The holiday with a difference…

During my two weeks off we have had a few days out in Wales and the Lake District walking with Cagney and Lacey. Cagney loved having a swim at Llyn Brenig, Lacey not so much! And a few places more close to home.

I’ve spent some time relaxing, watching the cricket—the second test was a wash out but fabulous to see Jimmy Anderson take his 600th Test wicket.

If we had been in Greece, which is where we had planned origninally I would have been doing a lot of reading, I normally read 3-5 books (I’m a slow reader) mostly fiction loaded up on my kindle – nice and light for travelling. This year I decided as we couldn’t go abroad I would go abroad in my books. I chose 3 books of women travelling to different places.

The first book was by Kira Salak, who travelled to the heart of New Guinea. This book gripped me from the start, a book filled with danger, trials and tribulations to see a country she had wanted to visit from pictures she had seen. She writes with passion and you really get to meet the other people she encounters on her journey. I wouldn’t want to spoil the book, but this is one I would recommend if you want a gripping story.

The second book was by Sarah Marquis. I started to read it and instantly felt deflated after Kira’s book. A professional traveller, who spent 2 years planning the journey with her team. She walked alone, but there were points where things got tough she just needed to get in contact for her support team to get her out of where she was. Her mission was to get to a tree in Austrailia. For me, going somewhere you want to take in the local culture, but this seemed impossible in Mongolia – actively finding camping spots away from locals. I’m still not sure if it was because it would have been dangerous for a lone female, or because she wanted to be alone. Maybe its because its not written as much in a stroy style that I didn’t engage with it as well, but it was still and interesting read.

The third book was by Kate Harris. This was written much more in a story style. Instead of walking her and a friend were biking the Silk Road. The journey was over a period of time in between studying at Oxford and MIT. She wanted to be an explorer, that’s what drove her. There is certainly a different dynamic when sharing the journey, willing to take risks in environments that would have been far more of a risk to a loan female – able to support and keep each other going. To have someone to share the memories of the journey with.

All three are certainly worth reading. There is a desire to see a new place, experience new cutures and experience the history of those places past and present. I’ve travelled to many places even if I don’t have the miles to show for it. These stories drive us on to take on more journeys that keep us loving our world.

Lands of Lost Borders pg 217
Lands of Lost Borders pg 218
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The church is not a building

I’ve not blogged for some time, but I have lots of questions running through my head. This is a bit of a splurge of thoughts that keep running into each other at the moment, I thought writing them down might help me make sense of some of them.

Across the Methodist Church, we have many buildings. Do we treat them as a resource to share God’s love in the world, or have we slowly over time become slaves to keeping them open rather than focussing on God’s mission in our communities outside of those walls?

Our buildings do define what we can do in a way because of their size and layout. As we do risk assessments and work out how we can work within our buildings, in line with the current social distancing measure, this will limit how many people can be inside them at any one time. Not touching anything unless it has been sanitised or left for an appropriate amount of time. Have you washed your hands or sanitised? Followed the prescribed route through the building, and done what is requested to make these spaces as safe as possible. I bet there will be church communities all over the world wishing they could clear their sights of their buildings and start them all over again to have them work with the guidance rather than being constrained by it (thought listings and covenants on properties can create an issue!)

Is there something that would be better? Open to the elements – creative roofing – heating – lighting, or its it better to use technology and not gather in person? To gather outside where there is plenty of ventilation, though could get cold and wet. How are we then the community of Christ, in relationship with Christ and each other to grow in discipleship? This whole situation creates so many different questions.

As we ease out of lockdown, what have we learned that we consider to be the most important aspects of worshipping and growing in relationship with Christ and each other? What should we bring with us?

Maybe a portable worship pack. Bring your own bible or smartphone or tablet. Bring your own chair – though obviously some may struggle for a variety of reasons to bring such things with them.

When I look at our church building today, my reflections are that we have made them places of comfort, and why not if you can! Many have hymn books and bibles that may not get used very often. Where possible, many have chosen to change pews or hard chairs for comfortable upholstered chairs and cushion on pews so we can comfortably sit and listen – or have a nap, depending on who is taking the act of worship.

A phrase that has been constantly used recently, especially in news articles saying churches have been closed or going to re-open. ‘The church is open – our buildings have been closed and many still are’.

Worship has continued in a wide variety of different formats. Those who were unable to physically gather in our buildings are now connecting with their local worshipping communities and continuing to worship together. Though, on reflection, it really shouldn’t take a pandemic to learn the value of keeping in contact with those who were not able to physically meet for worship before all of this, we have now experienced what it feels like, though we now realise we can use technology to engage in ways we never thought possible. I certainly never though I could set up a phone number that would play a weekly reflection if you dial in, something for those without computers, smart phones or tablets have reacted very positively to.

The early church met in homes. Wesley and early preachers often preached outside, or in homes – how many preachers and worship leaders would be happy to stand out in all weather today? I would, (I know… I’m strange!) it’s part of why I love Forest Church – worshipping in and with God’s creation, feeling that tangible connection with this wonderful world that God has created, from our gardens, public green spaces to church gardens, car parks or the middle of nowhere in the countryside.

We have a dilemma in the church, we have a lot of buildings but in many places we don’t have the resources (people or finances) to use them to the best of their ability. How many I wonder were only used a handful of times a month outside of weekly worship before lockdown? Many of our buildings do provide a wonderful witness and gift for community groups as they are able to use them. I wonder, how many of those groups will be able to return.

Could some of our buildings or the land gifted to us through generations of faithful people before us, become places that could benefit their communities through being reimagined to address social needs of today. Maybe they could provide housing for the homeless or for those whose own home is no longer a safe space for them. Could they become care facilities for those in need? Or a wide variety of other things that could address social issues in local communities. Are there charities, local council or community groups who the church could be partnering with at a national level which could then provide the support local churches need to explore what possibilities or what alternatives there could be rather than selling properties when we are no longer able to look after them – keeping the life and witness of the generations of faithful people who have witnessed and furthered God’s mission in those communities through the way those buildings are continued to be used in those communities? This is a subject that always makes me have lots and lots of questions – I just don’t have the answers…

A part of our Methodist DNA, is that we are made members to our local church. Does that church though need a building? Wether owned, leased, rented or used on the odd occasion for certain types of gatherings. For me, it is more about gathering somewhere within a community or gathered area. Gatherings of house groups, or community’s with similar theological views.

I think there is a need for buildings – wether owned or not. We still have a number of members who for them physical gatherings for worship is the norm (I consider myself in that category). We can gather for worship as dispersed communities, as we have had to recently, but it doesn’t fully fill that connection of relationship through online means, not for me at least.

During my own journey with Christ, I found there were times that I couldn’t engage with my local community other than on a Sunday. Bible study groups, fellowship groups, choir practice often happened during the week, normally on an evening. I ended up working a 2-10pm permanent shift. So everything except gathering for worship on a Sunday stopped. Each of us have different experiences, working patterns have changed, engaging in family life and our commitments has changed for many – this isn’t a new thing, but it’s something that hasn’t been addressed much, or at least we maybe haven’t challenged enough that their could be alternative ways for those who cannot gather at the traditional set time or day, and in a particular place.

My hope, as churches start to consider how and when physical gatherings are safe to return to, what do you want church to look like? Where will you meet? Do you go back to your building or reimagine what that gift could be to people in your local community. Are there other community building that you could support by gathering there, freeing up time on maintaining properties, finances and focussing on growing in relationship with Christ and using your time and resources to work out God’s mission in those communities.

What will worship look like? As a Methodist, not singing will be the hardest part for me. Maybe our church communities should be discussing ‘what have you missed’ and use that as a base to work out what you want worship to look like.

Contemplating all of this reminded me of a book I read years ago by Nick Page, called ‘The Church Invisible’, written in 2004. It was a story of being catapulted 40 years in to the future. An age where virtual reality is a lifestyle. At the time, it was an inventive look at the future of the UK church. If you have never read it, while it is fiction, I would recommend it. I read it back in 2005 and has in many ways broadened the way I question ‘what should church be’ and how we live out our faith in local and global communities. Here is the description of gathered worship and church structure.

Page 194
Page196

I find it challenging because it makes me question, what do we need to be church today? Or, do we just go back to who or what we were before?

Crowded streets and beaches scare me that all the sacrifices made over the last few months will be lost. That we become complacent about social distancing. That, all those who have stayed at home, been furloughed from work, those who have been instrumental in keeping us as safe and healthy as possible – all those who work in the emergency services and other key workers – those who have changed their working practices to reduce any exposure to themselves or others, those who have been separated from family and friends – such hard things to do, but what have we learned from all of this…? All I know is, we need to take time to reflect.

Does our church life and witness revert back, or do we allow this time to change and challenge our thinking and being. As you see, I have lots and lots of questions, we need to seek the answers together with Christ.

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Keeping Faith – Stay to make changes happen….

There was a time in my early 20’s that I considered leaving the British Methodist Church. It was a time, that as a young adult I felt that my plea and the plea from others my age in our circuit who wanted to deepen our faith. We could do that, but a certain person wanted to put restrictions in place as to who could lead us. That restriction eventually meant the group fell apart, we didn’t have what we needed to sustain us.

I decided to speak to someone who I knew was wise and very faithful, and they gave me a good piece of advice – “for change to happen, you need to be a part of that change”. In other words, leaving the church wouldn’t solve anything. Walking away from the thing I loved, was to walk away from part of my identity, my faith. It was about 10-15 years later that I realised just how true that was.

I battled with my desire to fulfil God’s calling in my life, calling me to a life of ministry of sharing the Love Christ has for all people. First though, I had to love myself and that included the part of God’s creation within me, my own sexuality, my homosexuality.

If I couldn’t love the whole of me, how could I show other just how much God loved them.

Yesterday was a traumatic day for many, the UMC fractured further as they voted to maintain its opposition to same-sex marriage, and gay clergy.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/02/26/united-methodist-church-votes-maintain-its-opposition-same-sex-marriage-gay-clergy/

While in the UK, the Lambeth Conference website showed this….

The image went wild on social media, an outcry of dispair, disbelief and sadness that certain people would be excluded because of who they loved. It was eventually changed later in the day.

It often seems easy to reject what we don’t understand or have been taught is wrong, or sinful. We may not always appreciate the hurt and despair sharing those opinions causes. The first commandment is to love God, the second to love our neighbour. If we love we don’t intentionally hurt others, though if we think what we are doing is right – well, that’s ok, isn’t it?

There are a lot of people hurting today, many who are angry on behalf of others, and then there are those who are thinking – how can churches hold all of our different views and stay together?

I know what it feels like to experience that kind of rejection, been there and done that! I feel for all our brothers and sisters no matter where in the world they live. If you know someone is hurting – encircle them with your love, and show them just how much you value them for who they are. If you are that person, I pray that you can lean on Jesus and find the strength through him to stay wherever you are, to ride out the storm around you, so you can be a part of the change to come. If you are someone who holds a different view, all I ask is that you are willing to continue the conversation, to accept that nothing is straight forward except for maybe one thing – That God loves each and everyone of us, we are all made in God’s image. There are some things that God created within each one of us that are not meant to be changed or driven out of us.

Just remember, God first loved us, through that we have the capacity to love each other, treat each other with equality and kindness. Though for many, just now, there needs to be space for healing and if you are contemplating leaving your church, denomination or faith, I pray, don’t make a quick decision. Take some time out and reflect, if you leave imagine what wonderful gift of Love they will loose – you! You are a beautiful gift of God, you are loved and you are love. There is a need to free the Holy Spirit within each one of us, my prayer is the freeing of that spirit of love in all of us, no matter where we stand on the theological scale. It is the recognition of love that sets us free to truly live as the people we were created to be.

A few articles that you may also find an interesting to read on the situation in the UMC

https://www.flumc.org/blogdetail/bishop-carter-comments-on-the-special-session-12763395

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/02/united-methodists-fracture-lgbt-plan-rejected/583693/

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Road Trip – Highlights of Rhodes (part 4): Elafos Hotel

We went up and up and up into the mountains to Elafos Hotel before heading back to the south coast to our hotel.

There was a traditional tavern Elafaki (The young Deer) alongside the hotel’s main building and a church next door. You will notice the architecture is nothing like Greek buildings, it seemed very much out of place. The surrounding forest is home to a rare and unique kind of Dama Dama deer. Brought over to deal with the poisonous snakes that used to be on the island. If a Deer saw one, instead of running away they would stomp on it’s head.

On the drive back down the mountains to the coast, we passed this final little gem.

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Road Trip – Highlights of Rhodes (part 3): Lunch and Church Visit

We stopped in a lovely small village. Lunch was a three course meal! I’m glad we took a packed lunch as it was too hot to eat so much food. We wandered through the village and found the church we would be visiting later. We found a spot and had our picnic in the shade of the Church.

The Church was stunning and our guide gave us a really interesting history lesson about the architecture and why the churches are covered with so many frescoes – to get away from their pagan roots they had frescoes painted rather than having statues made. At the bottom of some of the frescoes you can see Greek names. These are the names of the families who paid for them to be painted.

Stunning!

We then walked through the village to a local shop that sold some of their local honey and drinks.

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Road Trip – Highlights of Rhodes (part 2): Filerimos Monastery and Cross

We can’t go to Rhodes and not go to a monastery or church. This trip took us to both!

Next stop up in the mountains in a small village for lunch and a visit to a church.

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Road Trip – Highlights of Rhodes (part 1): Kallithea Springs

This year we decided to push the boat out and go on two trips while we were on holiday. The first was a boat trip around the southern part of the island stopping in Lindos Bay and several others places where we had the chance to get out of the boat and swim in the sea.

The second trip was titled – Highlights of Rhodes

This trip stopped at several places around the northern part of the island.

We started at the Kallithea Springs. We had been there before on another trip a few years ago, but it was mid afternoon and way too hot to traipse around and enjoy it.

After the Springs we headed through Rhodes, passed what was left of the Acropolis – two and a half columns!

Then headed into the mountains.

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Flight to Rhodes

I consider myself fortunate that I enjoy flying, particularly as I’m often with a certain person who doesn’t. I have no fear of being that high, or fear the plane will fall – my fear is not being able to breathe, either under water or in a small space.

As we flew to Rhodes a couple of weeks ago, looking out of the window, this is what came to mind…

Clouds below and blue sky above

Beauty at the heart of creation

Where light always shines during the day

Turbulence hits…

Panic, stress and fear set in

From the depths of the earth

To the heights of heaven

There can be peace without and within

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Christian Art and the Bible – Mark 9: 2-13

The TransfigurationSix days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[b] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.The Coming of ElijahAs they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11 Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”The story of the Transfiguration is one of those rare moments when we are permitted to encounter God’s intense fullness. Peter, James, and John were “very much afraid” when they saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Through out Jesus’ ministry we see many miracles and wonders, but, God chooses only rare moments to reveal his divine glory in the flesh, and then leaves witnesses for when the time is right the rest of us so we can believe.It’s a story that always makes me wonder why was it only those three disciples, why did they walk up a mountain? Because if other were nearby surely they would have asked when they went back down the mountain ‘what happened?’ Surely the light would have shown for miles. Then there is the fact this is the one time Jesus says don’t say anything – not yet! Other things needed to happen first but then they could tell anyone who would listen.The Transfiguration of Jesus, artwork by Andrew Gray

Mountain top experiences can be awe inspiring, physically and spiritually. Does the altitude have an effect on what we experience in those types of places? I love the emotional effect the painting above by Andrew Grey gives. By darkening the surroundings, using highlights on the disciples give the impression that the light was so intense that it made everything else seem dark.

A far more classical view is Raphael’s painting from 1520.

This is the last painting by the Italian Master painter. It was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Merdici, later Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) he worked on it for the Narbonne Cathedral as an altarpiece in France. Currently resides in Vatican City.

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Christian Art and the Bible – Mark 7: 24-30

Mark 7:24-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Jesus exorcising the Canaanite Woman’s daughter from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry or Très Riches Heures, is a very famous and one of the best surviving examples of French Gothic illumination work. This can be seen in they style of buildings and landscape setting of this piece of work. It was created between 1412 and 1416. The manuscript was left unfinished, because the three painters and sponsor died in 1416 possibly victims of the plague.

Etching by Pietro del Po, The Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) woman asks Christ to cure, ca. 1650.

Pietro del Po was born in Palermo in 1616. He was an Italian painter, who studied in Naples. He was better known as an engraver than painter. He died in Naples in 1692.

This etching, for me brings out far more of the emotion in the story that you would expect to find than the above painting. Because it’s an etching, with the lack of colour it enable the imagination to build up the picture. There is also the nice touch in the addition of the dog – referencing Jesus’ comment in verse 27.

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