The great deep blue

At the time of writing its #plasticfreejuly, which instantly brought to mind the ocean, and also unfortunately, the amount of muck we’ve unwittingly allowed to pollute these ‘lungs of our planet’. So this movement is a great reminder to continue to do all that we can to reduce the amount of single use plastic. To be more thoughtful, creative and purposeful in our lives. And realise how our actions impact this amazing planet, that is full of wonder and a beautiful sign of God the creator.

Proverbs 8:27-29

“…I was there when He established the heavens, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He established the clouds above, when the fountains of the deep gushed forth, when He set a boundary for the sea, so that the waters would not surpass His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth.…”

The coast holds a very special place in the hearts of many. A space to escape the busyness of our lives and the amount of technology and alerts. A place to feel completely in Gods presence. A space to simply breathe. However, until we can safely return to visit our spectacular coastline again, let’s immerse ourselves in a word picture of it and reflect on how it represents God to you.

The ocean. A vast expanse. The great deep blue. A constant. Keeping tide in line and rhythm with the celestial moon. A body of water held in its place, that knows no divides, uniting us altogether. Standing on the shoreline awakens your senses; the salty air embraces you, the cool sea breeze brushing past your cheeks, the seagulls calling overhead. You listen carefully, allowing your body, mind and spirit to still in its mighty presence. The waves as they gently lap onto the shore and crash over the nearby rocks, sound like calm deep breaths from a ‘being’ that’s unfathomable in size. Slowly inhaling and exhaling. 

Another world can be found deep below the sunlit surface. Holding many mysteries in its depths. In stormy weather the ocean becomes turbulent, forceful, and disrupting. Reshaping the coastline in its path. It reforms and transforms sharp edges of rocks, glass or wood into smooth treasures.

We need to refill ourselves with God’s love and grace, like a glass bottle filled to the brim with refreshing water. Especially during times of strife. We also need to remain in His love, immersing our ‘full bottle‘ in the ocean of His presence, so that we overflow with love in abundance, strength, hope and kindness. We pray that God continually fills each and everyone, so that we can all live life to its fullest in Him. 

1 John 4:13 “And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.”

Navigating through unchartered waters

At the time of writing this, things feel as though they are starting to settle. The restrictions are gradually being eased and some doors on our high streets are reopening for the first time in three months. Whilst there’s a way to go yet, it will be interesting to see the innovations and improvements made to work towards restoration and sustainability of our planet, lives and wellbeing; physically, mentally and spiritually.

At Horton Heath we’ve begun assessing our premises and the adjustments needed to be able to meet safely together when the time comes for us to be able to do so. A big undertaking, but again not something we are facing alone. It’s a task that has also begun in the wider community for the schools, work places and shops reopening. A lot of navigating through ‘unchartered waters’ to go but also a reassurance that we are all in the same storm together and God will work through this for the greater good. 

The restrictions may have shut our church doors across the nation but it has also broken down physical barriers that perhaps our buildings unintentionally created. With a vast selection of online worship freely available to join in from the comfort of our own sofas, you really can come just as you are (even in pyjamas!). Eliminating any sense of pressure, de-mystifying  what happens behind the church doors, and opening eyes and ears to familiar and new messages of hope and assurance. 

We all need to continue to look out for one another, continue in our prayer and praise to God, and keep nurturing the community spirit that has blossomed during lockdown.

Love can always be found

Whilst doing a bit of clearing out in lockdown I came across some writing entitled ‘The People’s Credo, Faith and Hope’. Unfortunately I haven’t as yet been able to discover its origins, however it seemed very apt for our current times.

It talks about dark days and fear but love can always be found ‘for love is not all gone from the face of this earth’. Love may be found in unexpected places; in the eyes and a smile of a stranger, in the outstretched hand of a former foe. It can also be found in places of comfort; a phone call with a friend, a hand written card or video chat with family, the loving arms of your spouse, the nuzzling of a pet. ‘How many times have you forgotten to take time to enjoy the little things that we hold dear’?

There’s an abundance of love displayed in nature. Take time to look around you. We have a family of sparrows nesting in our neighbours roof, and it’s a real joy to finally see the baby sparrows sitting on the fence chirping away, still demanding to be fed. We also had our first birdbath visitor – a blackbird enjoying a good drink and splash around in the cool water on a hot spring day. The foxgloves, standing tall, are coming into flower in a variety of delicate shades. The fruits of the trees and shrubs are starting to form, bearing the promise of summer.

‘I will not forsake you’ Jesus promised, so however alone or broken-hearted you may feel, have faith in His words. ‘It’s an internal peace that reaches the very fibres of my being’.

‘Expect a glimmer of hope, a flashlight and a hand to rescue you…hang in there, for delivery is around the corner’.

Thinking of you all. Keep safe and well.

In this together

At the time of writing this it’s Good Friday, and what a different day and Easter weekend it will have been for us all this year. We’re listening to radio a lot more and gathering virtually and spiritually together with friends and family via video calls, emails, phone calls, and prayer. 

There’s something reassuring and rather special knowing that you are reading, watching, listening, or praising at the same time as others throughout the world. The community clap each Thursday evening at 8pm to show our appreciation to the NHS, carers and many support workers has provided a real sense of community spirit and strength. It’s also lovely being able to catch up across the road regularly with our neighbours, from our respective driveways, and share in this united caring act. We are truly in this together.

One of our neighbours is a volunteer nurse and another is working with the fire brigade. It is hard to truly imagine what each of their days are like and just how challenging their duties and responsibilities are, both physically and emotionally.

Whatever challenges we are faced with we will not be challenged beyond what we can cope with. “Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

On Good Friday in particular we remember the physical and emotional torment and suffering of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Wonderful Counsellor, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, the Servant King as he bore the cross to save our lives. He came not to be served but to serve. To fulfil Gods will. The greatest expression of love and grace for each of us. The events of Easter weekend are both a witness and evidence for us today that death, once and for all, has been defeated. It is finished! 

Keep looking out for each other, especially those who live alone, we all need each other. Our prayer is that we will all emerge out of this challenging time stronger and more united in love and peace, and filled with God’s grace in all we say and do.


Keep safe and well.

Holy Week – Saturday – Sabbath rest

Jesus died on a Friday, just before their Jewish Sabbath day started at sunset. His body laid in the grave until the Sabbath had ended. The resurrection took place early on the Sunday morning of the third day. Sabbath is a day of rest, and whatever God had planned for Jesus, it included respect for Sabbath rest.

As we experience our coronavirus lockdown we are encouraged to discover how it might be like a Sabbath rest for us. For some of us that won’t be true. Key workers need to go out to work, and are all working hard. Those who are able to work from home are probably struggling hard to work out how to do that well. Foodbank volunteers and other voluntary providers of deliveries and essential services are also working hard. Those who are closing down small businesses and mothballing their self employed status are also struggling to work out how to do those things with minimum loss. We remember all those who are working hard and serving the community and the economy through their work. But even for those among us for whom this is true, the concept of Sabbath rest, and a pattern of rest in the routines of work, is still important and healthy for us. Find your Sabbath rest.

But for some of us that doesn’t apply. We are stood down from our work, we are isolated from our normal activities. Rather than stress over the loss, we need to learn to enter our long Sabbath rest. To treat the moments of time given to us as an opportunity to relax, reflect, renew, rejoice and refresh. It will end. Will we emerge as people who are better because of our Sabbath experience?

I end with a poem for separated people:

The Gap
I cannot hold you close today.
I cannot take your hand;
I cannot wipe your tears away
Or brace you as you stand.
I cannot whisper in your ear
Or pass a gift to you –
A sweet or silly something dear –
To cheer a world turned blue.
I cannot sit at home with you,
Make tea or share the moans;
Can’t spread a blanket over you
When sorrow chills your bones.
Only these words can reach across
The distance we must keep
Reminding you we’re still an us
And, waking or asleep,
The bond that ties us close endures
And love can stretch so far –
Can wind its way through walls and doors
To wherever you are.
So I will pray and you will pray
And we will pray together.
The tie that binds us cannot fray:
Love. Always and forever.
A day will come, and end to pain,
And when that day begins
We’ll hold each other close again
Because love always wins.

Words: Caroline Beckett (who writes at the end… no copyright and free to share.)

Yours in Christ. May God bless you and keep you safe.

Mike

Virtual gatherings for Easter

BBC Broadcasts Over Easter Weekend 2020

Either specifically Christian, or at least ‘religious’. Details supplied by Church Times


HIGHLIGHT: 

Rebuilding Notre-Dame: Inside the great cathedral rescue 
A year after the fire, archi­­tects and scientists tell their restoration strategy. 
Wednesday 9pm BBC4

TELEVISION: 
Friday 1.40pm and Sunday 1.50pm (BBC1) 
Alexander Armstrong’s Heavenly Gardens 
A visit to six gardens steeped in faith and spirituality, starting at Pluscarden Abbey, near Elgin, and con­tinuing to the Bishop’s Palace, Wells (1/2-2).

Friday 7pm (Channel 5) 
Digging Up Britain’s Past: Viking invasion: 
Archaeologists try to locate the site of a monastery on Holy Island (1/6).

9pm (BBC2) 
Pilgrimage: The road to Istanbul 
The seven pilgrims visit an orthodox church in Batak, and the Suleymaniye Mosque, in Istanbul (3/3).

Saturday 12pm (BBC2) 
The Greatest Story Ever Told 
The 1965 biblical epic starring Max von Sydow.

7pm (BBC2) 
Easter from King’s 
A service of music and readings from King’s College, Cambridge.

Sunday 11am (BBC1) 
Urbi et Orbi Pope Francis de­­livers his Easter message and blessing, live.

11.25am (BBC1) 
Sunday Worship From Bangor Cathedral, with music from Songs of Praise, 2018.

1.15pm (BBC1) 
Songs of Praise Katherine Jenkins visits St Luke’s, Gas Street, in Birm­ingham.

1.40pm (Channel 5) 
The Ten Commandments The 1956 film.

Wednesday 7pm (Nat Geographic) 
Saving Notre-Dame The rebuilding of the Gothic cathedral.

RADIO: 
Thursday and Friday 9.45am (R4 FM) 
The Passion in Plants Bob Gilbert concludes his pilgrimage (4-5/5).

Friday 1.30pm (World Service) 
Heart and Soul Wassim Razzouk’s family have been tattoo­ing pilgrims to Jerusalem for more than 500 years.

2pm (R3) 
Afternoon Concert 
An archive recording of Bach’s St John Passion sung in German, first broadcast in April 2017.

3pm (R4) 
Good Friday Meditation 
A Baptist min­ister, the Revd Richard Littledale, reflects on why Christians see beauty and love in the Cross.

7pm (R3) 
Radio 3 in Concert 
An archive recording of a semi-staged performance of Bach’s St Mat­thew Passion, first broadcast in September 2014.

7pm (R2) 
At the Foot of the Cross 
The Passion written and narrated by Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

Sunday 6.35am (R4) 
Sunrise Service Celebration with music from a gospel group.

8.10am (R4) 
Easter Sunday Worship 
The Arch­­bishop of Canterbury leads an intimate com­munion service with his wife in Lambeth Palace.

1.30pm (R4) 
Three Vicars Talking 
The Revd Richard Coles, the Revd Kate Bottley, and Canon Giles Fraser in an Easter special.

3pm (R3) 
Choral Evensong 
An archive recording of festal evensong from Norwich Cathedral, first broadcast on 16 April 2017.

5.30pm (R3) 
Words and Music 
A celebration of the Passover, Easter, and Spring.

Monday 4.30pm (R4) 
Beyond Belief 
Can faith values help people and religious organisations to invest their money in a way that matches their ethics?

Wednesday 3.30pm (R3) 
Choral Evensong 
An archive recording of a service from the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, first broadcast on 19 April 2017.

Plus other material will also be available on BBC local radio.

Yours in Christ. May God bless you and keep you safe.

Mike

Good Friday – Separated by fear, united by love

When Jesus was crucified the gospels share the use of the phase that the disciples who were brave enough to be there ‘stood at a distance’. Perhaps they stood at a distance out horror at what they were witnessing, distance made it more bearable. Perhaps they stood at a distance out of fear of identifying themselves with Jesus, they didn’t want to risk being picked out, arrested, and possibly sharing the same fate as Jesus. Perhaps they stood at a distance because the Roman soldiers pushed them back, forcibly separating them from Jesus. For whatever reason, they stood at a distance, and Jesus suffered alone, isolated. The words speak powerfully into our present separated human condition.

But in John’s gospel there is an opposite glimmer of community restoration. Jesus looks out at his disciples from the cross. He calls to Mary his mother, and to John. He says: “Woman, here is your son.” And he says: “Here is your mother.” And it continues: ‘From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’ Jesus loves his mother, and in his ultimate distress Jesus tenderly puts her into the care of another. Jesus leads us by his example. Jesus models for us how to create communities of care, and households of love and commitment.

For most of us, many of our loving human relationships are separated by coronavirus separation restrictions. If we love people, then we keep apart from them. But for a few of us, we are discovering deeper and closer connections of love and commitment within our households of care. There are wonderful pictures of residents and carers in Nursing Homes on the TV, they know that they are in it together, they have become committed to one another. I also read the heart-warming stories of zoo keepers moving into on-site accommodation so that they can spend the isolation period close to the animals in their care.

Yours in Christ. May God bless you and keep you safe.

Mike

Coronavirus

At time of writing this, more and more restrictions are being advised daily to protect the vulnerable and strategically delay and cope with the Coronavirus pandemic. It all feels very surreal. Each one of us will know someone who is in the at high risk category, either through age or from having underlying health conditions; friends and family who have had their long awaited holiday cancelled; parents with children now at home from school; places of work closing; places of worship closing; people adjusting to working remotely; empty shelves in store… the uncertainty is causing a lot of anxiety and distress.

However we’re all in this together, throughout the entire world, and even though we face daily set backs there is also a strong sense of community emerging. And of course the British spirit of people rallying together. ‘Cup of tea anyone?’

Although the phrase “I’ll put the kettle on” is somewhat stereotypically British there is something very homely and welcoming about those words. A moment of normality and bliss amidst our current turmoil. A time for our thoughts. Muster our strength, courage and determination to face whatever the next challenge may be.

It’s important for us to remember that through challenging times of uncertainty, no matter how dark things may get, God is working out His purpose for good.

“And we know that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good, with those who have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28

He has a wonderful way of turning things round for the better. Everywhere you look you’ll find good deeds being done; kind words being said, cheerful smile, neighbours checking in with one another, running errands for each other, looking out for one other, being there to answer a call for help. If we could keep this community feel and focus on what’s truly important in life, long after this outbreak is over, how much better would our planet be? Good things will come.

Let’s resolve to focus on the things we can do. The decisions and actions we have control over. The little things we can do each day that adds a moment of normality and balance. Why not turn on your favourite piece of music. Bake a cake. Pick a posy of flowers. Listen to the birds singing. Call a friend for a catch up. Check in on your neighbour. Take up a new hobby (or pick up an old one again). Open a window to let in fresh air. Make that cup of tea. Pray for each other. Small actions, words and deeds no matter how small can spread a little piece of joy and hope.

Keep safe and look out for each other.

Grace

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians:8-9

We’re currently studying together ‘The Grace Course’. At the time of writing, so far we’ve had an insightful re-look at ‘The Prodigal Son’ and its three main characters; the father, the lost younger son, and the eldest son. It’s definitely worth looking at their different characteristics and attitudes. Do you see any of these characteristics in your own life? Which character can you most relate to?

The study revealed the parable in a completely different light, enabling us to take away fresh meaning as to what God’s grace means for us all, today. For instance, the eldest son had been given everything, “all I have is yours” exclaims his father, yet the eldest son’s mindset was closed to this, feeling overlooked, unappreciated, and by the end of the parable, very disgruntled! We can naturally have sympathy for him. However turning the situation on its head, it was the son’s own choice to continue dutifully working long hours, away in the fields, alongside the servants, rather than spending some of that time with his father, or enjoying communion with his friends. How similar are we? Heads down, working away? Yet, if we were to only look up once in a while, take a step back to enjoy and appreciate what we’ve already graciously received, how much better and happier would we feel? There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s grace – he has already generously given it to each and everyone one of us…

“Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work”.  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Pancakes

“And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth” Genesis 18:6

You’re warmly invited along with your family and friends to join us for our pancake evening Tuesday 25th Feb. A community event open to all. Drop in between 6pm and 8pm, simply gift a donation and enjoy your pancake(s) (no-one will be counting!) There will be a selection of toppings from traditional favourites like lemon and sugar through to chocolate galore and more! Plenty to delight even the sweetest tooth! All donations received will go directly towards maintaining our church buildings and surroundings. We’ll be frying and flipping the pancakes on the hob ready for you!

Pancakes are made from 3 core, simple, everyday ingredients; eggs, flour and milk, all whisked together to make light, fluffy batter. They are then poured into a frying pan to gently cook. Once air bubbles start to form they’re ready to be flipped and gently cooked the other side. Just like the pancake bubbling and steaming away, scripture is often referred to as the bread of life and words of nourishment. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Parables often use everyday scenario’s to aid the listeners understanding. God uses everyday people to carry out His work. With God, from ordinary things come extra-ordinary things, beyond anything we could imagine. We just need to keep listening, keep following our heart and spirit and hold firm to our faith and hope in Him.

Looking forward to seeing you there!