Today has been a struggle- I woke with swollen glands- though I am hoping that an underlying infection is what threw up odd blood tests rather than vice-versa. Also I found that I missed an MA session by mistake this week, due to a brain too full of other stuff!
...and yet life is good, I am currently organising a series of assemblies and a Service for one of our local Primary Schools- this has been the result of a long journey, but connections are being made, and the School welcomes our input.
My reading today has been on language- is language biased towards men, is women's language seen as inferior? These are knotty problems to grapple with...
Four years ago I started working in a team ministry, the team had been employed to work collaboratively. There are four of us, two part- time Lay Workers, and two full time Ministers, we work amongst 10 Chapels, one in a small Market Town with a congregation of 150-200, the rest in smaller villages with congregations of 8- 30 people each.
Collaborative working is not easy, we need to be able to utilise the strengths of each staff member to their fullest, and to encourage the congregations to join in with the pastoral, practical and administrative work of the Circuit.
In practise this means that Pastoral Charge is unclear, it is a shared responsibility, sometimes this means that people have turned to the staff member who is in favour at that moment in time! As anyone in ministry will know this is an ever changing phenomena!
Communication has played a key role in this work, and there have been times when we have not been particularly good at this. Sticking with it has been worth it though, the Chapel members have with encouragement sought out a vision for their particular situation, and then followed it through. Often this has meant stepping back and taking a good look at their community, and prayerfully considering their gifts, talents and focus as a group ( sometimes this has meant re-imagining their goals- one Chapel closed it's children's after-school club, but now hosts a thriving Toddler and Parent group).
One important aspect of collaborative ministry for Churches wishing to try it is to get away from the one "man" band style ministry, staff work as equipper's and releaser's, pastoral work is certainly a part of this picture, but with a broader focus there is room for members to be encouraged to develop and use their gifts.
This has been risky, and exciting and messy... we have made mistakes... It is an ongoing process, just this morning I received a letter asking which staff member was going to do something- my reply that if if you see the need than maybe this is something you are called to may not go down too well with more traditional folk, but with fewer and fewer people offering for Ordained Ministry- it is time to re-embrace the every member model. A Model that will encourage growth and bring surprises!
Many readers of this blog will have read Christopher's story from my perspective, this is Christopher's story of the operation in 2005, and all that followed from his perspective- he sent it to me last night- and it made me cry! He is using his experiences as the basis for a testimony style sermon.
Posted with permission.
This is the story of my hospital experiences from three years ago, the things that disturbed me when I was unable to sleep, and what happened in the times following. I would think about Isaiah 40:30-31:
"Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." (Isaiah 40:30-31)
which was my baptism verse, received even before I knew I was having the operation, however it didn’t seem to work, and when I did sleep I had nightmares because of the effects all the drugs were having on me. Where was the Glory of God in this? This sickness will not end in death I was told but at times I wished it would!!!
While I was in hospital I would lie in bed look down and all I would see is a massive hole through my left leg. I had an external pacemaker hanging out of my chest with Duracell batteries attached to it. When I woke up all I would hear was the sound of the machine beeping telling everyone that my heart was still beating and the sound of the respirator doing my breathing for me. (I still sometimes hear these noises when I wake up in the morning and I have to get out of bed and look around to make sure I'm not in hospital) where was the Glory of God in this?
I remember constantly coughing up blood clots, I had a tube in my chest to drain away all the fluid in my lungs, I couldn't eat food or swallow water I had to suck water off sponges and I have a memory of having to be defibulated while I was still awake because my heart had stopped! My physiotherapy consisted of being able to sit upright in a chair for as long as possible, I couldn't sit up straight without someone holding me up and when I did have the strength to walk I had to use a Zimmer frame. Where was the Glory of God in this?
If you read the Book of Psalms there are so many accounts of David calling out to the Lord and complaining; however despite his sorrow he was still able to see the Glory of God and write about it. Even in his moaning he was able to talk of the glory of God. He maybe didn't describe it as such but it's easy to see that he was able to see God working. It can be easy to miss the good and focus on all that is bad. I know I praise God when all is well but when things seem to be going against me I complain at him.
There is so much more of the bad stuff I could talk about BUT because at the time that is what I focused on I failed to see where the Glory of God was. I was expecting what always happens with me to happen. I was expecting a miraculous healing demonstrating to the doctors and the nurses the immense power and glory of God. Because of this I missed what God was trying to show me.
Looking back it's easier to see. Gods' glory was revealed through the strangers from the church across the road from the hospital who came to see me. It was in the Chief executive of Norwich Union who let my parents use his house to stay in so they didn't have to travel in and out of London everyday. This guy who when he planned a formal dinner would invite Tony Blair, came to my bed to sit and talk with me and joke with me. This is where Gods Glory was!!
It was in the hospital Chaplin who everyday would come and pray for me and read the bible to me. It was in all the cards I received from friends and all the churches in the circuit and the others that I had been to in the past, but also in the cards I received from complete strangers who had somehow heard about me. There was not one day except possibly Sunday when the post isn't delivered that I did not receive a card. This is where the Glory of God was!!
But I didn't see it!! I was too angry to see it and I stayed that way for almost a year. My response to this anger was to go down to the pub I wasn't there every night but I was generally down there 3 or 4 times a week and I would never leave sober. One night I drank an entire bottle of whisky!
It wasn't until I got my canoe that things changed. It was very strange because as soon as I got out on the water everything seemed to fade into the background. All I saw was blue seas and blue skies and the sun would reflect off the water and everything was just calm and as I looked around I couldn't help but see the glory of God. Even on a stormy day it was good because the waves would be crashing around me and I'd be getting soaked but beauty in the colour of the sea and the clouds. In the same way I would canoe into the sun I'd canoe against the wind and the canoe would launch up off the water and nose dive into the wave and water would spray all over me, and in this I felt completely surrounded by God.
In the psalm it is easy to relate with the author, because God is glory and God is everywhere and in everything. However it can be so subtle that we don't notice it. This is show in the gospels he didn't arrive as a conquering hero he arrived as a man. He preached and healed people and constantly did miracles which demonstrated the glory of God but his full glory was show through his death and resurrection. Although it is sometimes hard to see God working through all the hard work and pain of life the one place it can always be seen is in Jesus.
Ever since the summer I got the canoe and focused back on photography I've sensed God's presence. I believe that in every photo I take I am capturing the smallest amount of the glory of God.
Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God (John 11:40 )
Just reading around the blogosphere it seems that we are good at grumbling about Church! Many people have a love/hate relationship with it.... And yet it is a God initiative- and full of wonderful possibilities.
So for one day I challenge you to be positive- to share a story, or a reflection. If you want to join in with this post- add a comment here or join the Facebook group here! ( OR BOTH)
While we are thinking, let's remember that grumbling is a luxury often reserved for the comfortable, we might have a different outlook entirely if we were a part of the persecuted Church!
I will call the Dr's tomorrow morning for my blood test results. Not sure I want to know....
Updated to add:
Is no news good news? The results showed that my thyroid levels are out- so an increase in tablets has been advised, but also that there are several other factors indicating more tests are needed. I've booked another appointment- right now I am constantly exhausted and generally low... ah well I will simply have to wait and see! Prayer appreciated.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don't know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show. Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me
(John Bell- Iona Community)
I love this hymn, and chose it today as a response to the sermon; the fourth verse always challenges me, usually it is the first two lines, but today it was the emphasis on God working in and through me that brought a lump to my throat! That God would choose to see, feel and speak through me is amazing and humbling and scary, to be challenged to use faith to make a difference is a call to stand up for what we believe!
Today I chose to stand up for the young people of Downham Market, to speak about their value to the God who created them. Too often teenagers are criticised and maligned, simply for being, to often they are lumped together and seen as a threatening mass. Yet most of the towns teenagers, like teenagers everywhere are not problem people, they are people who care deeply about the world around them, asking searching questions, yes some are lost and confused by life, but then so are many adults!
I am as aware as anyone of the problems and temptations that young people face, but surely we need to dispel the stories that they are all bad, and then to go on to finding ways to value and include them ( as much as any teen wants to be included that is!!!). I wonder if it might do us good to remember what the world looked like through our 16 year old eyes- the questions that were on our lips and those we dare not voice, but held in our hearts and minds. The world is big and confusing and scary; instead of criticism, let's be those who offer hope.....
That way more young people might come to love their hidden selves, and in discovering the love of God, they too might make a difference....
How many of you have looked forward to an event, only to find out that what happened wasn't what you expected at all?
This coming Friday our youth work team have planned an event- the first youth drop in will take place in the town hall this coming Friday. I wonder what their expectations are, I wonder what we expect of them?
From my own experience I know that sometimes I allow my imagination to run away with me, and I invent scenarios making events either much better or much worse than they have turned out to be. Just before Christmas I attended Joannes first concert with Sheffield University Orchestra, she had played with Norfolk Symphony for the past few years and I truly wasn't expecting much- the concert turned out to be a wonderful occasion, the orchestra was made up from both under and post-grad students, and the quality of music surpassed my expectations! I was surprised.
As a child I lived in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, I went to school with the Sultan of Malaysia's daughter, my class were invited to her birthday party, we were to sing the National Anthem, and then so the invitation read were to join in with the party. The day arrived, and we were all excited, limousines arrived to take us to the palace, we were ushered in to sing, the surroundings were amazing!!! The choir formed and we sang the National Anthem, we were then ushered out to a courtyard where a tea had been laid on, then escorted back to the limousines and driven back to school, there had been no party, and we were bitterly disappointed!
My visions and hopes for both of these occasions were unrealistic, and based upon my own ideas and agenda!
So often we live with hopes and dreams, and sometimes those hopes and dreams blind us to what is going on under our noses....
So it was with the people of Israel, when John came baptising people, calling them to repent- to change their ways, because the kingdom of heaven was near...
So it was with the people of Israel when Jesus came, baptising them and calling them to repent, to change their ways, because the kingdom of heaven was near...
Jesus surprised people, those who were looking for the Messiah, were looking for someone who would sweep in and free them from the oppression of Rome, gathering a victorious army to fight the invaders.
Instead he called for peace, turning their hopes upside down, challenging them to change their ways- announcing that the kingdom of heaven was near.
Jesus surprised people, those who were looking for purity, the Pharisees, looking for strict obedience from the people, trying to ensure that laws were obeyed by adding law upon law, upon law.
Instead he became the friend of sinners, accepting the prostitutes and tax collectors, touching and embracing those who were deemed unclean by the establishment... challenging them to change their ways, announcing that the kingdom of heaven was near....
The Kingdom of heaven is near....
How will Jesus surprise us by what he is doing amongst us?
Change your ways he calls to us, the kingdom of heaven is near...
Do we hear those words today, and look around our church building and smile to ourselves? Pleased with who we are, with what we have done, or are we open to receive his challenge... repent, change your ways....
Has the kingdom of heaven been recognised in the church? Or are we still just outside of what God is doing?
The kingdom of heaven is near.
Where is the kingdom of heaven?
I believe that the kingdom of heaven starts to grow anywhere the word of God is received and nurtured, that through deciding to change our ways to follow Jesus we begin within ourselves a planting process...
Repentance is an ongoing process, moment by moment day by day we will be changed by choosing to go God's way, that decision might be made in our attitude on getting out of bed, choosing to be positive rather than negative about the situations that face us. The decision might be made on moral grounds, choosing the right way even though it may not be the most convenient or the cheapest. That decision comes to us again and again, and again and again we are presented with the choice, our way, or God's way.
The kingdom of heaven is near.
What is the kingdom of heaven?
The kingdom of heaven is an upside down kingdom where the weak and the vulnerable are honoured, Where the strong choose the path of service, and the leaders lift those they lead.
The kingdom of heaven is a place where everyone is valued equally the poor and the sick, are as valuable as the rich and healthy.
The kingdom of heaven is the place where God's values rule.
So how does this challenge us?
We live in a town where there is conflict and dis-ease. Tensions exist between the age groups, and because of a few individuals the town's youth have been criticised. There has been talk of, and even instillation of mosquito devices to make gathering places unbearable for our young folk, these devices emit ultrasonic sound waves designed to make young people uncomfortable.
Is this a good solution?
Thankfully our response can be no!!!!
When you consider the young people of Downham Market this week I challenge you to see something new, to see the people God values and loves, the people God challenges us to value and love.
The response of this church in partnership with the council this week is to set up a Youth Drop in, the first session will be in the Town Hall on Friday. As the young people are welcomed let us pray that to them we can bring the message- the kingdom of heaven is near...
The challenge to us, to change our ways of seeing them, to respond with love and openness, here is our chance to change our ways, to refrain from grumbling and to pray...
Here is a chance to change our ways, to open our eyes to the value of those who live amongst us...
Here is a chance to change our ways, to review our expectations of what church is and to be willingly flexible.
I am not suggesting that following Friday we will have a church full of young people praising God, but I believe that what Dave, Nikki, and Yaz are doing is planting that first seed into young lives....
As they do the planting let us by our prayers and willingness to change water the seeds of change, allowing the Holy Spirit to call forth life in us.... that we might begin to produce fresh growth, fresh fruit.
It is easy to cling to our ways and expectations, and to be blind and deaf to what God is doing amongst us.
Let us choose the harder path, embracing instead what God is doing, responding to his still small voice wooing us... change your ways, open your hearts, for the kingdom of heaven is near..
The kingdom of heaven is indeed near, it is here and now, and yet not yet, before time and after time and transcending time. The kingdom of heaven is planted afresh every time one of us responds to God's call to change, to catch what is on his heart....
This week let us pray to be open to what God is doing amongst us, to have ears to hear, and eyes to see, to have hearts softened to receive his word and the Holy Spirits move... let's resolve to be ever changing ever growing people of God.