Weaponising the hymn book

Dear Friends,

I noted with sadness that 29 United Reformed Church buildings have closed in the past year and hope we will “remember them” as Jesus asks us to “remember him.” It is in the remembering that we can celebrate the joy of the ‘risen Christ’ to help us through our grief and look forward with a vision of hope.

Having seen the record of churches that have closed in the reports for Assembly this weekend I was curious to know how many other churches have closed since the formation of the denomination in 1972. The number is 271, mostly in the last twenty years, and each one should be remembered for how they gave their lives for God’s will to be done and the kingdom to come. I think a scroll of remembrance to be unfolded on the 50th anniversary of the URC next June would be an appropriate reminder of how many churches have given their lives for Jesus!

“The Spirit of the Lord was on these churches, because they were anointed to preach good news to the poor. They were called to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the kingdom to come!” (Luke 4: 18-19)

Then we can roll up the scroll and thank God as we sit down and focus our eyes on a vision for the future knowing that all seeds that die and fall will multiply so let us be prepared to sacrifice our lives for the kingdom to grow! (John 12: 24-25).

I often have to remind myself that as people of resurrection hope we need not fear our death, but it doesn’t stop us grieving, does it? There is much more to be gained from remembering lives, than there is in mourning the loss so let us celebrate and remember what has been gained and not lose hope because we forget our call to be the Body of Christ.

Other denominations share in grief for their churches and I know we will want to embrace the members of Wiilersey Methodist Church that will now be closing. As we pray for them we remember the seeds sown in the past that can never be measured, but have contributed to the growing harvest.

The story of water bugs and dragonflies comes to mind again as I hear of the closure of churches because as resurrection people we have confidence that we will climb from the mess to find a new life in which we are more beautiful than we were before. If your church is like a water bug struggling in the mess and facing ‘death’, remember, you will become a beautiful dragon fly!

Our faith is a journey into the unknown and Revd. Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, refers to this in his introduction to General Assembly:

“It has been a time of immense change in all our lives, and in the life of the church. It is not only a time of great change, but a liminal moment: a moment when different futures become possible. It is a moment of the now and the not yet, when as I write, I do not know the precise context the pandemic will shape for us by the time we meet. Our faith speaks powerfully into liminal moments and moments of change and transition. They are moments that the Holy Spirit can be experienced as at work in profound ways.

Scripture is full of liminal moments, from the call of Abraham and Sarah to set out to where they did not know on the back of a promise that sounded most unlikely, to the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, to a manger bed in a politically unstable part of the world leading the Christ child to become a refugee, to the call of disciples to fish for people, to the transfiguration of Christ on a mountain top leaving those with him transformed, to the ultimate transformations of death and the new life, of cross and resurrection – our faith is full of God at work in the midst of liminal moments.

As we gather for the Assembly, peering into our cameras and waving at one another through the ether, we know in our bones that nothing will ever be quite the same again, just as we also know the power of the allure of the familiar. We cannot guess at the shape we will be as a Church in five years time, never mind ten, never mind the church we will hand to the care of the generations who come after us.

And yet, in the midst of that uncertainty, we know that Christ calls us to be his disciples, to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and to live and proclaim good news for the whole of creation. We know that God does not abandon God’s people, but reshapes and restores them in ways the human mind can barely fathom.”

Delroy Brown will be our guest speaker for this evening’s Zoom service at 6pm. Some of you will have met Delroy previously or seen him on TV and he will be asking the question “Is Jesus asleep in your boat?”

If you would like to come to the Manse Garden Party tomorrow afternoon from 2pm and didn’t put your name on the list, please do come! If you don’t there will be too many strawberries, and too much cake, left over for me to eat! Hope to see you tomorrow.

Has God ever answered a prayer for you? Today you can declare God’s goodness to the world and help build a monument to answered prayer here in the UK! Visible from nearly six miles away and seen by over 500,000 journeys a week, The Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer will become a beacon of hope, witnessing to the power of God for generations to come.

Opening in 2022 in Birmingham this colossal piece of architectural sculpture will be a symbol of God’s goodness celebrated through the answered prayers shared by Christians like you. And this is where we come in!

Each of the 1-million bricks in the structure will be linked to an answered prayer. Premier is partnering with Eternal Wall to bring the Christian community together to populate the wall with prayers. So right now, please visit answeredprayer.org.uk, declare that God does indeed answer prayers and briefly share your stories. No story is too small or too big for the wall!  Plus you’ll be creating a permanent memorial to what God has done in your life. Let’s build this monument together! Exciting, isn’t it?

Before Covid we organised a TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) meeting for people from the community to encourage people to work together. I am encouraged to now see that the Parish Council are organising a ‘Vision Meeting’ at Broadway Museum from 4pm on Monday July 19th to discuss how we can embrace the new future ahead by creating a wide range of business and community opportunities — by working all together for Broadway post the pandemic!

The aim is to bring together the key organisations that represent the different aspects of ’the village’; explore a wide range of possible collaborations in working together for the growth and quality of our dynamic village and to discuss how to further engage the community. I hope someone will join me at the meeting.

Sunday’s service from the daily devotions team takes place in the middle of this year’s URC General Assembly. As such, it will be led by The Revd. Clare Downing, one of the Moderators of General Assembly, prepared with The Revd. Helen Everard, chaplain to the Moderators. Hymns include two written by URC minister The Revd. John Campbell, as well as Bryn Rees’ The Kingdom of God is Justice and Joy, Brian Wren’s I come with Joy, and The Revd. Alan Gaunt’s Eternal God, your Love’s Trmemdous Glory, a time to truly rejoice and sing! This service includes the Sacrament of Holy Communion, so feel free to have something to eat and drink with you if you wish to take part.

Virginia and myself join the YourChurch Zoom service on a Sunday evening at 6-30 pm and this week the theme is:

Weaponising the hymn book: St Paul, church music & community creation

In his introduction to the theme Lawrence Moore writes: “In Colossians 3: 12-17 (the text for Sunday night), Paul links church music (“psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”) with the creation of Jesus-shaped church communities of disciples.

Weaponising the hymn book? Really?
Our church music reflects our deepest spiritual and theological convictions – both those we embrace and those we resisit – hence the title, “weaponising the hymn book”.  If that sounds strange, think of the verse from O come, all ye faithful:

“God of God,
Light from Light,
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.
Very God – begotten, not created.
O come let us adore him …”

Now look at this key clause of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; ”
It’s the Nicene Creed, set to music, isn’t it?  And before you say, “Yes, but so what?”, the point here is that this particular clause of the Creed sums up the result of a long and bitter theological argument between Arius (who was declared a heretic) and the bishop Alexander, when the church gathered at Nicea in 325 CE to decide what constitutes true/correct/orthodox Christian faith.

Arius taught that Jesus was God’s first act of creation, which means that Jesus is a creature rather than God.  As such, the Council said, the church would be guilty of blasphemy and idolatry in worshipping Jesus, since God alone is worthy of worship. So this verse in our great Christmas hymn is deliberately set to teach the worhsippers “true faith” and to deny the “false faith” of Arius or any other form of theology that denies the full divinity of Jesus.
A contemporary issue
Unlike the church people of 325, we probably don’t believe that God will condemn us to eternal damnation in the fires of hell for getting our theology wrong! I certainly don’t!  After all, of God doesn’t nuke us for murdering Jesus (God’s Son), but forgives us, as Jesus asked, then I can’t imagine what we could possibly do to cut ourselves off from God’s amazing, gracious love (Paul’s conclusion in Romans 8: 31-39).

But we need to recognise that our church music teaches, proclaims and argues, as well as celebrates. Revd Lola Brown will reflect on her experience of having white church music “normalised” so as to exclude black church music, culture, spirituality and theology, and ask what kind of communities our church music envisages and encourages. Join using the Meeting ID and the Passcode YourChurch, or click on the link https://bit.ly/2Tf1EUk

When our family and friends hurt we hurt and it has been a painful week for Margaret Cross….. We pray with her for her niece, Susan, who has had an emergency operation for her friends of nearly 80 years, Rosemary, who has had a heart attack.

Pray for the United Reformed Church Assembly that is being held this weekend and for the discussion and decisions that help shape the future of the Church. May they be Spirit led.

Remember the members of Wiilersey Methodist Church in prayer following the news that their church is too close.

PANDEMIC PRAYER

Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord: hear our prayer.
Protect health-workers who place themselves at risk to heal others;
aid the efforts of those who produce, distribute, and administer vaccines;
strengthen weary producers and drivers and workers;
give patience to parents and carers;
and if we can be an answer to someone else’s prayer in the depths,
help us to be ready and willing to offer what is needed,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

By the Revd Julian Templeton, Minister of St John’s URC, New Barnet

God Bless, Richard