Our Ministers regularly write letters of encouragement and support.
After Pentecost – what are you going to do with your gift?
I hope you all had an enjoyable and celebratory Pentecost weekend last week. It is good to look back and collectively remember that the Church is not just an institution set up by human beings as a place of fellowship and a resource for doing good works, but a movement, built upon the rock of faith in God through the teaching and example of Jesus, directed by God’s own Holy Spirit.
Pentecost reminds us that it is God’s Spirit which enables the first disciples to act bravely and wisely, instead of hiding away in fear.
As Peter says:
“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
The promise; God’s own Holy Spirit, dwelling inside of us, surrounding us on every side, working through us in the world. What must we do to receive such a promise? Peter suggests we must “repent and be baptised”.
For many of us, this promise was received a long time ago. God’s Holy Spirit does dwell inside of us, perhaps like a small flickering flame from a single candle. Whilst this might be just enough to keep our faith alive, the promise was for much more than this!
Indeed, Paul writes of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5: 22 – 23), being the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us.
We have been given the gift – a spark. Now we must keep the fire burning inside of us. Fire requires fuel, as well as heat and air.
Where are you getting your spiritual fuel from, to keep your fire stoked?
Nathaniel asleep under the fig tree by Mark Cazalet
Pastoral Letter – Pilgrimage…
extract from the pastoral letter sent to Methodist Ministers recently by the
Secretary of Conference that I thought was worth sharing
I am old enough to remember days before the orb and cross was the ubiquitous Methodist symbol. In many ways, its predecessor was the scallop shell. Taken initially, I believe, from the Wesley family coat of arms, its adoption owed something (as a short chapter in the guide to membership that I was given in my teens explained) to its significance as a symbol of pilgrimage. To join the Methodist Church was to take one's place among a pilgrim people. The Church was a company of God's faithful on the move towards the fullness of life to which God calls God's people.
It seems to me that part of the significance of the pilgrimage metaphor is to be found in the origin of the word 'pilgrim' as 'foreigner'. To be a pilgrim is to journey through unfamiliar territory. One of the obvious points that guides to pilgrim routes make is that the landscape changes. The Methodist pilgrim people do not need to be reminded that the landscape through which we are travelling has altered, most recently by COVID-19 but also by political and societal developments. We have to make decisions about who we are and how we behave in the changed landscape and sometimes we disagree profoundly in the decision-making process.
One of the works that many pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella will read is the earliest known guide to the route, a 12th-century work by an anonymous author. As well as describing the some of the dangers that the pilgrims will face the writer brings together the stories of the saints whose shrines can be visited along the road. The message is clear: pilgrimage is not easy but those who undertake it are surrounded by the prayers of heaven and can draw deeply on the resources of the tradition as they travel. The decisions that we have made at the Conference this year (and indeed make at the Conference every year) have been the outcome of doing just that; having a rich and varied tradition on which to draw on and living with the limitations of our earthly situation rather than the clear view of heaven, it is unsurprising that we do not all reach the same conclusion. At moments when that realisation is particularly sharp (and when, as now, some are feeling hurt or frustration because of decisions they believe profoundly to be wrong), our commitment to continue on our pilgrimage together and to continue to engage in theological reflection becomes even more important.
A couple of centuries after 'The Pilgrim's Guide' was penned an English writer produced a very different work about a pilgrimage. Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales might seem to have little to offer as a source of theological reflection, but the central idea seems to me to be pertinent. A group of pilgrims who, it appears, have nothing in common except that they are all journeying to Canterbury tell each other stories. Many who have undertaken pilgrimages will have been enriched by the people they have met on the way and the stories they have heard. Pilgrims ask each other, 'Why are you on this pilgrimage? What have you already seen on the way? What are you hoping to see, to receive or to give?' and they listen to each other’s answers. Our President and Vice-President in 2019-20 reminded us of the importance of stories; as we journey together it is vital that we are willing to share our history, our hopes and our fears, and to talk about what God has done and will, we trust, do in and through us, and that we listen to each other.
I'm grateful to another former President, Tom Stuckey, for his reflection (in his recently published book, Covid-19. God's Wake-Up Call?) on 'synergy'. Starting from Romans 8v28 (which he translates as 'God makes all things work together [panta synergei] for good for those who love him'), Tom states that 'Synergy is another way of describing the covenant relationship which God has established with humanity.' The synergy of God is to be found in the life of the Church engaging in mission and is 'not so much about giving but about receiving and learning. There can be no triumphalism.'
We are all aware that there are a number of reasons why the next twelve months might not be easy; there are huge challenges ahead and this might prove to be a seminal time in the life of our denomination, and of both Church and society in these islands, and of the world. There is much to be done, but pilgrims share their stories as they travel and travel as they share their stories.
With an assurance of my prayers as we make the journey and my gratitude for yours,
Jonathan R Hustler
Secretary of the Conference
To see ourselves as others see us
In Robert Burns poem ‘To a Louse’, on seeing one on a lady’s bonnet at church, we find the poet’s attention fixed on the lady sitting in front of him. The reverence of the church is broken by the poets first word, ‘Ha! haur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?’
Through the poem we find Burns fixated on the louse climbing higher and higher until onto the ladies bonnet. But in the last verse Burns reflects on the situation which I paraphrase as, or would some power give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us it would free us from much foolishness and blundering and take away our ears and leave us in an even position with others.
Why are we as readers immediately focussed in this reflection, onto the young lady who is unaware of the louse in her hair as she sits in her finery? In truth you must understand that Burns himself has become aware of his own situation as he sits in church with his attention not on the divine or the service but on the attractive young lady in front of him.
I have often wondered if some of the characters in the Bible, or indeed in literature, would behave the way they do if they could see themselves as others see them. It can be difficult for us to imagine how others see us. We live in our own sense of who we are and sometimes can be surprised at how we react in certain in situations, or how others react to us. Yet part of our nature is that we are in the image of God. I find that at times I must check what I would like to do and remember that I live in the love of God.
For years, I was the youth club leader for a church youth club. Initially we had behaviour problems but over time the group matured and became a good group of young people. They ran the group through their own committee, organising the activities, and I as leader had a veto which I never had to use. Then one week we had a new member. Thomas was older than some members but less mature. I had the experience to anticipate the problems ahead, but I knew that these problems were things that they as a group would need to work through themselves. I believed that these experiences would enable them to grow. Thomas dated one of the members on his second week in the club, on the third week he dated her sister, on the fourth week a third sister slapped his face. The once united club split down the middle with those supporting Thomas and those angry at him and for six months there was considerable tension within that youth club. But then the issues resolved Thomas's behaviour changed and the club returned to be a united group with the addition of Thomas. As youth leader I knew that I could not solve all the problems the young people would face, and these problems would be a learning experience for them.
Currently, the news bulletins are full of stories of Afghanistan as once they were with stories of Syria or stories of Iraq or stories of Somalia. There are other stories over the years of humanitarian disaster and crisis. Our news did not give us much information on Honduras or the Central African Republic. Jesus tells his disciples the poor will be with you always, but he is not telling them to ignore the plight of those in difficulty. These demanding situations will always come round and many of them will be beyond our capacity as individuals or churches or nations define resolution. Our Christian calling however is to follow the example of Jesus who reached out to the poor and the despairing and the unloved. We may not be able to resolve these problems but we still in our faith reach out to help and support in whatever ways we can.
The Global Refugee Mural by Joel Bergner painted on the side of Kefa Café, Montgomery, USA.
On wondering what to write to you about this week, I thought I would check out the National Methodist Church diary page for inspiration. What is listed under August?..
‘Humph. Not much help there’ I thought. However, after a conversation with a friend, I realised that in fact there was inspiration, even in a blank diary page. Every so often, we all need a blank diary page.
I must admit that I am not good at giving myself permission to rest. I do take my rest day from Circuit life each week, but I fill it with other very necessary things; working on my dissertation… housework… and if I don’t get these things done (usually because I’ve just gone into the garden to do one little job and come back in the house 3 hours later), I then feel guilty about not managing my time!
I’m a fine one to be writing to you about taking a rest! Perhaps writing about it will teach me to take my own medicine…
The very first book of the Bible (Genesis chapter 2) emphasises that as we are made in the image of God, a time of rest needs to be part of our life.
When Abraham was visited by three heavenly messengers, he invited them to rest under the tree. (Genesis 18)
Even the land is to have a year of rest from crop growing (Leviticus 25).
Jesus promises rest to those who are weary and burdened (Matthew 11).
Jesus’ first disciples are encouraged to rest, as Jesus takes them away to a quiet place (Mark 6).
Despite our urge to ‘get things done’, Scripture is clear that we must rest. Indeed we know that if we do not, eventually the body will take over our will-power and simply stop functioning.
Thus, I find myself, once again, speaking a truth we already know, but need to be reminded of often. A challenge to us all to trust that God will manage things for us for a little while, if we do as generations of the faithful have done before us and accept the discipline of rest in this life – surely a foretaste of the eternal resting in God that is to come.