst Methodist Church "Actively Celebrates and Shares God’s Unconditional Love". We'll be sharing more about the new mission statement in the coming months.
There were several items of business that directly affect what happens in local Methodist churches ranging from the challenges of trusteeship, particularly for smaller congregations, to a reminder from our Young People at 3-Generate about our commitment to the environment, the encouragement to become "eco-Congregations" and questioning the ethics of church investments in fossil fuel companies.
I know many people are missing sharing physical worship together, particularly services of Holy Communion where bread and wine are shared as symbols of God’s loving, saving actions through Christ. There was an interesting proposal that Methodism should allow "Virtual Communion" but after discussion, disappointingly for many, this was declined.
The conference was made up of delegates from every district in the UK and invited guests from ecumenical and partner churches across the world. It represented the global Body of Christ, dispersed physically and yet gathered virtually, spiritually, expressing its unity in purpose and action.
For more information about Conference and its work please visit the Conference web site.
Friday June 26th, 2020
I know it seems like a long time ago now but do you remember anything significant about any of the services we held in Church before we had to stop meeting physically at the end of March?
There are two that stand out for me.
The first was an evening Praise and Prayer service at the end of February. It was Transfiguration Sunday and in the service we read the passage from Matthew 17: 1-9 and then discussed it in pairs. I invited anyone to share anything that stood out for them in the story and several people offered their thoughts. But then someone relatively new to our congregation and someone who I hadn’t expected to share openly in Church asked to speak. They shared how struck they were that the disciples in the story had to place an enormous amount of faith in Jesus. Jesus took them on a journey up a mountain, no explanation of where they were going, or why, a journey into the unknown, a difficult journey not without risk or discomfort, but follow him they did on a journey which later resulted in the Disciples receiving a new, larger, appreciation of God's glory revealed in Jesus.
For some reason, perhaps because I had been surprised by them wanting to share, I mulled over what they had said more than the other contributions, and it has stuck with me ever since.
The second service about which I remember something significant wasn't one I was leading, I was fortunate to be able to attend as a member of the congregation. It was early in Lent and the preacher was exploring the story of Jesus being sent out into the strange land of the wilderness (Matthew 4 and Luke 4), stating that "Even Jesus had to go to a strange land (a wilderness) in order to receive and know a wider vision of the Father's plan". Well, that phrase has rattled around my head ever since, along with the earlier reflection on the Transfiguration.
It seems to me that in a sense both of them were preparing us for our current experience of isolation and not being able to worship together in church. We are being led, perhaps a little reluctantly, on a journey that we don't really want to make, not really knowing where we’ll end up, or what we'll do when we get there. A journey that we're not enjoying, is not without risk or discomfort. For some of us it certainly feels like we are in a Strange Land, a Wilderness.
One thing I have noted about both those two significant messages I have remembered from before the lock down is that the end result is something very positive. In the Transfiguration story the Disciples are blessed with a new and larger appreciation of God's glory, revealed in Jesus and in the second, following his wilderness experience Jesus receives and knows a wider vision of the Father's plan.
I pray that the same will also be true for us,
Friday June 19th, 2020
"And are we yet alive?" a strange question perhaps, but one that is asked at the beginning of every Annual Methodist Conference through the singing of Charles Wesley's hymn (StF 456; H&P 707) which has that question as its first line. When I attended my fist conference in 1999 as a Probationer Minister about to be ordained I thought it was a stupid question, "Of course we are, otherwise we wouldn't be here singing!"
On the second day of conference when we stood in solemn silence and respect as the list of ministers who had died in the last year was read out I came to realise that the question at the beginning of the hymn had a deeper significance and proclaimed both a sense of thankfulness for our gift of life in the present but also an acknowledgment that the good news of the fullness of life we enjoy has been passed onto us by those who have gone before us and that the on going life and witness of the whole body of Christ, the church, in every time and every place, was indeed very much alive!
As the hymn is sung again this year as Conference takes place (June 25th-July 2nd) there will be particular relevance to more of the words from the hymn, "What troubles have we seen…since we assembled last".
Having had the privilege to attend Conference as a District Representative in 2009-2011 I find myself doing so again this year and at our District pre-conference meeting last week we noted that many of the reports being presented at Conference were written and prepared in a world before anyone appreciated the impact that C-19 would have on the world and the Church. Conversations about our theological understanding of subjects such as "Virtual Communion" will, I suspect, be very different this year in light of or current experience.
As conference is being held using the "Zoom" digital platform this year some reports, such as "God in Love Unites Us" have been deferred until Conference 2021. Others such as "God For All: a Church-Wide Strategy for Evangelism and Growth" will be presented with a degree of urgency and perhaps with a shift in emphasis to resourcing and equipping churches to be more effective on-line.
If you want to know more about this year's Conference, its timetable and to read the reports being presented, you can find more information on the Conference web site. Many of the sessions are Live-Streamed so you can tune in.
So are we yet alive? I hope we can answer with a resounding "Yes!"
Friday June 12th, 2020
Many of you will have heard Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, announce a few days ago that "Places of worship may open for private prayer from this weekend". A small task group, made up of Church Stewards and members of the Property Team, had already arranged to meet that same evening to discuss the guidance we have previously received from the Methodist Connexion, our national office, about re-opening. The guidance consists of many pages of checklists and risk assessments with, on many pages, links to other documents as well. Boris's earlier announcement gave the meeting a real sense of purpose. However, we also read beyond the attention seeking headline, "Places of worship still have discretion over when they consider it safe to open and may decide to remain closed or reopen at a slower pace". This advice has since been echoed by The Connexion.
The safety and wellbeing of those who might come to Church to pray and those who would have to be there "on duty" is of paramount concern.
Here at TMC the task group has begun the process of working through the checklist and writing risk assessments. But we will not be open for private prayer by this weekend, or next, or the one after that probably.
Please do not be disappointed by this.
The now updated advice on the National Methodist Church Website observes... "We understand the vital need for prayer at this time and have found that our people have been praying no less because they have not had buildings in which to pray. We know that mission, ministry and church has been happening in new and exciting ways in these times."
We celebrate the fact that our church is well positioned, physically, and with excellent community relationships, to offer Tilehurst the opportunity to have access to our Sanctuary and we are working towards making this possible. Please pray for those on the team helping to get us safe and ready.
The on-going life of our Church family, actively seeking to celebrate and share the unconditional love of God, is wonderfully illustrated in the letter we received earlier this week from a nurse working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF was the chosen church charity last year and we recently sent them a donation of £10,000, yes, that's Ten Thousand Pounds, a tremendous amount, representing the generosity and hard work of many people. Thank you!
The charity the Church has chosen to support this year is Daisy's Dream but we are a bit frustrated that we've not been able to begin raising funds in our normal ways because of the lock-down. So might I challenge you to think creatively about how you can begin raising or saving money for this worthy cause? Maybe the money you'd normally spend at The Link or on a trip to the cinema or a restaurant might become a donation. If you've received one of Nan's (free) knitted Rainbow badges, I understand she's knitted over 80 of them, why not donate a pound or two in support of The Church Charity?
I'm sure you can come up with lots of other ideas too.
So, for the moment our building remains closed, please be patient as we work towards being able to open safely and responsibly, and in the meantime let us continue to pray and live out our Christian faith beyond the church doors.
God bless, Andy
Friday June 5th, 2020
There has been a Pentecost kind of feeling to this last week. Have you felt it?
At Pentecost people were emboldened to speak out; at Pentecost people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds were brought together; at Pentecost many felt uneasy and uncomfortable; at Pentecost people acknowledged past wrongs and were encouraged to repent; at Pentecost the message was proclaimed of the good news that Christ had died for all, that all lives matter to God; Pentecost brought the possibility of change and transformation. I've witnessed all these characteristics of Pentecost as I've followed the response across the world to the murder of George Floyd.
This week also sees us begin to observe "Bible Month". How ironic that President Donald Trump should choose this week to be photographed standing holding a Bible outside a Church!
The focus of Bible Month this year is the Book of Ruth and we look forward to Revd Chris Evans preaching to us on Sunday in the first of a series of 4 services. The book of Ruth follows the lives of a migrant family, of the struggle of being a refugee, of the hospitality or discrimination of one culture of another, of feeling isolated because of one’s difference to others, all subjects about which we should have a heightened sensitivity because of recent events .
In the traditional Church calendar this Sunday is also Trinity Sunday. We remember, and, for some, continue to wrestle with, our Trinitarian understanding of God, God in 3 persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. God's diversity coming into our lives in so many forms to minister to us.
As we are created in God's image, then it's to be expected that we should mirror the richness of that diversity in us as God's people. In our ages, cultures, traditions, colour, sexuality, understandings of faith, the list is endless, as together we make up the rich tapestry of the People of God, but to God, none of us are less than the other, all of us matter. As we mirror God's diversity what we perhaps find harder to reflect is God's unity, God’s one-ness as difference is overcome and we acknowledge the dependence we have on one another.
We gain our fullest understanding of God as we reflect on the different attributes associated with the different aspects of the trinity, yet maintaining the wholeness of God. Perhaps we will gain a fuller understanding of ourselves, created in God's image, if we are more ready to embrace the different aspects of one another, yet celebrate our one-ness as God’s children.
Stay safe and stay well,
Friday May 29th, 2020
In the early days of our locked-down world someone observed that the term "social distancing" was not very helpful. What was being asked of us was physical distancing rather than social distancing. We have all discovered different and new ways over the last few months to remain socially as close as we can to one another despite physically maintaining our distance. Surprisingly while some of us are feeling less connected others are feeling they are more connected or have been able to re-connect because of the different ways we are finding to do things.
The Pentecost Festival that we celebrate on Sunday speaks loudly about connection and re-connection. I like to go back as far as a story in the Old Testament to help me understand part of the account of the first Pentecost. In the story of The Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11: 1-9, as humanity aspires to be more like God their one language is confused by the introduction of many languages "so they will not understand each other." In the Pentecost story we read this Sunday, from Acts 2, the disciples start to speak in many different languages so enabling all the many different listeners to all understand the message of Good News they are sharing.
Instead of confusion there comes understanding. Many biblical scholars now link the two stories describing the experience of Pentecost as almost like a healing of the confusion brought about at Babel.
For those of you familiar with the Douglas Adams book, "The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy", you may remember the "Babel Fish" which was popped in one's ear and used as a device to help translate and understand different intergalactic languages as one travelled the universe. This fish is aptly named after the Tower of Babel.
So our marking of Pentecost is a reminder of the need for us to better understand one another, to break down, not just language barriers, but barriers of any kind, as we seek to remain socially connected and celebrate and share the good news of God's unconditional love.
However, the significance of Pentecost goes far beyond people being better able to understand one another and communicate more effectively. If we recall the timeline of recent events... on Good Friday we mark the death of Jesus, on Easter Sunday his resurrection, followed by a series of other occasions during which the disciples encounter Jesus, including one where Jesus tells them, "Wait for the gift my father promised" (Acts 1:4). Then at the ascension of Jesus, which I spoke about last week, he reminds them, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1: 8)
Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, is a fulfilment of these promises. With Jesus no longer with them physically this gift must have been incredibly encouraging for the disciples. It enabled them to speak with boldness and clarity about the Good news of Jesus' resurrection.
God offers the gift of the Pentecost Spirit to us all, not only encouraging better communication or connection between us but even more importantly as a way in which we can be better connected, or reconnected, to God. We too can be aware of the presence of God and the power of God in our lives. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Stay safe and stay well,
Friday May 22nd, 2020
A few days ago Sheila and I took a walk through the meadows by the River Thames. It was a beautiful day. At one point we lay on the grass and looked up into the infinite blue of the sky, noting the absence of vapour trails from non-existent aeroplanes and spotting the shapes of heads and dragons in the few white wispy clouds that appeared like islands floating across the vast sea of blue.
Yesterday, Thursday 21st May, was Ascension Day. Having once lived and studied at The United College of The Ascension in Birmingham Ascension Day has always been a significant point in the calendar of Church Festivals for me, even though it is not always given prominence in our local Methodist Churches.
Ascension Day marks the 40th day of Easter, and commemorates Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven following his death and resurrection, you can read about it in Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:8-11. If we understand Christmas to be about God coming and living amongst us in Jesus, incarnate, here on Earth, then Ascension is almost the opposite, the point at which Jesus’ earthly ministry comes to an end and Jesus is taken back to heaven, or as someone put it this year in a Covid-19 related cartoon, "Jesus is now working from home".
In the Acts description of the story the Disciples are caught, transfixed, looking up into the sky, watching Jesus ascending to glory, returning to an awesome heavenly throne room of majesty, at one again with The Father.
Maybe we should make some time in the midst of our present circumstances to raise our gaze heavenward, quite literally if that's what's helpful for you. It seems that at the moment our gaze is firmly fixed in an earthly direction. We look to scientists for answers; we look to NHS professionals to save us; we look to politicians for leadership; we look to celebrities for distracting entertainment or exercise routines; we look to fundraising centenarian war veterans for a morale boost. But are we pausing often enough to look to God, to gaze heavenward, to remind ourselves of God's glory and majesty, God's infinite capacity to create and forgive and love unconditionally?
I appreciate that we can't be doing that all of the time. In fact in the Acts story a couple of angels turn up and, in what I imagine to be quite a funny moment, ask the disciples, "Why do you stand here looking into the sky?" almost as if to say, "Come on now, let's get on with things" reminding and encouraging the disciples, and us, that Jesus promised to send a helper, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us as we live out our lives as followers of Jesus looking most of the time, as we must, in an earthly direction but also as heaven gazing disciples who actively celebrate and share God's unconditional love in the world around us.
Stay safe and stay well,
Friday May 15th, 2020
I saw a tongue in cheek advert posted by a church leader this week that said "As B&Q is now allowed to be open but our Church building is not, this Sunday’s service will take place in the painting and decorating section."
At the moment I’m finding the uncertainty about what is going to happen in the future and when it is going to happen, one of the most unsettling things about our current situation. I heard earlier today about two colleagues, one who is making preparations in anticipation of being able to open their church building for worship in July and then another who said they were not expecting to be able to lead a carol service later this year! My heart hopes that it will be closer to the first but my head is preparing me to not be surprised if it is closer to the latter.
The BBC reported this morning that places of worship in Australia were being given permission to reopen for worship but with a maximum of 10 people attending. Earlier in the week another news report described how, in Germany, churches have begun to re-open as long as they maintain social distancing rules, but also that worshippers are not allowed to sing. Not being allowed to sing in Church, can you imagine it?
What would John Wesley's brother, Charles, the distinguished hymn writer, make of us gathering for worship but not being allowed to sing God’s praises? Several historians describe the Methodist Church as having been “Born in Song” in reference to how much of our Methodist Theology, our understanding of God, is communicated in our hymnody. The Twentieth Century Methodist Minister and hymn writer Brian Hoar even used this quote as the opening line of a hymn you can find in Singing The Faith 21 or Hymns and Psalms 486.
In Luke's Gospel Jesus warns that if we keep silent "even the stones will cry out", so worthy is God of our worship.
But perhaps it is more than our singing that we should regard as our "worship".
In the Old Testament the thought of worship without making a sacrifice of some kind was unthinkable, just as we might struggle to attend a church service and find we were not allowed to sing. But the Israelites are warned by the prophets Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah, who all speak God's voice to them saying, "Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me." Rather, God regarded lives lived justly, and with compassion for those most in need, as true acts of worship.
So perhaps we should regard our care of one another, our acts of kindness and compassion, making a telephone call, delivering some shopping, checking in on a neighbour, our acts of service and, for some, sacrifice, all as acts of worship to God. In which case friends we are in good voice!
Stay safe and stay well,
Friday May 8th 2020
In a conversation I had with one of our young people last week it emerged that they had the impression that a positive outcome of the C-19 pandemic was that wars and disasters all over the world had come to an end. As we talked further we realised, sadly, this was not the case, only that our own "bad news" had supplanted the "bad news" of others in dominating time on our news broadcasts.
The reality of course is that for those already struggling with poverty or drought, persecution and war, the effects of C-19 serve only to compound their situation and make life even harder. It would be easy for us, like the news reports at the moment, to forget about the needs of the poorest in God’s world and think that our own troubles and challenges were “bad news” enough. This Sunday marks the beginning of Christian Aid week and, like many other charities at the moment, is struggling with a reduction in donations.
Richard Canning, a member of St Catherine’s and a Christian Aid volunteer in our area, writes…
CHRISTIAN AID WEEK 10th - 16th May
The churches of Tilehurst have fundraised for Christian Aid Week for many years, and raised large amounts of money through Big Brekkies, Quiz Nights, and house-to-house collections.
This year things are rather different, and yet the needs are greater than ever before! So please, help those who are so much worse off than we are - those who are hungry, homeless, and contending with the worst pandemic this century, with very limited resources.
Please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Richard-Canning8 to make a donation.
Christian Aid Service
St Catherine's will be following the Christian Aid Order of Service (virtually) on Sunday morning – the preacher will be Rt Rev Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and we will be joined by Rev Dr Liz Ratcliffe, Rector of St Michael’s. From midday Sunday, you can watch a recording of it at https://stcatherines-tilehurst.org.uk/videos/
We are pleased to announce that TMC now has its own Facebook Group. If you are a Facebook user just search for "Tilehurst Methodist Church Family" and click on "join group". This is a closed group only intended for people we know within the TMC Church family for the sharing of encouraging news, prayer requests etc. We will be launching a separate Facebook Page shortly which will enable us to interact with and advertise to the wider community.
We pray for all who are grieving…
That you might experience the comfort of The Good Shepherd,
The enfolding embrace of the Holy Spirit,
And an awareness of the eternal, death overwhelming, love of God the Father.
Friday May 1st 2020
I share with you below a "Meditation on the closing of churches" - an extract from a book that was written years before our current situation. It offers a different perspective on our church being "closed".
Our Church building might be empty but The Church isn’t closed. Church Council took place last Monday, house groups are meeting, Jolly Tots, Wow, Gap and Snug, Guild, Brownies and Guides, Play reading, The Listening Place have all been active using Facebook, Zoom or email. Of course pastoral care by telephone and in practical acts of kindness is continuing too.
"Meditation on the closing of churches"
“Churches may be glad of the stillness. These great stone ships seldom have the chance to hunker down into replenishing silence.
Christianity is too talkative. Noisy religion. The Society for Standing Up and Sitting Down Again.
The Society for Annunciation of a Momentary Silence.
You see your empty church and see shipwreck and think that because you are not there in linen robes with rehearsals of creeds, that prayer is not there.
But your church and temples are not empty. Silence is there. Praying in her many houses.
Clergy nor creed nor any religion own Her. Stillness beyond all religion, yet deeply at its core,
Even while you fill temples with the clatter of words.
Let Silence be the guardian and keeper of these stone vessels. She who keeps the stillness on the ocean’s floor who tends the cave where no noise echoes because no noise enters, hers is the aching heart that hides ancient atomic groan and her home, the rest between the beats in every heartbeat look out to the stars beyond stars and listen, listen to Her listening to the listening of your own.
Go within and find Her in the hush, in the breath of alleluia in the night, in the inhalation of hope before waking. Hers is the softness between the breath and the hidden quiet light that lingers at a death.
Do not fret about your empty church.
Silence holds the space holy
And always did.
She holds all things and mourns all things
She is in all things.
She holds every story but her own. She knows each name, with no need to know her own.
Let Silence guard the stillness and the stones. While you care for the bereaved and those full of fear
That is your creaturely task. The task of all who call each to be priest to each and every other.
And when the great keys are turned, the wooden doors re-open, tread gently. Do not rush to fill the stillness.
The great stone ships held their prayer for you. They bade the Absolute to enter in. They prayed with you. Honour them with silence of your own.”
Gilo (Co-editor, Letters to a Broken Church, Survivor and Outsider Theologian)
Friday April 24th 2020
God has reminded me this week just how special and important the Bible can be. How, with the help of the Holy Spirit, it remains alive and relevant to us today, even, or especially, in times like now.
At our Circuit Staff meeting (on zoom of course) our devotions used the passage from Acts 8 where we join a high ranking Ethiopian Civil Servant on his journey home after visiting the Temple in Jerusalem. We are told he had gone there to worship. It struck us as we discussed this passage that the Ethiopian’s awareness, understanding and knowledge of God had not come to him whilst he was sharing in an act of corporate worship, gathered together with others in a building set aside for organised religion, rather, God revealed himself to him when he was away from all that, reading the scriptures alone whilst travelling “a wilderness road” and with the help of Philip who God had sent.
One of my favourite Easter Readings, one that I’ve been looking at again this week, comes in Luke 24 and tells us of two Disciples leaving Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and burial and returning, confused and despondent, uncertain about their future, to their home town of Emmaus. As they journey away from Jerusalem they are joined and talk together on the road with another traveller (how similar is this to the Acts 8 story?). The two disciples reach home and invite their travelling companion to stay and eat with them. There, in the home as they eat together, the risen Jesus is revealed to them. Again I’m struck by the way in which God encounters us, reveals himself to us, when we are not in a building dedicated for communal worship or amongst large crowds of other worshippers in an institutional setting but rather in the midst of an ordinary domestic scene of a meal in a home.
Perhaps, like the Ethiopian and the two disciples traveling to Emmaus, we might also find God in a new or deeper way whilst we are away from others and away from a place we normally associate with our gathering for worship.
The disciples in Emmaus didn’t stay there. They rushed back to Jerusalem to share the good news with others about how they had met the risen Jesus out on the road and at home.
I look forward to a coming time when, like those two disciples, we can hasten back to our church building, our place of gathering, and share with others how God has been revealed to us afresh during, or because of, our time away whilst we have been at home or travelling a wilderness road.
Friday April 17th 2020
I was overwhelmed at the number of people who were able to join us for Zoom Church on Easter Sunday morning. Please join us again this Sunday. May I also say a huge thank you to those who walked by TMC on Easter Sunday and transformed our Lent Cross into a “blooming” marvellous symbol of resurrection life. Many people have commented how the variety of colours and types of flowers used this year said something significant to them about the richness and the diversity of those involved in its transformation.
A few months ago I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that all the church buildings in the country were going to be closed and there wouldn’t be any Easter Sunday Services. After the restrictions were enforced and some of us took our first tentative steps into the virtual world of Zoom meetings I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that on Easter Sunday nearly 90 people, through fifty devices, would worship together on Easter Sunday in Zoom Church.
There is much about our current situation which we would have described as “unbelievable” only a short while ago.
I’m sure that many of you, like me, have been following with increasing amazement the fundraising exploits of Captain Tom Moore, the Second World War veteran who is walking around his garden and who had originally hoped he might raise £1,000 for the NHS. The current total is now in excess of £18 million and by the time you read this may indeed have increased further. “Unbelievable” is a word his family and those in the media have repeatedly used when reporting on his achievements.
I’m sure that “Unbelievable”, or its equivalent, was a word in frequent usage in the days after the first Easter Sunday. As news began to spread from the women who visited the tomb, amongst the disciples meeting behind locked doors and even those who had begun to take journeys home. I’m sure that Thomas, or “Doubting Thomas” as he perhaps unfairly became known, was not the only one to think how “unbelievable” it was that Jesus should rise from the dead.
Despite the other disciples making fun of Thomas, and labelling him “Doubter” in such a disparaging way, interestingly Jesus doesn’t hold this against Thomas and instead makes it possible for Thomas to overcome his doubts by appearing to him.
One of the strongest arguments in support of the resurrection of Jesus is that, not only for Thomas, but also for millions and millions of other “doubters” across the generations and across the world, something of their experience of God has made the unbelievable, believable.
In these unbelievable times I pray that we all
might be reassured of our doubts and that God would use our words and actions
to bring belief and hope to others.
Friday April 10th 2020
It’s been hard not being able to journey with you through Holy Week this year. Familiar signposts leading us towards Easter Sunday have been encountered alone and in unfamiliar ways.
I was moved yet again on Thursday evening by the applause generated nationwide in recognition and appreciation of NHS staff and all in the caring professions. How appropriate that on Maundy Thursday we should acknowledge those willing to serve in this way. The account of Jesus at the Last Supper, kneeling down, taking a bowl and a towel, and washing the feet of his disciple’s modelling for us a discipleship of humble service and dedication to the wellbeing of others.
On Good Friday the theme of unconditional love, demonstrated in costly sacrifice, is at the forefront of our Christian understanding of Jesus dying on the cross. There is much talk of sacrifice in our current context. The costly sacrifice of those putting themselves at risk by caring for others or keeping essential services going; the economic cost to communities, businesses and charities as human lives are valued higher than profit margins or shareholder dividends; the sacrifice of our own liberty which we are being required to make as we follow guidelines to stay at home.
We usually mark Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday with the extinguishing of candles during our Tenebrae service until we are engulfed in darkness. (The Tenebrae Service can be downloaded, with links to music.) The darkness this year is palpably felt as many of us live with uncertainty, confusion and fear and we join in the mourning and grief of the growing number of victims.
The longing for hope is real. The anticipation of freedom from our confinement grows daily. Our proclamation of new life and hope at Easter is a welcome encouragement to everyone, particular as we demonstrate in practical ways God’s life giving love through our love and care for one another and our wider community.
The resurrection on Easter Sunday reveals, not a God who abandons us in our darkest moments, but a God who works miraculously and mysteriously to demonstrate that the power of God’s love can overcome anything, even death itself. As the apostle Paul later writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Such a promise gives us confidence when facing all things, even death itself. It is one of the passages of scripture that Frances Hide chose for us to hear during her funeral service. Perhaps you can read the passage as you remember Frances on Wednesday 16th at 1.00 pm whilst using the “I can’t get to a funeral” service outline. Yvonne has asked me to pass on the following message…
I have been totally overwhelmed by the cards and messages that I have received following Frances’ death. To know that she was loved in such a way and her contribution to the church was so appreciated, I am overcome and I know that she would be too. Thank you all so much, all the cards will be shown to her family and friends who are not members of our Church family at an appropriate time.
Last Sunday almost 100 palm crosses were taken from a basket outside church as people passed by as part of their daily exercise. I know it was appreciated that some were taken & delivered to others.
Weather permitting, this Sunday our Lent cross will be laid on the forecourt waiting to be dressed with flowers, some will be available, but if you can bring your own from your garden there will be others available for those who are passing by and have come unprepared.
Friday April 3rd 2020
For this year’s Palm Sunday I had in mind large crowds of cheering people, a route lined with friends, families and strangers waving flags and banners, in some places trumpets playing and drummers beating the rhythm of the pounding feet of those in the procession and everywhere voices calling out praise and encouragement. I’m referring of course to the Reading Half marathon that I and 15,000 others were supposed to have been running this Palm Sunday, though the parallels to the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, described for us in Mark 11: 1-11 or John 12: 12-16,had not gone unnoticed. The Gospel accounts of Palm Sunday portray the anticipation of the crowd celebrating a coming king, Jesus, the one who was going to save them. I had intended to attach a palm cross to my running shirt this year as a reminder. The near deserted streets of Reading this year will be very different.
I was also reminded of the cheering crowds of Palm Sunday as I stood on my doorstep at 8.00 pm on Thursday night and joined in the saucepan bashing, clapping and cheering for our NHS heroes. It felt really odd that we were lining the streets, as if for a procession, and yet the road was empty, apart from a cat startled by the noise and running for cover. Cheering and acknowledging those on the “front line”, and those supporting them, felt a bit more like the Palm Sunday acknowledgement of praising those who can “save us” as our health professionals are doing their best to do just that. Interestingly the BBC News on Friday morning reported on Thursday night’s “Clap for Carers” as “Our new weekly act of worship”.
Inevitably, as I applauded the NHS, my mind turned to thinking of Frances, one of our Church members who died last week (not Covid-19 related), who had dedicated her life to serving God and her community as a Midwife. Our bereavement support team, “The Listening Place” who would normally have been meeting today, are instead lighting a candle for Frances in their own homes as a way of remembering her, giving thanks for her life, and praying for Yvonne and her family. Frances’ Funeral service will take place on Thursday 16th April at 1.00 pm. Whilst you won’t be able to join us in person you might set aside this time to remember her and use the “I can’t get to a funeral” service.
In the original Palm Sunday story that begins our Holy Week journey, the kind of King and Saviour that Jesus became was very different from the one the people had expected. Perhaps our current experience is helping us to re-evaluate what and who we hold as the most valuable and important in our lives and who, or what, we turn to as we seek to be saved.
For those of you near enough to include passing the Church this Sunday during your own Palm Sunday Procession, otherwise known as your 1 hour of daily exercise, you will find a basket of Palm Crosses available for you to take one if you wish.
Please use the worship resources in the coming days.
March 27th 2020 - Pastoral Letter from Rev. Andy Moffoot
Jeremiah. 29:7, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (NRSV)
I’ve heard this text 8 times over the last 4 days. It was given as the title for the presentation being given by each of the Candidates I’ve been interviewing this last week as part of the Methodist Connexional (National) Ministerial Selection Committee.
There may be a feeling at the moment that we are all “in exile” even in the midst of our town, city or community. Unlike some of the other prophets at the time, who call on the people to be ready for the Exile to end, Jeremiah prepares the people of Israel for a longer stay, to get used to it, and use the time to pray, “Pray to the Lord on its (The community’s) behalf for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” The welfare of our community and our own welfare depend on us remaining in exile, at least for a time, and in exile we are called to pray, for one another and our community.
Whilst our buildings may be closed, our Church, the people, our worship, learning, caring, service and mission, are all very much active and on-going, though maybe in new ways.
This week Lola has been live streaming sessions for Jolly Tots, Wow and Gap for our children and young people. I am hearing about fellowship groups trying to meet using video conferencing and I’m reading many accounts of people caring for one another and their neighbours. Thank you for all the ways you are remaining connected. To help us in our worship life several ideas and resources have been shared and are on the TMC website. There are links below to Live Streaming Methodist services and this Sunday all Local BBC Radio stations are broadcasting last Sunday’s service from Methodist Central Hall Westminster at 8.00 am.
One of the candidates I interviewed this week interpreted Jeremiah’s words as referring to all of us here on earth being “in exile” from our true home which is with God, in heaven. I hope, like me, you might find this interpretation of the passage comforting and helpful as I share with you the sad news that Frances Hide died early on Wednesday morning. Frances is no longer in exile, but has returned home, to be with God. The normal ways in which we would express our grief and show our care at times such as this may not be possible and I know many of us will find this difficult but I will treasure the time I had sitting with Frances and Yvonne a few days before she died.
Let us pray,
Lord God, you are always with us.
You are with us in the day and in the night.
You are with us when we are happy and when we are sad.
You are with us when we are healthy and when we are ill.
You are with us when we are peaceful and when we are worried.
You are with us when we are at home and when we are in exile, even when we feel in exile in our own homes.
Help us to remember that you love us and are with us in everything.
(Editor's note: the list of worship resources has been updated.)
March 17th 2020
Covid-19 and Tilehurst Methodist Church
In response to Government advice and in line with the Government’s guidelines The Methodist Church has today (March 17th 2020) advised that all Methodist acts of worship should be suspended until further notice.
The weekly 9.00 o’clock and 10.30 am services and the monthly 6.30 pm service held at Tilehurst Methodist Church will not now take place until further notice.
We have also been advised that all other groups connected to, or overseen by, the Church are also to be suspended.
Whilst this announcement is made with regret, the wellbeing of those who attend services or groups, our volunteers and staff, must be our highest priority.
Alternative resources for worship are being planned, and a list is being compiled.
Please refer to this website or the National Methodist Church website for more information.
Let us hold one another in our prayers at this anxious time and if yourself, or someone you know, would benefit from additional support in some way, then please let me know.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.
God of all hope we call on you today.
We pray for those who are living in fear:
Fear of illness, fear for loved ones, fear of other’s reactions to them.
May your Spirit give us a sense of calmness and peace.
We pray for your church in this time of uncertainty.
For those people who are worried about attending worship.
For those needing to make decisions in order to care for others.
For those who will feel more isolated by not being able to attend.
Grant us your wisdom.
Holy God, we remember that you have promised that
Nothing will separate us from your love – demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ.
Help us turn our eyes, hearts and minds to you.
Revd. Andy Moffoot