Thought for Today

(Sunday 24th May)
Today’s contributor is Andy…

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.

Date Thought for Today Click to enlarge
Monday May 25th (Coming soon…)
Sunday May 24th (Andy Feltoe) 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.

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.
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 !

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.
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.”
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.

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.
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
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?
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).
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Extra make-up applied to “make one’s eyes pop” before venturing out in public wearing a face mask.
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
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!

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.
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 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?

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.
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.”
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.

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.

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.
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.
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.

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.

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?

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.
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.

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?
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.

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.
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
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’.

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.
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?

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.
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.

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.

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?

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?