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 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 December 2017
November has been so full of the golden leaves of autumn. It has been quite breathtaking. You could never capture such colours with a camera alone. You seem to be immersed in the colour; surrounding you on all sides. And when the sun comes from behind a cloud the leaves catch fire! Seasons never fail to move me and as we enter into the long nights and gloomy days of December, slipping a little reluctantly into the deeper parts of winter, it is worth remembering that. Spring seems to be an age away and the spirits can flag and our energies wane. Sometimes you suspect that deeply written into our genes is the inclination to hibernate and sleep away the darkness.
I wonder what this all must have felt like to ancient Britons at the dawn of history? I wonder about the cold of draughty round houses, and the drastic narrowing down of diet and drink. I wonder with a great deal of relief for central heating and supermarkets and electric light! It is no wonder, however, that in their ancient beliefs, seasons played such an important part and in the heart of winter they celebrated the light. Nor is it surprising that the young Christian faith emerging into Roman Briton, latched onto such celebrations, not only because they shared a longing for the spring, but because the annual cycle reminded them of a greater truth still. The cold days that slowly become warmer days, the dark days that gradually brighten, and the austere diets that burst into the plenty and coming of new life; all speak of their experience of Jesus.
We owe the Pagan world a great deal for the feast of Christmas! For that reason, if nothing else, I find it hard to grumble about the modern pagans and their use of the images we as Christians have borrowed. However, while I am grateful, I am sad that the ‘greater truth’ goes unacknowledged. In solidarity with humanity I am content to enjoy the winter feast of light and share a longing for the Spring. But in happiness I want to rejoice that God sent his only son and share that as well. There isn’t a ‘real meaning’ of Christmas, but there are levels of meaning and the deepest level is the most wonderful of all.
Christmas by John Betjeman
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain.
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker's Green.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that villagers can say
"The Church looks nice" on Christmas Day.
Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says "Merry Christmas to you all".
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad,
And Christmas morning bells say "Come!"
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true? and is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.
Happy Christmas from EMC!
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.
Minister's Message November 2017
My brother and I recently took on the famed ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’. The challenge: cover 24 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation climbing Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough and make it back to the Pen-y-ghent Café in Horton for a cuppa within 12 hours. It’s a stiff challenge. To add a little further spice, my brother and I decided to run it.
Many years younger than me and several pounds lighter, I thoughtfully let my brother lead most of the way round. His light, silky strides the prelude to my pained and exhausted stagger for any of those we passed on route. Reading running magazines seemed not to have made me as fit as I was hoping. Maybe I should have actually done some training. But I digress.
The miles ticked by and within four hours we were enjoying the sunshine atop Whernside – our second summit of the day – tucking into peanut butter and jam sandwiches, encouraged by our progress, and taking in the beauty of our surroundings.
With the wind in our sails our descent of Whernside was swift and gazelle-like, and before long we were taking a deep breath and locking eyes with the day’s final summit: Ingleborough. Its distant peak now circled with dark, swollen clouds – majestic, moody … and menacing.
And then we must have gotten chatting. Or dreaming about that cup of tea (with a scone. and a cake and maybe a fry-up). Or perhaps we were imagining the heroes’ welcome back home.
In any case, we missed a signpost. It must have been quite an important signpost.
Within a short while, the path we were on petered out in an area of shake holes and marshy heather. We could still see our final peak, but we had no idea how to get there. Dark clouds spread across the sky. The sun began to set. Our food and water ran out. Our aching bodies started to cramp. We were cold and exhausted. Hungry and thirsty. And lost.
Signposts are important.
As a church, we need to be looking for God’s signposts. We need to be diligent about seeking his direction and guidance. Without that we may be able to see where we should be going but be unsure about how to get there
The church in Acts leaves us great example in this. They prayed. They did their best to listen for God’s voice. And when they heard, they did what they felt God was asking of them. They followed His signposts. (See, for example, Acts 13:1-3
So, what is God saying to us at EMC
One of the things, we believe, is to strengthen and sharpen our focus on mission. We’re so grateful for the fantastic foundations that we have in place, and the good work already being done by so many. But our vision is to grow still further in this, reaching out with compassion to our local community and sharing with more people the message of hope and new life in Jesus. The Mission Action Group has now formed which will play a key role in this, and I’m also excited to announce to you that on January 13 next year we will be having a Church Away Day called ‘IGNITE’ – a day of worship, fellowship and teaching to inspire and empower us for mission! Look out for more details coming soon. We would love to see you there!
A second signpost is leading us to focus in on prayer. Prayer was both prized and prioritised in Jesus’ life and in the life of the early church – leading not only to a greater power in ministry but also to the deep joy of richer connection and closeness to God. This is so important for us to take hold of as we look to grow in our personal walk with God and in our life and mission as a church. Among our initiatives and activity in this area, we’ll be teaching on prayer in our morning services throughout November – please do join with us!
And a third signpost would lead us to focus on one another. We’re very blessed by our small groups and our pastoral care team at EMC. Our huge thanks to all those involved who play such a key role in standing alongside others in fellowship and support! Over the coming months we’re looking to grow ever further in this with the launch of new small groups and an increasing sense of connection and community with one another.
There are other signposts too. We all have a role in looking out for them. And we look forward to all the ways in which God will direct and guide us as we continue to move forward in his purposes.
And as for the Three Peaks Challenge. Yes, we did make it. Just. And I got my cup of tea.
Have a great month!
Minister's Message October 2017
It has been an exciting new start to the Methodist Year already. We welcome Chris, Hannah and family and look forward to working together in the ministry team. The role of the ‘ministers’ is to support the ministry of all God’s people – so we hope we will continue that journey of discovery. October is an important month because we celebrate Black History. This matters so much to our church because much of the media and the European story has presented African and the African diaspora in negative light. We shouldn’t really have to celebrate it – but it’s so good we can! Look out for the weekend 21st and 22nd of October with a Saturday social and film and a Sunday celebration service.
I want to use my Focus slot to remember an important Anniversary - that of Constance Coltman – a pioneer in ministry. (Some of this article is taken from the Methodist Church, ‘Sing the Faith’ website - click here)
The centenary of the ordination of Constance Coltman is marked on 17th September 2017. Laurence Wareing remembers Constance and asks where the hymns are, about women in ministry.
Though not the first woman to be ordained as a minister in Britain, Constance Coltman was the first woman to be ordained into the presbyteral ministry of a mainstream British denomination: the Congregational Union of England and Wales. Formal discussion about the ordination of women had been ongoing in the denomination since 1909.
Constance Todd (her family name) was born in 1889. She was admitted for training at Mansfield College,Oxford, in1913. Four years later, Constance was ordained alongside Claud Coltman; they married the next day. They began ministry together in London Docklands. A committed pacifist and suffragist, Constance was also an early supporter of birth control. In later years, she did much to promote women’s ordination across the churches,at home and abroad. In 1929 she helped to found the interdenominational Society for the Ministry of Women in the Church. Constance died in1969.’
My mother and I were ordained together at the Methodist Conference of 1984. I think this was the first time a mother and son were ordained on the same occasion and we were even interviewed on Breakfast TV by Ann Diamond! Despite the long time since Constance Coltman’s ordination it has taken the Church a long time to value and appreciate the leadership of women. This has been to our loss! My mother is fond of saying, ‘The first Christian sermon ever preached was by the woman who found the empty tomb. The men didn’t listen and the Church has struggled to listen ever since’.
I wonder who else we find it hard to listen to. The whole theme of white male privilege is very much in the news. Men are feeling left out and angry! But it is an inevitable aspect of progress. In the past things were wrong in that some benefited unfairly from the status quo. Changing this does mean a loss to some as we achieve a better balance. However, I believe the benefit to all as we seek to take heed of the rich diversity of human society far outweighs any loss that might be felt.
I know that at EMC we are keen to celebrate the contribution of different cultures and experiences as well as cheering for Constance Coltman!