Where to next? Adventures beyond …

You will possibly know that I recently announced to the people at Land’s End that God is calling me into a new ministry, as the Managing Chaplain at a Young Offenders Institute near Stoke. A shock to many, and no doubt for those who will miss me others will be saying a hurrah! Such is ministry. You cannot be popular with everyone as the role of a minister is to be obedient to God, and God’s pull upon our lives.

When I came here I knew God to be calling me to be God’s gatekeeper here, keeping the gates of the church open to all, but also standing guard against that which is not of God, nor healthy and good for us all. It has been a rewarding and challenging ministry. There have been lots of adventures, and laughter, lots of pasties and cream teas. At times there have been sadness and tears as we walked the road of faith together. Some wonderful people have gone to be with God, and we miss and grieve for them. Some amazing folk have taken their vows before God to love and have faith in each other. The people and place have written themselves into my heart and life, and it is hard to go.

I started my ministry in the church as a lay prison chaplain at HMP and YOI Guys Marsh. For 3 years I ministered and was ministered to by the inmates and staff at the prison. In so many ways they taught this green new Christian about God, faith, hope and redemption in a way that I could not have foreseen. They shaped me and turned me into the person God called into the ordained ministry. I owe them a debt of gratitude, of love.

This new calling is not really new but a return to where I began. And I take with me the experiences and hopes, the adventures and the pains of being a parish priest, I take the prayers and worship, the love and the disappointment of those to whom I have ministered and who have ministered to me. All of which have enriched my life with you.

As I walk into the prison and the doors clang behind me, the locks turn, I will remember that Jesus is before me, and will be behind me. That I am there to offer the love, compassion, truth and prayers that I know Jesus has for the men and women who work in the prison, the children and their families who are imprisoned. In doing so I hope that I can offer a sense of the freedom of the gospel and set free those imprisoned by hate, regret, by anger and hopelessness.

Please pray for us, for one another, for our communities and all in prison, whether at her Majesty’s Leisure or indeed the prisons of pain, anger, bitterness and resentment. We all need to know the freedom of the gospel of truth and love … this is what fuels all our new adventures following God.

Some prodigals are daughters …

One of the best loved stories in the bible is that of the prodigal son. The Father has two sons, one the elder is obedient and does what is expected of him. The younger son is impatient, eager to explore the world, ready to make his own decisions, keen to have it all. This son commits the heinous crime of asking for his inheritance before his father has died, which in Jewish terms was the same as asking for the father’s death. Worse still instead of challenging the son, and rejecting his outrageous claim the father divided his property and gives the younger son all his inheritance.

Leaving of course the father living on the inheritance of the older son. The older son stays faithful, working the land and staying at home. Meanwhile his brother goes a bit crazy and spends the money like water trying to buy friends, fame, and happiness. When the money is gone, so is any hope of living the sort of life he dreamt of having, it has disappeared like the morning dew.

So all that is left is to go home, tail between his legs to accept his punishment and become no more than a slave for his father, and therefore for his brother too. Instead of punishment the younger son is met with joy, love and forgiveness, restored into his family once again, this is the only time we see God (for of course Jesus sees that Father in the parable as His Father) run is when He runs TO the lost dissolute failure that is His son.

Redemption comes at a cost though, his brother is furious, hurt and jealous at the seeming injustice. The Father may have regained his lost younger son, but we do not know whether this act of love has lost the Father his eldest son.

Often, often I see myself as the prodigal daughter, wanting from God the good things promised NOW. Often often, I am the prodigal who makes the wrong choices, values the wrong things, wants to impress the wrong people. Often often, I hurt those who love me too, taking that love freely given as unimportant. Often often I fail to be the child of God I should be.

Then I remember the wonderful day when walking with my granddaughter, she ran to me and I scooped her up in my arms, delighted that be with her, to share a moment of pure joy in her presence and that she chose to run to me. And Bob snapped that moment when we were smiling at each other. In that very moment, in that very image I saw as if for the first time that we are all prodigals, we are all lost and found, good and bad, the elder and the younger children of God.

But whether we are the prodigal son or the prodigal daughter, God RUNS to US because when we turn to him God sees us with the same pure joy love and adoration that I can see in Bob’s photo of me and my lovely granddaughter.

So no matter that I am once again often often in the wrong, being the prodigal, always always God calls back to Him with love, with joy for we are HIS beloved prodigals.

Lent for Beginners

What comes to your mind about Lent? A time of depravation, or a time of intense prayer?

Lent is just a season like others. We have to look at it in the context of the whole year of seasons. Advent to Christmas, Epiphany to Ordinary time, Lent to Easter, Pentecost to Trinity, Ordinary time to Harvest, and finally Christ the King. And we are back to Advent again. We can see that there is a natural flow to the way time is ordered in our lives of worship.

There are times to celebrate and to be sociable, being with others and enjoying the party, seeing God in our friends, family and neighbours! There are also times to recognise the importance of all the ways God moves and works in the world. And times for quieter reflective moments, when in the spaces we create, we can pause and know God as close as our next breath.

Jesus often spent time celebrating with all manner of people, he told tales, drank wine, ate with the good and the not so good. He enjoyed being with people. But he also sought out time alone, time to be quiet before God. Time to help him remember God the Father’s love for him.

Why not simply spend this lent seeking out time to be with God, and remember God the Father’s love for you. God the Son’s gift of life for you. God the Spirit’s endless gifts for you. Spend lent wisely and you will truly be blessed.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday for many Christians is a day of repentance and abstinence. Some will decide to swear off alcohol or chocolates, swearing or losing their temper, off biscuits or crisps. Somehow it would seem many folk think that to take on a penance for Lent is to have a focus on getting your body beach ready and healthier. All laudable but NOT want lent is about!

Of course there are also those who want to make a spiritual promise, so they make a commitment to read the bible every day or to spend more time in prayer. All very laudable, but not EVERYTHING that lent is about either.

Lent is a time to give pause to the busyness of life and recalibrate our lives to God. IF we do this properly we cannot live the same life as before. God transforms us, so if we are able to grow closer to God, we will change. We will become more like the person God created us to become, and as such we shall be more caring of our neighbours, of creation and our surroundings, and of our lives with God.

Lent is a time to prepare like the Olympic sports person, for the great race, the important race where to win is not to succeed against other but against yourself! All the things that kept you back for fulfilling your potential, all the things that whisper in your head:

“It is too hard, too costly, too exhausting.” This is proved to be a lie, with God you can do this, without God it is too hard, costly and exhausting.

Those other lies; “You are not worth this, you have no value, who would want you” These even more importantly are seen for what they really are – the means by which we are kept in servitude to sin, and our potential hidden from ourselves as well as those who we could help. These lies are disabling, and need to be rejected.

Lent is a time to see God in all the glory of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a time to see the ministry of Jesus and hear his call; “Follow me”. God does not want a beach ready body OR a pious believer, God wants you to be who you are created to be, to know God’s love for you is endless, and to believe in yourself as a Child of God, worth the cost Jesus paid for you, and I, on the cross.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is a day and evening for lovers. But it is also a time that can make people feel even more alone, even more unlovable, even more unwanted. Somehow there is this myth that in order to be happy you have to find a partner, in order to be fulfilled you have to have someone to love you exclusively, and to love exclusively too.

When working with others the extravagant flowers chocolates and cards arriving at work may not be all that they seem, but they can paint an image of loved up bliss. But we don’t know what lies behind the extravagant gifts, whether this is an example of real love and wonder in each other or a guilty conscience!

Then the meals. Oh my gosh, Valentine meals out seem to be torturous when I was a waitress! Couples paying so much money for a meal where mostly they sat in silence, seemingly uncomfortable with their environment or maybe just unable to think of anything to say. All dressed up for the prescribed night of love and passion! Was Valentine martyred for this?!

Love it seems has become BIG business, and sells lots of things! Valentine is a marketing ploy which traps the unwary into spending too much money on plastic or embarrassing stuff, while making most people unhappy! Selling love like something that is cheap and “throw awayable” is damaging to everyone. It turns love into a commodity, people into things to be bought and sold, and aims to succeed so that money can be made for not the lovers but the sellers.

The Street Bible by Rob Lacy has a version of the wonderful love passage by St Paul, 1 Corinthians 13. See what he has to say about love:

“If I get supernatural talent to speak fluent Matabolese, or even Angelese, but I’m rusty on the language of love, then I’m just clattering round like a broken drum kit. If I’ve got access to next month’s news, or philosophy’s big questions, if I know more than anyone, if I can shift a mountain range by will-power, but I forget how love fits in, I may as well not exist. If I donate my millions to charity, but my love account’s in the red, if I volunteer to be a martyr, but my love gland’s dead, then I’m a waste of space.

What is love anyway? Not the tripe you’ve been force-fed! No, love gives people space and time; it does people good. It’s not jealous, loud-mouthed or big-headed. It’s not vulgar; it doesn’t look after Number 1. It’s not got a short fuse – it forgives and forgets. Love doesn’t smile when dark stuff goes on, but throws a party when the truth gets out. It protects more than a blockbuster hero; it trusts more than a toddler. It’s always positive; it always hangs in there. Love doesn’t let you down.”

God loves you without having to give God roses, chocolates, champagne. God loves you without expecting a repayment for His life given for you on the cross. God loves you even when others disown you, reject you, abandon you, even when you are unlovable. God loves you if you have a partner or if you are alone, if you are happy or sad, exulted or depressed. God knows all about you and God loves you. So very very much. God won’t let you down. Ever.

Flipping Pancakes!

So very soon we shall be coming to Pancake day – don’t worry you have time to review your online food order to include eggs, milk, flour, lemons and sugar plus all those other amazing toppings.

In our youth group we had some very imaginative toppings on our annual pancake session. Cheese and tomato, corned beef and onion, ice cream and honey, jelly and squirty cream, marmite and peanut butter, but my favourite one was After Eight mints with squirty cream. All melted and delicious! YUMMY!

We all know that the day before Ash Wednesday is when we use up all the sweet and fatty things in the house to make a clean start for lent on Ash Wednesday. So Pancake day – Shrove Tuesday is really blow out day! In times long long ago before fridges and freezers fatty food had a definite use by date, and the long winter played havoc with the food supply. Before Factory Farming and artificial lights, and artificial insemination, the animals would not lay eggs or produce milk all year round, and the spring season was when the hens would be broody, producing the new hens for the pot and for egg laying, while the cows and goats were at the later stages of pregnancy and needed to stop giving milk to grow the baby! So this time of year would always be one when the food supply would be scarce and rather restricted in type!

The mixing of flour, eggs and milk to a batter takes some beating to get rid of the flour bubbles – quite a workout! During lent we are to give ourselves a “work out” (rather than beating) spiritually, to aim to grow closer to God. When the pancake is cooked, the flipping on to the other side is a reminder that we are to literally turn our lives the right way up for God. To redirect our living to become better followers of Christ.

The toppings are to remind us of the riches of following Christ, and the riches we can give others by praying for them.

So when Pancake day comes, why not try a from scratch pancake, instead of the ready made version, and give it a good flip as you turn your hearts and souls back to God.

Candlemas Mary’s view?

Nick Fawcett has written a wonderful meditation from Mary on the reality of the birth of God’s child, and the challenges Mary, and Joseph face. To introduce this he writes “The 2 February is known in the Church Year as Candlemas. It’s a day on which Christians remember how the aged Simeon exulted as the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem – a moment he’d looked forward to for so long. Yet if, on the one hand, he was overcome by joy as he welcomed the Christ-child as ‘a light to the nations’, on the other, a dark shadow crossed the moment, Simeon warning of pain and suffering ahead, both for Jesus and for his mother Mary.

In the following meditation, taken from Nick Fawcett’s book No Ordinary Man (Book 2), published in 2000, we consider what Mary must have made of the rollercoaster of emotions she’d been through over that past year, and, above all, of Simeon’s enigmatic words concerning light and shadow.”

Reading
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord . . . Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’’ Luke 2:22, 25-35

The meditation of Mary, mother of Jesus
I had mixed feelings, to tell the truth,
not just before the birth but afterwards too.
Does that surprise you?
It did me.
I thought I’d be ecstatic once the child was born,
over the moon –
isn’t that how we mums are meant to feel?
He was my firstborn after all,
a beautiful bouncing boy,
so why wasn’t I bursting with happiness?
Well, I was, of course,
part of me anyway,
yet there was so much I didn’t understand,
and so many things to take the edge off the moment.
There was Joseph for a start.
Oh, he was supportive – don’t think I’m complaining –
once he got over the shock of the pregnancy anyway,
and you can hardly blame him if that took a while, can you?
But, imagined or not, I always felt there was a shadow in his eyes
when he looked at Jesus,
as if to say, ‘What really happened?’
And then there were those visits after the birth –
first the shepherds,
then those strangers from the East with their lavish gifts.
It was gratifying, obviously,
not every child gets that sort of attention, after all.
But what made them come? – that’s what I keep asking.
What did their homage signify?
Don’t think I’m ungrateful,
but I really wish sometimes Jesus could have been an ordinary child,
and the three of us left to enjoy our happiness –
no fuss,
no angels,
no promises,
simply the joy of being together.
But any last chance of that disappeared after those words of Simeon,
that curious warning of his about the future.
I’ve tried not to let it get to me,
but it’s preyed on my mind ever since,
always that fear within me of tragedy round the corner.
So, you see, I had mixed feelings,
very mixed,
and I still do have, as much now as ever.
I want to rejoice,
to enjoy my boy while I still have him.
I want to count my blessings and thank God for all he’s given.
But there’s been a price to pay already,
and deep within I’ve a horrible feeling
that this business of being God’s servant,
of accepting his will and serving his kingdom,
involves a far greater cost than I’d ever begun to imagine,
and a price I’d rather not pay.

Prayer
Gracious God,
alongside the blessings of discipleship
there is always also the cost –
sacrifices that will inevitably be asked of us,
demands that we inevitably must face,
responsibilities that we must inevitably accept.
Hard though it is to accept, let alone understand,
we realise there can be no joy without sorrow,
no pleasure without pain,
no life without death.
Yet we know also that, however great the price may be,
the rewards of service far outweigh it,
for you promise all who serve you
lasting blessings that will never fail;
treasure in heaven that nothing shall ever destroy.
Help us, then, to offer all that is asked of us,
until finally we rejoice in everything you hold in store
for us and all your people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Plough Sunday

Plough Sunday is an ancient tradition when in January, usually the Sunday after Epiphany, the plough is brought into church and blessed with a blessing on the soil and the seeds for the coming season. It is the start of the three “Agricultural” services, followed in August by Lammas a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest – “Loaf Mass”, and concluded with our Autumn Harvest Festivals.

This trinity of celebrations is to remind us of the passing of time and seasons, sowing, reaping, harvesting. But also the passing of time too, spring, summer, autumn, leading to the fallow period of rest in the winter. Although best not to mention winter as a season of rest to the farmers with animals, it is the most intensive work period of the year with early lambing/calving, winter feeding and water in freezing temperatures, indoor barn management and so on …

Plough Sunday reminds us to pray for our farmers, for our land and for us as we remember that we are to be stewards of creation, carers not users. At times it is obvious that we have forgotten this, when we are confronted by pollution and disaster caused by our misuse and abuse.

Why not join us in these prayers this weekend and make a commitment to live as good stewards in God’s world?

Blessing of The Plough    

God our strength, we bring before you the ploughs of our land, and ask your blessing on all we do to cultivate the soil. God of every occupation, we bring tools used in many kinds of work, and ask you to bless them to our use and us to your service.

The plough is the foundation of our work and a symbol of our labour. For the soil to be broken up and seed sown, we must first plough the fields. For the green corn to grow and the ripe grain to be reaped, we must plough the fields. For the bread to be baked and the people fed, we must first plough the fields. For prosperity to come to our farms and families, we must first plough the fields. So we bring our ploughshares and tools for you to give your blessing upon them and upon all the work done on our farms and gardens. Let us each offer to God in our hearts our own work.

God our Father bless the ploughs of our land, and all of you who work the soil on farms and in gardens. Bless all the tools we use in our daily work and help us to labour for the good of all, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. God speed the plough.

Let us pray for God’s blessing on the work of the farmers of our county, of which the plough is a sign and token. Holy Spirit, give to all who till the ground wisdom to understand your laws, and to co-operate with your ways and grant that the fruits of the earth may not be hoarded by the selfish or squandered by the foolish, but that all may share abundantly in the harvest of the soil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God speed the plough and the ploughman, the farm and the farmer. God speed the plough, on hillside and in valley; on land which is rich, and on land which is poor; in countries overseas, and at home. God speed the plough, in fair weather and in foul, in success and disappointment, in rain and wind, in frost and sunshine; God speed the plough.

Covenant Sunday

In January our Methodist brothers and sisters often celebrate a renewal of their covenant with God. Within our community down at the tip of Cornwall, we have a special relationship in St Levan with the Methodist church. Sadly their building had to close so they joined forces with the Anglicans and we worship together week by week.

One of the things that is such a rich gift to us, as Anglicans, is the service of Covenant that we share each January. Although this year it will be by Zoom service as the buildings are closed, it will be no less important.

On December 25th 1747 and on many other occasions, John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman and the founder of Methodism, strongly urged the people called Methodist to renew their Covenant with God. The Methodist prayers goes like this:

A Covenant with God

‘I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’

What might it mean for you to pray this prayer? It is not a simple thing, as what we are saying is that we agree to entwine our wills to God. No longer seeking self but seeking to serve. No longer looking out for the best for me, but the best for others. No longer preserving myself as the priority but giving God control in my life. (This reminds me of those working in the NHS at the moment, fighting the pandemic with out thought for their own wellbeing.)

This Covenant is scary stuff indeed. But our God is a God of Love and grace, truth and beauty. In God, with God we have no need to fear, for we are in safe hands. No matter what God asks of us, where God sends us, God is with us always and everywhere.

For this is the covenant made in the life of Jesus given on the cross, that we might live freely forgiven and loved. Thanks be to God.

Baptism of Christ

Do you remember your baptism? Many of us were “done” as children and may have an old, if not ancient, photo of a small baby in a white gown being held proudly in church. Hats and smart clothes show the importance of the ceremony. Here is the proof that you are now part of the family of God – or in some cases here is proof you are doing the best you can as a parent to give your child the very best chances in life.

What is baptism really about? A time for celebrating a birth, of asking others to help with the child’s life. An opportunity for some lovely gifts?

Remember that in the bible those being baptised were adults, baptised as they recognised that they have come far from God, had done things that were wrong and needed healing and help. When we think of baptism as something for “babies” we disable the sacrament from being a means of grace and freedom for us all.

Adults seeking baptism is far more common than you would think, and we often have folk in their teens to their eighties coming for baptism, having heard the whisper of God’s love, the promise of his forgiveness and a chance for a new start in life.

There are 3 questions at the baptism service: do you renounce evil, do you repent of your sin, do you turn to Christ? But these questions are not a one off decision but a daily way of living and following Christ. For evil and sin are ever before us as a choice, as is the desire to be able to do everything on our own strength rather than asking God to help through Jesus.

Evil is the word Live backwards, to renounce evil is to turn our backs on all that leads to the death of our spirit and soul, relationships, and joys. To repent our sin means we must recognise that – gasp – we are not perfect, and we get things wrong! To turn to Christ is a reminder we should refer back to Jesus daily in prayer, to ask for his help, to turn to him whenever the challenges of life are overwhelming. Turn to Christ, not from him and you will find the strength to cope with all that is thrown at you.

So, this weekend as we remember the baptism of Christ, might you quietly bring to mind these questions, to offer them and yourself before God. Then perhaps you will be ready to reaffirm these promises.

I renounce evil.

I repent of my sin,

I turn to Christ.

And I pray that you will hear the words of God as spoken at Jesus’ baptism “Here is my precious child, in whom I am well pleased.”

Grasp the grace of God, be saturated in the love of God, and be filled with the Holy Spirit, know yourself to be God’s beloved. Redeemed, forgiven and freed. Thanks be to God.