Tilehurst Methodist Church
(Click on the picture for worship resources)
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