Walking on the edge

walking on the edge

Every year, ministers in the United Reformed Church attend a Spring/ Summer school. This year is an opportunity to consider with colleagues what is means to be part of the ‘Leadership team’ in URC churches in the 21st century. .

The speaker‘s opening words caught my attention, ‘Leadership ..  is a risky place to be ,for  if you are too near the edge you can fall off into chaos, and if you are not on the edge you solidify and become stagnant’.

In past years, church members have been associated with the Church from cradle to grave ( many  over 60 and 70 years),  absorbed faith knowledge and then repeated it. Hence the phrase, it’s always worked, it was fine for me, so why change ? Change can mean uncertainty and anxiety, but if we are to be on the edge, then change must happen. By that I mean not just about Church buildings, but about a change of heart and understanding of what it means to be a disciple and be a relevant church in today’s society.

The question was posed that being ‘church on the edge’, means that we must appreciate that society has changed. In the last 40yrs, Medical knowledge has increased, so too has Technology, Engineering and of course  Theology. We live in an age where we have a choice, and vital to our choosing is discussion and discernment. Alongside that is journeying with people, who are trying to find out what God means to them, through discussion not blind acceptance.

Its seems to me that being in ‘Shared Leadership in Churches (and by that I just don’t just mean  the minister but the whole appointed Eldership as well) can easy be perceived as ‘Management’, however management is about problem solving. Leadership asks the question .. why are we doing this and is it the right thing to further the Kingdom of God..

For the church to have a viable future, the Gospel must not just be spoken about , but to be lived out, where forgiveness and inclusivity changes lives, and so transformation to hope and wholeness can be visibly seen.

I have no answers, save that I know that I believe the people of God need to know they are beloved and treasured by God, and that the rebuilding of trust, restoring confidence and renewing of hope must happen. I am grateful for David Grosch Miller for his thoughtful reflections, however he left a challenging call to all of us … we are called to be, not just pastors…. but prophets. I am grateful he used Moses in Exodus as an example of Leadership, with all his faults, flawed humanity and hesitations, he trusted God.

God who led your people out of slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey,

We pray that you would lead us to the edge,

Not so we can fall into chaos, but we can see the true landscape ahead of us

Be in our minds that we may reflect on issues of faith with clarity

Be in our mouths that we may speak words that bring wholeness

Be in our steps , so we may walk alongside the edge with confidence knowing you are there to hold us and guide us.

We ask this in Jesus name

Amen

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Spiritual Seekers

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One of the memories I have of my children growing up, is that incredible innocence you can see, when something good happens…… a light bulb moment occurs. Let me explain, I have been sharing a few memories with my grandson about his Mum and Auntie, memories that made us laugh, memories that made us sad, memories that made his eyes grow wide open in amazement, and I could see the total disbelief in his eyes and the long drawn out .. Nooooooo!!

At that moment as I looked at him, he was ready to accept anything I said, for he trusted every word that I uttered. That is quite a powerful position to be in, to know that you hold the power to influence another person’s thought process.

Faith is a little like that; people who ask me  ‘why do I have a faith? are not being awkward, for I think for the majority of people there is a true desire to seek the meaning of our existence, for we are all human and therefore spiritual seekers.

What I find wonderful about the Jesus of History, is his capacity to know who were the Spiritual seekers in his Jewish context, then he would reach out to them, say the right words and produce the right action, that would influence their understanding of who God is and how best to seek God.

Our task as Spiritual Seekers and Disciples of Faith is never to think we have all the answers, because God is always breathing within creation, a movement which will inspire others, a dance that will lead us on a different path, a whisper that will energise us.

God will use other people to help us on our Journey of faith; we must be humble enough to recognise this and gracious enough to receive.

God who breaks the bounds of Time and Space

May we always dance with your Spirit

To create and energy for ourselves and for others

May we always breathe in your Spirit

To bring a peace into our lives and other peoples lives

May we always walk the path of humility

To be aware of your love for us overflowing and free for all.

We ask this through the Christ who brings meaning to our lives

Amen

The Journey begins ..

Jesus walking on water !

It’s been nearly two weeks since Easter, and we should be full of the joys of Spring, for through our understanding of Resurrection, the Jesus of History and been changed to the Christ of Faith … yet for some people… Spring has not arrived (quite literally here in England !! ) and the cold winds of depression and weariness can easily fill the void in our lives, where Holy Saturday seems to loom equally large.

As Easter people, we should be living in the light of the Resurrection … living with hope filling our lives, however today’s political and economic climate can be so overpowering, that it engulfs any hope we may have experienced on that Easter morning, and our Easter euphoria may only last a short time.

It seems to me that ‘Holding on’ to what is good in our lives is the key; not to be consumed by the negativity that the culture dictates , but to recognise that our journey HAS begun … and that Jesus said it would not be an easy road that we travel upon. On the road to Emmaus , the two companions were frustrated about the political unrest in Jerusalem, and distraught about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, nevertheless they recognised Jesus , not through conversation, but in action, an action of breaking bread.

The only way that other people can recognise the risen Christ … is through our action; so we need to encourage each other, support each other, be inclusive, recognise when someone needs a shoulder to cry on, be sensitive when difficulties arise, speak about injustice and know that through our actions, other people may see the Resurrected Christ, then Christ then will become alive, and real.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,.            Teresa of Avila

Learning from Hildegard

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Yet again, immediately after Easter, I am drawn the Spiritual mystics that have gone before me, people who have wrestled to find God in their own context, and again I am drawn to Hildegard of Bingen, a woman who was ahead of her time. Although the exact date of her birth is unknown, it is approx. 1098 and she died 1179 She was born in the middle ages, when men ruled areas of finance, politics, and the church. She broke new grounds for women, as she wrote theological, botanical, and medical books, as well as letters, music and panting.

She was visionary, who at the age of three believed that God communicated visions to her. Being a woman, many dismissed it as nonsense, however she rose to become an influential person, and many requests an audience with her, in her role as abbess to ask for advice on many issues .

Why am I returning to this woman? What would she make of the world we inhabit?

Well she believed that we experience God through our senses. . sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and as we continue our journey as Easter people of faith, we must be aware of the diversity of God’s world; the richness in creation and the variety of life that it sustains alongside the polarity of wealth and poor as the rich seem to be getting the richer and the poor seem to be squeezed harder with more financial restraints.

I have no mystical answers to the chaotic world we live in, apart from the knowledge that Hildegard addressed issues of her time, in her own way…. and so should we. We need to be assured that God is with us just as God was with Hildegard,, and that we like her will utter words which would change hearts.

Just as a mirror, which reflects all things, is set in its own container,

so too the rational soul is placed in the fragile container of the body.

In this way, the body is governed in its earthly life by the soul,

and the soul contemplates heavenly things through faith.

HILDEGARD OF BINDEN, letter to the Monk Guibert, 1175

Food and Faith

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I have had the privilege to experience the hospitality from a few different cultures.

In Zambia , I sat cross-legged on the dusty ground and ate with my fingers a meal of ground cabbage and mielie meal ( a thick porridge made from ground maize) ; in Taiwan I ate a selection of fish and noodles with chop sticks , plus a delicious turtle jelly( a delicacy I understand );  in Palestine it was falafel wrap standing outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ; and in Jamaica it was a goat curry with mannish water( a so called’ soup’ which accompanies goat curry , made up from the carcass, tongue and eyes of the goat); and finally experienced the wonderful hospitality of a Sikh temple in Manchester , where tens of people sat and ate the food made by the women of the Sikh community .

With all these encounters and many more, food always provides a space for ‘conversation’, whether it is spoken or silent. Let me explain …

Spoken conversation can be discussing Theology; the meaning of Life; cajoling children to eat the food you have provided;  catching up with friends, or even a meeting with new colleagues to explore new ways of working (I have had a few working lunches in recent weeks with my new move). Jesus experienced many meals like this, excited chatter, intense questions and food was central to the openness and inclusive nature of this meal.

Silent conversation can be different; silence can mean you are undertaking silent retreat discovering the stillness of God and savouring the food as you eat it; silence can mean you are alone; Silence can mean you are struggling with an eating disorder; silence can mean you are eating the scraps left over from someone else’s meal; silence can mean there is no food. Jesus experienced many difficult mealtimes none more so than one night in an upper room.

There are times in our life, when eating a meal can be a wonderful experience. or it can be  challenging and painful.

Let us never expect food to be provided for us,…. yet when it is,… let us give thanks to God,… and welcome the conversation as it enfolds ….whether spoken or silent…. Let us make the experience Quality time with God

God who provides our food,

Help us to appreciate the many experiences to lay before us .

A coffee and buttered tea cake with the lonely,

A picnic in the park with family and friends

A biscuit and water with the hurting

A piece of bread with those who feel marginalized

The spoken conversation of creativity

The silent conversation of anguish

Bless us as we eat the bread and drink the wine

that sustains our faith

Amen