Welcome to Whitstable United Reformed Church and thank you very much for visiting our website.
On February 1st 2015 Revd. Martin Belgrove was called to be the new Minister of our Church, by a United Church Meeting comprising members of Faversham and Herne Bay United Churches and of Whitstable United Reformed Church. He was ordained and inducted on 25th July and serves as Minister for all three Churches.
Our previous Minister was Revd. Geoffrey Collins. Geoffrey retired on 31st July 2014 after over 20 years at our Church, and we wish Geoffrey and his wife all the best for the future.
Our Interim Moderator was Revd. Rodney Wood, who had oversight of the Church and the appointment process for our new Minister.
This page contains articles and sermons from the Minister.
From Revd. Martin Belgrove - May 2016
Recently I came across some weird and wonderful job titles that had been used to advertise well known roles. They included the following:
Media distribution officer: better known to us as a paper boy
Colour distribution technician: which we might know better as a painter and decorator
And the wonderfully titled Education centre nourishment consultant: which is of course a dinner lady
It is clear that whoever dreamt up those job titles didn't share the desire for plain speaking that the Jews in John 10: 24 had when they say to Jesus "If you are the Messiah tell us plainly". With the European in/out referendum looming I'm sure we could all use a bit of plain speaking by both sides of the campaign.
Our desire for plain speaking is all well and good until that is the subject that is so inherently complex that it is beyond our comprehension. Then plain speaking runs the risk of being misleading to the listener or demeaning the subject. The trouble with speaking plainly about the things of God is the things of God are anything with plain.
We can speak with absolute certainty about the things our minds can grasp, but God isn't one of those things. We don't grasp God, God grasps us. Faith needs to be experienced rather than dissected.
Jesus replies to those who demand "If you are the Messiah tell us plainly" that he has already made plain what they need to know, that he has shown them by his deeds, his miracles and his healing rather than words or defined job title.
Jesus' role and identity cannot be reduced to some fancy job title like an education centre nourishment consultant, rather than his role and identity is to be experienced.
To make that point Jesus uses an analogy of him as the shepherd and his followers as sheep. Sheep don't think about the shepherd, they don't need to see his cv and qualifications, or even to know he has the job title of shepherd, although the shepherd's crook might give it away.
The point is that the sheep have experienced the shepherd's care for them, that he leads them to fresh pasture, tends them. They experience who and what he is and they follow. Through his love and blessings we too have witnessed the love of the risen Christ. We know we are his sheep and he the shepherd that leads us and bids us follow as his people of the way. Like the care of the shepherd may his love be always upon us and may we always be in his fold.
From Revd. Martin Belgrove - Lent 2016
With Easter early this year we will soon be heading into the season of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter.
Rhik Samadder writing about Lent in the Guardian suggests the Christian festival of self-denial is weirdly popular in our secular age. His article is a light hearted swipe at those in the secular world who give up things in Lent for the sake of vanity. Samadder wryly suggests that they only have things to give up at Lent because they failed so miserably with their New Year resolutions. He suggests that they indulge their vanity in a festival of self-denial so they can proudly declare to their friends the list of things that they are abstaining from to appear self-denying and strong willed to their friends.
Whilst his article is largely aimed at what we might call the secular world it has echoes of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
Jesus warns people not to put on an act for those around them. He encourages them to give alms in secret and with a delightful turn of phrase, not look dismal like the hypocrites, the false fasters. Jesus' point is simple. Piety and righteousness isn't for public consumption, God sees the real in us.
So those of us who might be considering giving up cake or chocolate for Lent might wish to consider what else we might give up.
Could we give up a reliance on buying unethically sourced clothing produced by workers in unsafe conditions? In this country, can we resist the culture of exploitation or zero hours contracts? Can we favour companies that pay the living wage, not the minimum wage? Can we preserve God's creation by reducing our consumption?
It is a message that isn't just about giving up. It is also about giving. Can we give more through charitable giving, through volunteering, through prayer for the oppressed and exploited?
Can we embrace a way of living that is God's way. A way that does not store up earthly treasures that are fragile and perishable. But a way of giving that stores up lasting treasures in heaven, a way of discipleship that fosters righteousness in the sight of God not others.
So as we head into the season of Lent, may we give up things for the right reason, to draw closure to Jesus in remembering his forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Alongside our giving up, may we remember the call for us to give so that through our living, we may give our lives in discipleship to Jesus.
From Revd. Martin Belgrove - October 2015
The dark mornings and earlier nights herald the shortening of daylight as we enter into the long winter months of November, December and January.
November is a month of remembrance as the nation remembers its war dead and reflects on the need to ensure such losses are not to be repeated. Remembrance Day also seems to signal the start of the long run into Christmas.
The time of Advent is one of waiting and contemplation in the darkness of winter for the celebration of the birth of our saviour. On a more practical level the time will also involve much planning and no doubt shopping for the Christmas holidays.
I am sure that our televisions will be showing the traditional favourites over the Christmas holidays. In amongst films such as the ubiquitous Sound of Music there is sure to be an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
It is the story of a mean-hearted miserly businessman called Ebenezer Scrooge who is transformed into a caring generous man who embraces philanthropy and helping the poor.
Whilst written in 1843 the tale conjures up images that are as pertinent today as they were then. Before his transformation Scrooge is the embodiment of winter. He reflects the themes of cold, darkness and despair. As we head towards the festive season, looking forward to time spent with family and friends, with gifts exchanged and feasts on the table it is right for us to consider others. Those for whom Christmas holds little cheer. Those in our community who struggle to heat their homes against the cold of winter. Those who face suffering from illness to themselves our loved ones that curtail their Christmas celebrations. Those that this Christmas is the first following the loss of a loved one and those whose Christmas meal will come from the Foodbank.
Further afield we remember those driven from their homes by war and natural disasters. Whilst we celebrate Christ’s birth we remember our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who must celebrate in secret through the fear of persecution. We remember them all in our prayers this Christmas.
Yet in the transformation of Scrooge, Dickens’ tale also features light and joy, a time of compassion and of giving, a time for us to show our care for those less fortunate. It is also a time of celebration, a time to celebrate the greatest gift of all. The birth of our saviour Jesus Christ. We celebrate the arrival of the infant Jesus who grew to manhood, exercised his ministry among humanity and suffered on the cross for our salvation.
Dickens uses the contrasting themes of darkness and light. So as we celebrate Christmas this year may we remember that it is in Christ Jesus that our lives are transformed from darkness into light. As we head into the New Year may the light of Christ light our path as we journey with him in discipleship.
Revd. Martin Belgrove
From Revd. Martin Belgrove - August 2015
Mark 6: 7-9
7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
Whilst Jesus sent the disciples out without money, no bag and no extra shirt the modern reality of a minister moving is somewhat different. Kathy and I have finished unpacking the furniture and some 50 or 60 packing boxes that we brought from Cambridge. Despite having “downsized” twice in four years the removals lorry was still rather full.
Whilst it may seem that we brought a lot it was considerably less than it might have been. Much of our time packing was spent taking items we never use or simply don’t need to the charity shops.
This decluttering of the unnecessary prompted me to reflect on the verses from Mark’s Gospel. To consider the things we carry with us that encumber us, not on journeys such as ours to Whitstable but our journey with Christ.
Many of us will undertake journeys this summer. It may be a well-deserved holiday, visits to friends and family or trips out on a staycation. All such journeys provide an opportune time to reflect on some of the excess baggage that we carry through life, the things that we hold in our hearts and minds that hinder our journey with Christ.
The disciples had no need of a bag, money or extra tunic because they had faith in Jesus and he had faith in them. They were empowered by Jesus to serve and proclaim. Christ himself has called us to him, like the disciples he has empowered us to serve and proclaim as we journey with him as his disciples.
So as we tread a new stage in our journey with Christ as congregation and new Minister and new pastorate may we travel light, free from the unnecessary burdens we cling to that hold us back in our discipleship so that our focus is on Jesus and our service in his glorious name.
PS: Kathy and I would like to extend a big thank you for the generous support and warm welcome we have received. We are very much excited by the next step of our discipleship and I look forward to working with all of you to the glory of God in Whitstable.
Previous sermons and messages
From our Interim Moderator
"This Changes Everything"
“This changes everything” is the title of a book By Naomi Klein. A long read and a detailed one, but one that made me feel page after page that this was a most important book. What is the “this” that changes everything? Not the gospel of Christ that for 2000 years Christians have hoped would change everything. Nor is it the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom that surely would change everything.
Published last September, this book lifts the veil on what is actually happening in the world as the world tries to curb global warming. It is not about the science but about the way governments and corporations are undermining international agreements and their commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.
Hence its subtitle, “Capitalism vs the Climate”. Capitalism is about making profits and if big profits can be made by finding those little things known as ‘loopholes’, then it is not surprising but very depressing to read how often businesses use them rather than abide by the spirit of regulations. All the more so because the increase in carbon emissions shows no sign of slowing in time to avoid the ‘tipping point’ when global warming will really take off.
There are about 30 years left in which to row back against the current before we enter the rapids of runaway climate change. Extreme weather, droughts, floods and storms, the retreat of glaciers that feed life-giving rivers, rising sea levels that drown low-lying coastal areas and islands will be enough to change life for us all. “We are all in this together” may not hold true in the context of economic austerity, but the effects of climate change will affect everyone.
Market mechanisms alone will not save us is the message. Politicians are shown to be often influenced by industrial lobbyists when drafting legislation, and even some green organizations have compromised – one even owning an oil well.
Yet the book is not wholly pessimistic. Renewable sources of energy are growing. There are examples of local people taking responsibility for what goes on in their own locality that give grounds for hope that grass roots democracy may be able to halt the powerful corporations. Think of Balcombe, Quadrilla and fracking. Indigenous peoples have had successes and won legal battles against the odds. We edge closer daily to the tipping point and this book is a wake-up call for change while there is still time.
The United Reformed Church has climate change on its agenda as have other Churches, Christian Aid and Global Justice (formerly the World Development Movement). Later on in the year on May 31st the Revd Alex Mabbs will be coming to Whitstable URC in connection with Earthyear 2015, which is an initiative of Brighthelm URC, a church in our Southern Synod. Details are on another page in this newletter.
Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2014
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11. 12 NRSV)
This is a difficult verse. So difficult that Prof. John Ferguson in his book on pacifism, ‘The Politics of Love”, says, ‘no one knows what these words mean.’ He goes on to give five possible senses. The scholars’ nine volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament offers six.
There are two main contenders: “ . . .the Kingdom of Heaven struggles on and people struggle into it” – which makes sense, although it does away with the idea of violence. I am going to take the NRSV text with one addition.
Matthew uses the Greek word for ‘take it’ twice more – in the parable of the sower, when the birds representing the evil one snatch away the seed (Matt 13.19). And also when Jesus explains his healings by saying that the strong man must first be bound and then one can plunder his goods.
So our text can now read,
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent plunder it/ snatch it away by force."
And this is what Jesus says has been happening ever since the days of John the Baptist.
You will remember how John the Baptist, the fiery prophet of the coming Kingdom of God, not only spoke to ordinary Jews who came to him at the Jordan, but also how he confronted the high and mighty – King Herod Antipas, who had married his brother, Philip’s wife, Herodias.
Arrested and imprisoned, John heard the approaching footsteps of Herod’s soldiers coming along the corridor to his cell. They would have been among the last sounds he heard before he was beheaded. . . .
Jesus , in Matthew ch.11, praises John the Baptist’s greatness. But with our text the rest of the chapter turns to theme of opposition and hostility to the gospel of the kingdom.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent plunder it/ snatch it away by force.”
The people are perverse and won’t accept either John the Baptist’s austerity or Jesus’ celebration – like children refusing to play at either funerals or weddings. The Galilean towns are censured for their unbelief : isn’t this the son of Joseph? And Luke 4 .29 tells of outright hostility: they drove him out of Nazareth to hurl him off a cliff.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now” Is that Jesus’ “now”, or Matthews ‘ ‘”now”?
I don’t think it makes much difference, for the men of violence were active in both Jesus’ and Matthew’s lifetimes. Who then were these biastai, these men of violence?
They were the Zealots - extremists, revolutionaries, assassins, and advocates of acts of unprincipled violent aggression against the enemies of Israel, their oppressors, the Romans. Zealotism almost certainly began among the Pharisees. They looked back to the heroism of Judas Maccabaeus who won freedom for Jews from Greek rule. The characteristics of Zealots according to the TNDT were “a constant readiness to fight and a reckless readiness to suffer.”
They were the ‘robber bands’, who Jesus said made the Temple their den, and who eventually came to power in Jerusalem. It was their rebellion that brought down upon themselves and their people the wrath of Rome in AD 70.
And one of the Zealots, Simon Zelotes became one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. . .
SGF Brandon decades ago tried to argue that Jesus too was a Zealot, and his mission a military one. But while ‘readiness to suffer’ was part of Jesus’ movement (“Take up your cross and follow me”) and while an engagement with the powers that be was the climax of his life (the cleansing of the Temple) there is no evidence that Jesus advocated violence. “Love your enemies” was his radical call. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” he said in Gethsemane.
“ the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence”
The Kingdom of Heaven means the Kingdom of God. Matthew, as a good Jew, avoids using the sacred word, ‘God’, just as the Old Testament uses ‘Lord’ for ‘Yahweh’. But how can God’s kingdom suffer violence? Isn’t the theme of John the Baptist and of Jesus that the Kingdom of God is ‘to come’? And that we must prepare ourselves for it? That is true. But it is also true that God’s kingdom is also present. . . .
For example, Jesus says, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Think of the parables: the Sower implies that the Kingdom is present in the seed that is sown, as yeast in the dough. It is like a mustard seed that can grow into a huge tree. It is therefore the Kingdom’s potential for growth that violence can snatch away.
In the persons of John the Baptist and Jesus, the Kingdom of God suffered violence: the one beheaded and the other crucified. The hopes of God’s beneficent and just reign are dashed by the men of violence. The people call for Barabbas, who had committed murder during a revolt. They chose the Zealot instead of Jesus. So Jesus was snatched away . . . but his sown seed of the Kingdom lived on . . .
Today, we have our own men of violence. We don’t call them Zealots anymore. Today they are known as Jihadis. They are groups within Islam, extremists, radicals, who are inspired by Islam’s victories in the 7th century and the promise of martyrs’ rewards in heaven, and resort to unprincipled violence in our day with a similar ‘constant readiness to fight and reckless readiness to suffer’.
Alan Henning, an aid worker who was helping refugees from warfare in Syria, has lost his life by beheading. The good he might have continued to do has been snatched away. Whether or not Alan had a religious faith, we recognize that he was doing the work of God’s Kingdom, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. Matthew 25.34 says that those who do such, inherit the Kingdom.
However, those, whatever their ideals, who try to seize the Kingdom of God by force are bound to fail. The vision does not become a reality, but a mirage that disappears. The men of violence cannot take the Kingdom of God, they can only snatch it away.
The world is in thrall to the myth of creative violence. That is, that violence is the answer to problems; violence puts things right. The myth can be traced back –where else? – to ancient Babylon now in modern Iraq. The god Marduk slays Tiamat and Apsu and from their corpses creates heaven and earth.
Creative violence lives on in TV dramas and cartoons. Evil has to be destroyed by violence. Violent revolution is needed to create a new world. Violence is the solution: shoot at it or bomb it!
Not according to Jesus. The Kingdom of God does not come that way. . . .
Our reading began with the men of violence. It ends with children.
In Matt 11. 25 Jesus prays, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants.”
And in ch 18. 2 “Truly I tell you , unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
The most powerful images on our TV screens is that of the children who look out at us from among refugees or in the rubble of ruined buildings. . .
Perhaps it was the faces of children, that spoke to Alan Henning and led him to go to Syria, seeing their helplessness and need. The Child is at the heart of God’s Kingdom.
In Isaiah 11, the prophet’s vision is of a little child leading the calf and the lion, the wolf and the lamb, the cow and the bear. There will be no hurt or destruction in God’s Kingdom of peace. The lion, wolf and bear remind us of Daniel’s vision of the world empires in the form of four great beasts: one like a lion, another like a bear, then a leopard and lastly one with iron teeth that defied description. These cruel and terrifying empires are to give way to that of one like a Son of Man. A kingdom with a human face, God’s Kingdom, universal and eternal.
And Jesus took the title Son of Man for himself and his movement. He put the child in the midst, “for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.” Jesus himself is the child/servant of God (the Greek word ‘pais’ means both).
So to conclude, Matthew 11 gives us two contrasting possibilities: to go the way of the men of violence to achieve the Kingdom of God, or to take the Way of the Child of God, the Son of Man, who sows the good seed of the Kingdom.
Today we remember those who have wrestled and agonized with this dilemma in past days when faced with a call to arms. We also acknowledge that there are times when between the white of non-violent resistance and the red of the men of violence there appear many shades of pink.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Theologian, faced the choice of helping to assassinate Hitler and perhaps halting the second world war, or of doing nothing and just leaving the Nazi war machine to carry on. He was executed a fortnight before the war ended for taking part in the failed plot. He had chosen a lesser evil in the hope of preventing a greater, to take a few lives in order to save multitudes.
We each of us cannot judge another’s decision. We each of us must answer for our choices to our consciences and to our God. And let those of us who have never had to make such terrible choices, be thankful.
The In-Between Time
From Revd. Rodney Wood
After saying our Farewells to our minister, Revd Geoffrey Collins on July 26th, we at Whitstable United Reformed Church now find ourselves in a time of ‘vacancy’. Vacancy’ is an unfortunate term to apply to a church, for it implies emptiness.
But a church without a paid minister is not like an empty room with no one in it, or an airlock with everything breathable sucked out to make a vacuum. We still have congregations on Sundays and an ongoing programme, we still have a ministry even without ‘a minister’, for each member has a role to play in the overall ministry of the church.
The question that faces us now is how we use this ‘in-between time’ before another minister is called. Have we just to keep things ticking over, like a car with the engine running, waiting for a driver to get in, put away the map and engage the gears? Are we going to mark time like soldiers on the parade ground raising alternate legs and going nowhere, but waiting for someone to arrive to give the order, “By the left, quick, march!”? That is one possible course churches in vacancy can follow. “We had better wait and see what the new minister thinks,” is a splendid excuse for doing nothing – except to mark time and just keep the old routines going!
The other possibility is to use the in-between time for growth and for following the dreams and visions God gives us for his kingdom. New ministers would far rather come to churches where they had to hit the ground running to keep up with a church that was going somewhere, than to come to a stagnating church that they have to stir up into action.
May God’s Spirit guide us and strengthen us in the in-between time and also guide our future minister, whoever she or he may be, and whom we shall share with Faversham and Herne Bay UR/M churches, through the URC process of calling a minister. As Interim Moderator for Whitstable URC, I have the task of overseeing this process and of looking after the church in the ‘interim’. So communications that used to go to Geoffrey may now come to me – for the interim!
Revd. Rodney Wood
Thought from the Minister - July 2014
I guess this must be my last contribution to the Whitstable URC website as I retire on July 31st. A few years ago my wife and I went to a pre-retirement gathering at our national Conference Centre in Windermere. That our denomination runs such courses indicates the feeling that for some if not all of us retirement can be a considerable ordeal and this even if we might be said to have a large faith.
Our faith in God, the sense of His being real to us, usually gets tied in with how things are for us. When there are major changes in our circumstances (like bereavement, a child leaving home, being obliged to move house, a marriage and through this new people coming into our lives, decline in our health and fitness) we may well have to re-group with God. When the people, the places, the activities that we thank God for and believe that He has given us are taken from us this cane be a challenge to our faith.
The hymn “Abide with me” assures us that the one person we will never lose from our lives, irrespective of how much things alter, is God Himself. In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul testifies to the fact that he has experienced the ups and downs of life but through them all he has known the strengthening influence of God.
The Spanish Carmelite St John of the Cross labelled times when we found it hard to believe “the dark night of the soul”. These challenging and traumatic experiences will often, thanks to the grace and wisdom of God, lead to a re-invigoration, enlargement and enrichment of our faith.
So may The Lord bless you, gift you with assurance of His love for us, with certainty of your sins forgiven by Him through Christ, with His peace, strength and wisdom.
Thought from the Minister - June 2014
This coming Sunday (June 8th) is Pentecost or Whitsun, the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. The story of the first Pentecost can be read in Acts ch 2. I guess that this major day in the calendar had a higher profile in our society when the Monday after the Sunday was always a Bank Holiday, known as ‘Whit Bank Holiday’.
The Holy Spirit plays an essential role in the life of the Church and the life of individual Christians. Pentecostal and Charismatic churches will suggest that in other churches we do not embrace the Spirit as much as the Spirit would like us to. Thanks to the Spirit, we become sure of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, we grow in affection for Jesus Himself, we become enthusiastic followers and companions of Jesus, we identify how best we can help God in what He is doing and aspiring to do in the world, we are helped when we find it hard to live as Christians because the Spirit enables us to rise above our worst selves and to get to be our best selves.
John in his Gospel reports (in chs 14 & 16) Jesus as saying to His followers that after He has gone up to heaven He will ask the Father to send them the Holy Spirit. He delays saying this prayer for them until after His death and resurrection. He defers putting in the request until He has successfully completed His journey through this life into the next. It is the Jesus who has been crucified, resurrected and glorified in heaven who asks God to send us the Holy Spirit.
This has big and serious implications for us. There is an inter-connection between our glorifying Jesus and receiving the Spirit. The more likely and more probable it is that the Spirit will come to us, the more we talk up Jesus, evidently think the world of Him and truly ‘song His praises’.
We say ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Happy Easter’. Why not also ‘Happy Pentecost’?
Thought from the Minister - April 2014
Whether you regularly or often look at this site or are doing so for the first time, I wish you a ‘Happy Easter’.
I have to say that something that rather irritates me is the way people will call this coming Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, ‘Easter Saturday’; irritates me because it is incorrect to do so. It is actually the Saturday of Holy Week and should be called ‘Holy Saturday’ or ‘Easter Eve’. Easter Saturday is the Saturday that comes after Easter Sunday. The next day is called ‘Low Sunday’. There is debate as to why this is so. Is it ‘Low Sunday’ because it is a Sunday lacking something of the triumphant mood of Easter? Or (as I like to think) is ‘Low’ a corruption of ‘Laud’, a word for ‘praise’, hence a Sunday when we keep the momentum of Easter with its several Hallelujahs very much alive?
If we think the world of Jesus, then we will be very focused throughout Holy Week on His sufferings and reflect with thankfulness on His levels of personal commitment to doing all He could for God and for the well-being of people, this commitment on His part culminating in His dying on the Cross. We allow ourselves to be affected by what Jesus was subjected to and allowed Himself to be subjected to. He went to the Cross believing that through His passion and dying God could work a miracle. His death was not in vain. That Jesus suffered as much as He did is an amazing help to us, revealing as it does how much God will be our when we are suffering, loving, forgiving, peace-giving and strength-supplying God. One of the ways in which God helps us when we are in a troubled situation is to enable us to find that we actually have already more peace and strength within ourselves than we had thought we had and to know that we are forgiven and far more loved than we had previously imagined we were or could be. Also, I believe that God will ‘inject’ into us His blessings of love, forgiveness, peace and strength.
When we make these discoveries and receive these blessings, we are sampling something of the Easter experience. We are being affected by the living Christ, He is impacting upon us. Christ’s Resurrection was not just for Him alone. His Resurrection was also for us; hence we live this life in hope of the life to come; we live in expectation of being with Christ in the Kingdom of heaven. We have an eternal future. God will be our God through this life and in the next life.
Thought from the Minister - March 2014
A very popular modern hymn begins “Be still, for the Presence of the Lord ....” For me it is an excellent hymn with which to begin Christian worship. It flags up this truth, that whenever we come into Church we come into the Presence of God, God having made sure to get to Church well ahead of us, so He is well prepared to welcome us.
I do not like services which begin with us inviting or calling upon God to come and join us. A modern song that grates with me is that one where we sing “Holy Spirit, we welcome You” For me this is a grotesque remark for being patronisingly rude to the Holy Spirit. Nor do I like the practice when it comes to Holy Communion of bringing the bread and wine forward during the worship. It smacks of our trying to persuade God to do something for us. I like to see the Table completely prepared before worship begins. This practice reflects the God who awaits, is ready and joyfully welcomes us to Himself.
When I visited the Waldensian Church in Florence I liked it the way they closed their worship with singing the Doxology, a hymn or song in praise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When I go to Church and sit in the congregation and the worship closes with a blessing or act of commitment I feel I have been sold short. I wish to leave Church with the sense and even sensation of the greatness of God. Celebrating the greatness of God gives us the faith, confidence and assurance that God is real and is with us there and then and will continue to be so outside of the Church building.
One of my Church Members in Chorleywood, the late John Dyer, a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, said, “The more we feel the Presence of God in Church, the easier to sense His Presence in the world.”
Thought from the Minister - December 2013
I hope that you will have a good Christmas this year and that your preparations for it are going well. In our Christmas Day worship (10 30 am) when we will welcome friends from our neighbour Methodist Church, we will be thinking about a number of seasonal things, the giving and the receiving of presents and the food we eat because it is Christmas! We like the worship to have a bit of a party feel to it. It is after all Jesus’ Birthday that we are celebrating.
But as in previous Christmases we shall pray for people for whom Christmas is often and is particularly this year a difficult and sad time. Myself, I am enjoying it, that my wife and I have just become grandparents again, but there are people for whom this will be the first Christmas since they lost a loved one. Some people have personal and health issues, anxieties and stresses that are so potent that they will find it hard to do much celebrating. And it is a tragic fact about the world that there are people who do not ‘buy into’ our message of God’s peace and good-will. We voice this last thought in the oft-sung carol “It came upon the midnight clear”. It concerns God how things are for all and each one of us and it matters what we are like, individually and collectively, as people. We are currently in the season before Christmas, the season of Advent. This is both a time when we gladly anticipate the birth of Jesus and a time when do some soul-searching about what we are like as people, how worthy we are of God’s love for us. One of the carols that touches on these twin contrasting themes is the one about John the Baptist “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist cries”.
The joy we have through becoming grandparents again, the joy we have been given through our Lucca’s birth, simply the joy of seeing him and holding him, of feeling love for him. isn’t this something like how we should feel towards Christ? It is amazing to ponder that He was as small and vulnerable and fragile as any other and all other new-born babies. God takes risks, taking Himself into vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations. He knows for Himself what it is like for us to feel at risk and threatened. So, when we pray as people who are afraid or apprehensive, we pray to a God who knows from His own experience what it is like for us.
We should not rush the Christmas season. People and society do when they take down and do away with the decorations. We mustn’t allow New Year to distract us. January 1st is a secular date. It is not New Year in the Christian calendar, The Christmas season continues until February 2nd and some Christmassy decorations should stay in place until then, the day when we remember how Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus with them to Jerusalem to dedicate Him to God and to arrange for his circumcision. The Christmas season thus also includes the season of Epiphany, beginning January 6th, when we especially recall the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. Epiphany can be a longer or shorter season, according to when Easter falls.
Christians are the people who think the world of Jesus: we party at Christmas because it is His birthday, the birthday of, we believe, the greatest person there ever could be.
Through the many years I have been most pleased to be involved with Whitstable United Reformed Church. I have noticed that in the period between late Summer until Christmas, we get actively involved in supporting an array of charities and good causes, like for example the newly started Food Bank in the town, Samaritan’s Purse, Commitment for Life (a joint United Reformed Church – Christian Aid effort) the local branch of the St. Vincent de Paul (a Catholic Charity) and Crisis. In doing so we are acting out our conviction about God, that He is concerned for people when they are struggling and in need of practical and pastoral help. At other times of the year we focus on such as The Leprosy Mission, Inter-serve, Cerebra and the Churches Together in Whitstable’s Beach Pastors outreach.
We have also recently – on the last Sunday of October – launched a fresh prayer project. For a good while now we have had our own ‘prayer card’ arrangement. On the first Sunday of every other month (so on one of the Sundays when we celebrate Holy Communion) we pass a couple of baskets (they are usually taken around by some of our children whom we are delighted to have as part of our church fellowship) around the congregation and everyone takes a card from the basket. Each card names an individual, couple or family that are part of the Church. Each of us is committed to praying for that individual, couple or family that is printed on the card that we have chosen at random. So it is possible for us to find ourselves praying for the same people repeatedly and also for our own selves.
But the new idea we are putting into practice is that on the 1st of every month we each of us pray the same prayer. We began this on November 1st, so appropriately on All Saints’ Day. The prayer we used this first time was one that I wrote in which we praise God and thank Him for one another and then ask His guidance for the future of the Church, especially in the matter of what Ministry we shall have after I will have retired at the end of July next year. We seek to be a both an ‘action people’ and a ‘prayerful people’.
From the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
The new school and academic year has just begun; so, too, the ‘Methodist year’ for their annual prayer handbook starts in September; and September is the time of year when another devotional book I have used (a combined effort by Anglicans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics) begins its journey through the Christian year this month.
We are coming towards Harvest Festival season, a time of year when we celebrate God’s creation of the natural world. Our focus is on the God the Creator. So when we come to Advent in anticipation of Christmas -which is another ‘beginning’ or ‘new year’ season – we welcome Jesus Christ into the world that God created and of which we are a part.
God is very much into ‘beginnings’. Lent, Lady Day (March 25th when we recall the conception of Jesus), Easter Sunday, Ascension-tide and Pentecost are other ‘beginnings’, occasions when God takes significant initiatives. He hopes that we will warm to these moves on His part and will joyfully and seriously join Him on these occasions.
The principles of Harvest Festival are found in books of the Bible such as Deuteronomy, the sort of book you may not be inclined to read that often because you are not too sure if it is a book that you should or need to look into today. Whenever the Israelite people held a major festival, a main part of its purpose was that the people and God re-connected with one another in a big way. The people praised and blessed God for His being their God and affirmed that they would seek to be His people.
My favourite Harvest sermon was preached by the late Warden of Keble College, Oxford, Revd. Dr Austin Farrer. He said about God that He wishes to give us far more than the fruit and vegetables and other items with which we may well decorate our Churches for Harvest services. He wishes to give us Himself. He hopes we will let Him come under our skins, into our bones and into our hearts, minds and souls and the depths of our being.
This wish on God’s part is because our being close with one another, Him, you and I is something that matters deeply to Him. How things are for us and how we are matter to Him. How things are between Him and us is important to Him: He likes it when things are good between us.
From the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
I guess you have had that experience where you find yourself thinking about someone but you do not know why or how come you are doing so. It can be like that for us with God. Quite unexpectedly we find ourselves thinking of God. He has suddenly turned up and, like from out of nowhere, has made His Presence felt.
When we go to Church we may anticipate meeting up with Him. This is what Church is about and is the real point of going to Church. Churches are places created by God to make it possible for Him and ourselves to touch base with each other. I knew someone who used to say that the more we feel close to God in Church, the easier it becomes for us to sense His Presence outside of the Church, when we are shopping, when we are at work, when we are out for a walk, when we are at home etc. etc.
The God we believe in, the God we worship and pray to, the God we hope or should endeavour to do our best for is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I have recently made some alterations to our worship, so that on the Sunday mornings when I lead the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit each have a slot to themselves. I am seeking to make the opening section more user-friendly for the children and young people who come and at the moment in this early part of the service we are thinking about God. Then after the Junior Church members have gone to (hopefully) enjoy their Sunday club activities, we look at an incident recorded in Acts of the Apostles where the Holy Spirit is prominently present. Later we focus on a passage in one of the Gospels where Jesus is inter-acting with people: my hope is that through doing this we come by a new awareness, a greater appreciation and a deeper affection for Jesus. I also include in our worship two other slots, one I label ‘The Gift of Music’ and for the moment I have been highlighting the sort of and use of music we find mentioned in the Bible; the other slot is about the Church tradition to which we belong and the prominent people from our Church’s history.
If you are curious to find out more or feel like sampling us of a Sunday, please come along, you will be most welcome!
From the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
You may know that at the beginning of November on or close to All Saints’ (the 1st) or All Souls’ (the 2nd) Day, some Churches hold a Memorial Service. This Service gives people an opportunity to remember loved ones and friends who have passed away and whom they still miss and feel for even if their death was not recent but some years back.
Having heard that these sort of Services are helpful, we are this year we are offering one, but it will be soon and on April 28th and at 10 30 in the morning. Please accept this as an invitation to you to come along. If you wish us to remember someone please feel free to contact us beforehand and knowing the names of people in goodish time might well be helpful to our preparing the worship. I invite you to email me at email@example.com.
We though this an appropriate time of the Christian Year to hold the Service. We are in the Easter season when we especially focus on the Resurrection of Jesus and His promise to us of eternal or everlasting life. Further, despite the drawn out unfriendly cold weather we are experiencing, this is still also Spring time, with the days getting longer, when we are minded to think of how we are greeted by and our spirits are lifted by the new life of the natural world.
Easter is a not an isolated day in the year. The Easter story of Jesus Christ Risen is at the heart of the Christian faith. As I said in my Easter sermon, Easter Day is attached to Holy Week.
Holy Week runs each year from Palm Sunday til the Saturday before Easter Sunday, which Saturday is wrongly called ‘Easter Saturday’. It should be thought of as ‘Holy Saturday’ and as the evening draws on as ‘Easter Eve’. (‘Holy Saturday’ is the Saturday at the end of Easter Week, which begins on Easter Sunday.) Our Risen Christ is the Christ who was crucified. He comes back to us to be with us even when we are numbered among those have deserted or those who have hurt Him hard. Easter is also a day when we look ahead to Whitsun or Pentecost and to the coming to us of the Holy Spirit, whose influence on us is essential if we are to make progress as Christians and successfully ‘deliver’ and ‘perform’ for Christ.
Christ was risen not just for His sake but for the sake of all of us. When teaming up with Him we have backed a winner. Our faith tells us that He will welcome us into the Kingdom of heaven. How this will pan out, what the details are remain a mystery. I am pleased to say that God’s love for us is an enduring and undying love. He loved us before we knew He loved us, He loves now, He will love us for evermore. This is the God we inter-react with, the God we pray to, the God we worship, the God we do things with.
From the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
Something I am increasingly drawn to is ‘silent prayer’. i think many who value the practice of silent prayer will say that they find it far easier to stay silent in the Presence of God when part of a group of like-minded people.
There are a variety of practices. One I have become involved in for this Lent is inspired by the experiences and convictions of the late Benedictine Catholic, John Main. He encourages us to give round about 20 minutes each time we practise the silence but,as we are quiet and whilst we are silent, we repeat a prayerful phrase, his recommendation is the word ‘Maranatha’, which means ‘Come, Lord’. It does not have to be this phrase; we may choose our own. If this is a way of praying that we have not previously been used, it can or may at first be difficult to get used to it.
I also go to the local Whitstable Julian meeting and to a Contemplation Group that meets in Canterbury, where the ‘methods’ are rather different. A number of years ago now I visited Montpellier Cathedral. On entering the building there was a notice saying that the real point of going into the Cathedral was to meet with God and that we gave ourselves the bets chance of this happening if we kept silent. Paradoxically, the silent atmosphere was helped by the playing of a CD made by monks from Burgos in Spain.
Silence is important to God as a means of His engaging with us. However God is also into ‘noise’. He engages with us through the Bible being read, through people speaking and preaching, through our singing of hymns, songs and choruses, through our talking with one another.
If we prefer ‘noisy worship’, may be we should, for God’s sake and the enrichment of our faith in Him, investigate the practice of silence. If we prefer ‘silence’, may be we should, for God’s sake and the enrichment of our faith in Him, sample and practice more noisy worship.
From the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
You may well know this prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
It flags up the fact about God that He helps to accept reality, particularly when we find this hard to do.
These are a few of the situations where God can help us. One is when we are struggling to come to terms with the loss of a loved one and we rebel against the fact of their passing, Another is when the mess we are in is a mess that we have got ourselves into. Yet another is when we have to accept our limitations and do not easily admit it that we are trying to be or to do what is beyond us. A further is when we hanker after the past and fantasize about being able to turn the clock back. God is willing to help us because He cares for our inner well-being.
We do not favour our own inner well-being if we fight against reality, becoming resentful,bitter or angry that things are as they are.
At the same time the prayer highlights the God who can make things happen and get things done for us. Among occasions when we sample this God are our being braver than we thought we would be, calmer than we expected to be, stronger physically or morally than we imagined ourselves being, wiser than we pictured ourselves being; any situation when we are something more than we anticipated ourselves being.
The God you and I pray to is a God who takes an active interest in how each one of us in ourselves and in how things are for each one of us.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
Happy Christmas to you and thank you for looking us up on our website! We hope you find inspiration from doing so.
I wonder how Jesus himself feels about people who make ‘a great thing’ of Christmas but never give him a thought. I can understand it if it causes him hurt. None of us likes it being ignored, overlooked or rejected and it will get to us even more when the people ignoring, overlooking or rejecting us are people we have done a lot for.
A while back now I heard a lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams about the Scottish Franciscan theologian, Duns Scotus. Apparently he took issue with other Christian writers and preachers whom he felt believed God only became one of us in Jesus Christ because people, including people like you and me, have given Him such heartache the fools and sinners that we are. He decided to do something about this crisis, to do everything necessary to retrieve the situation and mend the breakdown in our relationship with Him. He became one of us as Jesus precisely in order to sort this serious problem.
Duns Scotus believed that God had it in mind to become, at some point, one of us even if we had never caused Him any grief. So he supplies us with a picture of a God who simply enjoys being one of us for its own sake. Duns Scotus belongs to a theological tradition, promoted by Francis of Assisi and Bonaventura, which promotes a God who enjoys, in Cecil Frances Alexander’s words, “all things bright and beautiful, all things wise and wonderful”. God becomes one of us in Jesus for the joy of doing so but at the same time works in partnership with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to sort the great problem He has with us.
Unfortunately, we might get the impression from some churches and church people that God is obsessed with our being failures. so obsessed to the point that, should we ever become complete saints, against whom no word can be said, He would not know what to do with Himself. God has a knack of touching our consciences but I also believe He says ‘thank you’ and ‘well done, ‘good for you’. It can be a feature of Jesus that gets very overlooked: how he saw good in people, how he gave credit where credit is due.
We like it when we find that someone whom we had presumed to be above us comes alongside us, as when, say, the Archbishop or the Prime Minister or a Sports Star travels like we do Second Class or with a No Frills Airline. We think even more of them because they choose to be ‘ordinary’ like the rest of us.
God is very good at ‘being like the rest of us’, at ‘coming alongside us’. He’s shown Himself as being like this in Jesus Christ. He makes Himself dependent on people, on the likes of Mary and Joseph. The circumstances in which Jesus is born are very un-ceremonial. In our experience – yours and mine – it is easier to see God in people who are humble about themselves than it is in people who think very highly of themselves, like they must be superior. It is God’s ability and willingness to come alongside and be one of us that makes Him credible and makes us feel like getting to know Him.
We like to know that there are people around who have got something that we haven’t got, who have skills and know-how and wisdom that we lack and they will let us profit from their abilities. They will do for us because we cannot do for ourselves. We are saved only because they save us.
God has plenty of things about Him that put Him above us. We take to Him because He will be loving and forgiving when we are not, take to Him because He can make things happen when all of us are finding ourselves powerless. His appeal to us is that He is a high achiever who offers us His own know-how and remarkable skills.
We find God attractive, we are drawn towards Him because He is in the mix of things, the midst of life but He is not enmeshed and imprisoned in the midst of life and the mix of things.
He gets thoroughly involved but remains free to be His true self.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
The enormously influential Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, pointed out that we call many activities ‘a game’ but it can be hard to define the meaning of the word ‘game’ because something like snap or solitaire is a different sort of exercise to, say, rugby football or motor-racing. Some of the activities we call ‘games’ we also call ‘sports’ and may indeed more think of them as a sport than we do a game. His observation was that all the varied activities we call ‘games’ make up a ‘family resemblance’. A family is a collection of people who belong to one another in various degrees of closeness, people who may in some ways be very different from one another and yet have similarities and things in common amongst them.
What the great Philosopher said about games, we might say about the Church or Churches. We are different from one another, most noticeably so at times, even to the point that we can be, in a most unholy sort of way, at odds with each other. On the other hand, we can find ourselves across the variety of Churches focusing more on all that we share and have in common.
It is good and healthy when the differences amongst us are seen by us as positives. It is a help to God that we are not all the same, that we pray and worship in an assortment of ways.
We go wrong, we lose the plot when we think that ‘our’ Church is more in with God than the other Churches.
If you are reading this as someone who has become disillusioned with the Church you have been familiar with, may I invite and encourage you to ‘look around’ other Churches. There are plenty of us around! There are days when I say ‘Thank God’ for this, although I have been keenly involved in inter-Church and ecumenical activity for close on 50 years. The more the different Churches enjoy one another and get their act together with one another, the more in touch we are with the God who loves us and the more credible we are in the world.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
I believe that the most important piece of knowledge anyone can have is the ‘knowing that God loves them’.
When we first discover that God loves us, we find out that He has always loved us, even when we never knew He did. The more we realise God loves us, the more we know that He will be loving us for evermore, including in the next life.
Because we know God loves us, we also know that He takes an active interest in us, in how things are for us and in how we are in ourselves. This means that He joins in with us when we are partying and is happy for us when we are doing well and are in good spirits. It means too that He feels for us and is a great resource for us, for peace, for wisdom, for strength when we are struggling. He is, I believe, exceptionally good for us when we are feeling guilty and ashamed: He enables us to live with ourselves when we had thought we couldn’t.
In view of this, in Church I have started giving people the chance to say about their joys and their concerns.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
We sometimes find ourselves thinking to ourselves about someone, something or somewhere and it feels like the name or the image of that place, object or person has been ‘put into our heads’.
If we believe that we have something going for us with God, it could well be God who has done the putting into our heads. He will presumably have done this because He wishes us to be thinking, praying quite probably, about the person, the object, the place.
When we pray it is so often ourselves who initiate the conversation and then set its tone and control its length. We may even prevent God from getting in a word edgeways!
I am seeing it more and more that when we pray we should give God the chance to out it into who, what and where He would like us to pray for. I am thinking this after spending time in Convents and since I have been sharing in local Julian Meetings. The main feature of the devotional gatherings I have in mind is Silence. What I endeavour to do in the Silence is hold back from taking the lead in the conversation, thus avoid ‘telling’ God what we will be talking about, so allowing God to put into my mind the people, the things, the places He would like me to be praying for.
Being silent is something we can do anywhere but I guess those of us who value times of silent praying find certain situations more others to be congenial or conducive to it, one particular situation is being in the same room as other people who find ‘being prayerfully silent’ helpful.
It strikes me that there have been a lot of stories in the media over the Christmas period about people doing awful things to other people, sometimes even to people within their own family or circle. It is a thoroughly disheartening spectacle, when people show no desire for ‘peace and good-will’ and seem to have no qualms about practising violence and contributing to ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.
We do ourselves a serious disfavour if we do not face up to the fact that we have it within us to behave atrociously, in such a way that we play into the devil’s hand and make this world a hell of a place for ourselves and one another. Facing up to this grim reality has implications for how we deal with people who are into crime and into committing acts of socially unacceptable behaviour.
It has to be said that we will not make many inroads into tackling the problems of anti-social behaviour if we do not discern why people behave like that. People may behave badly because in their experience the world is an unforgiving and ungracious place, a place that makes them feel disillusioned and angry. The situation is worsened now because there has been a growing disenchantment with public figures and Institutions (like politicians and parliament, our law-makers and law-enforcers) that we once assumed we could believe in.
An Institution – and include in this, each and every Church – is as credible as the people who are that Institution. We will shop or do business where we are respectfully and considerately treated. We will go the Church where we feel the people are for the most part genuine.
Maybe we should be pressing the media to share with us ‘good news’ stories, ones where they highlight people who are being a credit to themselves and distinguishing themselves through their good works. In other words, let us raise the profile of people whose character and behaviour restore our faith in human nature because how they are and what they do make this into a more heavenly world, into a place where we choose to be.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
"People believe in God because people believe in God." This was written by
the one-time Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins. I heard someone say that
what drew them into the Church, towards Christ were people of faith who
seemed gifted with greater joy and deeper peace of mind than most other
people she knew. "God save us from sullen saints" St. Theresa of Avila is
reported as praying!
We don't ask questions about the meaning of life, whether or not there is
a God, whilst things tick over nicely for us. But we might do so when life
or the world, the universe strike us as being quite wonderful. When
captivated by what we see and are lost for words because what is wondrous
is so very wondrous, we begin to think that things can only be this good
because there is 'someone' or 'something' behind it, to whom all credit
for it must be given. It is too good for it to have just happened by
What triggers our getting a feel for God and provokes us to cry out for
God is life's becoming all too much for us, the world's being a terrible
place, the situation we are in being so awful that we sense our only hope
of getting out of it is there being a God who will help us all her knows
how, a God who can make things happen whilst we are only too aware of our
powerlessness. The more Godforsaken things seem, the more we get a
yearning for God. This yearning for God begins to make sense when we hear
about people who, in their great need, prayed and received help through
The more aware of God we become, the more we know that He is close by us
at all times and in every situation. He shares our everyday lives with us.
He does not restrict himself to the most wonderful or the most dreadful
times of our lives. His interest in us is neither limited to when we are
flourishing nor confined to when we are really up against it. His
availability is permanent and His in-put into our lives, in the way things
pan out for us and in how we are in ourselves, may be far more than we
have noticed. The more we know God, the more we realise that there are
both times when He really does make His presence felt and times when He
chooses to remain low-key and works quietly behind the scenes, almost
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
Churches will say when their services are, dates and times, but may not
tell you much about what their services are like, what, in other words,
you will be letting yourself in for if you turn up!
At present when I, as Minister am leading the worship, we are spending a
bit of time on each of the following:
~ whilst members of Junior Church are 'in the service', we've been
thinking about birds, animals and plants that get mentioned in the Bible
~ I say a few words about someone who was, in their day, a key player in
the life of the Christian Church, because they gave a lot of thought to
what Christians believe or they influenced the way the Church ran itself.
~ We spend time in prayer, but I have been introducing this part with some
thoughts about the importance and value of 'practising silence'.
~ I share thoughts based on a reading from one of the 4 Gospels, my hope
that through this we get a fuller picture and a deeper feeling for Jesus
Christ. as we look at Him inter-acting with the people he meets.
We sing a variety of Christian hymns and songs, modern and traditional,
well-known and, every so often, not so well-known!
I assure you that if you would like to come, you will be most welcome!
Sundays 10 30 start, finish around 11 30!
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
What was it about Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John that made Jesus pick them as his first 4 disciples?
It wasn't, I think, because he thought they could do with 'getting a life' or needed to be freed
from some distressing and unsatisfying situation. It was, I believe, because he saw what they were
capable of, like hard work, like knowing what it is like to find oneself in frightening situations,
like being used to holding responsibilities, like being accustomed to making decisions, each of
which would be due to their life as fishermen who owned their own boats and who had others working for them. I guess, too, that Jesus could picture them offering him the kind of personal and
practical support that he knew he would need.
We can often picture God as being so much more taken up with our weaknesses than he is our
strengths. We might even give the impression that, if we managed to give up being fools and
sinners, then he wouldn't know what to do with himself!
True, it bothers God when we fail to deliver for him or we are an embarrassment to him. However, I
see Jesus quite willing and ready to recognise our strengths. So, I encourage you to see for
yourself what you honestly believe Jesus sees in you.
I say this because, For me Jesus shows us a God who is very much inclined to 'tap in' to the
strengths of character we are blessed with, a God who, even though he knows all about us, believes in us and encourages us to believe in ourselves.
Previous Thoughts from the Minister
When I read about Jesus in the Gospels, I get the impression of someone who was very focused and full of purpose. He is blessed with self-confidence. He has oceans of self-motivation and plenty of drive. He abounds in energy. He has the capacity to keep going. He is mentally and physically, personally and spiritually strong.
Hang around with Jesus, spend time with Him and you will, I am sure, find He's 'your man' when you don't know what to do with yourself, when you feel you're going nowhere, when your life is drifting. He does what He can for us to know our own worth, to feel valued, to believe in ourselves, to find our niche in the world and our vocation in life, to see for ourselves what we are cut out for, why we are here.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
When I started in the Ministry in the 1970s I had one Anglican companion who was very anti the singing of Christmas carols before Christmas Eve. If by the time we get to Christmas Day we have sung all the carols, then we are 'doing Christmas far too early' and so we miss the point of it. Carols are for singing after Christmas and into the new year.
Too much 'doing of Christmas' before Christmas Day creates the feeling that Christmas is the climax or summit or goal. Christmas is not the end, it is a beginning. I am now more sympathetic towards companion Richard's conviction than I used to be. I don't like it when people dismantle their decorations very soon after Christmas Day. Keep them, I say, until Twelfth Night, January 6th, the day in the year - Epiphany - when the Church ponders the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus. Do more than that: keep some of them throughout Epiphany - because in 2011 Easter is so late, Epiphany is a long season, it lasts until mid February. If that seems OTT, keep them at least until February 2nd, because that is 'Candlemas', the day the Church recalls when Mary and Joseph presented their infant Jesus to the Lord in the Temple.
After Epiphany we start journeying towards Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. Let's not isolate Christmas from the rest of the Christian Year. Let's delight in Jesus as a baby but let's not ignore him as a mature adult, whose actions, words, life's experiences and personality should command our attention and our devotion. This year, embrace Jesus more than ever before and allow him to, as he would like to to, embrace you.
In the beloved English carol, 'God rest you merry, gentleman', it is important to note that the comma in this line comes AFTER 'merry', NOT before.
If it did come before, the carol would sound like it is an appeal by the seriously abstemious to those who indulge in the consumption of wines, beers and spirits to give thought to reducing their intake of such beverages!
This is an example of how a small change can make a 'world of a difference'. The moral here is, of course, that to make a better world for ourselves and each other, we don't always have to do something that is earth-shattering. Small deeds can be very significant and most telling.
We are merry thanks to God, for He Himself wishes each and all of us a 'Happy Christmas'. Jesus showed us a God who is a 'caring, sharing' God, a God who loves us, who is passionate for our well-being, whose prayer is that each and all of us find ourselves with Him in the Kingdom of heaven.
One thing about Jesus was the respect He showed for women and children. He did not go along with those around Him who would have said that this is and ought to be a 'man's world'. This being so, you may have come across slight re-writes of this carol, to make clear that God's blessings are for all, not just for gentlemen but for women, children and, what this world would consider, 'ordinary folks'.
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
"... a huge crowd had collected, and, as they had no food, Jesus called his disciples and said, 'My heart goes out to these people' ..." (Mark 8 vv.1-2)
It matters so much to Jesus how things are for people and how we are in ourselves, personally, physically and emotionally. Many stories report people approaching Jesus for His help. Here, by contrast, we read of Jesus being pro-active for people, as He sees for Himself and acknowledges their needy situation.
Jesus' readiness and ability to 'feel for' people, especially when things were not easy or hard for them could be because He Himself had experienced 'being deprived' or 'put through it'. We see this in the story of His being tempted in the desert. Jesus had also had the experience of being stretched to the limit, finding it hard to find 'time for Himself'. There were occasions when He could scarcely get 'a moment's peace'.
Another experience that may well have been the making of Jesus was the kind of upbringing he had been able to enjoy. I don't think Joseph and his family were as poor as is so often made out. The word used for 'carpenter' suggests someone who was a 'master carpenter', a man who had his own business, a key player in the life of the community. Some of the houses or homes where people came to see Jesus may have been owned by the family - so, when He embarked on His public ministry, Jesus made a choice to take a cut in His living standard. He identifies with people who had not been and who were unlikely to become as well-placed and privileged as He had been. Whatever and however much we may have going for us, Jesus knows from experience how vulnerable and exposed we can be in life and in society, that things don't always go our way and people can cause us problems and heartache as well as be a great blessing.
The accounts of Jesus as a baby and small child are, it has to be said, relatively meagre. The impression we get from them is that Jesus knew what it felt like to be cherished. He is treasured by Mary and Joseph, He is made a fuss of by shepherds and He is adored by wise men. He practises what He has Himself been shown. When people think too much of themselves and parade proudly before others, He reacts. However, He is also remarkable at being able and willing to get people to know their own worth, having enjoyed in His life and formative years the luxury of people who inspired Him to know His own worth. He is someone who feels things very deeply. He is someone with passion. Deep within Him is a desire to do all he can for people, for us in our personal needs.
This 'depth to His character' was not something that He eventually came by or got drilled into Him by people who were of a greater character than Himself. We believe that He was born what He was, that His qualities of personality and strengths of character were 'innate' to Him. He did not learn to be good, He was naturally good. This is the Christian faith, that the Spirit of God inputs into the making of Him as a person from the day of His conception.
The God Jesus epitomises gives us the opportunity to be re-born, to make a new start, to become 'reformed personalities and changed characters'. We who have been fools and sinners are given the chance and capacity to become saints and angels. We must not think that we are bound forever to be fools and sinners. God has the heart and the ability to help us 'turn things around'. Thanks to Him, our past, that we feel guilty about and that plays on our mind, need no longer haunt and harass us.
Thus we call Him 'Jesus' because "He shall save His people from their sins".
Pray we all have a peaceful and blessed Christmas,
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
"They brought to him a man that was deaf and had an impediment in his speech" (Mark 7 v. 32)
Belief in Jesus, in His ability and willingness to 'make all the difference' to us and other people is at the heart of our faith. Christians are people who believe in 'talking up Jesus'.
Currently the Holy Spirit is persuading Churches to be more up-front about themselves and about their faith. Hence it is good that we have a fresh noticeboard on the Middle Wall side of the Church and - special 'thank you' here to Peter Dyer - a newly created Church website: www.whitstableurc.org.uk . The Holy Spirit is expecting Churches to react to the increasing agnosticism and overt atheism in our society.
Another major development in Church life that has been initiated by the Spirit is the increased use of music and singing in worship. This seems to me to be a significant feature of life in a growing Church: the people enjoy singing and being musical, for this enables us to engage with God, with one another and with our own selves. So our music and our singing are of vital importance to the Spirit's cause.
At the same time the Spirit is taking us in another direction, the practice of Silent Prayer. I feel that we should arrange a day when we focus on this. A few words by me at this point are well insufficient. The kind of Silent Prayer that I am thinking of is where you and I spend time doing only this, 'Waiting upon God'. My major experience of it was when I was with the Franciscan Sisters in Somerset and sitting in the Chapel for close on half-an-hour from 7 in the morning. No one saying anything aloud, those present practising complete silence, myself not praying anything to God, deliberately steering clear of starting a conversation with Him, waiting to see what, by His grace, in His providence and according to His wisdom came to my mind. It is an exercise or 'discipline' we can practice anywhere, at any time, but it comes easier to do in certain environments. Hence I am thankful for the monthly Julian Meetings that Joyce Outen leads at St. Alphege Church.
A further major initiative that the Spirit has taken across the Churches is getting us to embrace one another's approaches to worship and prayer. A Church that carries like it has always carried on, hardly ever or never incorporating into its practices the ways of other Churches risks being 'off the pace' set by the Spirit. A real development is the increasing recognition in the Churches of Western Europe of the value of the Orthodox use of the Icon. The Icon is not an object we contemplate in itself; it is an aid, a gift of Divine grace and wisdom. We look at the image of Christ and it helps us to engage with Christ personally and thus helps Him to engage with us.
My recent time at the Oxford Convent and my finding out about the Carmelites reinforced my conviction that, if we are Christian, then we have a responsibility and a desire to focus our minds and hearts on the person of Jesus, to study what He did and said and to seek a greater appreciation of His character and personality. Thus, pondering the Gospels becomes not an option but a necessity and an obligation.
A factor that God has to live with is that we may choose not to go along with the initiatives that the Holy Spirit takes, or only go along with those that we feel comfortable with. We may opt out if we fear what is being asked of us. God is, as we know, very patient but for how long can He, if being true to Himself, live with our being frustrating and grieving Him?
Bless the Lord and let the Lord bless you
When things go pear-shaped for us or spiral out of control, in our desperation
and because unable to cope, we may turn to God. 'God, help us' we may cry out
even if we have not been in the habit of saying our prayers. Fear for ourselves
and a terrible sense of powerless can trigger a calling out for God.
If life is going along quite smoothly or reasonably, we don't think much about
it. It just happens. It takes something sensational or out of the ordinary to
make us think about its meaning. It can be when life seems a 'hellish'
experience that we look for God. We cannot cope or solve our problems by
ourselves. so we look for God, a power greater then ourselves, a power we
believe to be good-natured.
Our confidence in God can very tied up with 'how things are with us'. We connect
God with life's being fair or good to us. Something going wrong, loss of a loved
one, redundancy, or some other tragic experience may make us wonder whether or
not God is as real as we thought Him to be.
So a massive change in circumstances can mean that we need to re-build our
faith. Or, we might say it like this, we need to 're-group' with God. Something
to be sure of: God understands why we have the amount of faith that we do have.
He will not demand more faith form us in an insensitive manner. I also believe
that God is very much into helping us to come to terms with reality. He does
His best for us when we are findiong it hard to accept things asa they are,
things that cannot be changed, though we wish so much that they could be.
One thing to be said about God: He's very helpful!
from the Revd. Geoffrey Collins
"...a woman whose small daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell at his feet ... " (Mark 7 v.25)
John Newton wrote this about prayer:
"...Jesus loves to answer prayer;
He himself has bid thee pray,
Therefore will not say thee nay.
Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such;
None can ever ask too much."
However, when we read this story of the Gospel, Jesus does not, as we might say it, 'immediately get down to business'. Eventually He does and the little girl is set free of torment. First, though, Jesus questions her mother as to whether she isn't being out of order to ask His help.
So the write-up makes Jesus sound somewhat harsh. It says that He had an issue with the woman over the fact that she wasn't Jewish. Jesus is quoted as saying that His ministry is to His own people. She, however, persists and persuaded Jesus to help.
Was this exchange a discovery for Jesus Himself? Was He finding out for Himself something about the grace of God that had not previously occurred to Him? Namely that God would bless people irrespective of their ethnicity and that a person's nationality is no problem to Him. This was a break-through experience for Jesus.
In a sermon for All Saint's Day, Austin Farrer (Warden of Keble College, Oxford), said:
"Christians sometimes talk about Jesus Christ as though he walked down from Heaven a readymade man, with a complete outfit of true ideas in his head; as though he had only pretended to be a babe in the cradle. But he made a more thorough job of being human than that..."
Our belief is that Jesus' knowledge of God was unparalleled. At the same time, it comes across that He was on a journey of discovery, with His own large and extensive faith being enlarged and stretched.
We must beware making the mistake of thinking that God has told us all that He is ever going to tell us, that God has given us all that He is ever going to give us, that God has done for us all that He is ever going to do for us. For the good of our relationship with God, we need to be open, to anticipate, to expect.
George Rawson's hymn that begins
"We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind..."
gets us to affirm in the chorus
"The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His word."
May God bless you and make you a blessing to others,