For those of you who LOVE Advent and Christmas as it presents itself to us, year-in, year-out, please feel free to read no further!
For those who find a bit of seasonal dread within themselves about the full up diary of December, the “must-do’s” and “Oh-that-one-again!’s”… - Let me share with you some hope. I’d like to do so by pointing the way to our Holy Habits programme, which we’ll kick off on January 6th (the Feast of Epiphany) at our Joint Service.
In Acts 2, 42-47 we read about the early Christians: They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. (…) And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. (…)
It doesn’t say: Every year, they celebrated Jesus’ birthday in a very certain way, making sure the meal was always the same and piping hot when it miraculously arrived on the table. (Anyone slaving away on their own in the kitchen??)
It also doesn’t say: They were completely stressed about the kind of presents they would give to each other whilst pretending (and telling their kids) some bearded fantasy bloke had anything to do with it.
Here’s the Good News: We are free in Christ! We can comply (with the pressures of the consumer Christmas, of “tradition”, of our own or other people’s expectations), but we don’t have to. It is up to us!
I don’t think Jesus minds us celebrating his birthday. I do think though that he’d like this celebration to be more reflective of his teaching.
Inviting non-family members comes to mind, making space for others, eating with “sinners” (others than just ourselves), giving generously to God’s mission like the poor widow in the temple (Mk 12), and not-being-afraid-to-stand-out-from-the-crowd. Obeying God more than the people, more than our tradition, more than the dictate of happy TV.
“Whatever you have done for any of these, you have done for me.” (Mt 25)
With love to you all. Yours in Christ,
As we enjoy the beauty of autumnal sunshine and the earthen smells, as the days are getting shorter and the leaves are turning golden and falling to the ground, some of you, like me, may be reminded that our own time on earth is limited and will some time come to an end.
I love November for reminding me. As much as I enjoy the sun in spring and summer, I do love the end of the church year for drawing us in towards the darkness, for exposing us to the uncomfortable warning apocalyptic texts that come with Remembrance Sunday and all the way through Advent and towards Christmas.
I see it as a wake-up call not to take my life for granted, nor my loved ones, nor God’s loving presence and mercy and His purpose for us all, nor the liberty and peace that we enjoy in this country, despite current political, social and environmental struggle. I don’t want to take for granted (although I mostly do).
May we remember the beauty and warmth of the golden autumn sun when our days will have become wet and dreary.
May we remember the light that shines in the darkness, and that within our own dreariness/ darkness, entirely unwanted and uncalled for, we can become an opportunity for Christ’s light to shine even brighter. (2 Cor 12,9)
May we remember the rock from which we were hewn (Isaiah 51,1f.), the loving creator who called us into existence for a reason (no doubt more than one: different purposes in different phases of our lives). God will not only turn nature from winter back into spring, and night back into day, but will turn also our inner scarceness and angst into grace and use us, even us, for joining in with His mission work. Our God is a great, big God!
Have a good Remembrance.
Yours, in Christ
What did the first disciples in the early church do after Jesus had risen and ascended into heaven?
How did they live? How did their faith shape their lives, especially in the hostile environment they had to live in?
In the book of Acts we find a summary which may be more an idealistic image rather than a factual historic account. Either way, it was written down to encourage other Christians (us!) to do the same:
“All the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, ever meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.” (Acts 2, 42-47)
From January on, over a 2-year period, we will re-learn those “Holy Habits”, until hopefully, (that is the aim), these habits really do become second nature to us in the Forest Group:
We hope that as many of you as possible are willing and will join in! Feel free to switch house groups if another one meets at a better time for you and you don’t mind the drive.
None of the topics are new to us, of course, but maybe they are not habits to us yet?
June and I are very excited about this joint Forest Group journey! I hope you are intrigued? More soon…
Yours in Christ,
What a summer we had – too hot for some, too cold for others (we got the jumpers out in Scotland), too short for some, boringly long for others, full of new adventures for some, burdened with sad news for others.
Our journey goes on. We go into September, into late summer days and autumn, into a new school year with new teachers, classes and friends and back to work, picking up on our lives. We go into the season of Harvest celebrations, of ever shorter days, of worldly associations with “Christmas” being forced upon us in the shops.
Many rocks on our way. The tides of life go in and out, and we walk with them, adjust our lives around them, in the name of our Lord.
As God’s church we do not drift. We walk steadily onwards towards our aim, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
“For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Ps 91,11f)
And: “Teach me your way, o LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Ps 86,11)
Walking into September, may the angels guard you, and may the Lord teach us all His way for us. And so, may we walk in the light of the Lord!
Please hold in your prayer all for whom something new will start in September, as well as all our serving and non-serving Elders who will gather on September 15th for a joint Elders Day on next steps into the future of the URC/ of the Forest Group (with guest speaker Revd Martin Camroux).
Yours in Christ,
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,
I have just recently returned from the URC’s first ever Ministers Gathering. About 350 Ministers of Word and Sacrament from all over the UK were there. With few exceptions, all of us had come to this inspiring event, which should introduce us to the URC’s new and exciting focus on discipleship: “Walking the Way. Living the life of Jesus today.”
Yes, we are and have been a denomination in decline, like other churches, too. A colleague told me with a sigh: “When I got ordained we were 900 ministers.” So yes, it is high time for us to focus and do what we are primarily called to do: Be disciples of Jesus. The Greek word for “disciple” is mathetes, meaning: ‘one who learns as they follow’.
It’s a huge shift for the URC: away from designated programmes and targets (Vision 2020, Radical Welcome etc), towards this focus on lifelong Christian discipleship and mission, helping us to bring about change in our own lives and, ultimately, in Church culture and society.
We were helped to grapple with what discipleship might mean in our world of church decline by the three excellent and inspiring talks given to us by Rev Dr Rowan Williams. In describing the lives of three different women and their radical ways in which they followed Jesus, Rowen reminded us of the “critical fidelity” and radical hospitality the churches have always been called to.
You can watch the talks on YouTube:
Also, the Revd Dr Peggy Kabonde, General Secretary of the United Church of Zambia, gave good and vivid insight into her experience of Discipleship and its challenges in the 21rst century. Amazing how her context in Zambia actually is not too different to ours. There was a lot to be learned from her way of going “back to the roots.”
Of course, there’s nothing new about being a disciple of Christ. What is new about Walking the Way is its practical approach, with accessible good resources alongside. And the focus on everyday living, on personal development and on community-building.
The URC offers three key resources so far:
I came away from the conference inspired and hopeful, and more trusting, too. Trusting in God to work His purpose out, with or without us. For churches may come and go, but God is not going away.
In the meantime, we are called to be good learners, faithful to the truth we live for, reliable beacons in our communities, forces for the good, God’s workers in the field, in joy and in our brokenness pilgrims on the way. Let’s see what God has in store for us, when we more consciously and more intentionally walk the way with Jesus!
Yours in Christ,
It hardly seems possible that a month has passed since I retired, but here we are.
Our first words must be of huge thanks for the cheque, the gifts, the flowers, all the cards to our new address, and the expressions of good wishes for the future. Bless you all.
Some of the cheque has been used to purchase my ‘traditional’ membership of Lancashire County Cricket Club (which carries with it a place on a priority group for the ballot for tickets for the 2019 Old Trafford Ashes Test – I still grieve over the recent 4-0 defeat but the 4-1 victory in the one day series has helped a little), and the rest will go towards a summer house for the back garden.
Jane is now working at the Sue Ryder Charity Shop in Moreton just along the road and has also got involved with the gift shop at the nearby Urban Farm, a project involving animals and children which is thus right up her street.
I have started volunteering with the Wirral Foodbank in Central Birkenhead.
We have become regular attenders at St Andrew’s URC, Meols, just down the road in the other direction from the Sue Ryder Shop, and are getting used to the strange experience of sitting next to each other in worship.
Laura has found lovely walks in the dunes by the coast and in local parks. We have also found one large field surrounded by fences which can be an enclosure where we can let her off and she can have a good run.
Love and blessings,
Richard and Jane