Click here to download the newsletter as a PDF or contact June Colley for a paper version.
Our July/ August newsletter is now available to read.
Click here to download the newsletter as a PDF or contact June Colley for a paper version.
When times are rough, people go back to the roots. This is why we, alongside the majority of URCs, are doing the same, asking in this time of membership decline and closing churches: What did the disciples do in the times of the early church? How did they grow their gatherings? What did they actually do?
What might their mealtimes have looked like without the physical presence of Jesus? How did they break bread? How could we break bread when we are gathered? How can we become more genuine, credible, alive, direct in our faith?
We have an early model of church described to us in Acts 2, 42-47.
The 10 booklets of “Holy Habits”, based on these verses, look at each quality mentioned and come up with suggestions as to how we can make this a habit for ourselves, too, defining who we are and what we do to follow Jesus:
“Holy Habits” is described as a way of life, that, when faithfully lived day by day both privately and in our gatherings, encourages others to join in Walking the Way with Jesus today.
June Colley and I have been looking into how we can use these 10 booklets for our group.
We will explore a new habit every other month in gathered worship, home groups (which we will help set up, encourage and equip), in our outreach activities and indeed in every aspect of gathered and dispersed discipleship. Our start will be January 2019.
Further details about this exciting journey for us will come in the September Newsletter. Watch this space!
Wishing you a lovely and sunny summer!
Yours in Christ,
Each morning, the United Reformed Church sends out a reading, short reflection and prayer to around 2,500 people via email.
The reflections are written by a variety of people from different places and perspectives across the Church.
The current series is based on the book of Ruth.
You can sign up to receive them by going to devotions.urc.org.uk
(and you can read previous devotions there too).
If you’d like to receive the devotions as a booklet, please contact June Colley who will can print them off for you if you don’t have access to the internet.
The common perception of society in the UK is that people are basically good, but that nobody is perfect and that being good only needs a bit more effort.
However, Christianity takes a very different view.
Psalm 53:3 says “Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one” and in Psalm 51:5 David says “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Jesus, in Matthew 19:17 says “There is only One who is good”.
God’s standard is perfection, but we do not miss the mark by just a little bit, our whole lives are permeated with wrong thoughts, motives, attitudes, not to mention deeds.
The problem is that if you only sinned once, the sin spreads rapidly like an aggressive viral infection that you can never get rid of.
In a number of places in the Bible, yeast is used as a metaphor for sin, and Jesus talks about it spreading through the whole batch of dough. In Roman’s chapters 6 and 7, Paul talks about us being “slaves to sin”.
The amazing thing about Christianity, is that Jesus came to rescue us from this slavery, by making it possible for us to be forgiven.
As Paul points out, our earthly bodies (and hearts and minds) are still being pulled in the wrong direction, but because we have been forgiven, the Holy Spirit is within us, giving us a new desire to do what God wants.
The very first and hardest step is recognising that “I am bad”, that I am helpless to do anything about it, and humbling myself enough to start trusting Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross.
This forgiveness is completely and utterly free, and you can depend on it with your life. Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Advocacy is fundamental to Christian Aid’s work in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. They are unequivocal in their support for the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis to live safely and securely, and for a viable, sustained peace based on accountability and justice for all, guided by international law.
Advocacy work continues to build on existing positions and the principles they believe are essential for any viable solution to the conflict: an end to occupation; self-determination and sovereignty; effective governance; protection of rights; security for all; freedom of movement; and control over natural resources.
Raising Awareness to Build Peace
Christian Aid sees the occupation as a root cause of poverty in IOPT. Evidence from evaluations of Christian Aid’s work in IOPT has highlighted the need to increase awareness of the occupation and ensuing conflict amongst the Israeli public, as many are unaware of either the history or the day-to-day reality of occupation experienced by the Palestinians.
To counter the traditional narratives and try and influence public opinion towards ending the occupation, Christian Aid works with partners such as Zochrot and The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
In the occupied Palestinian territory, CA partners The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and The Agricultural Development Association (PARC) support communities to undertake participatory vulnerability capacity assessments (PVCAs). This approach focuses on bringing the voices of women, men and, where relevant, children together to share ideas and explore the risks and challenges they face, but also the opportunities available to them.
They use this information to devise community-specific action plans which aim to ensure they are prepared to face the risks that they identify.
This approach strengthens resilience at individual, community and institutional levels.
These action plans can then also help the community leverage support for additional development work they wish to do or plan advocacy efforts to challenge local or national decision makers to protect their rights.
Economic Opportunities for Young People
This is a new area of work for Christian Aid in IOPT, and they are working on a number of pilot initiatives.
The Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) supports young people in Gaza from ages 5-17 with multi-disciplinary psychosocial activities such as drama, art and other therapy.
They also provide vocational training for young people, teaching skills to access the global digital market to enhance employment and present opportunities for people to generate income, notwithstanding the blockade.
Raboud village, Hebron Governorate, West Bank - February 2018
Christian Aid worked with the YMCA to use the Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (PVCA) tool so that communities were able to identify their needs, the risks they face, and how they might be able to address these.
In Raboud and four other surrounding villages, ‘protection groups’ were established for each village.
Made up of youth, women, and men, the groups meet to discuss issues within the community and how they can work together to address these issues. The women pictured here are from two of these protection groups.
This is the first time that women in the community have been involved in the decision-making.
The group told us that since working in this new way, women are now trusted to run committees and have leadership roles.
Mai, who leads the Women’s Development Programme with the YMCA, said that having women involved with the PVCA has been vital, ‘We weren’t seeing the impact we wanted to – but once we included women in the PVCAs, it changed everything.’
The protection group has made improvements to a health clinic, where they are now able to do breast cancer screenings.
They also built a culvert and bridge so that they can cross a sewage stream, which is running down onto their land from a nearby illegal Israeli Settlement, in order to access their olive and almond trees.
IMAGE: Cassie Woodward/ Christian Aid
I was invited to attend a morning at The British Library, which is within walking distance of King’s Cross Station, arranged by The Bible Society on Friday 13th April, when three scholars from the Library talked about the sacred texts which are stored there.
Dr. Aviva Dautch spoke first about Text, Texture and Translation.
She told us that the digitising of all the Biblical texts is an ongoing process, with Hebrew texts being tackled first. The first translation of the whole Bible into Greek, the Codex Sinaiticus or Sinai Bible was hand written on vellum in the 4th century AD and was discovered in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the 19th century. It is one of the most valuable books held at the Library.
The Lindisfarne Gospels which were completed in 721 are one of the treasures of the Library.
John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English in the 1380s is also on display. He was an Oxford scholar and professor who advocated reform of the Roman Catholic Church and there was much opposition to his translation. By 1408 translating the Bible into English was banned.
Julian Walker next talked to us about the Printing of the Bible. Before printing was invented, it took about six months to write out the Bible by hand. In Germany in the 1450s, Johann Gutenberg made 180 printed copies of the Bible in Latin using casts made of lead and tin, revolutionising the production of Bibles. Three colour printing followed with illustrations.
The printing of the Bible in England was begun by William Caxton in the 1530s. William Tyndale used Greek and Hebrew sources for his translation of part of the Bible into English in 1530. Copies were burned as there was much opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and he was executed in 1536.
Myles Coverdale’s Bible in 1535 was the first complete translation of the Bible into English and many copies were printed.
This was followed by the Matthew Bible in 1537 and The Great Bible in 1539.
Forty editions of the Bible were produced in Henry VIII’s reign and in 1568 the Bishops’ Bible was produced under the authority of the Church of England and is considered to be the base text for the King James’ Bible. The first Welsh translation of the Bible appeared in 1588.
Irene Wise then spoke to us about Bible Illumination. Decorated initial letters became common and were very elaborate with Inhabited Initials even having animals drawn inside them.
The Lindisfarne Gospels have examples of amazing illuminations and the Gospel in Arabic has pages with designs similar to Persian carpets. The Catalan Old Testament and the Sherborne Missal are two other 15th century illuminated treasures to be found in the British Library.
Then Paul Williams, one of the Bible Society’s chief officers, told us about the work of the society today in 147 countries in the world, translating the scriptures into many different languages.
In Britain the work of the society is to help churches to regain confidence and increase the impact of the Bible in society. It hopes to build a Bible Academy, to equip Christians to relate the Bible to all of life, overcoming barriers to understanding the Bible.
After all the talks had finished, we were invited to go round The Treasures of the British Library Gallery, accompanied by some of the speakers and marvel at the amazing books and manuscripts there.
It was an interesting morning and if you have never been to the British Library, it is well worth a visit.
The meeting was held at the Community Hall of Christ Church, Wanstead on Thursday 12th April at 8pm, and the topic was: Blood Transfusion and Organ Donation.
The first speaker was Revd. Santou Beurklian-Carter, a Chaplain at Whipps Cross and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals.
She said that most Christians would be in favour of blood transfusion, apart from Jehovah’s Witnesses who object to it, as blood for them represents life and should not be passed from person to person. Bloodless surgery is however acceptable to them.
Organ donation again would be supported by most Christian denominations, with whole body donations even being considered by some people, as a means of promoting research and helping fellow human beings.
Organ donation from animals raises ethical issues and animal welfare concerns, so probably would not be acceptable to most Christians.
Khola Hasan, a member of the Islamic Sharia Council and a Sunni Muslim, agreed that blood transfusion and organ donation from living donors is acceptable to most Muslims, so long as the donor is unharmed, as saving life and intellect is very important. Agreement would be needed from the family for organ donation from a dead person, and no commercial gain should be involved.
Transplants from a foetus would be problematic, and only allowed from a dead foetus.
In India there is a place called Kidney Village where kidneys have been sold for 900 dollars and poor people are exploited, so obviously this should never happen. Organ donation is not acceptable for some Muslims who have a belief in the resurrection of the body after the Day of Judgement, so the whole body must be complete.
The third speaker was Rabbi Steven Dansky, from the Redbridge United Synagogue. He declared that for Jewish people the concept of life was paramount and if you are able to save someone, you must do it. However a person’s life should not be put in danger by donating blood or a body organ to save someone else. A heart transplant from someone who is brain dead would be problematic.
A question and answer time then followed. It was noted that ancient texts do not cover such issues, so guidance has to be given to people of faith from their religious leaders.
Whole body donation was acknowledged as being very helpful so long as the body was treated with respect and sensitivity. Transplants from animals are generally not acceptable to Muslims, but blood and organ donations from living people are regarded as acts of charity. So there was a great deal of agreement among the three faith leaders, showing how much we have in common.
The next meeting of the Forum will be held at a synagogue at 8pm on Thursday 21st June when the topic will be ‘Demons and Exorcism’.
The Revd Philip Brooks, United Reformed Church Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, visited Israel last month and took part in an Israel-Palestinian task group to learn about and educate the denomination on issues affecting Israel and Palestine ahead of a denominational tour in 2019. He reflects on his trip in the wake of the controversial news that the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
This week sees a small US consulate in Jerusalem become the focus of a global controversy. Situated in Arnona, a quiet neighbourhood in the south of Jerusalem, the consulate building, with fewer than 100 employees, will be transformed into the official US Embassy for Israel. Forty miles away, the former fortress-like embassy, and its 800-strong staff, will become the ‘Tel Aviv Branch Office’.
This symbolic move is the culmination of one of President Trump’s election campaign pledges and takes place today (14 May), commemorating the date on which Israel declared its independence in 1948. Tomorrow, Palestinians mark the ‘Nakba’, or the ‘catastrophe’, that befell them when they were displaced by Israel’s War of Independence.
Up until now, the international community have remained united in maintaining their embassies in Tel Aviv, given the contested status of Jerusalem. The United Nations voted 128 to nine (with 35 abstentions), in condemnation when the decision to move the US Embassy was announced. But, in contrast, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lauded the US President as a ‘great friend’ and described the move as: ‘A great moment for the citizens of Israel and a historic moment for the state of Israel’. Clearly, the politics surrounding this issue have a long way to run as both religion and politics contribute to Jerusalem’s divisions.
My wife and I had the privilege of visiting Jerusalem for the first-time last month with two colleagues from the URC. Although we had been well briefed beforehand, we were still taken aback by the obvious separation that we witnessed. The physical layout of the Old City of Jerusalem highlights the religious divisions. The city is split into four quarters; Christian, Armenian, Muslim and Jewish, and each has their own distinct identity.
We went to the ‘Western’ or ‘Wailing Wall’ – which is the supporting wall of the huge platform upon which the Temple once stood – now the most sacred place of prayer for the Jewish people. Our small party had to separate at this point. As in many faith traditions, my wife was directed to the section of the wall set aside for women to pray and the rest of us went to the bigger area reserved for the men.
We then visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, tomb and resurrection. The site is occupied by six separate Christian denominations drawn from historic Orthodox and Catholic traditions. As a first-time observer, it perhaps gives the appearance of churches competing for one holy space, but more accurately it represents an agreement which goes back over many generations.
Early on the Sunday morning we joined the 7.30am queue to visit the Haram-esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) within which stands the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. Access to this area, where the Temple once stood, is limited to specific times of the week for non-Muslims.
Not far away we paid a moving visit to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. But even here, as I looked towards the Old City the view was dominated by separate burial areas, dividing Christian, Jews and Muslims even in death. Such division is not unique to Jerusalem, it just somehow felt more painfully apparent in this most holy of places.
Our pilgrimage included visits to Bethany and Bethlehem, which now involves going through the checkpoints in the huge separation barrier. We had the opportunity to talk to Palestinian Christians, who spoke of their real fears for the fragile balance of peace posed by the move of the US Embassy.
These fears echoed the words of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem who wrote to President Trump in December 2017 asking him to re-think his decision because: ‘Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm’.
We left Jerusalem with many questions unanswered and a good degree of sadness. It prompted me to turn to the final section of Luke Chapter 13, entitled ‘Lament for Jerusalem’. Verse 34 records Jesus’ words: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’
Let us hope and pray that the events of this week do not turn into yet another lament for Jerusalem. As people of God, may we continue to work for peace and justice for all in this very troubled part of the world, which draws together people from so many different traditions of faith. May we hold onto the hope of Psalm 133: ‘How good it is, how pleasant for God’s people to live in unity’.
Many of the churches in the Western world have lost confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.
Contemporary culture and ideas would seem to contradict the claims of the Bible and so the church is in retreat.
But we should be wary of thinking that the conclusions of contemporary culture are arrived at in an unbiased way.
The starting-point of many people’s thinking is that God doesn’t exist, didn’t create the universe and that miracles do not happen.
If you start with a false premise, then you are not going to be able to arrive at the correct conclusion.
Unfortunately, this error has also crept into the church’s thinking.
If God really is the all-powerful creator of the universe, should we be surprised that He can predict events hundreds of years beforehand, or that Jesus, His Son, healed people in miraculous ways?
Science cannot say that miracles do not happen, because by definition, miracles are exceptional events, and science is founded on the consistency of repeatable experiments. Just because I have not seen a miracle myself, I cannot conclude that miracles never happen.
In “The Nature, Faith and Order of the United Reformed Church”, we say “The highest authority for what we believe and do is God’s Word in the Bible”.
Let us dig into the rich treasure of the Bible with confidence, because it tells us all we need to know about our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The Forest Group of United Reformed Churches is a family of four churches on the edge of Epping Forest. We belong to Thames North Synod.
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