To respond to God’s love in Christ for everyone - by being a real focus in the town for Christian teaching, worship and care
Minister's Message August 2018: Alpha is Coming
Conversations are a good thing.
There have been lots of conversations recently about football. As England began their World Cup campaign there were conversations about how far into the competition they could go. Expectations were low. Yet as goals were scored and progress was made through the group stages and then through the knockout rounds – even winning a penalty shootout for the first time ever in a World Cup! – there was a growing sense that maybe, just maybe, against all predictions and odds, this time around, football was going to ‘come home’.
‘It’s coming home – I just have this feeling’
‘This is totally our year. It’s going to come home’
But there have been other matters of conversation too: plastic in our oceans, Brexit, President Trump…
And conversations are a good thing. Through conversations, we explore ideas, we engage with issues, we can be inspired, we can see things differently, we can share our perspectives and listen to the perspectives of others.
The church should be a place of conversation. And amongst all the conversation, there should be conversation about those things that really, really matter: conversations about Jesus, and about life, and about faith. It is through conversations like these that we are helped to grow in our walk with God. It’s through conversations like these that we discover faith for the first time.
We are planning to launch Alpha in January 2019.
Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith, designed to create and facilitate conversation. We see the Alpha Course as being a key tool in our evangelistic strategy, helping us further to develop a culture of conversation about Jesus and about faith in Him at the very heart of our church life.
The value of Alpha is well affirmed:
· 95% of church leaders say Alpha is an effective tool for evangelism
· 96% of church leaders say Alpha is an effective tool for discipleship
· 99% of church leaders say Alpha has created a safe place for people to come and ask questions about the Christian faith
· 99% of church leaders say Alpha has been successful at drawing people to Jesus*
(* according to a Barna survey in 2016).
And Bill Wilson of Willow Creek Church in the US describes Alpha as, ‘the most predictably redemptive tool I’ve seen in forty years of ministry.’
So, it’s our hope and prayer that Alpha will be something that God will use in a powerful way here at EMC as we seek to grow as a witnessing church in the heart of our community.
Please join us in prayer as we work towards the launch of Alpha, and please do consider whether it is something you would like to be involved with – as a guest or as a volunteer – or whether there are others you know who may be interested in coming along.
Have a great summer!
Minister Message July 2018
Just before Judith and I came to Epsom Methodist Church we asked you if you would be willing to invite us around for coffee, tea, supper or lunch. It was probably a bit cheeky of us, but we were glad that we had a number of kind invitations! Thank you! We were able to get to know you better and we have enjoyed that. In fact – if anyone would like to invite us to their homes even now, four years later, we would be very happy! In our turn we have always seen our house as a place of food and welcome and we hope that you have thought of it in that way.
Christian fellowship is not exactly complicated, but it does take that effort and a little bit of courage and we are grateful to you for welcoming us into your fellowship. Even something as straightforward as arranging to eat together involves such courage! It can be quite hard to invite someone around for a cup of coffee or a supper! ‘What do they eat?’ ‘Will they come or not be able to’, ‘is my house tidy enough?’ It can be even harder to say, ‘Yes!’ when invited as guest. In some ways the old adage, ‘It is better to give than receive’, is plain wrong. It can be much harder to receive graciously, try another’s food, and be in their hands for an afternoon or evening. But Fellowship matters and I wonder if this summer we could make a resolution to deepen ours? So, following on from Chris’ Focus letter for June - it is BBQ season, and time for ‘Cucumber Sandwiches’ – for gardens and relaxing – so plan to be sociable!
Invite your friends around and perhaps people who you know less well. You can invite Judith and me – we’d come! Plan a coffee morning in your home for a charity. Have a Birthday Tea! Agree to meet up for a drink or a meal. Come to our Garden Party for Neil’s (the Mayor) charities on the 14th July. ‘Phone someone you’ve not seen for a while. Write a card. Send a text message, Twitter, Facebook, email, or use an old-fashioned pigeon. It isn’t complicated, but it is challenging. As we reach out to our existing friends and church family, we can extend a little to people we know less well – or perhaps not at all.
Risk taking, generosity, effort – are not always about the big difficult things but they can be as simple as reaching out to others and letting them reach out to you. I admire the saints not because they did extraordinary things, but because when you scratch the surface you discover that they were usually very ordinary people. Paul refers to the Church as ‘the saints’, and so we are. Not yet saints in light but saints in the daily muddle and compromises of daily living. Called to a difficult path with Christ, we are not called to be alone on it, but in fellowship with others. Herein lies the secret of the Church. It is a fellowship where we are all welcomers and welcomed, all servers and served, all guests and all hosts!
And if our fellowship below
In Jesus be so sweet,
What greater blessings shall we know
When round His throne we meet?
Mnister's Message June 2018
‘Don’t build a ministry, build a family’
This is the approach to church-health and church-growth advocated by worship leader, Jeremy Riddle of Bethel Music.
I wonder if we think about church in this way? Do we see church as family? And do we commit ourselves to church-life and church-relationships and church-mission with a family-oriented view of what it is all meant to look like?
Certainly, ‘family’ is one of the concepts and pictures that is used in the Bible to describe the church. ‘Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters’, writes the author of Hebrews (2:11). Elsewhere, both Peter and Paul refer separately to ‘the family of believers’, (Gal 6:10; 1 Peter 2:17).
The church community is meant to be a place of connection, of inclusion, of bondedness to one another, of commitment and of responsibility, of care, of thoughtfulness and love.
And, here at EMC, while we should accept that we won’t get this right every time, we can also be deeply grateful that oftentimes we do and many people’s experiences of EMC as ‘family’ are very real and very significant and a real blessing.
But how can we strengthen our sense of ‘family’ even further? Here are five ways.
1. Join a House Group (or invite someone to join yours)
This is number 1 for a reason! House groups are a fantastic place to connect regularly with others, to share openly and honestly (and vulnerably and humbly) in a safe space where people have your back and want the best for you. They are simply a great place for connection and community to grow. If you’d like to know more about House Groups, check out the feature article further on in the magazine.
2. Invite someone for a coffee or for lunch
Whether our love language is double espressos or spaghetti bolognese, why not invite others to share the love with us? We can indulge our favourite passion while building meaningful friendships at the same time. What could be better?
3. Call them
That person who has been on our mind… the one we haven’t seen for a while… the one we know has had a tough day… we should call them. In all likelihood, they will really appreciate it.
4. Be a Barnabas
Barnabas is one of the Bible’s famous encouragers and, in my experience, encouragement is one of the greatest gifts we can give to anyone! ‘You did an amazing job!’; ‘It’s been great spending time with you!’; ‘You’ve made such a difference!’; can change someone’s whole day, if not more than that. Honestly.
5. Look up and look out
For some people, church can be a challenging and unnerving experience! Multiply that a few times if it’s a first visit, so, let’s make use of the opportunities we have on Sunday mornings to look out for others who may be new or by themselves. A greeting, a conversation, showing interest and listening... It’s all part of being welcoming and inclusive and helping people to feel at home. It’s what family looks like.
So, here are five ways to build ‘family’ at EMC. What would you add to this list?
Minister's Message April 2018
Walking with Others
Judas. Mary Magdelene. Pilate. The believing officer. The repentant thief… The list of individuals caught up in the events of Christ’s passion is a lengthy one.
But one individual who has long held a particular interest for me is Simon of Cyrene.
On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem from one of the Jewish communities in North Africa, Simon was forcibly drawn into the events of that first Good Friday and made by Roman soldiers to help carry Jesus’ cross towards Golgotha. In so doing he became a model for those who walk alongside others in times of pain and difficulty, offering support and helping to shoulder some of the strain. The resonance with Jesus’ own words is clear, ‘For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home… when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me’ (Matthew 25:35, 40).
A number of years ago, I spent some time volunteering for a small charity called The Simon Community. The work involved reaching out to those sleeping on the streets in central London, sitting with them, chatting with them, offering food and clothing supplies, or night-shelter accommodation if it was needed. Set up originally as a Catholic mission, it gets its name from Simon of Cyrene.
Simon challenges us. His example of walking alongside the struggling and helping to bear the burden of pain and difficulty is something that God calls each of us to. And there are many ways in which as a church and as individuals we will already be involved in doing just that.
Two new initiatives that very much express this sense of care and concern are our soon-to-launch Tuesday Drop-In sessions for those who are experiencing loss and bereavement (for more details see further on in this edition of Focus, or email ) and a home for vulnerable/homeless people in the town which is being set up through a partnership between Churches Together in Epsom and the Christian charity, Hope into Action (for more information, please email ). It is our hope that these projects will be a very real help to many – in addition to so much else that this church and others are already involved in doing.
As we take time over Easter to reflect and to celebrate, may we be assured of the love of the Saviour Jesus, whose death and resurrection means life for all who believe, and may we keep learning how to follow his example of love in all we do.
Have a very happy Easter!
Minister's Message MARCH 2018
The Golden Rule
It has been good to be part of EMC over the last few days – especially during the book fair! I have sensed a real enthusiasm and fun. Despite all the pressures we have got on well and achieved a great deal. A comment overheard was, ‘What a good church this is’! I know we should neither boast nor be complacent but ….
Emily (my third youngest granddaughter) who is Year Two (top infants!) was telling us about the Golden Rules of her school as she stayed with us at the beginning of the week. They were something like this: We respect others; We are honest; We are gentle; We work hard; We are kind and helpful; We look after property; We listen. They all seem very sensible and encouraging! Ben (my youngest son and an infant school teacher) has a lovely way of responding to his older sisters’ teasing, he asks them, ‘Is it kind? Is it true? Is it helpful?’ These are the questions he normally uses with his reception class! I know that we are far more grown up than these questions imply, but it is not unknown for Judith to challenge me in my grumpier moments with Ben’s questions. Both Ben and Emily put me in mind of a lovely page from the book by Robert Fulghum, ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten’
“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten)
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don't hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
7. Say you're SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.”
It reminds us, of course of Matthew 18:2-4 (NRSV)
2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomeshumble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I have never felt that Jesus’ teaching was based on a sunny view of little children. Little children can be little tyrants! But it is based in a fundamentally positive view of what children can be and a realistic one that they are sometimes not. In this we as the Church are not so different. It is our experience that God genuinely believes in us, believes in our capacity to get it right. It is also our belief that we can get it horribly wrong and God knows it! It is the sharp distinction between what we might be and what we sometime are, that is the heart of our understanding of the Cross. I’m never wholly comfortable with some Christian’s emphasis of the Cross of ‘a just God demanding sacrifice’. It is certainly a way of talking about the mystery, but not always the most helpful one in my view. I am however moved and encouraged by an understanding of God’s love ‘so amazing so divine’ that God dies for us to bridge the gap between what we are designed to be and what we sometimes end up being. Such love ‘demands my soul, my life my all’.
Jesus’ ‘Golden Rule’ was about love. He not only taught such love, but he demonstrated it on a cross and thus gives us the chance of living it as well.
Thank you for your fellowship, encouragement of each other and care.
Minister's message January 2018
So, I’m not the greatest gardener.
I can quite imagine the scene in a few months-time – one sunny summer’s afternoon – as Bob (not his real name) is in the garden next door filling his wheelbarrow with freshly-pulled spuds (‘Cor, I got some whoppers ‘ere!’ – his cheery Devonshire accent drifting over the fence), weighing his prize marrow (‘Nearly broke the scales that did!’), and offering me a couple of crates of his succulent strawberries (‘I just got no room left in the fridge!’)… while, on my side of the fence, I’m throwing my pitiful looking carrots straight onto the compost heap (hoping that Bob’s not looking), discovering that blight has once again ravaged my tomato crop, and cutting up into six pieces the one small raspberry I’ve successfully grown so that whole family can have a taste of the season’s harvest.
You get the picture.
Here’s what Bob knows: Set the right environment for your fruit and veg and they will thrive. Give them the sunlight, warmth, water and nutrients that they need and they’re going to do well.
And just as gardeners want their gardens to thrive, God wants us to thrive.
We see a picture of it in the first psalm,
’They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do’ (Psalm 1:3)
God wants us to thrive, to be healthy, growing followers of Christ. There are many things that will help us to thrive as Christians, but here’s a key one that we’re going to be focusing in on during our teaching in February: being a part of a House Group.
House groups help us to thrive because they are a fantastic place to make meaningful and lasting friendships. And friendships are important. God created us for community, to be with one another, to encourage and support one another, to share together in the difficult times as well as in the happy ones. In House Groups we have a safe space to be ourselves, to be real, open and honest; to care and to be cared for, to love and to be loved.
House Groups also help us to thrive because they are a fantastic place to grow in faith. As we study the Bible together, share testimonies, ask questions, worship and pray together, we get to know God in a deeper way and are strengthened and encouraged in our Christian walk.
House Groups help us to thrive because they give us a chance to participate and to get involved… to help, to serve, to host, to lead, to pray for others, and just to be ourselves! House Groups provide a safe context for us to use the gifts that God has given us and to be a blessing to others as we do so.
Here’s what some people have said about House Groups:
"I have gained a lot from being part of the group, making a contribution, the social events and the Bible studies” " Apart from everything we have learnt together, so many friendships have been formed as well as some deeper ties which are of great and lasting value..." "We have been gaining a great deal from the studies... it is proving a wonderful opportunity... we are gaining so much from doing this."
So, if you are not already part of a house group, we’d love to encourage you to consider joining one! Our groups meet at various times of the week in different locations throughout Epsom. You’d be very welcome to try one or two groups out to get an idea of which one feels right for you. If you’d like to know more, you can:
Chat to one of our group leaders (please see below) or to me.
God wants us to thrive, to be healthy and to grow in our relationship with Him. House groups can really help us to do that. If you’re interested in joining one, please do let us know how we can support you.
Minister's Message May 2018
I have a poor sense of direction and get very confused when people tell me how to get somewhere. They often end by saying, ‘you can’t miss it’. This however is not true as I have stood on the steps of St Paul’s and asked directions to St Paul’s. This is possibly not quite as daft as it sounds. Sometimes really big things are hard to see when you are close to them.
People of faith are often criticised for not being able to prove that God exists. It is assumed by some that our faith is blind and irrational. The trouble is that God is such a big concept that proof either way, belief that there is a God, or belief that there isn’t a God, are both un-provable. You can’t argue from within creation that there is a creator and you certainly can’t decide there isn’t a creator when immersed in the middle of it. It’s like missing St Paul’s while standing on the steps of St Paul’s. It’s like a fish that doesn’t notice that water is wet.
What this means is that both those who believe in God and those who don’t, have to make a choice without the possibility of proof. You have to choose to believe there is a God or that there isn’t. At this point both choices are equally open to the challenge, ‘show us your proof’. The difference between the two positions only follows on from this first choice. Because I believe in God, everything speaks of God’s creation. If I don’t believe that there is a God, nothing speaks to me. To believe in God is like tuning a radio, when you find the channel, suddenly all the random static focuses into meaning and clarity. St Augustine said, ‘all creation cries out that it is made’ and this is the truth for those who believe. For a Christian this makes wonderful sense, but to an atheist it is just another claim that can’t be proved.
Once we have made that first choice, tuned into God, then we are invited to live life fully and try not behave as ‘functional atheists’. A functional atheist is someone who lives, breathes and acts as if there were no God. We all sometimes fall into this inconsistency and a symptom of it is to seek God only in the gaps we think our modern scientific world has left. We are impressed by stories of ‘supernatural’ events, of healings, or spiritual gifts, or strange coincidences. We keep trying to persuade ourselves that God is real because of something we felt we could explain in no other way. This is however both exhausting and unnecessary! It is also frustrating for those seeking God because God is not found only in the rare and peculiar events of life. This emphasis on the unnecessary supernatural is a real barrier for many people.
If God exists, then God is Creator of all things. All the things we understand, and all that we don’t. We differ from an atheist who seeks to explain things away by saying, ‘they are only coincidence’, ‘it’s only evolution’, or even ‘it was just random chance’ by saying, ‘all is of God and gives God glory’. They try and reduce the wonderful to little things, as we are invited to find in the little things echoes of the Creator. A miracle isn’t essentially something that we don’t understand, but rather something, anything, that shows us more of God’s glory and love.
As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.’
We live in the age of miracles, of signs and wonders, of God’s majesty and glory that surrounds us; love like the sea in which the fish swims.