Revd Philip Bee 15th June 2020
I was in Handsworth during the 1991 riots that occurred when an electricity substation broke down, plunging the area into darkness. This sparked looting reminiscent of the more serious riots of 1985. It was over quickly, but not before the Churches in the area had jettisoned ministers out onto the streets as part of an emergency plan designed to keep a watchful eye on how the discord was calmed by police, given the heavy-handedness witnessed 6 years earlier.
In the wake of the riots, I sat in on a meeting of the Churches Together group that oversaw their emergency plan. A kind, white vicar chaired the meeting, following a tight agenda, with members of the meeting, black and white, raising their hand one by one to speak. We shared information about what had happened the night before. People made suggestions about how we should proceed. Our plan might need re-shaping. Point by point we progressed until one black lady, who had said nothing until then, could contain herself no longer: “I don’t understand your meeting; I don’t understand your language; I don’t even understand your humour!” The clash of cultures the previous evening had extended even to the well-intentioned meeting we were having. For all the attempts to be inclusive, our plan, our meeting, our processes were all institutionally white. The power to call a meeting, to set an agenda and to guide people through it defines the culture by which we operate. That, of itself, can be racist, however well-meaning, and however we despise the term when it mirrors our own behaviour.
One of my former churches was located in a black and Asian part of Huddersfield. It was filled with the kindest, loveliest Christians you could wish to meet, almost all of them white, former members who travelled in from the suburbs to a church that had inspired them in their youth. It was a church that cried out to break free from the white culture which had driven it well in past times. When I returned some 5 years back to preach, the congregation was fuller than ever it had been under my leadership. A multicultural congregation smiled back at me from the seats. We sang songs from the world church, greeted one another with generous hugs instead of formal handshakes, and called one another by our Christian names. We sat loosely to the structures of formal worship. One woman arrived in time for the second half of the sermon, crashed noisily in, hung her coat up at the back, casually strolled to the front of the church to light a candle for a friend and then sat down to join her friends for my uplifting conclusion. No one batted an eyelid. This was normal. This was a church that had learned that hospitality was not simply a welcome to “be like us”, but an invitation to be yourself alongside us.
Racism arrives in many guises. It is a hard thing to deal with in our Church. But the recent protests in America makes one realise just how important it is to understand and address. It also gives us clues about how to be genuinely welcoming.
Revd Paul Bettison 16th June
Physically absent, yet present.
A handshake, hug, or gentle touch on the shoulder. All enable us to connect and communicate with each other. Or rather, before the pandemic, they did.
Not being able to have any physical contact with others, particularly those we love, is for many of us strange, unsettling, and most unwelcome.
And yet when I think about it, relationships are not dependent on touch, or even physical presence. We can, and do, love each other whether we are physically present or not.
In the season of Pentecost we are reminded that the Holy Spirit enables people to experience the presence of God even though Jesus is no longer physically present. It’s worth noting that the Spirit of whom we read in Genesis as ‘moving over the face of the waters’, cannot be seen, yet can be felt.
And as the Spirit encourages us, challenges us, and assures us that God loves us, it is as if we have felt touched, led, and held by God.
I thank you that, in and through your Spirit you are present in all times and places, in all creation, and in me.
So today I pray,
Spirit of life, breathe on me;
Spirit of truth, speak to me;
Spirit of hope, inspire me;
Spirit of power, work through me,
Today, and all my days. Amen
Barbara Lukey 17th June 2020
In the New Testament we are constantly urged to be thankful. The oldest man in
the world, who was born in 1908 in Britain, has recently died. The conditions we enjoy are just
unbelievable compared with his at the beginning of the twentieth century. Wages then were 7d a hour for
labourers and 10 d. for skilled workers such as carpenters. In 1908 over 25% received less than 20s. a week
Bread and potatoes were the basic food. Vegetables and fruit were not often seen on the tables of the working class.
One elderly lady in one of my U3A social history classes remembers when she took an apple to Springvale school
a whole group of children would gather round waiting for the core and that is within living memory.
Today we have the NHS. free education and unbelievably comfortable homes. Truly let us rejoice and be thankful.
Revd Paul Bettison 18th June
At present we find ourselves separated from family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. Separated from activities that we enjoyed, and which brought shape and structure to our lives. Physically separated from members of the church family as week by week we worship by sharing in services broadcast on radio, TV and on-line.
Many of us are able to keep in touch with family, friends, and each other by, for example, sharing in telephone conversations, exchanging text messages, or setting up video meetings. Throughout the Circuit, we are grateful to those who prepare and distribute the weekly newssheet and prepare daily posts on the social media sites. But, if we’re honest, its not the same. Many of us do feel separated from the people with whom we share our lives. Maybe some of us feel, from time to time, separated from God.
But we can take heart from the assurance offered by St Paul;
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
[Romans chapter 8 verses 38 and 39]
When circumstances make my life
too hard to understand,
no doubt or fear, no pain or strife,
can snatch me from your hand.
It is enough for me to know
your promise and your care:
Wherever on life’s path I go
your love, it will be there.
Martin Leckebusch (adapted)
Revd Paul Bettison 19th June 2020
‘High and lifted up’
I recall reading about the hierarchy of buildings. Those constructions that represent the things valued most by a society are raised, as it were, ‘heavenward’. Look over a city and you’ll see what I mean. Which buildings dominate the skyline, and how over the years, has that skyline changed? Once it would have been the spires and towers of churches that were afforded prominence, then town halls, universities, and hospitals. Which buildings have prominence now, and what does that say about the society of which we are part?
As I write this ‘Thought’, some monuments and statues are being pulled down or shrouded. The men (and it is almost exclusively men) in whose honour they were erected have, because of practices now quite rightly deemed to be unacceptable, fallen from favour. Those raised on high have been razed to the ground.
Thinking of all this, I recalled that we read in John’s Gospel, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Was this a ‘lifting up on the cross’, or ‘lifted up to heaven’? Maybe it was, and is, both.
John Mortimer, barrister and author, when reflecting on the sight of the life-sized statue of Christ – cast in pure white material – temporarily displayed on a plinth in Trafalgar Square, contrasted it with the blackened figures of George IV, Generals Napier and Havelock, and Nelson atop of his column and wrote; “Even in the days of physics and the internet, multi-faith theology, and crystal-gazing, the image of Christ can still, although whirled around by busses and pigeons, draw all eyes to it.” The statue bore the title ‘Ecce Homo’, ‘Behold the Man’, and John Mortimer goes on to describe it as “The image of the human being who brought, on any showing, the hope of justice and promise of joy to the poor and dispossessed.” Any wonder that he was, and is ‘lifted up’?
In the stillness I reflect upon who it is, in my life, that I ‘lift up’.
Who do I look to for inspiration and example?
Who has shaped my past, and who will shape my future?
I thank you for Jesus.
Sue Ellis 20th June 2020
Like me, do you sense that we are all getting tetchy? Whether it is the heat, the cabin fever of lockdown, or personal outrage and comments at the actions of public and private citizens, we are in danger of getting in a right strop!
It makes me think of the AA Milne poem ‘Rice pudding’ from my childhood – the first verse is:
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner-rice pudding again-
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
The next few verses suggest reasons and promises to try to cheer her, begging her to explain, before the poem concludes:
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well and hasn’t a pain
And its lovely rice pudding for dinner again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
We should speak up if we sense something is not right, we should voice our concerns and we must adhere to our Christian values. But sometimes we find it hard to cope with frustration, or can transfer grumpiness on one issue to everything else?
There are plenty of quotations about judging others, like this from a book called ‘Slaying Dragons ‘by Richelle E Goodrich:
‘Never judge another knight without first knowing the strength and cunning of dragons he fights’
And in Matthew chapter 7 there is text about judging others and the famous ‘speck in the eye quotation-
Verse 4 – How dare you say to your brother ‘please let me take that speck out of your eye, when you have a log in your own eye?
Loving God, be patient with me in my impatience,
You are loving to me when I find it hard to love to others,
Help me to be tolerant and non-judgemental of issues when I don’t know the full picture,
Bring me closer to you in thought and prayer so that I accept and then share your love.