Rolleston Methodist Church
Pause For Thought
by Joyce Lockley (and others)

Reproduced below are articles taken from the Rolleston and Anslow Church Magazine:











February 2012 - Tribute to Joyce Lockley

I thought it important to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that Joyce has made to this magazine over many years. Her gentle words inevitably conveyed a strong message, providing inspiration to all her readers. Her warmth and humanity touched young and old alike and continued in spite of ill health in her latter years. Her daughter Jean told the packed church at Joyce’s funeral that her mother loved cow parsley. I now like to think that when we see the early summer hedgerows full of cow parsley that it will trigger memories of how Joyce touched our lives. Finally in the words of the minister – Joyce was a shining example of Christian faith and we will miss her.

Rest in peace Joyce and thank you.

Gill Pyne

(Back to Issues)

December 2011

We would like to send our sincere sympathy to Bob Lockley and his family for their sad loss. Joyce will be greatly missed by so many people. The following was written for Rollestonian shortly before she died and is printed here for those who do not see Rollestonian.

* * * * *

When our children were teenagers we lived in Tutbury, which we liked very much. Far fewer of the old buildings of the ancient market town had been pulled down at that time, and there were several very interesting characters around, Our sons belonged to the choir in St Mary's Priory Church, and on Christmas Eve we usually began the festivities by going to the Midnight Communion, where it was good to see the church full.

Our house stood beside a field, as we came quietly through the silent streets after the service and climbed up beside the field which was quiet except for a few gentle animal noises, we were reminded of the shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. There was just such a night, moonlit and peaceful, when we thought of the crowd of people going forward for Communion to celebrate Christ's birth in Bethlehem, and there at the side of the church steps lay a shepherd's crook and a pair of sandals, supposedly outside the stable door. It sent a tingle down our spine. Beyond these, the Christ child.

Maybe this has often happened since. It was long ago for us, and we don’t forget it.

Joyce & Bob Lockley

(Back to Issues)

November 2011

In the month of remembering, November, I often think of my father, who became a soldier in the First World War at the age of 17. It took him to other parts of the world that he had never thought of seeing, and although he was a very peaceable man he was not a conscientious objector. Like his cousins, he went into the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer. He must have seen some most distressing cases, which would have grieved his heart, but like many people who returned from the war he never talked about it, getting on with his own family life. Those memories were responsible for a great mood change in the country, with many returning soldiers finding it impossible to believe in a good, caring God any longer. The position of woman in the community had changed, and some of the class distinctions had disappeared.

At the same time, many villages in the land were never the same again, with at least one family deprived of loved ones. This year we will once again hold services of remembrance for those who died in that war, and those who have died every year since, demonstrating the complete madness and waste of war.

(Back to Issues)

October 2011

In this country, October is often a month of contrasts. There are welcome rain and less welcome gales, cold nights and days of golden sunshine on the changing colours of trees. We cut back roses and plant bulbs. The children work hard into the autumn term and then have a holiday. Away go the summer clothes and out come the winter woollies.

We have given thanks for our harvest and we begin to make plans for the next couple of months, November and December. Such contrasts help us to appreciate the changes instead of being locked into a boring routine which many people experience in their daily work.

Changes intensify experiences too. When news arrives, it has greater impact if it is long-awaited and a time of trouble and unhappiness brings greater joy when it is relieved.

In the book of Ecclesiastes we find the well-known passage that begins:" For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven: a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep silent and a time to speak-----" Let us enjoy the contrasts October brings.

(Back to Issues)

September 2011

"Nil By Mouth"

For many people in hospital this means several hours without food or water before an operation or test; very hard for some.

For some, there is no choice because famine means they have nothing to eat or drink any day.

For some, most famously Muslims in Ramadan who fast during the hours of daylight for a month, and for others who find it gives them a spiritual experience, going without food brings them closer to God.

In past generations and indeed today saints and hermits, as well as ordinary disciples speak of the dark night of the soul when they no longer feel the presence of God and life is bleak, their pilgrimage pointless.

Of course, some people are NIL BY MOUTH in their knowledge of God because nobody has told them about him or brought them the good news
of his love. We need to remember that we have a part to play as his disciples.

(Back to Issues)

July/August 2011

Sometimes we despair at hatred, war, torture, hunger and suffering in our world. There seems no hope in the face of climate change and global warming.

We must not forget that our world is God's world too, and throughout the Bible we read promises made by God to his people. Some of them promise retribution on his enemies. Many more promise his presence in times of trouble or need. The prophet Joel tells in particular of the coming of God's spirit to his people, filling them with prophesy and hope, dreams and visions for the future.

We are told too that Jesus promised his chosen band of followers who would continue spreading God's kingdom that he would send them a gift when they could see him no longer. He would be with them to the end of the world.

Sure enough he kept his promise. Pentecost is not generally observed in our secular society as it used to be, but of course the church still keeps it as a great festival. Years ago there were processions of children and "Sermons" in many towns and villages to celebrate the birthday of the church when God's spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem.

In our special services we reflect on this gift as we say together:" You send forth your Spirit. You bind us in love. You renew the face of the earth."

He unites in his special love. He works to change the world which so often fills us with sorrow and despair. It is our world, and his too.

(Back to Issues)

June 2011

Even in today’s world of science and discovery there are many mysteries about the universe and life which remain unanswered, and often we use picture language to help us to understand them.

After his resurrection Jesus met his disciples in many different places until one day the time came for them not to have his physical presence any more. Artists produced paintings of this, at least one showing a pair of feet going up into the sky!

The New Testament tells us that the disciples were all present, listening to Jesus, taking to heart the promise of a special gift he would send them, when he blessed them and left them. They could no longer see him because of a cloud on the hill top, but two men in white told them he had gone to heaven.

In the creed we say "he ascended into heaven to his Father's right hand, and his kingdom shall have no end."

Some people find it difficult to imagine heaven as " above the bright blue sky," a mental picture which helped less scientific generations. But we all have faith that when Jesus had completed the salvation of the world in the Easter story, he returned to his Father, who had sent him on his errand of love in the first place.

So our faith proclaims that the story begun in Nazareth and Bethlehem is completed in triumph and honour, and our Jesus reigns.

(Back to Issues)

May 2011

Some of the people who wrote the story down may have been in the city or the surrounding countryside at the time or may have had an account of it from someone else who was a witness. It is the story of days and nights of horror, grief and betrayal, of tough Roman soldiers asleep on duty and men in white bringing messages from God to the distraught and terrified friends of Jesus, of sunrise in a garden.

Their world had fallen apart as they watched him die on a cross. That was the end. He had spoken of coming back, but that sort of thing didn't happen, did it?

But the Christian church knows that in dying, Jesus defeated sin and death. In the quietness of that morning in the garden he was gloriously raised to life once more by his heavenly Father, and darkness was overcome by light.

So we have sung our Alleluias on Easter day, and we turn our hearts to him in the belief that we can share his life, that we are indeed Easter people who live in his light. A modern hymn says:"Christ is alive! Let Christians sing; His cross stands empty to the sky.

Let streets and homes with praises ring;
His love in death shall never die."

We honour his sacrifice for us with the cross found in our church, but it is an empty cross that could not hold him, and in our creed we share together the belief that "on the third day he rose again from the dead, in accordance with the Scriptures." the very centre of our life and faith.

(Back to Issues)

April 2011

A speaker on Thought for the Day once spoke of how, in his youth, he had visited many Christian places of worship and been horrified at the depiction of violence and suffering there: pictures of dying martyrs, the Stations of the Cross and always a cross or crucifix in pride of place.

During April we will be thinking of the events at the end of the life of Jesus, culminating in our celebration of Good Friday. For some people this makes no sense, raising as it does all kinds of questions about how God could allow his Son to die in such a way. The gospels tell us of a good man, executed in the most cruel fashion, with violence and suffering.

But that part of the Jesus story makes us confront the struggle between good and evil, and what can face us when mankind rejects the goodness of God. We see something of the depth of his self-giving love, and come to our knees as we realise the cost to Jesus of gaining forgiveness for the worst things we can do.

Our Christian worship fills us with joy, wonder and praise, and we join the heavenly choirs as we sing our adoration, but we weep with horror at the depths God is brought to by a race that turns its back on his ways of love. In the words of our creed, the Son of God was "crucified, dead and buried."

(Back to Issues)

March 2011

Jesus lived in an occupied country. The hated Roman soldiers would have been seen on the streets, and the Jews had limited control of their affairs. We need to see many of the arguments between Jesus and his opponents against this background, specially in the time just before the first Easter.

Many of the Jews hoped that the Messiah, appointed by God, would come at this time to deliver them from the Romans and restore their nation to its full glory as God's chosen race. Some failed to understand Jesus's teaching about the coming of God's kingdom because of this. It was one of the causes of the disagreements between him and the religious leaders.

There was also disagreement with the Roman authorities, who saw Jesus as posing a political threat with his talk about another kingdom. The man who represented them was Pontius Pilate, a link with history. He was described as "inflexible, stubborn and cruel" because of some of his dealings with the Jewish nation, and he appears in the gospel story because one of his duties was the administration of justice. Jesus was brought before him because he could pronounce the death sentence, which the Jewish authorities wanted.

We know how he interrogated Jesus in court, and inflicted insults and injuries on his prisoner. The church has debated his motives and actions down the years, and he is referred to in the creed in the words: "suffered under Pontius Pilate," suffering which Jesus chose in order to bring about forgiveness of sins for the whole world, including us.

(Back to Issues)

February 2011

The creed says little about the life of Jesus, so we hurry away from the child with the shepherds and the Wise Men towards the man before Pilate. Our readings and prayers, of course, give us time to think about the ministry and then we come to Lent, but what about the thirty or so years between, sometimes called "the hidden years"?

A modern version of the creed seems to me to sum them up. After saying that Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, we affirm that he "became truly human."

There is more to humanity than just possessing a human body, and in Mary's kitchen, Joseph's workshop and the rabbi's classes, he became truly human, with loving, protective parents, He learned to love God's world around him, to use words, to hear and tell stories, As he grew in stature, his spiritual awareness grew too, and his mental capacities. In his earthly father's trade, he learned about people's needs, motives, weaknesses, until he was ready to heal those who were sick, weep with those who were sad, forgive sinners.

Through Mary's acceptance of the part she could play, God came to share our human life. He became fully human as he grew up in Nazareth in those years we know so little about, until he was ready to answer God's call and begin his ministry in Galilee, and his journey towards Jerusalem for us and for all mankind.

(Back to Issues)

December 2010

They were at the bottom of the social pile, their job separated them from much social and religious contact, but they knew all about the invasion of their country by the Romans, the rule of outsiders, the brutal punishments that saw roads lined with crucifixions.

They did know peace in their daily work, on the hillsides with their sheep. Perhaps at night they found time to talk around the fire, under the stars that King David had seen when he too was shepherding.

Then came the vision, an angel telling them of a new-born child in near-by Bethlehem, a Saviour, Christ the Lord. When they saw the skies filled with an angelic host they were almost overwhelmed.

Glory to God who gave this child...yes, their hearts joined in that. And peace to God’s people on earth...that was what they most desired. The prophet Isaiah promised peace long ago: men and women would become God’s people and turn their weapons of war into tools of peace, never again to train for war.

It is hard for us, in an age of war and terrorism, to believe the angels’ promise of peace, but in our Communion service we join in the words of the Gloria:”Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth”. We profess to be God’s people, and we are committed to bring others into his way. In the next few busy weeks let us pray together for that change in the world, and hold in our hearts the promise of the angels to the shepherds: peace on earth, the gift of the Prince of peace.

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

(Back to Issues)

November 2010

November is a very busy month. The church keeps All Saints' Day, then four days later Guy Fawkes Night means bonfire toffee and fireworks. We make time to go to the parades for Remembrance Day, and all the time we are starting forays to the crowded shops searching frantically for greetings cards and presents.

Then at the end of the month comes Advent Sunday, and the beginning of all the lovely Advent traditions. We sing hymns about God coming to live in his beloved creation to share humanity with us. We hear readings about the way he spoke to his people in the past and how he will be with us in the future. All this alongside plans for parties, practising the children's plays, and present buying.

But two sentences from the creed we share focus our minds on the centre of our all our coming festivities - "Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the virgin Mary."

These speak to us of our friend and Saviour, leading us straight away to the heart of the season, the child in the manger, God with us.

(Back to Issues)

October 2010

By the time you read this, the state visit of the Pope will be over, with its pomp and ceremony. Heads of state are greeted with fanfares, banquets and publicity, and there is another rank of officials whose job is to represent their country's government in foreign lands, the ambassadors, who are not always so widely acclaimed.

God our creator is so great that we can hardly understand him. Whenever we praise and worship him we are aware of how small we are by comparison with him, and it stretches our mind to think of his power and might.

But down the ages there have been ambassadors who have come in his name to help us to know more about him, what he is like and how he wants people to live in the world he has created.

There were prophets and writers way back in the past, speakers and teachers right up to the present day, pastors, ministers and preachers in our own time, and we include all of them when we say in our Communion service:"Blessed is he (or she!) who comes in the name of the Lord."

He has not left us ignorant about him, but has sent people in his name for our help. And in the end, of course, he sent his only begotten Son to live as God among us.

Following him, we too become ambassadors to those around us, by our faith and our actions, coming to them in the name of the Lord.

Blessed are all who come in the name of the Lord.

(Back to Issues)

September 2010

We walked on a beach beneath blue skies, sunshine glinting on gulls whirling above and waves turning below. Back to the garden where the plums were changing colour daily and the little apple tree was bowed down with fruit.

As the holiday months progress into September there is often a bonus of richness and colour. Our countryside patchwork shows reaped and ploughed fields, berries on the rowan trees hint at coming changes and gardens blaze with end-of-season glory.

Harvest Festival is always a popular celebration with its sense of abundance and the tangible evidence of all that earth produces, and many generations have shared its happiness. At the beginning of civilization people revered the fruits, the grain, the flowers themselves, but gradually they came to worship not just earth's beauty and richness but the creator of them all.

Once again the great prayers we say together in our worship remind us of the basics of our faith. Not only do we believe in one God whose glory shines around us in heaven and earth, but all things were made by him.

"You are worthy, our Lord God, to receive honour and power, for you have created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."

Every sunbeam and cloud, every wave, every bird and butterfly, every luscious fruit, every splendid creature, every person

(Back to Issues)

July/August 2010

There was a gasp as the ball narrowly missed the goalpost. Then, a change of viewpoint unexpectedly showed a gap of several feet. Relief!

Sometimes all we see are reports of dreadful events in our world: soldiers dying, oil slicks ruining marine life, shootings in Cumbria, murder in Burton, for example. It is easy to allow such news to cloud and darken our thoughts. Indeed, it is a real part of human life, not to be thoughtlessly tossed aside, often the result of wrong, carelessness or greed, spoiling our world.

But change the viewpoint. We believe in a creator God who made a good world. At this time of year, with long days, abundant life in fields and gardens, and, perhaps, the chance to spend time in places that delight us, we have plenty to encourage us to praise him.

In the words of the creed, he created "all things, seen and unseen," and in our Communion service we join with unseen angels and archangels and all the heavenly choir in an unending hymn of praise: "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest."

I often say this prayer with my eyes open, and it never fails to lift my heart and soul, sending me on my way singing hosannas, aware of God's glory wherever I look.

(Back to Issues)

June 2010

Opponents of religion often accuse believers of mindlessly accepting ideas that are unreasonable. In fact, this is upside-down thinking. Because we believe certain things we seek other people who believe the same, and so form a group with common aims and a common creed to bind us together, though like the apostle Thomas we may have personal doubts and uncertainties to resolve from time to time. We are expected to use the minds we were given, after all.

The Nicene creed, widely used today, begins: "I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen."

Early people believed in many gods who ruled everything and must be worshipped. Gradually, over generations, people came to understand that there is only one God, the creator of everything. In the Old Testament we see this firmly established, and Christianity in due course followed the same teaching.

In the last century human research has uncovered so much " seen and unseen," all of it created by the one God, who pronounced his creation good. We don't understand all of it, and the pace of change has been very rapid, but the creed is there to remind and strengthen us, firm and enduring, and to provide a focus for our lives.

(Back to Issues)

April 2010

We listen to the gospel readings on Easter Day after a week of wildly fluctuating emotions: exultation on Palm Sunday, the solemnity of the feet-washing at the Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, betrayal and unbelievable suffering on Good Friday, a day of waiting for life to continue on Holy Saturday. Then: "Christ is risen!"

From very early in his ministry Jesus had known that his chosen path would lead to opposition and probably death, and he had talked to his disciples about it often, sometimes telling them that he would rise from the dead. They didn't expect it, judging by their failure to recognise him.

Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener, Cleopas and his companion poured out their troubles on the way to Emmaus without knowing who he was, disciples in the upper room didn't recognise him, nor did some by the Sea of Galilee.

Of course, the last they saw of him in life was in the horror of crucifixion, after scourging and mockery before Pilate. Their physical memory would be terrible. Besides, the dead don't come back to life, do they?

Gradually, as he met with them, ate with them, talked with them, they became quick to know him when he appeared beside them.

His followers, we know that he is alive and active in the world he came to save, yet we too are sometimes slow to recognise him along life's path.

Listen for his voice. Watch for his hands breaking the bread. Feel his presence when we specially need him. Then we can say: "He is risen indeed!"

Happy Easter!

(Back to Issues)

March 2010

Just over a year ago, a plane took off from New York, struck a flock of Canada geese and landed in the middle of the Hudson river. Miraculously, all 155 people on board were saved.

Recently some of the survivors described their feelings in the press, a year on from the accident. Gratitude, naturally, with a changed attitude that puts ordinary worries in proportion. Some speak of now living for the moment, not taking tomorrow for granted, and a sense of having begun life anew. Some have become a better person, some have changed their job and now work for a charity. Some concentrate more on personal relationships, expressing their love more openly.

Many of us have had experiences that produce similar results in us. Perhaps we too have had a narrow escape, or survived an illness, or faced an event that changed our outlook on life. Gratitude cannot be measured.

And as we travel through Lent and Holy Week we become aware once more of the gift Jesus won for us, the gift of our new life, free from the shadow of sin.

We are filled with gratitude for being close to our heavenly Father, for daily health and strength, and the chance to build close, caring relationships with others. Determination to be a better person, living life to the full, comes to us and changes us.

"The tree of life became the tree of glory; where life was lost there life has been restored."

(Back to Issues)

February 2010

The human race seems to be programmed for social contact. Even very shy or reserved people occasionally need others, often gaining a great deal from being in a group, while some more gregarious folk just revel in being part of a gathering.

Young people use modern technology to achieve this, wherever they are. Crossing the road, they converse on their mobile phones about everything , they fade out of conversation as they reply to a text message. Recently, much has been written about their devotion to virtual communication as they write their feelings and ideas on the "web"

Maybe this increases self-confidence, to know they have so many friends out there in space. There can be no harm in that. What seems sad is if they refer to their many friends, and spend much time with them, when these are people they have never met, never shared an event with, never interacted with face to face.

Nothing replaces real contact with like-minded people. Have you ever had to fill in one of those forms that asks:"What is your religion?" I'm sure many people put in the convenient name of a denomination nominally theirs although they have no real contact with others who belong to it, perhaps have little idea what it stands for. It's their virtual religion.

Sadder still are those who, asked in a questionnaire: "Do you believe in God?" reply "Yes," but have no real contact with him on a daily basis, don't talk to him, listen to him or enjoy his company in life.

There is no better way forward than to cultivate our living relationships with him, and with others who believe In him too.

(Back to Issues)

December 2009

During the next few weeks we will almost certainly hear Isaiah's words: "Unto us a child is born." He lists the names by which the child will be known: "Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father." Then he tells how, as his kingdom of justice and righteousness increases, there will be peace without end.

A marvellous prophecy. The vision of a great man as he looked at the war-torn world around him. Christians take these ancient words as applying to the birth of Jesus, two thousand years ago, and treasure them.

Yet as we look at our own war-torn world, we know that the vision is as distant as ever, the prophecy is not yet fulfilled. Is it really just a dream of what might happen, perhaps even just a wish-list?

Isaiah goes on to say "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this," and clearly he expects the dream, the vision, the prophecy to come to pass. We must not allow ourselves to lose faith in the zeal of God.

When the child grew up he drew friends and followers to him, to share the work of building his kingdom of justice, righteousness and peace, and we are included in that number.

As we make time in this busy Advent and Christmas season to worship the Prince of peace in his humble manger, let us give him our hearts' love, and promise once again to serve him each day. We will hasten the coming of his kingdom by the gift of our lives.

Happy Christmas.

(Back to Issues)

November 2009

We recently enjoyed a holiday that promised to take us to" the heart of Europe," and it certainly did its best! We visited villages, towns and cities that filled us with admiration for their buildings, their cultural heritage, their history from Roman times onwards.

Along the way we had ample evidence of past conflicts with invaders or opponents. In Peste, now half of Budapest, many of the medieval buildings were destroyed by the Turks when they left, being rebuilt in baroque style. In Miltenberg the bridge across the river was destroyed by the retreating German army at the end of the second World War, as were bridges in other cities, causing necessary replacements to restore communications.

Koblenz had to be largely rebuilt after that war because of damage by our allies, and Nuremberg has a cross of nails from Coventry cathedral in its church of St. Sebald. Wurzburg was so badly fire-bombed in April 1945 that only the outside shell of its cathedral remained, but it now has new, modern interior walls, ceiling and organ. Five thousand died that night.

War is not a simple issue. Without it, how do we challenge injustice or protect the oppressed? Can we ever replace it with consultation and diplomacy? But war is shockingly wasteful. It wastes cultural treasures, resources, manpower, and above all, lives.

This month, as we remember those who died in war, let us ask the prince of peace for forgiveness, that the human race persists in this waste and destruction.

(Back to Issues)

October 2009

On 30th August, the Reverend Julia M. Pellett was inducted as Superintendent Minister of the Burton-on-Trent Circuit of the Methodist Church. Her main church is Trinity Methodist and United Reformed Church, the latter being an amalgamation of former Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches, hence the name Trinity!

She was welcomed by ecumenical and civic representatives, and Rev. Wes. Blakey preached the sermon. As Chairman of the Nottingham and Derby District he has many of the organisational duties of an Anglican bishop, chairing meetings of ministers, and committees with representatives from the Circuits as they deal with many aspects of the work of Methodism.

The Circuit is the pivot of local activity. Julia will have personal charge of four churches, the remaining seven being staffed by two ministers. A lay worker, Circuit Stewards and Local Preachers share the work. All churches send representatives to the quarterly Circuit Meeting, which Julia will chair and which deals with the conduct of the Circuit. Representatives can express the views of local churches, which contribute their "assessment" each quarter, covering ministers' stipends, the Manses and other running costs. Individual churches contribute to work in Britain (youth work, prisons, hospitals etc.) and the wider world (churches, hospitals, schools and much more). This is administered centrally, by the Connexion.

The local church has a real influence on the way it is run, but there is also opportunity for members of the Circuit to share services each quarter and to take part in special groups for prayer, music, drama and fellowship.

(Back to Issues)

September 2009

"I don't like this growing," said eleven-year-old Jessica. Since she had already discarded her Barbies and decorated her bedroom with posters of pop stars, I think she was talking as much about emotional changes as about her physical growth. Anyway, she doesn't like it!

Do you like the changes that have come to you recently? Of course there have been some. Change is built into all creation, including human life. Some, like the weathering of the landscape, is incredibly slow, hardly noticeable. Some, like the increased responsibility of parenthood, or a doctor's diagnosis of your disease, or the disastrous end of a relationship within the family, may be sudden, come as a shock.

We would not be happy if some change didn't come. Everybody expects the baby to develop into the toddler, the schoolchild, the teenager and the adult, and we look for the reassurance of each stage in due course.

But some expected changes are not so welcome. We know the child will go to school, but the silence in the house when it happens may seem dreadful. The boisterous, growing family leaves home, and it hurts.

Sometimes life doesn't widen out any more but instead narrows through retirement, aging or disability, and we miss the fullness of past years.

People have often drawn a parallel between life and a journey, hymn-writers among them. For our comfort, in joys and sorrows and times of change, we can be sure that we do not walk alone.

God is at our side in every experience, giving us protection, hope and comfort. We can put our hand in his.

(Back to Issues)

July/August 2009

I wonder where you keep yours? Since April we have stored the blue and the brown ones at one side of the house, the black one on the other and the newspapers in the garage. Heaven help people who live in a terrace house that opens onto the street!

Then, which bins go out in which week? What goes where? The brown bin and the newspapers are easy, but will this item go into the blue bin, or must it be consigned to landfill via the black bin? We have also found a quantity of clothes which are suddenly too small or too shabby. Does that ever happen to you? I'm so grateful to Playgroup for their container at the Spread Eagle. Knowing their desperate need of funds it's satisfying to use that, better than one of the numerous charity bags.

Our lives get full of clutter too. Sometimes we need to turn out attitudes left over from childhood and recycle them into something more mature. Or maybe our thinking is still based in the past, and should be given up to be remade, to match the needs of the present day.

Some stuff needs to go completely, just as Christian's bundle fell away from him in Pilgrim's Progress when he came to the hill Calvary. All of us have things that we are ashamed of, which Jesus will take completely away if we ask him to. It's never too late to spring-clean our lives and enjoy a life remade by him, lit by the sunshine of his love.

(Back to Issues)

June 2009

I'm always glad we don't have to trim a twelve foot high hedge twice a year, as our neighbours do. We just have shrubs to prune, and that keeps us busy enough, though I enjoy it. The aim, of course, is to take out dead wood, reduce weak growth and keep a shapely bush that will please the eye with its abundant flowers next spring.

John's gospel speaks of God as a gardener, this time pruning a vine so that it will produce good, healthy grapes. Jesus calls himself the Father's vine, and says his disciples are the vine's branches. Those that don't bear fruit are pruned away, to encourage the good, fruitful branches to develop. Discarded branches have no life of their own and, once cut off, they shrivel and wither, whereas those that are left attached to the main plant draw strength and vigour and flourish.

So what fruit should develop in our lives? Are we gentle, patient, full of self-control, joy and peace? These are the fruits produced by Jesus the vine, and they need space to grow. If, for example, we are miserable, irritable, always ready to pick a quarrel, those characteristics will have to be taken away, "pruned," so that life and vigour can nourish the other qualities.

We must stay close to Jesus, in our thoughts and prayers, and in the way we live. Then from him we will receive strength to honour him by the fruit shown in our daily lives.

(Back to Issues)

May 2009

May is a month of blossom, scents and the dawn chorus, but with today's relentless pace of life it is hard to create space to experience them.

A friend who is a busy farmer's wife told me that during the Easter break, she and her husband spent time one afternoon walking round their fields, listening to the birdsong and appreciating the arrival of spring, and she felt much better for it.

Of course, I don't suppose people have had access to so much knowledge about our world as we have today, in books, on the T.V. or the internet. For example, I recently watched a programme about cuckoos, full of fresh facts about these summer visitors. It showed observations by people, some of them regarded as cranks, who had studied the birds down the years, discovering that the female, who trills instead of making the familiar "cuckoo" call of her mate, always produces eggs that resemble those in the host bird's nest. When the cuckoo chick hatches out it pushes any other eggs out of the nest, and then appeals for food in a call that is four times as urgent as normal. The foster parents instinctively bring enough food for a large brood, working frantically to feed their monster fledgling!

Fascinating facts, and we should be grateful for them, but when we are able to experience things first-hand in fields, woods or garden, knowledge and experience together feed our spirits and greatly enrich our lives.

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April 2009

When Christians are marking Maundy Thursday, Jews are celebrating Passover. This is partly a religious occasion and partly a family feast, and its purpose is to pass on to the next generation the story of the deliverance of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt in around 1300 B.C. Bitter herbs dipped in salt water remind them of their sufferings in Egypt, and unleavened bread reminds them that they had no time to allow the bread to rise before they made their escape from Pharaoh. Because they daubed blood from the animal sacrifice round their doorways, the angel of death passed over their households, killing firstborn everywhere else.

During the Roman occupation of Israel, Jesus gathered his friends together to celebrate Passover. After supper, he solemnly gave them bread and wine, using those as signs of his forthcoming sacrifice. He must have had a pretty clear idea of the horrors that faced him in Jerusalem, where he had chosen to go. He knew he was doing his Father's will by confronting his enemies, and the Passover meal they had just eaten reminded him of freedom gained for the Hebrews long ago. His giving of himself on the cross would secure another Passover for all mankind, freedom from the slavery of sin and guilt, and at the last supper shared with his friends he gave them a simple way of thinking of it, sharing bread and wine.

We celebrate our Passover and the freedom Jesus gained for us as we take the bread and wine in remembrance of him. Wishing you a very happy Easter.

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March 2009

Like other denominations, the British Methodist Church noted a decline in membership in the last two decades, and the average age of Methodists is unusually high. This pattern is not repeated world-wide. There are Methodist churches, or churches with a Methodist component, in more than eighty countries, and between them they have more than seventy million members. Overseas mission has been important since the movement began, and its emphasis on community, and Christian attitudes within the community, is a lively part of this world-wide growth.

In Britain, Methodism has benefited from this expansion overseas where members from abroad have brought about vibrant patterns of worship, and their congregations thrive. A quarter of British Methodist churches report growth. Some expand their premises, or plan new sites on estates, both very encouraging. Moreover, chapels are found in villages or areas where there are no other places of worship.

But membership is declining, so there is talk in Methodism of change. If there is a problem, reorganise! Amalgamation of some circuits into larger units might help, some think. Closing the smallest churches might concentrate resources, enabling congregations to be creative and successful in worship and community service. It might ease the workload of the minister in charge of several churches. Closer working with other denominations is also desirable, and is already taking place in many areas, though the much-celebrated Covenant signed in 2003 between the Anglican and Methodist churches is slow to bear fruit.

Methodists are being asked to consider such re-organisation, though whether it will happen is not yet decided.

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February 2009

All our family attended state schools and felt well prepared for life after formal education. These days there is much debate in the media about faith schools, their funding,, religious curriculum and admission procedures.

Some will only take children whose parents profess the faith of the school, some insist on parents attending worship for at least a limited period before the child is considered, and so on. There is argument about an advertisement for staff in, say, a Christian school, stipulating that the applicants should be Christian themselves, in case of prejudice.

Recently I read what some atheists said to justify the fact that they sent their children to faith schools. Some felt that the quality of the education is better, maybe because classes are smaller but often because the attitude of the school towards caring for others and sharing with them is very important. One had attended Sunday worship as required and had actually felt a lift from taking part in an activity shared by many people, pondering on a better life for themselves and the community. Surprise, surprise! Yet none seemed to realise that the thoughts and beliefs of people moulded their attitudes towards others, whether they were teachers in faith schools or other members of the community.

February 8th is Education Sunday. Think specially of all our local schools, and pray for all young people, teachers, governors and ancillary workers as young lives are moulded and influenced there.

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December 2008

Imagine one of those blue plaques on the wall of a building saying: "Born here in the reign of Herod the Great, Jesus, Son of God, Saviour of the world."

This would not have been found on the wall of a temple, a palace or even the home of a hard-working carpenter. Instead, an inn full to overflowing with families who had come to Bethlehem to register for the census as commanded by Caesar Augustus. Men would have been settling donkeys, handcarts or other forms of transport in the nearby stable, while their wives were finding room for bags and baggage in the communal space inside, looking after arthritic grandparents and crying babies. All of them temporarily away from home, on the move.

The proprietors were frantically busy, squeezing in as many people as possible, providing food and drink, keeping the peace between irritable, tired neighbours. And now a young couple, the wife near the time for her child to be born. Why on earth did they start out with her in that condition? Definitely there was no corner to find for a birth, away from prying eyes.

What was that? God? Yes, of course. Everyone knew the prophecy. "The Almighty God, the Messiah, the Prince of peace?"

Coming when they could hardly hear themselves speak? Emmanuel, "God with us", in their ordinary little inn? It wasn't the time or place for such a thing. You expected dignity, reverence, respect when God appeared to his people. Not this place of change, confusion, chaos, of conflicting needs and demands.

But this was the place chosen and blessed by God. And he still comes today. Happy Christmas.

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November 2008

There are plenty of people about at present who pour scorn on beliefs and belittle them, so it came as a pleasant surprise to read words in the daily paper, written by someone who is not a Christian and who made no attempt to "convert" his readers, saying that there is no such thing astheism.

He wrote about everyday life with all its problems, about the "rat-race" and the feelings of frustration that assail ordinary people. He claimed that there is no such thing as not worshipping, but we all have the choice of what to worship, advising not power, money, good looks or intellect, all of which will fail in the end, but instead the spiritual. That kind of worship leads us to caring for others, and self sacrifice, discipline and freedom.

We do have the choice of who or what we worship. It is easy to slip into giving priority to other things, but we can exert a conscious choice and allow that choice to mould the way we think or act. Then we see the world in a different light, less bitter or angry or resentful than is the way many around us experience it. Even we ourselves may share this at times.

We are privileged with freedom of choice about the way we look at life. We can worship a God who loves us and has shown us what he is like by coming to live among us, and that transforms our whole attitude to life.

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October 2008

We sometimes sing:
"Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day."

Completely forgotten?

Five thousand years ago, on a baking hot summer's day, a group of men and women were hunting red deer and roe deer, using a wolf-like dog, while a crowd of small children splashed beside them in the muddy shallows, and oyster- catchers flocked in the wetlands near the place we now call Southport. When they had made their catch, the hot sun dried out their footprints in the mud, and sand blew gently to fill them. Today, other prints appear briefly, to be washed away by the sea, but if tide and weather are right those fossilised prints of hunters remain , seen clearly by anyone who happens to be nearby.

We aren't likely to leave fossilised footprints to tell of our lives, but we leave others. We hear of carbon ones, of course, but add to them words and thoughts, plans that may influence coming generations, standards of behaviour that we maintain, contributions we perhaps make to the community, attempts to spread peace and justice in an unfair world.

Just as the Neolithic hunter-gatherers left their marks for us to marvel at, so we too leave marks, perhaps seldom seen but real. We pass from sight at the end of our human life and eventually most of us are forgotten by the human race.

But the footprints we leave can often be traced, and we are never, ever forgotten by God, our heavenly Father.

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September 2008

The rising prices of the weekly food bill this year have affected all of us, and for people on a small budget they pose real problems. Even more acute are conditions in countries where basic food---flour, rice etc.---has not merely increased in price, nor even doubled, but gone up by 600%. The situation here is indeed disastrous, and hunger is rife.

There are other hungers that afflict the human race. In intellectual hunger, people long for knowledge and under-standing. In emotional hunger they long for love and acceptance. In spiritual hunger, all their occupations and experiences are empty, unsatisfying. Sometimes as we pray for our community and the world we are disturbingly aware of this hunger around us, perhaps even within our own hearts.

In the book of Isaiah we are urged to come close to God and be filled with the nourishment of milk and honey, bread and wine that he pours out on our souls, asking for no payment. And in John's gospel we read that Jesus called himself the Bread of Life, so that all we need to do to satisfy our spiritual hunger is to feed on him.

This is the month of Harvest Festivals when we do well to give thanks for all God's gifts to his children, to pray for those who are hungry physically or spiritually, and to hold out our hands to be filled with spiritual bread afresh. And as we have received, so should we give.

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July/August 2008

Another teenager stabbed or shot in one of our cities always shocks and appals us - such a waste of young life and its potential, often with no clear motive behind it. There life is valued so cheaply.

Not only is that life wasted but so is the life of the one who killed, who will probably lose his liberty for several years while at the height of his powers. A double tragedy.

Equally sad is the low value put on their own lives by some of the killers. One said recently: "I'm tired of life and just wanted to kill." Tired of life in his twenties!

There have always been gangs of young people, always some who feel despair. There have always been poverty, deprivation and neglect. It is nothing new, after all.

As a nation, we try to protect children as they grow and educate them adequately, yet still there are youngsters who have no sense of fulfilment, no happiness, no respect for law and order.

It is not enough for us to feel shocked, or to despair or condemn. As servants of Jesus, we must remember that he welcomed children and grieved over the rich young man who chose the wrong path to happiness. He said he came to give abundant life, real quality life, so we must pray for the young and those who influence them, regularly and earnestly. Prayer gives God a channel through which he works in our world. And we must try to give love and stability to any we know.

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June 2008

An early Easter means an early Whitsun, which this year coincided with an early English heatwave. What a transformation this brought to the gardens and countryside, which had shown little sign of spring, just drab, reluctant growth except for the dependable daffodils and primulas.

As I write, hawthorn bushes are covered in blossom, trees are in delicate green leaf, bluebells and cowslips are putting on a tremendous show and lilacs have never been better.

When things came together at the right time about two thousand years ago, when the disciples of Jesus were obediently waiting though not knowing what to expect, when Jerusalem was full of visitors who would take news of events back to their homes all over the known world, and when God chose the moment, something happened in that city that we still celebrate at Whitsun today: the power of God was given to people, and transformed them. No longer were they afraid and aimless, but fearless, bold to speak and joyful as they did the work of Jesus wherever they lived. Pentecost saw the blossoming of the early church. Such transformation of ordinary people didn't happen just once, in the past. Where God's spirit is given today, people and communities are transformed and flourish, though not always as spectacularly as at that Jewish festival in Jerusalem. If we want to share that transformation we have to wait with open hearts and minds for the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our lives.

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May 2008

Just now, everybody talks about reducing our carbon footprint , and we all know what it means. Because of the threat to the world of global warming we are urged to reduce our consumption of resources, use less water and electricity, recycle waste, stop throwing food away, and so on.

Real attempts are being made by many, and children are taught to respect their environment.

Some of the advice given seems a bit wild, but it has never been good to waste the earth's resources or the product of people's work, less than ever in our present situation, with deserts increasing, areas of starvation growing and freak weather patterns threatening us all.

I agree that all of us should play our part in these measures. I would also like to add that we should not only reduce our carbon footprint but also increase our care footprint. It is very important to be prepared to care much more.

Don't get me wrong. Many people care a great deal, both for the future of the world that is our home and for the people who inhabit it. Many of them are quite militant and make their views known. But many of us hold back from caring that costs, not just money but time, sympathy and energy.

There are people who are lonely and need us to phone or visit, young people who need encouragement, anxious people who need to talk, organisations that need volunteers, charities that need donations and so on.

We are the body of Jesus, doing his work in this world. Think how he cared for people. He is our example.

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April 2008

Some people find the stories of Easter Sunday hard to believe, despite the arguments that attempt to justify them. Yet a few weeks ago, I heard on the radio that a random sample of three thousand people had shown fifty-five percent believing that Jesus is alive, believing in some kind of resurrection. These were not particularly Christians, or people of any particular beliefs. Let's think about faith for a few moments.

Faith and reason are often considered to be in opposition, but this isn't true. We are expected to use our minds to think things out, as far as we can, and when reason has taken us as far as we can go, then we step on in faith. Our experience gives us good cause for faith, as we know the people or things we can trust, and build on them. What is more, our faith is a spur to action. Believing, we make the unreasonable happen. The Bible says we could move mountains into the depths of the sea, a wonderful picture.

I don't think my faith is great enough for that, but I do think my faith can help me to level the mountains of the misfortunes that come my way in life, till I can tackle them. I do think the times when life's hopes seem to end, can be turned by faith into new life, new vigour. I do think that weakness and frailty can be used to serve others with faith.

And faith helps us to accept that there are mysteries in creation that we do not understand and probably never will. The gospels tell us that our creator is not dead, but is very much alive and with us every day. Because of that we can face our future with confidence and serenity.

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March 2008

Here we are, well into a very early Lent, with time to consider the choices and challenges that confronted Jesus as he journeyed to the cross, and also our own chosen life-style. It was once a lean time, when much of the food stored for winter had been eaten, a very suitable time for fasting. Today we eat plenty of whatever we like from all over the world. Times have changed.

But there is one event in the church calendar that reminds us of the world-wide Christian church. On the first Friday in March, women across the denominations meet to celebrate the Women's World Day of Prayer.

I regret that I will be away this year on that day. It is one of the dates that has meant a lot to me for forty or fifty years, and I remember one year in particular when Rolleston's celebration was attended by people from five different denominations, who came from Rolleston, Anslow or this side of Burton. Such ecumenical unity led to a great feeling of fellowship.

But though absent, I will think of the congregation gathering to sing and pray together and to learn a little about Guyana, whose Christian women have compiled this year's service. There will be a speaker, and several members of the congregation will take part. With women across the world they will join in the final hymn:

As o'er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

You are invited to join them.

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February 2008

"Wait twelve to fifteen weeks for the next signs of development." It seemed a very long time to me as I followed the instructions that came with two Christmas presents. There were packs from different people, one with crocus bulbs and one with irises, with pretty pots to put them into, and I had happily settled them into their compost as directed. Now, I must put them in a dark, cool place for twelve to fifteen weeks before bringing them out into light and warmth, to encourage growth and flowering. The packet explained that the time lag is essential for roots to grow and flower buds to form. Wonderful!

Sometimes we ask God for things to happen to ourselves or other people, and there is no immediate result. Perhaps he hasn't heard, or has he said "No?" Maybe we have in our minds a God who acts rather like a fairy godmother, waves a magic wand and all is changed, as we requested. Of course, sometimes he does say "No." But sometimes we just have to wait until the time is right, the roots and flowers have grown and developed, as I do with my bulbs. when all is ready in God's plan, the request may be seen to be granted.

When we pray, we need faith as we make our request, and then patience to wait until the gift comes.

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December 2007

A young, unmarried girl who had just learned of her pregnancy but had no idea where her child would be born, or what his life might hold, could well not be filled with happiness. But Mary went straight to her cousin Elizabeth to pour out the joy which was filling her mind and soul. She couldn't keep quiet about God's greatness, and the favour that he had shown to her, a peasant girl, in a way that generations ahead would always remember.

Her song praised God for his great works of might and justice throughout time. As he promised, he had showed mercy to those who feared him, and helped the poor and oppressed rather than the rich and successful.

It is a song often used in church, one that has been set to music by numerous composers over the years. Its joyful praise of God carries us along, uplifting out hearts as we sing. It is good to join Mary in praise of God's work in our own lives for we are all special to him, loved by him. And we must never neglect to praise him for the acts of love and deliverance written in the Bible or told by many people. Mary overflowed into song because she knew that God had chosen her to give a human body to his Son. Jesus brings us hope that God will rescue us from the darkness of human failing, making our heart sing too.

Best wishes for a joyful Christmas to you all, and happy singing in the festive season! 

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November 2007

I noticed his name in the obituary column of the daily paper. There had been a car crash while he was on holiday abroad, and he had not survived.

He was a brilliant man, one of the best-known of his generation, and he devoted his genius to research into the relatively rare disease I suffer from, Myasthenia Gravis. He pioneered some forms of life-saving treatment, and led a team in Oxford which researches the understanding and treatment of Myasthenia and similar illnesses.

He became known world-wide and was given many appointments, too many to list here. One of his gifts was the ability to communicate complicated facts to students and ordinary people alike. I remember being in a meeting where he made such information crystal clear to folk like me. He also passed on his enthusiasm for his subject, the excitement of knowing how our bodies work.

A genius of great standing, lost in a moment's accident. Yet the article I read, and others since, have stressed not just his work, but the man himself: delightful, outgoing, generous and always youthful. He loved music, was a good cook, and was modest about his past experience as a pilot in the RAF. His sense of humour was lively, and the happiness of his family life, with his wife and married children and grandchildren, was mentioned as warmly as his devotion to the subject that was his great talent.

What counts most in our lives? Our achievements, great or small? Or the people we are? How does God see us when we come before him at last? 

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October 2007

There is a short column in our Saturday's paper with the heading: "Are you happy?". A wide variety of people have contributed to it, some saying "Yes," many not nearly so certain about it. Some who say "No" have unhappy relationships, boring jobs, not enough money or time with their family. Those who say "Yes" don't just say "Happiness is a warm puppy," or something similar, but feel fulfilment at work, have a stable family life, have been able to take opportunities in life and find pleasure in many things, or treasure memories of the past.

One impressed me very much. She is a musician, a solo harpist, who says that for her happiness is a spiritual thing. She doesn't get it from shopping, or eating things she specially likes. It depends on her relationship with God. She said: "I feel unhappy if I'm not speaking to or hearing from him. It's like a marriage. If you don't communicate, it falls apart. I believe the reason people get unhappy is because they break that connection with God."

Of course, there are times when sorrow comes to us, disappointment overwhelms us, or the way ahead seems dark. But if we maintain our connection with God, share it all with him because we know he cares about us, then we have the happiness of knowing that he is ours and we are his, and nothing can break that bond.

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September 2007

Now that we have sadly said farewell to Mick Dilley, who has moved to Kirkby in Ashfield to continue his ministry there, we will have more Local Preachers on our preaching plan than we did before, since he is not being replaced at present. He took perhaps ten appointments each quarter, and sometimes we will have other ministers from the group of Methodist churches known as the Circuit. So, forward the Local Preachers!

They are in many ways similar to Lay Readers. When I first qualified, fifty years ago, I had spent some time helped by a more experienced preacher, taking services and being offered advice. I had also taken written exams after courses of study in four subjects: Old Testament, New Testament, Christian Doctrine and Worship and Preaching. When I had passed these, there was a Trial Service and an oral exam in front of all the Circuit's preachers, quite an ordeal. Then I became Fully Accredited and remain on the list for life. I take services locally and could go to other Circuits if I had time.

Today, people who are starting to train receive a Note to Preach from the Circuit and spend time helping someone else. If all goes well, they are put On Trial, and begin a rigorous course of study. Today, modern methods are used, with projects and a portfolio as well as a great deal of reading and discussion. If they stay the course and convince the circuit that they have a calling, they are well equipped to proclaim the gospel from the pulpit. 

We will miss Mick sorely, but we will be well served by the Local Preachers in our Sunday services.

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July/August 2007

Newspapers everywhere have been publishing photographs of four-year old Madeleine McCann, hoping to stir somebody's memory as the search for her continues. She personifies the innocence and vulnerability of all abducted children. (The average annual number who go missing in Scotland alone is around 275.)

Innocent, helpless but active is nine-year-old Saul Arellano, born in America to an illegal immigrant. She hopes to make a life in safety for her son, but is threatened with deportation. Saul emerges from the Chicago church which shelters them to plead quietly with influential groups: "Don't deport my mother." He represents a section of the world's children caught up in dealing with governments.

The media came closer home to publicise the plight of yet another group: children whose lives are limited by the duties of care they shoulder for parents with physical disabilities or addiction to drugs or alcohol. Before and after school they are needed at home, and often deprived of leisure activities most of their age-group share.

Most of our children don't fall into these categories, but a salutary warning came recently that we don't give them the same freedom to develop fully as previous generations have done, because we tend to over-protect them from imagined dangers. They need time to explore and find out for themselves.

During the coming school holidays, may our community's children find fun and relaxation, as well as happiness and happy relationships. 

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June 2007

There I was, one Monday in April, with a list of names, a sheet of instructions, a form for signatures, a box of keys and a frantic feeling.

The recent building work at the Methodist church included altering doors to comply with fire prevention regulations, and therefore putting in new locks. Everybody's old keys became useless, and without new ones nobody would be able to get into the building at all. The result was that keys had to be issued to all the groups who use the building regularly and to many members who need easy access.

Often we regret that churches can no longer be left open all the time because of vandalism and theft. Doors have to be locked to keep some people out. But keys open doors as well as close them, and churches are unlocked to let people come in. Maybe they come for community use, which is good. Maybe the unlocked door lets them in for personal prayer, or for a united act of worship. Maybe that key opens up to them a greater understanding of life, a greater awareness of God, a greater response to him. Maybe it opens up the kingdom of heaven to them.

That April day I was delivering small pieces of ordinary metal with great spiritual potential. Quite a responsibility!

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May 2007

"Don't delay, do it today!"

1. Tidy the house, or do some decorating.
2. Pull up those weeds in the front garden.
3. Mow the lawn.
4. Sit down with a cup of coffee and a holiday brochure to dream.
5. Plan (and carry out) some exercise.
6. Negotiate yourself a bit of leisure, to spend on a hobby.
7. Send in your income tax return.
8. Pay your overdue bills.
9. Pass the time of day with someone you meet.
10. Catch up with the news on T.V. or in the paper
11. Write the letter you owe.
12. Phone the friend who is going through a bad patch.
13. Spare some money, or some time, for a charity.
14. Make a list of things you ought to do, and throw away the last one that's still on the sideboard.
15. Read a chapter of the Bible.
16. Have a conversation with God, listening as well as talking.

O.K., I know you can't do all that unless the day is stretched out to be much longer. but try doing the list from the bottom up. That might help.

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April 2007

While John and Charles Wesley were alive, before Methodism had been expelled from the Anglican church, the movement grew and flourished and, as often happens, differences of opinion led to splinter groups who wanted to pursue their own way of worship or use the laity more. The biggest of these was the Primitive Methodist group, which began with a meeting at a fair held at nearby Mow Cop in 1807.

A carpenter called Hugh Bourne, together with William Clowes, tried to reach people who would not usually be in a church, particularly a fashionable one, by preaching at this open-air event. It attracted a good number of working-class people and many more such meetings took place. The main Wesleyan Connexion did not welcome this, although between 1808 and 1810 Hugh Bourne and his brother directed new converts into the Wesleyans.

Anybody was eligible to hold office, and many women became "regular preachers", and eventually the Primitive Methodist Church came into being in 1810. Their first circuit in Burton began ten years later. So this year Methodism celebrates the 200th.anniversary of this foundation.

The third special anniversary this year is for a mere seventy-five years. In 1932 the separate branches of Methodism came together once more as United Methodists. A few churches chose not to join in this amalgamation, and many more kept pride in the traditions of the past. Traces of origin can often be found in the buildings like the inscription over the front door of the Rolleston chapel. But past rifts were healed and Methodism spoke with one voice again.

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March 2007

Methodists are celebrating three special anniversaries this year, and the first of these is the birth of Charles Wesley three hundred years ago, in 1707. He was four years younger than his brother John, and together the two were responsible for the movement within the Church of England that later became Methodism. Sons of a vicar, both went to Oxford University, where Charles and two friends started a society nicknamed the Holy Club or Methodists because of its members' methodical lifestyle.

After graduating, both brothers were ordained and began ministry within the Anglican church, whose worship at the time was formal and somewhat impersonal. Both the Wesleys preached more lively sermons, which were not always welcomed in the church. Neither felt really satisfied with their faith until both had religious experiences described as “warming of the heart," and they began to travel around the country preaching and urging ordinary people to a closer relationship with God, and to a better way of life.

Charles was less given to emotional preaching than John was, but he too was excluded from some Anglican pulpits. He worked in Cornwall and Wales, and looked after many condemned criminals. He was less ambitious than John, simpler and gentler, but devoted to his brother. Unlike John, he had a happy marriage with musically talented children, and is best known as a hymn writer. It is estimated that he wrote more than six thousand hymns or devotional poems, many of which are used throughout the denominations. They include "Hark! the herald angels sing," "Love divine, all loves excelling" and "Jesus Christ is risen today." We give thanks for such a talented man.

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February 2007

"Well, if the conversation has to be charitable, there won't be much of it!". So said Norah Batty in the Christmas edition of The Last Of The Summer Wine. That made me think.

One meaning of the word charitable is giving to good causes. Some people have very active consciences, realising how rich we are compared with many in this world, and they dig deep in their pockets in response to the many appeals we receive for the less fortunate. For them, charity rules O.K. Sadly, some still begrudge sharing their good fortune.

What about charity in our thoughts? Some people make irresponsible and selfish decisions, and it is hard to think charitably about them. Nevertheless, we should try to tolerate and understand people who have different ideas from our own, rather than condemning them. In the media we see reactions, often hysterical ones, to customs or cultures new to us in the world we now find on our doorstep.

And now for conversation! The newspapers and T.V. are full of uncharitable, even malicious, comment, and I imagine we have all joined in the chat that criticises or makes fun of someone else, finding it clever or good for a laugh. But that shows no charity. Conversation can be lively, interesting, amusing and charitable at the same time. Perhaps that should be a rather late resolution this year?

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December 2006

I usually make our Christmas puddings early, well in advance of the Sunday before Advent begins. This is nicknamed "Stir-up Sunday," because the opening words of the collect for the day are: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people," and besides their spiritual meaning they also carried a message to the housewife to obtain her ingredients and start cooking!

There are so many ingredients to Christmas: the doors to open daily on the Advent calendar; cards to prepare, maybe with letters included, reminding us of people past and present who enrich our lives; shopping for presents which need to be chosen, wrapped and maybe posted; working out who is visiting who, and when. There is food to be made,bought, stored away; decorations; lights; the lovely tree; plays to watch, with small children looking angelic; carols to sing. And we need time, to stir all ingredients, to organise the perfect day, the perfect celebration, the memorable celebration. It never seems long enough.

But if all goes well, there comes that moment when the world is hushed, creation is still, a light shines in a stable, a star hangs overhead, the door of our heart stands open, and God is at the centre as love is born. Wishing you a very happy Christmas. 

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November 2006

One of the happiest tasks for new parents is choosing a name for the baby. Should they use names of parents or grandparents, or go trendy and modern? Will it be hard for the child to spell, aged five? Does it have a pleasant meaning? Is it likely to describe the child's character well? Do the initials make a silly nick-name? and so on.

In the Bible, names were connected with personality, and sometimes were changed part-way through life to reflect this, as was the case of Simon, renamed Peter. The two boys whose births are described at the beginning of Luke's gospel had names that reflected their calling: John, the gift of God to both Elisabeth and the Jewish nation, and Jesus, like Joshua, one who saves.

I wonder if you are content with your name? Would you like to change it? Do you think it suits you? Are you proud of it?

In many stories in the Old Testament, God spoke to people directly, using their name. Moses heard God's voice naming him as he gazed at the burning bush. The boy Samuel thought the priest was calling his name, but it was God. Jeremiah the prophet, too, heard himself named, and others.

This very personal conversation with people is continued right into New Testament teaching, where we are told that the Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name, calls them and leads them.

Your name, your character, are known to God. Don't miss his loving call to you, personally.

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October 2006

We watched a youth drama group performing "Dracula Spectacular" with gusto. Count Dracula was a menacing figure: jet-black hair, white face, long black cloak, commanding voice, evil manner.

We knew him in another guise, as an auburn-haired, freckled 16 year old, tall, affectionate, peaceable, kind-hearted, but for the performance he appeared entirely different.

Of course, that was a deliberate disguise, but it reminded me once again that we can't judge by outward appearance, and often it is not pretence but a genuine difference that misleads us. Not all criminals look evil and threatening, not all possible friends are attractive and pleasant at first sight. It's important to look beneath the surface of, for example, the many "celebrities" in our society.

Do you remember what happened when David was anointed king? All Jesse's sons were called before God's prophet, Samuel, and a fine, upstanding lot of young men they were, but the prophet didn't feel God's choice fall on any of them. 

Finally, David was called in from shepherding his father's sheep, and God said: "That's the one!" God looked on David's heart, his potential, in spite of his human failings. God looks at the human heart, not the appearance or attainment of the person. He looks beyond the front that person presents, and we are wise to do the same in all our relationships.

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September 2006

At the end of July the two churches in Rolleston got together to run a holiday club, "Seaside Rock," for primary school children in the village. We were joined by James from the Riverside Church, and a team of about fifteen of us planned and prepared ourselves over several weeks to occupy thirty-two children for five mornings. There were songs, drama, aerobics, jokes, crafts, games on the field and the essential drinks and biscuits. Bible stories formed part of the programme, told by the disciple Peter, who said how important it is to build our lives on solid foundations, like the man who built his house on rock, not sand.

The children seemed to enjoy it immensely, as did the parents on the Thursday evening, and they asked for more next year!

Not one of us could have done that on our own. Its success depended on contributing our own abilities and strengths, planning and preparation, and being willing to join in with others who had similar aims. We wanted to give the children a good time and to share with them some of our own beliefs. We worked together and helped each other out, accepted the work of the co-ordinator, who kept us on the right track. And though we willingly gave all we personally could, we also received a lot ourselves, not least the satisfaction of working with like-minded people. 

Many parts of life depend on this sort of teamwork. Community activities of all kinds--- clubs, sports teams, societies, choirs, orchestras and so on --- all depend on willing participation of the members, self-giving and the acceptance of a leader, a conductor, a co-ordinator.

Above all, in our churches we commit ourselves to working with like-minded people under the leadership of God, to tell others about our faith and to bring his kingdom in the place where we live, among people we meet daily.

We can do so much more together than we can do on our own, as the "Seaside Rock" helpers found, to their delight. The breath of sea air did us all good!

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July/August 2006

I expect you have noticed the growing number of plump people around today, including children, who run the risk of all kinds of illnesses later in life, we are told. So we are bombarded with advice about healthy living, exercise and diet. What we eat is very important.

It's just as important to be careful what we fill our minds with, if we are to remain healthy. I can't believe that a diet of violent films and video games has no effect on a child's mind (though I must admit that Tom and Jerry don't seem to lead young people into violent behaviour. Perhaps they are simply too removed from reality to be taken seriously!) Equally damaging can be the absence of good role models, a slapdash approach to work, a tit-for-tat approach. 

Sometimes children are encouraged to put themselves in the centre of their thoughts. Recently, I saw a small boy making life miserable for his parents and grandparents by having the final word on every decision. Eventually he said: "It's MY holiday!" I hate to think what sort of adult he will grow into with that attitude of mind.

For our own health as grown people we, too, need to be careful of our mental diet. Of course we mustn't ignore the world's dark side, but we can set aside gossip, grudges, suspicion, thoughts of revenge, and promote peace. We can enjoy books, music or TV of a good standard without accepting rubbish. The world is full of marvellous things for our delight.

Do you remember St. Paul's words? "Whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely and gracious, think about these things."

And have a lovely summer!

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June 2006

What an array of things is to be found in the Bargain Basement of the Burton Mail! "Swimming pool, never used;" "Wedding dress, worn once;" "Three piece suite, as new;" "Child's swing, v.g.c.;" "Washing machine, refurbished, runs smooth;" "Babydan stroller, needs quick wipe-over." All second-hand bargains, waiting to catch the eye of the reader who would welcome something different to add to their life, perhaps help them as they make a new start.

At this time of year we sample the renewing of the world, with fresh growth that reminds us of God's continuing care for his creation, and our hearts are cheered by the changing seasons, longer, warmer days, flowers and young creatures, crops growing to fruition.

Easter often comes as the daffodils arrive, bringing its message of resurrection life and speaking of the new life Jesus gives to each one of us who believes in him. This new life doesn't depend on the changing seasons. It isn't a second-hand life, merely refurbished, an "as new" life, in very good condition, certainly not needing a quick wipe-over.

It is completely new, as if we were born again. We are given a life as perfect as the new baby who lives next door to us, completely innocent, full of potential. At first the new spark of life is small and needs careful protection, nurturing. But it is God's free gift to us, and brings with it joy and fulfilment.

We must be careful to recognise, value and tend it with care, thanking God for his great gift.

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May 2006

Sometimes events leave us feeling as though our world is shattered. We can't visualise how life will go on, what we should do, how we can summon up enough courage and strength to face the future.

After the events of Easter the disciples must have been in a state of utter confusion. The shock and terror of the crucifixion and the growing certainty that Jesus had conquered death left them in a state of chaos. What on earth should they do now? Their old life was over, and they couldn't go back to it.

Before Jesus left them for the last time he told them that they had a mission, to tell everybody what he had told them about God his Father, and about his life gladly given for love of them. But that seemed too much to expect of them, and they had no confidence in themselves. Besides, they still feared the authorities.

They remembered an instruction Jesus gave them: "Wait in the city until I have given you power from on high." So they retreated to a quiet life centred on the upper room, meeting for fellowship and prayer, doing as they were told: waiting. And when the time was right, God gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit. They knew what to do and had the strength to do it.

The Bible gives us many of the commands of God. If we do as he tells us, he will keep his promises to us, and shower us with his gifts.

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April 2006

The gospels tell us that Jesus went by himself into the hills to pray. Not on this occasion the well-loved pattern of synagogue prayers, nor the fellowship of his close friends, which must have been a bit like a traditional Prayer Meeting.

No, instead time spent on his own enjoying the presence of his heavenly Father, talking to him and listening as well.

There is great depth to prayer and many different aspects of it: telling God how much he means to us, asking for his help with our lives, asking his blessing on other people and so on. And it isn't always a question of bombarding him with words. It is important to take time just to be alone with him.

Methodists are observing 2006 as a year of prayer. During this time there will always be prayer somewhere in the Methodist Connexion, and the churches in or around Burton are taking part from 6 p.m. on Good Friday until 6 a.m. on Easter Day.

You are invited into the Methodist Church in Rolleston between noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday 15th. April. Come for as long as you like, two minutes or two hours! There will not be a service, but you are invited to relax with God and to follow some of the suggested starting-points for prayer.

Perhaps you would like to stop by the list of streets in the village, and pray for people who live there, or make a bead prayer bracelet, or write some of your thoughts down. Or perhaps just sit, and let God speak peace to you.

We hope you will share this exploration of prayer with us.

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March 2006

It's the time of year when people begin to plan a holiday, a change of scene. Now, some of us like change, and some resist it, much preferring familiar things and places, but whether we like it or not, change is built into our lives, and comes to us without being invited.

Jesus faced change in his life, and brought change. After years in the carpenter's workshop he realised that God had other plans for him, too, and he asked his cousin John to baptise him as a token of a new beginning, before giving himself entirely to teaching, healing and walking the road that eventually led to Calvary.

To help him, he asked friends to go along, bringing change to their lives also. The first thing he did with one of the first of these was to change his name from Simon to Peter, a symbol of the changed life-style of the fisherman, used to battling with the elements in order to earn a living but now meeting the needs of the many folk who came to Jesus for help. 

I don't suppose it was easy for those disciples to leave their homes and work to go with this itinerant preacher. I sometimes wonder what Peter's wife and mother-in-law said when the regular supply of fish wasn't there any more, or what the father of James and John said when his sons left him managing the family fishing business on his own. Jesus brought a change of work, a change of thinking, of priorities and of attitudes.

Jesus still brings changes to people even today. We need to listen for his voice telling us what he wants us to do. And although some of us have followed him for many years of our lives, there may still be new paths he would like us to tread, new friends he would like us to make. It isn't likely that we have to leave everything in quite the way his first friends did, but we must be prepared for him to alter us, make us kinder, less selfish, more loving. 

In the weeks before Easter let's try to accept gladly the changes he brings in our lives, as we follow once again his path to the cross.

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February 2006

On February 2nd. some churches will dedicate all the candles they will use in the coming year. It is Candlemas Day, the final celebration of Christmas, when we remember the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

As the law of Moses instructed, Mary and Joseph brought their offering of two turtle doves and carried their infant firstborn son to present him to the Lord. Perhaps in their mind was that night almost six weeks before when his impromptu cradle was a manger, and shepherds from the hills, surprised by an angelic messenger as they worked, had hurried to see the new baby. As for the Wise Men, the Bible isn't clear when they travelled, seeking their King. Maybe they had already come to present their gifts.

Now in the Temple other people recognized who their baby was, people who had spent a lifetime in faithful prayer and worship. Anna apparently never left the Temple, and wise Simeon was moved by the spirit of God to come on that day. Much to the parents' surprise he knew that here was the Messiah, and he spoke words we still use in our worship today. For Mary and Joseph it confirmed what they already really knew about Jesus.

With faithful, patient Simeon, we can say that our eyes have seen God's salvation, and his description of Jesus as a light to lighten the nations matches our picture of him as the Light of the world. His light kindles the flame of all those who believe in him, like many candles in the darkness of our world. 

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December 2005

It's a bitterly cold day in the picture, and the Flemish town is deep in snow. Warmly wrapped against the cold wind, people are making their way from the church towards their homes. Some are breaking the ice in the frozen river and carrying buckets of water to the bank, while several are chopping and gathering firewood. A man heaves a heavy sack, a youth manhandles a large empty jar towards the pub.

Few pay much attention to the three merchants' wagons in the middle distance, still fewer to the small procession of people passing a crowded building where a fire blazes merrily. In the bottom left-hand corner of the picture, almost out of sight, two figures kneel on the snowy threshold of a shack, where we can partially see a man and woman with a tiny child.

The town is too busy with its own daily chores to be aware of the birth of the son of God, and it doesn't really care anyway. Only the travellers from afar see, believe and worship.

It is so easy in our modern world to be just as preoccupied. Life gets busier all the time, they say. Yet whether we notice or not, God comes, and is there, in our lives. He doesn't wait for us to be ready. But if we see, and believe, then we too worship him, and bring him away from the edge of the picture into the centre of our lives.

Happy Christmas!

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November 2005

When I was three, my father made a dolls' house for me for Christmas, and the following year he and my older brother installed lighting in it. I was thrilled to be able to switch on the tiny lights in each room, to shut the front of the house and see the lights shining in the windows, and the small inhabitants cosily getting tea or putting the baby to bed behind the curtains my mother had carefully stitched.

Some of that delight still remains with me. On a dreary night I love to see a street with lighted windows, curtains carefully drawn against the dark, unwelcoming evening. Inside I imagine warm rooms, probably food and friends or family, chat and laughter, music or T.V. to entertain, and it all makes me feel comfortable and cheerful despite the wintry weather.

Our homes become even more important to us as the days grow shorter. They don't have to be grand places, just the spot where we have the things we value, where we can do as we like and truly be ourselves. They are the places we long to come back to when life take us far away.

At the end of this month comes Advent Sunday, reminding us that the Son of God willingly left his home in heaven to live a human life, so that he might take us back with him to be at home with God for ever. During Advent we try to make our hearts fit places for him to live in, so that we can say: "Welcome, Lord Jesus!" when we celebrate his coming at Christmas.

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October 2005

During June, the Methodist churches in Burton considered a booklet called "Presence," which deals with some of the problems and potential of the Christian church in the countryside today. Its emphasis is ecumenical, not denominational, and we thought about the part the congregation could play in the community, representing as it does the presence of God among his people.

It was suggested that we have a priestly part to play, bringing to God prayers for the people and things that concern them. We know the needs of individuals and understand the issues that matter to them, and decisions that will affect their quality of life. It is our privilege to speak to God on behalf of the school, the Luncheon Club, the Parish Council, and all who live in Rolleston.

We also have a prophetic part to play. Prophets of old gave God's word to his people, making plain the wrongs and injustices that were not what he wants in his world. Part of our function today is to have an opinion on issues of importance. We don't have to be negative about everything, or fail to listen to other voices, but in an increasingly secular world we should be prepared to speak out for justice and truth.

Thirdly, we are an evangelising presence in the community. Our worship should reflect our own awe and wonder, and our joy, hoping to attract others into it to share our way of life, and to try to bring them to a meeting with Jesus.

Quite a task, all of this, but we have God's presence with us as we tackle it together.

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September 2005

At the beginning of the war, my family moved from the east end of London into Essex, for safety. For me, it was a different world. There was no schooling, so mornings were spent learning to ride my bike in the big garden, or harvesting lavender to go among our clothes. In the afternoons, I scrambled through the hedge at the bottom of the garden to the village common, edged with bramble bushes. My mother and I carried many baskets of blackberries back to the house to be cooked, bottled or turned into jelly, then stored in the dark larder which was lined with shelf upon shelf of jams and pickles for the coming winter, a place that spoke comfort and security.

Sometimes we went by bus to the nearest small town to buy rainbow wool for my first efforts at knitting. There, I had a marvellous time wading through deep piles of leaves in the Square, delighting in crunching them beneath my feet. Once I got used to them, the branches of the apple tree tapping my bedroom window at night, and the hooting of the hunting owl, ceased to be frightening. I felt it could all go on for ever. 

Perhaps I was specially aware of all these things because they were new to me, but I know that the brightness of that autumn, speaking as it did to all my senses, has left a lasting mark upon me. September never fails to fill my heart with joy and gladness, and cause me to sing and praise your God and mine.

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July/August 2005

Sometimes I watch the Antiques Roadshow. I like to see people bringing possessions they treasure from their living rooms, or items that they dislike and store in the attic. Of course, they hope to hear something interesting about them, not least that they are very valuable!

Recently a miniature book appeared, the smallest that the expert had ever seen, perhaps the size of a postage stamp. The workmanship was exquisite, and with a very strong magnifying glass it was possible to decipher the words of the Lord’s Prayer inside. It was worth a lot of money. 

Another man brought a gift set of toy cars, each still carefully boxed. When the expert said how carefully he must have played with them as a child, he said he had never actually PLAYED with them. He was told that this is the way to increase the worth of toys: keep them unused and in perfect condition.

What strange ways we have of valuing things. Beautiful though it was, nobody could read that tiny book. As for the toys, never played with, they hardly gave the child the pleasure that the donor intended.

We have been given so many things that enrich our faith, but a shabby well read Bible is surely worth far more than that little volume. And the chance to share conversations, ideas, and experience is there to be explored, not marked in a box marked “Christian Fellowship” because it is so precious.

We can’t put money value on our greatest treasures: love, happiness, closeness to God and each other. Let’s use them to the full.

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June 2005

At the spring meeting of the district Methodist synod, four people spoke about their Christian faith, how they had heard God calling them to serve him as full-time ministers in his church, and how they had responded to that call. All of them are just completing the practical part of their training, finishing the studies they began in college while having responsibility in a ministerial post in this part of the country.

They will join others from all over the country to be ordained at the end of the annual Methodist Conference in June, in the Exeter area. With hard study behind him and full ministry before him, our minister Mick Dilley will be there, with his own family and many of his church family to support him.

Each of the four had different stories to tell, each was inspiring. All came from different backgrounds, with special gifts to offer. All had heard God's voice and known that he had work for them to do.

It was good to know that even in this secular age, God calls people to continue his work, and good to know that, despite all the personal sacrifice this may entail, people are willing to equip themselves for the task and follow where they are called to go.

Give thanks for our ministers, God's pastors and voices for his word, and pray that for all of them it may happen, as one of the four said, that "the CALL of God becomes the GIFT of God."

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May 2005

Are you fed up with the word "manifesto"? This is not a party political article!

But Jesus, too, had a manifesto, one endorsed by his followers down the ages, including us. When he first became known in Galilee, he went back to his home town of Nazareth, where everybody must have heard of the local lad making a name for himself further afield. They flocked to the synagogue on the Sabbath, agog to see him.

He was invited to read the lesson, well-known words from Isaiah about good news for the poor, release for prisoners, sight for the blind, freedom for broken victims and the favour of the Lord. Finally, he said those words were fulfilled that day. It was a proclamation of his mission, a manifesto.

We know he did preach news of God's love to the poor and give sight to the blind, though I don't remember him opening prison doors and letting exultant prisoners out! His meaning was much wider. He was no warrior-king but the Servant of God, enlightening those who were blind to God's goodness, giving them a different view of life. He released those imprisoned by sickness, sin, poverty or oppression into a new relationship with God.

He was concerned with the well-being of all who came to him, whether that was physical, mental or spiritual, and his manifesto applies to his followers today. Party politics don't come into it. We must care for all who come into contact with us, working to enrich their lives, because we too are servants of God.

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April 2005

"Are you going to church tomorrow? We Buddhists pray at home. There's our shrine," and our neighbour pointed to a special corner of their living room.

I thought, we Christians pray at home too. In fact, we are taught that we can pray anywhere, at any time.

But worshipping together is a vital part of our way of life, and the worshipping community is an extended family. Some members may be special personal friends, but all are part of the body of Christ, so we respect, honour, love and care for them.

After the crucifixion, the friends of Jesus clung to each other, devastated with grief at the loss of their Master, probably filled with guilt because they had deserted Jesus when he most needed them, and afraid the Romans would come for them next. Gradually they realised that death had not kept him, and he appeared among them as they met together in the upper room or by the Sea of Galilee. When he finally left them and went back to his Father, they continued to share their prayers together, and so our tradition of meeting as Christians was born.

In our church family we share our church worship and our mission. We encourage each other, learn together and comfort each other when times are hard.

Though I respect my neighbour's way of life and beliefs, I am very glad to belong to the household of faith, and pray with them.

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March 2005

Each of us takes a different path through life, and we have many companions along the way.

I remember a toddler who tugged at my hand to draw my attention to every flower, pretty pebble, friendly dog or cat, and so reminded me of many things I had ceased to regard as wonderful.

Then there was the guide on a walking holiday in Norway who took us to the top of the hills for a breathtaking view of the fiords, bringing us down again at break-neck speed when thunder and lighting suddenly developed. He first inspired us, then delivered us from danger, and he sticks in my memory.

And my father in very old age, stick in one hand, leaning heavily on my arm with the other, warmed by the autumn sunshine as we strolled slowly in the garden. He was solitary now and dependent both physically and emotionally, but he still gave me a great deal. I remember all these, and many more, as we shared life's journey for a while.

In the book of Genesis a man is mentioned so briefly that we know nothing about him except that he was the father of Methuselah and that he "walked with God." That must have been a life full of blessing, and in the end "God took him."

We, too, can share life's road with God. In fact, during Lent we try to make it a closer walk, following in the footsteps of Jesus as he set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. We make space to reflect on his life and death, and each year we understand more about the love that drove him to give up his life, to bring the human race close to his heavenly father once more. Perhaps we are able to make a fuller response to that love too.

There is no better travelling companion than God, and no more satisfying life than one walked with him. 

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February 2005

Vital Statistics, 2005.

From an advertisement in the local press, about a sale in late December:

“ Kitchen Essentials”.

* Assorted wine glasses- £3.99 
* 2 Slice Toaster----£4.99
* Frying Pan Cover------£2.49. 
* Sandwich toaster-----£8.95 
* Bread Maker------£24.99
* Le Creuset heavy gauge casserole------£89.00

From the list of possible contents of an Aquabox, to be filled and sent for the Tsunami Disaster Relief programme:

* Survival bags
* water filters & purification tablets
* plastic bucket
* 4 cups, 4 bowls
* soap, toilet roll
* 6 candles, torch, string
* safety pins, scissors
* needle & cotton
* brush and comb
* usable clothing for adults & children.

The response of ordinary people to the crisis in the Indian Ocean has been tremendous and heart-warming, and it must continue for months or even years until people's lives are rebuilt, as must the aid given to the many other needy communities round the world. We wealthy folk must learn to give to those who have nothing. Remember the words in Luke's gospel chapter three: "He who has two coats, let him share with those who have none: and he who has food, let him do likewise."

May God bless our generosity.

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December 2004

The advertisement declared in large letters: "We've lowered the cost of Christmas," and went on to itemise goods which would make "ideal presents". On the first page, none cost less than £199. It didn't take me long to bin it all.

For some people, Christmas is an ordeal. Pestered by children, whom they love and want to please, they are tempted to spend far more than they can afford, while others run up enormous debts by spending lavishly on food, drink, even new furniture. For them the cost of Christmas is indeed high, not just in financial terms but often in their human relationships, strained by such lavishness. 

If you can't, or won't, follow such foolish paths, Christmas can be costly in other ways. It takes time to search for affordable presents that will nevertheless please (but they are available if we look). Planning for, and preparing, happy gatherings for family and friends, and perhaps a stranger or two, cost time and effort as well. However we tackle it, Christmas is expensive, either in terms of money or effort, often both.

And what was the cost of Christmas to God?

In Jesus his son he forsook the splendour that belonged to the creator of the universe, restricted himself to a human body, and accepted as his home a simple stable, probably shared with animals, possibly none too clean. 

The Word that was present in the beginning became a speechless infant, helpless and utterly dependent. 

Christina Rossetti captures it so beautifully in her carol when she says:

"Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay."

For God, the cost of Christmas was not too high, because his gift of himself came out of his love for us. And he completed the payment for it all some thirty years later, on a hilltop outside a city wall.

What can I give him? Give my heart.

Happy Christmas!

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November 2004

In this month of remembering I find myself remembering my grandfather.

When I was a very small girl, my family lived with my grandparents because he was an invalid and needed care. He was not physically very big but he had considerable influence on me.

To begin with, Christmas puddings were always mixed on his birthday at the beginning of December, and that marked the beginning of our preparations for the celebrations. These were very different from today's, simpler but full of fun and enjoyment with our extended family. Grandpa's birthday was exciting because of what was to come.

I associate him, too, with winter skies, because one of my earliest memories is of him carrying me out of doors on a crisp winter's night , saying:"Look up!" I can still feel my sense of surprise as I saw the dark London sky sparkling with specks of starry light.

Summer was as delightful as winter.He had a greenhouse, where I loved to watch him sow seeds and help him prick out tiny plants.He showed me and my brother how to look after our tortoises, even though they rewarded him by raiding his strawberry plants. I loved him dearly, and accepted his gentleness and care for plants and living creatures as the right way to behave.

When he died, nobody broke the news to me, but I knew. We were very close, and he gave me so much, in values and attitudes.

I hope my children and grandchildren remember me in the same way.

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October 2004

Some people reading this would know straight away but we didn't. Were they weeds or potential flowers? So we removed some, left a few and now have a splendid display of evening primroses!

Last year the garden took second place to the house because we moved, but now we have a small greenhouse and more flower beds, and I've enjoyed planting, watering and feeding, then watching the never-ending miracle of growth. Best of all has been bringing indoors lettuces, tomatoes, beans and handfuls of sweet peas. There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of harvest, even on that small scale.

As we celebrate Harvest Festival and give thanks for God's provision for us, we remember too sowing, nurture and harvest in the spiritual realm. Sometimes in our personal lives and in the community things grow whose origin we can't explain, like our evening primroses, but often we have to do the planting with care ourselves.

It's no good expecting to find love and peace flourishing unless we sow the seeds of love and peace and tend them, weeding out the growths of hatred and discord when they appear. With care, we hope for a rich harvest.

Of course, as in the natural world, things don't always work out as we hope. Conditions have to be favourable for love and peace to grow, as for beans and tomatoes and grain. But if we don't try and aren't prepared to do the work, we certainly can't expect the right crop.

Then, as we work with God to keep his creation good, we thank him that his mercies still endure, ever faithful, ever sure.

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September 2004

Twenty years ago this month, my life changed.

Strange symptoms rapidly worsened until I was diagnosed with an incurable disease I had never heard of, and the search began for treatment I would respond to. During these years I've learnt a lot, which I want to share with you.

Firstly, in hospital you meet hundreds of people battling against illness of all kinds, many with great courage and determination. I can always find someone worse than me.

Secondly, support from family and friends is incredibly helpful, specially when days are bad and long. What would I do without them?

What would I do, too, without the medical profession who try to secure for me as good a quality of life as possible? I try to live my life to the full as a thank you to them for their commitment to me. 

My faith has strengthened and supported me. Feeling God's presence with me through the worst times, I'm sure he doesn't want his children to suffer. He doesn't deal out illness as punishment, and fighting it is, for me, part of the fight between good and evil.

For many people, suffering doesn't enrich their faith but poses deep questions, or almost overwhelms them as they struggle for survival. I respect them, and cherish the strong bond of shared experience and understanding between all who suffer.

Finally, life is often hard and can be very fragile, sometimes hanging by a mere thread. It is a most precious gift, to be treasured with care.

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Last updated: 4 February 2012