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On the Spot

July 2024: One body

Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, makes an excellent analogy between the human body and the body of Christ – the Church. As we read chapter 12, we see this analogy unfold. Sadly, the church in Corinth was in difficulty, with divisions and quarrels amongst other things. So in this chapter, as we receive it today, Paul is addressing the issue of self-importance and self-deprecation. The God-inspired analogy works so well in this scenario and cuts to the heart of those who have been causing upset and division. He begins quite directly, “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body.” Then he progresses, “Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” This is an important lesson for us all. Self-deprecation can lead to communities not flourishing. We can exhibit such a British trait of playing down what we do but it is important that each one of us sees our gifts and talents as being, firstly, God-given and, secondly, vital for the benefit of the whole body. 

Two things come out of this: we need to exercise the gifts and talents that we have as well as avoiding putting down someone else. As Bishop Michael writes in his letter for this month, “All of us are needed.” Paul ends this passage with this: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honoured, every part shares in its joy.” The first part of this is so true for us as we have suffered so much loss over the past couple of years so it is even more important that we share in our joys in order to build up the body. 

Our body will be growing and, in some respects, this has already been happening. At a previous Deanery Synod, it was formally agreed that Axbridge, Shipham and Rowberrow would be combining with Crook Peak parish; a new, bigger body for us all. As we reflect on 1 Corinthians 12 in relation to this, we need to recognise that all of us will have a role to play in how this happens. Whilst there may be change which might be challenging, we can focus on the joys which a greater community can bring. I have been delighted to see Crook Peak folk travel to some of our special services in the past months and equally delighted to see that there is much travel in the opposite direction. Already, we are exploring what it means to be together and that will stand us in good stead for when we become one, officially, at the end of 2025. 

On 4th of August, we will have a completely united service at St Gregory’s church in Weare at 10am. There will be no other services on that day in the hope that we will all gather together in praise and worship; a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other. It would be lovely to see many of you at that Holy Communion service where my introduction to The Peace will take on an even greater significance, “We are all one in Christ Jesus. We belong to him through faith, heirs of the promise of the Spirit of peace.” I pray that peace will reign as we celebrate each other’s gifts and learn what it means to be a larger part of Christ’s body here on earth. 

Grace and peace to you all. 

Alistair 


June 2024: Are we running a good race? 

With the Olympics approaching, it’s always interesting to see which athletes are competing again, hoping to win another medal or break another world record. You always wonder how they can keep up the level of training required over four years.

 

Someone who was in the headlines recently was three-time Olympic gold medallist, Adam Peaty, who has been selected as part of the British team for Paris 2024. He holds the world record for 100m breaststroke and has won Gold at both Rio in 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But it was interesting to read how he credits his motivation to continue competing, not just to his coaches, but to his Christian faith and church community.

 

There was a time when he couldn’t cope with the pressure and isolation of competing and his mental health kept him out of the pool. It was a very lonely journey and despite his success, Peaty found the three years since the last Olympics in Tokyo difficult. He broke up with the mother of his young son and struggled with depression and alcoholism. He felt burnt out and wanted to give up his faith as well as his swimming.

 

But he decided to go back to church in Nottingham and realised that here was a community who was there for him no matter what – people who came from all walks of life who accepted him. This helped him get his life into perspective and to feel at home there.

 

When interviewed by BBC Sport, he explained that his Christian faith helped him to stay grounded and be a better athlete. Also to be a better father and friend, being accountable to others. He said reading the Bible encouraged him during the challenging moments. Looking ahead to the Olympics, Peaty said he has been highly blessed and feels he has already personally won, regardless of the outcome.

 

This is such a positive story for all of us, whether we’re Olympic athletes or not. Living out the teachings of Jesus is not always easy – in fact it has been compared to running a race. We’re encouraged to throw off everything that gets in the way and run with endurance the race set out for us. St Paul, after many trials and difficulties could say that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the race, he had kept the faith. He encourages us to persevere, stay focused, and run the race of faith with endurance.

 

We may not be an Olympic athlete, but we too can find strength and encouragement by joining a Christian community; and reading the Bible can give us spiritual guidance and direction too. The life of Jesus in the gospels can inspire us and give us hope for the future, as it did for Adam.

 

Have a great summer of 2024 Olympics!  

Pam Williams


 

May 2024: The blame game

“He made me do it!”, the cry used to ring out in our household as one son or the other sought to salve his conscience over something he had accidentally or even deliberately done. 

 

We seem to live in a blame society these days, always wanting to point the finger at some individual or organisation which has slipped from grace. Beware! When you point a finger, three other fingers are pointing back at you!

 

This made me think about how Jesus would handle the potential for blame.

 

I’ve looked in the gospels and can find no record of him blaming anyone Yes he criticises people such as the Pharisees for hypocrisy and not looking after the poor, and the sick etc, but criticism is very different from blame.

 

I wonder what I would do if I was being held down on a cross and someone from the occupying enemy forces was hammering large nails through my wrists and feet before subjecting me to a cruel humiliating and painful death? What would I think about the Romans? The Jewish leaders? The crowd who called for his crucifixion? What does Jesus do?

 

"Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing!"

 

Amazing! That would never occur to me. I’m sure I would be screaming abuse at anyone within earshot. But forgive? Wow!

 

I think our blame society has lost sight of the act of forgiveness. I expect many will remember the bombing in Enniskillen where a father endured holding his daughter as she died in his arms. What did he do? He forgave the IRA! Yes, there was no argument the IRA had committed the atrocity and were to blame but he saw beyond that, the past couldn’t be changed, but as a result he together with others in similar situations worked for peace in Northern Ireland which eventually bore fruit with the Good Friday agreement.

 

Forgiving isn’t easy, it isn’t, "Sorreeeee!" as a small boy was forced to apologise to his brother. It is a journey, it can be costly as a lady who lost her daughter in the London tube bombing will tell. She gave up her role as a Christian priest because she found herself unable to forgive the terrorists but I believe the very act of knowing and accepting she couldn’t and needed to was the first step towards being able to forgive on a long journey she may never be able to complete.

 

Forgiveness is desperately needed by the world as the first choice towards Reconciliation. Facing the pain, even your abuser. Desmond Tutu’s Peace and Reconciliation tribunal in South Africa is testament to the power of forgiveness and avoided a potential bloodbath there.

 

For most of us the need to forgive is nearer home but every bit just as important. ‘Forgive us as we forgive’ in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. God has forgiven us, maybe He wants us to forgive others too?

 

Forgiveness is so much more about healing than the blaming!

 

Blessings, Peter Rutter


March 2024: Be transformed

As I write this, the snowdrops, crocuses (or is it croci?), and the first daffodils are flowering and spring is just starting to poke its nose through.

It’s difficult in the murky days of February to write something for you to read at the end of March shortly before Easter. But then isn’t that what the journey through Lent is all about?

Up to about the year 1300, the main emphasis of the church was the gift of eternal life through Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Christmas was, comparatively speaking, a festival of lesser importance. Yet, if you think about it, it is the most amazing blessing available to us from God our Father. John’s gospel says: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Easter in a nutshell!

I believe that this promise is not something confined to when we die but something that we can start to experience in the here and now. We are fortunate to live in the countryside and have no difficulty in experiencing nature bursting into life all around us, a kaleidoscope of colours and blossoms. In the next few months, be amazed at how many shades of green there is! Watch the first butterflies emerging especially the sulphur-bright Brimstone.

Even if you are housebound, open the windows and listen to the birdsong all around.  Nature is in overdrive (if you can remember cars with that feature!)

But all this only comes about because of the presence of winter, life was always there, it was just that we couldn’t see it. So with us, we may be going through a difficult time in life of pain or loss or illness or doubts that challenge the very roots of our faith in God, or we may not have a faith at all, but that doesn’t change the fact I believe in that his presence is always there even if we can’t feel it.

Just like winter the life is still there, hidden, waiting for us to see it, the unconditional love of God never goes away, we simply lose sight of it.

So this year come with us during Holy Week, enter the darkness of the Tenebrae service, join us with the story of the last supper on Maundy Thursday evening and walk the passion on Good Friday with us. Enter the tomb on Easter Saturday to be transformed to new life on Easter Sunday. The Christian message is about love, forgiveness and life, life in abundance!

A very happy and blessed Easter to you all.

Peter Rutter


February 2024: Barrier or Bridge

A couple of years ago I was lying in a hospital bed with a broken leg, bored stiff staring at the ceiling as I awaited a decision from the medics on how they were going to get me out of the mess I’d got myself into.

As one does in this situation you want to talk to anyone who comes into your room, simply for a bit of company and some light relief.

‘Where are you from?’ I asked one of the nurses who had an unusual European accent. ‘Uzbekistan’ was the answer! Well, I knew the NHS was virtually the United nations but all I could come up with was a lame “I’ve never met anyone from Uzbekistan before”.

It turned out that she was Russian speaking Ukrainian and she and her husband had lived in Uzbekistan for some time before coming to this country.

Inevitably the conversation turned to the war in Ukraine which was only a few months old then.  Imagine my surprise when she said she was opposed to President Zelenskyy! She then went on to outline all the difficulties the Russian speaking minority in Ukraine had faced. Whilst we both agreed vehemently that fighting was not the answer, it opened my eyes to the other side of the conflict; something woefully missing from media reports.

As I thought about this, I realised that, in the gospels, Jesus very rarely takes sides: he nearly always takes a middle road which seeks to unite rather than divide. Our society loves to label and put people into ‘boxes’ and I think today of the conflict in the Middle East, leading to increased antisemitism, of the two sides in the seemingly irreconcilable transgender and climate debates where all that the activists seem to be achieving is division, ‘cancelling,’ and hostility rather than communication.

Most of the time Jesus saw people as children of God, human beings. He blessed officers in the occupying Roman army, prostitutes, those of different religion (Samaritans), leaders of synagogues, fishermen, you name it. Jesus’ ways were always to offer love, heal and forgive those who came to him regardless of who they were or what they do, he leaves us free to decide what we do about it. Do we respond to this love or not – up to us! He was much more interested in who God saw rather than what the world saw.

So what am I trying to say?

Maybe this Lent, which is a time of reflection and renewal, it might be good to think about when our own deeply held beliefs form a barrier rather than a bridge to those with differing or opposite beliefs. I didn’t agree at all with the nurse I mentioned above, but I respected her position and as we managed a couple more chats, we were able to find a middle ground which brought understanding and gave emphasis to those suffering loss on both sides, the refugees and all caught up in disaster of war.

A middle way which unites rather than divides, communicates rather than shouts down, loves rather than hates, the way I believe that is the Way of Jesus and one which, however difficult it may be, He calls us to follow.

Peter Rutter


Please note there is no  On the Spot for January, as the last edition of Catch This was for December & January.


December 2023: Advent & Christmas Hope

Dear friends,

As you can imagine, this has not been the year that I had anticipated 2 years ago when I applied for the post to be your priest in charge. Two days before last Christmas, I was told with certainty that I had kidney cancer, only to be told 2 months later that it wasn’t. Into this new year my high-functioning anxiety got the better of me and I had to step back for a month but with the help and guidance of some wonderful people, plus all your faithful, prayers, I made 2 years progress in 3 months! Summer became a series of infections which sorted themselves out in the end and late summer brought the devastating new of yet more cancer. But in all these challenges, I had, and still have, hope in the Lord and what he is able to do. Right now, I feel closer to him than ever before and my faith has never been stronger.

As I cast my mind forward to Advent and Christmas as a whole, both seasons contain messages of hope. Somewhat backwards, Advent focuses our attention on Jesus Christ coming in glory for the second time to gather all the faithful to him throughout all generations. As Jesus said, as recorded by Matthew in chapter 24, “…they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.  31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Are we ready for that, or is our attention elsewhere? If it, is we can be filled with a hope, peace and certainty which, personally, I have felt to the depth of my being. Whatever the short term future holds, I know what the long term future holds. As we read in Revelation 21, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”” This is my hope, my certainty, my peace.

But, I wouldn’t have this hope for the future if it wasn’t for the hope that Christmas brings. As Jesus says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” At Christmas, we see that love in person, a love which engages with humanity in the most personal way. A relationship with God through law was fulfilled by Jesus and we have the opportunity to be one with God, through a personal relationship with Jesus in our lives today. We only need to look at the Gospels to see God’s heart in Jesus. The compassion he had for the lost, the ill, the tormented, the marginalised. He reached out then, as he reaches out now. If Advent gives us hope for the future, Christmas gives us hope and strength in the here and now. As Jesus was sent by the Father to transform the lives of those with which he engaged on a personal level, Jesus is sent now into our hearts by faith for the same purpose – to transform our lives. This gives me hope, strength and certainty that my daily journey is not a barren existence and then all will be well, but the daily promise of a life lived to Jesus and for Jesus. John records Jesus saying in chapter 11, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Yes, this is the future Advent hope but it is also the daily Christmas hope. One for the future and one for the now, as I continue to give thanks for his many blessings – most of all being able to lead services.

It is my prayer that your journey through the seasons of Advent and Christmas will bring you hope, Joy and Peace, both in the age to come but also day to day as we walk with each other but must of all, with Jesus. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I pray that you will all receive in abundance the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit this Advent, Christmas and in the New Year.

Grace and peace,

Alistair


November 2023: Conflict resolution

As I write this, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been added to by that in the Middle East. We learnt with horror of the attack on Israel by Hamas, and then with equal horror of the reprisals taken by Israel. We also discover that other players in the Middle East may well become involved.

As the situation in Northern Ireland was (and still is to some extent), we are looking at a historical situation. Each action calls forth a counter-move so that neither side can be held blameless and it is always possible to say “We only did this to them because they did that to us.”

In Northern Ireland, things have calmed down a lot and people are starting to take responsibility for their actions. And the conflict there only goes back about 400 years.

What is happening in the Middle East has a far longer history – about 3,500 years and it all started because of a disbelief in God’s promise. Abraham was childless and although God had promised him offspring, he decided to take action himself. His wife Sarah had a maid called Hagar, and as was allowed by custom, Abraham took her as a second wife and she had a baby – Ishmael. In due course God provided Sarah with the promised child Israel, and Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. The Jewish nation is descended from Israel and the Arab nations from Ishmael.

So what we have in the Middle East is a family feud which had gone on through millennia. How can it be resolved? It requires both parties to recognise their part in the dispute and the hurt they have caused. Then perhaps it may be possible to move forward in a new and peaceful way.

This is not just ancient history however. Today we see families torn apart by hurt and a feeling of grievance. If we are going to become a better society, this needs to be dealt with, so that the anger and bitterness in the world is reduced.

There is only one way for this to happen and that is by seeking the love, power and healing of God in our lives and in the lives of those we hurt.

May God give us the grace to seek this.

Ken Brown

Last Updated by HJF 28 May 2024

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