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Witness At The Family Fun Day

On Saturday, we held our annual church family fun day. A bouncy castle, crafts, treasure hunt, a children’s entertainer and the like – all offered free of charge to the local community. Today, I heard about some of the great conversations that occurred on the day, and it inspired me to write about our witness for the church magazine. What follows picks up on that experience and is heavily influenced by Neil Cole‘s book Organic Church

“Why do you do this?”

No, not a question of despair, but one asked several times by visitors to our recent Family Fun Day. (And let me add to my children’s public thank-you of Dianne for her tremendous organisation of the day.)

Why do you do this? Why do you put on an event free of charge, with no strings attached? They are good questions, just the ones we wanted people to ask. And they are easy to answer if we know the Gospel. We say, God is like this. God gives love unconditionally. He wants people to respond, but he gives in the first place. He gives, whether we give back or not.

Obviously, we hope that as a result people will engage with us more through events like Holiday Club and Messy Church as a result. We hope, too, that we might be known in the community as a group of people whose actions in love provoke regular “Why do you do this?” questions, not just for what we put on together as a church, but from the deeds of our individual lives.

Yes, it’s easy to answer these questions. You don’t need to have studied academic Theology like I have in order to give good answers. All you need is a personal experience of Christ in your life. Because we answer out of our own spiritual experience, and relying on the Holy Spirit. There is a place for intellectually defending our faith, but it’s not everyone’s calling.

Sometimes we’ve made it too hard to be an effective Christian witness. We’ve expected people to jump the hurdles of church committees and study courses before trusting them to say anything in the name of Christ.

What poppycock! Jesus healed people or led them to faith and then sent them out immediately to tell their friends and families what they had experienced. How crazy we are to think we know better than him!

Yes, it’s right to look for maturity, but if we think maturity comes from sitting in a classroom reading a textbook, we are deluded. Maturity comes from experience.

So I want to encourage you all in this simple message this month. What is your experience of Christ? Recount it. Write it down, if it helps.

And cultivate that quiet reflectiveness that listens for the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If we went out into the local community like that, we wouldn’t need fancy programmes, we wouldn’t need massive budgets, we’d have the richest resource of all: the Spirit of Christ.

Remember: we may not all be evangelists, but we are all witnesses. And witnesses simply have to describe what they have seen and experienced. It’s surprisingly powerful, even when engaging the most intellectual of people.

Do you think we can rise to the occasion? I think so.

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Exhausted

Well, it appears that the hope of starting back quietly and easing myself in has been a pipedream. I’m shattered, and off to bed soon.

Did I plan it this way? No, of course not. But there are limits even to how far ministers can control their diaries. Yesterday, the car was due its annual MOT and service, so it seemed a good idea that my first weekday back would be one where I ploughed through all the emails, saved and/or printed minutes and documents that had been sent, noted meeting dates and so on.

Unfortunately, the garaged failed to ring and say the car was ready. Phoning them at 4 pm, I discovered one of the tyres had failed the MOT. It was 4:50 pm before they confirmed it would be OK for me to sort out the new tyre today. Thus, a rush job to pick up the car, a trip to the chippie for our dinner rather than a proper cooked meal, whizzing the children through bath and into bed, and out to a stewards’ meeting from which I didn’t return until nearly 11 pm.

Today: most of the morning with our lovely superintendent minister being briefed about happenings in my absence. Also, a discussion about ‘stationing’, because my appointment here currently runs out next year, and wheels have to be put in motion depending on whether there is a will on our part or the churches for us to stay. Then, the new tyres and back to the garage to get the MOT. A sandwich around 2:30 pm, then off to our Messy Church event, the date of which had been altered for unavoidable reasons while I was off. That also left us too late to cook a meal and get the kids to bed at their normal time, so we beetled up to Sainsbury’s café. Then back for their bath and bed routine, and rushing out for another stewards’ meeting at a different church. Thankfully, that didn’t end so late, but now it’s time for a quick supper drink and bed.

Tomorrow, I shall be hitting the M25 (perhaps in frustration?) as I make my annual slog pilgrimage to the Christian Resources Exhibition. I have various things to look out for on behalf of my churches: electronic music systems to replace organists we don’t have, kneelers and pulpit falls, etc. Hopefully I won’t succumb to any books. I’ve got too many waiting.

Then at least I don’t have an evening meeting. Debbie will be out at a circuit training event for pastoral visitors. I might finally begin to think about worship for this coming Sunday.

Christmas Is Really For The Children …

… to quote an old Steve Turner poem. Well it will be tomorrow for me. I’m not posting a sermon on the blog tonight, because neither of my services tomorrow demands one. In fact, they demand I don’t deliver a typical sermon.

In the morning, I sit in on a nativity service at one of my churches. The Sunday School will perform some drama, my Anglican colleague will lead the service, and I get to give a short talk.

I’ve drawn on an idea from a new book that I’d like to recommend as a useful resource at this time of year for preachers, ministers, worship leaders and musicians. It’s co-written by Lucy Moore of Messy Church fame, along with Martyn Payne. It’s called Bethlehem Carols Unpacked: Creative ideas for Christmas carol services. The book tells the background stories to eleven famous carols and then gives ideas for how to use them in worship, be it ‘adult’ or ‘all age’.

So I looked up the carols that my colleague Jane had chosen and adapted an idea for use with children in connection with The First Nowell. It’s a simple idea around the theme of birthday parties. What kind of people do you invite to your birthday party? God invited the most unlikely of people to celebrate the birth of his Son. The shepherds were ‘unclean’ and the magi were Gentiles. Those you would think more likely either just gave academic answers and did nothing (Herod’s scholarly advisers) or actively opposed Jesus (Herod). We have an ongoing party with Jesus: it’s called the kingdom of God. And it’s our privilege to invite all sorts of unlikely people to join that party. Were I expanding this I might draw in the Parable of the Great Banquet to give something for the adults to chew on, but I probably won’t have time.

Then in the afternoon I have a Christingle service. Although the (Church of England) Children’s Society is largely responsible for introducing this service to the UK in recent years, it is very appropriate for Methodists to celebrate, because its origins are Moravian from 1747. The Moravians, of course, were highly significant in influencing John Wesley towards his ‘warmed heart’ experience of 1738.

For those who don’t know the tradition, there is plenty to fill you in on the web, but briefly everyone is given a decorated orange. Each part is symbolic. The orange stands for the world, so we shall begin by thanking God for creation. The fruits (e.g., dried raisins) and sweets attached on a cocktail stick represent God’s good gifts. We shall lead that in the direction of Jesus being God’s best gift. The ribbon is for the blood of Christ, so I get the difficult part of the service where I have to lead a brief, simple prayer thanking God for the death of Jesus. Finally, the candle is for Jesus the light of the world, and as we light one another’s candles while standing together in a circle we enact our rôle as lights in the world, sharing the light of Christ.

Afterwards, we’ve invited everyone to stay for a free family tea of sandwiches and cakes. We’re hoping that our publicity to two local primary schools and the pre-school that uses our school hall will make for contact with plenty of non-church people.

Say a prayer for us, will you? This church hasn’t had a Christingle in years. It’s a new event to many, however old hat it is elsewhere. It is requiring hard work from many people.

One of my churches in the last appointment had to run two identical Christingle services every Christmas Eve, because it was so popular. They had a publicity advantage in being smack next door to a big supermarket, and also with the timing of Christmas Eve afternoon, when families might specifically look for a child-friendly Christmas celebration. We don’t have either of those factors in our favour, and couldn’t have gone for Christmas Eve due to a highly successful crib service every year at the parish church. But we do want to bless the community with God’s love and build our relationships with them. It was striking at our last Messy Church event a couple of weeks ago how the fact that we insisted on not charging made an impact on some parents. We want to bless them with a Gospel message and Gospel action tomorrow.

So if you could squeeze in a prayer, we’d be ever so grateful. Please leave a brief message in the comments section below to let us know you have said a quick prayer: it will encourage us. And obviously, feel free to offer any other comments in the usual way.

Delighted

I do not get excited about church business meetings. I’ve even arranged my next sabbatical, rather like my last one, so that I miss two Synods. God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee, etc. – that’s my feeling.

But last night I had an encouraging Church Council. We’ve recently had a review of our circuit and all its churches by a small team from our District. I hadn’t expected much from the process. Oh me of little faith, as it turned out.

So our main business yesterday evening was to discuss five recommendations the District team had made for this particular church. They weren’t all appropriate to us, because in some cases the team didn’t have exhaustive information on the church, and their Maths became the ‘two plus two is five’ variety. In other areas, their recommendations needed filing away until a later date.

But … what excited me was the way we riffed on one theme and created something new. We began from talking about how we might have more contact with those who hire our premises, but we got onto the question of children. We have several different ways of connecting with children – Sunday School, Messy Church, Craft Club, Holiday Club, Boys’ Brigade, school assemblies. But we realised that just putting on something for children is aiming at a soft target. (Sorry, that’s a lousy metaphor, but it’s the best I can think of.) However, if we are to be truly family friendly we need to offer resources and outreach for all generations.

So the Council grabbed an idea I’d first floated rather quickly a couple of years ago. We need to operate things like parenting courses to the local community, and do so on neutral territory such as the community centre or a pub function room. In fact, they developed the idea further: not just parenting, but marriage courses and bereavement sessions. We thought we might be able to offer one of these courses a year. It doesn’t matter that we’re a small church: we can work with those whom God has given us, as opposed to pining for those we don’t have.

Hence, I’d be interested if anyone reading this blog has positive or negative experience of particular resources or courses. A quick surf has found the following:

Parenting The Parentalk Parenting course; 21st Century Parent from CARE for the Family; a course from the Family Caring Trust.

Marriage The Marriage Course and The Marriage Preparation Course from Holy Trinity Brompton; 21st Century Marriage from CARE for the Family.

Bereavement Harder to track down Christian courses. The only one I found with a Christian basis was one run at Holy Trinity Brompton, The Bereavement Course, but it isn’t a package you can buy and run yourself. It’s just something they run at HTB.

These are just my initial quick trawl. I’d be delighted to hear whatever comments you have about positive or negative experiences or impressions of different courses

UPDATE, SUNDAY 19TH OCTOBER: I also put this request on the Family Friendly Churches’ Trust email discussion group. Two people have spoken highly of the CARE for the Family courses, and mentioned one or two others of theirs about which I didn’t know. One person has suggested debt counselling or money management courses. I have heard good things about Christians Against Poverty’s CAP Money Course.