As I write this letter, there is within me a feeling of panic at how fast Easter is approaching. It feels this year that we have been almost catapulted from Christmas into Lent with alarming haste.
I always find Holy Week a testing time for my emotions as we journey from the celebrations of Palm Sunday, through the agonies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the emptiness of Holy Saturday and the strange dawning and hope of Easter Day.
This is the same mixture of emotions that I have experienced over the last few months; celebration, agony, emptiness and hope. Whilst my remaining time with you is speeding ahead, many other things in my life seem to be travelling very slowly, much slower than I had anticipated. I have become very impatient with certain situations and have been reminded of a boss of mine saying to me when I got impatient over something we were trying to achieve “This is a marathon, Nik, not a sprint.”
In the modern world we get so used to immediate results. I have seen pictures of the new babies of friends just minutes after they were born. There was a time when a parent wouldn’t see the pictures until a fairly lengthy process of developing and printing had happened. Today, those pictures arrive on my computer screen from the other side of the world. Life is instant and we tend to live life as a sprint rather than a marathon.
During our life’s marathon there will be days when we are making good progress and other days when we feel almost as if we are travelling backwards whilst everyone around us speeds past. Life for many of us isn’t always what it appears to be on the surface.
Whilst Jesus was facing the agony of what was ahead of him, his friends were anticipating something very different. On Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of the gathered crowd with all their anticipation of an end to Roman rule and the hope they placed in this king who would lead them to freedom. I can’t start to imagine what was going on in his head and the torment he must have felt.
My prayer at this Easter time is that, as we walk through Holy Week once again, we recognise the things that are going on in each other’s lives, the concerns, the pains and the torments that we cannot possibly see on the surface. The response quite often to the question “How are you?” is “Oh I’m fine!” and once this exchange has happened we can happily get on with whatever we are doing. I ask that if we hear that response from our friends, our families and each other during this season of Easter we take a few moments to hold that person in prayer that God will be close to them in whatever is on their heart.
Minister's Message MARCH 2017
Season of Preparation.
I once spent Holy Week on retreat with some monks and nuns then living at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine. It was an extraordinary experience for we did Holy Week ‘properly’. Each day there were different meditations in the chapel which was kept in the most puritan of simplicities. On Good Friday, all images were covered and the altar was shrouded in a cloth. Some of us kept vigil on Holy Saturday night, and all of us were up at dawn to light a fire outside and take the light into the chapel. Here we found colour and light, flowers and all the shrouding of Good Friday taken away. The service was joyful and splendid. Then we had breakfast and the nuns had spent hours decorating our boiled eggs and making a real break from our fast.
What made it so special for me, standing out from other Easter Days, was the tension the religious community had created. The before of solemn preparation and quiet, of sombre colours and shrouded images and the after of colour and noise and celebration. It is all too easy to allow things to blur; for the rhythms of the Christian year to meld together into a uniform grey. We turn Advent into Christmas, and sweep seamlessly into Easter as Lent is forgotten.
The 1st of March is the beginning of Lent – a season of preparation for the joy of Easter Day. A time to be reflective, perhaps to choose some sort of fasting, or some sort of special discipline of prayer or kindness. A time to think through what God is doing in our lives, and wants to do through our lives. It may even help to create a tension when Easter Day can be felt as a relief, the end of the fast!
Easter is, of course, not a simple story of tension resolved. It isn’t for example a fairy story where everything goes horribly wrong but then it turns out alright even though we weren’t expecting it. Easter Day isn’t the happy ending to a bleak Good Friday. If the Easter Story were a drama the climax would be Good Friday and Sunday would be the divine applause. Easter Day doesn’t resolve the bitter struggle of the cross, quite the opposite, it confirms that the Cross is the right, the only way, for God’s love to rule. This is truly hard to hear, the ‘stumbling block’ or the ‘folly’ that Paul writes about in Corinthians. So, from Wednesday 1st of March we fast, at least as a metaphor, so we can feast. We hold back so we can let go. We wait patiently through trial and tribulation so we can rejoice in Easter Day.
Minister's Message FEBRUARY 2017
Minnie Louise Haskins was a poet with a long and varied career. During her life she worked in India and the East End, both in industrial welfare and academia. She wrote books and poetry. She lived a life of service. We see this early on, in 1903, she worked for the Springfield Hall Wesleyan Methodist mission and in 1907 she went to Madras with the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to serve in the Zenana mission to women.
To help fund this mission, she wrote a book of poetry entitled The Desert which included the poem ‘God Knows’. This poem clearly touched a chord, becoming a favourite of many people, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The poem includes these lines:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
The statement of faith and hope and trust sustained her during her missionary years, two world wars, and a life in academia in days when few women lived such a life. Minnie understood that at the core of our faith is an embracing of mystery, of the unknown. She had no idea of what missionary life would look like at home or abroad, but on she went. Nor could she have known how radically the world would change in her lifetime, but she still served and trusted. She still put her hand in the hand of God, this mysterious, wondrous, surprising God, who creates, redeems and makes all things new.
This is the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, in the mystery and wonder and surprise of manger, cross and empty tomb. This God who asks of us only, “Take my hand, I am with you. Embrace your liberation and see what wonders there are. I will never leave you. I am with you always.”
We stand at the beginning of a new year. We do not know what will come. The world will change. We will be asked to embrace the hand of God who changes everything, but who is changeless. Our Circuit will change, so too our churches, for nothing stays the same.
Except this, the extended and extending hand of God and the gracious invitation to take it and be set free. “And remember. I am with you. Always.”
These words of Christ in Matthew 28 come in the context of the resurrection. He tells them everything has changed now. All things are new. The possibilities are now endless. Embrace your life and live your faith.
As we enter a new year, let us too reflect on Christ’s words: and remember always to reach out and hold onto the hand of God.
Getting to Know You: Reverend Ung Soon Nguang December 2016
I will never forget the touch that God put in my heart ten years ago, when I was attending a thanksgiving anniversary service in one of the churches in Sarawak, Malaysia. The church had invited all the pastors that had served in their churches before. I came across a group of British people; they were missionaries who had come to Sarawak, in the years 1930 to 1970. One of them shared his story in front of the congregation. He spoke in Mandarin; I was so touched at that time. They were British people, from a very modern country. They spoke English and yet they could also speak Mandarin because they wanted to share the Gospel to the Chinese at that time. If they had not made the sacrifice themselves in order to come to Sarawak, I would not have become a Christian today. Their passion, love, and sacrifice is my role model.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to go to Britain. I had an opportunity to participate in the Sunday school in Kings Cross Methodist church and visited the Chinese compatriots’ families that the church had care for. I was surprised at that time to discover so many Chinese in Britain were hungry for the Gospel and truth.
In 2015, I responded to God’s calling to be a missionary. In the beginning, my wife Hie Sing and I planned to be missionaries in Nepal, but some time later, the Board of Mission suggested we come to England. To reaffirm it was the calling from God, I put it in my prayers. God once again raised up the call that I had heard in Britain. I chose Britain, because local Chinese ethnic groups need the Gospel, need the feeding of the truth of God. I arrived in England on 28th August 2016. May God grant and provide me with wisdom to guide the believers of Jesus Christ. I hope that I can continue to lead and develop Christians to become leaders who can subsequently lead others to Christ.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism once said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” This is my prayer as well when I come to CCEMC. Pray that our work will enable His Kingdom to come down on earth and revive the church. When we are spreading the scripture holiness, we will transform and shake the place. Are you willing to be one of the people who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God?
In the18th century, John Wesley and Charles Wesley brought their personal Christianity to the spiritual revival of Britain. John Wesley emphasized the work of piety together with the work of mercy. He stuck to the truth of Holy Bible, the renewal transformed society.
We as members of Methodist Church, require unity in faith and uphold the truth and holiness to transform our lovely community and country. After we receive sanctifying grace, we need to practise to live in holiness and make every effort to enter full sanctification or Christian perfection. We shall respond to institute essential means of grace and apply these in our daily life. In addition, I also encourage the followers to carry out the work of mercy vigorously with the love of God. After a follower accepts Jesus Christ, he must understand how Christianity can influence and work in their life. We need to be like Jesus Christ, learn to care for others and involve in mercy works with a grateful heart.
May God help you and me, to be the people who are willing to serve God more and help build the kingdom of heaven on Earth. Ung Soon
Minister's Message DECEMBER 2016
I can only wonder at God’s ‘modus operandi’. His ‘way of working’. First he gives us free choice in full knowledge of what this means for us and for those we live with.
We can with God’s permission hurt ourselves, damage our eternal well-being and ignore our eternal purpose. But more worryingly we can choose to hurt others, damage them, diminish their humanity, shaped as it is in the image of God. As a tiny child can cover their eyes with their hands and keep out the sun, so we can keep the source of all life, the eternal God, and our creator out of our lives. We can deny God at our own peril and hurt to the world.
But secondly God chooses to bear upon himself the consequences of our choices. Riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey he holds his hand up and says, ‘This is my doing, I will pay’.
How awesome our God, how mysterious his ways, how wonderful his way of working that both trusts us to the uttermost, and accepts for us the almost inevitable outcomes of that gift. Paul says in Romans 8 that, ‘all things are worked together for good for those that love God.’ God works together even human disobedience in ancient times and turns it into the most wonderful event in history; God on a cross dying that we might live.
If ever there was one story that holds all this; the choice, the pain, the honoring of human choice, the consequences of disobedience; it is God’s call to Mary. Her response, ‘Let it be to me according to your will,’ is the moment that all God’s hopes and fears are fulfilled. A human being said, ‘yes’! Therefore, all things are possible as our God is, ‘contracted to a span’.
I like Christmas. I like the garish, cheesy, cosy, mince pie ridden fullness of it. I’ve never preached a sermon telling anyone off for the superficial, tinsel laden nonsense that is Christmas. If I did I would be a hypocrite because I love the season. I have, slightly to my shame, already, in mid-November, watched two sentimental sloshy Christmas movies. But Christmas is always more. More than we can ever understand. It tells me that in my deepest darkest night, God is there. It tells me that however trapped I feel, I can always choose life. It tells me that no matter what muddle I’ve got myself into, he has the key. It declares in the face of the powers and principalities of this world, the money, the arms, the politicians, the structures and systemic sins of society; he is King, the ‘prince of peace’, the sovereign Lord. He is so because he allows me choice, and pays the price, because he trusts me, and stands by when I break that trust.
He is King because he came as a vulnerable baby born to an insignificant girl called Mary who dared to say, ‘Yes’ and share in the divine will to rescue the world.
Minister's Message NOVEMBER 2016
A Gardening Blog
I write a short blog for the Epsom Common Allotments Association Newsletter. It is a monthly comment on what we should be getting on with! To be honest, I know my limitations which are many, and I copy and paste some very good advice from the Royal Horticultural Society (with appropriate referencing!). I add to it something of the struggles and successes that Judith and I have, and some of the projects we are undertaking. I never fail to notice that I could be writing something very similar for the Methodist Church’s Facebook page for ministers in circuit. Ministry has a similar seasonal rhythm with regular things to do at particular times of year. We count in October, plan for Christmas in October, think ahead in December, and get ready for all sorts in January. Gardening and ministry are very similar activities and have happily taken up the greater part of my life.
Like gardening you can’t make anything in ministry grow all on your own. You can dig, and rake, sow and water, manure and weed and generally be busy, but as the harvest hymn goes, ‘We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand’. Gardening and ministry are both collaborations with the divine, and in any given season there will be some things that go better than others. In both it is often the ordinary and every day kind of activities that make the biggest differences in the long run.
So if I were to write a November/December kind of ministry gardening blog for Epsom Methodist Church I might want to suggest some gardening metaphors. For a start, it is always good to look after the soil and this requires a deal of effort and forethought. Healthy soil will look after the plants. It will provide plenty of root room, nutrients, moisture, security and warmth. Healthy soil often comes from difficult or even unattractive things; clay can be the basis of some of the best soils, frost can soften and break down the hardest and most claggy of soils, and plenty of well-rotted manure does it all a world of good. It is also a good idea in gardening to think ahead and assume things will grow. You shouldn’t therefore plant little plants too close together, or sow seeds too thickly; instead, imagine what they would look like if they do germinate, flourish and mature. My own favorite key to gardening is to look. If you don’t look at your garden from one week to the next it will slowly disintegrate. Instead, observe the seasons and the weather, the flourishing and the struggling and act sooner rather than later! A small weed pulled early will save you much time and trouble!
Now that is quite enough of my metaphor. It never does simply to translate a metaphor word for word and ask, ‘What is the soil?’ or what exactly, theologically speaking is manure! But somewhere in that image lie helpful things. We can’t make our church grow. We can’t manufacture a sense of awe and wonder in worship. We can’t change our hearts to resonate with the divine love that seeks our efforts in changing the world. But we can do those things in our own lives and in the life of the Church that encourages healthiness! To be ‘healthy soil’! We can imagine what it would be like if God’s will was being done. We can act now with patience and perseverance, perhaps especially in winter time.
So to finish a rather late harvest hymn by the great cricket commentator John Arlott
God, whose farm is all creation, take the gratitude we give; take the finest of our harvest, crops we grow that all may live.
Take our ploughing, seeding, reaping, hopes and fears of sun and rain, all our thinking, planning, waiting, ripening into fruit and grain.
All our labour, all our watching, all our calendar of care, in these crops of your creation, take, O God: they are our prayer.
Harvey Morris, who has served as Senior Steward for the last two and a half years, has intimated his decision to resign from the Church Stewards’ team. This is Harvey’s second term of office on the Leadership Team and we have greatly appreciated his commitment and leadership. Harvey has recently moved house and with promotion at work and his role as a governor at Epsom Primary School and other school committee responsibilities, feels he can no longer devote the amount of time he would like to offer to the team. We wish him well and thank him for all his work.
Carol Thorley on behalf of the Leadership Team
Let us give thanks.... October 2016
A couple of recent events on train journeys have inspired me this month. In the first, a couple of mums with pushchairs and loads of bags were alighting at a station, clearly having been shopping. They had chatted to each other non-stop on the journey and continued as the conductor helped them off-load pushchairs and bags before they went on their way down the platform still deep in conversation. As he got back on the train I heard the conductor mumble, "Well don't bother to say thank you, will you?!" In the second incident another young mum was getting off the train with a double pushchair. Someone waiting to join the train leant forward and helped lift the pushchair off and was rewarded with a lovely smile and profuse thanks for their kindness and help. Two very different responses to help being offered!
It is so easy for us to forget just how well provided for most of us are in material terms, and, therefore, easy to forget to say thank you to God for our many blessings. In terms of so many in the world we are greatly blessed and Harvest is a great time for us to catch up on our often missed opportunity to heap our thanks on God and to show our appreciation in practical ways!
It has been suggested many a time that the world can produce more than enough food so that no one needs to go hungry. The fact that so many in the world still go without an adequate and regular source of food and a clean source of water should haunt those of us who almost weekly see pictures on one programme or another of adults going hungry and children suffering the consequences of malnutrition.
Where political upheaval is the reason for such injustice then we can feel a sense of helplessness, but where the cause is of a more natural origin then at least we know that the aid agencies can provide a necessary life-line for those most in need, if they are well enough supported.
At this time of year when we celebrate the bounty of our harvests at home in our harvest festivals, where even in a bad year the worst effect on us the consumer is usually only price increases, it is easy to forget the increasing number of those in the UK, and yes, even in our own communities, who due to circumstances beyond their control and not of their making, find they have no food for themselves, or sometimes their children, for days at a time.
It is to help such people in crisis that Foodbanks have flourished in recent years at an ever increasing rate. I am proud that our church continues to support the Foodbank, though still deeply troubled and saddened that it is needed.
As we come to sing our beloved harvest hymns and songs let us truly give thanks that we are so well provided for and please can we not forget those across the world and in our own communities who are not so fortunate, and do everything in our power to do something to help them as a sign of our gratitude for all we have.
Stop Press We warmly welcome Rev Ong Soon Nguang as CCEMC Minister and his wife Xiao Ming who have come from Malaysia. (More details in next issue)
Minister's Message, May 2016
The media is frequently dominated by sad news. Over recent weeks we have had a constant stream of sorrow from around the world: of people being killed and injured as a result of war and conflict; of the suffering caused by drought, storm and earthquakes, news of bombings in Belgium with the tragic loss of life, young and old. Our own Church community has also had its fair share of sadness recently.
How should we as Christians respond?
For me, one of the most helpful passages in the Bible is Jesus' sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, where he read and preached on words from the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4: 14). Jesus identified himself as the bringer of good news to the poor; the liberator of the captives; the person who bound up the broken hearted; the bringer of joy to the sorrowful. These are values by which Christ's followers, too, are called to live. We can begin in our home communities where there are many sad and lonely people who need our love. Further afield the ways in which we can respond individually are more limited, but we can give from our own resources and through our prayers. The important thing is that we stand beside those who are suffering and do respond in some way.
Christians are also called to face injustice and cruelty head-on as Jesus did. For those following his way it may lead, as it did for Jesus, to suffering, even death. We live in a world where human self-interest is still a powerful force which needs to be confronted daily with the power of God's love. However, we do not embark on this task in our own strength, but in the light of our Easter faith which shows how God, through Jesus, has defeated the powers of selfishness, wickedness and hate. This is the supreme message we can take to the world, together with our practical help.
I conclude with the final verse of an updated version of Brian Wren's hymn Christ is alive let Christians sing.