Away Day

I have just returned from leading our combined  house group’s away day, which was held at the House of the Open Door, Childswickham, near Evesham. What a glorious day this has been in every way. The venue is stunning and I thoroughly recommend it if you are looking for somewhere for a retreat. We were also blessed with beautiful weather and the gardens were in full bloom. The food was excellent and so was the service.

Our day explored the themes of practical and spiritual hospitality through the story of Martha and Mary and as we journeyed through the day we engaged with how these two aspects of hospitality inform our mission as house groups.

A good day was had by all, so good in fact that we have a date in the diary for next year to do this again!

Blessings, Jayne

Our celebrations draw to a close

And so our month of celebration for our 140th anniversary at Tewkesbury Methodist Church has drawn to a close. During the month we have had coffee mornings, cream teas and a full month of open church for our exhibition of photos and the glorious display of embroidered banners collectively entitled ‘The Servant King’ by renowned textile artist Jacqui Parkinson. We also shared in a quiet communion on the actual day of the anniversary which was 5th June.

Last Sunday, the Chair of District, Reverend Dr Johnathan Pye, led our service followed by afternoon tea and then an evening service led by yours truly in which the singing virtually raised the roof. It was a wonderfully joyous and uplifting day full of friendship, fellowship and thanksgiving for the many blessings we enjoy at TMC.

Thank you to everyone who came during this time to help us celebrate.

The manse garden

 

 

It’s been a glorious summer so far and no where has that been more evident than in the manse garden which is simply stunning at the moment. I only wish my blog had the capacity to allow you to enjoy the fragrance that I am able to enjoy every time I open the patio door, especially early morning and late evening.

Somebody said  to me, just this week, ‘It is so easy to praise God for creation at this time of year’. And I have to agree, everywhere I look at the moment, as I make my way through the lanes of rural Gloucestershire, there is an abundance of life in nature. It really does seem that all cry out in praise, and none sing their praise more beautifully than the birds own evensong in the warmth of a summers evening.  We humans cannot even begin to recreate such sights and sounds and fragrances – our pictures, poetry and songs pale into insignificance compared with God’s infinite, creative, divine mystery.

With that said, I still could not resist posting some pictures of the manse garden. It is a stunning place to be still and reflect on God’s presence and a wonderful, constantly changing feast for the senses.

Heart of the Matter

pexels-photo-1173576A post on facebook yesterday suggested that if we did away with religion then all the worlds problems would be solved.  Admittedly we are seeing a surge of extreme religious views right now and though that may be in the form of the right wing narrow perspectives, religion is not the cause! At the core of extremism is a particular mindset. It is a mindset that can only think in black or white, it has no capacity to have empathic understanding and it cannot see the world through the eyes of another. As an ex psychiatric nurse I am reminded of learning how certain mindsets are   ‘resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact’ and how attempts to change such minds through these means will prove impossible.

But it is the mindset itself that is the problem. It is to be found in certain groups within all religions, as well as in atheism,  in politics, in environmentalism, in science and in many other groups.  Many years ago I was friends with an image consultant who trained to become a colour analyst. She would analyse a person’s skin and hair tones and match them with one of four categories named Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter, she would then be able to give a full palate of colours (tones and hues) that the person could wear and those that must be avoided at all costs.  I was one of her Guinea Pigs when she was in training and was deemed to be Autumn. From that point on for me to  wear anything other than the range on the Autumn swatch became a real problem for her. If we met up and I was not  dressed according to the rules she would be upset and hurt, she would see such rebellion almost as a personal attack or a slight against her professional skill.  My choice was either to comply with the rules and feel very oppressed or to rebel and suffer the consequences. In the end we went our separate ways. Many years later I learnt that this person had had a religious conversion and was now bringing that same mindset to a leadership role in a religious context.

Essentially it is an extreme form of dual consciousness, this or that, black or white, right or wrong and nothing in between. It happens when we see that the external world of form is the only world in which we exist and therefore perceive that the only way to survive is to exert our control over it. It is a way of thinking that fails to understand the deeper, inner consciousness where we are all one, all connected and that to destroy, oppress, or violate another is ultimately to do these things to ourselves.

The commandment to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and to love your neighbour as self, is not a rule bound diktat. It is a formula!  To love God in this way is to discover that God is not an external force as religion traditionally teaches, but a consciousness of union to be found within our own soul. It brings into alignment our heart and mind and soul with the energy of a Love that permeates all things so that we cannot fail to understand our connectedness. As we grow towards  union with this energy our dualistic way of thinking begins to dissolve and with it our egotistical vision of self survival at all costs. Mystics of all traditions understand that our human made religions, dualistic in nature, are merely inadequate, surface projections of a a deeper single truth that holds us all.

Many decisions and rulings made this last week, from The Whitehouse to the House of Bishops, all bear their own brand of oppression born of dualistic consciousness. They can have no credibility as  reflecting the mind of God – we know that because the outcomes have been so divisive.

But, to  ‘do away with religion’ will not necessarily solve our problems, rather getting religion to let go of its dualistic, and therefore egotistical, focus and to understand the deeper mystery that lies within all is a really good place for it to  focus its teaching.

But why are we here? Why have we arrived at a place in our world when our very existence is threatened at our own hands? Well if we are so duped that the so called ‘reality’ of our external world is the only reality then the trajectory towards extreme dualism is the only possible direction of travel. Transformation will come when we discover the glorious truth that lies within each us and, if  we did but know it, the longing of every soul.

Anthony Duncan points to a stark warning given by the Kalahari bushmen as follows:

‘Western man seems to have fallen collectively into that state most feared of all by his African brothers – he has lost his soul. And even if he has not quite lost it yet, then a great many individuals among the multitude are in extreme anxiety lest he shall finally and irrevocably do so’.

If religion cannot rise to the challenge of enabling us to rediscover our soul then perhaps it it is best to ‘do away with it’ after all  – for in truth it is difficult to see what other purpose it is meant to serve.

New start at Hartpury Methodist Church

 

Yesterday I went along to the new start of the Saturday lunch club at Hartpury MC. It has not been running for several months owing to the work being carried out to fit a whole new kitchen; however yesterday saw the lunch club relaunched and I am glad to report it was very well supported.

The new kitchen is wonderful though it may take another week or so to get used to all the mod cons.

The work continues as the school room is now to also undergo a refurbishment and later in the year we will have a celebration launch of our shiny new facilities.

The lunch club runs every first Saturday of the month and cost £4 for a 3 course meal. All are welcome

Jayne

Catching up

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Wisteria in Apperley, Gloucestershire

Well it seems such a while since I was able to make it to my blog. Where has the last few months gone. I think I was overambitious to think that I could keep up a weekly slot during a very busy period and whilst still trying to find my way around. Anyway I am back now and rather more settled and in control having found out who is who and what is where so I am going to make a new commitment now to keeping a regular slot here.

Since I last blogged we have had lent in which we shared with the Anglican Church in Apperley exploring frontline ministry. The sessions went really well and I do so enjoy working ecumenically.

Holy week was a busy time for us in the section where I led services and reflections at various churches with 3 on Easter day at Tewkesbury, Hartpury and Tibberton respectively. Across Pentecost and Trinity I have been preaching further afield in our circuit namely in our Cheltenham churches and now here we are, no back in ordinary time.

I currently have a student minister, Rachel,  on placement with me in Tewkesbury Methodist Church, I thoroughly enjoy students coming to work alongside me..I find it good discipline for me –  a good way of keeping me on my toes! Rachel and I are currently in the process of planning the programme of events for our 140th Anniversary at Tewkesbury Methodist Church…the official opening day being 5th June but our day of celebration will be Sunday 24th, though we are open daily for our exhibition. There will also be coffee as usual in the mornings on saturdays as well as cream teas. It would be lovely to see you if you can come along at any point.

There have been some slight changes in the section which I will report in future blogs this will mean I will cease to be minister of some of my churches but will take on a slightly larger church elsewhere in the vicinity but my ministry in TMC will remain unchanged.

So there we are. A very quick summary. As I said, I feel in a better position now to maintain a weekly blog so watch out for updates.

Blessings, Jayne

Reflection on May

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As I write this we are enjoying the most glorious bank holiday Monday weather, which has apparently broken all records? I spent the early part of today with family on a trip down the Wye valley and though i know the valley well it seems that these weather conditions have brought qualities of colour which add spectacularly to the natural beauty of this area; rich green pastures flecked with golden buttercups, bold blue bells and milky white cow parsley; the glistening umber thread of the river wye winding its way down to the severn estuary and all set against a backdrop of cloudless azure. On days like this nature in all its glory is breathtaking and awe inspiring all at once and makes me want to cry out with the psalmist ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.’

Back at home this, enjoying a chilled drink on the patio as the afternoon cools towards evening I notice movement in a mound of soil in the garden, on closer inspection i see an army of ants going about their business with seemingly great purpose and determination. I find I am less inclined to wax lyrical about this feat of nature and hymns of praise spring less readily to mind as I watch the ants march across the patio towards me. Thank goodness then for the very gifted Isaac Watts, whos hymns we love and whose prose and poetry show us the divine mystery of God even in the most insignificant of creatures. In a piece entitled ‘Meditation on the First of May’ he writes….

‘What an exquisite world of wonders is complicated even in the body of every little insect – an ant, a gnat a mite, that is scarce visible to the naked eye. Admirable engines! which a whole academy of philosophers cold never contrive – which the nation of poets has neither art nor colours to describe – nor has a world of mechanics skill enough to frame the plainest or coarsest of them.Their nerves, their muscles and the minute atoms which compose the fluids fit to run in the little channels of their veins, escape the notice of the most sagacious mathematician, with all his aid of glasses. The active powers and curiosity of human nature are limited on their pursuit and must be content to lie down in ignorance.

It is a sublime and constant triumph over all the intellectual powers of man which the great God maintains every moment in the inimitable works of nature – in these impenetrable recesses and mysteries of divine art.’

So as spring unfolds into summer I pray that you might glimpse the glorious divine mystery pulsing through all of life and nature in abundance, a infinite generosity whose wisdom and grace seems to know no bounds.

Blessings, Jayne

Isaac Watts, Meditation  on the First of May: The Lion Christian Meditation Collection © Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild. Lion publishing PLC 1998

 

Scribes and the Pharisees

img_4475Sermon based on  – Joshua  3: 7-17 and Matthew 23: 1 – 13a

To understand today’s gospel reading we need to go back to the Israelites being freed from Egypt where they had been enslaved in really harsh circumstances for several hundred years.

Now to be set free  from long term captivity under conditions of control and abuse is not as easy as walking out of the door, the aftermath is a nightmare. So much brainwashing is involved in getting people to accept and comply with living in abusive circumstances so that when they are released almost a reprogramming needs to happen so that they can learn to make decisions, take responsibility and access their own thoughts and feelings – reestablishing their own identity.

And so the Israelites are led out of Egypt  and into the wilderness where they spend some 40 years establishing a mindset that is able to cope with freedom. They are taught, with Moses as mediator between themselves and God,  to rely on the One God for everything – even their water and food and as this period unfolds the structures emerge on which to rebuild their lives their culture, and found a new religion. But this is going to require a fairly rigid Law be in place to keep them looking ahead towards the new vision and to prevent them from settling back into the enslaved patterns of thought and behaviour as this had been so ingrained within them down the generations.

It was a massive cultural, psychological and  social transformation that they were going through. And the law in all its minute detail was designed to enable this rebuilding so that they could move on to a new vision.

So what do you think God’s motivation was in this?.

Well it was a  pure longing for his people, their enslavement was heartbreaking  to God…he wanted them back, it was motivated by Love…but it had to be a tough love given what we have said so far.

So Moses, humble stuttering Moses who was in complete awe at being called to this task, somewhat reluctantly agrees to lead God’s people out of Egypt towards the promised vision (though he himself did not make it there) – of a land flowing with milk and honey. A geographical place, the land of Canaan, that would become their home.

But as with all such stories there is also a much deeper layer of meaning underneath the literal layer. Because Moses was mirroring a much greater  vision for God’s people than merely leading them towards the geographical promised land. You see Moses was also modelling, the intimate, direct relationship with God which he himself had. For Moses there was no mediator between him and God…yet Moses was fully human as we are. And whilst the Israelites in the wilderness were a long way from that level of intimate consciousness, as they grappled to break free from Israel, Moses was undoubtedly signposting a time to come  in the unfolding story between God and his people, many generations down the line when that intimate direct relationship, once known by us in Eden would be restored for us, in Christ..  So behind the law was something much deeper than merely establishing a new religion and culture. It was pure unbounded love of God for his people, that would in time draw us into intimacy, restoring us all to the promised land (to use this as metaphysical term).

So you see the two layers to this story the literal and the mystic.

In  the literal sense then the law in those days was a means to an end.  The problem was that, the people came to  view the Law as the main thing and forgot what lay behind the law….

It’s a bit like us churches when we make our buildings and hierarchical structures the main thing…so that our mission to grow in and share God’s Love becomes sidelined.  In truth our buildings and structures and hierarchies are a means to an end not the end in itself.  But so often churches struggle to see that.

To be clear then…. the Law was there to enable the vision but  it was not in itself the vision. This is why Jesus says I have not come to abolish the Law of Moses but to fulfil it. He is the vision made manifest the one that leads us all to the ultimate promised land.

But as I said, the Law takes on a far greater significance for the people as the Jewish religion develops  so that in time down though the history from the Exodus, Scribes (who are legal experts} come to be very powerful as do the Pharisees, (a sect who devote themselves to ensuring people stick rigidly to the law). And without any recourse whatsoever to the vision behind the Law these people impose a cruel and harsh regimen, not out Holiness, but out of the egotistical desire for power and control.

So there is the background to our readings for today….

Now, here in our gospel reading,  in verses 1 and 2 we find Jesus right up against these scribes and pharisees. There are crowds and the  disciples observing whilst Jesus publicly exposes the corrupt actions of these two groups.

V3 – 8  He acknowledges that whist they teach the Law of Moses they are doing it from a proud egotistical, superior position, wanting to be called Rabbi’s to further their own ends and so falsely placing themselves as mediators between God and the people.

This isn’t what God called people out of Egypt for….to be held in captivity all over again.   But Jesus sets the record straight.

V9 ‘And call no one your Father on earth, for you have one father, the one in heaven,

V 10 Nor are you to be called instructors for you have one instructor, the Messiah. (or Christ which has exactly the same meaning)

What is unfolding here is the ultimate vision that….’In Christ we come to know the Father in heaven..  No purely human mediator is required as in the time of Moses. In our inner most being Christ leads us to where the Father was waiting all along.

Indeed we will never know God through  a purely human mediator (though they can point us to Christ) and we will never know God  in our own strength……  but in Christ we are joined in such a way that  the setting free, the mystical union, the ultimate promised land, the kingdom of heaven  is accessible for each soul and that is why Jesus says I came to fulfil the Law
Now Jesus turns his attention to the clothes that theses Scribes and Pharisees are wearing.

Not literally of course…. if your remember my sermon here  I talked about the man who was thrown out of the wedding banquet for wearing the wrong clothes and we established that this was about the wrong attitude….you will never know the Kingdom of God from a proud, arrogant self important position….but in today’s reading these are exactly the clothes that the scribes and the Pharisees are wearing.

V6 ‘They love to have the place of honour at the banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be treated with respect in the market places.’

But in verse 12 we hear ‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

You see how this reflects entirely my sermon on the wedding banquet and the importance of wearing the clothes of humility if you want to draw close to God (to be exalted)  and if you want to preclude yourself from the banquet then wear your pride!!.
So where are the Scribes and the Pharisees today in 21st century society? Well, trust me they are about…People who burden others with the law, judging them unworthy sinners, under the misconception that they are in a position to judge. But of course, none of us are.

But more importantly than looking outside of ourselves for the Scribes and the Pharisees we first should look to see what clothes we are wearing because in truth there is a pharisee in every one of us. Hands up anyone here who has not judged another person unworthy. Hands up anyone who has not thought of another person as unacceptable merely because they are different from us. Thomas Merton the Trappist Monk said;

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

Thomas Merton  was someone who knew precisely what clothes to wear, a man who constantly wore the garments of humility and through this gracious love for God’s people brought many to faith.

The message for us today then is about getting our own house in order.  Christ is our mediator no one else.  Anyone (whether that is you or someone else) who tries to burden someone with with rules about how they ought or should or must live their  life in order to be acceptable to God  is falsely and arrogantly claiming a power they don’t have and as Jesus puts it in v13  ‘Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites for you lock people out of the Kingdom of heaven’.

Your own spiritual discipline  produces fruit when you wear the clothes of humility and know that this is the inner work that Christ calls us each  to that the vision of the Kingdom or the promised land which ever metaphor you prefer will be realised by your own soul.

I am going to leave us with the words of Micah who sums it up like this.

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk Humbly with God.

February update

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Taking the evening service at St Mary’s Newent, 4th February 2018

I thought I would use this space to share with you some of the things I have had the privilege to share in over the last few months and some of the events we are planning for the coming year.

Firstly, I want to say that our Christmas services seemed to go very well and I was especially pleased with the festival of angels which was a wonderful celebration, launched with a fabulous nativity play by the children of Tirlebrook.  We had so many visitors during the period and so a lot of opportunities to share stories and conversation. As I have travelled around the section since there have been many positive comments about the creativity, the hospitality and the warmth of welcome received during our festival and related services such as the town carol service and Messy Advent.

I can tell you that we are all set for another great festival during advent 2018 with the knitted christmas carols exhibition, which will once again provide opportunities for the local community to be involved …but more of that later on in the year.

On the 3rd January we launched a new group which is meeting every 1st and 3rd Wednesday at 3.00. This group is about intentional faith development and is based on exploring our inner relationship with God. The name of the group is Desert Soul as it is derives from the approaches to prayer and scripture based on the desert fathers and mothers who developed the earliest christian monastic movement in the deserts of Egypt and Syria in the 4th Century.  We had originally planned to meet in the guild room but I rather underestimated the number of attendees and in the end we had to move into the church to accommodate everyone. All are welcome to come along…think of it as a mini retreat where your soul can find peace amongst the business of our daily lives. Later in the year there will be a Desert Soul away day…a full day retreat to which all are invited (whether you attend the fortnightly sessions or not).  I am currently exploring venues for this and would be grateful for any suggestions, though Prinknash Abbey is looking like a distinct possibility,

In February we hosted and led the opening session for the  week of prayer for Christian unity. The theme this year focused on  the contemporary issues addressed by the churches of the Caribbean. Abuses of human rights such as human trafficking and modern day slavery formed topics for conversation, reflection and prayer and action. The week concluded with a service at Holy Trinity in which we heard of the huge amount of work that our churches in Tewkesbury are engaged in together especially working in schools. Open the book is one such activity and one of the great success stories of how children are once again beginning to engage with the bible. Many involved with Open the Book report not only  on how very well received it is but also on how the children now know the stories and can anticipate what is coming.

Going back to the subject of prayer and unity for a moment, please remember that the Women’s World Day of Prayer is on 2nd March at Holy Trinity..Do go along if you are able to.

Looking forward we have a number of things we are planning for including opening as usual for the medieval  festival and the mop fair, these are always great opportunities to engage with our community. In particular though the weekend of 24th June is an important one for us as we celebrate our 140th Anniversary, this is still in the planning stages but do keep the Sunday as there will be a day of celebrations.

This all looks like such busy schedule and indeed it is but in all our doing it is important for us to pause to consider the God who calls us to be a worshipping community and who equips us to share his unconditional love with all. In Corinthians 13:1-13 Paul reminds us that  in our doing, if we do not have love then we are merely clanging cymbals. But what does it really mean for us to extend such love in the context of our busy and let’s face it, very enjoyable schedule…Well, in her commentary, Shively Smith puts this very well and I hope the following paragraph from that commentary will cause us all to stop and reflect on what should be the central focus of all our ‘doing’.

‘Make no mistake. The love Paul is talking about here is not passive and fluffy. This kind of love is an up at dawn, feet on the ground, tools in hand, working kind of love. It builds communities. It nurtures positive social interactions, and not just social networks (which many of us have come to prefer). Paul’s declaration of love unifies. Love is the way by which we talk to each other (1 Corinthians 1:5; 16:20), eat with one another (1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:27; 11:33-34), fellowship together (1 Corinthians 11:20), and affirm all (1 Corinthians 16:15-16, 18). Love transcends our self-imposed caste systems and personal biases. It forms whole and holistic people, who are anchored in the well-being of others. Love will not let us down if we genuinely live in it together (1 Corinthians 16:14).’

So as a new year unfolds with so many opportunities ahead of us, may we  embrace this radical love that it’s transforming power might bring a shared vision for life, unity and wholeness in our church and with the community we are called to serve.

Blessings, Jayne

(The full commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 can be found here https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2595)

Happy New Year

Well this post comes with very best wishes for the New Year. Just where did those last 2 weeks go to? We enjoyed some wonderfully rich and meaningful services over Christmas but as usual that special moment just after midnight on Christmas morning as we light that central candle was perhaps the most special of all.

The first event of the new year was our new Desert Soul group on Wednesday 3rd January at Tewkesbury MC.  So many turned up that I was thinking of moving from the Guild room into the church and it is possible that we may well make that move anyway for the next one as I think it might just be a better space for this particular meeting. The next Desert Soul will be on Wednesday 17th  at 3.00pm.

As I write this I am just putting the finishing touches to the Covenant service which we will be holding throughout the section in January with the first one being at Tewkesbury MC tomorrow morning. We look forward to seeing you if you are able to come.

Other events in January include the week for Christian Unity which we will be celebrating on 28th  in both Hartpury at 3.00pm at the anglican church and in Tewkesbury  at 6.30 at Holy Trinity Church.  Hartpury Churches will also host a quiet day led by myself and Reverend John Longuet Higgins on Thursday 25th January between 10.00 and 3.00 at Rudford Church and ‘School Room’, if you would like to come let me know. Also as part of the week of Christian Unity programme I will be leading a group on 18th January at Tewkesbury MC at 12.00 where we will be working with the material produced for Christian unity week. I will publish the details of the full programme shortly.

So, there we are a quick catch up for now and a picture of the weather that saw many of our services cancelled in December and I understand we may have more to look forward in the coming weeks. Keep warm.  Blessings, Jayne

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