At this time of year numerous Methodist Ministers in the U.K. are preparing to leave for pastures new. Since this was my first appointment, I am relatively inexperienced compared to the majority, and so moving from my familiar stationing here in Cheam and Epsom to one in Scotland is both a challenging and exciting time in my life’s journey.
I was once given advice about saying goodbye - the advice ran: practice the three G’s – be grateful – be gracious – and go!
Sounds like good advice to me as I prepare to leave EMC and take up my new role in the Angus, Perth and Dundee circuit.
I am grateful – for the joy of having been a part of Epsom Methodist church. From the beginning you welcomed me and my family into your fellowship and many of the relationships formed have been enriched and deepened through your friendship, hospitality and through the pastoral contacts, joyous and sad, of the last six years.
Thank you for your love, care, friendship and prayers.
Be gracious: I pray sincerely that you ‘fare well’ in the future – this is not a light good luck wish – but a prayer for inner strength to meet well the changing and often demanding events of life – I pray for you the prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21.
'For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.'
Go: I will no longer be the minister of Epsom from 30th July and will take up my new role as minister of Blairgowrie and Perth from 1st September. I leave you in safe hands and wish both Mark and Chris every blessing as they minister alongside you all.
Thanks a million for the last six years, and if you’re in Scotland,feel free to pop round for a cuppa!
Ung Soon's Message July 2017: A New Time
When I was attending my first Synod Meeting last September after I arrived in England, it was a sad moment for me. Never in my life have I needed to make such a decision, that is: whether to lift up my hand or not to agree to cease worship for one of the Methodist churches. Before I came to England last year, I had read a report saying that churches had been closed down or been put on sale to individuals or organisations for other purposes in England and other European countries. How sad this message was to me?
The homeland of John Wesley, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, and I might say England, was once a thriving center of Christian thoughts. Besides, this land was experiencing a spiritual revival and had commissioned so many missionaries to unreached people groups. It is so difficult for me to understand and accept. Today, secularism and Islam are growing influences among the populations in England. Freedom of speech and religion are limited. An estimated 59% of the population claims the Christian faith, but that number is decreasing annually. England is in desperate need of a spiritual revival and the only one who can lift the weight of hopelessness and despondency in this land is Christ.
When I looked back, with the darkness in moral standards of the 18th century British society, Wesleyan revival broke out. As the flames of revival broke out in what was once darkness, historians marvel at how the movement of revival was sustained for decades. Why? To Wesley, a True Christian was marked by two inseparable qualities: holiness and happiness. I might say this has become an essential reason why spiritual revival takes place.
John Wesley wanted the followers of Jesus to have a disciplined life, to live in holiness. Once, John Wesley was visiting one of the churches. He expelled sixty four church members. The reason why John Wesley was doing that was: two selling liquor, two said bad words, seventeen drunkenness, twenty nine lightness and carelessness, three quarrelling, four swearing, three habitual lying, two sabbath-breaking, one laziness and with one count of wife beating.
In order to live a transforming life, Wesley's followers first met in private homes "societies." When these societies became too large for members to care for one another, Wesley organized "classes," each with eleven members and a leader. Classes met weekly to pray, read the Bible, discuss their spiritual lives, and to collect money for charity. These societies and classes provided continual pulses of revival power which ultimately changed a nation. During this prolonged period of cultural transformation, a thought provoking question was consistently asked of participants. That question, which might be asked a thousand times upon one’s participation in a Methodist society over a lifetime. Each time when these questions were asked in groups they held each other accountable.
What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
What temptations have you met with?
How were you delivered?
What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
After the questions and sharing, it was followed by a question “Do you desire to flee from the wrath of God to come, and to be saved from your sins?” I am thinking shall we have these questions to be asked in our worship together, bible study or prayer meeting?
For many today, notions of “the wrath of God” may seem outdated, questionable, or even backward. Nonetheless, the theme of God’s wrath permeates all of Scripture and was a central theme in the DNA of the Wesleyan revival. Should we also consider the reality of God’s wrath as we seek to make disciples in the 21st century? John Wesley thought it so important that he and others framed an important question around this theme for every participant in the Methodist movement.
This is a new time; a time to seek holiness, a time of mercy and a time of shaking. It is the time that EMC and CCEMC respond to God’s calling. To humbly come before God, seek His face; turn from our wicked ways and to pray. Now is the time to persevere, continue to live as true followers of Jesus Christ although others have declined. Now is the time for us together, as God's people across our UK nations, to pray in unity for God to fulfil His purposes for our nations, just like what John Wesley had emphasized, to have holiness and happiness.
Ung Soon Nguang
Minister's message MAY 2017
Mirth and Youth and Warm Desire
Song on May Morning John Milton, 1608 – 1674
Now the bright morning-star, Dayes harbinger, Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose. Hail bounteous May that dost inspire Mirth and youth, and warm desire, Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing, Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing. Thus we salute thee with our early Song, And welcom thee, and wish thee long.
My children are clever souls – and Rachel (our younger daughter) takes a picture, every year of her children holding a picture of themselves from the year before. This is Emily. If you look carefully you should see at least five years of her growing up! This one was taken last April and before we have seen this year’s picture. I assure you she has changed a good deal since then, but is still our lovely, kind Emily. Of course, we are hopelessly biased, but it is such a thrill to see things growing and changing and especially when things are grandchildren.
When you are reading this, we will be safely on Sabbatical and if all goes to plan, up to our elbows in the garden and allotment. It is such a brilliant time of year to be in the garden, plants grow super-fast, and you can almost see them changing as you watch. Plants want to thrive and, if you get it even half right, they do. Your efforts are so richly rewarded, far and away above even your hardest efforts. As you know I often see the Church as being a bit like an allotment. When caring about plants you do need to plan, and it is the same with Church – and we do the Church equivalents of digging, sowing, weeding and watering. But when together we get things even half right, what God can do with all that thoughtful effort is extraordinary. It is all God’s grace and goodness, and areas that seemed a bit barren and dull begin to flower and fruit and fill you with happiness. Our going away means that when we come back at the end of July, we will see a lot of changes. A lot of people have already worked very hard in various areas of the Church life and, through that Grace of God, it is our hope that we will come back to new and exciting things! In the garden, even a week away can be such a thrill when you return to walk around and see all the new things. I wonder what it will be like? What our Church will be like a year in May 2018? Perhaps we should take a picture every year of us holding a picture of the year before. There will be loss and sadness because change nearly always means loss and sadness, but there will also be good new things, new people, new challenges, new hopes and ideas.
We will be truly missing you while on Sabbatical; we are enjoying our ministry quite as much as our garden! But we are excited about what changes will happen while we are away, and even more the changes and new life we will see as we journey together on our return. God’s grace is so wonderful, and the promise made compelling and full of joy.
Mark and Judith’s Sabbatical 19th April – 19th July 2017
Methodist Ministers have their first Sabbatical after they have served for ten years, and afterwards every seven years. They must submit a plan for how they will use the time, and decide with a small group who oversee all the arrangements needed to make it possible. We have filled all the plan dates, and meetings, and Nik will carry the responsibilities I normally do. Thanks, Nik! It is a great gift of the Church to its ministers and is much appreciated by them. The Sabbatical is for three months and its purpose is to refresh and invigorate! This is my third Sabbatical as I started in circuit in 1982. I have used my previous ones to complete academic work and Judith continued teaching. This one is different because it will probably be our last one. We expect to retire in 2022 if we are allowed to. They have moved the retirement age since we started, but we’ve decided that if we can afford to go at our original finishing date we will! We are, therefore, using the Sabbatical to help us think how we will live after retirement. We will look at our ministry together as ‘active supernumeraries’ and we have planned two longer retreats and some pilgrimage days on the way to Canterbury. How will we continue to serve the Church? We will also explore our hobbies and are spending time at RHS Wisely on several day courses to learn more about what we love doing. We will also visit various possible places where we might retire, checking out the area, visiting churches, and getting a feel as much as you can while staying in a campervan. Apart from that we have the ambition to sort out the Manse garden which is still in a bit of a state. We hope it will be ready for the Garden Party on the 29th of July (details in next Focus) when you are invited to check up on how we have got on and have some cake!
If you need to speak to a minister during my Sabbatical please contact Rev Nik Wooller or Rev Dr David Dickinson (the Circuit Superintendent) 020 8643 6884.
Thank you for giving us this time. We know it is a privilege and we are grateful. Pray for us as we will continue to pray for you.
Mark and Judith
Minister's Message APRIL 2017
As I write this letter, there is within me a feeling of panic at how fast Easter is approaching. It feels this year that we have been almost catapulted from Christmas into Lent with alarming haste.
I always find Holy Week a testing time for my emotions as we journey from the celebrations of Palm Sunday, through the agonies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the emptiness of Holy Saturday and the strange dawning and hope of Easter Day.
This is the same mixture of emotions that I have experienced over the last few months; celebration, agony, emptiness and hope. Whilst my remaining time with you is speeding ahead, many other things in my life seem to be travelling very slowly, much slower than I had anticipated. I have become very impatient with certain situations and have been reminded of a boss of mine saying to me when I got impatient over something we were trying to achieve “This is a marathon, Nik, not a sprint.”
In the modern world we get so used to immediate results. I have seen pictures of the new babies of friends just minutes after they were born. There was a time when a parent wouldn’t see the pictures until a fairly lengthy process of developing and printing had happened. Today, those pictures arrive on my computer screen from the other side of the world. Life is instant and we tend to live life as a sprint rather than a marathon.
During our life’s marathon there will be days when we are making good progress and other days when we feel almost as if we are travelling backwards whilst everyone around us speeds past. Life for many of us isn’t always what it appears to be on the surface.
Whilst Jesus was facing the agony of what was ahead of him, his friends were anticipating something very different. On Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of the gathered crowd with all their anticipation of an end to Roman rule and the hope they placed in this king who would lead them to freedom. I can’t start to imagine what was going on in his head and the torment he must have felt.
My prayer at this Easter time is that, as we walk through Holy Week once again, we recognise the things that are going on in each other’s lives, the concerns, the pains and the torments that we cannot possibly see on the surface. The response quite often to the question “How are you?” is “Oh I’m fine!” and once this exchange has happened we can happily get on with whatever we are doing. I ask that if we hear that response from our friends, our families and each other during this season of Easter we take a few moments to hold that person in prayer that God will be close to them in whatever is on their heart.
Minister's Message MARCH 2017
Season of Preparation.
I once spent Holy Week on retreat with some monks and nuns then living at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine. It was an extraordinary experience for we did Holy Week ‘properly’. Each day there were different meditations in the chapel which was kept in the most puritan of simplicities. On Good Friday, all images were covered and the altar was shrouded in a cloth. Some of us kept vigil on Holy Saturday night, and all of us were up at dawn to light a fire outside and take the light into the chapel. Here we found colour and light, flowers and all the shrouding of Good Friday taken away. The service was joyful and splendid. Then we had breakfast and the nuns had spent hours decorating our boiled eggs and making a real break from our fast.
What made it so special for me, standing out from other Easter Days, was the tension the religious community had created. The before of solemn preparation and quiet, of sombre colours and shrouded images and the after of colour and noise and celebration. It is all too easy to allow things to blur; for the rhythms of the Christian year to meld together into a uniform grey. We turn Advent into Christmas, and sweep seamlessly into Easter as Lent is forgotten.
The 1st of March is the beginning of Lent – a season of preparation for the joy of Easter Day. A time to be reflective, perhaps to choose some sort of fasting, or some sort of special discipline of prayer or kindness. A time to think through what God is doing in our lives, and wants to do through our lives. It may even help to create a tension when Easter Day can be felt as a relief, the end of the fast!
Easter is, of course, not a simple story of tension resolved. It isn’t for example a fairy story where everything goes horribly wrong but then it turns out alright even though we weren’t expecting it. Easter Day isn’t the happy ending to a bleak Good Friday. If the Easter Story were a drama the climax would be Good Friday and Sunday would be the divine applause. Easter Day doesn’t resolve the bitter struggle of the cross, quite the opposite, it confirms that the Cross is the right, the only way, for God’s love to rule. This is truly hard to hear, the ‘stumbling block’ or the ‘folly’ that Paul writes about in Corinthians. So, from Wednesday 1st of March we fast, at least as a metaphor, so we can feast. We hold back so we can let go. We wait patiently through trial and tribulation so we can rejoice in Easter Day.
Minister's Message FEBRUARY 2017
Minnie Louise Haskins was a poet with a long and varied career. During her life she worked in India and the East End, both in industrial welfare and academia. She wrote books and poetry. She lived a life of service. We see this early on, in 1903, she worked for the Springfield Hall Wesleyan Methodist mission and in 1907 she went to Madras with the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to serve in the Zenana mission to women.
To help fund this mission, she wrote a book of poetry entitled The Desert which included the poem ‘God Knows’. This poem clearly touched a chord, becoming a favourite of many people, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The poem includes these lines:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
The statement of faith and hope and trust sustained her during her missionary years, two world wars, and a life in academia in days when few women lived such a life. Minnie understood that at the core of our faith is an embracing of mystery, of the unknown. She had no idea of what missionary life would look like at home or abroad, but on she went. Nor could she have known how radically the world would change in her lifetime, but she still served and trusted. She still put her hand in the hand of God, this mysterious, wondrous, surprising God, who creates, redeems and makes all things new.
This is the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, in the mystery and wonder and surprise of manger, cross and empty tomb. This God who asks of us only, “Take my hand, I am with you. Embrace your liberation and see what wonders there are. I will never leave you. I am with you always.”
We stand at the beginning of a new year. We do not know what will come. The world will change. We will be asked to embrace the hand of God who changes everything, but who is changeless. Our Circuit will change, so too our churches, for nothing stays the same.
Except this, the extended and extending hand of God and the gracious invitation to take it and be set free. “And remember. I am with you. Always.”
These words of Christ in Matthew 28 come in the context of the resurrection. He tells them everything has changed now. All things are new. The possibilities are now endless. Embrace your life and live your faith.
As we enter a new year, let us too reflect on Christ’s words: and remember always to reach out and hold onto the hand of God.
Getting to Know You: Reverend Ung Soon Nguang December 2016
I will never forget the touch that God put in my heart ten years ago, when I was attending a thanksgiving anniversary service in one of the churches in Sarawak, Malaysia. The church had invited all the pastors that had served in their churches before. I came across a group of British people; they were missionaries who had come to Sarawak, in the years 1930 to 1970. One of them shared his story in front of the congregation. He spoke in Mandarin; I was so touched at that time. They were British people, from a very modern country. They spoke English and yet they could also speak Mandarin because they wanted to share the Gospel to the Chinese at that time. If they had not made the sacrifice themselves in order to come to Sarawak, I would not have become a Christian today. Their passion, love, and sacrifice is my role model.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to go to Britain. I had an opportunity to participate in the Sunday school in Kings Cross Methodist church and visited the Chinese compatriots’ families that the church had care for. I was surprised at that time to discover so many Chinese in Britain were hungry for the Gospel and truth.
In 2015, I responded to God’s calling to be a missionary. In the beginning, my wife Hie Sing and I planned to be missionaries in Nepal, but some time later, the Board of Mission suggested we come to England. To reaffirm it was the calling from God, I put it in my prayers. God once again raised up the call that I had heard in Britain. I chose Britain, because local Chinese ethnic groups need the Gospel, need the feeding of the truth of God. I arrived in England on 28th August 2016. May God grant and provide me with wisdom to guide the believers of Jesus Christ. I hope that I can continue to lead and develop Christians to become leaders who can subsequently lead others to Christ.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism once said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” This is my prayer as well when I come to CCEMC. Pray that our work will enable His Kingdom to come down on earth and revive the church. When we are spreading the scripture holiness, we will transform and shake the place. Are you willing to be one of the people who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God?
In the18th century, John Wesley and Charles Wesley brought their personal Christianity to the spiritual revival of Britain. John Wesley emphasized the work of piety together with the work of mercy. He stuck to the truth of Holy Bible, the renewal transformed society.
We as members of Methodist Church, require unity in faith and uphold the truth and holiness to transform our lovely community and country. After we receive sanctifying grace, we need to practise to live in holiness and make every effort to enter full sanctification or Christian perfection. We shall respond to institute essential means of grace and apply these in our daily life. In addition, I also encourage the followers to carry out the work of mercy vigorously with the love of God. After a follower accepts Jesus Christ, he must understand how Christianity can influence and work in their life. We need to be like Jesus Christ, learn to care for others and involve in mercy works with a grateful heart.
May God help you and me, to be the people who are willing to serve God more and help build the kingdom of heaven on Earth. Ung Soon
Minister's Message DECEMBER 2016
I can only wonder at God’s ‘modus operandi’. His ‘way of working’. First he gives us free choice in full knowledge of what this means for us and for those we live with.
We can with God’s permission hurt ourselves, damage our eternal well-being and ignore our eternal purpose. But more worryingly we can choose to hurt others, damage them, diminish their humanity, shaped as it is in the image of God. As a tiny child can cover their eyes with their hands and keep out the sun, so we can keep the source of all life, the eternal God, and our creator out of our lives. We can deny God at our own peril and hurt to the world.
But secondly God chooses to bear upon himself the consequences of our choices. Riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey he holds his hand up and says, ‘This is my doing, I will pay’.
How awesome our God, how mysterious his ways, how wonderful his way of working that both trusts us to the uttermost, and accepts for us the almost inevitable outcomes of that gift. Paul says in Romans 8 that, ‘all things are worked together for good for those that love God.’ God works together even human disobedience in ancient times and turns it into the most wonderful event in history; God on a cross dying that we might live.
If ever there was one story that holds all this; the choice, the pain, the honoring of human choice, the consequences of disobedience; it is God’s call to Mary. Her response, ‘Let it be to me according to your will,’ is the moment that all God’s hopes and fears are fulfilled. A human being said, ‘yes’! Therefore, all things are possible as our God is, ‘contracted to a span’.
I like Christmas. I like the garish, cheesy, cosy, mince pie ridden fullness of it. I’ve never preached a sermon telling anyone off for the superficial, tinsel laden nonsense that is Christmas. If I did I would be a hypocrite because I love the season. I have, slightly to my shame, already, in mid-November, watched two sentimental sloshy Christmas movies. But Christmas is always more. More than we can ever understand. It tells me that in my deepest darkest night, God is there. It tells me that however trapped I feel, I can always choose life. It tells me that no matter what muddle I’ve got myself into, he has the key. It declares in the face of the powers and principalities of this world, the money, the arms, the politicians, the structures and systemic sins of society; he is King, the ‘prince of peace’, the sovereign Lord. He is so because he allows me choice, and pays the price, because he trusts me, and stands by when I break that trust.
He is King because he came as a vulnerable baby born to an insignificant girl called Mary who dared to say, ‘Yes’ and share in the divine will to rescue the world.