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.
Christ is alive and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.
Verse 5 (c) Stainer and Bell Ltd
God Bless Nik
Put me to suffering, February 2016
: Isaac, Abraham and the Story of Mount Moriah
Isaac, Abraham’s second son and the achingly longed for first child of Sarah, was born, according to the story, when Abraham was a hundred and Sarah in her nineties. We had our first child in our twenties and while we looked forward to her birth with that strange mixture of trepidation and excitement that is right and proper for a first child, I don’t ever remember the almost desperate longing that some have if their wait is longer. Isaac was a longed for and loved child. And then there is in Genesis 22:1-19 the story of Mount Moriah. It is almost impossible to comprehend the kind of feelings that would arise in such a situation, but I believe the storyteller wants us to do exactly that. We are meant to feel the conflict between obedience to God and love for your child and get a grasp of what trust really means. How could Abraham possibly go through with the sacrifice of this precious young man? How could a loving God test his servant in such a way? And what on earth did this story do to Isaac and his relationship with his father? I wonder what you make of the story. Perhaps our immediate reaction is that it is a totally alien world and utterly beyond anything we have experienced. ‘Child sacrifice’. Surely no one would treat their children in this way, but I wonder if that is so? We live in a world where children are constantly abused and hurt by deliberate act or simple neglect.
Despite the fact that many people believe that slavery no longer exists, the ‘International Labour Organisation’ estimated that there are some 5.5 million children in slavery or practices similar to slavery. The Forbes website covers a story that in 2012 there were as many as 300,000 child soldiers active in conflicts around the world. The account also claimed that 40% of armed forces (including national armies, militias, gangs, terrorist organizations and resistance forces) in the world use children. Studies in the USA by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Centre’, show that: 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. The organisation, ‘International Centre for Research on Women’ has found that one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. This means that in 2012, 70 million children were married. This number is set to increase in the next decade and if present trends continue, 150 million girls a year will be married before their 18th birthday.
Children’s lives seem so cheap and their happiness so unimportant that somehow Abraham’s dilemma has a horribly relevant feel. In some ways the safety of the child has only recently become an important consideration in family decisions.
The needs of children are not always the primary factor even for Christians seeking to respond to God’s calling. If you are in doubt talk to my mother, Rosemary, on the anguish she felt with three little ones in West Africa! How much does God require of us and our children?
The story of Abraham is about trust in God, and in the story, his faithfulness is affirmed as ‘God Provides’. The tensions of the story are resolved by the provision of a loving God and the possibility that Abraham will become a blessing for others. Our feelings, as we read the story, become a sounding board for a message of encouragement for all who choose to be obedient. As we offer ourselves in the Covenant that may be enough for this reflection on a child in the Bible. God’s love is enough, God will provide.
But perhaps we might also listen to the challenge of how we treat children and young people. I’m writing this as I am overwhelmed with the sadness that we are now dropping bombs in Syria and so I end with ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ Wilfred Owen 1893-1918.
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Happy New Methodist Year! September 2015
It’s not quite started as I expected with not being too well, but it has come and I’m genuinely looking forward to being with you. It has been good. This is my second year with you and as I look back I realise that it has been challenging. I’ve been a minister for 33 years but the last 19 of them were not in local circuit appointments. Therefore I’ve spent a good deal of time out of my depth. It has helped me realise that Judith and I have landed on our feet among people who are quite prepared to forgive mistakes and the kindness to help us get it right. We both feel very grateful. Thank you. I think you have all been on a learning curve as well. Getting used to a new member of the ministry team isn’t easy. However, I think we are all in a better place to enjoy the journey ahead, and I hope you feel that even if your ‘new minister’ isn’t all that you could hope for, there is enough hope to make a go of it! If not, as some have reminded me, ‘He’ll go eventually!’ This is the strength of Circuit Ministry. We are invited for five years and move on. The invitation can be extended, and we are all delighted that Nik has accepted an extension for her ministry among us. But even extensions run out and ministers are ‘temporary’ creatures – their role is to hold the individual churches within the wider family of the Church. I’m convinced that they should not ‘rule the roost’ or dominate the direction the local church should take. It is instead the task of the circuit minister to encourage the lay leadership of the Church, to help the Church as a whole, see what God wants of us, and what God has given to us to help us achieve it. Nik and I share the role of ‘pastoral charge’ – but we do so with a Church that is very good at pastoral care. We both share in the leadership team – but we do so in a Church that has some outstanding leaders. We preach and teach and lead worship, alongside Local Preachers and worship leaders.
A number of challenges lie ahead of us, that I personally face with enthusiasm and confidence. I hope in the coming year that we will continue to develop the leadership teams, of stewards, pastoral visitors and property and finance so that we increase a common sense of our Godly purpose in Epsom. I also hope we bring together our outreach work into a more coherent ‘mission’ team – people who want to help the whole Church reach out with God’s love into the Community. I would also like us to look back on this year and see that we have a more coherent view of the excellent work we do alongside young people in both the uniformed and informal areas of that work.
A huge blessing for our Church has been the growth of Chinese and International congregations and this is an area where I think we can develop a much closer, prayerful, fellowship within the whole leadership to discern God’s direction for us.
Epsom Methodist Church is a Godly and loving fellowship. We can only grow in this together. We have had much bereavement in the last year and our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones. This is part of our story as well, and will continue to be so. But our faith will prove stronger than our sadness for the promises God makes are true in life and in death. I wonder, as you look back, how your Methodist Year has been, and as you look forward, what you are looking forward to?
Choices, August 2015
Choices, a meditation on Galatians 5:22, written by Max Lucado (adapted by Nik Wooller)
It's quiet. It's early. My tea is hot. The sky is still black. The world is asleep. The day is coming. In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met. For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day's demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I am free to choose.
I choose Love.... No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.
I choose Joy.... I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical...the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose Peace.... I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.
I choose Patience.... I will overlook the inconvenience of the world. Instead of cursing the one that takes my place, I will invite him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for the moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
I choose Kindness.... I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
I choose Goodness.... I will go without a pound before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I accuse. I choose goodness.
I choose Faithfulness.... Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My husband will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their mother will not come home.
I choose Gentleness.... Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it only be in praise. If I clench my fist, may it only be in prayer. If I make a demand, may it only be on myself.
I choose Self-Control.... I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal.
I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my Faith. I will be influenced only by God, I will be taught only by Christ.
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. To these things I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek God’s grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
All things work together for good? , July 2015
Dear EMC and Friends
I am writing this is in the middle of a difficult week. None of the difficulty comes from being a Minister at EMC, but such weeks happen in the best regulated lives. I don’t enjoy difficulties but I don’t suppose one is meant to. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resources that you possess are strained, and straining hurts. The experience of pain is normal, however unpleasant, and while it must be coped with, it cannot be taken as a sign of weakness or failure. This is how humans bear things! Humans hurt at times and we’ve got pretty good at it over the millennia.
So I am having a muddle of a week with bereavement, misadventures, misfortunes and mistakes to work through (not necessarily my own!). To take such a path is to be human! To be here, however, is also to be aware of God in a particular way. It is not the easy God of the ‘green pastures and still waters’, or even the challenging God of ‘right paths’; it is the very present God of, ‘dark valleys’. Now I mustn’t overstate the muddled nature of where I am – I make no appeal for cards and flowers or oodles of sympathy. I simply acknowledge as one human being to another that sometimes life is harder than usual and that in such moments God is still here with me.
I’ve never been comfortable with a philosophy of ‘destiny’; that somehow God has sorted out your life in every detail, and that you are on a tramline known only to God that you must discover. Such a concept may say something about the extraordinary nature of God’s knowledge of me, but it says little about a creative God’s gift of free choice and love for me. I prefer to think in terms of Romans 8:28 – that God ‘works together all things for good for those that love him’. Here is the creative God who never gives up on us, who doesn’t despair at our folly or sorrow, but patiently keeps healing, reshaping, mending and working with us. The idea of ‘everything’ is hard to digest – but I do try to!
God works with what we give him, and that must include our difficulties as well as our strengths. Perhaps God will even use my confession of having a difficult week to encourage someone else that knows, ‘just what it is like at the moment!’ If you are struggling – my empathy, you too are human. But if you are truly struggling, then this encouragement; even where you are will be shaped by God into something wonderful and you with it.
Kindest regards Yours sincerely
A Time to Celebrate, June 2015
A class of eleven year olds were asked to bring something special in for the next “Show and Tell” session. As it was a multi-faith school they were asked to bring something that represented their faith. Joseph showed a star to the class, “I am Jewish so I have brought in the Star of David.” Maria came to the front of the class with some special beads. “I am Catholic and this is my rosary”. Then Charlie came out to the front, “I am a Methodist and this is a cake.” This is an old joke and I apologise if you have heard it before, but it still makes me smile! I believe that it is always good to have the excuse for a big celebration and it is also great to celebrate some of the little things in life. When we are in hospital, ill at home or are feeling overwhelmed with life, all we long for is to do the simple, ordinary things like going for a short walk or sitting in the garden listening to the birds. Such things can become a real celebration of everyday life if we do them with awareness. Sometimes it is important to stop and really see the things around us, to look in detail at the beauty of a flower or the pattern of the clouds, to allow ourselves to celebrate the beauty of everyday life and to thank God. I’d like to share this simple prayer with you all. It was used during my recent retreat and I found it quite thought-provoking. Lord, help us to accept this day as a gift to be treasured, a life to be enjoyed, a trust to be kept and a hope to be fulfilled. Amen. As well as celebrating the small things in life, bigger celebrations, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries family parties (and cake of course!) are great because they give us a chance to review what has happened in the past and take time to be thankful. So let us all take a moment, this month, either on our own or with friends - maybe even with a cup of tea and a piece of cake - to thank God for the work we try to do here in Epsom, for the people both now and in the past who have worked for this church and to pray for the years ahead. Nik