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Minister News Prayers

for 3rd May 2020

Over the last month I’ve had the rare opportunity to listen to others preach and see the way they lead worship. It’s interesting. Last week I began during my morning walk listening to Bill Young’s blog https://revdbill.uk  “for and from North Coventry Group.” Bill spoke about recognising Jesus “in the every day, in normality, in community.” As I walked along the River Sowe, contemplating the rubbish that collects under London Road bridge, it was good to be reminded that this is the world Jesus loves. Once I was home and breakfasted, Chris and I settled down together to listen to the service from Downing Place, Cambridge https://youtu.be/30MMouFqMiQ where John Bradbury was preaching his last sermon before moving to become General Secretary. He used the Emmaus Road experience to talk about the conversations with his colleague Nigel Uden to bring their two churches together, and all the conversations that had happened across the churches to bring them to a point where they are one church ready to move into a newly renovated building. It reminded me of the steps we took to become Ansty Road and the conversations that will be necessary if St. Columba’s and Warwick Road are to make a similar journey. A thoughtful message was enhanced by music from their talented musicians. Both of those were pre-recorded. The week before we had been to a Zoom Service, about 100 people connected by Video link led by some friends from the North West. It was immediate, interactive, slightly chaotic and a chance to meet up with some friends. But I’ve also looked in at some cringeworthy offerings and others that are worthy but uninspiring. I guess that is just ordinary church week to week. 

Last week saw our first attempts at offering something more than a weekly letter. Kirsty and I produced a conversation “Walking with Strangers” that can be found on the websites. It does not attempt to replicate the worship that is already available, but to add something a little different. But within it, there is a prayer and some music that will point you towards a hymn. We also hosted our first  Zoom Bible Study. It was lovely to see people and to see the effort some of you had made to be connected. Please try to join us again on Tuesday when we look at 1 Peter 2 and what it might be to be Living Stones. The link remains https://us02web.zoom.us/j/4043156568. If you want to try it out before hand let me know and I will try to help you. It is best on a tablet or laptop that has microphone and camera. But if you can see and hear us there are also ways of interacting. 

You are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into God’s marvellous light.

be blessed

CraigSunday 3 May  Third Sunday after Easter

Prayer Risen Jesus may we always know your voice, and follow the one who leads us through the gate. 

Hymn The King of love my shepherd is, 

whose goodness faileth never. 

I nothing lack if I am his, 

and he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow, 

my ransomed soul he leadeth; 

and where the verdant pastures grow, 

with food celestial feedeth.

Bible Read John 10:1-10

Reflection What comes to mind when you think of a Gatekeeper? Are they welcoming or threatening figures? Do they hold the door open for you and bid you good morning, or do they block the way and enquire about your business? I suspect that we have all known both kinds of gatekeeper, but some of us will have experienced one more than the other. How does it feel to be denied access to somewhere we want to be? How might it feel if that happens time and time again – may there be some prejudice at work?

And how often have you been the gatekeeper? Deciding who gets access to a building, or power, or resources. How does that feel? Do you welcome the responsibility or cringe at the thought of it?

Jesus likens himself to the gate, through which we are to enter and find pasture. The gate does not decide whether it is opened or closed, locked or left unattended. But the gatekeeper does.

Jesus also likens himself to the shepherd, for whom the gate is opened so that the sheep can follow the voice they know and trust. This Jesus is not a stranger he is the one to be trusted, the one who will lay down his life for the sheep and gathers them from many folds into one flock.

When we find ourselves in the role of gatekeepers, may we allow the sheep from many folds to follow the way of Jesus, who is the good shepherd, the trusted gate to good pasture.

Prayer Incarnate Jesus, may we know your voice and follow you through the gate into abundant, fruitful life.

Hymn And so through all the length of days, 

thy goodness faileth never; 

Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise 

within thy house forever.

Blessing To God’s scattered people … 

Grace and peace to you in fullest measure.

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Minister News

For 26 April 2020

It is now over a month since we were able to meet together and we continue to manage this lockdown period in different ways. Many have grown used to working from home, discovering just how much can be done online. But for others it is difficult, trying to manage work, child care, close proximity to one another all at the same time. Last week I was supposed to be on holiday, I did cut back on work related activity – but when you are still on the end of a phone, or looking at e-mails for other reasons, it is hard to do. My thanks to Kirsty for pulling the weekly letter together with some thoughtful worship material. That was one way I had a holiday!

However, it was also a space to think about the different ways we approach this time and Kirsty and I have decided to try some podcasts. These will be discussions based around the weekly gospel readings through to at least Pentecost (31 May) and we hope will complement the other online resources that people are finding. For those who can not access online material, the worship reflections on the other side of this letter, will follow a similar theme. We hope you continue to find them useful and thank you to those who have been writing back to me, it’s lovely to hear from you and to receive letter that aren’t bills!

I’ve also decided to introduce a Zoom Bible Study looking at the First letter of Peter, but will also include something in the weekly letter. 1 Peter was written to people who did not have buildings but were to be living stones wherever they were, The first line is addressed “To the scattered…” Perhaps there will be something we will learn from this old technology, using todays communication methods. 

The first bible study will be on Tuesday 28 April at 7pm, and then same time, same place, each Tuesday through May. If you would like to join me, then please contact me and I will send you the link.

In the meantime, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Sunday 26 April: Third Sunday of Easter

Prayer Risen Jesus in our conversations and in our actions may we recognise your presence amongst us and in the lives of our community.

Hymn

Living God your joyful Spirit

breaks the bounds of time and space,

rests in love upon your people,

drawn together in this place.

Here we join in glad thanksgiving,

here rejoice to pray and praise:

Lord of all our past traditions,

Lord of all our future days

Bible Read Luke 24:13-35

Reflection Do you recognise anything of yourself in this account? Perhaps the confusion within Cleopas and his friend as they found themselves talking with someone they assumed was a stranger. Perhaps they were still grieving, perhaps they were disorientated by the change in events, perhaps they could not quite believe something that is being reported by women, even though some of the men had been to confirm it.  But for some reason they failed to recognise Jesus in the conversation and only saw him in the action of breaking bread.

Who do we believe? and what makes a person believable? How do we recognise Jesus? and what do we bring to our own conversations? How can we recognise Jesus in people whose lives do not fit into nice neat stereotypes.? How do we help people to affirm who they are and to recognise God’s blessing in each person whether they be stranger or friend?

Prayer Incarnate Jesus, you saw yourself in each of us, open our eyes to recognise you in ourselves and our neighbours so that we live and treat one another with love and compassion rather than fear and prejudice. Amen.

Hymn

As your bread may we broken,

scattered in community;

we who know your greatest blessings

called to share Christ’s ministry.

May we gently lead each other,

share our hunger and our thirst

learn that only through our weakness

shall we know the strength of Christ

RS 530 © Jill Jenkins

Blessing To God’s scattered people … Grace and peace to you in fullest measure.

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Minister News Prayers

for 5 April 2020 (Palm Sunday)

1st April 2020
Dear Friends
As I type the date I wonder if somehow a great April Fool’s trick is being played on us, confining us to our homes, whilst somewhere else, life continues as it always did. But in truth I know that it doesn’t and that actually the calm surreal atmosphere I see from my window is very different for those confronted by the sort of medical emergency that we thought was consigned to history.
The strange thing about isolation is the confusion of ways to keep in contact – for those who are surrounded by technology. I’m aware that for those who are not, this world is even more isolating. So thank you for those who are keeping in touch with one another by telephone, by post, perhaps a wave through the window or dropping off supplies for those who need them. I have updated the website, and will look to keep that up to date. I will post on facebook from time to time and would encourage others to do so as well. And I hope to write something most weeks to keep us up to date and to create a service sheet that you might like to use in your own prayers and reflections.
Some of my colleagues have quickly moved into full blown online mode, with live streamed or pre-recorded Sunday services. Others are experimenting with video conferencing for a Sunday morning. I have been a bit slower, sensing that you are content to pick up what is available on television, radio and internet and that there is no need for me to replicate what is already available. But if you want something more then let me know. I have invested in Zoom – a video conferencing app. We used it for our Elders’ Meeting and I have used it to re-start the Wednesday morning prayers for the Chapel of Unity. I am going to produce a videoed reflection for a series that Lillington Free Church are putting together for Holy Week, so will list the link for you. Let me know if you would value something very specially created by or for Ansty Road.
 
 
That is the end of the notices, it is time to worship God
 
My song is love unknown
my Saviours love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die
 
One of the things that this pandemic has highlighted is our essential workers. Many are in low paid service industries. They are the people who care for our sick, our older people and our children. They are the people who farm, transport and stack food where we can find it. They are the people who keep us connected, informed, cleaned. They are fulfilling many unloved roles.
 
We hold key workers in our prayers – may their frail flesh know life and love.
 
Sometimes they strew his way
and his sweet praises sing;
resounding all the day
hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify” is all their breath
and for his death they thirst and cry.
 
Another is the goodness of praise. It is so easy to criticise, and clearly some have been quick to do so. But praise encourages us onwards, lifts the heart and brings joy for many. We come into Holy Week knowing that the Hosannas will become cries of Crucify, that the acceptance, even excitement of lockdown will become wearying for many, that already Domestic Violence is on the rise and many whose mental health is fragile will be broken.
 
We hold all who are anxious and frightened in our prayers – may they breathe life.
 
They rise, and needs will have
my dear Lord made away
a murderer they save,
the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet cheerful he to suffering goes,
that he his foes from thence might flee.
 
On the one hand a pandemic can strike anyone. We have seen the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales being diagnosed. On the other, privilege still protects the Privileged. The wealthy can be tested, and I can isolate in a comfortable house with the ability to work, connect, eat, be entertained. We brought the Night Shelter to an end a week early, and whilst all our guests were moved into hotel accommodation, it was without the comforts I enjoy. From India there was a picture of people being forced into shared accommodation, crowded together – too poor to be isolated whilst chaos capitalists will make vast sums of money.
 
We hold the poor of our world in our prayers – may they find freedom from suffering
 
Here might I stay and sing
No story so divine;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
 
My website reflection last Sunday, focused on friendship. And this verse reminds me once again of the friendship we find in Christ. That God comes into our world as one who travels the lanes, shares meals, tells stories amongst friends, and calls us to gather as friends of one another and friends of Christ. This is a relationship that endures through all the troubles of life, through isolation and grief and emerges into new life. Easter may feel delayed this year but it will come.
 
We give thanks and sing for the friendships we enjoy – may each know the sweet presence of Christ
 
Be blessed, Craig
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Minister News

Second Sunday of Social Distancing

Had I been leading worship this morning, my planned theme was Friendship. The gospel reading today was the one where Jesus is called to the home of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. By the time he arrives Lazarus has been dead four days, Mary and Martha are grieving and Jesus grieves with them. This, despite knowing new life is coming for Lazarus. That need for friends to share human emotion becomes central to their relationship and the experiences they share.

Instead, I spent the morning watching/listening to various friends presenting worship via video/podcast. Each had their own ways of doing so, their own emphasis on the passages. But in each case something of the grief of isolation was expressed, of being apart from other human company. It was good to see them all, to remember how each of these friends has played a part in my life, how much their friendship is valued.

This time of social distancing, has emphasised how much being in the company of other people is central to who we are. Yes we can meet online, we can worship via video link, we can meet in video conference, we can work from home and keep in touch via a variety of social media. But none of it compensates for being with people, their presence and their interaction. I’m even missing the odd hug – not too many, but the occasional expression that come only come from human touch. It makes me realise how important social spaces are for isolated people – those who just come for a cup of tea, speak with no one, but value being able to do so. How meeting as a church is as much about the greeting and gathering as it is the content of a prayer or sermon. These are lessons we must remember when we return from isolation.

This mornings Old Testament text was Ezekiel being invited to see dry bones come to life. It reminds us that throughout human history, people have struggled through hard barren times and emerged with hope. we will do so as well.

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Minister News

First Sunday of Social Distancing

It’s 10:30am Sunday morning, the 4th Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday, the first Sunday of Social Distancing and I’m sitting in Ansty Road all alone. I’ve put some notices on the outside noticeboards and on the doors, I’ve had a chat with the taxi drivers forlornly waiting for a fare and now the computer is belting out worship songs on shuffle. Church is not meant to be a place where we are alone. It all feels wrong, but I’m glad to be alone, it means that people have received the message that the church building is closed for the moment, that we must put aside our need to gather and take the precautions that we have been told will best protect the most vulnerable to this virus.

But the church is not closed, for the church is Us – wherever we are, whatever we are doing. It is Us when we connect online, by telephone, by post, when we stop to chat with those we see (keeping an appropriate distance apart!)  It is Us when we pause to pray, to sing along to a hymn, be led into worship on television or radio. It is Us when we work from home or when we still need to work in the hospital, the shops, the care home, the school for children of essential workers, the Night Shelter and food queue. 

The computer is playing the song “In love you summon” https://youtu.be/ucIrfFZPDaA

In love you summon, In love I follow

living today for your tomorrow

Christ release me, Christ to enfold me

Christ to restrain me, Christ to uphold me.

Perhaps that is good place to leave this reflection. 

Look after yourselves and one another. 

We will gather together again when we can.

be blessed

Craig

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Minister News

Easter is Coming

I write at a time when the news is dominated by Covid-19 and our response to it. On 17th March, following advice from the URC that was matched by other denominations the Elders decided to close all church activities. It was a difficult very emotional decision to make, not least to suspend all public worship. That means that there will be no services on a Sunday. We will keep the website  and Facebook up to date, we will look to communicate by telephone, letter or e-mail where necessary. There are lots of online resources being produced and we will communicate those to you. And of course the Labyrinth is in the open air and always open for prayer. 
 
These are strange times and so it becomes even more important to temper the language of fear with a story of hope. For Easter is coming, when we tell a great story of new life emerging out of despair and we need to hear and live that story once again. 
Humanity has lived through such moments before; war, plague, disease, economic crisis have taken their turn and people have dusted themselves down and emerged ready to live again. Often that new life has taken a new turn, and that will be the same again for us, can we emerge from whatever isolation we each find ourselves in ready to shape communities that automatically include the isolated and reach out to the most vulnerable? If we do, then our Easter story has to be at the heart –  a small group of vulnerable, frightened people who discover that Jesus is alive and calling them into a living community of faith.
For the last three years we have been working towards redeveloping the church building, it has been a slow and sometimes frustrating process, but at last we are at a point where we have some plans that meet our budget even though we have lost some elements to make that so. We do not wish to delay a decision on that, so Church Members will receive a communication that will still enable us to look to the future and new ventures that can transform the way we continue to be a living community of faith serving our communities. We are moving into a new era, and the future can be as exciting as the past for Jesus stands amongst us, scarred hands open in blessing. 
Please look out for one another, and the needs of your more vulnerable neighbours. Please look after yourselves – it is not a time to battle on if we are feeling unwell. See you post-Easter.
be blessed
Craig
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Minister News

Imagining Gardens

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.…” And it was so. God saw everything … was very good. … the sixth day.”

So begins human stewardship of the earth. Sometimes it feels as if whilst God rests, humanity has taken the opportunity to grab more than is sustainable from the garden and dump the spoiled excess back into landfill. There is nothing new in this, except that our ability to exploit has become so amplified, that today we are faced with an unsustainable future. The consequences of climate change will dominate this century as humans struggle for resources. How do we respond as followers of the creator God?

The URC Mission Council has called on URC trusts to divest from fossil fuel companies and to reinvest in clean alternatives. In doing so, it wishes to support and encourage churches and members to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, and so participate in a just transition to a zero-carbon future. There is no simple way of doing so, the electricity for electric cars still needs to be generated, there are challenges in creating an ethical supply chain for raw materials that make batteries, solar panels, wind turbines. We have become so reliant on plastics that we struggle to live without them. I suspect that Earth will survive this crisis, but whether humanity has a sustainable future is the bigger challenge. Such issues are not things that we can ignore, that is why children are taking to the streets, populations are shifting and some have returned to eating vegetables instead of meat. 

Revelation ends in a Garden City, “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations.” Now there is a future worth imagining.

be blessed

Craig

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News

Candlight Carol Service

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Mission News

Advent Gatherings

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News

Macmillan Coffee Morning 23 September 2017

Come along for a nibble and a natter, Hopefully we will be out on the front lawn enjoying the sunshine!