Last July, as we made the final preparations to begin the refurbishment of our Worship area, we asked the children what they would like to see in the church. Phoebe and Harrison suggested a slide from the top of the pulpit to the ground, leading to a ball pool to save me nipping up and down the pulpit stairs during services! Sadly, I had to explain to the children that great as it would be, this probably wouldn’t meet with architectural approval. So, I was highly amused on seeing the pictures of a helter skelter in Norwich Cathedral! The 50ft helter skelter has been set up short term in the Nave as part of a ‘Seeing It Differently’ project with the aim of giving people the opportunity ‘to experience the Cathedral in an entirely new way and open up conversations about faith’.
As I say, we don’t have a helter skelter but we do have a church that is very different in its appearance from how it has looked during its previous 140 years. And yet, despite the changes to the colour, décor and furnishings, it is still very much Emmanuel, a beautiful building where for decades people have gathered to praise God, and still do today, a building renewed for future generations.
At the end of this month our leadership team will be spending a day together to explore how we can move forward as a church community in new, refreshed ways, to make God’s love for all people real. I know too that over the summer, many of you having been praying for the future life of our church. At our service of re-dedication on Sunday 8th September, we will sing these words, written by Marty Haugen, ‘Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, here the love of Christ shall end divisions: all are welcome in this place’.
So as we celebrate and take pleasure and comfort from our new surroundings, let’s continue to nurture a community with Jesus at the centre of everything we do, where all feel welcome and accepted and loved by God - with or without the slide and ball pool!
As I write this, Mark and I have just returned from a weekend visit to Bath, a much appreciated gift from all the lovely folks at Emmanuel. This was our first visit to the City. The sun shone and we enjoyed a tour of the fascinating Roman Baths, a mini cruise on the river and some delicious meals accompanied by excellent live Jazz Trios.
On the Sunday Morning we attended a service of Holy Communion at Bath Abbey. Taking a weekend away from the challenges of the refurbishment of our Worship space, we found ourselves looking upon a project on an even bigger scale than ours! Parts of the beautifulAbbey’s floor are collapsing and the floor is sinking where bodies buried beneath it have decomposed, resulting in huge gaps being created, making the floor unstable. That’s one problem we didn’t have! Whilst the Abbey floor is being repaired, all 891-ledger stones that make up the floor have to be lifted, documented and repaired. As with Emmanuel, a new underfloor heating system is being installed, but unlike us, there are plans to tap into (excuse the pun) the city's underground hot springs. Fascinating!
As Mark and I spoke to Abbey staff, we reflected upon the stresses of raising funds and changing the inner fabric of what are two very special buildings, loved by many. They too have had to deal with the sensitivity of removing pews and other fixtures. But it was a joy to share our passion for preserving the heritage of our buildings, whilst making them fit for purpose to welcome present and future generations. And we also spotted six other very special inhabitants of the Abbey. High up in one of the Abbey’s majestic towers, two Peregrine Falcons have nested and hatched four chicks. We witnessed the soaring of the parents as they gathered food, and through an internal camera, we were able to watch the chicks being fed. Despite the building activity below, within the towers of the Abbey the birds have found warmth, shelter and security and it was just a stunning reminder of new life and the wonder of creation. As we continue to settle into our new worship space, may it continue to be a place where people find warmth, shelter and security and we may we continue to spread the message of new life to be found through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
As I write this we are in the final stages of the refurbishment. It has been a long journey with numerous challenges, not least supporting unstable walls, moving stained glass windows, a war memorial that refused to be prized away from its existing position, and finding chairs suitable for everyone’s leg length! But God willing, we will be celebrating Easter Sunday in our new worship area, and what a celebration it will be!! As you can see, we have a new logo too. With the opening of the worship area, it seemed an opportune time for an Emmanuel logo that can be used on our correspondence and publicity, and our resident artist, Cheryl O’Connor, has beautifully conceived this for us.
Preparing to move back into the Church has given us the opportunity to reflect upon new ways of reaching out to our local community, so please pray for the new initiatives ‘Together on Wednesday’ and ‘Little Fishes’, that will both be launched in May. We are currently in the season of Lent, when we take the opportunity to reflect upon our relationship with God and our response to Jesus’ call to be his disciples. We also look forward to our ‘Talking of God Together’ sessions, which have resulted from our newly formed ‘Faith Forum’. Everyone will be welcome and we would encourage you to bring friends along to these sessions as through scripture, poetry, artwork and testimonies, we can come together, informally, to simply talk about, and deepen our relationship with God.
As a community, embarking on a new chapter in the life of our Church, I thank God for the opportunity to continue to Minister here at Emmanual, and pray that as the body of Christ, we will continue to encourage one another in our faith, serve our local community and experience the joy of the resurrection of Christ our Lord.
May God continue to bless us all this glorious Eastertide
On Thursday November 15th, the nation waited impatiently for a much-anticipated event. I’m not referring of course to the proposed deal on Brexit, but to the release of the John Lewis advert. For those of you who may not have seen the advert, it recalls the memories of the singer Elton John as he achieves musical success. The advert ends with the moment his career began when, as a little boy, he received his grandmother's piano for his Christmas present. The strapline of the advert is ‘Some gifts are more than just a gift’.
Watching the advert with Mark, my husband, Mark recalled the first time, aged five, that he played a piano. Mark’s early musical talent was nurtured by Mrs Walmesley, a wonderful lady, suffering with Parkinsons, who, as the illness progressed, deferred to asking her husband Mr Walmesley to demonstrate certain techniques when the disease prevented her from doing so herself. But her gift of music was more than just a gift to Mark. His love of the piano enables Mark to serve God, through worship, in a very special and individual way. And I’m sure our organists Carole, Roy and Tom would each be able to share their love of music and the piano with us.
At Christmas we celebrate a gift that is so much more than a gift. Isaiah 9:6 -7 says ‘For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.
This year we have remembered the cessation of World War 1 in 1918, but 2018 has been far from peaceful for many people. Sadly we have seen an increase in knife crime. The numbers of people finding themselves without a home and employment has risen too, and I know many of you have found your peace disrupted through illness or the loss of loved ones. And yet amidst this, God gives us the assurance of his love and his peace. When we remember the child in the manger, we remember too the man who he became, the man who showed us how to bring hope, love, justice, peace and joy into our world.
And so, on behalf of myself, Mark, Rebecca, Alasdair, Chris, Ellie, Connor, Leana and Ezekiel, may we wish you all every Christmas blessing and may we continue to be thankful for the gift of the Christ Child,
I wonder what kind of stories you like to read? I admit to being someone who likes to unwind with a story involving laughter, romance and a happy ending! I have to confess also to being someone who gets caught up in the stories of the lives of fictional soap opera characters - much to Mark’s dismay! But I wonder how many of you have had the opportunity to share your life story with other people? Wearing a clerical collar when I’m out and about, nipping into supermarkets, petrol stations etc, is always an interesting experience. I tend to find that when people realise I’m a Minister they either want to share their story with me or run away from me as quickly as possible! But of course we all have a story to tell.
For the connexional year 2019/2020, 3Generate, our Methodist Children and Youth Assembly, are asking us to engage in a ‘Year of Testimony’, but we are encouraged to begin this process now; to take opportunities to share our faith stories with one another, to share what Jesus means to us in our day to day living. Through our stories and sharing of experiences we can encourage one another in our faith. People often thank me for visiting them and listening to them, but believe me when I say that Iam the one who is truly blessed to have the opportunity to sit with people and listen to their stories and their faith. It is always an honour and a privilege to hear of how God is at work in the lives of other people, to share stories that testify to the awesome love he has for us. And so, over the coming months I hope we will be encouraged to talk to and listen to one another, and to continue to support and care for one another, through happy times and sad, as we journey together in faith.
As I write this letter I have just returned from a week studying The Reformation. I wonder if any of you have ever been to Morebath? Morebath was, and is, a tiny sheep-farming village in Devonshire. In the sixteenth century it was inhabited by thirty-three families who worked the land on the edge of Exmoor. During the English Reformation, this tiny community found themselves living with the effects of reforms in the Church, whilst living under the Monarchial rule of Henry VIII, and his children; Mary Tudor, Edward VI and Elizabeth 1st.
What is very special about this community is that detailed records were kept of all their Parish activities by their Priest, Sir Christopher Trychay (in the sixteenth century priests were known as Sir, not Father). In a commentary spanning fifty years we read of the daily lives of a Priest and his Parishioners who experienced first hand the events that took England from a Church rooted in Catholicism, to early forms of what eventually became the Protestant Church. Through the accounts of Sir Christopher, we are given a glimpse of life in a rural world subjected to instability and rebellion. But throughout all the tumult of events happening around them, the villagers and their Priest never wavered from their commitment to worship the God in whom they placed their trust.
Significantly, they always had a new project afoot connected to the upkeep of their Church and how its inner fabric reflected their beliefs and worship
We are soon to embark upon the refurbishment of our building, a project in which many people have invested of their time, their money and most importantly their prayers. The architects, builders, electricians, plumbers and other professional bodies will provide us with a fabric within which we will have the opportunity to celebrate our faith and beliefs. New disabled access will entitle everyone to enter and exit the building through the same door. Movable seating will give us the opportunity to explore alternative ways of worshipping. A kitchen and open space in the porch will provide further facilities for hospitality and fellowship. And of course, new plaster and paint will brighten our surroundings reflecting the glory and goodness of our God.
I won’t promise to keep detailed records like those of Sir Christopher but I truly believe that when people look back on our efforts, they will see a community committed to serving God in this place, in this time. We walk forward in faith. Let the next stage of Emmanuel’s journey with God begin!!
On Sunday May 6th we held my Testimony service. Following a delicious tea I was thrilled to celebrate the occasion in a full Church. The singing was awesome and we were blessed to have our musicians and choir. It was also lovely to have prayers led by our young people. For me personally, it gave me the opportunity to reflect upon my training to date.
Six years ago, as I attended two days of interviews by the Connexional Candidates Committee, I took with me the verse John 15; 12 'My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you'. My journey since then has had its fair share of ups and downs, U turns, no entry and full speed ahead moments. And of course challenges, surprises and blessings. The challenge and exhaustion of juggling a teaching position, whilst studying for a degree at college in Birmingham and still trying to be a good Mum, wife and in the latter stages, Grandma. The challenge and headache of being required to read hundreds of books and write 6,000 word essays thirty years after I left formal education. The challenge of placements in hospitals, soup kitchens, dementia units, hostels and a Church that disagree strongly with the ordination of women. The challenge of going before various committees and receiving reports written about me, and the surprise, relief and sheer joy of being told on March 6th that I am deemed ready to be ordained. And amongst this has been the unbelievable blessing of being given shared pastoral responsibility for our Church here in Ormskirk.
Since arriving at Emmanuel I have had so many wonderful experiences. I remain truly humbled that people allow me to journey alongside them at the most liminal moments of their lives: the death of a loved one, the baptism of their child, their union in marriage. I’ve learnt how to play bananagrams whilst on the wayward wanderers walking weekends, got far too competitive in the quiz on the Church weekend, peeled potatoes on the Boys Brigade camp and competed in team races, also involving potatoes, with the Girls Brigade. I‘ve got Messy at Messy Church and sung carols with the Sunday School and the choir, played the ukulele with the women’s fellowship and eaten delicious home-made cakes with the Guild… so many activities too numerous to mention. But of course amongst all this activity, I have prayed with people, read and studied scripture and presided at the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
As a Minister I have the privilege and responsibility of seeking to discern God’s will for the Church and how we can seek to serve the wider community. I go into our schools to assist with the nurturing and developing of the spiritual lives of our young people. I have the opportunity to work with my ecumenical partners as we seek to make Christ real in the lives of the people of Ormskirk and I have just been asked to support the students and staff of the diverse community at Edge Hill University. But together, as a Church community, we have the privilege and responsibility of being part of a corporate journey with Christ as we seek to understand what Jesus really meant, in very practical terms, when he said 'My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you'.
And so, I would like to say a huge heart-felt thank you to all those of you who have been and will continue to be a part of my journey in ministry. On July 1st as I kneel for ordination, I will feel the joy in my heart of knowing that you continue to pray for me as I continue to pray for you. We journey together as a people called to love one another as Christ loves us. May God continue to bless us all and everything we do in his name.
I wonder how many of us have embarked on a great journey? Perhaps a journey to a place in the world you have had a life-long desire to visit, or maybe a journey to visit a loved one? Perhaps a journey towards a new career pathway or the start of a new relationship. Perhaps a journey that seeks to deal with the onset of ill health?
Life is full of journeys. And of course we will have I’m sure, experienced times when the journeys we have planned have been interrupted. These can range from trivial but irritating road diversions or rail-replacement bus services, to those worrying and uncertain periods of darkness that life can take us through. Sometimes these changes of plan can be a source of annoyance and frustration, while at other times they can bring us unexpected blessings. Sometimes our plans will be changed, as we are taken in the totally new direction that God has planned for us.
Journeying is very much at the centre of my thoughts at this time, as I continue to journey towards the path of ordination; a journey that is testing me to the limits, but a journey through which I am growing in faith and receiving untold blessings along the way. I hope to tell you more about this journey in the next issue of ‘In Touch’, but suffice to say, I am unbelievably grateful for the love and support I am receiving from you all at Emmanuel as I continue to walk this pathway.
As I sit writing this letter, I have in my hands a beautiful little book entitled ‘Words for the Journey’. The book contains short extracts of Scripture to encourage us as we continue with life’s journey. It was given to me by Anne Baldwin. Anne knows only too well the frustration and uncertainty of interrupted journeys that have affected her journey to Sri Lanka to become an Overseas Mission Partner. Anne’s resolve to put her trust in God during these delays, has been an inspiration and we will continue to hold Anne in prayer as she embarks on this amazing new journey in her life, responding to God’s call to serve overseas.
And we are of course journeying through the season of Lent, a time of honest, prayerful reflection. As we travel through Lent we have the opportunity to examine the thoughts of our hearts and minds, focusing upon the journey of our Saviour Jesus who walked to the cross - a journey of pain and suffering, a journey of self-sacrifice and self giving love.
Right in the centre of the book, ‘Words for the Journey’, are these words from Deuteronomy 31:8, ‘The LORD himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid’. What a gift those words are.
And so my prayer as we continue to journey through Lent is that we will all have the assurance to journey with Christ through this time of reflection and self-examination of our relationship with God.
May God continue to bless us all,
This beautiful picture is taken from an original oil painting by the artist, Rev Kip Cooks. Kip has illustrated the children’s storybook In a shed without a bed written by Rev Sally Binymin. All proceeds from this book are to be used to buy gifts for those people who will spend this Christmas living on the streets. In the book, we see Mary and Joseph, homeless refugees, travel to Bethlehem where their baby is ‘born in a shed without a bed.’
On the final page of the book we see people who have visited the newborn baby, leaping with joy as they spread the good news of the birth of God’s Son. In Luke’s gospel 2:10 we read, ‘And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
The reality is that for many people Christmas is not a joyous time of year for many different reasons. As a Church community we have a message of love, a message of a baby who came into the world to show us God’s love and how we can help to build communities built upon Christ’s values of peace, justice for all people, tolerance and understanding. This Christmas we will give out hand-knitted angels to the people in our wider community. Each angel will be adorned with a label that says simply, ‘A gift of love at Christmas.’ We will send boxes of gifts to children through the project Operation Christmas Child, and we will donate toys and food items for families in need. All these actions will witness to the love we receive from Jesus the Christ-child.
John’s gospel 1:14 says, ‘The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father's only Son.’ I pray that as 2017 draws to a close and we move into 2018, we will continue as a church family to find ways of giving people a glimpse of the glory of God, that we will continue to work together to bring peace, joy and justice into the lives of others, and that we will continue to proclaim the good news of our Saviour Jesus Christ, born in a shed without a bed.