Thought for Today

Date Thought for Today Click to enlarge
Sunday July 5th Andy Feltoe Jesus used the phrase zōē perissos, a life filled with abundance (John 10:10). We’ll get into that but first let’s go back in time.
Following the great fire of Rome an empire-wide ban against Christianity was put into place in 64AD, the first and only of its kind. It was illegal to follow Christ. Simon Peter, the man that Jesus said would help build his church was executed, crucified in Rome at the hands of Nero. Saul of Tarsus endured beatings, floggings, imprisonment and shipwreck before he too was executed in 64AD. So far this is not a good advertisement for an abundant life. So what is it?
Abundance means living a life restored in Christ. Unfortunately it’s an axiom that’s lost a lot of its meaning. It is not an end to hardship but the beginning of the most rewarding adventure you can have.
Abundant life is lived in community and here we have four options. We can live in a clique, a club, a cult or a church. A clique is a closed group of friends. A club is defined by bureaucracy and ritual – the ‘club rules’. A cult may depend on a charismatic leader. Church should be none of these. A church is where God’s spirit lives and actively works within all the members.
The early church had it. They became communities that looked after each others’ needs. They welcomed people no matter their social status. God’s spirit was guiding and leading them. It was God’s spirit that led Peter to Cornelius and the revelation that non-Jews were welcome. It was God’s spirit that led Paul and Barnabas away from Turkey and into Greece to set up house churches in places such as Corinth and Ephesus. It was and still is a picture of a Christ-centred community.
Do you want to live the abundant life Jesus promises? Invite God’s spirit into every part of your life. Reject religion that leads to shallow relationships and empty change. Embrace your brothers and sisters in Christ and love, love, love and love even more. None of this can be done without God’s spirit.
Then after that see if you don’t have a life in abundance.
Lighthouse
Saturday July 4th Annette England Today’s thought is another prayer from the URC Worship book – Encircled by Prayer. I love the truth that it is never too late for a new beginning.
God of new beginnings: we give thanks for a new start for us with you today, we give thanks for a new start for relationships at home, we give thanks for a new start for the poor of the world.
God of forgiveness: we give thanks for the Good News we hear in Jesus Christ, the Gospel of mercy for all who have done wrong; we give thanks for the hope of a new millennium, a time to create peace and justice for all, we give thanks for the joy we find in the Church a community of love and support for all.
God of missions: we give thanks for your promise of new life, we give thanks for your purpose of justice, we give thanks for the power to make all things new. In the name and the spirit of Jesus we pray.
Amen
Sunset
Friday July 3rd Shirley Rossall A tale of two flower beds

When I was sitting outside wondering what thoughts I could share, my eyes were drawn to a patch of poppies.

These are not the type of poppies which you see at Remembrance. These are much more varied. There are several different colours in there and each poppy has a huge number of petals. I’m not enough of a gardener to know what they are called, but some of you may recognise them. All in all, it makes quite a striking splash of colour in an otherwise rather colourless part of the garden.

The thing about these poppies is that I’m not aware that we planted them there. They weren’t there before we did our garden make-over. We have planted several bulbs and seeds in there, but I don’t remember ever planting poppies. I don’t know where they came from, but I’m really glad that they are there.

Diagonally opposite is another flower bed. Over the years I have spent more time working on that bed than any other. It has previously grown fruit, but more recently it has been an overgrown bramble patch. My plan for it is to turn it into a wildflower patch, so it has been cleared, and weeded. We have followed our gardeners’ guidance and the instructions on the packets and carefully planted the seeds we had for it. But that is the barest patch in the garden. The bed and the seeds in it haven’t responded to all the TLC which has gone into it. At least, not yet but I haven’t given up hope.

So when I was pondering what to write and saw those poppies the thought came to me that life is often like that. I think God is often like that too. We can have our own plans and programmes. We can invest in them and pour our time and energy into them, but the results can be disappointing to say the least. But God plants seeds that we are not even aware of, and nurtures those seeds into a beautiful display of colour and life. God has His own plans about what He wants to happen, and He always brings those plans to fruition. He will plant His own seeds. What we need to do is to watch out for those signs of growth and help Him to nurture them. They may not be where we are expecting but they will be in the right place and at the right time. Just now when all of our former plans and projects are unable to flourish feels like just the right time to look for those seedings popping up in unexpected places.

Just now many of our previous plans are not coming to much so let’s look for those poppies!

Flower Beds
Thursday July 2nd Sheralee Devitt ‘Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the waters, and came towards Jesus.’
Matthew 14:22-23

It was lent last year that I bought a little gem of a book of Lenten reflections. Just over half way through I got stuck on a prayer that spoke into my life at the time and still does, especially in the midst of significant changes. I share it with you. Read it when you have space to breath and slowly read or speak it out. What words or phrases stick out for you, which part resonates with you? Stay with it, let it speak into your life through the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organise myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give You these stirrings inside me,
I give You my discontent,
I give You my restlessness,
I give You my doubt,
I give You my despair,
I give You all the longings I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth;
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of a open door.
Amen.

Door
Wednesday July 1st Barbara Cook Haven’t we got the most Wonderful God!! Aren’t we fortunate! And sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if we forget to say ‘thank you’ to God.
We wake up in the morning and the sun is shining (unless it is raining!), the skies are often at this time of the year a beautiful blue and the birds, who have been up for hours, are all singing their little hearts out to us all! While we are asleep, God refreshed the earth, perhaps washed the world down with the rain, and made it all beautiful for us when we wake up.
I am one of those awful people who gets up early and one thing I just like doing is to make that necessary cuppa (!) and take it into the garden (or even outside the back door) and just enjoy this fresh new day, which no one has seen before, made beautiful for our benefit by our Wonderful God! And to say thank you to God.
We so often tend to rush around with not a moment to spare and forget that God made so much for us to enjoy, to stand and look at and just for a moment be part of that bigger picture.
During the Coronavirus Epidemic, we have been given that opportunity to take stock, to stand and look and take in that bigger picture. There have been some dreadful situations during this Covid-19 time and there are many families up and down our Land whose lives will never be the same and we must never forget these families. But everyone of us has been given this chance to relook at our lives, to perhaps change or reshape how we think about different things and to build on those things which have come to light. OK every garden in our country has had a makeover, every kitchen cupboard has been turned out and all our bedrooms have been de-cluttered to within an inch of their lives, and we are all sitting with bags loaded up for the charity shops when they reopen!! But, in doing all this ‘work’ we are giving our minds a de-clutter, and now that all the debris is out of the way, we can see a way forward in our lives. Its amazing how much lighter you feel in mind and body with de-cluttering! It may be that a complete change is required of us, it may be that Our Lord has been with us during this de-clutter and is showing us a different path to travel on, and whilst we have been throwing out jumpers we have had for the last 25 years (and hardly worn!), Our Lord has been quietly talking to us.
This is the chance you need to be strong, spend prayerful time asking Our Lord to guide and direct us and then work on that bigger picture we have had a glimpse of.
Right now the country is moving forward with more easing of restrictions but it is being carried out with such knowledge, guidance, scientific and medical measures, which we must adhere to. I know we will all want to leap into the nearest hairdressers and barbers to get our heads sorted! but it will be ‘slowly’ done. With us, with our de-cluttering done, our minds clear, the bigger picture is coming into view of where we want to be of what we want to carry out for Our Lord – but Our Lord will be kind to us and patient with us and take it ‘slowly’ with us. So listen to God, talk to Him and be guided by Him – and enjoy your cuppa outside in God’s World which He gives so freely every morning ‘just for us and everyone we come into contact with’.
‘God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He treasures up His bright designs and works His Sovereign will; His purposes will ripen fast unfolding every hour, God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain’.
Enjoy Your Day and remember to say ‘thank you’.
Tea
Tuesday June 30th Alison Bryan “Anyone need a hug?”

I’ve just read an article that says there is a good reason why so many of us report we are desperate for hugs from our family & friends. Socially distanced or internet conversations are just not enough. Apparently, God has hard wired us to need human touch & when our regular supply of hugs or pats on the back are no longer coming our way, our bodies notice ! They miss the usual physiological responses that human touch creates. When we don’t have our usual daily food intake our bodies tell us ‘I’m hungry’. When we don’t have our usual human touch intake our bodies tell us ‘I need a hug’.

You see, when we receive hugs, or pats on the arm or back, we activate specific nerve cells that calm our nervous system , lower the level of stress hormones & boost the immune system. Apparently just a gentle touch on the arm for reassurance can trigger this calming response.

So, what happens when our touch intake goes down? Well, we are more likely to feel stressed, depressed, lonely & anxious. One lady in the article, a writer who has lived alone for years & it has never bothered her, said “ I feel hollow all the time & profoundly lonely. I haven’t touched someone for 2 months & I’ve been surprised how it’s affected me. Touch has become a huge absence in my life”.

Now some people are just not ‘huggers’, but shaking hands or an affirming hand on the arm are also off the agenda outside your ‘bubble’. A bit like the warning we see in shops with fragile merchandise, we have been living for the last 3 months with ‘Do Not Touch’ signs around our necks.

Last Tuesday I ‘zoomed’ into the online consultation meeting about the future of Christchurch’s worship in the coming months. As part of this, Val enabled some short ‘reflective’ times for us to also be quiet & listen. During the initial quiet time I felt God gave me a picture, Val mentioned this in Sunday’s service. I saw an image of a pair of outstretched arms, I assumed they were God’s, gathering us to himself & each other. With the image I received the words – ‘a place of gathering into the loving arms of the Father for comfort, healing, connection & reconnection’. Unexpectedly, a short while later I caught an online post of the Archbishop of Canterbury who wrote ‘As we prepare to gather together again…… we do not gather just by ourselves. We are gathered in the embrace of God who holds our griefs, fears & hopes…’ This seemed to confirm that God was sharing an insight into his own heart for us at this time.

The embrace of God……a heavenly hug. He knows what we long for & he has the same longing too. He knows that his touch comforts & heals, whether it is through the touch of a fellow believer or a spiritual touch from his Holy Spirit. He made us to be a community, connected with each other & Him. He knows that we long to be ‘reconnected’ as a community, gathered together, lifting our hearts in worship. Our joint ‘reaching out to touch our God’ . What that will look & feel like in the months ahead we just don’t know…..but God does. His Spirit has been gathering and connecting us online & will continue to gather and connect us when we can meet together, in limited ways. What we can do in worship may be different, but why we worship does not change.

But what about those that just need a hug right now !

In Sunday’s service Val led the prayers for the people & invited us to wrap our arms around us, holding ourselves in a hug, as we prayed for others & ourselves. For me this was a powerful moment. I was aware of holding my own arms, but the hug was more than that, it was a ‘spiritual embracing’…for those we prayed for …& then for me personally.

If you feel like it, you could do the same right now.

Take a moment to still yourself physically, a few slow breaths help. Then turn your thoughts to God. You may like to think of the image of arms stretched out to embrace….or any other images of God, like Jesus embracing the little ones as he says ‘ let the little children come to me’ [Matthew 19 v 14].

Then wrap your arms around yourself gently. Become conscious of the touch of your own hands on your arms or side. When you are ready, offer up to God the names of those you know who need his loving touch, the lonely, the sick, the worried, the grieving….. After a while let your mind become aware again of the touch of your hands & take a moment to maybe admit ‘What about me Lord….I need your touch too’. Then let the Holy Spirit have a moment to touch your own needs. Even if you don’t ‘feel’ anything, know that the Father hears & answers the prayers of our heart. Receive & be blessed.

Hug
Monday June 29th Tom Lewis In daily readings I came across this great quote; “when joy is a habit, love is a reflex.”

We all know it’s good to be joyful but it can be hard to feel happiness in the midst of difficulties. But joy is different to happiness; being happy is a consequence of our situation but living joyfully is a choice.

Finding things to be thankful for and practising gratitude I our lives will help us to find joy, even in the midst of sadness and struggle. And, when we find joy in our living we will naturally share love in our words and actions.

If we make a habit of choosing joy, then love will shine through us.

Joy
Sunday June 28th Andy Feltoe I really *really* want to talk about abundant life and what Jesus in part is alluding to but that’s all next week thought for the day stuff. In order to talk about abundance I really need a set up which is why this week is all about deficiency.
There was a point in my life when I hadn’t seen the sun in months. I was working a day job in tech and running a band by night. I was successful insofar that I was making money in the first and getting bookings in the second.
Our band was invited to a church picnic lunch by a friend of a friend. The only reason we went and let’s be clear, the only reason we would ever go was because there would be girls.
We turned up to the park with a few bottles of room temperature Coke and some crisps. I was immediately spellbound because the colours outside were so vibrant. Deep blue sky, green grass – so green that you could feel the life within it, and bright affirming sunshine. There were people chatting with each other and playing ball games. The place was bursting with vitality.
I felt anemic. Not just physically, which was likely the case. In every way possible I was pallid in comparison. People laughed and smiled without restraint; I was guarded in every move I took. People played games and chatted; I was too drained and was socially awkward.
By some standards I was successful and I knew it. These people however clearly had something about them that set them apart. It was as though we were all thirsty but they had found something that refreshed them while I drank and didn’t feel sated. I longed for the fullness they had.
Jesus once said that “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.” it was at that moment that I realised that something was not right with me and the choices I had made. I was successful but in the presence of people living in real abundance I recognised that I was woefully deficient.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30)

Sky
Saturday June 27th Annette England Today’s thought is a prayer from the URC Worship book – Encircled by Prayer.
Steady Pilgrimage
How complex life is, always we face challenges that seem beyond us.
We are caught in a web of relationships which too often become sterile, or irritating, or just a formality.
We face work which is demanding, too often with impatience and little joy. Watching the clock.
We hear the cries of a broken world, too often with despair, or a sense of futility. As though we can do nothing to help. And so, we seem to ourselves shallow people, just ticking over the calendar and not going anywhere.
That is not what you created us to be. Grant us the spirit of hope infusing our lives, so that what we have been may not determine what we shall become. In Christ, may we draw closer to you in steady pilgrimage.
Pilgrim
Friday June 26th Peter Ward I recently read a quotation attributed to Lenin about history – there are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen. The last three months or so feel like they belong to the second category.

Over the next few weeks we will take tentative steps towards a new normal. I was reminded today that for some this is a frightening prospect. Each day, Rom and I try to walk down to the beach in Scotland. On our way back, we usually pass some small chalets. Today, a lady was sitting in her garden, alone, in the sunshine. We asked how she was, and she gave a gesture suggesting that she was so-so. She has not ventured past her garden gate for three months and now worries about doing so. I wonder, how we can find solace in this situation? I recalled the words of the hymn, below, by Joseph Scriven. I was also reminded that he wrote this hymn from a place of grief and trial.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer!

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge–
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

Beach
Wednesday June 24th John Chastney Let me tell you a story…

Years ago MHA used volunteers to meet applicants in their own homes. The country was divided into regions and there were a few volunteers who would visit the applicants in their regions. It didn’t matter which care home the applicant wanted to go to. I covered this region.

So it was on a weekend evening I travelled to Barton-le-Clay to meet a lady in her mid 90s. What happened next had a profound impact on me. The lady lived in an old house which, she told me, had been full of antique furniture. Anticipating a move to a home, she had disposed of most of the antiques but had kept a little to furnish one small ground floor room. She sat me down in this room and then told me her life story.

Her father’s father had been a hatter in Luton. He had built up the business. This lady’s father had fallen in love with a German lass. This was not acceptable to the grandfather who made it clear that, if his son married this German girl, he would inherit nothing from his father. The marriage went ahead and the father had to carve out a future for himself and his wife on their own. This was just before WW1.

The couple had four children. The lady I was visiting was the second of these. Life was tough and eventually the parents decided that they could not keep all four children. They needed to let one of the children go elsewhere. The youngest two were too dependent on their parents for them to be candidates to go. The oldest was making a contribution to running the home so was retained. The second was, effectively, sold to someone else.

This lady, at the age of about 12 years, was taken to a room above a hatters in Luton. There a deal was struck and the girl would move to another home. Her father handed over his daughter and then left the room. With real poignancy, this lady now in her 90s said ‘my father opened the door to get out and just turned round for one last look at me’. They never met again.

Of course there was more detail than this as I was in this small room for about three hours. When she had finished the story she told me that she had never told it to anyone else. Wow, what a privilege for me to hear it first hand and to be the only person to know it. You may want to think that she was suffering from dementia and actually she had told this story to half of the local population. I think not: she was lucid and had no trouble in recalling fact after fact. Here a lady that I was meeting for the first and last time was telling me, a stranger, her life story. That’s not so unusual.

At the age of 93, this lady had many memories, some good and some not so good. Memories, by definition, are of the past. They are important and we all have some that we cherish and some that give us pain. But we all need something to look forward to and we all have hopes for the future. Some will be realised, others not. Within this there will be many stories: some told, some yet to be told.

All my hope on God is founded (StF 455)

Straw Hat
Tuesday June 23rd Alison Bryan “Staying alert is exhausting!”

So how are you doing with the government’s request to ‘stay alert’?

Last week I had an appointment at the opticians since my eyesight has changed & I needed new glasses. I came away exhausted having not really enjoyed the experience as I might have done in the past. After all, it should have been a positive time. I had chosen some new frames for my everyday glasses and sunglasses and these were now being made to my updated prescription. I’m someone who usually enjoys these sorts of things, like going to the hairdressers or even popping out to the local shops. But I came back pondering on what was different?

I realised it was that undercurrent…that background ‘noise’ of having to be ‘alert’. I had to wait outside to be called in for my appointment, but had forgotten to take my phone so basically I stood in the car park for 15 minutes so they knew where I was. The optician was in PPE and kept assuring me about his cleaning routine. I made the mistake of picking a pair of frames off the display to look at more closely & then, just before I could put them back, they were whisked off to be put in the ‘contaminated tray’. I had to wear a facemask which meant I couldn’t really see what the frames I was trying on looked like. When I took it off I felt guilty that I might now be putting the optician at risk.

I reflected too at how the basic food shopping trip is also fraught with potential ‘mistakes’ I might make- cleaning the handle of my trolley but not sure I got every part; touching something and then not sure if I should put it back because it was not the right product; walking round the corner and ending up too close to oncoming shopper traffic. Numerous times in these past weeks I have come away having forgotten something which was on my list in black and white ! You see this ‘staying alert’ takes up a lot of bandwidth and it is in the background all the time, even if we don’t notice it.

Children who have experienced trauma become ‘hyper vigilant’. They stay on alert all the time, subconsciously looking out for potential ‘danger’. It is only in their ‘safe space’, if they have one, where they can tone this down. It is a permanently raised level of the flight and fight mechanism. It floods their systems with adrenaline. OK if the danger is going away, but not healthy for bodies or brains in the long term. At school this can mean that concentration is really hard to sustain, they can’t remember things, self -motivation is poor and they ‘overreact’ to incidents that others would brush off. It is exhausting and stressful.

You know…in a very small way…this sounds a bit like me. My levels of concentration are not what they were, I am more forgetful, I seem to find it harder to motivate myself and I am definitely more ‘snappy’ when little stressors invade my safe bubble at home. Fortunately, this background noise of ‘staying alert’ is not linked for me with any feelings of fear. But I realise for many that this increased vigilance can also automatically trigger reactions of fear and high levels of anxiety.

So, what can we do? For me prayer and meditation bring me into a place of stillness [ body, mind and spirit] and now they also give me a break from this physical adrenaline reaction that increased vigilance brings. For you it might be listening to music, going for a walk, reading a book….. Also, now I realise that this is going on in the background, I hope I am a little more understanding and forgiving of myself and others. When going food shopping I accept that it will take longer and will be more stressful, so I try not to do it when pressed for time…..and I use the ‘waiting for others to move away’ to take deep breaths and to try to see it as a positive act of kindness to them and not something that is a frustration !

So, let’s be kind to ourselves today….it’s not our fault. As an act of self preservation we can intentionally add into our day things that we know are calming, especially if they also connect us with the ‘Prince of Peace’. Or maybe we can choose to do something that gives a release to the pent-up adrenaline response – clean the bath with serious intent or have a mad game of chase with your children….your dog….. or your partner! If we also add in a quick prayer to the Lord to bring his healing and peace through these actions, we open ourselves up to an injection of his loving kindness and strength. Then, in our moment of relief from ‘staying alert’ to the virus, we can have the chance to ‘become alert’ to His presence with us through it all.

Alert
Sunday June 21st Andy Feltoe Being the analytical rational type I wish there were some set of clear rules for Christianity. Pythagoras had his for, well, triangles, and did rather well out of it.
After the 10 commandments and the golden rule there’s scant clear helpings in the text in the bible. Much of it is good advice for the times (look after your slaves, anyone?) and some (it is a disgrace for a woman to cut off her hair) is downright offensive, let alone odd today.
I interviewed a few pastors back in the day when I was a budding journalist. I wanted to know how each would answer the same set of questions given they all used the same source material.
No two answers were the same. I was interested in how they defined a Christian and the rules of Christianity. It was the baptist minister who gave me the best response. Instead of reeling off his favourite passages like the others, he told me a story.
“People are fantastic at building fences. We make those fences so we know which side we’re on. Liberal or conservative? Telegraph or Guardian? White or blue collar? The trouble is that fences are excellent at dividing people and keeping them out.”
“Jesus dug wells. All who are thirsty, come drink, he said. Freely as you received, freely you give. Wells draw thirsty people to them, no matter what direction they come from.” If I were around I would have asked Jesus to add a few terms and conditions. Thank God I wasn’t.
Conversations like these challenged my rational side. Relationships are messy, involve love and grace, blood and tears. I read the bible now less as a rule book and more of a story of a patient creator showing love to a messy creation. The more I study the history of this era the more it becomes clear. We are not automatons; there is no 12 step formula.
Even Pythagoras’ sect didn’t end so well. They believed maths could explain the world and how to live. Formulas were made for everything. Unfortunately one of his number, Hippasus, found a flaw in his rational number system (square root of 2, anyone?). Pythagoras got mad and drowned his friend. So much for that.
Dig wells, don’t build fences.
Well
Saturday June 20th Annette England This week, among other things, I have been crocheting butterflies and thinking about interconnectedness. I came across this reflection by Dr Tom Neal.
Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? It argues that the strength of a hurricane in the Caribbean is influenced by something as tiny as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly weeks earlier in Panama. That’s why we should never underestimate the effects our tiniest acts of fidelity can have on the future world; a future that filled with things that didn’t have to be this way. Just because we can’t see those effects or feel them, we often despair and say: “What good is the little I do? No one notices. No one cares. It doesn’t really matter.” But it all does matter.
We tend to be so myopic and shallow in our judgement on the value of what we do, on what’s important or what’s not. On what God can do with our little nothings if we entrust them to Him with great love. The interdependence of all things is so staggeringly complex and intricate and delicate that just one decision, one smile, one sacrifice or one harsh word can change the course of history. For better or for ill. Even – I’d say especially – your interior life radiates out into the whole cosmos. Your most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it either easier or more difficult for those around you to follow Christ.
Every day, begin with a prayer for the Spirit to guide your actions, that they will set in motion the uncountable goods that He wills. And at the end of every day entrust all your past actions to His mercy, asking Him to forgive the failures and bless the successes; and untangle any knots you may have tied up.
On Judgement Day one of the things we will see – but then through God’s eyes – is this insanely complex web of impact we were part of. And we will be allowed to see our role in that web. I often think Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me food,” may come to us from people we’ve never even met. Though they weren’t fed by us directly, they were fed by the others we impacted, who in turn fed them. Generations later in the future. Think of that next time you feel your work is insignificant.
Butterfly
Friday June 19th Julie Mills Don’t Look Back for too Long…..or You’ll Trip over what’s in Front of You!
It’s been said many times, that these last few months have been different for everyone. One thing however is the same for us all. God has plans for us. Plans that are bringing new opportunities.
I’ve never been comfortable with the phrase, ‘I have a five-year plan, and in five years I will have… I will be, I will have done, etc’. To me that presumes you will have control over tomorrow, and the next day and indeed the next five years and certainly doesn’t account for the plans God has for us.
I have spoken to many bereaved relatives in recent months through the course of my work. So often, there is sadness at things not said or done. This was highlighted again for me this week. We watched the drama based on the true story of ‘The Salisbury Poisonings’ which was a big story in the news in 2018. For those at the heart of all that happened it was real life, and beyond anything they could have ever expected. For those who have not seen this excellent TV drama, it tells the behind the scenes stories of the families whose lives were turned upside down by the events of those months where members of the public and a policeman were poisoned by the deadly substance, Novichock. Those families even now are having to find a new way of living and coping with all they experienced. A sobering story which yet again reinforces how life can change very suddenly and become something totally unexpected.
As we look to the future for Christchurch, there are many unknowns (and a whole lot of guidance to read through and implement!). But the bible shows us that the most challenging times can be when God has great plans for us. Think Joseph, think Paul, think Moses…the list goes on.
Do we choose to be defeated or developed? Maybe you’re feeling de-motivated, frustrated or even as if you are disposable as you are unable to do things you used to do. That might be because you have caring responsibilities, because you have lost your job or because you are clinically vulnerable. How about turning that thought inside out and seeing it as an opportunity to bring glory to God in a different way?
There are numerous ways of being church. Being church doesn’t depend on the building, it depends on us living real lives and showing real love. We can be vibrant, forward thinking and responsive to God’s plans for us. That means learning from the past but looking towards the future.
NewOld
Thursday June 18th Sheralee Devitt Up!

This word hit me! Tears formed in my eyes!I read Genesis 21:14-19. Hagar and her son Ishmael abandoned to the desert by Abraham on the spiteful plea of Sarah. Bread and skin of water in hand, off they went! It wasn’t going to last long, their provision, or their journey. Death, and hopelessness loomed.

At some distance away from her son, Hagar pleads and weeps. God hears the voice of the boy! How interesting! The angel of God seems to try to get Hagar’s attention ‘Up!’ Hug the boy. Their new normal has begun!

I love the way God knows, seeks connection, lovingly interacts, and speaks new life into difficult, and dire situations. And here we are midst a pandemic and ponder life beyond it. As I read the news, see images of countless refugees across the world, I want to weep and plea! The God who protects Hagar and Ishmael is the God who hears and acts.

Lord, thank you for blessing us with your provision and protection in times of need. Please help us to be a blessing to others. Amen.

Up!/td>

Angel
Wednesday June 17th Louise Selby An apple for the teacher?

Over the next week or so, many Hitchin primary schools will be receiving a box of chocolates and a card expressing thanks and support from Christchurch for the relentless care and support of our young in spite of gruelling and at times thankless circumstances over the last three months.

Even though some headteachers have had to say thanks for the gesture but no thanks for now, due to the strict rules about bringing things in and out of schools, they have responded really warmly and positively to these gifts. Here are some of the comments that they have asked me to express back to you.

“It is very kind of you! Hope you and your congregation are keeping safe and well in the strange times.”

“Thank you so much for your kind words and sentiments. This has been a difficult time and what we miss most, I think, is the feeling of community.”

“My great thanks to you and please pass on my appreciation, also, to Christchurch for this lovely gesture.”

“It is lovely to have the support of our community!!! It is much appreciated.”

“We are all grateful that you have thought of us during this time and that has been the greatest gift.”

Although the traditional apple for the teacher may not have been as well received as the chocolates, I genuinely believe that even a teabag would have hit the spot. The point was not the gift, it was the gesture and the words (but the chocolate helped!)

There is so much I could say about what pressure schools are under and have been since the start of lockdown, but I’ll save that for your comments and draw you to the bigger picture for now. How much do we build one another up, notice the good, the hard work, the commitment and offer thanks – especially to those who don’t fall under the radar but work tirelessly behind the scenes? I for one have so appreciated the kind messages of support and thanks throughout lockdown; thank you! It makes so much difference to a person to know that they have made an impact in some way, whatever they are doing and however they are contributing.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 1: 11. When did you last remember to thank and encourage someone? Is there someone different, someone beyond your radar who you could pick up the phone, device or pen to send a message of encouragement, however brief?

On that note, huge thanks go to Stephanie Breker for her time and effort in making the chocolate deliveries possible and to all the other delivery fairies who have helped!

Chocolates
Tuesday June 16th Alison Bryan ‘Who despises the day of small things?

As I write this it is the day after we said our final goodbye to Doreen , my mother-in-law. A small but worshipful service at the crematorium, just seven family members and the minister. A sign of the times but in a strange way it was ok….it was fitting. Doreen was not one who cherished the limelight or would want a big fuss made. She was one who put others above herself. Maybe in the world’s eyes her life was unremarkable….but in God’s eyes it was a life so well lived. Doreen was not one to talk about her faith [unless you asked a direct question]……instead she lived it. She lived it out in a life of quiet, unobtrusive love, service & faithfulness. Faithfulness in the small things. Coming in and going straight to the kitchen to prepare meals and drinks for others…at times not even stopping to take off her outdoor coat. Years of serving at lunch club even when she was older than many of those attending – her trifles were a staple of the menu. For those in her life, the faithfulness and love in ‘small’ things made a ‘huge’ difference and we give thanks for having been on the receiving end.

One thing I have repeatedly heard during this crisis is that, because we have had to stop, we are noticing the ‘small things’. Things that were always there but went unnoticed. I’ve lost count of the times people have commented on hearing the ‘birds singing’! They have always been there, faithfully singing songs to their creator & delighting in being alive, but we were just too busy to notice and appreciate the sound in all its beauty. It is only as we take time to notice things that we can then fully appreciate them. The same has happened with all the key workers and care staff. Suddenly their giving and serving in the background of our lives has been noticed and we have been keen to show our appreciation.

A phrase from the bible popped into my head when thinking about writing this ‘thought for the day’. It can be found in Zechariah 4 v 10 – ‘Who despises the day of small things? . The rest of that verse says ‘Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel’. You see, Zerubbabel has been given the task of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and although the job was only just started, the people rejoiced that it was underway. Some translations put it this way … ‘Don’t despise the day of small beginnings’. As we have had to stop we have noticed the small things…but maybe we are also seeing the day of small beginnings. The time when our society is being ‘reset’ to appreciate the ‘everyday things’ rather than always looking ahead for the next ‘exciting or new thing’. To find that we are grateful for what we have and to say so.

Also, some of the older Jews were disappointed when they realised this new temple was not going to match the size and splendour of King Solomon’s original temple. They wanted the old to be reproduced exactly. But as we slowly move out of lockdown to the ‘new normal’ many are saying that this is an opportunity to rebuild a better, more equal, more green, more outward looking society. Do we really yearn for it to be as it was? Are we prepared to change and build on the ‘small beginnings’ ? Will we forget to notice the ‘small things’ again?

Today let us take a moment to say thank you to God for the ‘small things’. Those things that he faithfully provides us with that we often take for granted…like the air we breath or the food that has been grown and reached our tables. And let us say thank you for the people that touch our lives with their everyday seemingly small, faithful actions of love and service. Thank you to God …..but maybe even thank you to them in person with a word, a text, a note or a token of our appreciation.

For me today I find myself giving thanks for the life of my mother-in-law. A life of faith well lived, causing me to reflect with gratitude on all that she showed me about faithfulness in the small things. For, as the scripture suggests, ‘small’ is not something to be despised. It is the small things faithfully done that can make such a big difference.

In memoriam
Monday June 15th Tom Lewis As you know we are moving to Ashford, Kent in 2 months. Obviously it’s proving pretty stressful trying to move to a new town in the midst of a global pandemic!

The latest complication is that the house in Ashford will not be built in time for us to move into it in the summer! Fortunately our new Circuit have provided us with a house to make use of, but it’s 15 miles from where we’ll be working and going to school.

When we first heard about this we panicked, worrying about everything -it was just what we didn’t need – more stress on top of an already very difficult time!

But on Saturday new actually drove down to take a look at where we’ll be living in for the next few months. We arrived to blue skies, calm seas and sunshine. A beautiful day for exploring a new house and town, with ice cream and even fish & chips on the beach! We came away much happier and more relaxed, feeling like God has us in his hand and everything will be ok.

We all have moments where the bottom drops out, where our best laid plans are ruined and things don’t go the way we hoped. In the midst of all this it can hard up see what God is doing but he is with us through every storm, beside us every step of our journey. In Psalm 89 the writer praises God saying that “You rule over the surging sea;when its waves mount up, you still them.” God is in control, he’s even in charge of this stormiest of years!

So as we look to the first steps of our adventures in Kent I will focus on God’s power to still the storms and guide us faithfully onward.

Folkestone
Sunday June 14th Andy Feltoe What do you think of yourself when no-one’s looking?
One of the most famous stories told is one you may never have heard. Plato writes about a shepherd boy in ancient Greece who discovers an invisibility ring. While invisible the shepherd can do what he wants without consequence. He becomes corrupted, seducing the queen and eventually usurping the throne. I’m sure a story involving a ring of invisibility that corrupts its wearer will never catch on today.
Plato wrote this to argue about justice. I’ve been using it to think about self-identity.
So when you’re by yourself, who are you? Are you like one of my friends who was always told they’re clumsy so they identify as such? Are you angry because you always believe you deserve more? Or always feel inadequate despite outward success?
When a friend was being interviewed for a director role in a large company they sent him for psychometric testing. He was interviewed principally about his childhood and upbringing. He’d come from a rough background and through grit had become successful. They wanted to know how he really saw himself. It was the most harrowing part of his interview. He’d had to take over the father role in his family while he was young and still bears the scars. He hides it behind a charismatic personality and a vigur for achievement.
Maybe we have a picture like Dorian Gray locked away somewhere in our psyche. Maybe we don’t reflect on this. What I know is that Jesus has a different take. Paul summarises it well: “We are God’s masterpiece” he writes to believers in Ephesus, “created to do good works in Christ.”
Jesus transforms us from the inside. As much as you may resist it, He sees you as his work of art. When no-one’s looking He wants you to always know who you are: his child, the most precious of his creation and a celebrated part of his family. Reject everything else you may think about yourself, you are wonderfully made and this should be the bedrock of your new identity in Christ.
Plato
Saturday June 13th Annette England Earlier this week we discovered the Loch Arkaig Osprey camera (Osprey Cam) and, having seen a fish brought in by dad and the second of three eggs hatch all within minutes of visiting it for the first time, we are now hooked (so are the cats, but that’s another story!) We drop in frequently to see how the family are getting on, to catch up on how many fish Louis (dad) has brought in and see how many more sticks and branches have been added to the nest to protect the increasingly active and rapidly growing chicks. Ospreys are beautiful, majestic birds and watching them in flight makes my heart soar and feel as if anything is possible.
This encouraged me, reminding me that “those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31. To find the exact verse I had to do a search, at which point I was struck by just how frequently eagles and the shelter of God’s wings are referred to in the Bible, often in the context of comfort and protection in confusion or despair and in the assurance of hope and a future for those who trust in God. At a time where it is all too easy to feel confined and tied to the ground, in need of comfort, I was glad to be reminded of this and that strength and hope can be renewed.
The Loch Arkaig Ospeys have given us hours of entertainment and pleasure complete with high drama and peaceful vistas but, unexpectedly, have also pointed to deeper things. What unexpected things have encouraged you, pointed to God and reminded you to renew your strength by hoping in the Lord?
Ospreys Osprey Cam
Friday June 12th Angela Griggs I started a new job as Senior Nurse at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge in March this year, so unlike many people I have been travelling to work each day and leading a similar day to day life as pre-lockdown, although the work has been so very different.

The words, whilst familiar to most of us, have been part of my prayers during lockdown.

I Choose to worship

I choose to worship
I choose to bow
Though there’s pain in the offering, I lay it down.

Here in the conflict
When doubt surrounds
Though my soul is unravelling, I choose you now.

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul
(Oh my soul) Worship his holy name
Sing like never before oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.

I praise You through the fire
Through the storm and through the flood
There is nothing that could ever steal my song
In the valley You are worthy, You are good when life is not
You will always and forever be my song.

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul
(Oh my soul) Worship his holy name
Sing like never before oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever my pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul
(Oh my soul) Worship his holy name
Sing like never before oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.

In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground.
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm,
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when striving cease
My comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul
(Oh my soul) Worship his holy name
Sing like never before oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name.
Amen.

I choose to worship – Rend Collective
10,000 reasons – Matt Redman
In Christ alone – Stuart Townend

Thursday June 11th Deacon Sheralee Devitt ‘Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.’ Psalm 73:23

A little controversial unless you live in the same household!
I’m pleased the psalmist is talking about God who is his strength and portion, and ours.

In times of change we so need this reassurance. Change means different things to different people. ‘Nevertheless’ God is continually with us…

I’ve been reading the book below. The first chapter talks about change. The author talks about six main ways of managing change.
1) Nurture more (and more enduring) friendships, and widen your contacts in the community.
2) Try not to take on more than one or two of the major life changes!!
3) Plans need to be kept fluid, and adapted as circumstances change.
4) Every situation no matter how complex or how painful can be divided into its constituent parts.
5) In order to survive (let alone thrive) it is vital to maintain good health (as far as hereditary factors allow).
6) Personal equilibrium depends on having enough breathing space: to absorb, pause, reflect, read, discuss, learn and grow.

I wonder which particular ones resonate or not with you.

Prayers
I thank you Lord for your companionship – ever-present, ever available, ever-new and yet changeless.
Help me detach myself from anxiety, from temptations, from superficial preoccupations, from anything that might confine or impoverish my soul, so my whole being may live life in its richest and most truest expression. Amen

The author’s next chapter is about ‘stress.’

Virgin Eye
Wednesday June 10th Louise Selby A video message for today! Louise’s Video Message
Tuesday June 9th Alison Bryan ‘When words are not enough’
Maybe like me you have been staying in contact with family, friends, or work colleagues by making long phone calls or spending hours talking over Zoom. Words, words, words ! Words can convey information & some emotions, but by themselves they are not always enough to communicate what we really mean. Over 90% of what we say to each other is not contained in the words! It is the nonverbal cues that convey the full meaning. Of course, we are missing those obvious physical means of nonverbal communication like hugs ☹. But maybe we are missing out too on the fullness of communication that we are used to…. by not being in the same physical space.
When I worked as a speech & language therapist there was a therapy programme called ‘More Than Words’, for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. This focused on some basic non verbal skills & social ‘rules’ for communication, which for most children are usually ‘caught’ [learned from everyday interactions] rather than needing to be actively ‘taught’ e.g. the importance of how to take turns in conversations. When two people are talking there is a lot more going on than an exchange of words in grammatical sentences! We process extra information with our eyes- like facial expressions, gestures, body posture. We process extra information with our ears – like tone of voice, the timing of pauses between words & phrases, the intonation patterns [tunes of the sentences]. To some degree these help us to pick up on what is ‘not being said’ or the ‘emotional atmosphere’ of the conversation, some people being more sensitive to this than others. Counsellors are trained to listen out for those hidden undertones , the message behind the words.
When we can’t tune into the full range of these essential cues our interaction is the poorer. Even if we see the person, like using facetime or Zoom, we often only see a head & shoulders . The person also may not be behaving in quite the same way when they are staring at a screen rather than being face to face! I heard a short news report from a previous Brexit negotiator [sorry for mentioning the divisive ‘B’ word☹]. He commented that the ongoing negotiations via the internet will be so much the harder without the usual ‘extra cues’ you get to someone’s meaning or intention when you are in the room with them.
So, I got to thinking about communication with God in prayer. Do we have to say words to communicate with God ? Do we try too hard to say the ‘right words’ ? Are we listening out for ‘words’ when trying to hear God’s voice ? Annette England in her ‘thought for today’ recently commented on her struggles to find the right words in prayer. As we try to hold the ongoing, overwhelming needs of the world up to God…. what else can we say that we haven’t already said many times ??
Many years ago God nudged me into exploring contemplative prayer by showing me a picture of a pot-bound plant whose roots had no space to grow. The thought that came with this picture was ‘words are limiting your growth’.
Our communication with God can grow when we find out that words are sometimes not enough….& that’s ok! God is not limited by words. He is very sensitive to the message behind the words. He listens very closely to our thoughts & the intent of our hearts. He responds to these, especially when words fail us. Scripture also points out that our Heavenly Counsellor listens out for those inexpressible needs….those deeper yearnings…. & conveys them to the Father without the need for words – ‘For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words’ [ Romans 8 v26 NRSV].
Maybe next time we pray for the needs of others we can choose to go beyond the limits of words. We could choose a visual focus….something to look at that directs our attention towards God. Maybe light a candle or look out the window at God’s creation. Then we can turn our thoughts & hearts towards God…. & pause, slowing our breathing down. When we are ready, we can bring the need to mind…..‘holding that thought’ before God. It doesn’t matter if we can’t hold the thought for very long…we just turn our attention back to the visual focus we have chosen & back to God’s presence. And for our own deeply felt needs? We too can express these to God in ‘sighs too deep for words’. How? By honestly acknowledging & then offering our ‘unuttered’ thoughts & feelings to God in that quiet moment. Then when we are done….we can turn our attention back to the visual focus in grateful thanks that we have been heard……& held……& maybe in some measure….healed.
Roots
Monday June 8th Tom Lewis Back in February (although it feels like years ago!) we went on a family visit to Kew Gardens. Its was a cold, grey day but we did spot something colourful. Flapping around in one of the leafless trees we saw flashes of green and blue, on closer inspection we realised they were some kind of tropical bird. There were loads of them and we saw them all over the place throughout the day.

I did some research and discovered they were parakeets. And that they are not owned by Kew but part of a large flock of feral parakeets that has been expanding across the south-east since the early 1970s. Precisely where they originated is unknown – one rumour is that they escaped from the movie set of The African Queen. Another popular theory is that rock star Jimi Hendrix released them on Carnaby Street whilst on tour. Most likely though is that they simply escaped from an aviary and adapted well to the conditions. The RSPB estimates over 16,000 parakeets are now living in south-east England! I even thought I saw one in Hitchin this morning, but it was just a plastic bag caught on a branch.

Parakeets do not seem to fit in wintery London. As birds from the tropics, it is hard to imagine how they have survived the winters but somehow they have thrived here. They don’t have their usual climate or habitat or food sources but they continue to grow in number and spread across the area.

Be encouraged by the example of the Parakeet. We are not currently in our natural habitats, this is not the climate of life that we are used to. However we can still thrive, this may not be comfortable or what we expected in 2020 but it is what we have got to live with. Don’t daydream about what might have been or the things you ‘should’ be doing or counting down the hours until normality returns. Live your life right now, in this moment. Your life is happening now – maybe it’s more inside and online that you would life but life is going on and you don’t want to miss it! Those brightly coloured birds livened up a dull winter sky in February, you can bring life and colour to life life – don’t let it pass you by, find ways to thrive in faith and friendship!

Parrakeet
Sunday June 7th Andy Feltoe Today I’m using this forum as the great unveiling of my magnum opus. It’s about banality.
The social theorist Benedict Anderson wrote a landmark book in the 80’s called ‘Imagined Communities’. It was a hit with academic types. He wrote that a nation is something that many people define in their head and comes with all sorts of rules that live principally in your imagination. So if you think ‘English’ you’ll associate it with ideas such as fairness, tea and cricket. And so does everyone else – skip ahead in a queue at your peril.
The concept of a nation is repeated every day in the banality of life. You brew a cup of tea, you are friendly but keep some distance with your neighbours. Your radio is tuned to the BBC. You are English.
Most of our lives are banal. Even in exciting times it is banal. I spent six months travelling through Africa in my 20’s. Most of my time was spent hunting for a bed, a meal and a toilet.
So then in the banality of life how do we live out our faith as Christians? Does my alarm clock wake me up in a more Christian manner than non-Christian? Do I make my toast more Christian? Or unpack the dishwasher In Christus? I am a Christian all of the time, yet most of my life is spent in the mundane.
No surprise then I’m calling my grand theory ‘Banal Christianity’. I suspect many others have got there before me. It’s easy and clear how I am a Christian at church. The challenge I’m taking is how to live the other 95% of my life, banal or otherwise, for Jesus.
Saturday June 6th Annette England I don’t know about you, but I’ve been finding it harder and harder to know what to pray for others and the wider world. Perhaps this is because so much of what is going on feels so big it is difficult to know where to start. Or maybe, despite all the technology that brings us together (and I thank God for that), there remains a disconnect that makes it harder to get a feeling for what to pray for one-another.
I decided to stop fretting about ‘what’ to pray and think more about ‘how’ to pray and came across the caim or encircling prayer which was helpfully subtitled ‘when I do not know what to pray’. As with all caim prayers, this one can be used as it is or adapted to different situations. I am using it to pray for all of us, for Christchurch, but any name can be used in its place.

Circle Christchurch, Lord.
Keep protection near
and danger afar.

Circle Christchurch, Lord.
Keep hope within,
keep despair out.

Circle Christchurch, Lord.
Keep light near
and darkness afar.

Circle Christchurch, Lord.
Keep peace within
and anxiety without.

The eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit
shield Christchurch on every side.
Amen.

Circle
Friday June 5th Julie Mills… Here’s an anecdote from my time at primary school, which still makes me smile now.

I loved being at primary school. We were blessed with an excellent music teacher, Mrs Coates, and we sang hymns and other songs every day. One in particular always made me giggle uncontrollably and that was ‘Oh Jesus I have Promised.’ I’m sure you are wondering what is even remotely funny about this hymn. Well, it was the second line in the fourth verse ‘My hope to follow duly is in Thy strength alone…’ To my juvenile mind, the word ‘duly’, sounded exactly the same as my name, Julie. My name was in that hymn! I know, bonkers right, but to me and my best friend Kim, it was hilarious, and we always started giggling as we sang the final verse. Obviously, we were missing the point of the words entirely, although in a way that didn’t matter because we got such joy out of singing together.

The national debate this week has been about whether children should go back to school. For adults and children, it might be a difficult return. A place which used to feel very familiar will likely feel very different now. Evidence shows that singing together might well help smooth the transition. A study in 2015 by The Royal Society confirmed the numerous benefits of group singing. The study was entitled, ‘The ice-breaker effect: singing mediates fast social bonding’. One of its conclusions is that whilst many activities can facilitate social bonding, singing together serves very quickly to build community much more effectively than activities which may be carried out individually ‘singing breaks the ice so that individuals feel closer to the group…. Such an effect may overcome time constraints on the creation of individual relationships to allow large human groups to coordinate effectively and quickly’. One of the report’s authors, Robin Dunbar explains how singing triggers endorphins and helps a community to bond and he said ‘I wholeheartedly endorse…..the whole-school benefits of collective singing’.

With so much time missed, Head Teachers will be hoping that staff and children settle in quickly. Let’s hope there is the opportunity for singing together – a hymn or two preferably! If social distancing doesn’t allow this currently, then fingers crossed music can be used in the background as I’m sure it will help ease any anxiety.

By the way, a few years ago, my sister who now works at our old primary school, let me know that the school were disposing of our old ‘Come and Praise’ hymn books and she asked if I would like a copy. You bet I did! Photo below, of one of my now highly treasured possessions!

Oh, and my grown-up self can now appreciate ‘Oh Jesus I Have Promised’ for the beautiful prayer that it is. Listen to a version here:
Oh Jesus I have promised

Come&Praise
Thursday June 4th Deacon Sheralee Devitt Goodbyes are never easy on the whole, especially during a pandemic!
The Methodist Diaconal Order has stationed me in the Norfolk Broads Circuit.
My family and I prepare to leave mid August. The reality is that I won’t be able to see many of you before we go! The president of the Methodist Church, Barbara Glasson wrote in this month’s Connexional pastoral letter ‘It is hard for us to exercise our ministry without the context of our people. Leaving circuit or being welcomed into a new appointment requires the warm hospitality of real people.’ Leaving and arriving is not going to be easy or satisfactory!

The ‘serenity prayer,’ I feel, really speaks into this time of change and transition for you and for me and my family.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change.
Courage to change the things I can.
Wisdom to know the difference.

Just incase I don’t see you before we move I leave you with a picture of me that perhaps reveals how I am during theses transitional times! Make your own conclusions!

Sheralee
Wednesday June 3rd Louise Selby Wind Behind you and Sun on your Back
My son and I are enjoying our bike rides along the Letchworth Greenway and Wymondley Woods in the late afternoon sun, once school is over and work is done. It’s the exhilaration of the wind behind us and the sun on our back that we enjoy. Most days, a one sided race is involved (him) and some sort of foraging takes place (me).
Last week, however, we had a lengthy argument as we set out. It was just so silly, arguing about which route we wanted to take, each of us not really understanding which route the other wanted to take. We are both like a dog with a bone at times, and it took us a long time of not going anywhere before we agreed to show each other, having worked out that both our preferred routes were close to the back entrance of Purwell Park.
When we got there, we discovered that we had in fact been arguing about the exact same route. What a waste of time and energy! My son wisely pointed out that had we just listened to each other instead of arguing we’d have realised we were both thinking of the same thing anyway.
In the early stages of lockdown I was warmed by the sense of national unity. “We’re all in this together,” was the united cry. I remember feeling cross in Boris’ bulletins on the odd occasion when someone asked a question that seemed to be more about scoring political points than finding out real answers, because, in general, people seemed to want to work with the government, scientists and carers to flatten the curve. How far from this unity we seem to have come now in the wake of the Cummings debacle.
In Elisha’s prayer in 2 Kings 6:17, he asks God to open the eyes of his servant, who was facing imminent danger, “so that he may see”. The Lord then opened the servant’s eyes. Instead of seeing the danger, the servant looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. What a vision of protection was given to him once his eyes had been truly opened by God.
The point is that sometimes we need to ask God for his perspective. I wonder, if we asked God to open our eyes to see the current news cycle as he sees it, to discern the underlying spiritual dynamics at play, whether we might realise how much time we waste arguing about the wrong things instead of listening and gaining God’s perspective.
I wonder if only then will we value unity and pulling together above bickering and point scoring. I wonder if then we will truly discover, like my son and I, the exhilarating freedom of the wind behind us and the sun on our back.
Cycling
Tuesday June 2nd Alison Bryan ‘Exercise for the spirit’

Most of us have been ‘allowed out’ to exercise since the start of the lockdown.

Exercise and fresh air are seen as essential for both our physical and mental health. Physically we maintain, or even build, strength as we choose to take exercise. How much we grow in strength will depend on the level and type of exercise we do. Our mental wellbeing benefits too. But we are ‘body, mind and spirit’, so what about our ‘spiritual strength’ ?

I’ve been looking a lot at prayer and prayer ‘exercises’ over this last month, since I will soon be facilitating the first Christchurch Zoom group doing an 8 week ‘Prayer Course’. One odd phrase seems to have stuck with me when reading about using scripture in prayer! The focus was on using scripture to ‘counter’ negative thoughts and emotions i.e. using the ‘sword of the Spirit’ [ Ephesians 6 v17]. The phrase used was ‘weaponise the word’ and it referred to learning by heart a few key verses of scripture that you can quickly bring to mind. We can then say a verse out loud or under our breath when a particular negative thought or emotion arises. You may have a few favourites already. Here are some I like

– When I’m not sure what to do or I have a decision to make, I can choose to say ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you’ [James 1 v5] . I can even personalise it and say ‘ I lack wisdom, so I ask God for wisdom, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given to me’

– When things start to overwhelm me and or I’m just plain tired, I can choose to say ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength’ [Philippians 4:17].

– When disaster seems to be looming, I can choose to say ‘But I call to God and the Lord will save me’ [Psalm 55 v 16,17 & 22]

However, it is not a ‘magic bullet’, take the pill once and it all goes away. Saying it is easy, believing it is much harder. Like physical exercise, choosing to speak out God’s truth to counter the negative thoughts and emotions that are frequently our unwanted companions requires regular application to have any effect.

To build physical strength it takes multiple repetitions of movement over a period of time, and there is often a time lag before you see the results of the exercise in increased muscle, stamina or skill. Sometimes [when not in lockdown] we are accompanied in this is by a training partner or instructor.

It is the same with building ‘spiritual strength and skill’ with the sword of the Spirit. As we speak out God’s word, the Holy Spirit is our training partner. He takes that word and secures the truth it holds more and more securely in our hearts and spirits. We learn to trust in the truth it embodies, even if we see no change yet.

Gideon bibles have scriptures at the front selected to speak God’s truth into many of life’s difficulties. You can even download the Gideon Bible app and select ‘Help in time of need’ to see these.

Why not ask the Holy Spirit to show you a scripture that you can ‘weaponise and wield’ for your own situation today? As you learn that verse and speak it out daily, especially as those particular emotions or thoughts arise, you are actually wielding the sword of the Spirit and fighting back. It is not a magic wand and it is not usually instant, but it is a powerful weapon when wielded in the hands of a believer….and that’s you.

Running
Monday June 1st Tom Lewis In Detroit, USA over Easter a Catholic priest found an ingenious way to maintain social distancing but also bless his congregation in their traditional way. He stood on roadside outside their church with a water pistol full of holy water and squirted it through the car windows of those who wished to receive a blessing. From the pictures on line it was a pretty popular event with traffic queued down the street to receive this unique blessing!

For most people this story is just another funny little thing; it’s those crazy Americans up to their usual madcap antics! You may not like the idea of getting squirted by a priest at a drive-thru. You may not believe that so-called holy water has any spiritual power. But you have to admire the ingenuity and the passion displayed by that priest!

His name is Father Tim Pelc and I am full of admiration for him. He knew his church couldn’t gather together, he knew that the people wanted to receive their traditional water blessing and he wanted to respect the rules that were keeping people safe. So he found a way to make it happen, a way that was legal and safe and will be remembered for a long time!

His passion to bless people was so great that a global pandemic could not stop him! Nor could thousands of years of traditional Catholicism! He thought way outside the box, humbled himself to use a child’s toy and blessed many people in that place. And brought joy to millions of others around the world who just enjoyed seeing what he did.

We need to be like Father Tim. I don’t mean you that you should wander around randomly squirting water through car windows (however tempting that may be!). But we should share the same motivation as him to share Jesus’ love with others, to bless them. And we shouldn’t let anything stop us from loving people – we can stay safe and still love them. Look around, what’s stopping you from blessing others? Think creatively, what is your water pistol? What can you use to share the love of Jesus with others today?

Water pistol
Sunday May 31st Andrew Feltoe Let’s start with a gag.
Following a shipwreck, two Welshmen, two Scotsmen, two Irishmen and two Englishmen are stranded on a desert island. By the time they are rescued ten years later the two Welshmen have started a choir, the two Scotsmen have started a distillery, the two Irishmen have started a fight, but the two Englishmen haven’t started anything because they haven’t been introduced yet.
It got a chuckle out of me even though it preyed on some pretty worn out stereotypes.
My home group have been reading through the book of Acts. Depressingly there’s a well-trodden narrative of overcoming prejudice, in Luke’s case it’s between converted Jews and Gentiles. It’s also been one of the few constants in my life – I’ve been blessed to have lived in a number of countries. Everywhere I’ve lived however there’s tension between people groups in some form.
Jesus attacked this problem bluntly. He pointed to his disciples and called them his family (Mat 12:46-50). Consequently if you follow Jesus you are my family. Your class, colour, language, education, politics — even denomination does not matter. We are family.
And trust Paul to put policy into practice. To build relationships between pagan and Jewish Christians he asked churches across Turkey and Greece to donate money to churches in Judah. He knows of the tension and he knows it cannot exist in Christ’s church. He upsets social divides by reconciling a runaway slave with his owner. Both follow Jesus and now have to come to terms with their new status as family (Phil 1).
I have a habit of thinking about these things from millennia ago and then having a blind spot to issues today. Families are often imperfect. They put strain on your forbearance. And they are also the most wonderful bond that outlasts so many other relationships. This is love at its most real, at its most raw.
So, how are we being family with each other?

Postscript: If you’re not in a home group I would thoroughly recommend it. It’s been an anchor in my life and makes a huge difference when living out my faith. They are a part of my family and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Family
Saturday May 30th Annette England I can’t find any words of my own at the moment, but that’s ok because, like all of us, I can turn to the words of others, past and present, to support and guide me. Today, thinking about my mother who lives in Ireland, I turned to a book of Celtic Daily Prayer (Northumberland Community, Book One) and found this reflection by Andy Raine:
Walking with grief
Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey.
Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief.
Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden. Swiftly forgive; and let Christ speak for you unspoken words. Unfinished conversation will be resolved in Him. Be not disturbed.
Be gentle with the one who walks with grief. If it is you, be gentle with yourself. Swiftly forgive; walk slowly, pausing often.
Take time, be gentle as you walk with grief.

We are all walking through these days with some kind of grief. I invite you to meditate upon and pray these words for yourself and for others.

Beach
Friday May 29th Andrew Mills In a recent walk from Hitchin to Manor Woods at Willian we passed a memorial on the Wymondley to Willian Road

“IN MEMORY OF / CAPTAIN HAMILTON / AND / LIEUT WYNESS STUART / OF THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS /WHO LOST THEIR LIVES WHILST / SERVING THEIR COUNTRY / AS AVIATORS SEP 6TH 1912 / ERECTED BY LOCAL SUBSCRIPTION”
This was in the early years of aviation, only 9 years after the Wright Brothers first took to the air, only 5 months after the formation of the Royal Flying Corps and 6 months after the first parachute jump from a plane. Hamilton’s Aviator’s Certificate number was 194 and Wyness Stuarts, 141, so they really were among the first flyers in this country. Tragically, these were not the first RFC deaths, and by the end of September there would be more.
What risks those early flyers took. Getting into aircraft that were a frame of wood wrapped in canvas and reinforced with wire. An engine of 100bhp which is about the same as a modern ride on lawn mower. At the time of the accident Lieutenant Wyness Stuart was in a wicker chair strapped to the aircraft in front of the Pilot, Captain Hamilton. I would think twice about sitting in the chair with the plane on the ground, let alone taking to the air.
Without these extremely brave men and women, these pioneers of aviation, would we be able to fly to Australia non-stop as we do today? (OK, COVID-19 has put paid to that for now, but we have the technology)
I am certain that modern legislation would prevent anybody getting into a plane like that strapped in a wicker chair and the aircraft taxiing, let alone take to the air.
These flyers took their life in their hands every time the engine was started, they lived and died taking risks for which we today benefit.
Don’t panic, I am not about to suggest anyone of us get into one of these ancient aircraft, but I do think we should think about taking some risks. Recently life’s been peculiar to say the least. What follows the release of lockdown will be scary, peculiar(again), upsetting, joyful, tear-jerking, exciting, traumatic and fun. Whatever the emotions experienced, life will be different to how it was. I suggest it’s time to step out in faith and take some risks to shape the new world we are entering.
I found several suitable biblical references which all use the word ‘bold’ rather than phrase ‘taking a risk’, but if you don’t mind, I will finish with a song.
“Be Bold, Be Strong
For The Lord Your God Is With You”

Two Airmen
Thursday May 28th Katherine Harris Unfilled Gaps
Nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we love, and it would be wrong to try and find anything. We must simply hold out and win through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, since leaving the gap unfilled preserves the bonds between us. It is a nonsense to say that God fills the gap; He does not fill it, but keeps it empty so that our communion with another may be kept alive, even at the cost of pain.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Whose absence creates a gap in your life?
Take just a few moments to think of those individuals whom you care deeply about.
Surround them with God’s love and bless them.

Gaps
Wednesday May 27th Louise Selby I have a dream
Makaton is a series of signs and symbols used by at least 100,000 people in the UK to support language and understanding for those with additional needs. On Monday the Makaton version of The Blessing, a song you have probably by now heard about or seen, was released on Youtube. If, when you watch the film (link attached) you are as moved as I was, you probably share my dream. The song, written by Tim Hughes, has gone viral. It’s based on Numbers 6: 24 – 26:
“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
In Family Church on Sunday we learned some Makaton signs for these verses. To understand the sign for “give you peace” we used a short piece of string. Holding it between the thumb and index fingers on both hands, we held the string and wiggled it around, up and down to represent the opposite of peace; when you’re frustrated, worried, angry… Then we held both ends of the string with thumb and forefinger and pulled it taut. This (as illustrated in the picture) is the Makaton sign for peace. The frustration, worries and anger are levelled out.
My point is not about peace in itself, but about the richness of the multi-sensory experience and depth of meaning that Makaton signs provide. The sign for “give you peace” not only helps children and adults for whom language is challenging to understand the concept, but it provides a multi-sensory experience of worship, which all children and many adults need.
I have a dream. I dream that as a church we actively welcome those whose brains are wired differently, those who do not work in a linguistic way, for whom mere words are empty. I dream we actively acknowledge those for whom reading is uncomfortable, those for whom pure listening for 10 minutes might as well be running a marathon. I dream that we do not simply tolerate those for whom the simple act of sitting in a large, uncarpeted, high ceilinged room full of people can be a sensory nightmare. I dream that we actively engage with those for whom sitting still for more than 5 minutes is an impossibility. I dream that we actively support those for whom any emotions, positive or negative, are strange and uncomfortable, those for whom touch is painful, and those for whom touch is essential.
Makaton is of course just one of many possible steps towards achieving this dream, but it is a great start, and I am investigating the possibility of a group of us learning it together. Please let me know if you would like to join us. But there are many more ways to explore how to more than just tolerate those whose brains are wired differently.
Please watch the linked YouTube film. If you share my dream please get in touch and maybe we can start to make it a reality.
Blessing Makaton Blessing
Tuesday May 26th Alison Bryan ‘Waiting and praying’
“ ….do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised…” Acts 1 v 4
In the church calendar we are in that ‘time of waiting’ between Ascension and Pentecost. The time between Jesus going back to be with his Father in heaven and the arrival of the promised new helper, God’s Holy Spirit. In Acts 1 we read that Jesus told his disciples to stay where they were and wait for what was promised. So that is what they did…they didn’t leave Jerusalem and they waited.
These past weeks we too have been obeying ‘do not leave’ instructions ! We have also been doing a lot of waiting. Waiting for small things and big things. Waiting outside shops in socially distanced queues. Waiting at home desperate for good news about loved ones who are unwell. Waiting for Zoom meetings to start. Waiting for the day when we can hug our loved ones. Waiting for hairdressers to open again. Waiting to see if we still have a job.
The disciples knew they were waiting for the Holy Spirit to fill them with power since Jesus told them. But I doubt they knew what that actually meant. They just obeyed the instructions for now, trusting Jesus for the rest.
We of course already have the Holy Spirit, our helper. We don’t need to wait for him, but he can help us in our waiting today. We can’t make the waiting any shorter than it is going to be. However, we can pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us make the waiting easier for us…and those close to us !
Near the start of the lockdown I was listening to a teaching on the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit– ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control’ [Galatians 5 v22 -23]. Early on in my Christian walk I was shown that the Holy Spirit gifts are ‘given’ but the fruits need to ‘grow’. We have all 9 in various measures, although of course not in full measure as Jesus has. However, what we have can grow as we find ourselves in circumstances where we need to use them. I remember vividly being taught … ‘don’t ask for patience unless you are ready for God to put you in circumstances where you need lots of it !’
This new teaching that I heard recently was very practical.
1) Look at the list of 9 fruits and ask God which one you need most of right now – it might not be the one you expect.
2) Look up that word in a thesaurus and write down some of the associated words. Choose one of these and ask the Holy Spirit to a) remind you of it over the day and b) help you use it when you need to. Then move onto another word from the list when you are ready.
Well, circumstances were definitely offering some new opportunities for growth in all the fruit !! But which one was the one that God knew I needed most? So, I asked him and he seemed to highlight ‘patience’. From my list of associated words for patience I was drawn to ‘acceptance’. In those early days of lockdown this word kept coming to mind [as I had prayed for it to do] when something [or someone] irritated me or when the ‘staying in & waiting’ got hard. So, I chose ‘acceptance’ rather than reacting with a rant or snapping or giving in to worry. Not 100% success rate…but I definitely grew in that aspect of having ‘patience’. I’m currently focused on ‘kindness’…all prayer support welcome !!
I wonder which of the 9 fruits of the Spirit God might highlight for you today? Why not ask him and then break it down into bite size chunks by listing some of the associated words from a thesaurus [ I just googled ‘patience’ and a list popped up]. Then pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to remember that word and apply it when it is needed. You don’t need to work hard at it…just be willing to give it a go. We can’t force fruit to grow, but we can give it the space to do so.
Fruits
Monday May 25th (Euan) I (along with, I think, pretty much everyone else) have been spending a lot of time using Zoom – to catch up with my friends from work, to attend meetings and even just to talk to my friends. In order to satisfy other people’s desire to make sure I am actually listening to whatever it is that they’re saying, I have my webcam perched atop my laptop, providing friends, colleagues, and distant acquaintances whose names I’ve forgotten with a peculiar little window into my bedroom. This provides them with a lovely view of my freshly-made bed, a small bookshelf and the very edge of my wardrobe. This is good enough of a backdrop for me (except for reading prayers in the Sunday service, which called for something more glamorous). I’ve even had a couple of comments about how tidy the place is, but that’s because they can’t see the entire room. The floor is neat by nobody’s standards, adorned with school books, socks, bags, and unfinished projects. My desk is a similar story. I have the tidy parts of my room on show, and choose to hide the messy bits.

I think this is a good metaphor for our mental health: we may appear to others to have everything under control, when in fact we may be struggling. There are a lot of sources of stress and anxiety at the moment, and I think it’s important to remember that while we cannot meet in person, we can still be supported by our church community, and go to others for help. This is why I think Zoom, a phone call or even a text can be so useful – at times such as this, we are still able to communicate with and feel the presence of others in our lives, and while we may hide away the untidiness of a room, we can still reach out to others – whether asking for help, offering support, or even just to provide some much-needed company.

Sunday May 24th (Andy Feltoe) I was working over the summer in a stuffy office in the middle of Wellington. It was 30C hot, properly baking. If it weren’t for work it’d be a dream day but here we all were. Next to family these were the people I spent the most time with in my life. And one of them was driving me up the wall.
Cantankerous. 16 points in scrabble and fist-clenchingly annoying. One of the engineers sitting close to me was short-tempered, cranky and had a reputation. I know the heat wouldn’t have helped but we were all in the same boat, suffering from inadequate air conditioning. Everyone was avoiding him.
I needed to talk to him about a problem at work and there was no avoiding it. I approached, he snapped at me. I got my answer but had to leave, tail between my legs. I sat at my desk glowering with the injustice of it all. I decided that I needed to walk it off for a few minutes.
When I got back to my office I was in a mucksweat but feeling more even tempered. I had walked, I had the chance to pray a little and I was back in control. I brought an ice cream to cool down and on a whim got a second cornetto.
Heading back into the office I went to Cantankerous’ desk and offered him the cornetto. He was too surprised to refuse. We ate our ice creams in silence and went back to work.
The next day was a little cooler all round. I was getting on with the grind when Cantankerous appeared at my desk. He sat down next to me and thanked me for the ice cream. We didn’t say much more; we’re kiwi blokes so we’re not good at feelings.
He was still cantankerous but from that day he never said a bad word to me. I don’t know on reflection whether he had a bad temper or if there was something else going on in his life – I was too immature to really find out. What I did learn is that $2 transformed a relationship. Kindness can sometimes be an ice cream.
Cornetto
Saturday May 23rd (Mandy Pye) Unlike the comic actor Miranda Hart in her Chatty Rambles, or Chambles as she calls them on Facebook, I am going to make this Thought for the Day short and simple (a bit like me really 😊)!

But having mentioned Miranda Hart I do want to applaud her in what she is offering on social media, as her Chambles are not only very funny (only if you’re a fan, I guess) but she is using this platform to raise awareness of chronic illnesses and also planting seeds for positive thinking during Lockdown. She suggests that those who suffer with chronic illnesses (and she knows a lot about this) are in permanent lockdown and whilst we are all experiencing a taste of it in some way at the moment, it is just that – a taste.

However, in one of her videos she suggested some of us will have had more time on our hands than others, but we have all got an opportunity to think about – now here’s a controversial term – what do we Love about Lockdown! I’m sure lots of you would have the immediate reaction of “nothing” but what Miranda is saying is think about what you need to have in place, in your life, to live well and be the best version of yourself you can be. This may be recognising a variety of things for you as an individual, within your families or communities, the climate and environment or simply that time is precious and you want to ‘surrender to the moment’, more often – you will all have your own thoughts & feelings.

So, before I fail in my quest to be ‘short & simple’ and end up doing a Miranda Chamble, I invite you to ponder on your holistic wellbeing and how you might be seeing things differently whilst in lockdown.

What do you want to take with you into post lockdown life?

Friday May 22nd (Peter Ward) James Martin, a Jesuit priest, recently authored an article in the New York Times (March 22nd, 2020) entitled “Where is God in a Pandemic?” I can imagine that many people have asked themselves this question over the last few months.
Finding a plausible reason for the existence of natural suffering has been a recurring topic of study in the philosophy of religion. At its centre is an apparent contradiction. The contradiction can be paraphrased as “If God is all knowing, all powerful and all loving and there is natural suffering in the world, either he/she isn’t all loving, he/she doesn’t know, or he/she doesn’t care”.
Keith Ward, a philosopher and theologian, approaches this contradiction by arguing that there needs to be a degree of indeterminacy in creation to be compatible with our free will as creatures of independent, autonomous existence. This necessary indeterminacy may lead to viruses such as Covid-19. So, when considering the contradiction above, it all depends what is meant by “all powerful” in the context of creation that encompasses our free will.
Returning to Martin’s article, he rejects answers, supported by some, that either suffering is “a test” – as that may lead to God being portrayed as a monster – or suffering is “a punishment for sins”, rejected by Jesus in answer to the question “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Martin concludes that, for him, the honest answer to the moral question of why Covid-19 is killing so many thousands of people, is that we don’t know.
Fortunately, Martin does not leave it at that. If the mystery of natural suffering is not answerable in a satisfactory way, where can the believer or non-believer go in times like this? The answer is Jesus. Martin reminds us that Jesus is fully divine and fully human – and that we sometimes overlook the second part.
I recently watched a youtube discussion between Tom Holland, a historian, and Tom Wright, a theologian, discussing the epistles of Paul. Tom Holland sets the context of daily life in first century Galilee into which Jesus was born. It was cruel, arbitrary and no doubt full of sickness – an abscessed tooth or a cold may kill.
Jesus did not minister to the sick “just because he was divine and knows all things, but because he is human and experienced all things”. Those who are Christian, or not Christian, can see in Jesus a model for how we are to care for others in this crisis “with hearts moved by pity”.
Martin’s closing sentence resonates for me when thinking about rationalising the suffering and loss of the pandemic – “I don’t understand why people are dying, but I can follow the person who gives me a pattern for life”.
Thursday May 21st (Katherine Harris) Changing Perspectives

My time in lockdown has been punctuated by time in the allotment and early morning walks through our neighbourhood. I have noticed that front gardens are different here than in America where I grew up. In the USA, it’s all about ‘curb appeal’ (or should I say ‘kerb’ appeal?) – the landscaping and flower beds tend to be close to the house so those who pass by can enjoy the view. Here in England, however, many homes are behind hedges, fences or walls. It seems that the front garden here is primarily for the pleasure of the occupants rather than the neighbours. Different cultures, different perspectives.

And that got me thinking… about gifts, tidying and gnomes.

There is a concept in America of ‘Indian giving.’ It refers to someone who gives something away and later wants it back. It’s a phrase sometimes heard in playground rows between children – often in response to “It’s mine! Give it back!” The phrase, connoting unfairness and trickery, arose from a cultural misunderstanding between European settlers and Native Americans. Native peoples generally felt that they were the stewards of the natural world, not the owners of its resources. If one person had excess, something would be shared with someone in greater need, and later it may be gifted to someone else in the community. The gift itself was thereby honoured and retained value by being given away to someone who would treasure it more – quite the opposite of the resulting derogatory phrase. It’s all a matter of cultural perspective.

You can see something similar in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. By only keeping what ‘sparks joy’, more room is made for meaningful objects, people and experiences. It’s not minimalism but meaningfulness that drives the process. She takes a moment to honour each item for the part it has played in her life before letting it go on to bless someone else’s life (or the recycling centre, whichever is most appropriate).

It’s one of the goals I have for lockdown: releasing the things I no longer need. But I find it so difficult. Do I really need all this stuff? Yet I keep drifting into thinking ‘it might come in handy someday’ or ‘it’s still good.’ This temptation to hang onto things actually betrays my lack of trust in God. Do I not trust God to provide for my future needs? Really? I need to change my perspective. How about you?

Stewardship rather than ownership. What we have is not ours to keep, but ours to use and share. The tiny garden gnome in our strawberry patch, dwarfed by the plants surrounding it, is my little tangible reminder to keep taking a different perspective.

Gnome
Wednesday May 20th (Louise Selby) Clap the Parents
We were informed this week by a survey by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that children from high income families are spending approximately 6 hours a day on home schooling, while those from lower income families only manage 4.5 hours a day. The government is worried that children will lose out and the social gap will widen. They urge parents of children in Years Reception, 1 and 6, as well as exam aged students, to send their children back to school on June 1st.
I’ll be honest; my first reaction to this piece of research was not a nice word! It certainly doesn’t reflect the families I’m in touch with. I have to wonder about the timing of this research, which in fact only audited 400 families and only covers 14 days, and which has combined children of all ages into one survey. It feels a little bit like a strategic attempt to influence parents in the tough decision they are making right now whether to send their children back to school. Parents don’t need anything else to feel guilty about right now!
Parents I know are not achieving 6 hours of quality schooling every day. However, they are wisely and thoughtfully providing what is right for their circumstances, responding to the needs of their children and putting the mental health of their families first. I applaud them. Parents I know are providing love, shelter, food, safety, stability and clothing for their children in the most gruelling of circumstances. I applaud them. Some of them work long hours, some struggle financially, some support infirm older family members, some are recovering themselves from illness, some struggle to find space to work amongst the mayhem of family lockdown, with laptops balanced on ironing boards, business meetings held against the backdrop of laundry or Lego. Not forgetting the home schooling on top of all this. I applaud them.
I wonder what Jesus thinks about the reopening of schools? I don’t know. What I do know is that he values the worth and uniqueness of each family unit and applauds every ounce of effort that our parents put in to be sure that our children are loved and safe.
This week parents of children aged 4 – 6 and 11 are making heart wrenching decisions. Do we send our children back to school? For every family the factors involved in making this decision is different, but for every family it is tough. Key worker parents do not even have the luxury of choice. For those children who do return, school will be a different place: Children are to be in socially distanced “bubbles” of up to 15, with teachers they might not know, in a very different learning environment. For those who don’t return, home school material may no longer be sent from school.
Whatever each family decides, they have my support. I am glad not to have been a school senior leader or governor making these tough plans. But I will stand by the people around me who have, and the parents from all backgrounds who responsibly and lovingly have made tough decisions for their children.
Let’s give those parents an extra clap.
Pinterest
Tuesday May 19th (Alison Bryan) I wonder…is there a special place you are missing? Maybe a place where you used to go regularly to meet with family and or a friend. A place that is so familiar that it’s almost like home. A place where you feel comfortable immediately you get there.

I learned something interesting about my special place a couple of weeks ago. My special place where I have chosen to meet with God over the last 9 years, since I moved into this house. It’s not that I can’t meet with him, listen to him, talk to him anywhere else,….of course I can! But this is our place. It’s where I have sat and prayed, listened, worshipped, studied, cried, laughed, been inspired, been challenged, been comforted and cried some more. It’s just a chair in my office [ I’m fortunate enough to have a room all to myself]. It’s an old chair….not so comfortable that I might doze off, but not so hard that I go numb. In my last house my special place was the corner of my bath! Being a working Mum I had less time to just ‘sit’, but most mornings I would stop there before leaving the bathroom to touch base with the Lord…to say hello…thank you…please….

Something happens when we have a special chosen place. Over time it becomes a ‘place of meeting’, a ‘thin place’ the ancient Celtic Christians called it. A place that becomes saturated by God’s presence though his Holy Spirit. You may not always ‘feel’ like going there, but when you make the choice to do so, God meets you there in one way or another. Even the familiarity of being there can be enough….you may hear, feel, understand nothing special, but you are blessed just by acknowledging your need of God as you choose to spend time there with him…however short or long.

I remember at school , when studying for exams, a wise teacher told me I needed to just choose one place where I would study. I may not feel like studying, in fact I might be completely opposed to the idea. But when I chose to go there, I would know what it was for and more often than not, by just being there, I’d start doing something and then stay!

It can be like that with prayer and reading the bible. I definitely don’t always feel like doing it ! But I choose to go to my special place and just start. Then, more often than not, I come away knowing that God has met me there in some way or another – His choice!

So, what did I learn about my special place a couple of weeks ago? Well ….I thought I had caught the virus, quite mildly fortunately, so I self-isolated in the spare room. For 5 days I chose to continue meeting with God as was my habit, but somehow it was just not the same. Maybe it was because I had a temperature and was feeling a bit off colour? On day 6 I decided to creep next door to my office when no-one was about. No-one else really goes into my office anyway. I lit my candle and sat down on my old chair…then I turned my mind to God. Immediately I was aware of a difference. I sensed his presence as soon as I turned my mind to him. There was no effort, no striving, no searching. It was that ‘thin place’….I was home …and we were both delighted to be back there together.

I wonder if you have a special meeting place with God? It doesn’t have to be a separate room. It doesn’t even have to be inside. It could be that you have chosen the start of your daily exercise to consciously say hello, to pray, to listen to worship music, to see him all about in creation. It could be that the bathroom is your safe haven ! Susanna Wesley [mother of John and Charles] found her special place by sitting in her chair and throwing her apron over her head. The whole family knew that they were not to disturb her until she emerged!

If you haven’t got a special place, can I encourage you to think about finding one that suits you. You may only spend a few minutes there to start with, but as you make it a regular thing something will happen. Can I share with you something that the Lord told me many years ago? He knows my special place…and he waits for me there every day. Nowadays, I try not to stand him up !

Couch
Sunday May 17th (Andy Feltoe) The onset of tedium is lurking just beyond reach. I’m fending it off with structure and chores. I’ve largely turned off social media, the great solution to the melting pot of the best and brightest of ideas, it often resorts to amplify the trivial and novel of humanity’s thought. I get frustrated that these tools were intended to bring people together but only serve to drive people into factions.
Instead I’m finding respite in history and the classics. I’ve been learning more about two early groups of Christians – the Niceans and the Arians. Here’s a brief history lesson.
Not content with the Christianisation of the Roman empire, one of the outcomes of the council of Nicea was to determine the relationship of the trinity. Tom Wright is well known for remarking that if you think you have a good idea of the trinity, you’re almost certain to be wrong. The council of Nicea was chaired by the emperor Constantine and resulted in a common Christian creed, the nicean creed and one that you may know very well. Not all Christians were convinced and they broke off from the others to form a separate Christian movement, the Arians.
The differences were slight but significant enough to warrant a split. For the next century you weren’t merely a follower of Jesus, you had to declare which faction you supported – the Niceans of the Arians. Positions of power in Constantinople were determined by your faction.
And to what end? Unless you study this stuff you may never have heard of either group. Can you imagine if they were given a Facebook account and a Twitter handle? My glum prognosis is that we would see online trolling and spats of the same ilk as we see today. Except in Latin.
I can’t decide whether these reflections make me more frustrated or content. In the course of history it’s clear that we may have more technology at our disposal but that the human condition remains unchanged. There is a chink of light though. Factions don’t last. People will forget your affiliation. What will last are not the things we break but rather the relationships we build.
Bishops
Saturday May 16th (Annette England) Julian of Norwich, a woman whose name is not recorded, was a 14th century mystic who is known almost exclusively through her writings. She was an anchorite who lived through plague and the associated social and economic turmoil. Her writings, Revelations of Divine Love, relate to a series of visions she had of Jesus on the cross which led her to seeking God in solitude. Although (or perhaps because) she lived in a time of turmoil, her writings contain a message of optimism based on the certainty of being loved by God and of being protected by his Providence. Many people are now turning to them help them make sense of, and find a way through, our current ‘plague and turmoil’.
I have read a few excerpts from her book but it is how she lived and the name of her ‘occupation’ that struck me. As an anchorite she withdrew from society to lead a prayer focussed-life, but she was not cut off from it. Her cell, attached to St Julian’s church, is said to have had two windows, one facing the sanctuary and one facing the centre of commerce through which she would speak to and provide spiritual counselling for local residents. It is this image, the cell between the church and the world anchoring both and holding them fast through prayer, that has taken up residence in my mind. I don’t really know what it means but find comfort and inspiration in it. Maybe we should keep it in mind as we consider new ways of worship, ministry and healing.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing[s] shall be well.”
Anchor
Friday May 15th (Julie Mills) Hungry for God?
‘I’ve got the munchies’, ‘I could eat a horse’, ‘Starvin’ like Marvin’, I’m dying of hunger…’
I’ve been thinking a lot about food recently, (there’s nothing new there actually!), but I’m more aware of the opportunity to eat because of working from home and the opportunity to raid the fridge on a regular basis, particularly as my ‘desk’ is the kitchen table. I’ve just had my breakfast and already I’m planning for elevenses.
I am not alone, across nations, we love food and can always find a reason to eat; because we’re happy, sad, seeking comfort, feeling worried……excited……bored…….to celebrate…. commiserate….name an emotion and we’ll find a food to accompany it. During the time of lock down especially, I’ve heard many people say that they’re eating and drinking too much. It won’t surprise you therefore to discover that of the spiritual disciplines, fasting is the one which most people find the most difficult to practice.
Fasting means not eating, and for some, not drinking either for an extended period. Different religious traditions observe a period of fasting, varying in length. For example, it is currently the month of Ramadan for Muslims, during which the expectation is that they will not eat or drink during daylight hours. Due to the current restrictions, the traditional celebratory feast of food at the end of this period will be very different as families are apart, but I’m sure there will still be much food.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, said, “Jesus takes it for granted that His disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian life. Such customs have only one purpose — to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.” Fasting is seen as a time of spiritual renewal, a way to hear God more clearly.
Sometimes, as Christians we are guilty of taking a pick and mix approach to following the word of the bible. Fasting is an example of something which can be overlooked, after all it sounds odd, it would be too difficult, it might make me feel lethargic or even ill, and yet Jesus expects us to fast as revealed in Matthew 6:16,(quoting from The Message) “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity, but it won’t make you a saint.” In Luke also, we are told how Jesus went without food for 40 days. It has been found to be a way of clearing the mind and body for meeting with God. Moses fasted before going up the mountain to meet with God when he received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). We know how to fuel our physical body but fasting is a way of fuelling our spiritual lives.
As we continue to move out of lock-down and try and discern what next for the community that is Christchurch Hitchin, is this something we should consider? It wouldn’t be good health wise for everyone. Some people will be ‘raring to go’ once lock-down is over and yet for others, time will be needed to recover more slowly, to heal, to grieve and come to terms with what has been experienced. What do you think?
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’ (John 6:35)
Thursday May 14th (Katherine Harris) Catching a Glimpse

When I was a young girl, I loved to lie down under the Christmas tree and gaze up into its branches, newly lit. It was always special – something private and wondrous – a moment of such immediacy and intimacy that I wanted it to last forever. So I would linger as long as I could, soaking it all in. After all, it would have to last me an entire year.

This past November, during a visit to Devon, we took Ian’s mum to the nearby Sidholme Music Room where the chandeliers were being refurbished. One of the largest had been lowered nearly to the ground, and we were invited to come up for a closer look at the restoration. Beautiful and sparkling, it was such a pleasure to see the prisms of cut crystal and even to delicately touch them. What normally is afar and dazzling was brought near and personal. The three of us sat for hours, chatting, watching the proceedings and admiring the workmanship.

Then I saw my chance. The press cameras had been turned off and people’s attention was generally elsewhere. So I quietly walked up, laid down, and sidled myself ever so carefully under the chandelier. Gazing up into its branches, it was, like long ago, something private and wondrous – a moment of such immediacy and intimacy that I wanted it to last forever. So I lingered as long as I dared, soaking it all in. After all, who knows if such an opportunity will ever come again.

Could the Kingdom of God be something like this chandelier? Transforming every darkened corner with dazzling light. The broken are renewed and restored, made radiant once again. Normally afar, it is brought near and personal – God is made known in Jesus. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God… For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself.” (Colossians 1:15,19)

Life in lockdown may be the antithesis of a glittering chandelier – for some, the world seems a much darker place. But if we have the eyes, we can still glimpse God’s Kingdom in our midst. Christ-like care and concern is demonstrated daily. People are connecting with others despite the obstacles. The humble workers are being honoured. Nature is being restored. We are appreciating the little things once again. “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)

Maybe, now that our everyday lives are far from ordinary, the time is ripe for catching a glimpse of something truly extraordinary. Who knows how long it will last? Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

Chandelier
Wednesday May 13th (Louise Selby) What does the Lord Require?
Micah 6:6 – 8: An Interpretation for Christchurch
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with religious words, acts and ceremony? Shall I come with my traditions, my knowledge of what is right, my comfort in what has always been? Shall I bring my knowledge of the Bible and my eloquent prayer? Would he be pleased with my ethical decisions, my social action?
Will he be pleased with all my money and all the hours at my disposal? Will he gladly receive my competence, my skills, my experience? Does he desire me to offer all my possessions?
Shall I allocate to God all the time I give to family and friends, my evenings, my weekends? Shall I offer all my energy and strength, my health? Does he desire that which is most precious to me; my home, my relationships, my children?
He has told you, my friends, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to live fairly, to be kind, and to walk humbly with God, knowing that your everything will never be enough, but he will always be your enough and your everything.
Walk
Tuesday May 12th (Sara Crowley) I, and am sure many others, have been appreciating the daily thoughts shared via FB and Weekly. Why is that? For me, it’s because it reinforces our sense of being a fellowship; it makes things more real when I read the words of people I know – whether this is the reality of grief and despair or sharing a story of hope; and I like to read a perspective that I may not have considered myself. How blessed we are to be able to speak and write to encourage each other, and to share thoughts about what is important.

Perhaps we need to do similarly with those who do not know as much about God as we do? I picked up some tweets on Sunday from a performance poet who in this time of lockdown is reading his way through the Bible. Jay is currently writing a new poem to share each day – God is clearly featuring. One begins ‘if God is everywhere, then everywhere is holy. Everything is holy, everyone is holy’. Later it reads ‘the hospital is holy. The cracked linoleum and buzzing vending machine; Holy! Holy! Holy!’. He posted a list of things he will do once ‘the Plague’ ends. One is ‘hug my Grandad’, another is ‘Get baptised’. Jay has 19.7K Twitter followers and we are catching a glimpse of a young Christian (only since January!) who is sharing his story using this medium, probably reaching more people than any of us will ever do. Jay is transgender. Today he said it is harder for him in his home environment to be open about being a Christian than it was about his sexuality. His previous experience is that openness and honesty brings joy. He is disturbed that he has to hide his Bible and his faith, and is worried he will lose the sense of God’s presence. I wonder if the Spirit is pleased and blessing his willingness to be vulnerable in such a public sphere as he may be the only chance for some of his followers to meet Jesus. Like Philip and the Ethiopian. I pray so.

How could we spread, not the virus, but Jesus? Where are those in our locality finding thoughts that show that others understand and share their pain or give them hope? What are they thinking at this time? Do we need to help them see that God is seated on the throne over all, and usually holding back the consequences of the Fall. But sometimes, like now, we catch a glimpse of things as they really are, as we experience these destructive forces loose in the world. Can we share our hope, our faith, that God is in the business of restoring his world not destroying it, of making all things work for good. Can we better use social media to scatter seeds and help bring more of heaven down to earth? And how would we support those taking their first steps of faith?

HolyJay Hulme
Monday May 11th (Tom Lewis) Everyday we are confronted with information, for more than we can take in or fully comprehend. In 1970 the average person was exposed to around 500 adverts per day (on the TV or radio, on billboards, in newspapers or shop windows) fifty years later we are exposed to over 4000 adverts every day! And that’s just advertising, think about all the messages you read, or see on a screen, or hear in conversation! We are overwhelmed with information.

Governments around the world are struggling to get their safety messages heard among the background noise. (this isn’t helped their own lack of clarity!) Sharing a clear message is made even more difficult as trolls and hoaxers share conspiracy theories and fake new stories. And listening to a Presidential briefing will only confuse things further!

What do we do? Who should we listen to? The wisdom of proverbs can help: “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.” Stay on track with God in the midst of everything. Listen for his voice through the chaos, through the junk mail and confused advice. Find space to hear that ‘still small voice’ and focus on what He says to you today.

Matt Lucas explains…

Matt LucasMatt Lucas explains…
Sunday May 10th (Andy Feltoe) Once upon a time we wanted to do a modern take on an old parable. We gave $100 to each of the home groups in our church. We asked them to use their talents and come back to tell us what they had done.
Our home group was much like the others. We used the money to buy food, cooked up a cracking hot meal and distributed it to students around our local university campus.
My friend Colin thought a bit differently. He used the money to put on a breakfast for some business leaders in the city. The money paid for the venue and some expensive food for people who already had plenty. A hundred bucks paid for their attention.
Colin pitched a charity fashion show to them and asked for sponsorship. They agreed. The show used our church and local designers. The businessmen paid for advertising and expenses. His idea grew legs and became a big event. We filled a thousand-seater church and raised tens of thousands of dollars for our local homeless shelter.
So what happened to Colin? He moved to London, became an economist and spends his time helping developing countries grow. It’s a literal embodiment of the talents parable: “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.”
Some people can sing, some can cook and bake. Others have gifts in hospitality, administration or teaching. My friend Colin just seems to know how finance works. He loves Jesus and he uses his talents for the kingdom.
Ref: Matthew 25:14-30
NZDollar
Saturday May 9th (Annette England) “Two are better than one, they have a good return for their labour: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
As I write this there is much anticipation and speculation about what the first steps out of lockdown, due to be announced tomorrow (Sunday 10th May), will be. As a church we are also thinking, talking and praying about how we can continue growing in loving and serving others and in faith sharing to meet this new world.
Through this crisis and the various responses to it we have seen how much we, as individuals, need each other and what can be achieved when people join together in mutual support. We have also been made very aware of, and may have experienced, the hardships of all types caused by isolation – by the lack of companionship and relationship.
What we have learnt, or been reminded of, recently is summed up eloquently in this passage from Ecclesiastes. It’s reference to a cord of three strands has always intrigued me, particularly as it comes at the end of a series of verses talking about the benefit of two. There are many views on this, but the one that speaks to me the most at the moment is Matthew Henry’s commentary that “Where two are closely joined in holy love and fellowship, Christ will by his Spirit come to them; then there is a threefold cord.”
This got me thinking – who are the ‘two’? The culture we live in accustoms us to thinking as individuals and I imagine many of us automatically read this passage from the perspective of two people. But does it apply to groups, to organisations, to communities? I think it must. That being the case, as we slowly emerge from lockdown to a changed world, who can we Christchurch join with? Who could we partner with, should we partner with? What do we have that we can share, what do we need from others to help support them? How can we make sure that no one is left to fall without someone to help them up?
Rope
Friday May 8th (Vic Evans) I was listening recently to one of HTB’s Sunday Talks (in addition to our excellent Christchurch service of course), where Nicky Gumbel stressed the importance of laughter in dealing with stressful situations. With that in mind, I wonder if you are fully conversant with the new lockdown lingo? (with apologies to those who may already have seen this).
Coronacoaster
The ups and downs of your mood during the pandemic. You’re loving lockdown one minute but suddenly weepy with anxiety the next. It truly is “an emotional coronacoaster”.
Quarantinis
Experimental cocktails mixed from whatever random ingredients you have left in the house. These are sipped at “locktail hour”, ie. wine o’clock during lockdown, which seems to be creeping earlier with each passing week.
Blue Skype thinking
A work brainstorming session which takes place over a videoconferencing app. Such meetings might also be termed a “Zoomposium”.
Le Creuset wrist
An aching arm after taking one’s best saucepan outside to bang during the weekly ‘Clap For Carers.’ It might be heavy but you’re keen to impress the neighbours with your high-quality kitchenware.
Coronials
As opposed to millennials, this refers to the future generation of babies conceived or born during coronavirus quarantine. They might also become known as “Generation C”.
Furlough Merlot
Wine consumed in an attempt to relieve the frustration of not working. Also known as “bored-eaux” or “cabernet tedium”.
Coronadose
An overdose of bad news from consuming too much media during a time of crisis. Can result in a panicdemic.
The elephant in the Zoom
The glaring issue during a videoconferencing call that nobody feels able to mention. E.g. one participant has forgotten to turn off their video when they are still in their pyjamas.
Covidiot
One who ignores public health advice or behaves with reckless disregard for the safety of others can be said to display “covidiocy” or be “covidiotic”. Also called a “lockclown”.
Antisocial distancing
Using health precautions as an excuse for snubbing neighbours and generally ignoring people you find irritating.
Mask-ara
Extra make-up applied to “make one’s eyes pop” before venturing out in public wearing a face mask.
Covid-10
The 10lbs in weight that we’re all gaining from comfort-eating and comfort-drinking. Also known as “fattening the curve”.
and finally, I have heard that at one point recently, one loo roll was worth more than a barrel of crude oil!
Thursday May 7th (Katherine Harris) The back of our flat looks out over a small, undulating woodland. I look forward to the changes each season brings. Snowdrops yield to daffodils and crocus which give way to daisies and bluebells – no year ever the same and yet following a familiar and reassuring pattern. And now it’s time for cow parsley and forget me nots.
I love the forget me nots. Small and unassuming, they’re the type of flower I would have drawn as a child. Five tiny blue petals shaped into a star with a little dash of golden cream at its centre. Maybe not much on its own, but when the grounds are in full bloom, it’s a spectacle as lovely as any bluebell woods.
And how appropriate that the first little clump I spotted was growing along the border fence to our air-raid shelter. The Stanton shelter was only discovered two years ago when, due to the prolonged dry weather, a small hole opened up on the side of the property. Careful excavation by several of our residents revealed an air-raid shelter which could easily accommodate a dozen people in its arched, reinforced-concrete interior. There was even a pencilled signature and the words ‘erected May 1940’. Lest we forget.
We were due to mark the shelter’s 80th anniversary tomorrow with our neighbours as part of the 75th V-E Day commemorations, but I’ll have to content myself with hanging some Union flag bunting around its perimeter. Yet another consequence of the coronavirus lockdown.
It’s easy to think about all we are missing. And it’s right to acknowledge our losses – some are unbelievably precious and irreplaceable, a truly devastating loss. Others, less so. Yet each one asks us to forget me not. Remember me when this is all over.
It’s hard to imagine someone who has not being impacted by this pandemic. And while it’s easy to think of those we know and those who appear on our news reports, what about those who have been forgotten by the headlines? The hidden ones. The neglected ones. The abandoned ones. The ones who were already suffering in desperate situations. They, too, silently plead with us to forget me not.
Forget Me Not
Wednesday May 6th (Grahame Williams) John Stott said, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues”.
Like many of us, at the beginning of lock-down I made a ‘To Do List’. Jobs in the garden, around the house, in the loft and in the garage. Plus of course I had many games, books to read and a TV mini-series to catch up on.
As many of you know, I am an Ambassador for HHH ( Helping Herts Homeless), so I also built into my days (not every day I hasten to add) keeping in touch by phone, Facebook and email a number of partner charities HHH support. It soon became apparent that many charities who manage and run their hostels, were struggling to provide the extremely important and comprehensive support to their clients and residents, because a significant part of their funding from donations has stopped.
We are in the middle of a human catastrophe, people who were at risk and vulnerable before the lock-down are still at risk and vulnerable now. One question I always ask is “What is your most immediate and essential need that we could help you with?” Often, they say “if we had some money, we could purchase X”.
I recently arranged for HHH to donate some funds to enable a charity to purchase support packs, which included food, games, snacks, nappies, stationary, colouring books, and magazines. To be given to young mums with health issues and are struggling to take care of their babies.

These support packs were gratefully received by twenty-seven mums, who had not been out of their hostel for over four weeks.
These past few weeks have reminded me of the blessings I have received from God. He has also shown me again, people who need help. Many of us I know are willingly helping our friends and neighbours. But what about those who have few friends or antisocial neighbours. We must keep listening and looking. God will prompt or steer us to where there are people in need.
Last week I was asked by a local charity to see if I can help resource PPE.
My ‘to do list’ will have to wait.

Tuesday May 5th (Sara Crowley)The Great Realisation
Let me share a story, actually a poem, and why for us hindsight’s 2020. With thanks to Tom Roberts, aka Probably Tomfoolery.
Tom says this poem was written to present a different and positive outlook. It has been viewed by tens of millions.
Back in January, at Christchurch we began to think about Being Real: Real Love, Real Life, Real You.
We have many choices ahead – one will be not to return to the old way but instead rediscover and recreate a new world – one that is better, for all.
The Spirit is on the move in all spheres of life.
The Great Realisation
Realise
Monday May 4th (Tom Lewis) In an old lady’s house there is a photo on the mantelpiece – between a wooden cross and a sign saying ‘keep calm, Jesus loves you.’ She thinks the photo is a picture of Jesus – it is not, in fact she has put up an image of Euan McGregor playing Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars series!

On May the fourth (be with you) it seems appropriate to mention Star Wars! Now I’ve seen this posted a number of times, it’s an amusing misunderstanding but it can also remind of something really important: try to see Jesus everywhere!

You might find him in the redemptive arc of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. You might be reminded of the joy he brings through the music of Carly Rae Jensen. You might praise his creation through in the soaring flight of a red kite above you. You might just find Jesus in a quiet moment of peace or in the rambunctious mayhem of family life.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, or see, or read Jesus is there! In the news, in literature, in art, in music, in nature, in science, in work, in silence! Jesus is with us in all things – look for him in the good times and the challenges, because he is with you!

Obiwan
Sunday May 3rd (Andy Feltoe) I used to be part of a team that gave food away on a Friday night in the red light district in Wellington, New Zealand. Without exception every Friday night I used to encounter God in some way. It wasn’t an easy ministry and we were forced to put our faith in Jesus.
We had a gas barbecue and cooked sausages and onions. The deal was that the food was free and all you had to do was come and ask. It was a simple transaction. If asked why we were doing this we’d explain that Jesus changed our lives and this is our way of showing others’ what Jesus was about. Just like the food we offered, there are no special requirements to accept Jesus’ free gift. Just ask.
One night a wealthy man approached us, bedraggled suit advertising the night he’d had. We gave him a sausage and he pulled out his wallet. We politely refuse all payment in principle and he became angry. He ranted, he swore, he shouted at us. He was offended that we didn’t operate on capitalist principles.
He stormed off. Half an hour later he returned, calmer. He wanted to know more. He spent the evening chatting with us, listening to why we believe in something different. Jesus was working in him. He asked us to pray for him and we did. It was 1am. A typical Friday.
On the corner of Vivian and Cuba Street, opposite the strip bar, between 11pm and 2am a fragment of God’s kingdom would break through and shine its light. And there was no better place to be in the world.
Bangers
Saturday May 2nd (Annette England) I had a bad week last week and this week has not been much better. I’ve mostly been hiding away, telling people I’m fine when I’m not.
On Sunday Val reflected upon Emmaus as the place we go to avoid pain – where we run to or hide or what we immerse ourselves in. I realise that my ‘everything’s fine mask’ is exactly that – a hiding place, but it’s not a refuge. According to dictionary.com a refuge is “a place of shelter, protection, or safety.” However, cutting ourselves off in this way and hiding the truth doesn’t protect us or provide shelter from pain or trouble, in fact it traps us in it with no escape route. Nor is it likely to help others or spare them pain.
It was difficult, but I did share with one person just how ‘not fine’ I was last week. It didn’t make everything better but it did provide a ray of light and a glimpse of a way through – a stepping stone with a whisper of grace and hope.
I feel somewhat helpless in the face of everything that is going on but I think this is something I can do – be honest about not coping well (or as well as I think I should). Not because I want or need anyone to do anything, but because truth matters and it brings hope and life in unexpected ways even though it can be hard to tell.
In a world where image and perception often matter more than truth, I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels I have to hide these supposed ‘failings’ – but maybe that was the old world. We talk about and long to find ‘a new normal’ and ‘realistic, hopeful re-making’, I wonder whether a foundational part of that needs to be scary, vulnerable, liberating truth-telling.
There, I said it… and the walls have not come crashing in!

The image shows a catenary arch. Catenary arches are very strong because they redirect (share) the force they experience (gravity) throughout the whole structure rather than focussing it at a single point. The blocks are held in place by these compression forces. All elements of the arch work together with the keystone providing the final balance, holding the structure together. They are also beautiful. Does this remind you of anything?

Arch
Friday May 1st (Chris Blackman) I adore tulips! Daffodils may flutter and dance in the breeze (as Wordsworth observed) but tulips are more dignified – they just sway gently in response to the wind. Our tulips line the driveway, a few are fancy ones, pink with pointed petals, but my favourites are just plain scarlet red. Being a statistician I counted all 200 of them, but it’s the quality not the quantity that really matters.
These days with the Covid9 restrictions I have spent a lot of time in self-isolation in the garden, including weeding the beds in which the tulips stand. With all the sunshine recently their heads with petals open have been following the sun, but in the morning and evening the petals close; the head becomes a glorious oval shape and the folds of the petals resemble hands closed in prayer. I think of it as Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which are familiar terms in parish churches. Now they have finished flowering, so with a certain amount of deference I have dead-headed daffodils as I usually do, but also the tulips and at the same time I give thanks for the visual pleasure they have brought me. Now all that remains is the stalk which shortly will wither and be composted. It reminds me of Peter’s letter (1 Peter 1:24) quoting Isaiah “All mortals are like grass; their splendour is like the flower of the field; the grass withers, the flower fails; but the word of the Lord endures for evermore!” God’s creation is constantly on the move.
The tulip blooms are now just a happy memory. Covid19 will be with us for some time yet. Time for memories, but also time for challenges and activity, conversations by telephone, by e-mail, or over the garden fence at a proper social distance. Who back in February thought of Zoom as anything but an expression in a child’s comic of a spacecraft going to Mars? Life is certainly changing.
It is a time to remember and pray for all those who are finding the current isolation restrictions tough; those who do not have a garden and are confined to a house; or who are unable to take exercise.
Thank all those who are considerate of others, who carefully comply with social distancing; give praise to those working in the NHS, in care homes. Pray for all those in parliament, in government, for leaders who cross the world having to consider and make difficult decisions and judgements, not forgetting the experts who advise them.
We can be sure that there will be a post virus world. Many of the psalms, particularly Psalm 22 commence with tales of misery and anguish but move on to words of acceptance of God’s love: “Let those who seek the Lord praise him and be in good heart for ever”.
And I look forward to when the tulips will rise again next year.
Tulips
Thursday April 30th (Alison Bryan)‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Proverbs 13 v12
I was listening to a podcast recently and the speaker quoted this proverb. It got me thinking about all the hopes that have been ‘put off’ …’deferred’ to a later date because of the current crisis. The ‘Good News Bible’ translation is even more dramatic – ‘When hope is crushed, the heart is crushed…’
For some of us our hopes and dreams have been temporarily put ‘on hold’ to be picked up again at a later date. Last September I started a new job as Coordinator of Healing Ministry at Methodist Central Hall Westminster. I knew absolutely that God meant me to be there…and yet 6 months later here I am furloughed, the church building shut and all direct involvement in leading a hands-on healing ministry ‘deferred to some later date’. And yet, when I asked myself if ‘my heart was sick’, I had to come to the conclusion that actually I had complete peace about it. I realised that my hope was not in the job itself, but in the God who put me in the job. It was He who put the passion for Healing Ministry in me. It was He who led me on the path that eventually took me to this job …and it is He who is directing my path still.
For others the GNB version rings more true….the hopes and dreams they had seemed to have been crushed, with no hope of fulfilment now. Maybe the date for a special family celebration has come and gone, maybe there was a new financial venture which will fail because of the shutdown……. or maybe the unthinkable has happened and we have lost a loved one to this awful disease.
And yet….even when it seems all hope is gone, when we choose to place our trust in God, whatever the circumstances, eventually we find ourselves standing on firm ground. We find a place of comfort and healing for crushed hearts. We find a place of peace, where we can hope again. We find the place of ‘longing fulfilled which is a tree of life’ as the proverb says. Over the years the hymn and song writers have put voice to this hope. ’All my hope on God is founded’ says the well loved hymn. ‘My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness’ says first line of the song ‘Cornerstone’
Everything in this world is temporary…”Lord, help us make a daily choice to put our hope in you, the one who never changes and is eternal.”
Cornerstone
CornerstoneCornerstone
Wednesday April 29th (Louise Selby)Tickle Prayers
I love a good laugh, especially the kind that makes me desperately gasp for breath and cry. But right now this type of laughter feels like a distant past. Life presents us with good times and bad, and there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” — Ecclesiastes 3:4. Clearly, now is the time to mourn and weep for what we have lost, while we look forward to what is to come.
Yet God knew what He was doing when He created laughter – it is not just for the merry, happy times. We need it now in the midst of our mourning. Not only does it relieve our pain and strengthen relationships; it is a powerful medicine. Proverbs 17:22 tells us “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
I have experienced this first hand. Twenty years ago, I was very ill. I was living in a residential Christian college at the time. That day, for the first time in weeks, I was able to get to a communal meal. I sat next to Maureen, whose Scottish humour was known well by many of us. As anticipated, Maureen made me laugh. The physical sense of healing inside me was tangible; it was nothing less than a tonic. I forget the joke, but I’ll never forget the moment.
Which brings me to the new skill we have learnt during isolation. Tickle prayers! We follow a structure; Thank you God for… Sorry God for… Please… I love you. While saying the prayers we tickle each other; the prayers can go on for a long time! This may seem irreverent, and I do often wonder if thanking God for the 63rd rabbit we are (never) going to have at some point in the future somehow misses the point… And yet within the banter come the nuggets – we somehow get to the nub of our real prayers.
Children have so much to teach us. When they feel pain and loss they still earnestly seek out the laughter. We too need joy and laughter as much as we need to be real with our feelings of loss and pain.
We are all in different situations. Some of us have had no physical contact with another human being for weeks, some of us crave space. But can we all find our “tickle prayer” moment each day? Maybe it is a TV show, a joke, a book, a film, a blog, a memory you could tell someone or write down, a game? And can we all find a way to make that “tickle prayer” moment a moment of connection – connection with someone you love and connection with God?
This very short film is a great place to start:

Tram ManLaughing Tram Man
Tuesday April 28th (Sara Crowley)You’ve got a friend
I’ve been thinking about how we all benefit from a friend to help us when we are in a bad situation, whatever that is. We need ‘someone with skin on’ – as replied by the child who did not want to be upstairs in bed alone to Mum, who had said Jesus is with you. What type of friend is needed now? For those who are sad and suffering, or feeling disorientated, for those in need, or fearful for their lives trapped at home. I think we are expected to do something – Jesus expects his friends to help those who are hungry or thirsty, homeless or sick, or in prison. How do we do that now? How do we now come alongside (yet still physically distanced) people now? Will we be known as Christchurch, not just the church (building) opposite Waitrose, but the church that provides new friends who introduce people to the best Friend, the one who loves them unconditionally.
Enjoy this virtual choir singing ‘you’ve got a friend’, in aid of Women’s Aid #YouAreNotAlone
You’ve got a friend
You’ve got a friendFriend
Monday April 27th (Tom Lewis) This is a fact, a fact I heard and did not believe until i researched it for myself, but I looked into it and it is an actual, real, true fact: at their closest points Russia and the U.S.A are only 2.4 miles apart! This seems impossible and absurd – that is the less than the distance from Hitchin to Letchworth! Look at the map, they are at opposite ends! How can it be only 2.4 miles?!

Now obviously I know that the normal flat world map we see is a two dimensional, rectangular representation of a three dimension spherical planet. And I know that the two sides of the map actually join up. I know that, I’ve known it for many years, it’s incredibly obvious and yet this fact still took me by surprise. Hopefully I’m not the only one surprised by this information!

I knew they were close together but 2.4 miles is such a minuscule distance that it seems ridiculous. I knew they were close but I’d never thought about what that means. It helps me make sense of the Cold War and the history rivalry between the two vast nations. It makes sense of all the paranoia about what ‘they’ could be up to. I knew the geographical facts but I didn’t understand what they meant.

Sometimes it takes a moment of epiphany for the truth to become real to us. Something or someone arrives in our lives and disrupts our usual thoughts, an idea hits us in a new way and something transformative occurs in our understanding of ourselves of of the world around us.

And that is exactly what we see in Luke 24:13-35. As Jesus’ disciples flee Jerusalem after his death they know the facts of the matter. They were there to see him arrested, tried and executed. They know his corpse has been buried. They know, for a fact, that the inspirational movement they had joined is over – how could it continue with their wise leader?

Cleopas and his friend know the facts of the final days of Jesus life. No doubt they know Jesus’ teaching and they have heard him talk of eternal life, of suffering, death and resurrection. They know it all but they do not understand it until it is all explained to them. Then they have an epiphany, a new understanding of the truth of Jesus’ words, the way his story is told throughout the ancient scripts and a sudden realisation that it is all true, Jesus is alive, he has conquered death! Their facts were accurate, they knew the truth but they did no understand what they really meant until Jesus himself explained it to them.

In the midst of the confusion of lockdown, with it’s peculiar mix of fear and boredom, what do you know for sure about the world we inhabit? What are the solid, foundational parts of life today? What do you know you could not live without? What do you put your trust in? The answers to those question may have changed over the past month, and may continue to change over the coming weeks. We though we knew certain facts we know about society, about our world, about how all the social systems operate and why they are important. But perhaps this will be a moment of epiphany for the human race, perhaps this is a time for a sudden shock to the system that alters our reality, that changes perspectives on what’s important or who is significant. Perhaps this moment in history is Jesus giving us the chance to re-explain the world and show people the transformational difference he makes for us all.

Russia
Sunday April 26th (Andy Feltoe) I’m building a bike shed. It’s slow going and my mind is wandering. Forgive my rambling thoughts.
I’m listening to a lecture on Alexander the Great and thinking about achievements. In 11 years Alexander expanded his territory from the small Macedonian region in northern Greece all the way to the Hindu Kush. He was 32 when he died away from home in Babylon.
It’s not fair to compare my his life against mine. He had a head start – his dad was a king and he was brought up in geopolitics and warfare. My dad was an electrical engineer. I learned about logic gates and circuit boards.
Rather I keep thinking about Dan, a friend of mine, as well as one of the teenagers in our youth group at the time, Kevin.
Everyone called him ‘Special K’. He was gangly, all limbs in a knot. He was typically the last to be picked for on a team. And he truly was terrible at ball sports. I have barely seen an individual less able to catch a slow underhand ball as Kevin. Although our youth group supported each other, many merely tolerated Special K.
Dan was in marketing at the time for an oil firm. He was cool, a skateboarder, played cricket and tennis and surfed. Everyone wanted to be Dan. He had the charm, the looks, money and talent.
Dan saw Kevin and loved him. He would pick Special K first for any team game. He would refuse to accept Kevin’s self-deprecation, and talk to him with a sense of worth and value. It was like the dux befriending the dropout.
Kevin changed slowly. As his confidence grew he stopped talking about himself as a loser. He made friends. He relaxed and grew as a person. It was wonderful watching Kevin’s transformation.
Dan ended up leaving his job in marketing. He went volunteering abroad, then trained for ministry. He’s now the only priest I know who rides a skateboard and wears a dog collar. Kevin is an adult, having successfully negotiated puberty.
So back to my shed and my rambling thoughts. Alexander left a ruinous heritage. His generals carved up his territory and fought bitterly for generations until the Romans swept through and conquered them. Dan invested love into another person and reaped dividends. It’s clear that some achievements leave a great legacy and others leave a mess. For my money’s worth Alexander comes a distant runner up to Dan.
Bike Shed
Saturday April 25th (Annette England) My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road,
although I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude

Snowy Lane
Friday April 24th (Julie Mills) Is This A Noah’s Ark Moment?

I must admit I haven’t really thought closely about the biblical story of Noah’s Ark for a long time. I tend to think of it as a story for Sunday school and can hear children singing that song ‘Who Built The Ark? (Noah, Noah..) as they stomp around the room! However, when speaking about the pandemic this week with someone, he muted the question as to whether the pandemic could be ‘our Noah’s Ark moment?’

Years ago, our house group followed a study series based around the question ‘Is God Slow to Anger?’ We decided that he was in fact very patient with the world indeed! We find it difficult to listen to God just as in the time of Noah. God must find it very sad to see how we are ruining his wonderful planet; polluting the air, the sea, the land. You only have to listen to David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg to be reminded of the damage we are doing, not just to the environment but to each other through an uneven distribution of wealth and resources. He sees generation after generation of people who are greedy and self-serving and a divided global society, with those ‘who have’ and those who ’have not’. The bible tells us how God became angry and sent the flood because man was getting it so wrong. Now, I’m not suggesting God has sent this pandemic because he is angry with us. The bible tells us that after the flood, he promised never to kill off everything living as he did then. Genesis 8: 20-21, ‘…. Never again will I put the earth under a curse because of what people do…. Never again will I destroy all living beings, as I have done this time…’ But you could quite understand that he might be pretty cross with how we live our lives!

My reflections on this story have led me to thinking about what I might do differently once we start gradually to move towards ‘back to normal’. Do we even want to revert to being exactly as we were, or might there be a new normal? We began thinking about this in the context of Christchurch at our Trustee meeting on Tuesday night. Will we, should we, resume exactly where we left off or is there a new way? Are there new activities we will start or things we will do differently or not do at all? God’s promise to Noah pointed to a bright future and again, in Jeremiah, 29: 11 ‘I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.’

This is surely a God given moment to reflect carefully on this for all areas of our lives – in the context of the whole world, at church, at home, at work.

Just like Noah and his family, we will eventually come out of lockdown. God gave a rainbow to Noah as a symbol of hope, promising never to send another flood, Genesis 9:13,’ I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds as the sign of the covenant between me and the earth’. You might not be able to feel hopeful right now, but God is working to bring hope to the world. As you go out for your daily exercise, notice the numerous paintings of rainbows in windows. This was initiated in Italy and has now been adopted across the world. I’ve got my God antennae on high alert at the moment. Let’s listen as he speaks to us through our thoughts and prayers, through our conversation with others and through our specific circumstances.

Rainbow
Thursday April 23rd (Deacon Sheralee Devitt) Praise the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, praise his holy name. (Psalm 103v1)

In times of difficulty, darkness or the strain of life I find a song pops into my head! It can go on for days or even weeks until the difficulties pass. At The moment I have the Lord is my Shepherd by Stuart Townsend playing in my mind and this may be around for some time yet! I believe this is the workings of the Holy Spirit. I’m thankful for it.
Did you catch the BBC broadcast by Global Citizen at the weekend. There was 8 hours of songs sung by a host of artists from all around the world. A virtual singing marathon to support those staying at home and those on the frontline! Local choirs are gathering all around the country virtually too. Music and singing has an incredible way of connecting people, it can speak to us when words fail us, there are songs to match our mood and help us to express our emotions. Those songs that are special to us can bring hope, comfort and encouragement.
Is there a song that touches your soul and makes your spirit sing? Dig it out, listen to it, hum it, sing it, may you find encouragement from it.
I ended a phone call with singing The Lord is My Shepherd with my mum the other night . It wasn’t particularly a joyful noise! But in the gap between me and my mum there was God, Son and Holy Spirt.

Praise the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, praise his holy name.

Wednesday April 22nd (Louise Selby) Is God reviving his church?
Playmobil Movie
There’s no doubt we are living in a time of social shaking. On a regular basis I feel a little bit like Marla, the character in the Playmobil Movie youtube clip which is attached to this post. Like Marla, It feels as if I have hurtled at speed into a parallel universe; where as soon as I manage to stand up I fall over again.
Last week, during my annual leave, I watched some of the Spring Harvest at Home events on Youtube. I found them extremely inspiring. In particular, I was reminded that historically, spiritual awakening and revival has occurred at times of great social shaking. For example, the great Wesleyan Methodist awakening in the 18th century came at a time when the ground was shifting culturally at the start of the industrial revolution. Gangs roamed the streets, alcohol abuse was rampant and people lived in debt and poverty; but God moved in power to transform lives.
Today, I am hearing and reading about a new spiritual receptiveness around us; people are asking questions about life and death and envying our faith. The Christianity Explored website has seen a 30% increase in its traffic, with a 50% increase in visits to their page entitled “Why does God allow suffering?”
My own hurtling sensation like Marla the playmobil character is still very present, but my response has shifted from “God please help us to get through this!” to “God, are you doing something incredible among us?”
In house group on Monday we read Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14. The dry bones of God’s people, who had been cut off in exile, who felt they were beyond hope, were brought to life with the breath of God. There was a rattling sound as the bones came together, which felt to me uncomfortable, an indicator perhaps that God’s people are rattled before he breathes new life into them.
I’ll be honest. I have mixed feelings about revival. Do I want it? How would it affect me? Just how rattled would I be? But more than all of these, I simply trust and desire God. I want to see God in my own life, in the lives of my friends and family, in Hitchin, the UK and the world. Do you?
Come, Holy Spirit, breathe on us anew.
Playmobil
Tuesday April 21st (Sara Crowley) Deep Breaths
Some of you may have seen the helpful video about how to take 5 deep breaths followed by a cough to help clear our lungs, especially if we are suffering from a lung infection. It’s worth everyone doing regularly. And where better than outside on a beautiful day breathing in air that is becoming less polluted day by day. These deep breaths of fresh air bring healing in more ways than one.
In the Creation story God breathed life into the first human (Genesis 2:7), and when the disciples were hiding away in a self-imposed lockdown, Jesus breathed on them and invited them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).
This is what we need – not virus-contaminated air but the live-giving, restorative breath of God – to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. (Edwin Hatch,1878).
It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only. You give life, you are love, you bring light to the darkness; you give hope, you restore, every heart that is broken. (David Leonard, Jason Ingram, Leslie Jordan, ~2013)
Great Are You Lord
Monday April 20th (Tom Lewis)
How do we know what is good enough?
Baked Potato Song

One way is to talk to Baked Potatoes! And they give some very relevant advice (in this video at least!)

What is good enough for us at the moment may well not have been before the lockdown began! We can struggle to maintain the usual standards at home as we might be less motivated to achieve our normal high standards. We might not even bother to put on trousers as people only see your top half on Zoom!

Or the way our school told us not to worry too much about making sure the Kids do all their work – something that would never happen in ‘real life’!

So during this weird period of time, What is good enough? Is it having a healthy stockpile of essential goods? Is it making sure no teenagers gather in groups in your local park? Is it just sensibly your washing and staying indoors

The truth is that right now good enough is different for all of us – depending on the needs of our households and our occupations. And our personalities, our physical and mental health. And our financial situation. And every other facet of our lives!

In fact this is always the case! My good enough is not the same as yours, because none of us have identical existences. All we can do is live our own lives for Jesus.

In Colossians 3:17 it says; “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Don’t worry about greatness, don’t worry about competition, be good enough for you by committing all you do into Jesus hands.

Just like that baked potato, Jesus shows us the way, Jesus changes our lives and we can respond to Him by doing everything we do for his glory.

Baked Potato
Sunday April 19th (Andy Feltoe) I have a picture for you today. This is Mark.
Look at him. Spend a minute just looking. Stare at his face, his eyes and beard. Remember that Jesus loves him as much as he does you and me.
I’ve had the privilege of travelling across the globe and making friends with people from many walks of life. I still keep in touch with many of them. Although it’s been years, Mark is one of those people.
There’s plenty I can tell you about Mark, and plenty you can probably guess. Listens to heavy metal? Yes. Loud? Goodness, yes. Tick. Bartender? Yes, well at some point earlier in his life.
I knew Mark from a house share in Wellington, New Zealand. It was called the Goat Shed, its name taken from the pet goat they kept in the back garden, close to the abandoned buses. Its basement housed many slowly rotting mattresses. It was a dump. The rent was miniscule, $50 a week, and so it attracted some of the more interesting people to live in its 7 bed house.
Mark lived there for years. He helped run the youth group for a wealthy church in the city center. He was as tough as nails on the outside and did a poor job of hiding a heart of gold inside. While he loved all of the kids who came along to the youth group, he always took a special interest for those on the fringe. The outcasts, the bullied, those who came from struggling families.
It was Mark who, recognising that we were all burning out from leadership roles, created a space for us to refuel and share our worries and doubts, judgement-free. We ended up stronger as a team and more capable of serving those in need.
Mark moved churches to be closer to the fringe. His first job in his new church was as a cleaner. He spent his time getting to know those in the local community and building relationships. He did not care for status, power or position.
Today he works for the Anglican church, still with young people. He would still consider himself a metal-head, rough and proudly blue-collar. He is all heart and lives to serve God as practically as he can.
Stare at that picture again. Whenever I look at that picture of Mark I have to smile. I see a disciple of Jesus looking back at me.
Mark
Saturday April 18th (Annette England) “There’s nothing too great for God’s power and nothing too small for God’s love.” Corrie ten Boom.
I came across this quote earlier in the week and it struck such a deep chord that I thought I should share it with you. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of our current situation and, in light of it, to dismiss any of our relatively-speaking ‘smaller’ anxieties and struggles as trivial and not worthy of God’s time or consideration. I am certainly guilty of this but, upon reflection, I realised that for this to be true it would mean that God is not loving enough to be interested in me and/or not powerful enough to hold everyone and all their circumstances in his hands. This is clearly not true and this quote served as the gentle, loving rebuke that I needed, as well as the hope and inspiration I was looking for. There is nothing I can add so I will leave the quote and God’s word to speak for itself. I hope it blesses you too.

Corrie ten Boom was born in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1892 and grew up in a devoutly Christian family. The entire ten Boom family lived their lives in service to God and their fellow man. During World War II their house became a refuge for those hunted by the Nazis and it is thought that they saved the lives of around 800 Jews and other refugees before they were betrayed and arrested. Corrie and her sister Betsie ended up in Ravensbrück concentration camp where many women became Christians because of their witness. Corrie alone survived and, after the war, set up a rehabilitation centre for concentration camp survivors and began a worldwide ministry with a focus on prayer, forgiveness and love. The above quote comes from a time that she was speaking on effectual prayer.

Corrie
Friday April 17th (Julie Mills) When Staying Home isn’t Safe

It seems that the phrase ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ has been replaced in the public consciousness by ‘Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS’. I heard this week of a distraught mother of a new-born baby. She wanted to register her baby’s birth immediately so she could get a passport and leave the country as soon as possible. The implication was clear, that staying home for her, was anything but safe.

The photograph shows myself and my two siblings in the loft at my parents’ home, 20 plus years ago. Our parents had said that the three of us needed to decide which of our childhood possessions we wanted to keep and what could be disposed of. What an adventure awaited us as we climbed through the loft hatch and what happy memories were evoked! The outcome of this exercise wasn’t however what any of us expected, for as we recovered papier mache models, books, dolls, train sets, school books, a rocking horse and more, as a family we just knew that this treasure belonged exactly where it was, in the family home where we all have such happy memories. In fact, our parents said they’d leave it to us to sort out when they were gone……It felt wrong somehow to move these items from where they belonged. (The photograph if you are wondering shows the three of us donning some long-forgotten fancy dress headgear from the 1970’s)

For many, home is a safe haven but sadly this is not true for everyone. The charity Refuge has had a 25% increase in calls to their helpline since lockdown started. For some the word ‘home’ means poor damp living conditions, overcrowding, angry raised voices, loneliness, hunger, abuse, fear and anxiety. Domestic abuse is known to have increased significantly in recent weeks as the mounting number of calls to Childline testifies.

Jesus’ ministry was all about protecting the oppressed and marginalised, upholding the vulnerable and showing compassion. He was never passive, and I’m sure at this time of lockdown he would be actively seeking ways to support others. Those of us lucky enough to feel safe at home and if we are healthy, can all contribute to helping those less fortunate, whether that’s through practical, financial or emotional giving. For some, staying home doesn’t always mean staying safe.

God is surely calling us to show real love, to be the best version of ourselves and to use the resources and gifts we have at our disposal to help improve the life realities of those around us where we can see the need. This could be through practical help, financial giving, a phone call or by prayer.

Real love, real life real you.

Attic
Thursday April 16th (Shirley Rossall) When it was over, I thought things would go back to normal…

I sometimes look forward to the end of social distancing and lockdown. Like many of you, I expect, I wonder how restrictions will be lifted and what will be the first thing I do? For me, it is a long missed cuddle with my grandson. FaceTime is great but not the same.
But I suspect I may not be alone in finding some unexpected silver linings to the pandemic clouds. And I’m not sure I want life to go entirely back to normal.

As the photo suggests, I am really enjoying having the time to watch my garden blooming with spring colour. Those of you who have been in our garden might not recognise it from the picture. This time last year it looked very different and it took last year’s traumatic time of illness and the kindness of church friends to unleash the beauty of our garden. That has been a lasting blessing for us, because we wanted to hang on to that enjoyment.

We would not be able to enjoy it now if we hadn’t suddenly found ourselves with lots more time on our hands. We are working from home, so we don’t have as much time as some, but we still are able to potter and catch up with things we have been meaning to do. And time to read, watch, and reflect.

God is one of the things lots of us have been finding more time for, but more importantly, a greater desire for too. There are so many prayer initiatives, so much online to watch. We have really enjoyed ending the day in prayer with Compline and now Spring Harvest nightly blessings. That is something I hope and pray will continue. Not just for us, but for many, many people.

For our church too, this is a time of opportunity. Whilst we miss each other’s company and fellowship, the gospel is now available to many people who would never have stepped inside a church. But they might when we are open again… You may remember that I am a firm believer in Whole Life Discipleship. Spending only enough time in our church building and groups to equip us to take our faith outside. Now we have no building we can use, how can we take that faith outside to our community?

Hopefully lots of us will be finding time for creativity too or for learning new skills. For me that is experimenting in the kitchen to find ways of using what foodstuffs we have available, and trying to learn to crochet. I think this will need to be a very long lockdown for me to even master the basics of that one!

But perhaps the last of my silver linings is a strange one. That is time to connect with people. We have more time now to be with those in our homes than we will have ever had. And we are making more effort to call friends on the phone, or on FaceTime or Zoom. And probably to pass the time of day with our neighbours after we clap.

You will probably share some of these silver linings, but you may have your own. I admit that I am extremely fortunate at this time and have not had any real problems other than the fear and anxiety that lots of people will share. Others will not be so fortunate, but some of the foundations of my silver linings were laid last summer when we were going through traumatic times, and they have stood the test.

So, the point of my rambling is that last summer we were challenged in a sermon about emptying our hands and allowing God to fill them with something new. Just now our hands have been emptied whether we like it or not. The challenge is what we will find to fill them with when all this ends? Will we continue with our new found joys? Will we go back to being just the same as we were before the virus, or allow space for something new?

Lounger
Wednesday April 15th (Tom Pike) Each year, the days leading up to Easter give us an opportunity to reflect on the life, death, power and enduring love of our Lord. We hit real depths as we recall the trial and trauma of betrayal, loss and suffering of Christ, our Christ, on the cross. I for one find this a difficult day as we share in this sense of loss.

But joyfully we join our fellow believers in shock and incomprehension outside the empty tomb as we see Christ greeting his people, having conquered death and His Kingdom bursting and overflowing with new life. The lives of his disciples transformed by following the risen Christ. And our lives too.

And yet today for many of us it feels like we are living in strange, uncertain and angst ridden times.

I have been reassured by the thought that the story doesn’t end with the celebrations of Easter, but God’s power and promise is with us always and His very Spirit is in us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 9.38).

Tuesday April 14th (Sara Crowley) Life is changing for everyone. We are all having to live and love differently. The past weeks have affected us as individuals, as families whether living together or staying separate, and our communities – based around our work, locality, social activities or faith. Change can make us feel unsettled, even when we choose it. However, unsettling can be good for us even whilst it is painful – it can make us more alert and help us to look at things differently. As Christchurch we know that we are a community centred in Jesus Christ (our very name). Are we ready in this changing world to be open and alert to where God is already working, to be led by the Spirit into new spaces and new interactions, to follow where the Spirit is nurturing new connections, to bring people to Christ?
In the 15th and 16th centuries the printing press brought incredible change, leading to the rise of Protestantism, and a different world (the Reformation). In the 21st century new spaces can be reached through social media, and this is especially true as we are having to physically distance, and also now as we interact to help those most vulnerable in our communities or engage with those we pass (2 m away) during a daily walk.
The Spirit is always making opportunities to bring hope and light to those we already connect with and those who are still strangers but who are beginning to connect with us. Let’s watch and listen and be alert. Let’s bring life to people who have little knowledge of religion though the invisible links and networks that are being forged by the Spirit. Let’s bring hope as people sense their vulnerability and fears – as individuals, as families, as the Christchurch fellowship, and as part of the UK church. Life is still changing, and indeed will become a different life. Let’s continue growing together as we intentionally try out new ways to bring people to Christ.
Field
Monday April 13th (Tom Lewis) Still Rolling Stones
Imagine going arriving on that first Easter morning, expecting to clean a dead body in a tomb, but instead finding something incredible! The tomb is open, the stone is rolled away and Jesus is alive! What an amazing moment that must have been!

Jesus was supposed be dead, killed by his enemies, executed by the most powerful authority in the world. His body was buried in darkness, there was no escape from the tomb of death and a giant stone was rolled over it to prevent anything changing. But Jesus changes everything – he burst out from darkness to light, from death to life! Jesus rolled his stone away and changed the world.

Through dying and rising again Jesus transformed people’s lives, he altered expectations and he changed the whole of existence forever. No longer are we trapped in the darkness of sin, no longer are we held prisoner by the weight of our guilt or shame, no longer are we stuck behind the heavy stones of our past. Instead we are free to walk in the light and share Jesus love. We can be agents of change, we can help others to roll away their stones too.

Jesus rolled away his stone and he is still rolling stones away today!

Lauren Daigle
Easter Sunday April 12th (Andy Feltoe) Adam was a friend of ours. He ran the sound desk at our church. Always friendly, always cheerful, he was as solid as a rock and completely dependable.

Each term our church ran a service we affectionately called ‘Yay God!’ We would have an open mic and people would get up and tell everyone what God had done in their lives. It was wonderful hearing the testimony of God working in our church.

Late that evening Adam approached the mic. He had lost his cheerful demeanour as he started telling his story.

Adam had made a bad business decision many years ago. His business partners had left him with a large debt. He’d been chipping away at it for years but it was weighing him down. Every month he was paying a tiny bit more from what he could. He was too ashamed to tell anyone how he was suffering. This was the first we had heard of his secret.

One day he checked his bank balance. The money he owed had been paid. He was astonished. He checked with the bank to see if someone had made a mistake. That’s when he found out. Someone had known about his situation and that someone had paid his debt, anonymously, in full. Adam was free.

And so Adam was on stage, our dear friend, weeping. He was ashamed that he had been harbouring this secret but humbled and overjoyed that his burden had been lifted. He was thankful to God for setting him free.

There wasn’t a dry eye that night as we embraced him as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Adam
Saturday April 11th (Annette England) My father taught us (me and my two brothers) a lot of things but the most important one was to have fun. Whether it was taking pleasure in nature, playing games, telling stories, exploring new places or ideas or using our imaginations, my Dad could always find or create joy in what he was doing and drew others into it. Sometimes our fun was spontaneous, at other times it would have been intentional and carefully planned. Sometimes loud and raucous, other times quiet and peaceful. We had fun in good times and in bad, and continue to do so. It was so much a part of our lives from early childhood onward that I don’t think any of us saw it for what it was until we had cause to reflect on it – grace and glimpses of the Kingdom of God.
Times are hard as we feel stuck on Easter Saturday: living with grief, uncertainty and confusion – caught between despair and hope. But God is with us as we wait. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) regardless of the situation and I realise now that this is what my Dad really taught us. So, I am going to have fun when I can and share it with others whenever possible. I invite you to do the same. Now then, who wants to hear about the purple-spotted-people eaters?
Baby
Good Friday April 10th (Julie Mills) Good Friday seems particularly poignant this year. Out of necessity, families cannot visit sick relatives in hospital. Daily we are hearing stories of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who cannot sit with their loved ones as they come face to face with death. Elderly folk are being denied the soft comforting touch of a relative’s warm palm closing gently over their hand as they lie in a hospital bed fighting for breath. Frightened children are denied the comfort of their parent’s arms engulfing them in their final hours. The power of touch can be soothing and consoling when sometimes there are no words…… and yet we are at a time when the consolation of loved ones is denied.

The parallels of the situation Mary, mother of Jesus found herself in on Good Friday are evident. The horror Mary must surely have felt 2000 years ago, as she watched helplessly, as Jesus, her child, was flogged and ordered to carry the cross on which he would be crucified. To then observe from a distance as he died a slow and painful death; pain shared too by the disciples and by God.

In recent days and weeks, we have heard many heart-rending examples of the anguish felt by families who cannot attend the funeral of loved ones because they must self-isolate. This mirrors the agonising disbelief felt by Mary when she arrived at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body to find that he was no longer there.

Sometimes there really are no words.

Let us all remember that as we wait to find out what next in our lives over the coming weeks, it was Jesus on the cross that changed people’s lives forever.

Maundy Thursday April 9th (Deacon Sheralee Ashby) Ponder for a moment the image to the right… I’ll wait…

The image invites us into a ministry of serving others. I wonder what the serving of others has looked like for each of you over the last few weeks!
In john 13v12 Jesus asks this question to his disciples.
‘ Do you understand what I have done for you?‘

How would you answer?

What has particularly struck me, with some emotion, while reading John 13:1-20 Was the series of ‘letting go!’
Jesus knew his hour had come. He knew he was going to die soon, affirmed in who he was! The disciples had to let go of any preconceived ideas and notions of who he was and just how the end would come and the impact it would have on them, and the world.

I’m sure each of us at this time is having to ‘let go’ of something, and someone. This can be sad, unnerving, even painful! It can also be freeing and transformative. However things may feel now know that God who calls us to ‘love one another,’ Will never let us go! Be affirmed in that love.
An activity our family worker Louise gave us to do over holy week was to create a cross out of sticks and at each point of the cross say;
– I am loved
– I am held
– I belong
– I am strong
Be reaffirmed In God’s love through Jesus this Holy Week.

Feet
Wed April 8th (Louise Selby) The kingdom of God is like… a football?!
Every day, when we go for a walk, the football comes with us. My son dribbles the ball along as we walk and chatters away about footballers, bottom burps, Match Attax football cards, frogspawn and his feelings. We often walk in the local nature reserve. Among the woodland, marsh and budding trees, there are still some barren areas. The ball goes everywhere; it isn’t fussy.
Yesterday, when I took this picture, I realised how this football is so much lke God’s kingdom. As the ball rested among dry, fruitless grasses, it struck me just how much God is at work right now, during a period that might seem dry and fruitless.
God’s kingdom is among us. He is working now – no matter how barren it seems. I see it all around me. I see parents worshipping with their children – when so often in our “actual” world on a Sunday morning, families are in different corners of the building. I see children talking to parents about their hopes and fears and praying together, some for the first time. I see a new sense of fellowship among our families in our Beginners junior church group. God is at work.
The thing about God’s kingdom is that sometimes we can miss it. It’s still there but we look in the wrong places, and try to give it our own boundaries. Back to the football, it’s when a football is present that I am most likely to have the real conversations with my son. It would be very easy for me to miss this – I don’t enjoy playing football!
“Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). Stop and look and you’ll see it.
Field
Tue April 7th (Sara Crowley) We are unique. Today, my thoughts are around this uniqueness, for out of our talents and abilities, intertwined with our experiences and interactions with the world, comes creativity – art, poetry, inspiring architecture, engineering feats, the science that solves, innovates, brings healing, and more. Psalm 139v14, 15:
“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.”
How is this creativity released? Listen to these young children from Ballyholme Primary School singing Lauren Daigle’s song ‘You say’. To see the joy in their young faces as they sing out the truth that in God we find our worth and our identity. To know that God loves us even before we are born and know anything about ourselves is surely part of the foundation that allows the Creator to inspire and flow through us to enrich the world. School Choir of the Year
Choir
Sun April 5th (Andy Feltoe)I remember being in a fairly poor place in life. Early-twenties, I had made some bad decisions with friends and faith. I had cut myself from the former in order to get back on track with the latter. So I was lonely, craving stability and out of kilter.

I remember lying on my bed and praying. I told God that my tank was empty and I needed Him to carry me that day. And a remarkable thing happened. While I was praying, from my toes to the hair on my head I felt a warmth fill me, followed by the feeling of joy. The smallest of miracles arrived to lift my spirit. I went about my day with a hop in my step.

Joy is a funny thing for someone who follows Christ. No matter the circumstance we have faith that Yahweh Yireh, God the provider, is with us. We have hope in Christ and we have joy through his spirit. We know these sayings but over time there’s a risk they lose their potency. Through the best moments and darkest parts of our lives God is there and God cares about you.

That minor miracle did not change my life around and neither did it make my problems disappear. What it did was remind me that I can always experience joy in Christ, no matter what.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Ode to Joy/Lost@Sea – the Lads

The link today is a band from New Zealand, some wonderful guys I saw plenty of times when we were younger. It’s very kiwiana and puts a smile on my face whenever I hear it. After headlining a gig, they were the first guys to help stack chairs and mop the floors after a gig.

Sat April 4th (Annette England) I’ve been thinking about fear a lot this week. I know, it probably doesn’t sound like the best thing to dwell on at the moment, but I have found it surprisingly helpful. In the Screwtape Letters (set during World War II) C.S.Lewis talks about our (humans’) habit of filling our minds with pictures of possible futures, “everyone of which arouses hope or fear” and many of which are incompatible. This keeps us worrying about what will happen to us and focusses our attention on the things we fear instead of on the one that gives us life and our daily bread.

This echoes what Jesus tells us about worry in the gospels (Matthew 6, Luke 12) and in particular his instruction to: “give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matt 6:34 (The Message)

C.S.Lewis suggests the cross we have to bear is “the present anxiety and suspense”, not the things we fear will happen ‘tomorrow’. I have found this to be true. I get anxious and scared, I’m sure we all do, but I now try to use those feelings as a prompt to turn to God and place myself (and my fear) in his hands. Matthew 6:34 finally feels like hope and freedom, rather than a note from teacher to an anxious student saying ‘must do better’.

Nerves
Fri April 3rd (Julie Mills) There are three of us at home 24/7 at the moment. All three working from home full time during the day and of course in the evening we’re all at home, except when one or all of us goes out for an hour for daily exercise. The potential for family tensions is clearly there, particularly as time goes on. For example, Matthew, my son, said to me a few days ago “Mum, have you got OCD?” when I asked him to put his resistance bands away which he’d been using in our ‘home gym’, (otherwise known as the dining area) and he’d left the bands that he had been exercising his biceps with all over the floor, along with the bag they belong in. He had a cheeky grin on his face, but clearly he felt a bit fed up with me, and I with him!
This got me thinking about the amount of patience we are going to need over the coming weeks and months. I mean ‘we’ in our house but also ‘we’ in the whole of society, indeed worldwide.
I heard some criticism of the police yesterday as forces across the country seek to implement the guidance given by government about social distancing. What a difficult job they have in ensuring that there is a standardised approach within each force and between forces. We the public, expect all police forces to be using the same level of enforcement wherever they are in the country, be that the Metropolitan Police, Northumbria Police or Devon and Cornwall Police. What an unenviable task they all have. After all, the legislation only came into being at the start of the week so the time available to them to read, discuss and understand what is required, has been minimal. No wonder there are teething problems.
Between nations too there is much potential for discord. Each country seeks to limit the impact of the virus in a slightly different way and to differing timescales. The whole world is in this together and yet we still manage to criticise each other. Somehow we always want to find fault; who can we blame for the pandemic: Is it the fault of those working in the wet markets in China? Is it the Chinese authorities for letting this spread out of their country, or shall we blame the approach taken by the Director General of the World Health Organisation, or maybe Donald Trump?
At this anxious time, let’s pray that we are all able to take a Christ like approach, that we can comfort each other, keep a sense of humour and act with humility. As is in Titus 3:2 ‘To speak evil of no one, to void quarrelling, to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people’. How simple that sounds and yet we all know how difficult it can be. God shows such patience towards us, even though we must test him every day. Join me in this prayer : Lord, Jesus, we pray for peace at this time, in our homes, in our daily work, and in the world. Lord, turn intolerance into love and acceptance. Help us to spread your love, your patience and your peace in all we do. Amen.
Hand
Thur April 2nd (Deacon Sheralee Devitt) A few days back we were sitting at the kitchen table when my daughter Leah suddenly laments with real exasperation,
“When will this virus end!!”
This is only after a week and a half of adhering to the government’s advice to stay at home and social distancing! It was all getting a bit too much for her. For me the suggestion of 12 weeks to 6 months grips me…and I want to cry out,
“How long, O LORD?” Along with the psalmists
(Try psalm 89v 46,47 or psalm 13v5,6)

Waiting, longing and hoping is not generally popular in a consumer society of the here and now. However for us as Christians disciples this theme underpins our faith story. It runs through the entire biblical narrative! Holy Week will be particularly poignant at this time.

I wonder how many stories and characters you can think of with the theme of waiting, longing and hoping. Let me start you off… Abraham…

Be encouraged friends with these words from psalm 13v5,6
“But I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Wed April 1st Louise Selby – True Friendship

In my Bible readings I have been reading about Biblical friendship. Yesterday’s reading really struck a chord with me. In Job 2: 11 – 13, Job’s friends, on hearing of his adversity, made an appointment to go to him to comfort him. I imagine they planned their words very carefully, and I suspect they felt very good about themselves for what they were about to say. However when they saw the extent of Job’s grief, they didn’t even recognise him, words were cast aside. Instead they wept, tore off their robes and sat with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. This is remarkable. Silence for 7 days and 7 nights with a sobbing, uncontrollable man, disfigured by loathsome sores from head to foot?! It must have been painful.

How does this relate to us today? In our current crisis, we find ourselves suffering together, “in the same boat”, so to speak. But when we are housebound, how do we really weep with one another? How do we offer true, sacrificial Christian friendship? And how do we extend our friendship to those beyond our circle, those who are weak, who mourn, who are lonely? Or do we only connect with those from whom we have something to gain, from whom we expect some reward, or with whom connection is comfortable? I am sure that Job’s state of grief was uncomfortable for his friends, but at this point, true friendship held no barriers in place.

On this day 14 years ago I married Eddy. Yep, on April Fool’s Day! It wasn’t a joke, but we have had a lot of fun over the years! We have also developed a strong, deep friendship, through times when life has been extremely difficult; and times when we’ve been more grumpy than giving. In spite of Eddy’s regular desire for a medal when he does the vacuuming, I’m so grateful to him for his true friendship which goes beyond the comfortable. Happy Anniversary Edward!

Which friends are you most grateful for in this difficult time – and why? And how can we extend friendship beyond what is comfortable while housebound and suffering ourselves?

Medal
Tue March 31st (Sara Crowley) Many countries have now closed their borders and confined people to their homes. Yet this highly infectious coronavirus has shown us that we are all connected. What happens in a distant place affects the whole world. Going forward will we remember this? When we see people suffering will we be moved to help? Will we celebrate when things are going well for others? Will others remember if they see us suffering? Doctors from China went to Italy and have now arrived in London to share their experience and help.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, stands on the mountain summit with arms outstretched. I love this image from 18 March where it was covered with world flags for every country that had reported positive coronavirus tests, and with the words ‘pray together’ in different languages. Remember the familiar words from John “For God so loved the world…….” and the simple song “He’s got the whole world in His hands”.
Spend a moment thinking about and praying for people in a distant place that you have no other connection with except that we are alive on the same planet and are equally loved by God. And let’s do it again tomorrow, and the day after.
Rio
Mon March 30th (Tom Lewis) In the midst of unsettling and uncertain times it can be hard to trust that God is still at work.
When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
were about to be thrown into the firey furnace they said to the King of Babylon: “The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace. But even if he doesn’t, we still won’t worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up.” The crucial phrase here is “even if he doesn’t”

Even if God doesn’t seem to do what we want or expect him to do, following him is still the best option – by far! He is still God. He is still far more good and loving than we can imagine! He is still King over all and still in control! No matter what changes or challenges occur we can always trust Him.

This song reminds us to trust “even if” he seems to be failing our expectations because what God delivers in the end is far better that what we could ever expect.

Vevo
Sun March 29th (Andy Feltoe) About two thousand years ago there was a famine in Jerusalem. Paul of Tarsus was a missionary at the time in modern-day Turkey and struggling with bridging the divide between Jews and non-Jews who had accepted Jesus.

Paul is never short of an idea. He urged his non-Jewish brothers and sisters in faith in the West to donate money to those in Jerusalem. This must have been a discomforting request since there was animosity between the two groups. We can read about this in his letters to the churches in Corinth as well as in Rome. Where there was division Paul brought unity and now there is no Jewish and Gentile believer, we are all ‘in Christ’.

There is joy in seeing disparate groups unite. I witnessed it as a very real thing as I lived through the end of apartheid in South Africa, and again in the reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha over the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand. Groups that were separate began to mix and grow together into a new, stronger and united culture.

Today we’re in another crisis. We’re not viewing it through a sterile lens of history, or as an academic exercise; we’re experiencing this with very real uncertainty, fear and worry.

And in the past fortnight I’ve seen divides being swept aside. Those who are able are helping those in need. People are reaching out to each other, even with the most basic of questions: “are you okay?” I’ve seen stoic colleagues at work making time to listen to others’ and I’ve experienced a new joy as conversations move from the superficial to something deeper.

As adversity rises, people set aside differences. And in those moments we see acts of love increase. And with love we see grace abounds.

Appalachian Spring

In the spirit of breaching divides, I offer a piece of music. Upset by classical and contemporary music lovers’ intractability to appreciate the art in each others’ tastes, a young composer has been fusing both styles into performances. The YouTube clip is a mash of the American composer Copland, along with an Indy folk band, Bon Iver. Music is richer as a result. I hope you enjoy it.

Copland
Sat March 28th (Annette England) Today I have a blessing – I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. I start most days with it, but it has taken on new meaning for me over the past few weeks.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,

wherever He may send you.

May He guide you through the wilderness,

protect you through the storm.

May He bring you home rejoicing

at the wonders He has shown you.

May He bring you home rejoicing

once again into our doors.

[Northumbria Community, morning prayer]

At a time when it feels like we are not really going anywhere, when we might prefer to be protected from the storm rather than having to go through it, and the prospect of returning to the doors of Christchurch feels far away, this prayer may seem to rub salt into the wound rather than bring hope, comfort or healing. There have been times in the past that I have thought this, but this isn’t one of them.

I find myself ‘going’ places I’ve never been (WhatsApp with my Mum) and that things I have been through in during previous times of difficulty and pain have equipped me to carry on through this storm. We are seeing and rejoicing in wonders that He is showing us every day, like the nation clapping for the NHS and individuals sharing the everyday beauty in their gardens. And we ARE being brought home rejoicing; not to the physical doors of Christchurch, but to the remote but interconnected community that we are part of in all sort of ways and where we are sharing our lives in new and deeper ways.

It isn’t always easy and often requires conscious effort, but this blessing has given me a way to look at things and shown me how to rejoice in God, whatever the circumstance. What wonders has He shown you to help all of us through this storm?

Fri March 27th (Julie Mills) Imagine chatting with a friend about your busy calendar over coming weeks; a visit to the dentist, a bring and share lunch, a car MOT, a course at work, your child’s GCSE’s. What if the friend suggested that none of these things would happen; No gatherings in public places, the supermarket would run out of basic provisions, your office and church would be closed indefinitely, as would your dentist and the car garage and you would be living in isolation or socially distancing (did that phrase exist 6 weeks ago?)These simple realities which were unfathomable only a month ago are now true and we see God at work in ways which are simultaneously terrifying and yet full of possibility and opportunity.

We are all anxious to varying degrees depending on the health and vulnerabilities of ourselves and those close to us, the situation with our jobs, whether we live alone or with others, our age and our financial position. But as for opportunities? Amongst many people I am talking to there is a sense of motivation, of purpose and of expectancy. New friendships are being made between neighbours who haven’t previously spoken to each other, people are developing new skills as they seek to communicate differently with technology or fill their extra time at home. Others are making new connections as they volunteer to help others, and some are hearing God with more clarity as they lead a less frenetic life. What a difference a month makes! People are picking up their phones and hearing the voice of someone that they’ve not spoken to for a while, others are receiving offers of support from distant acquaintances. People are remembering what’s important and in turn are letting go of trivial worries. Social connections are thriving. On my daily trip out of the house for exercise, everyone I meet says ‘hello’ and smiles. Isolation has led to the building of new ways of being in community.

Challenging life changing events can affirm your faith or can cause it to waiver depending on the way the situation affects you. I’m sure people are asking ‘where is God in this?’ (Tom did a great reflection on God and healing earlier in the week). Maybe that’s how you’re feeling right now. If so, then as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.’ As ever of course, AA Milne (through Winnie the Pooh) has some words of wisdom, ‘A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the best things you can be’. Being a friend right now though might need to look a bit different.
The bible tells us that through times of difficulty God is always with us, that he is FOR us. We are reminded of this in Deuteronomy 31:8 ‘It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Fear and anxiety can make us turn inwards and become egotistical, but the bible reminds us to always choose LOVE.

With usual routines in turmoil, what can you see others doing or what are you doing to make best use of the God given opportunities to live differently and love others?

Blossom
Thur March 26th (Sheralee Ashby) Let me be ‘real’ with you! I’ve felt particularly wobbly over the last few days. It’s like when you step onto sand and you initially lose your centre of gravity, and sure footedness (adrift). But with a few significant adjustments a sense of rhythm forms, and you become more centred. For one I’m adjusting to ‘home learning’ Leah and I feel the weight of responsibility despite the amount of web links and passwords I’ve been sent! I speak with her teacher tomorrow.
I wonder how you are making adjustments, finding your sense of gravity, and being centred. Do post…
I found comfort in this short prayer I read at Compline (an end of day prayer from the Northumbria Community):
‘Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm. Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm. Let all the tumult within me cease. Enfold me, Lord, in your peace. Amen.
God is with us (Immanuel).
President John F. Kennedy had an old fisherman’s prayer written in a bronze plaque on his desk: ‘O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small!’
God is with us (Immanuel).
Wed March 25th (Louise Selby) Over the last week, a word that has been on our tongues frequently is “virtual”. Virtual meetings online, building virtual church community, virtual PE lessons, virtual family meals, and even, would you believe, plans in place for a virtual baby and toddler group!
In contrast, the word that has been on my mind frequently has been “real”. We’re told again and again in the Bible to remember that God is real, true and everlasting. There’s nothing virtual about our God! Last Sunday’s streamed worship to me felt incredibly real, with so many watching from home, physically distant from each other, but perhaps more connected than ever by our real, heartfelt desire to draw near to God. Similarly real have been the conversations I have had from a distance; real was the sense of fear, real the honest conversations about re-evaluating our lives, real the desire to connect with others and with God.
How are things seeming “real” to you right now?
Tue March 24th (Sara Crowley) The image for our new collective vision of ‘Growing Together’ was a seedhead, which seemed at odds with a vision of growth. Little did we know then that almost all that we were doing as Christchurch up to only a few short weeks ago was going to have to stop. We can be thankful that we were ‘led by the Spirit’. Our focus for the foreseeable future is changing as a church fellowship as we consider what is really important, and how to do this in new or different ways. There are ploughed fields ready for planting. There are flowers and buds emerging in our hedgerows and gardens as Spring comes. There is beauty in the wildness. There is freedom in the birdsong. There is joy in the sound of children playing in their gardens. Be encouraged.

What new and good things can you see where God is being revealed? What seeds are being planted? In you? In your family and friends? In Christchurch and other churches? In the world? If helpful, use our 5 Growing themes to guide your thoughts [Growing as …as followers & leaders …towards God, who is Father, Son and Spirit …as a community centred in Jesus Christ …in loving & serving others …in faith-sharing]. Share a thought below, or if you are reading this on paper then ask someone who is part of our FB group to do so for you.

Mon March 23rd (Tom Lewis) In Christchurch’s streamed worship service on Sunday, Val looked at the story of a blind Man who was healed by Jesus. With our world is in the grip of a global crisis, where God’s healing can make a massive difference, I thought it was worth asking the difficult question: Why doesn’t God healed everyone? The answers I have found might not help everyone but I hope they offer some encouragement and help us to understand God a little better.
Firstly, if we look at things from God’s viewpoint, then everyone can be healed eventually. God is an eternal being and so life is not limited to the few years we have on earth. From God’s perspective our lives can last forever! As we spend eternity with him in a place where there is no suffering or pain. In the long-term God can heal everyone of everything!
But that might not help us make sense of it today; in the bible we read about Jesus healing loads of people and we can see other amazing helloing miracles happening throughout the old and new testament. It can seem as though everyone was getting healed all the time back then! But if you look at the passages, the response of witnesses is always one of shock and awe – this was not an everyday event for them. Miracles do not happen every day – but they do happen! And sometimes they happen for us today too. God is still a miracle worker and does still save people through healing today.
However the most common kind of healing comes through our great medical services; providing good advice, treatment, medicine, surgery, emergency help, hospital care and so much more! God loves to use his people for his mission to the world, so all those amazing nurses, paramedics and other health professionals are playing their part in God’s mission. Most of us could never do what they do but God has created and inspired them to make enormous contributions to his world.
I am aware that ‘God invented science’ can seem like a bit of a cop-out argument but throughout the bible we read of God inspiring his followers to serve him and transform their communities through using their skills and passions. It is no different for us today – we can all make a positive difference by using whatever abilities God has given us.
God also uses the challenges we face to help us to grow closer to him. It’s often easy to forget all about God when life is easy but when times are hard, when we actually need God that;’s often when we turn to him and pray. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain, it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Sometimes we can hear what God is saying more clearly when things are hard, than when they are easy. What might God be saying to you today?
Finally, ultimately, I believe that God is Good. I believe that that he loves his people and that in uncertain times we can trust him. We can have hope in him, and hope in the future, because of all he has said and done for people in the past. Even in really difficult times when we suffer and struggle, we can rely on his goodness to see us through.
Sunday March 22nd (Revd Val Reid) Starting this evening, each day a member of the leadership team will post a thought for the day. It’s a way of staying in touch with each other while we can’t meet face to face. The thoughts are intended to spark conversation and reflection – please do join in with your own thoughts and responses. My first post is about worship. There were just four of us in church this morning, but a lot of people joined us in real time from their homes. To me it felt like worship. God was there. So what makes worship worship for you?