Thoughts for May

May always seems like a joyous month. Spring is in its full glory and the colours from the flowers ever changing. We’ve already seen snowdrops, daffodils and now the bluebells are proudly showing their carpets in our local woodlands. Maypoles and Morris dancing date back to pagan festivals, but they still bring joy to those who watch their displays.

This month we also celebrate Ascension Sunday and Pentecost. Two special days in the Church’s calendar. Traditionally represented with white for Ascension Day and colours of red and orange for Pentecost. More colour and joy flooding into our Churches. England at this time of year looks as though God has painted it with a whole palette of gorgeous colours.

In the Bible, David’s Psalms are full of praise to God. In Psalm 30, David thanks God for keeping him safe during all the hard years behind him. It feels entirely fitting that in this beautiful month we can thank God for all we can see around us, but also to thank Him for walking with us during the past difficult year as we emerge from the lockdowns we have all experienced.

"O Lord my God, I cried to You for help. 
You kept me from falling into the pit. 
Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones. 
Praise His holy name." 
Psalm 30:2-4

Looking forward

The year 2020 will soon be drawing to a close with the hopes of everyone for a better, healthier, new year to come and one in which we can safely gather together again with loved ones. This year seems to have gone so fast in many respects, yet not fast enough in terms of hopes for recovery.

It has certainly been a year of extremes. Living life from a distance, yet in some aspects being even closer to one another, opening up more  communications than ever before through various means and ways available, powerfully aided by the amazing technology we have today. A pandemic bringing fear and worry. A wonderful swell in community spirit bring hope and kindness.

For many the pandemic has hugely impacted income in one shape or form. It has also seen a richness in innovation, creativity, and precious family time. Whilst our world as we knew it stopped, nature flourished and kept its everlasting steady cycle. The pandemic has also born anxiety and uncertainty, but nature has been by our side throughout providing a safe space, a retreat, restoring balance and wellbeing. Church doors closed, and instead entered the home via email, radio, live broadcasts, tv, social media opening new doors for new people making church more accessible.

Looking back on this past year where can you see the hand of God working in your life?

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas – in whatever unique form it takes this year. It will certainly be one to remember and look back upon with grateful hearts for all we have been given and the opportunities to collectively and individually make a change in society and our lives for the better.

In this together.

‘Safe in His hands’

“I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” (Psalm 63:8)

Whilst the picture of the future is still uncertain on so many levels, one thing we can be certain of is God’s unfailing love.

He’s with you every minute of every day.

In the quiet awakening of dawn rising from under the morning mist.

And your stronghold in the deep, dark, cold nights.

In the wonder of the wintery sky adorned with the brightest stars.

And your shelter in the storms.

Your guiding light.

He’s in every heart beat and breath.

Every smile, even behind the masks – you can’t hide that light

It shines warmly through the eyes.

In every helping hand and every good deed.

In every grateful heart.

Safe in His hands you can find rest, grace and strength.

Your hope and stay.

Our hope is built on nothing less.

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)

Keep safe and hold on to the great hope we find in Jesus.

Changing seasons

The leaves on the trees are starting to turn to their wonderful autumnal colours, and just today I glimpsed (and caught!) one of the whirling ‘helicopter seeds’ as it gracefully appeared from the clear blue sky.

There’s a chill in the air but a welcome warmth in the sun. Autumn marks the start of the next chapter of this year. But what does it have in store? Hopefully more churches being able to open their doors again, gathering together physically whilst following government regulations, guidance and precautions as we all continue to protect and look out for each other.

Music has always been a significant part of our fellowship at Horton Heath. Whilst it’s changed throughout the years; from solo pedal organ through to a six piece music group in its day, and in recent years seen the addition of our trusted ‘Joan the 3rd’ hymnal to help lead the singing, never did we imagine we’d see the day that singing publicly together would be prohibited throughout the land.

It brings to mind the beautiful Matt Redman song ‘When the music fades’, which reminds us that although things are different, not all is lost. We can gain a fresh deeper perspective. The songs, even when only sung in our hearts, encourage us to simply come back to the heart of worship and focus on God’s care and provision throughout the year.

There will need to be some creative, innovative thinking to reimagine upcoming celebrations like harvest, which we’d normally be celebrating in true Horton Heath style at the beginning of October. Whilst the services and celebrations will be different for each fellowship, maybe this year we will uniquely see churches gather virtually together from around the world. 

Keep being God’s light.

Wonder

Recently the words of ‘How Great Thou Art’ written by Stuart K. Hilne have felt particularly poignant. A great reminder of the awesome wonder of creation, the balance and timing of the seasons, along with the detail, care and power displayed through nature. A place you can experience the expanse of the universe and the closeness of God.

At the time of writing this piece we’ve personally felt a mixture of emotions, especially in the last few weeks where the seasons felt as though they were happening all at once. From the joyful, safe arrival of a newborn in our family, through to a number of departures of loved ones who will be greatly missed, though filled our lives with many happy memories.

Whether you’re experiencing a feeling of ‘sunshine’ or ‘rain’ (or ‘sunshine on a rainy day’), the inner need to take action or to find rest, God has generously provided a time for everything:

   “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,

    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace”. 

    (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Arrivals and departures mark a passing of time. Both events being the start of a new chapter (or even a new book) in their own way. All the best parts of the previous chapters cherished in our hearts and fondly remembered and retold until one day we meet again.

In loving memory of John Price, Beryl Clifford and Elsie Shears.

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.

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