Tilehurst Methodist Church
(Click on the picture for worship resources)
October 22nd, 2021
I hope you are all well.
I'm sitting in my study as I write. In front of me on the windowsill are three glass etched cubes in gift boxes. The first one contains the word 'faith ', the second 'hope' and the third 'love'. They were a gift to me at my recent leaving service from my friend who came to preach for me and I'd asked him to preach on 1 Corinthians 13, the famous 'hymn to love'. I've been looking at them a lot lately and particularly since the violent murder of another MP, the second in five years. A lot of people have been calling for kindness and understanding and for civilised debate rather than insults. Faith, hope and love seem to me to chime with that.
The reason I asked my friend to preach on that chapter, is that 'faith, hope and love' is my rule of life. By that, I mean that I keep coming back to that chapter and to those words in particular, and I keep them in focus and try my best to identify with them every day. It seems to me that they are a good starting point for Christian living. Perhaps these words can help us to play our part in creating a more stable, peaceful and friendly society in which people can be safe and build good relationships.
Maybe you also have a rule of life or a favourite bible passage you'd like to share?
Yours in Christ,
October 15th, 2021
I hope you are all well.
Tomorrow (13th) I will be away on a staff quiet day. In the prayer handbook day 13 of each month focuses on thinking people who for one reason or another might be on the margins of the church, or even the margins of society. The information section of the page mentions foodbanks, work with asylum seekers, discipleship groups for LGBTQI+ Christians and refers to the 'New places for New people' Methodist initiative.
I would like to share with you one of the prayers on the page for day 13:
Jesus, guest and host,
May our tables be safe spaces where everyone feels at home.
Jesus, friend and brother,
Help us to practise the hospitality we teach.
Jesus, who washed the feet of the disciples,
Teach us afresh the sacrament of service.
Jesus, generous giver,
Show us the abundance of love where we see only scarcity.
Jesus, in whose name is found salvation,
Help us rejoice in the kingdom banquet prepared for all.
Jesus, you prayed that we might be one, just as you and the Father are one,
We pray for the unity of your Church, of all communities, of all creation and of all things in you.
Yours in Christ,
October 8th, 2021
I hope you are all well.
I've been with you a month now and it's been an exciting month of various activities starting up again with just a few still to start up within the next few weeks. I'm excited and anxious to know the church functioning normally and I know many of you feel the same.
Just a note of caution, though, because we are not out of the Covid woods yet. I heard last night from people where we used to live that the uniformed organisations have been told to close down again until January. This is because of high infection rates in London. So, we still need to do our best to keep each other safe here and to keep the rates as low as possible. Running any groups we have safely is our priority. So ventilation, masks, space etc remain very important. Let's hope that this way of operating doesn't have to go on for too long.
Thinking about social distancing and personal space got me to thinking about the discipline of individual prayer: being alone with God and being accountable to and loved individually by God. I have friends who are Benedictine monks. They live in a praying community and help each other, but each remains individually responsible for their own self before God. They have a disciplined rhythm of quiet alone times before God throughout each day. From time to time I have tried to copy this, but it doesn't last very long because I allow myself to get too busy. But I still think it's worth pursuing, so I keep trying. At the moment I'm trying to think of 'hands' (praying hands), 'face' (face looking to God) and 'space' (being on my own).
Anyone got any thoughts, tips or ideas to share?
Yours in Christ,
October 1st, 2021
I hope you are all well.
I'm feeling well harvested now! I really enjoyed the harvest weekend at church and I've just come back from doing three school harvest festivals with Lola. We weren't able to sing due to outbreaks of Covid, but we had the lovely harvest samba music and did sign language and actions to it which was great fun.
It's good to be able to come together and celebrate and think about important things together in a way that we haven't been able to do for a long time. It makes me realise how much I've taken for granted in the past and how much we need to take seriously the wellbeing of our planet and all the life forms on it.
In our school assemblies, we looked at the symbol of the rainbow and thought about God's words to Noah that the rainbow would be a symbol of God's promise always to provide for the earth.
So I suppose the question for us is what can we promise to do in return? Can we also guarantee to God our thanksgiving and our action for good?
Yours in Christ,
September 24th, 2021
I hope you are well. We are well into the season of harvest festivals. It's great to be doing them face to face this year. Doing a harvest festival on YouTube was not easy at all!
Our focus this year in this circuit is about eco church/ environment/ our responsibility towards the earth. There are things we can easily do to care for the earth better than we have been doing. Some things are more complicated. The headlines in my paper this morning include:
I could go on. Interesting that in one morning's edition of the paper, so many headlines are about things to do with the environment. This certainly didn't used to be the case. Perhaps the world is waking up at last.
The bible reminds us in lots of places that we are to remember that the world belongs to God and that we have been given the responsibility of looking after it. Genesis chapter 1, the first of the creation stories, tells us that God looked at everything and thought it was very good. For us as Christians, the mark of whether or not we are looking after the world properly might be whether God could look at it and think it was ' very good'. So I hope God looks at my attempts at recycling and buying less plastic and so on and thinks it's very good, or at least a reasonable start (probably the latter).
What might God think of your efforts, or those of our church? What will it take for us to be 'very good '?
I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.
Yours in Christ,
September 17th, 2021
I hope you are keeping well. We are continuing to settle into the area. Thank you for all your support with that.
Tomorrow is synod. Face to face for the first time in a long time with some people joining by zoom, so it will seem strange to be in a new synod under these continuing strange circumstances. But I'm very much looking forward to it and to seeing something of Southampton.
One of the few things I know about Southampton is that their football team is known as the 'Saints'. This is because they were founded by a church and their ground is named after it. I don't know anything much about the players or how saintly they might be, but the nickname is a lot to live up to. As a Methodist, my understanding of what makes a saint might not be very traditional, but in recent times, one or two footballers have reached saint status in my estimation!
Marcus Rashford would be the obvious one following his work to feed hungry children and to get the government to take the issue seriously. I wonder what you might think would be the criteria for calling someone a saint? Sometimes, if someone helps us out, we might say 'Thank you. You're a saint!'
When I began in ministry, a wise old minister told me nor to just listen to the loudest voices in the church but to look for the quiet praying saints. I have always done my best to follow his advice. So, I'm looking for the quiet praying saints here and I'm glad to say that I've found some already!
Yours in Christ,
September 10th, 2021
I hope you are all well. I'm enjoying getting to know you, but it will take me a while to remember everyone's names, so please forgive me if I get it wrong!
I'm also enjoying getting to know the local area and the District. I love the countryside and the wildlife, including the field of alpacas which I saw when I was lost trying to drive from Bradfield to Burnt Hill. It's in complete contrast to living in London, where I used to just jump on to a bus or train without really having to think about where I was going and without always knowing where one place was in relation to anywhere else. Everywhere was a bus stop or a station. Here, I'm going to have to actually know where I’m going!
One of the things I'm loving here, is being able to walk around and see all the red kites flying above me. I'd love to see one close up, but I expect they prefer to stay up high. They remind me of the many references to eagles in the Bible. Here's just one (Isaiah 40:31):
‘But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.’
We are at a point in the pandemic where we are renewing our strength and getting ready to 'fly' again. God is our strength and our help. In other parts of the Bible, it is God who is referred to as the Eagle and the image is of that huge wing span protecting and guiding.
As we begin to open things up again, let us be patient with one another as we renew our strength and let us trust in those huge protective wings to shelter us and keep us safe.
Yours in Christ,
September 3rd, 2021
Happy new Connexional year! It's my first official day of work with you and I'm very much looking forward to getting to know you.
A big thank you for your kind welcome to me and my family. Letters, cards, emails, cakes, biscuits, conversations etc have all been very much appreciated and we are starting to feel like we're at home.
Over the next few weeks and months we'll be on a journey together which will be quite different from any we've done before as we seek to pick ourselves up and move forward. Some people will want to do that quicker than others and we're going to need to be attentive to each other's feelings and do our best to keep everyone feeling safe. Often when I'm feeling unsure, or when I have a new beginning, I turn to hymns to inspire and reassure me. One hymn which keeps coming to mind at the moment is StF 638. Here are the first and last verses:
Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.
Fear him, you saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Make you his service your delight,
Your wants shall be his care.
My hope for this new Connexional year is that we will delight in God's service together as we seek to discern the divine presence among us.
Yours in Christ,
August 27th, 2021
As we approach Climate Sunday and an opportunity to prayerfully consider the way in which we can respond individually, collectively and societally to the crises and challenges that face our planet, the Press, Media and Newsreels are full of startling headlines, pictures and films of devastating floods and fires, UN reports and the build up of expectations for COP26 at Glasgow in November.
Whilst many think that climate change is in the future, the State of the UK Climate report states that in the last 30 years, the country has become 0.9 degrees warmer and 6% wetter. In fact last year was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest since records began. Britain is becoming wetter and warmer. The fires, floods and storms in the Unites States have led commentators and scientists to state “the permanent emergency has begun” and suggested that if Hollywood was to make a film featuring the scenes around the world of today, it could be called “Apocalypse Right Now”! Australia, China, Europe are also constantly in the news for the same reasons. Put simply, there is nowhere to hide from Climate Change. The recently-published IPCC report is a Red Alert for all.
But amidst all this doom and gloom, fear and frightening predictions, it’s a reminder of my opening sentence – an opportunity to prayerfully consider our response as Christians. And to turn that response from prayer to promise, from ambition to action, from hopelessness to hopefulness.
One of the ways in which we are actively involved is through our Eco-Church movement, identifying positive ways of making a difference. Not just reinforcing the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra, but actively seeking renewable sources of energy for our buildings; promoting and supporting green initiatives in our charitable giving; educating and nurturing the community with outreach projects that highlight the benefits of a greener approach; working with local and national groups such as Reading Area Green Christians, Tilehurst Globe, Hope for the Future and many others.
With less than 80 days before COP26 we are also planning a community event with Alok Sharma regarding it. We had hoped to run the event before November, but it’s now going to be Post-COP26. This at least gives us time to reflect on the decisions made and to engage with Alok on his plans for turning the outcomes into reality and to understand why perhaps some things “didn’t make the cut”.
We have a particular opportunity here as he's our West Reading MP, and also the President of COP26. We really want him to engage with his constituents about the successes of COP26, and for us to be able to communicate our thoughts and plans too. We feel that as a local church, it's a vital part of our care for God's creation to engage on this issue. We're planning for the event to be a hybrid one, with speakers in the church, but most of the audience on Zoom, so as to be Covid-safe and to make it more accessible to a greater number of participants. We will let you have more information on this event when the date and time have been confirmed.
We will be holding a Climate Sunday service next Sunday 5th September. This will be a chance to reflect on the wonder of God's creation, and to explore our calling to care for it. It will be held at 4pm at Arthur Newbury Park, and will be suitable for all ages. More details to follow.
Meanwhile, do please continue to prayerfully consider ways in which you can become involved, make a difference, support the activities and help save our planet and our environment. David Shaw at a YCCN (Young Christians Climate Network) service at Wesley, reflected on the importance of passing on the baton of responsibility which has been given to us by God for the care of God’s creation, and passed down the generations.
August 20th, 2021
This is an opportunity to introduce myself as one of the new stewards. I have been a member of TMC since 1984 having first attended the Church in 1982. During that period of time, I became a Local Preacher in 1990 and a pastoral Lay Worker at TMC for a period of time. I also did a Pastoral Counselling Course at St Johns College in Nottingham.
However, I became estranged from the church during the whole of the 2,000’s and found myself questioning my faith and my beliefs, having more questions than answers. However, I never lost sight of God’s love for me and I continued preaching as I felt I had a message to give.
During lock down and the start of our worshipping on Zoom I made that connection again to TMC and I have been blessed by the warm welcome that I have received. Then came that question, “would I think about becoming a steward?” I questioned whether I would have the skills and gifts to take on that role, especially following in the footsteps of some exceptional people. So, after some prayerful thought and talking to various people I said, “yes”.
I realise that we are all part of the family of God and I am amazed at the large number of people that share in the life of the Church, many of them behind the scenes in a quiet unassuming way.
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians chapter 12 said, “All of you are Christ’s body and each one is a part of it”. There is no part that is more important than another - we need each other. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.
We have all been given different gifts to be used for the benefit of us all. God calls each one of us to be fully who we are meant to be. Let us move forward together in faith and with the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the loving concern for our church family and our community.
I know many of the long- standing members of the Church but I am a new face to many of you but I look forward to getting to know you all. I finish with a prayer,
Loving God each one of us is special to you, you have called us by name
Each one of us has gifts that joined together make us strong and empower us
to become a beacon of light and hope in our Church family and the Community
With love & every blessing,
August 13th, 2021
I suppose one thing we have all learned during the past strange year and a half will have been something about priorities. What are the problems in our lives that perhaps we might once have seen as insurmountable, but that seem now to be almost nothing? What prompted this thought was my garden. During the past several years, because of a combination of personal circumstances, my garden has become shamefully neglected. So a few weeks ago I was sitting outside and looking around almost in despair. I saw the bindweed taking over like a jungle creeper; the dandelions sprouting everywhere and choking the roses; the lawn in dire need of another trim and a riotous display of buttercups in full bloom. Suddenly I became aware of the constant hum of bees, and looked more closely at the buttercups. The bees were merrily flitting from one tiny flower to another, never stopping, determined not to miss a single bright golden bloom. What could I do but thank God for the bees; thank God for his amazing provision for his wonderful creation.
So, what if this year the bindweed and the buttercups flourish? “In the light of Eternity” as dear Sister Marian Stanley used to say, the state of my garden is not so important. How lucky am I even to have a garden where I can sit outside in the fresh air and feel close to God? I realised I have wasted far too many hours looking backwards at the negatives the pandemic has brought us, and now is the time to look forward.
Andy and Sheila left us a lasting legacy, ably demonstrated over the last year in the great team who have helped us to worship without a building, and carry on the active outreach of TMC in Tilehurst. They will not be forgotten. But we begin a new school year and a new Church year next month. We shall welcome our new minister Helen into our church family, anticipating the fresh gifts and challenges she will bring us.
So for me the new motto is “Accentuate the Positive” and I pray that we shall all be able to look forward with hope and trust in God. Perhaps I can be the first to wish you all “A Happy New Year!”
August 6th, 2021
By the time you read this I will just have had the first of two procedures on my right eye. Vision difficulties are, I know, quite common- especially amongst us older folk! It has reminded me of St Paul’s words when he wrote to the Corinthians, about seeing dimly but there will come a time when we shall see clearly. Seeing into even the coming weeks, let alone the coming Autumn and Winter, is not easy. Even at the best of times the future is unpredictable and with the pandemic, which is still very much part of our lives, even more so.
What we can rely on though is two things: the first, that we belong to the Tilehurst Methodist Church Family and in that we can turn to one another for support, help and encouragement in the friendship we find there. The second, that however we feel and whatever is going on (or not going on!) in our lives that Jesus’s words remain true and unchanging. He says (John 15 verse 15) “I no longer call you servants. I call you friends.” When we are ‘going through things’ it isn’t easy to see the hand of God in our lives, but in the future we will see clearly how God has been working amongst us as individuals and as a church family.
Our youngest daughter works for Cowshed, an organization which provides clothing free to the needy (you might be amazed by how many ‘ordinary people’ that is in Berkshire) and she also has been taking clothing to refugees. She has spoken very movingly about the desperation of those who are grateful for just one pair of underpants and one pair of socks. May our eyes be not so clouded by looking at our own situation that we fail to have vision for those whose line of sight is bounded by looking for basic necessities.
Our Mission Action Planning document looks to Increased outreach impact and Providing support to charities and Opportunity to influence Local Govt. May God open our eyes to see the needs and give us, His friends, the gifting we need to respond, so that many more may see what we see: the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
July 30th, 2021
Life, they say, is full of surprises. Some 15 months ago, at the beginning of the pandemic I heard a lady remark that she never ever expected that one day she would put on a face mask, walk into a bank and ask the cashier to give her money. I feel a bit like her now, writing a Pastoral Letter to people 100 miles away, most of whom I only know through the strange world of Zoom, if at all. Pastoral Letters are things that ministers or apostles write, not people like me. And it’s not that I’m particularly good at letter writing - the only person I regularly write letters to these days is my MP, poor man. My wife, with some justification, says I’ve written more letters to him than I ever did to her in our courting days.
But I was delighted to be invited to write a Pastoral Letter for the first, and almost certainly the last, time in my life, because it gives me the opportunity to say a big “thank you” to everyone at TMC for the welcome you have given Pat and me during this past extraordinary year or so. Until June, at 10.00 on a Sunday morning we were able to join you for worship and then at 10.29 sneak out to join our own congregation in Herefordshire for the start of our service at 10.30. We have enjoyed joining your Sanctuary Service every Thursday, coming and going during your Easter Vigil and even subjected ourselves to some of Don’s quizzes. Whenever we have joined you, we have felt that Strange Methodist Warmth which is so seldom found elsewhere.
About 100 years ago, I found myself in a house with other students at the start of my first term at uni. Even in a house full of perfectly friendly northern people, I felt quite lonely. On the first Sunday, probably for the first time in human history, an 18-year-old man acted on his mother’s advice. My Mum had told me to find the nearest Methodist Church (she should have said chapel) and so I did. It was as different from the church I was used to as it could possibly be, but there I found that Strange Methodist Warmth which is so much more than mere friendliness.
We found it on the first Sunday we bowled up at St. John’s in Hereford. Our teenage boys were looking forward to being able to walk out of church as soon as the service had finished instead of being the last to leave, as organists’ families tend to be. But no, we were still the last to leave as so many people wanted to welcome us to Hereford and St. John’s. So many, in fact, that one gentleman introduced us to three quite different ladies as his wife before we noticed!
But perhaps the most remarkable thing we have discovered is that we can experience that same Strange Methodist Warmth, even from 100 miles away over Zoom. It is a precious gift indeed – I think it was born in Aldersgate Street around a quarter to nine on May 24th 1738. It is something to be both treasured and nurtured.
So, thank you for the warmth of your fellowship over these last strange months, and of course, should you ever be smart enough to holiday in Herefordshire, the most beautiful county in England, we would love to share some of our Methodist Warmth with you here too.
July 23rd, 2021
This letter is just by way of brief introduction. I look forward to getting to know you in the months and years ahead.
So, I am to be your new Minister and I'm really excited about that and about living in Tilehurst. I shall be coming with my husband, Shaun and our youngest son, Richard and our dog, Derby. Shaun is a tennis coach and as I write (June 17th) he's just preparing for an interview/trial in the Tilehurst area, so we are hoping for the best.
Richard is 25 and is just finishing a college course in functional skills, horticulture and café work. We are in the middle of working out a timetable of activities for him in Berkshire and it's all looking very positive. Derby is black and white, hence the name. Are there any other football fans out there? She likes walking, resting and eating and is happy wherever we are! Richard and I share a passion for horse riding and that's what we spend most of our free time doing. If you get the bug for horses as a child, it's something you never grow out of.
Our other children are Stephen (31) who is engaged to Jenny and Jonathan (27) who is engaged to Sally. Stephen and Jenny are in London and Jonathan and Sally live in Amesbury near Salisbury. We are looking forward to both weddings, everything having been held up by the pandemic.
Apart from the interests listed above, I'm a linguist and used to teach languages before entering the Ministry. I also love music and am studying piano. I enjoy literature, politics and cooking ( I'm vegetarian) . And then there's God as well and ideas about how God relates to the world and the people in it and what we should do about it if we think we have a sense of the existence of God. That in particular is something I hope we can all explore together.
See you soon.
Yours in Christ,
July 16th, 2021
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to start this last pastoral letter before my appointment here comes to an end, but then pressed firmly on the “delete” key on my keyboard and watched the jumble of inadequate and inarticulate words and phrases disappear from my screen.
I wonder if the Apostle Paul had this problem when he was writing to churches in Corinth or Galatia or his companions Timothy and Titus? I have a mental picture of him surrounded by screwed up bits of parchment paper as he also searched for the right words to express what he felt God wanted to say though him.
The contents of Paul’s letters were rich and varied but certain elements were common. Letter writing etiquette was usually followed with an opening that included who was writing, who the letter was for and an opening greeting and sharing of news. They often went on to contain a mixture of encouragement or challenge to the addressees, depending on the situation they were facing. Paul’s encouragement could be sincere, heartfelt, affirming, motivating, liberating and enabling, but when Paul issued a challenge or a warning he often spoke plainly, even harshly, when hard truths had to be shared. (I hope I have been as encouraging as Paul over the last 14 years, but perhaps not quite as harshly challenging or critical.)
Another common element of Paul’s letters was the issuing of a final greeting, the hope that someday their paths would cross again, or Paul would have the opportunity to return to visit them once more and finally a blessing. The issuing of a blessing is a significant gesture and can often impact the recipient in disproportionate measure.
I’m sure I’ve shared with you before the time when I was a local preacher on trial (in training) back home in the Otley and Aireborough Circuit. At the end of one service to issue a blessing to the congregation I paraphrased the ending of one of Paul’s letters saying something like, “Paul writes…’Go into all the world, abounding in hope, filled with joy and peace and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing the good news of Christ.’”
All but one of the congregation received the blessing as general words of encouragement and affirmation to them for the days ahead. But one person received the blessing very differently and the impact on their life was tremendous. The person’s name was Paul Wright and he heard my words as a direct instruction, “Paul Wright, go into the world…” Paul and his family subsequently served as Mission Partners in Nepal.
Thinking about blessings I’m reminded of the traditional hymn…
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
The hymn quite rightly reminds us that we sometimes take blessings for granted but it also omits to suggest that we have a part to play in giving, or being, a blessing to others and that sometimes the impact can be hugely significant.
These last few weeks and perhaps the next few days, will give us all the opportunity to count the blessings we have received during the period of ministry whilst Sheila, Tim, Sam, Joe and I have lived amongst you. But it is also our hope and prayer that it will be a time when we can celebrate how much of a blessing we have all been to one another and the wider community, on occasions in hugely significant ways.
God’s ability to bless you, and others through you, is in no way diminished because it is time for 1 family to move on. And we as a family are depending on God’s assurance that moving to a different place will bring new opportunities for us to bless and be blessed.
Andy, Sheila, Tim, Sam and Joe
July 9th, 2021
Friends (or siblings, in preferred Methodist Conference lingo),
Change is all around us. That's always true, but right now it feels like a lot is changing. There are the changes agreed at the Methodist Conference, which Patrick wrote about in last week's pastoral letter. There are the changes to Covid restrictions probably coming on July 19th. At TMC we're sorrowful at Andy's departure, but looking forward to welcoming Helen - with the iceberg of emotions underneath the surface of that description. (The England men's team might even win a major football tournament on Sunday, which would certainly be a change.)
Some of us are no doubt feeling overwhelmed by all of this - but I'd like to offer a message of hope and encouragement, rooted in the service of Baptism. That might not seem like the most obvious connection, but I promise you it'll make sense by the end.
I'm a big fan of the way that the Baptism service for young children is constructed. I love the way that the minister says to the child being baptised "For you, Jesus Christ came into the world" rather than "Jesus Christ came into the world for all of us" - it's intensely personal and individual. It's also important to me that God's promise of unconditional love is expressed before the parents are asked to make their own promises in response. This is even described in the wording of the service: "We love, because God first loved us." The blessing which starts with "The Lord bless you and keep you" is always moving in its simple, graceful words. I could go on listing wonderful things about this service, but in some ways, my favourite part is this:
Members of the body of Christ, we rejoice that these, our sisters and brothers, have been baptized.
Will you so maintain the Church's life of worship and service that they may grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord?
With God's help, we will.
Those five words from the assembled body of Christ are infused with hope, faith and determination. They acknowledge the joint enterprise between God and ourselves. They don't just say we'll try to maintain the Church's life of worship and service - they say we will do so.
I'd urge you to bear this in mind next time we gather for a Baptismal service - in the words of hymn 409, "let this house proclaim from floor to rafter" our faith, confidence and determination in God's love and Kingdom.
And that's how we can face bewildering change and uncertainty, too. I don't know exactly what the next few weeks and months will look like, in the country, in the UK-wide Methodist Church, or in TMC. I'm sure there'll be joy for some, discomfort for others, and a mixture for many of us. But will we face these times together in faith and fellowship?
With God's help, we will.
July 2nd, 2021
Dear members and friends of Tilehurst Methodist Church,
It’s with joy that I contribute to your weekly newsletter, beginning by praying for ‘grace and peace to each of you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ (2 Corinthians 1:2) as I share greetings from fellow Methodists in the Bristol & South Gloucestershire Circuit.
This last week I have watched the proceedings of the Methodist Conference, our national governing body. In light of restrictions imposed by COVID-19, the Conference met partly in-person and partly online: in some respects that’s less than ideal, but equally reminds us that the work of God’s church reaches far and wide.
This year’s Conference handled a lot of business, significantly the ‘God in Love Unites Us’ report with its key topics of how we relate well to each other and the topic of same-sex marriage. On this last item the Conference voted to allow, affirm and celebrate same-sex marriage, as well as cohabitation. Not everyone agreed on this, either at conference or in local consultations in the past few years, even over decades of wrestling with these questions, but we have made room for contradictory convictions to be held as we journey on together.
If you have been hurt by the church, or anyone you care about by these discussions taking so long to arrive at this point, that hurt is not erased by these decisions, but going forward the hope is that your love can be fully celebrated. Equally, if this is hard to hear because you profoundly disagree, there is still room for you at God’s table, as there is for different views on other matters. None of us can control the boundaries of love, nor carry the whole truth in who we are and how we live out our faith, but I hope and pray that we can look forward together at what love asks of us and in helping us to hold together with difference.
One of the closing acts of the Conference is to confirm the places where each minister will serve in the coming year. This will include Andy’s move over the summer to the North West where he will serve in the Liverpool District. I am sure that my personal appreciation for Andy’s ministry in Reading will be echoed widely, equally for the significant contribution Sheila has made to the life of the church and community.
Both have responded to God’s call, just as the prophet Ezekiel did in Ezekiel 2:1-2, which recounts the call of God through the presence of the Spirit. The next few verses aren’t easy reading, talking about being sent to a rebellious people, something which we hope doesn’t happen for Andy and Sheila. Equally, I hope that TMC will not prove to be a rebellious people as you prepare to welcome Helen in the coming months, but will hear God’s voice afresh in and through her ministry, just as Ezekiel hoped to be recognised as coming from God (Ezekiel 2:5b).
Turning that around, I hope Ezekiel’s words prompt us to pray for open minds and hearts for all those encountering new situations, whether in ministry and other aspects of life, as we seek to recognise God in those around us.
With love and prayers in Jesus,
June 25th, 2021
“And are we yet alive, And see each other’s face?”
(Singing the Faith No. 456)
These words open the hymn by Charles Wesley that has been sung at the opening of the Methodist Conference every year since the early 1780’s. This year the Representative Session of the Conference opens on Friday 25th June at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham and lasts until the following Thursday. It may not be possible for those present there to sing the usual hymn, but I hope that that hymn will still be broadcast because it seems more appropriate than ever this year.
Back in the 1780’s only preachers attended the Conference and, although by that stage John Wesley and the other Methodist preachers were not treated with the disdain that they often had been when the movement first began in the 1740’s, there was still an element of risk and danger in travelling around large areas of the country to share Christ’s message. So to ask each other “And are we yet alive?” after what had happened in the year since the previous Conference was not a silly question at all, but a very relevant one. For, as verse 3 of the hymn continues:
“What troubles have we seen, What conflicts have we passed,
Fightings without and fears within, Since we assembled last!”
I believe it is a tragedy that so many of the Wesley hymns which Methodists have sung for the last 280 years are falling into disuse, mainly I suppose because so few of them have been included in our latest hymn book. To my way of thinking they express vital truths in a very powerful way and, if sometimes their language is not immediately clear, it is usually worth taking the trouble to try to understand them. What is more they often say things that are very relevant to our current situation. After the last year and all the tragedy and stress of the pandemic, for the members of this year’s Conference and all Methodists to reflect on the troubles they have seen since the last Conference seems very timely. We ourselves may still be alive, but most (if not all) of us have known at least one person who has suffered or died or been bereaved during the pandemic. Whilst like the first Methodist preachers, we may wish to be thankful to God that we have come through all the difficulties we have faced in the last year, we will also want to remember those who have not been so fortunate and those who continue to suffer both here and throughout the world.
I am sure we will be remembering in our thoughts and prayers the representatives to Conference this year, not least those from our own District and Circuit, including our minister Andy. I was sorry to read that because of the delay in lifting the lockdown, only 60 people will now be allowed to join in the business in Birmingham, whilst the rest will be joining by Zoom from their homes. I’m not sure in what category Andy and the others from our District fall, but I’m sure that whether at home or in the Hall they will find they have to use all their powers of concentration to take in the ideas that are shared and to understand the decisions that have to be made. I myself have been a representative to Conference twice in the past and found I needed to pay close attention in order to keep up with what was happening. Sharing in Conference is certainly no holiday, although certainly I enjoyed my involvement in it.
This year there are 3 major topics for discussion. The first involves Marriage and Relationships as the Conference will vote on provisional resolutions “on the principles or qualities of good relating, understanding of cohabitation, and same sex marriages conducted on Methodist premises or by Methodist office-holders”. These resolutions have been approved by 29 out of the 30 local Synods, but whatever the outcome of the Conference vote, some Methodists are bound to be hurt and upset and, apart from the issues themselves, we shall need a lot of help from God to be able to go on together in the same Church and to be able “to agree to disagree” in a loving and Christ-embracing way.
Secondly, the Conference will be asked to adopt the Strategy for Justice, Dignity, and Solidarity which aims for “a profound change in the culture, practices and attitudes of the Methodist Church so that all Methodists are able to be full participants in the Church’s life.” The Strategy includes various recommendations including comprehensive mandatory training for anyone in a leadership role (anti-racism, gender equality training and disability training) and mandatory actions for Methodism at all levels.
Finally, the Conference will receive an update on work which has happened over the past year to review its Oversight and Trusteeship. “The Conference discussed last year whether we have structures of oversight and governance that are both affordable and effective considering the long-term numerical decline of the Church and current statutory requirements”. Conference will consider raising the minimum size of a local church to 12 members from 6 with churches being asked to examine creative ways of working with other local churches so they are not over-burdened with matters of trusteeship. “Other resolutions include the creation of a Connexional Council to replace the Methodist Council and Strategy and Resources Committee and a review of the size of the Conference.”
All of these, especially the first, are difficult issues, and there will also be the usual reports from all parts of the Methodist Church. I am sure we will want to pray for the Conference and all those involved in it, asking that God’s will may truly be done through the decisions that are made. As we contemplate the future of Methodism in Britain as a whole and that of our own Church here in Tilehurst as we move on after the pandemic, may we all be challenged to examine our own commitment to Christ and to deepen that if we possibly can.
May the last verse of Wesley’s great hymn express our own desire to continue following Christ, no matter what difficulties (or what joys) the next year brings:-
“Let us take up the cross, Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all things loss, So we may Jesus gain.”
God bless you all,Alan Haine
June 18th, 2021
Dear Friends and fellow disciples,
I remember when Andy & Sheila, Tim, Sam & Joe came to TMC 14 years ago; I was a steward and the church was just swinging into action for ‘Target 21’ building project to come to fruition. Andy’s first service was in the Hall, where he pitched his tent and spoke to us about moving on with God.
Since then all our lives have changed and will have done so in many different ways, not least in the past 18 months. As I look back over those years I can truly say that moving on with God is what has happened both in worship, fellowship and service, at TMC and in my own life.
Target 21 sparked and enabled the flourishing of new life at TMC with new activities reaching out to new people and I know that the faith community at TMC has been fruitful for God and will continue to be so; I read about it regularly in the weekly pastoral letter!
When Richard and I left TMC back in 2015, we were given a very precious gift which takes centre place on our dining table. It is a beautifully decorated bowl which has some words on it: John 15: 16, ‘I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit.’ It reminds me of fruitful, happy times with faithful people at TMC but also it reminds me every day that despite all our failings, our struggles in faith, our falling short of Jesus’ example of how to live, we are still chosen by God to bear fruit. Sometimes that harvest might be hard to discern and at others there will be an abundance of fruit; whatever it is, we can be thankful for God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives to enable and grow those fruits within us and the communities we serve.
Now is a time of change as one minister leaves and another arrives. Living will be different as we emerge into yet another new place when Covid restrictions are eventually lifted. Fruitfulness for God may well look different in the future as the Holy Spirit works in your personal lives and in the life of the gathered church. Do not forget that you too are chosen and appointed by God to bear much fruit and that God who has been faithful thus far, will continue to be so.
June 11th, 2021
Last week, we took a lovely break to the Malverns, staying in an “AirBNB” house with a super garden and plenty of space for the grandchildren – William and Molly on this occasion – to run around and explore the ponds, waterfalls and exciting treasures that a new holiday destination presented. It is funny how they have boundless energy to run around playing in a garden, yet the phrase “let’s go for a walk” seems to instill in them a lethargic reluctance to engage with any kind of enthusiasm!
But we found a new thing to do – well it was new to us at any rate – and that was to try and find treasure in the form of “Geocaches”. Have you heard about these? Special “caches” are hidden in various locations and you have to find them (with the aid of the internet). Gosh, they were hard to find – particularly the very small (called “nano size” – but in reality about the size of a thimble). We had great fun and found two! Yes, that’s right, just two! When you find them you write your name and the date on the book or piece of paper and return it exactly where you found it. In some of the bigger caches you can add something small to the “treasure”.
So when we came back home, we decided to see if there were any Geocaches in or around Tilehurst and Purley. There are loads! We set off on one of our usual walks on Sunday afternoon – along the Thames footpath from the Roebuck to Scours Lane, diligently following the clues and directions from the website. We found our cache – enclosed in an old 35mm film cannister – and duly wrote our names on the enclosed paper, took a photo of William and Molly holding it, replaced it and returned home – delighted that our search was successful.
We have walked that path countless times, unaware of the “treasure” that can be found by those who know where to look. I was thinking of that when seeking inspiration for this reflection today. Sometimes, treasure is hidden in plain sight. Sometimes we only see the usual even when there are new things to observe or look for. Such it is with the Good News. We take for granted the vast treasury that exists in God’s word. We read the familiar passages not necessarily looking for new meanings or for the things that are waiting for just us to read them.
This Bible Month, our focus being on Mark’s Gospel gives us an opportunity to explore the words and passages anew, looking for our own “treasure” in reflecting on what Jesus did in His travels from Galilee to Jerusalem. My wish for you is that in all your life’s travels and adventures, whether at home or on holiday, you may find a cache of peace, hope and love in all the places you visit and stay. And with the Good News as your locator and the Holy Spirit as your guide, you will find Jesus – the greatest treasure of all. (Mark 1:15)
June 6th, 2021
‘May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace’…. Was how Paul began his 2nd letter to the Church in Corinth and I extend these sentiments to you too. I’m also setting you a challenge this week (I’d say nothing difficult, but let’s see where the Spirit takes you!)
My studies on the Worship Leading and Preaching course have provided opportunities for some thought-provoking reflection and the meditation written by Rev’d Dr Catrin Harland-Davies, on the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:20 - 6:10, is one of them.
My challenge is: after you’ve read the Bible passage and the meditation below, see what happens. As I say, there’s nothing difficult in that. But, I’m also hoping that on the days when you feel you’re being challenged to uphold your Christian values and you’re in ‘choppy’ waters, you might find it helpful to reflect on the passage again.
Paul closes this letter by offering ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ Which we still offer each other to this day and long may that continue.
Here’s the meditation, used with permission by © Rev’d Dr Catrin Harland-Davies
You never said it would be easy, Lord. You never promised us a smooth ride, a trouble-free passage. You never said, “Follow me, and I will give you health, wealth and happiness.” So help us not to expect it.
When temptation comes knocking – as it did for Jesus in the wilderness, as it does for all mortal, human flesh – then give us strength of will, to remember that the Christian journey is not about smooth waters and easy pathways, or about worldly glory, but about keeping our eyes firmly on Christ as our guide, treading in his footsteps, and trusting in him to bring us safely home. Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
And why should we expect to suffer, as others suffer? Why should we have to take up our cross? Because Christ took up his cross for us; stumbled under its weight; bore its humiliation, its pain, its cruel, unspeakable torture, its slow, agonising execution. Just as he knew human temptation, so he knew human suffering.
Sinless, still he became what we are, human creatures, under the weight of judgement. Sinless, still he bore the weight of the cross, and the weight of our sin. Hands that moved only to heal bore the marks of the nails, so that our hands, which move so often to hurt, might go unmarked. Arms that were open to all spread wide on the cross, pinned there, so that our arms, which so often push others away, might be free to reach out to you.
For our sake, you made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
You never said it would be easy, Lord, but you have promised to tread every step of the way with us, as you have trodden it before us, in love, sacrifice and grace, bringing us safe along the rocky road of discipleship that leads home to you
Go well my friends,
May 14th, 2021
When there is a job to be done around the house Sheila or I will call out to the rest of the family for help and there is a deathly silence and no response whatsoever. But if I were to shout out “Hey everybody, I’ve got chocolate to share!” There would be an instantaneous stampede of rushing footsteps, cries of delight and questions about what type of chocolate and how much was there, and there would be a race to see who would get to me first.
Both calls would have been heard, but only the second would be responded to.
(I do my family a disservice in this illustration as on the whole the boys are really helpful but I think you get the point about the way we all selective in our listening sometimes)
In the Methodist Church we celebrate that God calls every single one of us to be disciples, to live lives of worship, care, service and mission. This is a calling we all hear and respond to in different ways and to different extents. Some respond to it by taking Church Membership, others by offering to fulfil a role in the life of the church, formally or informally, some will support their community in their neighbourhood or occupation. There are as many different ways to respond to God’s call as there are people. Our Church Family relies on dozens of people who express their response to God’s call as they undertake roles and responsibilities on our behalf. Each of these are ministries for which we are thankful and deserve to be celebrated.
But some people hear and sense a call to a particular role or ministry, sometimes within the life of the church and at other times in a different occupation or life choice. It has been my privilege over the years, as many of you know, to serve on the Connexional Candidates Committee and help discern the calling of people to ordained ministry, but there are many other callings that could be explored.
To help YOU explore what God might be calling YOU to do the Methodist Church is putting in place a variety of different opportunities for you to find out more and be accompanied as you seek to hear that calling more clearly and have it affirmed or challenged.
One such opportunity is the Methodist Vocations Living Library.
Do YOU, or someone you know, think you might have a particular calling? Would YOU love a chance to explore this further or offer to help someone else explore their calling? Why not come to the ‘Living Library’ on-line event? A Living Library is where some people are the ‘books’, and other people are the ‘readers’. The readers listen to the stories of the books and have the chance to ask them questions.
The first ever Methodist Vocations Living Library is an on-line morning event, on Saturday 22nd May 10am-12pm (drop in and leave anytime), where one of the ‘books’ will be our own Children & Families Worker, Lola Brown.
Other ‘books’ to visit and ‘read’ are:
This a Connexional (National) Event. For more information and if you need help to register for the Zoom event please contact Lola Brown. Deadline for booking, 12pm Thursday 20th May.
Find out more and sign up on the dedicated web page.
Have you sensed or heard the call to “come and help” but have pretended not to hear, been too busy with something else, or come up with any number of excuses? Perhaps now is the time to explore where that calling might lead you. Yes, it might include some hard work, study, training or sacrifice, but if it is the role God is calling you to, then it will also be rewarding and fulfilling and will enrich and enhance your relationship with God. Please have a chat with myself or Lola if you want to think this through further or if you have any questions.
As a parent I quickly learnt that if there was a job needing doing then it was often easier to announce the availability of chocolate first, then, once I’d got everyone’s attention, encourage them to see the chocolate as a reward for helping with the work!
I wonder if God sometimes works like that too?
May 7th, 2021
This coming week is designated as Christian Aid Week. A Significant week of the year when information and resources about the work of one of the country’s most respected faith-based charities, Christian Aid, once again comes to the fore. You can learn more about them and the work they do at https://www.christianaid.org.uk/
Christians Aid’s work is as important as ever. This year’s theme explores how the Climate Crisis is an injustice on the poorest communities who suffer the most. The current Covid situation in India is also one that Christian Aid, as part of the Disasters Emergency Committee, is seeking to respond to.
We are not able to hold face to face fundraising events at the moment, nor are we able to find sufficient volunteers for door to door Christian Aid envelope delivery and collection as we once did, but our giving is more important than ever. Our giving to the work of Christian aid enables us to respond to Jesus’ call to love our neighbour wherever and whoever they might be.
This year TMC is joining with the rest of the Methodist Southampton District in issuing the invitation to everyone who has received their Covid Vaccination (free of charge!) a donation of £10 might be given to Christian Aid. You might want to extend this invitation to family and friends who have also been vaccinated as a practical opportunity to say “Thank you” for the provision of healthcare that is denied to so many around the world.
Much of Christian Aid’s work takes place across the world in areas where the vaccine will be rolled out much later, and slower, than ours is being done. In order to ensure that the medical teams have all that they need to facilitate the roll-out of the vaccine the support from organisations like Christian Aid is vital.
The suggested donation is £10 but please just give as you are able. You can make your donation to TMC either by cheque or bank transfer, contact me if you need more details, please clearly indicate your donation is for Christian Aid.
Christian Aid Week Prayer:
from the tree of the garden of Eden,
to the tree in the city in Revelation,
we thank you for your vision of creation healed.
Help us to be your agents of restoration,
tending to the beauty of the Earth,
and enabling your healing of the nations.
April 30th, 2021
The celebration of a Bank Holiday in the midst of lock down is not quite the same is it? Although, with the slight easing of restrictions there may be some walking with others or small garden gatherings taking place on Monday. In line with another tradition of British Bank Holidays the weather forecast is a bit damp and chilly! Some May Day celebrations, such as May Fayres and Maypole dancing won’t be going ahead this year and in many places they are no longer observed in the same way some memories recall.
The origins of May Day celebrations apparently date back to Roman times when a celebration of spring, creation coming back to life, included making offerings to Flora, the goddess of flowers, vegetation, and fertility. The origins of the Maypole itself in the Fourteenth Century are unclear but historians claim that following a harsh winter it may simply be a sign that the “happy season of warmth and comfort has returned”.
In Jewish and Christian traditions there are four spring festivals observed…
As with many traditional celebrations there have been attempts over the years to “Christianise” May Day Celebrations or attribute Christian symbolism or meaning to some of the practices. In the 18th Century The Catholic Church began the practice of adding a floral headdress to pictures, icons or statues of The Virgin Mary in a “May Crowning”, perhaps connected with the crowning of a May Queen each year at this time in some communities.
One practice that we seem to have lost from the Roman Spring Festival is described by the Roman Poet, Persius, who writes that that crowds were pelted with beans and flowers as part of the celebrations! Now there’s a thought once we are back in the Church building again together!
All of these festivals take place because humanity has felt the need to respond to, and celebrate, something that the earth, or a deity, has done for us or provided for us.
Whilst seasonal festivals might give us a particular opportunity to do this with others in a special way, as individuals we must decide every single day, not just May Day, or Christmas Day or Easter Sunday, how will we live that day in response to and in celebration of what God has done for us.
How will you celebrate God’s gift of new life?
How will you respond to God’s liberation and provision?
What difference does it have in your life that God accepts, forgives and loves you?
In 1 John 4:19-21 we read that “We love because Christ first loved us”
Responding to God’s love is something we do every day. For more information on ways we might respond there is a section on Vocations on the Methodist Church Website.
Looking forward to throwing beans and flowers at you sometime soon! Happy May Day!
April 23rd, 2021
It was a joy to share with many of you in conversation about the life of our church family at our General Church Meeting last Sunday. Thank you to those who attended, prepared materials in advance, contributed on the day or followed up by contacting me subsequently. Church Council on Tuesday affirmed the indicative votes taken during the GCM so it is great to welcome Liz and Carol to the Stewards Team, and Gerry for an extended extra year, and to Pam Virgo, Don and Mary Brooksbank as representatives to the Church Council. Following last week’s meeting further nominations were received for the one remaining vacant place on Church Council and I’m really pleased that Church Council approved the nomination of Robin Skeet. It will be great to have the views and contributions of a Young Person in those meetings. Amongst other items of business, the Church Council agreed to the Mission Action Plan that had been presented and perhaps, most significantly, agreed to TMC registering to become an Eco Church and start working towards our Bronze Award. Please contact Holly Skeet if you would like to know more about this. It was the last General Church Meeting I will be involved in at TMC and it struck me how long, but also how rich and fruitful, our journey together has been over the last 14 years.
For me a significant part of the after-Easter story is the account of two of the Disciples leaving Jerusalem, distressed, frightened and confused, making their way to Emmaus and being joined by a man on the way. As they continue their journey they talk and share together, then stop to share a meal together. Eventually the realisation dawns on the disciples that it was Jesus. You can read it for yourself in Luke 24:13-35. I find it particularly significant that a deeper understanding about God and seeing Jesus in a new way comes as people spend time journeying and sharing and eating together. It’s one reason why I find groups such as Alpha or Christianity Explored so important, there’s even one that takes its name from the story “Emmaus”.
The Bible contains other stories about seekers on journeys searching for truth, seeking to find God, the Wise Men in the Christmas story spring to mind.
Tom Gordon, author and member of the Iona Community, describes an interesting journey…
An engineer, physicist, mathematician, engineer, statistician and computer scientist are on a train journey heading north. The engineer, looking out of the window, spots a black sheep in a field and says, “Look! All sheep in Scotland are black.” The physicist exclaims, “No! All we can say is that some Scottish sheep are black.” The mathematician shakes her head and pronounces, “Wrong again! The truth is there is at least one field in Scotland, containing at least one sheep, of which at least one side is black.” The statistician smiles and announces, “Sorry everyone! This one sheep is not significant. We’re only working with one sheep, and within a + or – 3% margin of error, we can’t extrapolate sufficiently from a sheep sample from Scotland that’s this small.” And the computer scientists furrows her brow and affirms, “I think it’s a special case.”
Who told the truth? One of them? All of them? None of them? The travellers could write a series of papers for scientific journals to make their various points. We can only hope that they respected each other’s understanding of the truth, continued their discussion in an amicable fashion and reached their destination without falling out. Indeed, perhaps the only way they would learn more and get closer to the truth would be by continuing to share the journey, explore and discover more together.
April 9th 2021
Andy and Sheila are now on a week’s well-earned leave following a highly successful weekend of Easter services and activities. What an amazing weekend it was….
We had all really missed the emotion of the Tenebrae service last year and joyfully participated in this year’s version, on Zoom. This time we each had to play our own part in creating the light and shadows and the fading of the candle light to darkness in each of the Zoom windows was very powerful.
But that was just the beginning! There followed an online vigil that continued to the daybreak service on Sunday morning with every hour attended by TMC members and others. This was not just a quiet, reflective vigil, although there was room for that in Andy’s readings from Stephen Cottrell’s book ‘Things He Carried’ and in June Hardcastle’s Stations of the Cross, but there was also space for appropriate music, children’s craft activities, and a gathering together in shared prayer. We thank everyone who helped to assemble this wonderful event, but particularly Jon Skeet and Andy; their tireless efforts made sure that a coherent running order all ran smoothly and that nobody would log on to find themselves alone – like Christ, finding that everyone else was asleep.
The climax, of course, was at daybreak on Easter Sunday with Andy’s outside broadcast from McIlroy Park, looking over Reading and reminding us that the message of Easter is just as relevant for us now, here, as it was for the disciples two thousand years ago. Christ is alive!!
God Bless, everyone!
Thursday April 1st
On Easter Sunday last year we held our first ever service on Zoom, taking our first tentative steps into an unfamiliar new world. A few months earlier none of us could have imagined that is what we would be doing. A year later, few of us would have believed it was still required! But look how far we have come and all we have learnt and achieved since then. Last year there was no Tenebrae service on Good Friday or Sunrise service early on Easter Sunday Morning. This year we have both and the new experience of holding an Easter Vigil. See God is doing a new thing amongst us!
Perhaps living through this last year when the whole world seems to have been turned upside down can help us begin to appreciate just a little how completely world changing the resurrection was for the disciples and Jesus’ followers.
A few months before it happened none of them imagined it was possible. In the days after that first Easter day they took their first tentative steps of their lives turned upside down. A year later they were still pinching themselves and getting used to the “new normal” doing all sorts of things for the first time and having to rely a great deal on God’s help. Wow, I can relate to that over these last 12 months!
The miracle and mystery of resurrection continues to change everything, transforming lives, inviting fresh starts and making new beginnings possible even when we just couldn’t see it coming.
Sheila and I hope you all have a life-giving Easter and I praise God that we are part of a Church family that actively celebrates and shares God’s unconditional love for all, in so many different and varied and new ways.
Friday March 26th
What a humbling experience this last week has been. As some of you know one of the roles I am asked to fulfil by the Methodist Church beyond the circuit is to serve on our national “Candidates Selection Committee” or CSC for short. Those people who have felt called by God to ordained ministry in the Methodist Church go through a process of discernment beginning in their local church and circuit, then the District and finally they come before us at CSC. It is an intense and stressful week for all concerned but one that is prayerfully undertaken by all involved.
Before we meet the candidates in person, this year on zoom, we receive a mountain of paperwork in their “portfolio”. Details of previous interviews, reports of placements, services, and training courses, book reviews, essays on the distinctiveness of Methodist Theology (always a good read), book reviews and references from an employer and a “critical friend”. The Panel that they will come before at CSC will meet in advance to talk about the Candidates that they have read about and share their various impressions. It is easy to think we already know the candidate before we meet them.
Why is it then that I am always surprised when, meeting a candidate in person, that the encounter is so much more revealing of who they really are. It is a richer and more sacred encounter than just reading about them in their portfolio, even if some of the words are their own about themselves. At CSC there is never enough time to ask all the questions I’d like, and I’m often left still wanting to know more.
I wonder how similar this is for some of you in your relationship with Jesus? You have read lots about him, possibly even the whole portfolio from Genesis to Revelation. You have listened to others talk about him, maybe you have been in a group where others have shared their various impressions of him. You may have felt associated with Jesus for many years and think you know him, but have you actually had that personal encounter? Have you actually met in a way that your relationship with Jesus is now richer and more sacred? Have you been enriched, even transformed through that relationship and been left wanting to learn and understand even more about him?
I’m aware that such an encounter can come in various forms and may be different for each of us. For some it can be an experience that feels so literally real that it’s a date in the diary, a specific event such as the one John Wesley experiences where he describes that “My heart was strangely warmed, I realised that God did love me”. For others it is a more gradual process with a relationship that increases in intimacy and trust over perhaps a long period of time.
I’m prompted along this train of thought not just because of my role at CSC this last week but because of the journey ahead of us. Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
In the whole Church year there is perhaps no better time to meet the real Jesus. Themes of kingship on Palm Sunday are contrasted with servanthood as Jesus takes the bowl and washes the disciples’ feet during the Last Supper. Justice and innocence stand juxtaposed during the narrative of Jesus’ trial. There is joy and celebration, tears and laughter, pain, suffering and death but also, of course, renewed life and hope. Both the humanity and divinity of Jesus are laid bare before us. God chooses to reveal his love for you most explicitly through this part of Jesus’ story.
Are you content to just read about him or rely on what you hear others say about him? I pray this Easter as you decide to take the journey on your own or choose to gather with the wider church family at various points, you will meet the real Jesus. The one through whom God invites you to really know him, to know his unconditional, sacrificial love and transformational, resurrection power.
Friday March 19th
I find myself troubled when watching a TV police drama or detective programme when a witness is asked a question like, “Can you remember where you were driving your car on the 13th of January 14 years ago?” I think I would come across as uncooperative or guilty because the simple truth would be “no, sorry officer, I can’t remember!” We laugh and joke about our inability to remember things from yesterday when we can give you the names of our school friends from decades ago, but for many it’s not a laughing matter as conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia impact the memory of our friends and family members.
This coming week we have been invited to help “Turn Tilehurst Blue” to commemorate that one year ago, on 23rd March 2020, the first National Lock-Down began. Can you remember it; how it felt; the impact it had on our community and you personally? We are asked to remember the work of the NHS and other frontline care workers, we are invited to remember the lives of those who have died over the last year. I’m sure this is something that we can’t, and won’t, forget.
For Turn Tilehurst Blue our Church building will be lit up with blue light from the inside and a blue balloon rainbow arch will be placed in the foyer. Outside during the day from Saturday 20th there will be a basket of blue strips of cloth with an invitation for anyone passing by to help us Turn Tilehurst Blue by tying a blue strip of cloth to the white handrails as a way of expressing our appreciation for carers, NHS and others, or in memory of someone who has died in the last year. Please come along and add one yourself.
As a young teenager on a Methodist Guild Holiday one summer I met a girl called Annette. We enjoyed a whirlwind teenage romance but at the end of the holiday I returned “up north” and she went home with her family hundreds of miles in almost the opposite direction. On the last night of our holiday Annette took my Bible and underlined the last few words of Isaiah 49: 15, “…I will never forget you!” It was a lovely gesture and a message that sustained our long-distance relationship for a while. As I’m sharing it with you it’s obvious that it’s something that I remember, but I occasionally wonder whether Annette has remained true to the message she gave me, does she still remember me? I suspect that I am long forgotten!
The wider context of the verse from Isaiah which Annette underlined for me speaks of God’s love for each of us being even greater than that of a mother for her child. Speaking on behalf of God Isaiah asks the rhetorical question, can a mother who has borne and nurtured a child ever forget the child she has fed? To which the listener is expected to answer “no, of course not, that would be impossible”. Isaiah continues, well even if the impossible were to happen and the mother did forget that child, God will not forget you.
In the midst of our poor memories, and those things that we come together as a community to remember, such as Turn Tilehurst Blue, I hope that, like me, you find reassurance in Isaiah’s image of God (A motherly image we could have thought about last week on Mothering Sunday), that God will never forget us.
Friday March 12th
Mothering Sunday, always the fourth Sunday in Lent, fell on the first Sunday in lock-down a year ago. The daffodils that had already been purchased for distribution in Church were instead placed in various places around Tilehurst with an invitation for them to be taken and given away. Mothering Sunday is going to be different again this year. No service in Church, no visiting our mums or grandmums and, for a lot more people than usual, Mothering Sunday will have unhappy associations because of the losses and worries of Coronavirus.
We have set aside some time in our Sunday service this week to celebrate Mothering Sunday (I can guarantee a laugh and a smile!) celebrating the role of mothers but also acknowledging that for some the theme is distressing and painful.
As we continue our journey through Lent and Ruth Valerio’s book, “Saying Yes To Life” with its focus on God’s creation I can’t help but notice a connection as our planet itself is so often referred to as “Mother Earth”. This helpfully reminds us, not only of how the earth provides for us in the same way a loving parent provides for her offspring, but perhaps also that the relationship over time becomes more reciprocal and the children grow to love, respect and care for the parent. Perhaps we should be more grateful in acknowledging what Mother Earth provides for us and so be more ready to show our love and respect for her in our care of the planet.
The Bible itself uses the image of Motherhood to reveal to us more about how God intends to be in a loving, caring, relationship with us. Although many of us tend to address God as “Our Father” there is a lot of feminine imagery of God throughout the Bible. Jesus himself describes his love for the people of Jerusalem as that of a mother hen longing to gather her chicks, and the Old Testament pictures God as a mother eagle with us as her chicks hiding ‘under the shadow of her wings’.
Friday March 5th
Sleep is important. Without it I can’t concentrate and I get even more grumpy than usual. Sleep is pleasurable. There’s not much that beats the warm cosy feeling of drifting off to sleep or those moments of dreamy wakefulness first thing in the morning, especially when you don’t have to rush to get up. Sleep is essential. Without it our body can’t repair itself and our health deteriorates. Sleep is important. What would you be willing to give up sleep for?
I wonder if you’ve ever been up all night waiting for something momentous to happen the next day. I know of people who 15-20 years ago sat in blankets in bookshop doorways waiting for the newest Harry Potter book to be launched! Perhaps you’ve camped out overnight for tickets for Wimbledon? I can remember being upset as a child when my Dad refused to go and queue overnight at Elland Road ticket office for an important Leeds United game (Well he is really a Middlesbrough fan so why should he?) We went early the next morning instead and the match was sold out. Maybe you have accompanied a pregnant partner in labour all through the night and then shared the joy of new birth the next day. Conversely, you may have sat at the bedside of a loved relative or friend in the last hours of their life, not wanting them to be alone, needing to be there, not because you could do anything to change the outcome, but just being there with them was the right thing to do. We often describe this as keeping a bedside vigil. Tragically, with covid restrictions, this has not always been possible this last year.
Sleep is important and precious, so being willing to give it up or go without it, makes the statement that whatever we are giving it up for is even more important and more precious to us.
Purposefully depriving oneself of sleep is known as keeping a “Vigil”, from the Latin “vigilia” meaning wakefulness. Whilst it is sometimes used for the serious and less serious examples above it is most often used in the life of the Church to describe an overnight act of devotional observance, watching and waiting, the most significant being the Easter Vigil. Traditionally this is held from the evening of Easter Saturday through to Easter Sunday morning and transitions through a series of readings, prayers and liturgies from the sadness and darkness of the tomb of death to the light, life and joy of resurrection celebration.
As we approach our second Easter Weekend with covid restrictions hampering our planning and preparation for our “normal” Easter activities we thought we would do something different this Easter and hold our own, on-line via Zoom, Easter Vigil.
The vigil will begin on Good Friday evening with an act of Tenebrae-like worship and run continuously through the night of Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Saturday night, ending with a virtual dawn service on Easter Sunday morning. We are thinking of dividing up the time into hourly or half hourly segments, some with planned input and activities, others with music or silence. We don’t expect anyone to attend for the whole period, people can come and go throughout the time, but we would like to ensure that the vigil is maintained with a constant presence.
We want to invite you to take part in this Easter Vigil, to consider giving up some time, and possibly some sleep, to join us. We will need people to offer to lead an activity (this could be of your own choice), others to help the leaders with perhaps readings and things. But mainly we want to ask for volunteers to simply commit to be present for a period, with no requirement other than to be there, and be friendly to others who happen to be keeping vigil at the same time.
Over the next few weeks we will share more details and develop a timetable/programme of the Vigil but in the first instance please get in touch with Jon Skeet (email@example.com or 0797 0158865) or myself (firstname.lastname@example.org or 0792 3015541) if you are interested in helping to make it happen, or are willing to just “be there” at some point. If you’re quick you can be first to grab the 3.00 am to 4.00 am slots before anyone else!
Friday February 26th
It was kind of Boris Johnson, in his address to the nation on Monday, to respond to last week’s pastoral letter about car journeys by offering us a “road map”. I am assuming his intention is that it will help us to navigate safely the rest of our journey and help us gauge how far we have left to go. You could almost say he was answering my question “Are we nearly there yet?”
I have a mixed experience of following maps and map reading. Brought up in the Scout Movement I have got all the badges, successfully navigating my way around Scar Fell Pike in the Lake District, the highest mountain in England, in thick mist on one of our Scout camps. An early experience in Kenya also saw me travel across half the country from the highlands of Mount Kenya to the shores of Lake Victoria, some 450 km and an 8 hour drive away, to attend the opening of a new Church building. Some of those attending were surprised to see me and asked how, as a new comer to Kenya, I’d managed to get there. I explained that I used a map and proceeded to unfold and show them my piece of paper covered with feint squares, green and brown patches and lots of different coloured lines. Some had never seen a map before and couldn’t understand how it had possibly helped me to find my way!
One of the observers that day pointed to a bold red line on the map in another part of Kenya, depicting a main, tarmac covered, road but warned me that my map was wrong. The road was not there. When I visited that part of the country a year or so later I remembered his warning and, sure enough, I travelled cautiously along a muddy, bumpy single dirt track rather than cruising comfortably on a new highway. The map and the reality it sought to depict were not the same. (Something about EU money and corruption was offered by way of explanation).
So, maps are not understood by everyone, some maps are inaccurate, out of date, or don’t truly reflect reality.
During Lent as we look ahead to the events of Easter we remember how Jesus, in his teaching, tried to prepare his disciples for what was to happen by mapping out the direction his ministry would take him, forewarning them of what lay ahead and what was to happen to him in Jerusalem. Not all the disciples understood the map, some wanted to take a different road and others didn’t agree with the direction he was showing them.
This year on our Lenten journey, being guided by Ruth Valerio’s book “Saying Yes To Life” in our weekly services, we are offered further maps. Firstly, a map helping us navigate our way through the Genesis narrative of the days of creation and, secondly, the road map offered by scientists and climate change specialists about what we need to do to help prevent a climate disaster. Are these maps, I wonder, ones we understand or are willing to follow?
Every time I did some proper map reading in the Scouts I wasn’t on my own but part of a team where we checked each other’s compass bearings and map reading skills, helpfully avoiding too many unnecessary “scenic route” detours. When I travelled in Kenya I did so most of the time with other people. It is amazing how popular and useful you become when you have a vehicle and money for petrol when travelling in Kenya. However, I lost count of the times when passengers more than paid their way by adding their local knowledge to my inaccurate map enabling us to reach our destination quicker and often safer than if I’d travelled alone.
We are fortunate to have the theologically educated Ruth Valerio helping us to interpret her maps this Lent and in the Circuit Lent group that met on Wednesday we were encouraged, as we talked about actions we could take, to share these commitments with one another so that, together, we can encourage and hold one another accountable to the commitments we were making in our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.
Like the disciples, we have Jesus journeying with us as we prepare for Easter. I find it reassuring that, like the disciples, I don’t always understand the future that Jesus has mapped out, sometimes I’m reluctant to follow, and sometimes I’m quite certain that I want to head off in a completely different direction!
I’ll leave it for you to make your own judgements on whether or not Boris’ road map is helpful, understandable, or even bears any resemblance to reality. But I do hope that in following it together we may find ourselves at the destination we all hope for, a reduction in the death and suffering of so many people and the hope of being able to gather all together once again.
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