Saturday, 21 March 2020

The best of times, the worst of times

Times like this seem to bring out the best and worst in people. Because we are all feeling more stressed than usual it's not surprising that some people are grumpy or rude, or panicking and buying more than they need.  Let's try not to add to that, but ask God to grow his fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.  

At the same time there are some lovely stories going round of neighbourly help and encouragement.  Whenever you see a good story like that, thank God for those people.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Dear Friends

This morning I was reflecting on the tradition in the early church that led people to seek solitude in the desert of Egypt, and discover a life of prayer, worship and bible reading. The Desert Fathers, as they were known, renounced many of the normal worldly comforts but discovered the rich joy of knowing God more closely.  St Anthony was one of the leaders, and he attracted many followers. He is attributed with starting what become the monastic movement.

Perhaps at this time, although we are looking for imaginative ways of connecting with other, we should also embrace the solitude and look at it positively, seeing it as an extended time of Lent.

The psalmist says, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139). Though we may be isolated from other people, we can never be isolated from God.

So for those who suddenly find you have more time on your hands, use it to hear God - and share what you are hearing with us. 

Pray for those whose lives are more stressful than usual: working parents with children at home, NHS staff, teachers, delivery drivers. Pray for those who are anxious, fearful or depressed. 

Catch up on sleep! Prolonged stress takes its toll on our bodies.  If you're not travelling to work every day, take some time out.

Once this first week of isolation is over, I'm actually looking forward to getting into a routine of prayer, reading and study.... as well as some gardening! Let me know if you have a particular request for prayer. I shall be in church most days at 9.30 a.m.

Looking ahead, it would be really helpful to me to know how I can help us all continue to engage with God.  Maybe some bible study suggestions, or a short thought for the day.  Some churches are setting up interactive prayer and study groups using Zoom or Google Hangouts, or similar.  Let me know if you have any ideas, especially if there's something we can do to engage with our children and young people.

Finally, thank you so much for your many encouraging comments. I'm really grateful.

The Lord be with you.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester: 'defiant acts of kindness'.

My first feeling this morning on hearing the news was one of deep deep sadness for those young and teenage girls with their mums and friends enjoying a night out at a concert. For those who have been so cruelly and killed and injured; for those whose daughters, wives and girlfriends have been torn from them..

I have a family connection with Manchester: my father was born and brought up there, and our daughter was at the University and the Royal Northern College of Music.  It's a proud city built on the wealth of the cotton industry and liberal values - there is a statue of William Gladstone in the Town Hall.  It withstood the bombs of the Second World War, the IRA (in 1996), and, no doubt, will bounce back defiantly after this latest terrorist outrage.

On Radio 4's  Thought for the Day  (at 1:48:00) Andrew Graystone talked about 'defiant acts of kindness' that stand in stark contrast to the evil horror of the attack. There is something very British about horrific events bringing out the best in people; but it's not just British - it's human. At its best, the human response to evil is one of good - kindness, bravery, help, hospitality.  Whatever provoked the killer to do this terrible act - perhaps some extreme interpretation of Islam - it was not human; it can only be described as evil and dark.   

Events like this force us to confront evil in all its horror. And this form of evil seems to glory in death, which is described in the bible as 'the final enemy'. 

Way back in history as the Israelites were preparing to cross into the promised land, Moses spoke these words from God to them: "This day I call on heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." (Deuteronomy 30:19).  

The Gospel - the Good News - is that hope triumphs over despair, love triumphs over fear and life triumphs over death.  Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life in all its fullness... I am the resurrection and the life." 

Today, let us choose life.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Helping to save child refugees

On Saturday the Bishop of Croydon sent an urgent email to all clergy in his area asking for our support at the House of Commons today when the Children and Social Work Bill was debated. Amongst a mixture of items including sex education and safeguarding issues was an amendment to a clause which would have allowed the continuation of the so-called 'Dubs Scheme' introduced last year, with some difficulty, allowing unaccompanied child refugees safe have in the UK. Much to its shame, the government has closed the scheme less than 6 months after it started. The amendment tabled today would have made local councils declare if they could take more child refugees, rather than central government imposing a cap. The evidence is that several local authorities have spaces and are willing to take more child refugees than they have been offered.

Lord Dubs addressing the group

With Bishop Jonathan, clergy from the Croydon area, several Jewish leaders from London and representatives of  Safe Passage UK visited the Palace of Westminster to let our MPs know we were here, and to listen to the debate. We were joined by two well-known actors - Toby Jones and Juliet Stevenson. The groups was addressed by Lord Alf Dubs who was himself a child of the 'kindertransport' in the 1930s, which brought Jewish child refugees fleeing the Nazis - hence the support from many Jewish groups.

The amendment was tabled by the Tory MP for Cambridgeshire South, Heidi Allen, and supported by several London MPs, but sadly not by our MP Chris Philp. Yvette Cooper (Labour) spoke passionately and cogently in its favour, reminding the government benches that the government-appointed expert on modern-day slavery had advocated allowing greater numbers of child refugees safe haven as a way of combating the evils of human trafficking.
Disappointment at the vote

The opposition parties and several brave Tory MPs supported the amendment but, to our great disappointment, it was defeated by 287 to 267 votes. Reactions from our group afterwards were 'shock', 'shame', 'gutted'. But Alf Dubs and Yvette Cooper met with us and urged us not to give up hope. Only by changing public opinion in favour of child refugees will things change.

The UK has done much to help refugees in the past, and the government should be applauded in maintaining its level of international aid - significantly higher than any other EU country, I believe. But to block the number of unaccompanied refugee children entering at 350 is a stain on our national pride and needs to be cleared. Jesus said, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

BBC coverage of the story:

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Blessings of Lent

This is the text of my article in the Parish Magazine: 

Now is a good time to think about how we might observe Lent. This is a season in the church’s year which we can use to simplify our lives and consider our priorities in relation to God and neighbour.

In relation to God: we might want to develop our experience of prayer, in which case I commend the Prayer Course that has just started on Thursdays; or you might join one of our existing small groups that will be entering into the stories of people who met Jesus, through bible study and meditative prayer. You might want to read the bible more, in which case you may need to give up some time you spend on social media or watching the TV… or just get up a bit earlier.

In relation to your neighbour: you might consider helping one person every day during Lent. Look around and ask God to show you where and who you could help. But try to resist the temptation to tell everyone about it on Facebook or Twitter – it’s enough that God knows.

Traditionally, the forty days of Lent is related to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his ministry. That time of testing reminds us that Jesus has shared our common experience of temptation and suffering, but he overcame our enemy the devil. We may find that by giving something up during Lent – time, comfort or a luxury food – that we enter, in some small way, into that suffering that Jesus experienced – we share with him as he shares with us.

Let Lent be a blessing and a means by which we can draw closer to God and the people he loves.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Turn of the Year

As the sun sets on 2016 there's an excuse to become a little philosophical about what's going on in the world. I can't remember feeling less optimistic and more uncertain about the year ahead. The prospect of the Trump presidency worries me, the muddle over Brexit frustrates me, the situation in the Middle East saddens me, the continuing terrorist threats disquiet me, and here at home the railway disputes depress me. But as a preacher I'm supposed to proclaim Good News. So where is it?

Mrs Alexander, the 19th century vicar's wife, wrote many children's hymns which are often dismissed as sentimental and old-fashioned, but many of them were written to help children understand basic Christian doctrine. One of the most immortal lines is 'He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all.' In a simple and direct way that captures the mystery of the incarnation: God becoming man. And that is where I can find Good News.

It's good news that Jesus came and lived among us, sharing all our human emotions and experiences - even death itself. It's good news that Jesus was born in poverty, was threatened with extermination by a cruel king, and ended up as a refugee all before the age of two. It's good news that Jesus suffered, that he was tempted - in fact that he was made perfect through suffering. It's good news that he has taken those experiences back to heaven with him where, one of the biblical writers tells us, he lives to intercede for us. Knowing what it's like to live our life, he can bring our case before our Father God.

So even if the world continues to be dark and troublesome, and many people suffer, and we may suffer too - God is among us, he is with us in trouble and joy, in peace and in pain. Good News for 2017.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


A few months ago I planted six small tomato plants in our greenhouse and now they are touching the roof, full of ripening fruit. With regular watering, occasional feeding and cutting off unwanted shoots they are doing what they are meant to do: bearing fruit.
Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

The Israelites went in search of a fruitful land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. Jesus wants his followers to go in search of fruitful lives: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” It’s simple, isn’t it, the key to a successful life: stay connected to Jesus, and be fruitful.

So what is the fruit of our lives that the bible talks about? St Paul described the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ – nine characteristics of a Spirit-filled life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Who would not want that fruit in their lives? It takes time to grow – just as my tomatoes have taken several months. But if we are connected to Jesus through his Spirit that spiritual fruit will begin to grow and ripen on our lives.

Paul talks about the ‘fruit of righteousness’: the fruit that comes from a right relationship with God, justified and forgiven through faith in Christ. He talks about ‘bearing fruit in every good work’, that is the fruit of actively doing good to others, and the fruit of sharing the gospel so that the church grows numerically. And the writer to the Hebrews speaks about ‘the fruit of lips that confess God’s name’ – that is the fruit that comes from speaking out words of praise and worship.

On October 2nd we will celebrate our Harvest Festival in church, thanking God for the fruit of the earth, but at any time of year we can be looking for a fruitful harvest in our own lives, and when we see growth – or others see it in us – it’s something we can thank God for. We are made to bear fruit: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”