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A spirit of unity

A spirit of unity

One of the highlights of last month for me was the City Prayer Evening we hosted on a Sunday evening at St Peter’s.

Around 200 people came from different churches around the city in a spirit of unity and with a determination to meet God in prayer. We recognised from the start that Jesus has only one church in Worcester – it just meets in different places and worships in slightly different ways. With the help of the Holy Spirit who makes us one, we broke through barriers of competitiveness and suspicion to pray for God to bless and increase our various congregations. Then our prayers overflowed to pray for the needs of people around us and a wide range of initiatives and opportunities taken by followers of Jesus to serve and bless this city. During the evening many people shared words from God about his call to reach out in compassion to our neighbourhoods and to trust the power of the good news of Jesus to transform lives.

It was a powerful and significant occasion. If you didn’t make it this time, watch out for an announcement about the next one.

I’m strongly aware that this event did not arise out of nothing. For the last 18 months a group of church leaders has been meeting to pray every week (also at St Peter’s, as it happens) with an openness to letting God’s Spirit create a unity movement among us and our churches. Some weeks there are only three or four leaders at prayer. Other weeks there are ten or fifteen. But out of committed regular prayer a trusting, non-competitive quality of relationship has grown between us. Whilst we recognise that God has given each of our congregations a distinctive and vital mission in the city, we sense God is saying in 2015 there will be an opportunity to do something significant together.

I began Advent by thinking about the disparate group of people God brought together around the birth of the Saviour of the world – shepherds, wise men, a young couple and their ageing relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah. If God used this mixed bunch as the first custodians of the Good News, surely a mixture of Christians from different backgrounds in Worcester can be used together by God to make known that same Good News today.

If aliens landed…

If aliens landed...

The aliens are here…

They had been on their journey for many years. Passing many stars, comets and asteroids! With ecstatic joy they landed and were about to set out communicating with their base station, but no one could ever have predicted what was going to happen next…

They shouted in desperation, gasping for life. They held on for their dear lives as they were trampled and stamped down. Not a single soul looked in their direction; they were amongst a people bigger, stronger and feistier than them. Their mission would have been a failure but for a little girl who spotted them and managed to pull them away from the surge and scourge of scrambling Homo sapiens. Once safe they sought to understand what had just happened.

“It is Black Friday and you have just landed in the busiest shopping mall” the little girl tells them. With rapturous interest they listen to a story of a man who many years ago came with a message of love. He loved the world so much and died for it. The celebration of the life of this one man has taken many twists in the many cultures across the planet over the years since his departure.

“If all the people know this story as told by the little girl, and if love is what this is all about, why were they almost expired by the trampling and grappling? Perhaps there are many aliens on earth who do not know about this story”, they reasoned.

The advent countdown has started, but the man of advent is locked out. Many gifts will be opened this Christmas but unfortunately many hearts and minds will remain lonely with no one to open up to with their fears, hopes and despairs. Monies as huge as the national budget of some nations will be spent but our world would still be poorer in relationships and commitments of love.

The New Testament describes that we were once aliens (Colossians 1:21). The ‘aliens’ have always been here.They could be the office colleague at the next desk, the neighbour next door or the commuter on the next seat. Have they come at a wrong time and to a wrong place? How can we make them feel the joy of the one who gave his life for us? Would a Christmas card sent to a lonely neighbour make a difference? Perhaps a text message on the story of Christmas to an office colleague is all that is needed? Whatever it takes; let’s tell the story of advent at our frontlines.

Christmas comes early?

Christmas comes early?

“The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

Matthew 1:23

The first Christmas after I got married I watched my wife buy and write all the Christmas cards. Every card contained hand written messages to our family and our friends. It took her days of hard work. When she had finished she wrote out addresses on all of the envelopes and stamped them.

Then she made her big mistake! She gave all the cards to me to post.

I was mid Christmas talk preparation when she handed me the large pile of Christmas cards, my desk was overflowing with envelopes so I took them and placed them in a drawer so I could work.

When I next opened the drawer it was June! I had completely forgotten about the Christmas cards. Because of a mixture of guilt and my Scottish thriftiness I decided that I was going to post them anyway.

We were shocked by the reaction of our friends and family. Getting a Christmas card in June had them asking if it was extremely late or early. Most really read it and we received many messages in return! It did mean that Rachel found out about the Christmas card disaster but never have our Christmas cards caused such a reaction.

We get so many cards at Christmas, that we tend to skim read them and have no real time to respond. Christmas can be like that! We know the importance of the Christmas story but how often do we just whizz through Christmas not stopping to think about the wonder or mystery of God coming to earth. As we approach advent this year and begin our Christmas preparations, why not make some space to remember and enjoy the wonder of the God who came to earth. Or if that’s too difficult why not move the whole thing to June!!!

Remembrance: Sacrifice and Life

Remembrance: Sacrifice and Life

As I was stood in Tesco at 11am on the 11th day of November, I witnessed almost complete silence in such a normally bustling environment, as shoppers and checkouts became still to consider the sacrifice of those men and women killed in wars to give us life today free of tyranny.

Everyone was still and quiet except for a tiny baby, almost as if he or she was announcing that life is irrepressible.

Jesus told us He had come to give His life that ours might be more abundant in every way (John 10 v10). His sacrifice is the only gateway to a truly fulfilled and meaningful life.

By 11:02am Tesco’s was its usual hive of activity, all the shoppers following their own agendas once more, but it made me think that I need to stop, reflect and appreciate more often the life I now live because Jesus gave up His.

An end but a new beginning

An end but a new beginning

One of the great privileges of my role as Minister for Pastoral Care is conducting funerals. This week I took the funeral of a lady called Jean from a nearby care home. As I spent time with her husband I found out many details about her life: her interests, her family, her love of animals and possibly most notable her long career as a nurse. Having reached the age of 93 there were many stories to tell. This was a lady whose heart was committed to loving others. She cared for so many people throughout her life and I couldn’t help but think about what a significant legacy she was leaving behind in terms of the help, encouragement and love that she’d given for so long. It was truly humbling to find myself speaking about her life in the funeral service.

Faith was important to Jean. In the Bible the apostle Paul tells us to be imitators of God. God is a God of love, and through Jesus he set us an example of love and compassion during his time on earth. In many ways Jean followed this example. She compassionately cared for many people around her. She believed in Jesus as her Lord and Saviour and attended church regularly before illness restricted her mobility in recent years. She was confident in the promise of eternal life and we sent her off with praise and gratitude for the life that she lived. John 3:16 is one of the best know verses of the whole bible and it speaks of this promise:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

New International Version (NIV)

This was a sad and emotional occasion and all our hearts went out to Jean’s late husband. However, it was good to be able to look back and give thanks for her life and even better to look forward, being assured of the joy of heaven in which she is now living. It is good to pause for a moment at times like these, to focus on what’s important in terms of our own legacy and, of course, our future.

Jean – you will be very much missed!

Be Mindful of the Gap

Be Mindful of the Gap

Last week journeying to London I was reminded (something seasoned travellers will be only too familiar with) to ‘mind the gap’ between the train door and the station platform. This is an automated and regular precautionary message that has been sensibly delivered to rail and tube passengers for many decades. Apparently it is also the title of a recent campaign to get every school child connected to the internet at home and a nattily-named theatre company. It also connects several disparate ideas I have been thinking about over the summer into autumn.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 22.30) we read that God is looking for someone to ‘stand in the gap’ and we can think of working that out today in many different ways such as campaigning for social justice or just being there for someone in need, like the legendary little Dutch boy’s finger plugging the hole in the dyke to prevent disaster.

The other week, at a Sunday evening service, I believe that God spoke to me about an issue I was chewing over: namely, how do you get to new life from a position of loss? The answer was very simple (I don’t know about you but I’m much more likely to accept a complicated answer to a simple one): a miracle; I know of only one purveyor of miracles, only one ultimately who can bridge the seemingly unbridgeable as I’ve tried to express in this poem about gaps we encounter:

The knowing doing gap, skills gap/‘wage gap between the sexes (becomes yawning chasm as employees age’*)/education and employment, attainment/economic gap separating rich and poor.

Gap between stimulus and response/from hearing to processing/narration and imitation, science and art. /Gap between children, teeth, primes/data gap we think we can identify.

Leadership gap accounts for failure/parenting gap determines life success/gulf daily between dreams and capability/daring and capacity; for I don’t do/what I want to, and do what I hate.

‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God/who gives generously to all without finding fault/and it will be given to you.’/be mindful of the gaps/ and the One bridge over troubled waters.

© Helen Dean 2014

References from Romans 7.14, James 1.5 and *People Management Magazine, CIPD July 2014

God of Craft Foam and Tin Cans?

God of Craft Foam and Tin Cans?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that God is in the tiniest of details. This year’s Holiday Club was a fantastic example of where God’s provision was so visible each day not only in big stuff but in small stuff too.

This year we had a few last minute bookings which left us short of craft materials on day one (Wednesday) and with no time to get extras. God puts people in the right place and a conversation with another leader led to the discovery of a box of craft foam containing exactly the right number of extra pieces to make up the shortfall.

Each day greeted me with a challenge, although the challenge for Thursday’s activity wasn’t about quantity it was about quality (with me as a baker!) The thought of making butter cream icing for 165 cakes was horrifying. Again, the right person was sent, and enough icing for 200 was made!

Friday’s desperate need for tin cans for our craft was the biggest mountain I had to climb that week. We began the week with only about 40. I must have prayed the same prayer a hundred times of ‘Lord, please provide us with enough’. Our God is a faithful one and by the time all the children had arrived on the Friday morning we had 167.

During this I ever doubted that God had the situation in hand and that he would supply everything we needed. He knew each of the children attending Holiday Club and put the resources in our hands to enable us to share how awesome our God is. It taught me a lot about my prayer life too, in that I can ask God for anything and he really does care about us, not just in the big things or just on Sundays, but in craft foam and tin cans too!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

Worship For Everyone

Worship For Everyone

I have made some new friends during this year. Among them are John, Vicky, Christian, Pam and Matthew who come each month to Open Space, our worship service designed to be especially helpful for people have learning difficulties. Since we began Open Space at the start of the year they have been some of the regular worshippers, in a group of 20-25 folk who come in minibuses from day centres or with their individual carers.

I’m not sure exactly how much John, Vicky, Christian, Pam, Matthew and the others understand of what I say (which in itself is humbling). I’m unsure about their grasp of Christian doctrine. And they find speaking either difficult or impossible. But I can see they love to worship God. We tell simple and lively Bible stories, usually with some acting or pictures. The songs we sing we have mostly written ourselves to ensure they are very simple and yet meaningful. Our prayers typically involve a simple activity or movement so it’s not all about the words.

Yet it is powerfully plain that in this community God is present with his worshippers. Some people make more noise than others; some watch and don’t appear outwardly to be taking part. (In that respect it’s quite like Sunday worship.) But to anyone who is listening and watching for what God is doing, the work of the Holy Spirit pouring out God’s gracious love in the hearts of each one there is undeniably real. Many of us do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit is interceding for each one in wordless groans.

So when, last Sunday morning, we marked the start of a new university term by inviting our young students to the front of church I was thanking God for their intellectual ability, celebrating their success, praying for them to flourish in higher education and discover that all truth is God’s truth and all true learning is ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’. Yet at the same time I was remembering that God is not known better or worshipped more adequately by greater intellect. John, Vicky, Christian, Pam and Matthew, who are very differently able compared to these undergraduates, equally share in God’s grace and worship him in Spirit and in truth.

Come, Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit

During a recent Sunday evening service, a rather lovely picture came into my mind… of a flock of doves flying into the church and circling above our heads. Some landed on people, others on the rafters… yes, it really was a lovely picture because I was imagining the ceiling of the church as that of a barn with lots of space and rafters for the doves to fly through or land on!

I guess this began on the previous Friday when someone suggested to me that a good way of thinking about the Holy Spirit is to think about the dove who came to Jesus at His baptism. I was challenged to imagine the Holy Spirit coming to me as a dove and sitting on my shoulder! Next to my ear, He could whisper His words of help and comfort and guidance.

My first thought was… “My, I’d have to watch my tongue! How could I say anything unkind or hurtful with the Holy Spirit just there! I wouldn’t want him to fly away!” The verse which talks about grieving the Holy Spirit came to mind:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:30-32

Holy Spirit, I am so sorry for the times I’ve grieved you.
So sorry.
It’s time for me to get rid of:
negative thoughts that only lead to grumbling and dissatisfaction,
hurtful thoughts towards those who have upset or annoyed me.
Thank you Jesus for ‘the blood that cleanses me’.
I invite you, Holy Spirit to be with me today,
I will remember that you are gentle as well as powerful.”

Sun, Sea and Selected Stanzas – from the cradle to the grave and back again

Sun, Sea and Selected Stanzas – from the cradle to the grave and back again

I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed at least one holiday a year all my life. Sometimes these have been a source of happiness, other times a source of stress since you can’t please everyone all of the time! Overall, holidays have been a tonic, an antidote to the everyday, an ‘I must go down to the seas again’ time, a ‘time to stand and stare’ to reflect and take stock.

When I was at Branksome Dene Chine in Bournemouth a while ago, I was reminded of my childhood holidays: ‘Telescopic sights rolled/ back thirty years/ me crouching spade/ in hand digging/boat or otherwise a moat; cappuccino-filled pool/ once brought here/now the child-bringer/ memories dew-freshened/rather than crashed by breakers.’ Later, in a different English resort I’ll just call, ‘Retired-On-Sea’, I observed ‘sedate, refined/ seaside widows/inclining heads/greeting early/sticks, umbrellas/steely pins and gait/genteel gnarling/clothed in the past/overtaken outfitters/still surviving/well to do/widow’s weeds/cutting sad figures daily’. So self-catering, camping or cruising, all of human life is here with me on holiday.

Wherever we go, home or away, we take our situations and thoughts with us, for good or ill and I am so relieved that our Creator is there with me, who ‘has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11a) Even when ‘Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress…he hears my voice.’ (Psalms 55.17)

I so identify with Tennyson when he wrote, ‘…but what am I? An infant crying in the night, an infant crying for the light, and with no language but a cry’. This holiday season, whatever stage of life you are at, try crying out to God and I guarantee he’ll be right there with you.

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St Peter’s Baptist Church
Address: Eden Close, Worcester, WR5 3TZ
Telephone: 01905 767090
E-mail: info@stpetersbaptist.org.uk

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