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Sabbatical, Day 72: Easter Is A Time For Spending

Bank Holidays can be full of energy, frustration or inertia in my experience. Today has fallen into the last of those three categories. Eschewing the idea of going somewhere big after a bad experience trying to get to Colchester Zoo one previous BH, the children suggested a return visit to Wat Tyler Country Park. However, this morning’s rain put paid to such plans and we ended up taking our picnic into Chelmsford town centre – not quite so picturesque. Some of that same picnic ended up with the pigeons and ducks courtesy of the children. OK, only the bread – nothing else.

Becky got a chance to spend some more birthday money. Like her mum, she adores that well-known craft shop, Poundland. She picked up some arty things there. She also bought an adaptation of Heidi in Waterstone’s. She loves that story. Meanwhile, Mark and I had boys’ time, heading for Camera World. I bought some camera cleaning gear and began a conversation about a first camera for His Nibs’ fifth birthday in August. Sounds like we’re heading for a Praktica.

Other than that, it’s time for things to break at present in our home. Over the weekend we had to buy a replacement DVD player and today it was the turn of our inkjet printer. The local Tesco Home Plus had a great deal on end of line stock and I picked up a Canon Pixma iP4600 for £44. No box or other packaging, with mains lead, ink cartridges, CD of software and manual all stuffed in a scruffy broken envelope. But who cares? That’s half price.

Everything goes in threes, Debbie says. The third item after the high-tech of the DVD player and the printer was, the, er, pepper mill. However much I like gadgets, I resisted the idea of a battery-powered model. Having been let down quickly by one from a supposedly reliable make, Cole and Mason, bought from Debenham’s in a sale, we went down market for a Tesco own brand.

So we seem to have spent the Easter weekend spending money. It doesn’t quite feel like an appropriate way to mark the death and resurrection of the Lord of life whose kingdom is countercultural, but we haven’t gone looking to do any of it and will have to balance the bank account later. Or seek divine assistance to that end!

Sabbatical, Day 71, Easter Sunday: Jesus Returns To Life

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! In this final Damaris Trust video for Holy Week, Krish Kandiah and Peter May talk about how Jesus’ resurrection from the dead gives us hope when considering what happens when we die.


A great service for Easter Day at St Andrew’s this morning. ‘In a packed programme tonight’, as the Two Ronnies used to say, we had the Easter liturgy, renewal of baptismal vows, Holy Communion (of course) and people invited from the community to remember deceased loved ones.

In the middle of all that, there were two highlights for me. Firstly, the worship band shrank at one point to the younger members only. So Emily on vocals , Dan on guitar, Bradley on keys  and the drummer whose name I don’t know – they’re all round about thirteen years old – led us in Tim Hughes‘ ‘Happy Day‘. Here’s a version by the original artist:

Emily is a great singer, Dan a quiet and efficient bandleader, Bradley filled in subtly and the drummer guy is top drawer.

The other highlight was Lee’s sermon. Taking Mark 16:1-8, he made a virtue of the strange and sudden ending to Mark’s Gospel. He said we have to write our own ending to the Easter story in our lives. I thought that was great. 

For all that, it’s been quite a mixed day emotionally. On the one hand, I have entered Easter with a renewed confidence in the truth and importance of the Resurrection. Not that I ever lost my belief in the bodily Resurrection of Christ for one moment, but sometimes when life or circumstances aren’t the most encouraging, it can feel far away. Reading Tim Keller (sorry to mention him again!) and Tom Wright (see this excellent article from The Times yesterday) has done much to fortify my faith.

But other things have been weighing me down. My friend Will says today, in talking about his service this morning, 

Before the prayers of intercession, I reminded our congregation that for many the joys of Easter are still crowded out by their own personal Good Fridays. I know I have friends who will this week spend more time agonising in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jen and Mike, we are praying for you and Luke). For some, Easter is more like the women in Mark who hid when afraid.

And as he mentions his friends Jen, Mike and Luke, so I have been thinking about the three couples I mentioned last Sunday who have separated. Some events today have reminded me of them. Debbie and I feel such pain for them. And if that is how we feel, how do they?

More trivially, our eighteen-year-old cat is suddenly looking old, frail and weak. We are beginning to think the end might be near. The children realise, and on top of the fact that they have been asking questions about death as we’ve come through Holy Week, Good Friday and today. Mark in particular keeps asking whether he will die on a cross like Jesus.

I’m also starting to get more regular questions about how much longer the sabbatical has to go. The answer is that – with having tacked a week’s leave onto the end – I shall be back on duty four weeks today. The official Methodist literature on sabbaticals talks about planning your ‘re-entry’, which rather makes ministers feel like Apollo astronauts. The idea is that there should be a managed, phased re-introduction to active ministry.

Which makes me think of two words: ‘fat’ and ‘chance’. At least I hope it won’t be like my last sabbatical, when the superintendent asked me to come back early due to a crisis with the circuit treasurer. However, a sabbatical grants you new vision in all sorts of ways. It is then a huge challenge to share that vision with churches that are used to things being a long way different from such visions. I’ve always been a restless traveller on the outer fringes of Methodism: right now I feel somewhere out beyond Pluto.

Of course, it may just be a version of what anyone feels when a good holiday is coming to an end and they have to return to work. (Not that I’m suggesting the sabbatical is a holiday!) Time will tell.

Sabbatical, Day 62: Decluttering And Easter

We spent this morning clearing out the garage. In this small manse, we need all the spare capacity we can get. So my little Renault Clio was filled with cardboard for recycling (the council only collects that monthly), along with other items that can’t be collected from the kerbside.

It’s made the hoped-for huge difference to the garage. We can walk around it freely now! Clear-outs are something we need not only physically, but sometimes also spiritually. I’m always struck by that verse at the beginning of Hebrews 12 where the writer calls his readers not only to to be free from ‘the sin that so easily entangles’ but also from ‘everything that hinders’. The latter might not be sin, but might be good things we have allowed to clutter our lives. Good things we have received with thanksgiving convert stealthily into idols we worship.

It was also the last day of school term today. Debbie and I were both in the school this morning, helping children with reading. Debbie was in Rebekah’s class and heard the teacher helping them to understand something about Easter. Apparently she said, “Rebekah knows about Easter, don’t you?”

We learned the truth of this when we opened her school bag after collecting the monkeys this afternoon. There in her bag was a sheet of white paper with the shape of an egg. The children had been asked to draw images of Easter. Rebekah’s said at the bottom, ‘Jesus’. In the centre was a drawing of him on the Cross. To the right she had drawn a little box containing the words, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ She may not know the deep implications of that confession, but she’s on the right track. It thrilled me.

Over the next fortnight of the holiday, we’ll have lots of fun with her and Mark. But I’m glad she’s heading into Easter with her spiritual orientation on track – however much she loves chocolate!

Sabbatical, Day 48: Gambling, G20 And Our Children

Our belovèd government promises concern for problem gamblers and all affected by their habits. Which is why they are doubling the minimum stake in fruit machines to £1 and the jackpot to £70. So that will help.

If you are as offended by this foul act as I am, there is an online petition here and you can also visit Fruitless.

Thanks to today’s monthly e-news email from the Methodist Church for this, which also plugs the Put People First march for Saturday week. 


Having kept Mark at home today due to his mystery rash (which has again disappeared), fine weather meant some time outside. He played with some chalk near on our drive and near the front door for most of the morning. He rather got ahead of himself:


Come to Mark's house it's Easter today

Come to Mark's house it's Easter today

Below this first picture, however, you will be able to see that he is aware that Easter is not just for us. It is for everyone. No ‘This is my truth, tell me yours’ approach here!




It's Easter in the world

It's Easter in the world


However, as the next picture shows, I eventually convinced him he was being proleptic and would have to ditch his realised eschatology for a ‘not yet’ approach to the kingdom of God:










3 weeks until Easter

3 weeks until Easter

The poor little lad will have to wait like the rest of us. He’s looking forward to chocolate and to the annual Easter party Debbie organises for him, Rebekah and a few of their friends. She started this our first Spring here as a way of trying to help our two make friends in the area. It has worked well. We now have the pleasures of egg rolling competitions on the drive, Easter bonnet-making (no, the boys never gravitate to that) and sundry other fun activities. The invitations have been going out in the last couple of days, not just to established little friends but to some other children whom we’d like encourage our pair to befriend.

We’ve also had further reason to take pride in Rebekah today, when she was moved up again to another level in the school reading scheme. She is delighted, too, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it and put down other children who haven’t reached her standard.

It was such a contrast this morning when I went to give my weekly twenty minutes of reading help in another class. I think they like me, because inevitably they get very few offers of help from men, although they’ll miss me next week when I’m at Lee Abbey. Each week I am given a different group of children. The groups are streamed, so from one Friday to the next I can get a vast contrast in ability. Today, I had three lads who were struggling. One in particular still can’t make the connection between the phonetic sounds of letters and the word he is trying to read. He should have known this a year or two ago, poor lad. The other two boys kept jumping in when this one didn’t know, which did nothing for his confidence.

So it was important this morning to have a simple rôle as an encourager. That was a privilege, just to try and boost the boy a little bit. I wondered how much encouragement he received. Certainly he gets it from the staff, who provide extra help, but clearly he suffers at the hands of other children, in the classic way in which youngsters are so cruel to each other. Some carry the scars for years. Occasionally, we ministers pick up on it decades later.