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Thought of the Week, Sunday,  25th October 2020

From not racist to anti-racist

As black history month draws to a close, the issues raised and the awareness created will continue, especially in this year that has seen mass protests against the level of institutional racism. Moving on, there is need for policies to be not just reactionary, but proactive, maximising the created space and opportunity to go further and deeper. Along with other denominations, the URC is also seeking ways of expanding the good work they already do in addressing the issues of racism. With this in mind, the Mission Council has agreed to bring a resolution to its meeting in November, asking the URC to commit itself to a journey from being not racist to being actively anti-racist. Also, Karen Campbell, secretary for the URC’s Global and Intercultural Ministries team, has launched a dedicated webpage that explores the legacies of slavery. The page features a range of resources and will be updated regularly – for more on this go to https://urc.org.uk/legacies-of-slavery.

Something to reflect upon, is this deeply moving poem written by Karen:

Black 

If the night sky wasn't inky 

Could the stars shine so bright? 

And if there wasn't darkness, 

Tell me, how could light be light?

No dark depths of earth – 

How would the flora grow? 

Black is essential, don't you know? 

 

You tell me black is no good – 

The shade of evil, shade of sin; 

How do I then make sense 

Of the blackness of my skin? 

The skin I didn't choose 

No more than you could choose your own; 

The skin that I was gifted – 

Only skin I've ever known. 

 

Black is what I am; it's who I am; 

It is my pride. 

It's the strength on which I stand – 

Where I refuse to be denied. 

Black speaks of where I'm going – 

How the world relates to me; 

Black speaks of where I've come from – 

Heritage and history. 

But it's hard not to internalise 

The message all around – 

Before a word is spoken 

That in Black offence is found; 

Explicit or implied. 

Yet from your view you cannot see 

The shackles to be broken 

Until Black lives full and free. 

(Karen Campbell 2019)

 

Take care and blessings

Irene John

Posted: Sun 25th Oct 2020

Thought of the Week, Sunday, 18th October 2020.

As I think most of you will know, listening to music is an important part of what makes me tick. Alongside streaming music, I’ve returned to my childhood love of the warm crackle of vinyl records and the wonderful sleeve art, which never was quite the same resized to a CD. One of my tasks over the summer has been to sort and sell the boxes of CDs which were gradually gathering dust in the house. Of course, the task bought back lots of memories of favourites that I hadn’t listened to for years and in some cases the need to track down a vinyl copy of something rare but particularly important to Jane and I from nearly 30 years ago.

In a similar way, in our worship we all have hymns that bring back particular memories for us. There is a family story of my sister’s baptism, the last verse of “My song is love unknown” and her mischievous older brother….  The hymn “Now thank we all our God” always reminds me of my father as it was one of the hymns that we sang at his funeral.

It’s a hymn that I knew dated back to the 17th century, but until very recently didn’t know the background to the hymn. It was written by Martin Rinkart, at a time when he was the only pastor in Eilenburg in Saxony during the 30 Years’ War. Eilenburg was a walled city in which many people had sought refuge from the war and its accompanying pestilence both of which had bought illness and death to the city. Martin Rinkart’s wife was one of those who died, Yet, in those circumstances, he wrote this wonderful prayer of thanks and gratitude. In a year in which our lives seem to have been dominated by restrictions and death, how easy to do we find it to offer God, the sort of praise and thanks expressed by Martin Rinkart.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading the theologian Walter Brueggemann’s short book of essays “Virus as a summons to faith”, written earlier this year.  In it he reflects particularly on what particularly the Old Testament can teach us about faith in our times. In one essay he reflects on Jeremiah who describes a time where those rites of passage weddings and funerals are no longer taking place, yet the prophet is clear that the sounds of social gladness will return.

Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,

For the Lord is good,

For his steadfast love endures for ever!

For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first says the Lord” Jeremiah 33 v 11

 

That phrase “restore the fortunes” is a favourite of Jeremiah occurring no less than eight times in the book. As often the translation hides the real meaning which is about a return to the land of God’s promise, not simply to the “good old days” Our God is a God of restoration, recovery, revival, of new gifts.  The rhetoric of Jeremiah and the words of Martin Rinkart remind us that God calls us to a ministry of unrelenting hope, one that is based on God’s “steadfast love” or as Brueggemann prefers to describe it God’s “tenacious solidarity” with his people. 

 

We are called to the service of the God of homecomings after displacement and exile, the God of Easter who does not quit on Good Friday. The God who celebrates the return of the Prodigal son with singing and dancing.

 

As we continue to live and make sense of the limits on our lives, the letter to the Hebrews reassures and reminds us:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11 v 1)

 

 

A prayer adapted from Walter Brueggemann “Virus as a summons to faith”

 

We now miss out on so much

The graduation of a granddaughter

The wedding of a niece

The cup final

The beginning of the season

The great Easter liturgy

The day by day interaction of the street.

The virus has imposed a huge silence among us.

It is a silence that evokes loneliness,

And domestic violence,

And job loss, 

And the end of life in the bars, and on the beach and in the street.

We wait; we may wait in despair, or at least in deep disappointment.

But we may also wait differently:

We wait in confident faith

We wait in eager longing.

We wait in the Lord.

We wait for the future and against despair,

Because we know that you, the God of life, will defeat the force of death.

We know that the Friday execution could not defeat the life lived by Jesus

Nor the life lived by his faithful people

As we wait, we practice our next moves for the coming dance;

It is only a little while…” yet a little while”;

We will walk the long march of obedience;

We will run the race of discipleship;

We will soar like eagles into God’s good future of neighbourliness.

We know that you will overcome the silence

because the silence… no more than the darkness…

can overcome the Lord of Life.      Amen

Posted: Sat 17th Oct 2020

Thought for the Week, Sunday, 11th October 2020.

Racism is downright blasphemous – It is as if we are spitting in the face of God – Desmond Tutu

October is Black History month – throughout this month some TV channels are featuring programmes to celebrate black individuals who have made significant contributions to Britain. I watched one such programme this past Tuesday 6th, on ITV, presented by Alison Hammond: Back to School. It was educational and truly inspirational as through interviews with historians and various others, she uncovered some of the significant black figures who have been overlooked in the history books, and are absent from school curriculum. 

I was fascinated by the story of Walter Tull, the grandson of a Barbadian slave, born in Folkestone, Kent in 1888. Orphaned at 9, he spent his growing up years in a Methodist Children’s Home and Orphanage, in Bethnal Green, London. His faith helped to shape his character and resilience. He enjoyed a distinguished footballing career before enlisting in the British army in December 1914. He was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant in May 1917, which defied army regulations prohibiting ‘Men of Colour’ from serving as officers. He was recommended for the Military Cross (award still pending), for his bravery in WW1 combat. As I watched the programme, I couldn’t help but ponder over the question of why Walter and others who in the past contributed so significantly to the life of Britain are not included in the school curriculum? It was Nelson Mandela who said that: Education is the most powerful thing you can use to change the world. Inclusion of significant minority figures in the curriculum is not about erasing history, but making it fair, balanced and authentic.

Sadly, the society we are living in today is still not free from bigotry, racial prejudice and discrimination. Racism and discrimination find new expressions every day, not only in overt and outrageous ways, but also in subtle and covert ways. Even individuals with good intentions can fall into a trap of unconscious racial bias and profiling. Yet, for us as Christians, the biblical mandate is a call to engage in the mission of a God who has created all individuals as equals and who seeks to ensure life in all its fulness for all He has created. Part of the URC commitment is to challenge and equip all its members to resist racism within themselves, within the church and within society as a whole. 

I leave you with this quote: Our story is one of a people from rich and diverse journeys. Differences, not similarities, are the source of our vitality and strength in our common faith in Jesus Christ. This includes our Church heritages, theologies, cultures, national heritages and life experiences. As a multicultural Church, we are building a biblical understanding of God’s mission to which the gospel calls us to living God’s word, embodying God’s love and promoting God’s justice as we aim to include, affirm and welcome all. We will continue to live our calling of prophetic witness to holiness, hope and reconciliation, as we seek greater participation of all to reflect our rich and diverse journeys in all our life together. (The URC Vision 2020, Statement 5).

Take care and blessings

Irene John

Posted: Sun 11th Oct 2020

Thought of the Week, Sunday, 4th October 2020.

I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry, those who believe in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35

With most people still spending more time indoors, there are lots of food programmes and recipes, on television and in the newspapers, all aimed at encouraging us to explore ways of improving our diets, losing weight, beating disease and keeping healthy. There is an argument for these programmes as it is said that since lockdown, obesity and its health-related issues are on the rise. It is also said that on average, individuals start and fail close to 200 weight loss diets in their lifetime. I think that what we choose to eat, or not eat, does have an effect on our health. A little junk food does no harm, but excesses do have health repercussions.  What applies to physical food also applies to the spiritual. So, in John 6:35, Jesus says: I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry…

This saying comes just after Jesus had fed the great crowd, with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6: 1-15). In Jesus’ day, bread was a staple food in Palestine, so he describes himself as bread, by way of explaining to his followers who he truly is. He is the true bread of heaven, the life-giving food sent from God. Like his then followers, we too need Jesus, the bread of life who came and died that we might know freedom. We need Jesus, the new wine who is there to satisfy our deepest yearnings and hunger for inner peace, forgiveness and hope. He invites us to come to Him for His feast for the soul, urging us to eat until we are full. 

The question is what choices do we make from the tables that are spread before us? Do we feed on food that creates worry, anxiety, selfishness, bitterness, hatred and despair? We read the newspapers and watch the news and become anxious and depressed. We listen to politicians and become cynical. Instead, let’s look for reasons to rejoice and be hopeful even as we allow ourselves to be nourished through scripture, through prayers and through fellowshipping with other believers. There is a longing in every heart that only Jesus can satisfy – He invites us to eat from his table and be satisfied.

Take care and blessings

Irene John

Posted: Tue 6th Oct 2020

 As it would be Harvest about now, here are some photos from 2018 to remind us how things use to be and will be again.

Posted: Wed 30th Sep 2020

Thought of the Week, Sunday, 27th September 2020.

Love never fails. In times of crisis, love unites us all. (Christian Aid, Autumn appeal 2020)
The above phrase appears in the Christian Aid Autumn appeal 2020, encouraging churches to help their global neighbours who are still facing environmental disasters, due to climate change. Right now, the current global pandemic is posing a further threat to the already existing climate crisis. No matter where we live, we can all acknowledge that there are climatic changes in the natural world. Sadly, those who are worst hit by the impact of these changes are those already poor, and living in the developing world. To give just two examples: There is famine and drought in parts of Africa, where it is estimated that the effects of climate change are being felt by over 580 million people, who rely solely on the land for survival. In Nicaragua, 80% of the population depend on agriculture, with many growing coffee farms which are now in crisis because of climate change, affecting the livelihood and wellbeing of the farmers and their families. Christian Aid is working with local partners to help those in desperate need – to find out more go to caid.org.uk/neighbours.
As this is the season of harvest when we celebrate the bounty of God, we can help our global neighbours, by becoming proper stewards of God’s earth. We are given custody over the created world, not to destroy it, but to live in it, enjoy it, and take care of it. Part of taking care of the earth involves our responsibility to our global neighbours - like us, they are created in the image and likeness of God, we shouldn’t destroy their lives by the way we live ours.
This season, let us all be encouraged to take up the challenge of empathising with our global neighbours who live in parts of the world already experiencing the effects of environmental changes - Enter into their world, and feel the pain and suffering inflicted upon them by these changes. Then, let us play our part in helping, with our donations, but also in taking on the URC eco-challenge: to become a people committed to caring for God’s creation. To be intentional in reducing our carbon footprint, improve recycling, minimise waste, and improve efficiencies on finite natural resources in all our operations (URC Environmental Policy, 2016).

A prayer:

Loving God,
Come now and make us into a global neighbourhood
looking out for each other through struggle and crisis,
reaching out to strangers who become sisters and brothers,
shape us into a caring community, strengthening each other
through every challenge, standing together
until justice comes for all.
In your name we pray. Amen (Christian Aid/Wendy Lloyd)

Take care and blessing
Irene John

Posted: Sun 27th Sep 2020

Thought of the Week, Sunday, 20th September 2020.

Psalm 105 v 1-6, 37-45 and Philippians 1 v 21-30

 

As I expect many of you are already aware, not least if you subscribe to the URC’s Daily Devotions, we are in the middle of the Season of Creation Time. This runs from the 1st September to the 4th October (The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi). This provides an opportunity to reflect about matters of the climate crisis and our stewardship of God’s creation.

A fortnight ago today, Jane and I walked a circuit around the island of Lindisfarne. It is a walk we have done a number of times before, but I am always surprised to rediscover the contrasts between the different parts of the island, and how in no more than ½ an hour you can walk from the bustle of the tourists in the town, through the nature reserve and the dunes to the beaches of the north of the island, where people are rare and you are left with vast vistas of sand, sea and sky.

I also over my week’s holiday managed to read James Rebanks’ latest book, “English Pastoral”. Unlike his first book which was very much of an autobiography, this is much more of a reflection on his journey from a recalcitrant teenage farmhand helping his father and particularly his grandfather, to the sustainable farmer that he now seeks to be. The middle chapter in particular describes his journey through the growing commercialisation, the increasing use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and the mechanisation of farming, to his realisation of the balance that must be drawn if it is to done in harmony with nature. In particular, he describes an epiphanal moment following the death of one of the last of the old style farmers in the area. His neighbours intrigued by what they might find sent a soil sample away for testing assuming that it would need plenty of work to become fully productive, as James writes:

“The analyst reported back that the soil was some of the best he had ever tested. Henry’s soil was healthy. It needed nothing. My father found this news a revelation. It shook him, because it said something about what the new farming was doing to the land. The most traditional farmer in the district had the healthiest soil”.

One of the things that many people commented on particularly during the strict lockdown of April and May was the connection that they found with the natural world. I remember someone walking past our drive and commenting on the strength of smell from the blooms of our neighbour’s magnolia bush. We also encountered deer on the A6 in Cabus on one of our walks and of course the audibility of the birdsong. In our garden that means a large group of sparrows (mingling beyond any rule of 6) squabbling over the contents of the bird feeders.

Our Psalm of praise is unusual in that it tells the story of Israel’s journey from Exodus in Egypt to the Promised Land. It is both a celebration but also a call to prayer for us We are called to journey with them from the commercialisation of Egypt through the desert to our promised land. As Andrew Louth commented, “The desert is a threat, a warning, a spur to activity between the Garden of Eden and the City of God. In Philippians, Paul challenges the traditional thinking about getting away from it all – to escape to another place and instead to express the depth and value of living your life right now in hope and in justice. In essence telling his readers that living – the more demanding option – “is Christ”. He reminds us that the contribution we make, known or unknown to the world, will be valued by God.

As a congregation, we have started on a journey as an eco-church to place our stewardship of God’s creation as a key part of our life and witness. It is a journey that we make together, but also individually as we reflect and act prayerfully in our individual lives. 

Let this creation time be an opportunity to recommit ourselves to that work in witness and mission to our world.

Amen

Posted: Sat 19th Sep 2020

Thought of the Week, Sunday,13th September 2020.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made – Psalm 139: 13-16.


To some others, who after last week’s thought, also shared their concerns about children and youths in education within the current situation, the encouragement is that this situation won’t last forever - stay positive in the present, and hopeful for the future well-being of your family members, and of the children and youths of today. Just as the caterpillar is transformed into the lovely butterfly, something good can come out of chaos and change. In addition to her concerns, Val Gill (Hest Bank), shares a good news story of one of her grandchildren, who with the love, care and dedicated support of her mum has seen good come out of the chaos of lockdown and change. Val writes: On a positive note, we have a disabled granddaughter with learning difficulties, age nine, who has gained a great deal from the lockdown experience. Her mother took over her education and …she quickly improved in reading and number skills and in her self confidence and self-esteem … she appears to be valued and is happy.

Val’s granddaughter is a testament to the fact that something new and good can, and does, come out of challenging situations. As Christians we keep hope alive even in periods of great challenge and change, and say with the psalmist: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Our precious lives are in the hands of the God who created us beautiful, and gave us the responsibility to take care of it, and develop it. Wherever we are, and whatever happens God knows and is with us. God will always be there for us, He notices everything about each one of us, and wants the very best for us: For you created me and shaped me, gave me live within my mother’s womb. For the wonder of who I am, I praise you: safe in your hands, all creation is made new (Bernadette Farrell, 1957).
Take care and blessings
Irene John

Posted: Sun 13th Sep 2020

Thought of the Week, Sunday, 6th September 2020.

What lasting memories do you have of Summer 2020?

I asked the above question in last week’s thought. Two of the responses I got, sums up some of the thinking of others. Comments from Jean Rogers (Garstang), includes: I think my memories of 2020 will encompass all that you have mentioned, in fact I feel that this year will stand out on its own for a long time to come.  I know that each and every one of us has been affected by all the situations but I feel particularly sorry for the youth of today. They have been thoroughly put through the mill as they say regarding their education at all levels and Hope and pray that there are no long lasting effects for them.  Just listening to our three grandsons who are still in education (one at University and two at College) it really pains me to see them quite stressed at times just wondering about the eventual outcome of all this and the effect it could have on their future. Jean’s comments would resonate with many who are genuinely concerned about the ongoing uncertainties and chaos, experienced by the children and youths in education, and also in the way they experience life in general, due to the current situation.

There are no easy answers or way forward, but let’s consider, and learn from the butterfly. The photo of this particular butterfly, taken on their flower bed at home, was sent to me by Mary Thornber (Garstang). She was inspired by the words, and photo of the sunflower in last week’s thought, to recall: God’s love and care, and the wonderful natural world that God has given us. Look closely at the butterfly, it has beautiful and brightly coloured wings, resting on the pretty bed of flowers, yet, its wings developed as a result of struggling in the cocoon until it broke free – In the process of breaking free, what was the end for the caterpillar, was a new beginning for the butterfly. 

 

Facing the unknown future, change and the challenges of a new routine, can be an uncomfortable, depressing and anxious experience for many -so, let’s be a source of strength and encouragement to the children and youths that we know, for something new and good can come out of chaos and change. Let us also trust that the God who takes care of the natural world, will take care of us and our families – His promise is: I will never leave you nor forsake you Hebrews 13:5.

And so, dear Father God, we pray for your presence, guidance and support in every way, and at all times, for Jean’s grandsons, and all the children and youths associated with the various church families, and all others within our communities and beyond, who are in education, and all their educators. We also pray that your presence, care and love be felt by all children and youths, and especially by those under stress, and facing great times of chaos and change. In the midst of the challenges, and as they all adjust to new routines and patterns, may the doors of endless opportunities and new beginnings open up for them, today and in the future. In Jesus name. Amen! 

Take care and blessings

Irene John

Posted: Sun 6th Sep 2020

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