This year Lent commences early in February. The forty days of Lent that lead to Easter is the most sacred and spiritually powerful event in the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday sends us a signal to 'remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,' to the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, to the joyful Easter song of 'Christ the Lord Is Risen Today'.
Lent is a time when Christians are invited to examine their faith and deepen their commitment to live the Christian life. It is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on our Lord Jesus Christ; to relive the story of his suffering, his sacrifice, his life, his death, the burial and resurrection. Having said that, I observe that not all Christian churches observe Lent, in particular the Chinese churches. Lent is mostly observed by the main denominations such as Methodist, United Reformed, Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholics. When we refer to the Bible, it does not mention the custom of Lent. However, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in both Old and New Testament. For your bed-time reading see 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.
Since we are part of the Methodist Church, we have learned to respect this pilgrim journey and hope to grow and discover the walk with Christ alongside each others. We are pleased that Dr George Chew, one of our Local Preachers will lead the devotion during Holy Week on three themes: The Servant, The Cross and Betrayal. We pray for good responses in remembrance of Jesus’ life on earth. He is with us and among us.
It is easy to focus on what we are doing for Lent. In fact, Lent is about God’s love for us. God, the Father draws His people to Him, He manifests His love to us through His Son. These forty days of reflection and meditation are meant to draw us into a deeper knowledge of that love. My personal thought is to bear personal witness. Lent is an unique time for us to mend our brokenness, rekindle our relationship with God and with one another in Christ. Though I am passionate in preaching and teaching, am I living up to my professed faith? Perhaps, the words of preaching remain true but the practices make it hard for others to believe what I preach. Actions speak louder than words, I believe I need to practise what I preach.
On the other hand, Ash Wednesday allows Christians to be physically "marked" with the sign of our faith, but it is easy for us to go through life as spectators to our faith as opposed to being active participants practising what we preach, not only in word but in our actions as well. I love to listen to others during my pastoral visits. Quite often people will say, “I don’t do much, not as many things as you do”. I disagree with them because the word “witness” is someone who is able to testify to what he or she has seen and experienced personally. Last week, a young man gave a powerful testimony at the baptismal service. Since he opened his heart for Christ, his life has changed. His brokenness is no longer there, he sees bright light ahead of him. He described how things had been; he graduated with a good civil engineering job, got married, self-proud, no need for God, all things were achieved by himself until his marriage did not work out and ended in divorce. Now he has found Christ, and he has been a different person, a happy all round person, he is now one of the active leaders of young people.
Jesus gave his disciples this promise: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Since the disciples had seen Jesus in action personally and heard his teachings with their own ears, they were credible "witnesses" to their world and beyond. The Holy Spirit is your internal guide in witnessing. God can "speak" to you through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will put a very strong impression on your mind that you should speak to a certain person. Go ahead. Follow through with this. Many times you'll find that the Holy Spirit has been preparing them and that they're ready to hear your testimony of what Jesus has done for you. Who are the people whom God has put around you to love, to pray for, and perhaps to be a witness.
Let us pray together that Lent 2012 will make a difference at EMC so that we can live up to words and deeds.
Pray and let God worry - February 2012
The Christmas celebrations are all over for another year. We have had our presents. We enjoyed the get together with friends and loved ones. The New Year arrived with a bang, or maybe this year just a whimper. The decorations are packed away for another year. Many of us will have made resolutions and some of us will, by now, have already broken them. But are we still filled with the peace that the angels promised so recently?
Many of you will know by now that I have insomniac tendencies and may even have received emails from me that say they were written at odd hours of the night. But of all the things that keep me awake it is rarely because I am worried. In fact unlike many people my natural tendency is to shut down and sleep when I am really worried about something.
Many of you though may be more familiar with worry being one of those things that keeps you awake; you may know those times when it is 3am, the house is quiet, your family is asleep, it is warm but it is dark, and you should be asleep too. However, your mind is racing, your heart is pounding and worries are overwhelming.
It might be thinking about the unexpected things of tomorrow that will find you unprepared, or it may be an area of concern —financial (the presents have to be paid for now), relational (should never have argued with Uncle Bert about the turkey), or employment.
You may even find yourself temporarily in a place where you are out of hope and out of peace. There is something about this part of the night that seems to magnify all of these problems, even for someone like me for whom the middle of the night is a part of regular life, things seem different at 3am and I am not sure exactly why that is. Maybe that is why the psalmist said "He guards us from the flaming arrows at night." I am convinced that we need God's help, not only when we are alert and awake, but even when we are sleeping. As you get ready to go to sleep, I think that it is a great thing to end the day in prayer. It has been said that God works the nightshift and it is so true.
In the “Sound of Music” Maria Von Trapp sings “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start” I found that when ending the day with prayer, the best place to start is back at the beginning of each new day. Start your day in prayer, committing your decisions, your challenges and whatever you are going to face that day to the Lord. Then, as I suggested, end your day with prayer as well. In each instance, our prayer could be as simple as, "Lord, here it is. I commit it to You."
I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther, "Pray and let God worry" I like that. Not that God worries, but the idea is that we should pray about it, rather than worry about it. Is there something troubling you? Is there something eating away at you? Bothering you? Irritating you? Causing you to be afraid? Pray about it, right now. Simply say, "Lord, I can't handle it, please take away the worry."
Philippians 4:6 says, "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. The peace of God that passes all human understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus."
So try and worry less and pray more, you will sleep, and live much better.
Good News - December 2011
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Thus Luke announces the words of an Angel in his Gospel telling the good news that God is sending help to the world through a baby boy. A baby who was, we know, born in the modest surrounding of an inn. Today it might be a hotel room. Born in the inn because the parents had nowhere else to go, all they could do was to plead for help from an innkeeper.
We come to the end of another year and we are mindful that life is tough for many, the aftermath of the riots remind us of the sense of injustice felt by many. Global unrest and fears over the economy have seen unemployment continue to rise and for the first, time over 1 million young people are unemployed. What hope is there in the future for them? How tight will this Christmas be with increasing fuel bills and frozen salaries? As a church we have strived to play our part, be it collecting clothing and goods for people whose homes were burnt down in Croydon or raising the awareness of people trafficking within the Epsom community. We are committed to continuing to work with our community and trust in God to direct our actions.
Yet, despite the gloom we feel around us the overriding message of Luke remains true. This is a time to celebrate because God cared enough to send His Son to earth to offer us a new hope if only we will accept it. It is incredibly comforting to know that God loves you and that He cares for you. As the people of God the church is called to share that love in our community and as ever, we seek ways to offer hope and encouragement to those who need it most. As a church we seek to care for all, from the youngest to the oldest but at a time when we remember Jesus entering the world as a baby, it seems right to think about the work being done with young people. God mobilises us to be the modern day innkeeper offering shelter and encouragement to those in need. To reach out and encourage those in difficulty and to share the joy of all who feel good. We have seen God celebrating the life of young people in many ways over the last year. Our children’s groups report increased numbers and we thank God for all the leaders who work with our young people week by week. In April Little Monkeys was going to close but two people offered to lead the group which is now thriving and we are delighted that Genesis is also doing well. Add to that the wonderful Ofstead report we received for our Nursery and it seems clear that young people and their parents are thriving due to the offerings we provide. Recently we have seen Coffee Cup opening early on a Tuesday to allow the Nursery mums a chance to talk and share over coffee and we see this as key in building relationships with those who use our services but as yet do not worship with us on Sundays. Sundays have also recently seen the launch of a children’s choir at the same time as the Chinese Service (once a month) for those up to eleven years old and we have seen over twenty children attending along with their parents.
Over the last few months we have been thinking about how to develop further our links to families and children and the church is now being consulted about appointing a Family and Children’s worker. Such a project naturally needs funding but more importantly it would need a team to work with the person appointed - are you able to help in some way? We believe this work will build on the work already being done in the church for young people.
Of course Christmas is not just a time to remember the young and we are mindful of the need to make provision for everyone of all ages. The new Youth Hall will undoubtedly improve our provision for the older young people and we hope that the additional space created will also allow us to build our work with the adult community whom we serve. It was wonderful to see over 170 people at our service for those whose loved ones died in the past year and to see the church full at the Remembrance Day Service. We thank God that we can support those going through tough times and we ask that we will always be a people of hope.
As we enter 2012 we will recommit ourselves to the work of God at our special Covenant Service on 15th January. May we encourage one another by the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ so that we can be hope to those around us?
May you know God’s blessing and God’s peace?
Two Months in - November 2011
After just a few weeks my diary is beginning to fill up rapidly and like many others I am already finding that if I let it, being a Minister could take up every hour of every day. There is never a clear end and there is always something else that could be done. The difficult task is to contain the amount there is to do into a manageable place and remember the words of a very wise friend “most important, keep what’s most important, most important.”
Modern people tend to live full lives. We fill our houses and garages with important stuff, fill our credit cards with important purchases, fill our calendars with important commitments, fill our thoughts with important problems, and fill in the gaps with important leisure. Then we too often find we have too little space for God, too little time for others, and too little energy to care.
We fill our Church lives with commitment after commitment and leave ourselves in a place where we often don’t have the time to be really committed to any of the things we do. Wouldn’t it be better for each of us to live deeply, to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the things that God truly calls us to, and then to have the energy to do those things really well?
Leviticus 19:9 says “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.”
The scriptures are full of examples of how God led his people to preserve ‘margins’ in everyday life—keeping the Sabbath, leaving some of the harvest for gleaning, and setting aside routines for annual feasts and “holy-days.” God instituted marginal time and space for his people
Jesus' first invitation to all who would believe in him is to "Come, follow me." Slowing down and creating space for God and for others is perhaps, the first expression of trust in God, of following Jesus, the first step of discipleship, and the starting point of a life of purpose and power.
Jesus’ life and ministry was busy, but he was never too busy to take time alone and to spend time in prayer. Taking time and space with God and praying about the direction he wants us to take will lead to greater rewards than all of us being too busy, doing too many things and doing them half-heartedly. It is in the slowing down and letting go of the things that are less important, that we will be set free. Free to hear what God wants us to do, free to care better for those around us and free to care better for ourselves.
The spiritual disciplines of prayer, quiet, meditation on God’s word, and fasting allow us to reserve margins for God. Each one of us is called to do something to help “God’s Kingdom Come”, on earth as it is in heaven, here in the place that we live. God has a purpose and a calling for each of us, a job that suits our own individual gifts and graces.
Make a bold stand, let go of one ‘less important’ thing or activity this week, or every week this month and instead, take that time and energy to spend time alone with God, praying for his direction both for yourself and for the direction of this church as we face the future together and so will I.
Maybe, in the quiet, we will hear Jesus calling us to follow him, to go to places we would have never thought of going on our own, to do things we have never considered doing before, to take risks for the Kingdom, and to do all the things we do, so well and with such enthusiasm, that everyone one around us will see the love of God shining from this place.
Kindest Regards Rev. Nik Wooller
On Your Mark’s, Get Set, Go - October 2011
Well the summer is behind us and a new Methodist Year is in full swing. For me, this is my second year at Epsom - the first felt like a warm up as I got used to the ways of the church and discovered all the events that happen during the year. It felt a bit like being in the local athletics squad. It’s great to welcome Nik to the squad and to have her on the team with Hazel and Ernest; indeed we could have our own four by one hundred relay team. In fact that’s a good description of ministry, as the people of God are always passing the baton on to the next person in the chain. I wonder if we see our role in that way. After all, the Christian faith is only ever one generation away from extinction and yet for over two thousand years it has survived.
So what does that mean for us? We need to be ready to train and to run the race ahead of us. Are you on your Marks?
Running the race is a good theme as we head towards the 2012 Olympics and it’s a theme that The London District has picked up in it’s theme, Medal 2012 - which is all about delivering Leaders for the Church and in particular Lay Leaders. As a Circuit we have been looking at ways of developing our people to be leaders and there will be news on that shortly, in the meantime talk to Kan Yu and find out about Medal 2012. Kan is a member of our church and was asked to be part of the team putting Medal 2012 together. On the subject of Lay Leaders I am delighted to announce that Sandra Oborski, another member at Epsom, has been appointed as the District Safeguarding Co-ordinator – as a Circuit we are delighted that one of our members has taken on this important role in the life of the church.
Of course it’s very easy to let a few people do the work, to run the race, but God calls all of us to join in. The word “mark” has a number of different meanings. It can mean a mark as in a stain, a blot - something we are ashamed of. This year we are going to be on our mark’s as we study “The Gospel According to St Mark.” At the heart of the gospel message is God’s love for us. Mark explains how much God loves us and that God wants to wash away the marks and the stains of our life of which we are ashamed.
Sometimes we talk of marking time. A sense in which we stay where we are we don’t move forward and we don’t move back. Often we feel the church should be that place of stability.
Mark’s Gospel reminds us that, as a Christian, there is no marking time, you are invited to run the race and press on towards the things that God has in store for you. Perhaps some of us have become comfortable and sat down where we are. The Gospel of Mark will, I hope, encourage us to move on to discover new challenges that God wants to set before us as we travel through Mark’s Gospel this year.
Mark can also be used to mean the mark you get for a piece of work – is the mark good enough, is it a pass or fail?. Often we try to measure our performance in terms of human success. We try to please people by achieving the right grade. God does not grade us – he loves us as we are and we are called to love others as he loves us. In that sense we are called by God, not to mark anybody in terms of ability or capability, but rather to accept everyone. Our Methodist heritage cries out the words “All Are Welcome”. As we explore Mark’s Gospel may we discover what it has to say about the welcome of the people of God and may we learn to live it out in our life as the community of God.
Most importantly, on your marks offers the picture of being in the blocks ready to run the race ahead. I hope that we will all settle into the blocks and be prepared to run the race God calls us to run. It starts as we read the book of Mark together.
Wishing you God’s blessing
Holy Communion may be included in any of these services, as announced in advance.
9.00 am Morning Worship
Generally a more meditative and reflective type of service.
10.30 am Sunday Celebration
A service for the whole family when a wide variety of styles may be used. A Crèche is provided and Junior Church (Sparklers, Pulse and Kosmic) is held at the same time (the children and young people starting in the main service and leaving at some convenient early point).
2 pm International Service
An International Service conducted in English, predominantly for Chinese Congregation worship. Everyone is welcome.
2 pm Chinese Service
A service conducted in Cantonese and Mandarin, with English translation, via wireless headphone. Everyone is welcome.
5.45 pm Café Style worship
An informal gathering, held in the coffee bar area and preceded by a cup of coffee or tea.
Midweek Worship Service with Holy Communion
Wednesday Communion 10:30 am in the church, followed by coffee in Roots Coffee Shop
This is a simple service with a discussion following Tom Wright’s book on Luke.
We share bread and wine, concerns for the each other, the church and the world. You are most welcome.