Monday, August 31, 2009

10 Things I wish I'd known as a probationer..

Evening God,

We both know that there is no way that we have been able to tell those student ministers who are just about to become probationer ministers everything that they need to know.. there just wasn't the time or the opportunity.. so thanks for this prompt on their behalf for the things I wish I had known..

The ten things I wish I had known in my first year as a probationer

1. Putting a piece of plastic around your neck is not a substitute for prayer.
2. Church Stewards are neither angels or demons - they are people.
3. The tax man does not think ministers are more honest than lay folk - do your return.
4. The phone WILL ALWAYS ring on your day off - but you can choose to answer it or not.
5. You will always need one more order of service than you thought you would
6. The manse is always dirtiest when the Chair of district calls - but so was theirs
7. Cassocks are not the easiest garments to get out of in a hurry.
8. There is never toilette paper in the vestry loo if you really need it.
9. It ISN'T possible to live on cucumber sandwiches, Tea and Cake - take time for lunch
10. Spilling the communion wine over the table is NOT an immortal sin.

Ahh.. happy days.

God, bless all those starting their ministry tomorrow morning - help them to realise that this really is the BEST 'job' in the whole wide world -
Help them to stay close to you, and find a million and one ways to remind them, repeatedly, that they have only one thing to do.. and its really not that hard
Just love your people...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Church Diary

Good morning God,

In preparing for the Methodist New Year (September 1st) I've been looking through my diary asking one key question - "Why am I doing this?"
I know, I know, sounds so obvious really doesn't it, but I was staggered at how many entries were in there by default rather than by deliberate design. Rather than simply delete the entry I asked - "in what way does this event provide an opportunity to further the work of grace"
To my relief, this has opened up a flood of creativity with the potential to turn otherwise routine 'meetings' and 'gatherings' into genuine mission opportunities.
But all this begs the more probing question-

How am I called to serve you this year as a minister of the Word and Sacrament ?

This is something that can really excite me God, not in terms of new forms of worship, or how to preach differently, or how to reorder the church etc etc.. but in how I am supposed to be a part of your incarnate presence here.
It encourages me to look to see in what way my life with you might enable others to know that you are here, present in their midst and active in their life. There is a joy and a wonder in working with you to set people free from their fears and from all that limits and inhibits them so that they can grow in grace and holiness. I am always surprised and delighted at the way in which your Spirit acts to transform the Words and the Sacrament that I offer in your name and in the name of the Church into YOUR truth and life... and ok, I admit it, I'm greedy for more.

Not least because there is such a need for the good news that you came to give LIFE.

The challenge is going to be how to do this in the Church. To do what I feel called to do means helping the Church to understand that I am not called to maintain the life of the Church. Ministry for me is not about keeping doors open, pews filled, church socials well attended. It is so much more than that, You have called me and ordained me to 'save souls' to 'seek the lost' to 'minister grace' and above all - to preach your life-giving good news in word and deed.
But to do so, I need to start by asking the Church to be as honest about its diary as I am trying to be with mine. As Church we need to ask:
Which of our meetings, services, activities would we continue if we were primarily seeking to serve you and to reach out to those who do not know you?
What would we do with our time, our buildings, our resources if YOU were the focus of all that we did?

Behold says the Lord - I am making all things NEW

I love that quote God - clearly there are exciting times ahead

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prayer and Pastoral Concern

Good morning God,
About this prayer problem...

I've been re-reading the gospels where Jesus teaches concerning prayer trying to make some sense of my reaction to the constantly repeated refrain 'I'm praying for you' .

But, before I go any further, can I clear up a misunderstanding - I am not saying that people SHOULDN'T pray for me, and for others.. I believe that the prayer of the righteous is everything that James suggests it is What troubles me God, is not prayer, or even the affirmation of prayer - it is the need that some people have to repeatedly inform others (usually the person being prayed for) that they are praying.

This seems so contrary to what Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 vs 6-13.

And it's not just what we do as individuals.. this situation has me rethinking what it is that we think we are doing in our intercessory prayer in Church... After all, Jesus didn't say - Dont Pray - but he did say "when you pray, go into a room by yourself"... so what are we actually trying to do in corporate prayer?
Is our prayer simply a way of reminding ourselves of our calling and vocation to be co-creators, redeemers and reconcilers with you?

Jesus specifically said not to go babbling on.. as though the more we say the more likely we are to be heard.. but shouldn't this be held in tension with Paul's advice to pray without ceasing?

The only 'solution' I have found to this paradox, God, is to offer my whole life to you as prayer. This, of course automatically includes my concerns for justice, sickness, for those I love, those I grieve for etc. It also includes my regrets, my apologies, my hope and my dreams.. Some of my life is communicated by the spoken or written word, but most of it is shared through my engagement with the rest of your creation as your child.

So when I 'pray' for those who are sick, I try to be 'with' them, to include them more fully in my life with you. Wherever possible I reach out and touch, I hug and hold, I laugh and cry and where necessary hold silence and weep. When this is not possible for whatever reason (after all the person might not like being hugged by me!) I offer You my desire and my longing to do so. I try to see them as you, in Christ, desire them to be seen, whole, loved, unique, reconciled and blessed, not sick, injured, broken or dis-eased. I try not to babble, but to speak of what matters. I hold for them, the offer of LIFE in all its fullness, until such time as they chose to claim it for themselves, by affirming in word and deed, who they are in you, rather than who they are in hospital or in the doctor's opinion.

And I guess most of my adverse reaction is because I just want the same for myself.

Thankfully, there are many who are doing just that - who are affirming me in my calling, my ministry and my life with you. Many many members of the church where I share pastoral charge hug me, weep with me and laugh with me and best of all, minister with me by sharing the miracle of faith which binds us together in love. And I rejoice and thank you for it.

I am aware that some have been hurt by my comments on prayer, and I'm sorry about that God. Hopefully our conversation this morning might be accepted as both my prayer of confession and of thanksgiving...
There is a long journey ahead in which we might grow in grace and holiness, and thankfully prayer is one of the means of grace which you have provided us with. So it's bound to be a topic I will return to again and again..

Bless you God,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ordination is for life not death

Good morning God,

I really need you to help me deal with this anger I feel at those who seem to believe that ordination is until cancer is diagnosed.
I am so angry and so hurt, God, at the way in which ministry and life are being denied. This anger is more dangerous than the cancer because it eats away at the ability to be compassionate and gracious to those who are so obviously in need of your gospel. In my case, it destroys my desire to be patient and loving, forgiving and Christ-like. But the truth is I deeply resent the hushed voices, the conspiratorial well meaning meetings which plan ministry and hence my life without me, and most of all, I hate the constant pitying sorrowful reminders of how sick other people think I am which masquerades as Christian fellowship in the oft repeated refrain - "I am praying for you."

Thankfully, God, as you know, there are many - here and throughout the World wide fellowship of Christ who have been and who are are praying for me, upholding me and loving me. They all know that they can trust you and the love that binds us together in your name. They have no need to tell me they are praying for me in every conversation or in every email!!!
What do those who do insist on telling me at every available opportunity (often in hushed, breathy voices) hope to gain? brownie points with you or me? Can they really be so ignorant of the fact that what they are doing is repeatedly insisting that I be reminded of the fact that in their opinion I am not well, that in their opinion I NEED their prayer?
We are ALL in need of prayer, whether we have cancer or not.
I accept that it is not the same for everyone but I want to tell such people point blank - I would rather you didn't pray for me if you are going to insist on telling me every time you do, because this makes your prayers life-denying rather than life-enhancing. Throughout his ministry, Jesus took himself off to pray, he found a quiet spot, and in solitude, he offered up his prayers for us, for the sick, for the lost. He likewise taught us to make our prayers in secret - for the truth is that only then are our prayers a blessing to the sick instead of another burden for them to carry.

Christian's shouldn't need to be told that they are being prayed for, they should be able to expect that they are being prayed for because this is what being a part of a Christian community means. We build each other up in love.. don't we? Do we really only believe that love is as love says? Are we so insecure in your love that we have forgotten that love is as love does?

Dear God, we really do seem to have turned your gift of life upside down and inside out haven't we?
The focus all seems to be on the sickness, on the shadow of death, on what a person can't do, on how they are not able, on how much in need they are, on what might befall them...

If this is what passes for pastoral care in the Church then I seriously think its time I left.

I realise that I am a problem for your church - I wont die nicely. I have no intention of passively sitting on the sidelines whilst what remains of my life is 'managed' by people who genuinely believe that what is best for me (and especially for the Church) is for them to focus on, plan and pray for the worst case scenario (ie my incapacity through either sickness or death) rather than to find ways to release the real potential that my life and ministry offers.

God, please, please help me to turn my anger into compassion, so that I might in love and by your grace teach them WHY what they are doing is so life-denying and gospel-defying.

In love and grace I can accept that their way of thinking is the only way they know. Thankfully you have taught me through your Word and its powerful message that it is a denial of who we are as your Children to give primacy to death and disease rather than life and potential. It grieves me that as your people we have almost completely forgotten how to pray for and celebrate the life, love, hope, potential, and gifts of grace you pour out on us. Sadly God, the knowledge that YOU hold my life in the palm of your hand brings some people no joy; all they can see is the threat of sickness and the finality of a coffin and the problems that will cause...

If you can't cure this passion God, then please tell me whether there is somewhere, anywhere I can go where your people would be willing to let me live as much and as fully as YOU decide I am able. Is there somewhere where people wont make decisions in secret about me and about what I can't do in the future, (for the sake of the whole Church you understand!). Is there somewhere where people will pray with me and make decisions with me based on what I CAN do now and be willing to trust to you for the future?

Jesus had a ministry which lasted only three years - yet he managed in that time to communicate your GOOD NEWS that life is what we are given, life in all its fullness. When Peter tried to curtail his ministry, for fear of Christ's death he was told - Get thee behind me Satan - Death is nothing to be afraid of. It is not something that we can plan for, and it should never be the focus of our life or our ministry or our relationships.

Death does not have the victory - unless, of course, we give our lives over to it.

I do not know how long you have called me to minister to your people for, but I do know that ordination is for life. You called me to minister your gospel of life throughout my life. You have not stopped calling me to preach your Word, it burns within me as it always has.
Now more than ever I want to proclaim that YOU are the way, the truth and the LIFE - and that no one comes to YOU unless YOU call them (no matter what the doctors say!)
Now more than ever I want to proclaim, to make you real and present, to make the truth of your love KNOWN to people, by unashamedly being who I am, as you made me, broken in body perhaps, but whole in spirit, alive to you in Christ, and dead to sin.
Ordination is for life - all of life. Christ continued his ministry until his last breath on the cross .. even whilst dying he preached, he forgave, he loved..
Am I called to do less?

Is there anywhere God that I can go, where your people would be more concerned to hear the gospel you have given to me to preach for as long as you have given me to preach it, than they are for how the Church might cope if or when I fall sick and die?

Is there anywhere I can go where I will be allowed to be who I am, an ordained presbyter, and be helped to preach and celebrate your gospel of LIFE for as long as I have it, instead of being expected to quietly submit to the prayers of others and languish away as a foretaste of death?

Ordination is for life - for as long as life lasts.

Please God, find a way for me to live my life to the full by ministering your grace.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Get out of Jail Free

Good morning God,
I am someone who has never believed in the death penalty, yet I find I am totally bemused by the action taken yesterday to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds so that he could go home to die. This is now the second time that a notorious prisoner has had a 'get out of jail free' card dealt to them by their health. Earlier this month, Ronnie Biggs was released on the grounds that he was "gravely ill".
It makes me wonder whether this will apply to all prisoners in the future?
Is this your work God? Are we actually becoming a more compassionate, caring society, or are we sitting lightly to the social contract which is often all that seems to prevent this post-athiestic society sliding into anarchy?

I find nothing in your Word to suggest that forgiveness is dependent upon age or infirmity, and even less to suggest that mercy is a gift given best in the shadow of the grim reaper. Am I wrong in thinking that such acts of 'compassion' or mercy are actually a denial of what compassion and mercy should really be?
Forgiveness of course, is not a gift that the courts can give. You alone have the power to wipe clean the blood that has been spilt and the harm that has been done. Being 'freed' by the state to 'go and sin no more' on the grounds that you are too old or too infirm to be able to do so, is a hollow mockery of the life-giving gift which is offered to us in Christ.

Showing compassion or mercy to a prisoner who is dying without showing the same compassion and mercy for those who must still live with the consequences of that prisoner's actions seems peculiarly unjust. It also places a primacy on the negative dimensions of death which is ultimately totally destructive of all that is good and essential in humanity. If we ever come to think of death as being so terrible, so final that we are truly helpless in the face of it and can do nothing but abandon all our morals and values before it, then I think humanity will be doomed. Instead of a precious gift which you give to savour and enjoy, life will become a fight to live and a race to fit everything in before we die. Worse, the dying will become the new lepers of society, shunned by the state, looked on with compassion and dread by those who will not confront their own future. Fear and nihilism instead of hope and love will dictate all our decisions, whether political, social or religious.

This is a denial of your gospel.

Death does not have the victory.

Death is NOT the end.

But sending someone 'home' to die, presumes that it is. It presumes that the state can do nothing more, and that your final judgement now awaits the prisoner.
But, correct me if I am wrong God, you have never told us that we can abdicate our responsibilities in this way. Your commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves does not have a get out of jail free clause - You did not say we should love our neighbour as ourselves until our neighbour is dead or dying.
Loving those who hate us is one of the things that you expressly command us to learn how to do. Whether they are terrorists, or robbers, rapists or pedophiles, they are our neighbours, and even after seventy times seven we are still called to forgive them, and love them and help them to live eternally.
A justice system based on the fundamental principles of compassion and mercy for all of humanity, on love of neighbour and a belief in the good in all will not see death as an end to incarceration. Death will be recognised as that part of the fullness of human life which provides an opportunity for reflection, repentance, confession and contrition.

On that basis it would have been more compassionate for the state to encourage and enable Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi to face his impending death and consider the consequences of his actions in the light of it rather than simply to abandon him to it. Perhaps the state could have arranged for those whose family were killed by his act to visit with him, share with him their grief? Just sending him home to die is nothing more or less than issuing a death penalty.

In the life, death and resurrection of Christ you prove that death is not a penalty, neither is it a get out of jail free card. It is a part of the fullness of life which you have promised us. What should really define us is not how we enable or release people to die, but how we enable or release people to live.

God, save me from the time of trial, and grant me true compassion for those who sin against me, so that I may be forgiven for the sins I commit against them. Above all, save me from the mistaken belief that I only need to do this before I die. Lord, teach me to LIVE a compassionate life that I might be spared the dread of death, and grant me the grace to encourage and enable others to do likewise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Like attracts Like

Good morning God,
I've been reflecting on the discussion at class meeting last night about the lack of social diversity in our Church. Like attracts like is the poor excuse that was made.

Like attracts like - but this begs the question - what are we like!
If we were more like YOU - what sort of people would we be attracting?
If I were more like you, what sort of people would I be engaging with?

If Jesus is our example then I very much doubt that they would all come from the same social or racial grouping. They would be drawn from all nations and all walks of life, some rich, some poor, male and female, young and old. Society would be at a loss to define them collectively except as 'Christians'. They would be a vibrant, dynamic group of people, unashamed about who they are, but not pushy about it. A group busily and determinedly engaging at all levels with their local community. They would be vocal in local politics, prepared to challenge hypocrisy and injustice wherever they found it and committed to supporting and upholding those customs and practices which built up the community before you God. They would be recognisable as a people who nurtured and cared for each other, but who also always made space for the stranger in their midst, welcoming them as lost sisters or brothers. Above all, they would be a people who stood side by side in worship and prayer, rejoicing in the fact that they are all equal before you God.

It's about priorities - and I suspect we may have ours the wrong way around.

As church we tend to be far more interested in the 'Sunday bit' and in maintaining our 'regular activities' than we are in proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. Our church may be a great place for lively and intelligent worship - but I am convinced that worship should happen as a joyous, glad response to gospel living, rather than as a replacement for living out the gospel.

So how to change it?
How to become more attractive to people like YOU God?

It's about priorities - and I suspect I may have had mine the wrong way around.

Will you help me God to find a way of helping the Church to turn the focus of what it does away from Sunday worship so that it can rediscover gospel living? Christ spent almost the entirety of his ministry teaching people how to LIVE not how to worship. He spoke so little of worship it wasn't until he was specifically asked that he taught the disciples how to pray. So it really isn't supposed to be all about the Sunday service; its about the Monday work load, Tuesday supermarket list, Wednesday court appeal, Thursday exam results, Friday hospital appointment, Saturday football game - it's about LIFE.

I am come says Christ - that you might have life - not a Sunday service - Life in all its fullness.

The only way I know how to do this is to be committed to living out the gospel and proclaiming it by word and deed day by day in the community and inviting others to do the same. This means continuing to gently but firmly refuse to be shackled to those church activities and routines which my predecessors may have instigated, which the Church may 'always have done this way', but which needlessly takes me and your people away from that key priority.

I believe that as a minister, you have called me God to be with all your people, those whom the Church knows by name, yes, but more so with those whose names they do not yet know - those who do not come to Church, are not 'members' or even adherents.. but who are still YOUR chosen people God.

Could it really be that simple, that when I/we are willing to spend more time with your chosen people I/we will begin to become more like you and your church will become more diverse as a community of faith?
Like attracts like after all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Church Condoms

Good morning God,
I read this morning about a new 'Gel Condom' being developed for women who find it impossible to use a condom. The majority of these women are married and are afraid to ask their husbands to use a condom even if they know that their husband is HIV positive or suspect that he is. The fact that they are married, gives the man certain 'rights' over the women with regard to sex - apparently.
I don't regret the fact that I am female - but I do regret the fact that being female is considered second-class by so many people - especially religious people! I worked in the computer industry as a consultant and technical director for many years, yet never felt the need to stamp my feet once. It took the Church to make a feminist out of me. Only in the Church have I encountered the sort of discrimination which has made me want to weep, scream, lash out and, worst of all, walk away.
It's not just about calling and the privilege of presiding at the sacrament, (although it is pondering on this weeks gospel lesson which has set me to thinking and reflecting on this issue) it is also about worth, value and relationships.
The married woman's life is surely worth as much as the man who seeks to impregnate her, surely she has equal value in your eyes, if not in the eyes of the world - so how should her relationship with her husband be based on her relationship with you?
Gender is not an accident, you clearly designed it. We carry our gender in our blood - it is written in our flesh, encoded in every cell of our body. But you also chose to not allow us to be defined by it. Our gender is not all that we are:

John 6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

When I partake of the sacrament, I am partaking in the full humanity as well as the full divinity of Christ. I am celebrating what it means to be more than the sum of X and Y chromosomes, more than my, or someone else's understanding of gender. If I abide in Christ then I am utterly different from anything that I can conceive. I am not merely a woman who has received a foretaste, I am 'In Christ' and united to Christ in such a way that nothing in life or death can separate us.
But so too is any man.
We are equal in that.
Men do not receive more grace from God in the Sacrament, they are not made more male, or given any more authority.
This is mystery and liberation. In Christ the difference of who we are is removed, transformed into an equality of who we are to be. It's no wonder that people struggle to understand it.
So God,
to return to my concerns of gender...
Can you please explain to me why so many Christian women are so reluctant to own their faith and the knowledge of their gift of equality in grace and in your Kingdom? Why do so few use it to transform the society that surrounds them? Why is discrimination in the Church more rampant than in the wider world? What is it that allows us to make bigots of your people and slaves of ourselves?
Could it be that we don't receive often enough from your table, from as many and as varied hands as possible - for, of course, the same argument applies to race, age and sexuality too!
Would we learn greater respect if the sacraments were not 'presided over' but were instead blessed and shared amongst us by a child? Would we discover greater equality if we learned to take bread from hands that are black, or brown or covered with HIV lesions?
In laboratory tests, the condom gel has already been proven to stop the HIV virus as well as semen. The virus is simply too large to pass through the gel.
The sad fact for many women God, is that the Church is in need of such a condom - for although it is with joy that it repeatedly gives birth to new children of God, it is also at the same time regularly infected with the killer virus of prejudice and injustice. And this virus, once it has entered the system, infects the blood that you offer us in Christ.
In a wicked parody of the Pharisaic puzzlement, some Churches are still asking - 'how can this person give us Christ's flesh to eat?' I suspect that this happens God wherever the blood has become so infected that it is generally only given to those who already have the virus, to those who cannot conceive of equality, either on earth or in heaven, for your children.
No I'm not sorry I am a woman God, but I am sorry that so few of your children know how to value the simple fact that YOU made me woman, and that makes it a GOOD thing to be - there is nothing finer. I do regret the need for Gel condoms, for any woman or any church.. and, yes, I hear you saying, now is the time for change..

You abide in me, and I in you -

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Naming, Shaming and Claiming life

So now we know who Baby P was God - but of course, you have always known.

'I have called you by name - you are mine' is one of my favourite verses in Scripture, along with being known by you in my mother's womb. You know baby Peter Connolly by name - as you do the other four siblings who will one day grow to know their mother's name in a very different way.
Knowing where we come from affects us profoundly. How we think and feel about our ancestors shapes our self identity in more ways than we are often prepared to own. A 'bad' name is often quietly dropped by the next generation in the hope of leaving the 'stain' behind. Similarly, people search their family tree for some hint of royalty or even infamy - a touch of colour to add to an otherwise drab or dull existence. We either borrow from, or bury, the past in our attempts to build a reputation for the future.
Psychologists and psychiatrists insist that unless and until we embrace who we are we cannot be whole - I agree, but I disagree with the assumption that I am who I am solely because of my human ancestry. I am who I am most of all because of YOU.
The liberty which this brings is phenomenal. I know that I do not have to repeat the mistakes of my forebears, neither do I need to feel pressured to repeat the feats of excellence of those who bore the same name as myself. I am not my mother or my father, or a product of their parenting. Neither am I doomed to be a 'chip off the old block'. I am free to be me. I can choose to own or disown, to be inspired or repelled by those who share my surname, because YOU have called me by name - I am YOURS. By your amazing grace I am adopted into YOUR family.

It is said that blood is thicker than water - but it is the blood of Christ that is, by your grace God, being pumped through my veins, and there is nothing more binding. These are my mother and my brothers and sisters you said - and I own my place in YOUR family.
The name you gave me is my CHRISTIAN name, and my daily prayer is that I never bring it into disrepute. God grant that I never bring shame to your name by not being the person YOU created me to be and by not claiming for myself the life that you have given me.

My prayer this morning God, is that you will grant to Peter's siblings, and to all those struggling with their parents, the knowledge that they are more than their human DNA and upbringing. Help them to know God, that more than the basic chemical bonds, more than the social bonds, it is the bond of love, your love for us in Christ, which ultimately defines us, makes us whole and enables us to become all we are destined to be.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Rethink Church

What if church wasn’t just a building, but thousands of doors? Each of them opening up to a different concept or experience of church – and a journey that could change our world. Would you come?

In May of this year, the United Methodist church launched a major new campaign called RETHINK CHURCH. The campaign aims to spark a global conversation around the rhetorical question, “What if church were a verb?”

Backed by a different sort of Church web-site 10Thousand doors demonstrates the diversity and vitality of Christian Discipleship which helps to shatter the illusion that Church is intended to be a one hour a week Sunday affair.

According to the UMC Website,

‘The grand hope is to spark a global conversation about what it means to live as a person of faith, a disciple of Jesus Christ, in the 21st century. If the campaign is successful, it will be the catalyst for a radical return to understanding of what the gospel means to us today.’

And yes.. I’m jealous, I want in.

I want the Churches in which I minister to have access to the sort of global, dynamic creativity that can launch and resource such a campaign. Ministering in a Church which welcomes members from all over the world, from Korea to Ghana, South Africa to Sierra-Leone, Germany to Florida.. makes me long for a more global approach to the mission, ministry and discipleship of our Church which is more than being ‘in Partnership’ with fellow Christians.

Here in the UK we have valid contributions we can make which would be warmly welcomed and appreciated – especially by fellow Methodists in Europe and Eurasia. Our European Methodist theological stance provides an excellent counterpoint and potential corrective to important global debates in the wider Methodist family on how to respond in faith on issues such as human trafficking, terrorism, global warming, sexuality and economics.

We are already involved in so many exciting missional and educational projects in Europe thanks to the brilliant work of Colin Ride over the past several years.. but sadly few members in the British Methodist Church know anything of them.

I’m repeatedly baffled as to why the British Methodist Church doesn’t talk more openly and actively to METHODISTS about mission. I really want to know why we are not partners in THIS scheme instead of or in conjunction with Fresh Expressions?

Fresh expressions has just entered phase II – similarly RETHINK CHURCH is the second phase of the ‘Open hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’ campaign of the UMC. I imagine, however, that it would be far more attractive to some of our under 35 year olds to participate in a project that was truly global in its intent instead of correctly ecumenical. Some will point out that Fresh Expressions is now Global – this is true, it has been taken up by the Anglican Communion Worldwide. But I guess that is a part of the problem for me.

I believe that there really are fundamental differences in the way that Methodists and Anglicans think about and DO mission and theology that it would detrimental for the Church to lose – especially if they were lost out of nothing more than ignorance or apathy.

So.. PLEASE can someone tell me why we are so reluctant to work with other members of the Methodist World-Wide Connexion – many of whom have already sent us ministers for our congregations and members for our Churches?

Is this a way in which WE can RETHINK CHURCH here…?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prevenient, Providential but inconvenient Grace

Good morning God,
Events over the last two days have had me puzzling over prevenient and providential grace. I have always found you to be 'the God who goes before'. Wherever I am, you have been before me, preparing the way, without which I could never be obedient to your command to follow you. By your prevenient grace you provide the means for me to grow according to how I respond to the opportunities you providentially grant me.

This is true for all Christians but is especially true for anyone engaged in circuit ministry. It's one of the reasons why I think it is so important that we continue to 'send' probationer ministers to their first appointment rather than allow them to enter the 'normal' stationing round with its negotiations, invitations and explorations (which tries to match prayerfully what the circuit thinks it wants with what the minister thinks they can offer and what the minister wants with what the circuit thinks it can offer, with everyone hoping that whatever is decided is somehow what you want for both the circuit and the minister!) Being 'Sent' rather than being able to choose serves as an initial reminder as we enter ministry that the choices we think we have are nothing more than an illusion.

There is, after all, something delightfully delusional in the idea that a church 'knows' what sort of minister YOU want it to have in order for your will to be done, or that a minister 'knows' what sort of ministry they are going to be able to offer by your grace. You have a habit of repeatedly disturbing our 'knowledge' and 'certainties' and removing safe 'predictability' to ensure that YOUR will, not ours, be done. And what a lovely mess that makes of the stations and of the best laid circuit plans of stewards and ministers! Your providential care of us can seem an inconvenient grace sometimes!

My grace is sufficient for you - that is your real promise to both circuit and minister alike.

Your providential grace has taught me that Churches and ministers can depend on you for all their needs, as YOU have determined them, which may not be the same as they wisely planned or decided them .

Prevenient grace has likewise taught me that dependence on your providential grace can be the salvation of a Church and a minister - if both have the courage to respond to it as a means of grace, rather than a problem to be solved.

Forgive us God, when we lack the faith to believe that people will respond to your offer of prevenient, providential, though sometimes seemingly inconvenient grace.
Forgive us if ever we lose sight of the fact that a church and a circuit are part of your kingdom, that you alone have the power to decide the ministry and the future of each church, and remind us that the ministry we share and the work that we do is only worth doing if it is for your glory.
Above all this - forgive us if ever we doubt that you will find a way for YOUR will to be done, not just for a circuit to be run.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Subliminal Salvation?

Scientists have once again proved the obvious.. people are easily led and advertisers have cottoned on to this! Certain words or phrases are being used to fool us into believing that some products are better for us than others. To quote from The New Scientist:

To see whether more subtle packaging cues are influencing consumers, David Hammond and Carla Parkinson at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, created fictitious cigarette packets bearing words now commonly used on real packets, such as "smooth" or "silver". When shoppers in Ontario were asked to select the healthiest brands, they invariably picked those with light-coloured packaging or bearing words subliminally suggestive of good health

All of which has me wondering, what if the government were to call for the Churches to stamp out their subliminal advertising? After all - just like tobacco, Scripture suggests that there is no such thing as a 'good' sin, and that the wages of sin is death. Similarly there is only one salvation, so the bottom line is that the eternal life on offer in one Church is no different or any more effective than it is in any other - regardless of how the Churches brand themselves. One we realize this, we realize just how much we have already bought into the subliminal marketplace..

Consider for example, the recent branding of Church as either 'fresh' or 'pioneering'... Or the number of Church Web-Sites which use the words 'Powerful', 'Dynamic', 'Interactive' in their self-description.

Personally I really like the idea of Church Lite.. and I confess I would be far more likely to attend a Church which had the courage to brand itself as Questioning rather than Confident. The gospel constantly ties me in knots with its wonderfully perplexing simplicity.

What I can't ignore however, is the fact that the Church has been using subliminal advertising. In some instances it has deliberately preyed on the fear and weaknesses of humanity - the way-side pulpit notices which do more to promote a knowledge of hell than of heaven, the hell-fire and damnation sermons, the long black robes of the clerics, the austere buildings and long long walks to the altar.. In other instances it has preyed on the hopes and aspirations of the younger generation by deliberately choosing to associate itself with the 'American Dream' image of modern living and respectability.

Is all this because we are actually scared that if we tell the gospel as it really is that the Church will have no takers? After all - who would go to a Church to learn that Jesus is the way - not the priest or the Church, that the life that is on offer is God's to give, not the Church's to command or dictate and above all - that the truth is, God created us and called us GOOD - and that is why God deems us worth saving. So worth saving in fact, that God came himself to tell us - repeatedly ' your sins are forgiven - have no fear'

I would - not least because it would be a chance to undo some of the damage of the years of negative subliminal marketing of some of the Churches I attended as a Child which stunted my growth as a child of God by repeatedly telling me how 'bad' I was, how 'sinful' and how 'sick'.