Friday, 24 October 2014

I'm laughing because the church stood empty

It made me smile to see the church totally empty. Ten thirty on a Sunday morning and not a soul was in sight. No music, no people, no service, not even a coffee in a green cup in the hall. For some this would be a depressing sight, but not for me, because I knew where all the people were.....they were outside serving their community. In the Newcastle Upon Tyne District, local churches have been encouraged to join in with a new mission initiative called 'Get Out Of Church Sunday'. The idea being that during any Sunday in October, in place of the normal Sunday Services, congregations leave the premises and go and do something different as a way of engaging in mission and serving those around them.

Games in the park
Great Lumley Methodist Church, like many others, took up this challenge, & after a great commissioning from their minister, Ian Kent, they left the building! All of them!!!  

litter picking

The 1st group was made up mainly of children & a couple of Sunday School teachers. Carrying a large box of games they were heading for the park to play games with any other children who happened to be there. The next team were dressed very casually for a Sunday morning...this was because they were off to the village green to do some gardening and pick up litter. 

off on a prayer walk

Then came the team who wanted to prayer walk around their village and ask for God's blessing on their community. 
free coffee at the football

The next team were headed for the coffee shop in the community centre where they were going to use a great resource called Table Talk to hopefully spark conversations. Finally a team laden with flasks and drinks left the building. They were off to the sports field to offer free, hot drinks to the parents as they watched their children play football. A couple of people did stay behind as their job was to get a barbecue lunch ready as everyone was going to gather back there and invite others to join them for some free food. 

Table Talk in the cafe
After leading a team in the morning, David Brown said 'Get out of church Sunday has provided Great Lumley Methodist Church with an opportunity to reignite its vision to be at the heart of the community and with a heart for the community. We haven't moved mountains yet but it's definitely given us the boost we need to get back out there and be sharing God's love with our community.'
 Lots of churches engaged with many great, yet simple, mission activities, most of them finding to their surprise that not only could they do it, but they actually enjoyed it. Lots of prayer walks, visits to those who can no longer attend, songs in the park, launch of messy church, youth activities, gardening, litter picking, coffee drinking, time to talk with local residents, the offer of free food, picnics in the park, Table Talk in community areas, Bible studies in cafés, cake making and then taking them to visit those who are lonely...the list goes on. All on one day in October. A Sunday when Christians decided to 'get out of church'.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Bucket List for The Methodist Church

I'm sat at home watching the Methodist Conference via the live streaming....watching godly people walking forward to receive bread & wine. Today they have many important things to debate & consider (and one or two less important things too!).

One report before them today is the wonderfully named Statistics for Mission

If you haven't yet read the report can I suggest you don't do it just before going to bed! Not if you want to sleep that night. I felt deeply affected after reading it & was left pondering the implications for many days. Asking God, 'so what do we do?' the answer seemed to come to me, surprisingly, from a letter in the Methodist Recorder, from Dr Richard Vautrey (pasted in full below). His hope is that the report will both sound a wake up call but will also enable us to speak honestly & openly about our inevitable death. Dr Vautrey then goes on to relate how patients who know they are going to die often take on a very different outlook on life, making the most of each & every precious day. Some compile a bucket list & find themselves doing things they never thought themselves capable of doing (often using the inheritance in order to achieve this). He concludes by saying,

'The Statistics for Mission should therefore be a signal that it is time to party. Who knows, rather than visiting us on our death bed, perhaps people in our communities might be interested in coming to find out why we are enjoying ourselves so much.'

Goodness, how amazing would it be if the people called Methodists started to party, spend the inheritance & take risks with their last few years instead of worrying about the pain of what is to come.
Let's spend the new roof fund, let's plant new projects, let's share our faith, let's demonstrate love in every area of our communities, let's tell people about this Jesus who is supposedly so precious to us, let's do all of this BEFORE it's too late to do any of this.

Let's compile that bucket list & start living before we die.

In May 2002 I wrote to the Methodist Recorder saying, “if the British Methodist Church continues to decline by an average of 8,762 members each year (as it has done over the last six years) then the British Methodist Church has only 37 years left.” The publication of the latest “Statistics for Mission” (Recorder, June 6) suggests that this prediction is still on target and there will not be a Methodist Church in Britain by 2039 – now just 25 years away.

Of course our decline is unlikely to follow such a simplistic linear fashion. In fact it could come quicker as the current annual 3.7% rate of decline is likely to increase because of the age profile of our membership. Our Church has benefited from the fact that Methodists in Britain are a pretty healthy lot and many of us live long in to old age. However that also means we could be facing more of a cliff edge rather than a steady decline. 

My hope then was to both sound a wake-up call but also to enable us to speak honestly and openly about our inevitable death. I concluded that a “Church that preaches that new life follows death should itself trust in God and not be afraid of what is to come”. I believe that to be true as much today as it was then.

Patients who know they are going to die often have a very different outlook on life. They make the most of every precious day. Yes they prepare, and put their affairs in order, but many also compile bucket lists of exciting and challenging things to do whilst they have the strength and energy to do them. They do things they never thought themselves capable of.

So let’s not dwell on our pain but instead celebrate each God given day we have left. Let’s not worry too much about long detailed plans and being too “methodical”, let’s instead experiment, take risks and have fun whilst we do so.  Let’s share our joy for life with those around us and let’s spend the inheritance saved up by the saints who have gone before us, not with a sense of gloom as we mourn our own loss, but with joy and gratitude for the generosity of an ever-present God. 

The Statistics for Mission should therefore be a signal that it is time to party. Who knows, rather than visiting us on our death bed, perhaps people in our communities might be interested in coming to find out why we are enjoying ourselves so much.

Dr Richard Vautrey

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

I could complain, I often do....but for now I choose to be thankful. 

This mornings quick look at twitter took a little more time than I expected. I was drawn to this blog http://god-loves-women  and then several conversations online in response to it.  

On numerous occasions I have stood up and complained about the lack of women involved in teaching and preaching at large conferences. I've often then found myself angered at the response...a token woman in the program. At times I have been that token woman myself! 

But I'm not going to complain or shout today. Instead I choose to be thankful.
Thankful that today someone else has written a blog and championed the cause.
Thankful that I belong to a church that has been ordaining women for 40 years.
Thankful that I belong to the fresh expressions network who I think are the most naturally inclusive group of people I have ever worked with.
Thankful that I'm NOT the token woman at this years ECG conference...there are lots of us. 
Thankful for a husband who has often put my name forward for an appointment when he could have done it himself...because he wants women to have as many opportunities as men. 
Thankful that in Christ I don't need to shout to be noticed. 

Yes there's still a long way to go, and on other occasions I will probably be pulling my hair out.
 But today I choose to be thankful. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Today I met....

Today I had a coffee and chat with a great guy. He's fairly young, articulate, bright, good looking and well dressed. We spent around half an hour chatting over our coffee, and during that time he shared with me some of his hopes for the future. He talked about how he'd done pretty well at school and that he hoped for a career that would challenge him and give him the kind of income he needed. He talked of his girlfriend and his hope of finding a home that they could move into together. In one respect there was nothing unusual about his hopes and dreams - they are similar to what most people look for in life.

You might be surprised when I tell you where the conversation took place, as it wasn't in a cosy coffee shop - it was in a Foodbank. This bright, articulate young man is homeless. His dream of having a job that provides the kind of income he needs is having a minimum wage job. In his words, 'minimum wage is enough for me, it's more than I have now'. All he wanted was a bit of stability. Is that too much to ask for?

His story (like many of the stories I've heard at the Foodbank) shines a spotlight on the injustices and inadequacies within our society and welfare system. There are people who fall through the gaps and seem to lie forgotten. They are not just statistics, they are real people. Each one with a story. And when you meet the people, instead of debating the reason for 'the problem' you find that they are just normal folk who've hit a rough patch. They are our neighbours.

Thank God for the Foodbanks, the Churches, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the like who work selflessly to reach out and let people know that they are important, the are worth something, they  deserve respect.

(Blog posted with permission).

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

'Methodism doesn't need evolution - it needs revolution.'

'Methodism doesn't need evolution - it needs revolution.'

These words were said to me at the end of a conversation about itineracy and the circuit system in Methodism. A few of us had been chatting around the dinner table about some of the blockages to growth, and indeed about some of the possibilities too. I found myself defending our structures as being workable (I know, very unusual for me!) if we approach them in the right way. I mentioned how with some tweaking we could make our structures much more workable. One of the guys as he walked away, said, 'Methodism doesn't need evolution - it needs revolution.'

Almost immediately I realised that he was right and I was wrong. The more I thought about these words, the more I realised the weight of them. I feel unsettled in my spirit.  Perhaps his words were more prophetic than a throw away comment at the end of a least that's what I'm thinking.

So I'm left wondering, 'how desperate are we for transformation?'  Desperate enough to do things very differently....and even to be different? Revolutions are never a walk in the park! People get hurt. Mistakes are made. And that might make us hesitant because we avoid pain and upset....that's only natural. But is it really our business to worry about others if it takes our focus away from Christ? Or are we supposed to fix our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfect or of faith?

Revolutions start with individuals. Please don't think for one minute that I'm advocating a violent power struggle with our denominational leaders....I'm really not. These are godly people whom I love and respect. But a revolution can equally be about a change in attitude and actions that brings about wide-reaching change.

I'm not sure how to finish this post as everything I try to write now just seems trite, as if I'm looking for an easy answer to neatly wrap up and conclude with. So instead I'll tell you that I expect to keep on feeling unsettled, and I'll pray, and think, and when I next see you, let's talk about revolution.