A week is a long time ….

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It’s been a torrid week – from the impassioned pleas of Greta Thurnberg at the UN Climate Action Conference, the dismissive responses from a few (mainly) rich and powerful men. including the US President, Donald Trump; through to the crass and bitter words in Parliament (and notably the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson) following the Supreme Court judgement and the recall of Parliament. A torrid week, that has left me (and no doubt others) reeling and emotionally tired, weary, perplexed and full of questions about the weeks ahead, and our collective futures.

In the UK in particular the focus inevitably has been on the plan to withdraw from the EU – or Brexit! At times it feels like as a nation we’ve talked about little else for three years, talked and argued and yet resolved nothing. Throughout that time no shared ground or common purpose has been sought, and therefore unsurprisingly none has really emerged. We find ourselves it would seem deeper and deeper entrenched in our positions of Leave or Remain often with little purpose, but none the less with powerful embedded emotions attached. It has become an all consuming issue – and that feels like it will never end; but of course it will.

One way or another, one day the issue of Brexit will be done with, either by leaving (with or without a deal) or otherwise by deciding to remain in the EU afterall. If we do leave, we would no doubt survive any economic consequences even if we, “the ordinary people”, the 99% are the ones paying the price of the new found riches of the few.If we remained we would feel few economic consequences but the bitterness and division would not subside overnight, and the entrenched battles may continue still longer.

To be honest, my real concern has never been the benefits or otherwise of trade arrangements and the like, or whether or not we will be “better off” economically if we leave or remain. Instead my chief concern was, and is increasingly, the genuine worry about what kind of country, what kind of a people we are becoming in the process. I struugle for signs of hope in the current gloom, I see fear, hatred and division – I do not know how, or when, we will be able to come together in reconciliation afterwards.

I hope and pray for the sake of our children, and our grandchildren they find a future that is compassionate, that is fair, that seeks for a genuine peace amongst peoples and between humanity and creation.

I hope our children are better people, kinder people, gentler people than we have been.

 

 

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“Change is Coming…..”

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Today is the Autumn Equionx  which officially marks the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. An equinox occurs when the sun passes directly over the Earth’s equator, resulting in a day and night that equal in length, it’s always been marked as an important date, a sacred time, and one worthy of note.

At the weekend, on Plot 76 we held our own Equinox celebrations (I know we were a bit early) with songs, and poems and words we celebrated the good earth and the harvest, the changes in seasons and cycle of life, death and regrowth. One of the songs shared that evening was by Jean Ritchie an American folk musician, the song The cool of the day inspired by the verse from the book of Genesis (3.8) they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. The song written in 1971 is a comment also on the relationship between humanity and ecology, humanity and the planet, humanity and justice. Here’s the lyrics:

The Cool of the Day ….. Jean Ritchie*
And my Lord, He said unto me
Do you like My garden so fair
You may live in this garden if you keep the grasses green
And I’ll return in the cool of the day

And my Lord, He said unto me
Do you like my garden so pure
You may live in this garden, if you keep the waters clean
And I’ll return in the cool of the day

Now is the cool of the day
Now is the cool of the day
Oh this earth it is a garden, the garden of my Lord
And He walks in His garden
In the cool of the day

And my Lord, He said unto me
Do you like my pastures so green
You may live in this garden if you will feed My lambs
And I’ll return in the cool of the day

Now is the cool of the day
Now is the cool of the day
Oh this earth it is a garden, the garden of my Lord
And He walks in His garden
In the cool of the day

And my Lord, He said unto me
Do you like my garden so free
You may live in this garden if you keep the people free
And I’ll return in the cool of the day

Now is the cool of the day
Now is the cool of the day
Oh this earth it is a garden, the garden of my Lord
And He walks in His garden
In the cool of the day
Yes He walks in His garden
In the cool of the day

Forty eight years ago, thats how long ago these words were written – forty eight years ago, and yet their truth and the truths of the creation stories remain unchanged – this world, this planet is a thing we need to care for, to nurture and to love.

So last week also, on Friday 20th September 2019 the world witnessed millions of people, led by children taking to the streets to demand action in response to the climate crisis that faces the planet, the crisis that faces humanity. Amongst these millions of voices, one has stood out, one has inspired, has challenged, has echoed and spoken into the very soul of humanity; the voice of a young woman called Greta Thunberg. The world has known prophets before, they often have gone unheeded, they often have met opposition and have often suffered at the hands of the powerful – but they have spoken out, they have spoken truth to power, and their words have endured.

Today at the UN Conference on Climate Action, Greta Thunberg and others spoke once more about the threat to humanity and the planet as a consequence of not limiting greenhouse emissions, and not limiting the rise in global temperatures quickly. We are in a season of change – the equinox signals it, but the world too requires a season of change, a change that has been spoken out for loud and clear:

“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth – how dare you?”  but “The world is waking up ….. change is coming whether you like it or not”(Greta Thunberg**)

I pray these words be heard, I pray humanity will awake, I pray that change will come.

 

*The Cool of the day – Jean Ritchie 1971 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vv46mxx0OS0
**UN Climate Action Conference 23rd September 2019 https://news.sky.com/story/greta-thunberg-warns-world-leaders-that-change-is-coming-11817903?fbclid=IwAR3JaoFqsS-FDjNbMHFWoJGhEAV4qBRSTiprfl9Vy9dTILjYi9eBPk8tavk

 

Time for Lament

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I recently visited a wonderful prayer space created by Louise Carr a highly creative Methodist Minister who created a number of quilts to reflect different aspects of Lament; the photo above is titled Chaos and is one of my particular favourites.

Lament is also the theme we are taking up on October 11th this year as we in PXI (Parson Cross Initiative Projects) take part in the local launch of End Hunger UK 2019 week of action. Louise Carr talks about Lament in these terms: “Lament is the other side of prayer. There’s a strong sense in churches that God is someone to be praised but in many ways, in the Christian church, we’ve lost the lament capacity and we’re not so keen to say to God ‘it’s not working as it should.”  and so in many ways it feels like Lament is the perfect way to approach an issue like poverty related hunger.

Others have also spoken about the power and importance of lament; we worship God even in the midst of pouring our difficulty out before Him. Instead of backing away from God during a hard time or a dark night, we face the pain and worship God with it, placing God in it, in love we offer it all to God.

Of course everyone is free to pray in whatever way, and use whatever words they choose – but for those of us who are maybe unfamiliar, or wanting guidance in our prayers of Lament, here’s an offer of a kind of structure we might use and follow.

  • Invocation (very brief and sometimes omitted) or to call on God.
  • Description of the situation that is the focus of the lament/complaint.
  • Confession of trust or confidence in God, or willingness to wait for hope.
  • Listen in quiet and peace for God’s response to your cry in your mind, heart, scripture or image.
  • Petition for God to act in justice and righteousness.
  • Offer the sacrifice of praise to God even in the midst of suffering.

There is much in the world today, as there has ever been, that is a source for Lament and prayer whether personal or collective. Indeed there is a real sense in which Lament allows us to move back and forth between both those personal and communal spheres of our lives, calling out to God our struggles whilst understanding that those are rarely our struggle alone.

And so, here is my Lament:

Oh God!

Where have you been, are you not listening? 

Haven’t you seen the people hungry whilst others are living it high in their golden towers?

Haven’t you heard the cries of children separated from their mothers and fathers, the desperate pleas of the refugees?

Are you just happy to watch us as we destroy your creation, filling the oceans with plastic, and the air with poison?

Our children want a future, they want their hopes and dreams back, they want a planet that is safe and filled with peace – and oh my God so do I!

 

I will wait, and I will hope, and I will trust in you God.

“For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” Likewise all Empires and things of men will fall but your Kingdom will last forever.

 

 

 

 

Complex yet very simple

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This may well be one on the shortest blog pieces I’ve ever written, the words below are the ones I typed on Twitter and Facebook

“The Government says: “the reasons why people use food banks is complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.”
So let’s be clear, all kinds of people use our foodbank service including:
People in work
People out of work
People with learning disabilities
People with mental illness
People who are sick
People who are well
People with addictions
People in recovery
People with debts
People who are owed money
People who have children
People who are over 50
People who are over 60
People who are under 30
So yes it’s “complex” but its also very simple – all these people have one thing in common, each of them is struggling to manage on the money they have and feel that through the charity of the foodbank they might have one less thing to worry about for at least a day or two.”

The response from Government, politicians and policy makers also needs to be simple, it requires a firm committment to doing away with the need for charity food aid in communities throughout the UK. It requires ploicies that yes “make work pay” and at realistic levels to support families. It also requires another long hard look at how we support those in our society who do not work for whatever reasons, how humanity and compassion can be returned to a system based upon “social security” and sustainable lifestyles. It needs a recogition that “austerity” and reductions in public services have hurt and damaged the most vulnerable worst – and those policies need to be reversed.

The response from Churches, and everyone who has ever donated and supported a foodbank in many ways is also clear, please tell your MP, your Councillors, and anyone else you can think of that foodbanks and food charity is not how we will solve the “complex” issues that bring people to foodbanks for support, but that we will not rest until there is no longer a need for any citizen in the UK to need such support, in one of the worlds richest nations (as we are) there are better and fairer ways of supporting the most vulnerable in our communities. And for those of us who pray, we could do worse than to start with the words from the prophet Amos:

“… let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5.24)

 

For more about PXI (Projects) foodbank:

https://www.facebook.com/pxiprojects/

https://pxiprojects.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2xrpcw7SWlUAzvF-CnJKt2As07zKA_ln5wUUxSXUSIitGVjMXMHJrLAZc

“The God Plot”

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Growing spaces have been a characteristic of both Parson Cross Initiative and the pioneer ministry (Share Ministries) that have run through and alongside each other in one form or another since 2010, and it remains a core element of both to this day.

Currently the charity* operates three separate growing spaces:

  • A community “quiet garden” in partnership with Cross at Yew Lane**
  • A community orchard and growing space at Mount Tabor Methodist Church
  • And a community allotment (Plot76) at Norwood Allotments

Each space is different, and each has its own character, even though a number of those involved are common to at least more than one space. Of the three, it is Plot76 that is the major focus for Share Ministries, a fact that has earned it the unsolicited nickname amongst other allotmenteers as “The God Plot”. So what you might ask marks out this plot to earn it such a title?

I guess one easy answer is that I’m there – people know who and what I am, that is a Pioneer Minister in the Methodist Church. Sure they don’t always understand the “pioneer” bit, and I get quite often the “wrong” denominational title; “Father”, “Pastor”, “Vicar” and the like, but essentially, and intentionally people recognise what I am. However, I think (and I suppose hope) there’s a bit more to it than that.

From the charitys perspective Plot76 is all about social inclusion, this offers one big advantage to me in how I operate in the space in that it isn’t at any level simply about growing food. The plot is a place of community, of belonging – a space where people can come as just “be”, obviously we do grow things, we dig, we plant and sow and come the time we harvest and enjoy the fruits of the season, but primarily it’s about involvement. From the perspective of my ministry on the site, I aim to help create a sense of a Special and Sacred space.

The shelter that has been built is known as (and has a sign to prove it) Sanctuary; a place of refuge. It offers both personal space, but also a “chapel” space particularly when we hold our seasonal gatherings; when we mix music and poetry and reflection, with food and drink (non alcoholic of course being a good Methodist***). It is without doubt (because people have told me) also used during the week at times I’m not there as a place for quiet chats, personal time outs and contemplation.To use quasi monastic terms, the space provides a number of sacred spaces at different times:

  • Cell – as a place of personal, solitarity space
  • Chapel – for community celebration and “confession”
  • Cloister – as a gathering and meeting place
  • Refectory – where hospitality is offered and shared
  • Infirmary – as a place of healing and well being

My regular slot there is on a Thursday morning, when my role becomes that of host – I light the storm kettle and ensure a steady flow of tea and coffee, as well as being a listening ear, and ocassional gardener. Over the years the space has been used for conversations covering a wide range including; addictions and mental health issues, dealing with the loss of  loved ones, the difficulties with coping with deteriorating health, family breakdown, and the nature of Jesus.

Why and how do these conversations happen here? Well I suppose one reason is that I allow them to, encourage them to happen. Allow them to by offering space that is not judgemental and that allows a genuine flow between the secular and sacred, the spectacular and mundane and does not mark the difference, a space that doesn’t seek to provide answers, but allows chance to challenge and encounter. Encouraging them to by being responsive to the relationship that are there, acknowledging the difficulties (where they are present, and they are as in most places) and by sharing myself, my time, my life, my own vulnerabilities – I am not there as expert (gardening or otherwise), I’m not there to be “in control”****,  I’m there simply as companion, as friend, as partner in a shared journey.

 

Is it Church? Not in its entireity, although for some of us there it performs much of the role of church, what it is  is just what it is …. and I’m only too happy to know that to others and to me it’s simply “The God Plot”.

 


* The “charity” being Parson Cross Initiative (Projects) it was given charitable status in 2017 with the registered charity number 1172288
** The Cross at Yew Lane is also home to Creswick Greave Methodist Church
*** The alcohol ban also serves an important purpose as some of those attending activities on the plot have had issues with alcohol and addiction in the past
**** The issue of how we choose to hold power and authority and how we choose to exercise it is an important issue, and especially important I think in pioneer ecclesiology

 

 

Brussels, London or the Kingdom of God

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It’s likely to be yet another tumultuous week in UK politics as yet another Brexit deadline looms. Far from the divisions that surfaced during the referendum of 2016 healing, the split with the nation seems as wide as ever, with people still encamped and identified as “Brexiteer” or “Remainer” years on from the vote. Both sides unable it seems to envisage any compromise. These lines seem fixed around identity, either those who yearn for, and identify as “English” “British” and “Nationalist”, and those who identify as “European”. Obviously I have my own views, I voted to remain in 2016, and there is too much in my upbringing and heritage that will ever allow myself to through myself behind a nationalist agenda (especially one dominated by the likes of Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Farage & Yaxley-Lennon), however I fear that we need to move on beyond the arguments of the day that still feel overly concerned with economics and trade. So how, I ask myself, might my faith help inform the current division?

This week I have led a couple of explorations and reflections around the Temptations of Jesus, it’s a story that is contained in three of the four Gospels (Mark, Matthew & Luke) with the latter two covering it in considerable more detail. The story is placed after Jesus baptism in the Jordan, but before his ministry and the calling of the first disciples. It could be said to represent the struggle Jesus goes through to get his head straight and achieve clarity about the style and approach he will take in his challenge to the powers and principalities of this world.

One of the temptations in particular seems most relevant to our current musings over Brexit and the future of the UK, in Matthews Gospel it reads like this:

“….the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power.  The devil said to him, “I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.”

 Jesus answered, “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say:

‘Worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him.” (Matthew 4. 8-11)

Now it seems to me that what Jesus in rejecting here (at least in part) is the temptation to look for power through earthly kingdoms, rejecting the route chosen certainly by some others, to take up arms or to replace one Empire and / or dynasty with his own. Such a route would no doubt have been available, as plenty of evidence shows the Jewish people of the period were only too ready to rise against the false gods and Empire that was Rome, but this was not the route chosen by Jesus. Not only does Jesus reject the violence of such an approach, but I suggest he also rejects the narrow cultural sectarianism of this approach.

Jesus time and again speaks out against Empire, he longs for community that reaches out through love and compassion, forgiveness and healing – not conflict and victory, and power over others. Jesus, through the call to the Kingdom of God continues the rejection he gave the devils temptation. The Brexit debate (I fear) still remains one that in most minds is focussed on siding with one “Empire” or another, that of either Brussels or London …. Jesus asks us to in effect reject both, to understand that actually the struggle that matters is the struggle for the hearts, minds and souls of all people (including our own). So rather than focussing our hearts on which Empire we side with, maybe we need to instead focus on the values we want to see across the communities we are part of – those same Kingdom values of:

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Forgiveness
  • Healing

These are the things I shall try to look for, try to speak out for, and try to exhibit myself this week and in the weeks to come, as we continue to put faith in the Kingdom that cam overcome all Empires.

 

POSTSCRIPT 9th April 2019

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Deitrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis in 1945 – amongst all the tributes and quotes that people have posted today on various social media etc I came across this one which felt a highly apt addition to this article: “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” (Life Together)

 

 

(The artwork in the photo is mine from the Prayer & Paint session held at Cross at Yew Lane – Sheffield this week)

 

 

Universal Realities

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It’s been another crazily busy week at our foodbank session – in one afternoon we’ve fed 72 households, that is 112 adults and 55 children …. since January 2019 we’ve seen almost a week on week increase and levels are now at over 70% higher than before the Universal Credit roll out in Sheffield.

One household we spoke with today had made three (YES THREE) Universal Credit claims since December:

  • First claim after he lost his job in December – He waited the five weeks standard delay for first payment, but didnt recieve any money. He contacted DWP to be told he’d failed to reply to, an email (he hadn’t seen it) and so his claim was cancelled by DWP. So he submitted a new claim – another five week wait for his first payment.
  • Fortunately in this period he found a job. The wages weren’t great, but with the hours he put in and his partners part time wages, they earned enough in that month to take them over the threshold for Universal Credit, so his claim was cancelled by DWP.
  • Sadly a couple of weeks later he was laid off. He has now had to submit a new claim for Universal Credit and is subject to a five week wait for his first payment.

Stories like these are sadly too familiar, as people are left with little or no monies whilst waiting for claims to to be processed. Add this to the frequent amount of debt that people are carrying, rents and mortgages owed and the negative impact on peoples mental health can hardly be overstated. I wonder sometimes how people who find themselves in these kinds of situation cope, but of course most of the time they do, the bonds of family and community remain stronger than some might imagine, especially perhaps in places like Parson Cross and similar neighbourhoods elsewhere.

Into this situation we throw our volunteers and helpers, without which there would be no service, no food bank ….. week on week they too have to cope, not just with the pressure of giving out food parcels to around 70 households in four hours (thats roughly one every three and half minutes) but they also find time to listen to the stories (the lives) of those who attend. Stories of relationship breakdowns, of ill health, and addictions; of jobs lost, and dashed hopes, of choices made between fuel or food, of Mums not eating a meal so their child can do….. and all this shared and received with compassion, and often a smile.

Today our voluntary team stayed on an extra hour in order to make sure everyone who came had been given a food parcel – it’s never enough, but it’s all we can do, and we’re glad that we can even though we are sad that we have to. We don’t ask for gratitude and thanks ….. but every now and again we are blown away by the grace we are shown by people who come to us, today we were given a donation of £1 from a young woman who has come to food bank a number of times over the last few months, with it this letter (see photo above):

“TO EVERYONE,

Thank you so very much for all you do. Your kindness is like looking up into the sky and seeing stars, which I do feeling I am not alone.”

To be honest – I have nothing more to say