Many workers for a plentiful garden

Dear Friends,

I was reminded how our small experiences can give us an insight into some of the bigger problems people confront when I was reflecting on Refugee Day last Sunday. It cannot compare with the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers risking their lives to find sanctuary and hope for the future, but one of my trivial grievances made me feel like a spiritual refugee seeking a new home. 

I only moved a few miles where the only risk to life was the hazards of motorway traffic, but change is difficult, and sailing towards a new a spiritual home is hampered by unexpected storms. The simple task of finding a new church, with a warm welcome, is not as easy as it should be.

While a church family embraced me with a warm welcome, I was soon confronted with an intimidating bureaucracy, which I call the ‘triple A challenge’ – – Application, Approval  and Acceptance. I wanted more than a warm welcome because I wanted to BELONG to this family I had found. To do that, it seems, I had to apply for membership. I felt like a spiritual refugee applying for ecclesiastical asylum and then had to wait to see if I was good enough to belong.

A small group of people were appointed to quiz me, interview me, even reject me. Church meeting would then determine my worthiness for the Kingdom of God. I wasn’t frightened by the possibility of rejection, but the process is like floating on a sea of uncertainty. I was a spiritual refugee who didn’t belong anywhere. Why must I apply to join God’s family? This doesn’t feel like the gospel of love offered by that refugee child whose family fled to Egypt in the dead of night. Perhaps they did have to prove their identity at the border and convince questioning authorities! Today it would need the ‘Wise Man’s’ wealth to pay for a safe crossing, but they would still have to avoid Herod’s government!

Jesus chooses us. Jesus invites us. Jesus did not delegate a committee to sift sheep from goat. Jesus said pick up your cross and follow me so why does church become a courthouse of judge and jury rather than being a place of invitation and welcome? How many boxes must I tick before I can belong somewhere? So many people are longing to belong, but are made to feel they don’t qualify

I can learn important lessons as a spiritual refugee about the pain of exclusion felt by millions of displaced people in the world. My hope is that soon the church will stop being the bureaucracy of worldly institutions and become a safe harbour of invitation and welcome….

I am so pleased that we don’t have such a policy of application and qualification to become a member at our Church and my experience a few years ago is multiplied a hundredfold for asylum seekers. Can you imagine what that must be like….? I suggest remembering some of your experiences of moving home and being in a strange place among new faces can be a step toward trying to understand the emotional turmoil for refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2016 I was invited to join a group to produce a resource to raise awareness about asylum seekers and refugees. I said at the time that we shouldn’t be producing another resource that would be on a shelf almost before it had been used as with so much other good work in the past. We produced the resource and I fear it has probably gone where we didn’t want it to go — on the shelf! It included a film I wrote, When Truth is Blind, so as it was Refugee Day last Sunday I am going to take it off the shelf this evening and use it as part of our Zoom service with some discussion at the end. I hope you will join us on the zoom meeting. Please contact me for login details. Even though I wrote it and have watched it a number of times it still made me weep — and laugh — so have some tissues ready.

So there are more workers than we think or was it an answer to prayer that so many people have helped provide a new look garden?

Jesus was talking about the harvest when he said “it is plentiful, but the workers are few” so we asked for more workers to help with the garden and they came forward to provide more than enough!

As you look at the garden behind Church Hall imagine what our community will look like if everyone contributes what they can to the ministry. A little bit of this, a little bit of that will produce a big bit of the Kingdom so never think that your little bit is too little to make a difference. YOUR little bit makes the work for the few that little bit easier!

Another garden to visit is that of Chris and Ann Walters in Blockley and they invite you to do that between 10am and 4pm, weather permitting. You might like to speak to them in advance about car parking, but there garden is well worth a visit.

We received a message from John Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, with the news that Steve Faber has been invited to continue as Moderator of the West Midlands Synod.

“A panel of representatives of the General Assembly has discerned that the General Assembly should be invited to call the Revd Steve Faber to a second term of office as Moderator of the West Midlands Synod.

The Assembly panel are grateful to the Synod panel for the warmth of their engagement, and their clear recommendation that the Synod would welcome a second term. The Assembly panel were glad to hear of Steve’s wise leadership through a period of change and transition, his commitment to pastoral presence within the churches of the Synod and appreciation of his work providing guidance for the whole church during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Guided by Steve’s leadership, the Synod has adopted new structures, that appear to be bedding in well. The continued challenges of deployment are being faced squarely and creatively. The panel recognised that it will be important for Steve and others in leadership within the Synod to work closely and creatively as a team to manage the pressures that the realities of ministerial numbers bring.

The panel heard of Steve’s continued passion for the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments that are at the heart of his call to ministry, and his commitment to helping the Synod catch a vision of where God is calling the congregations of the West Midlands in the years to come. His determination to assist the churches of the Synod to journey towards being an anti-racist church and his encouragement of the Synod helping congregations pass the gospel on to the next generations was clear. The panel wholeheartedly and unanimously concluded that there is a clear call for Steve to continue serving in his role and believes and prays that this will be for the flourishing of the whole Synod.”

More news from Synod is that following Richard Lockley’s resignation for personal reasons from the post of Synod Clerk Rachel Wakeman has been appointed as his replacement.  Rachel will commence her employment and duties as Synod Clerk from 13th July, and will be contactable via the Synod Office from that point.  She will be inducted formally into the role at the October Synod meeting.

Many of you will know Rachel well from her previous employment as Property and Trust Officer and then as Trust Officer until July 2019.  She is also a non-serving Elder at Weoley Hill URC, Birmingham, and has served on the URC Trust Board previously.  She thus brings a wealth of knowledge of people, place, and the operation of the United Reformed Church to this role.

Despite Covid restrictions we can continue with the Manse Garden Party on Saturday July 10th so hope as many of you as possible will be able to attend. Margaret Harrington is taking names so please contact her if you are coming. Other dates for the diary include a Table Top Sale followed by a Garden Concert with Gospel Bell on Saturday September 4th.

The Armchair Pilgrimages will take a break after this morning’s journey through the Psalms and thank you to Joanne, Mark and Julie Jefferies who have provided a wonderful resource for the last 14 months. If you have missed them then ask Joanne and Mark if they can share some past pilgrimages.

The service to say goodbye to our Methodist friend Revd. Israel Selvanayagam on Sunday July 4th will now be held at the United Reformed Church at 10-30 and NOT at the Methodist Church as originally planned. This is due to the continued Covid restrictions and we can accommodate more people at a social distance. Please let me know if you plan to attend.

PANDEMIC PRAYERS

Loving God,
We live in this waiting time, 
Wondering what will happen next. 
Asking, questioning, searching. 
Will we return to the old normal? 
What new things do you have in store for us?
Creator God, grant us hope in the midst of a confused and troubled world.
Redeemer God, pour out your gift of love, that our lives may bear fruit. 
Sustainer God, free us from fear about what the future might hold 
and give us power to live whole-heartedly for others and all creation.
Amen.

God of the Ages,
to whom a day is as a thousand years,
be with us as we wait for infections to decrease,
for data to be analysed, 
for decisions to be made,
and for life to return to something more normal.
But help us, O God,
to learn from these long months,
to value new ways of accessing worship,
new ways of ministry,
and new patterns of working,
that we may not return unquestioningly to the old
but listen to your voice speaking through the chaos.
Amen.

By the Revd Andy Braunston who works with four churches in and around south Glasgow

Please pray for James Hamilton and Andrew Mann-Ray as they accept more responsibilities on behalf of Synod including Broadway.

Continue to remember Naomi in prayer and Margaret Charlesworth    June and John     Susan Nuttall      Pam and Alex      Christine and Frank    John and Jean       Vicki       Kathy

God Bless, Richard