My thoughts and your thoughts
We are starting the recruitment process for our new incumbent and held the first formal “Section 11” meeting this week, to agree the Benefice representatives and the “profile”. Bishop Robert is with us this Sunday and may say something about the process. This is an exciting but challenging time for all of us and we all have different ideas about what we want to see in our new minister and what is important about our church life. Considering the future has led to some tensions, which may have led to John McHale leaving us earlier than any of us expected. Fortunately, the Diocese has provided training for the churchwardens and ministry team on how to handle the inevitable tensions and conflicts that arise in all organizations during change, including the church.
In my last reflection I spoke about our tendency to walk away from what we can’t control. It is often like that with disagreement and conflict. But the Bridge Builders training taught us that we need to embrace disagreement and deal with conflict. For in many ways, disagreement, conflict and anger is at the heart of what it means to be human. Jesus himself cried out to God words of challenge and despair: My God, why have you forsaken me?
It is tempting to think we understand what religion and faith means and what God wants, so much so that we can be angry with those who disagree. If we hate conflict we may just walk away, rather than trying to understand an alternative view. But none of us understand God’s intentions, as Isaiah was well aware, as he writes in Chapter 55: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Essentially, we need humility before God, and with each other, as we make this journey together.
Steve Chandler - Reader
Do we need pruning?
Acts 8:26-40 John 15:1-8
In our reading from Acts we have an ‘outsider’ who had been to a major festival to worship God, even though he wouldn’t have been able to actually ‘get in’ or ‘join in,’ but would have remained on the fringes. (A bit like when music events were held in the Castle Meadows in Berkeley... if you didn’t have a ticket you might stand along Jumpers Lane to listen from a distance....or was that just me?)
Phillip, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, takes the opportunity presented to him and gets alongside the man (literally and metaphorically) and is able to introduce him to Jesus. I think Phillip is; ‘bearing much fruit’ as described in our other reading (John 15:1-8). In this passage, we hear Jesus talking about ‘vines’; a familiar and well used analogy to describe the people of God. (Look through your Bible, you will find heaps of stuff about vineyards and vines.) However, Jesus is saying that he is the true vine and the only way for the vine branch to ‘bear much fruit’ is to remain connected to him.
This fits with Phillip; he is ‘living in’ Jesus and been able to ‘bear much fruit’ in his encounter on the road with the ‘outsider’. It also fits in my own life, because the times I have been able to ‘hop up alongside somebody’ (not in a chariot but perhaps in a work place or in a pastoral situation) have been those times when I feel most connected to Jesus. Of course there are long periods of time when the branches of my vine feel ‘withered’ rather than ‘fruitful’ and those are the times I am ignoring the nudges of the Holy Spirit or not connecting to Jesus as I ought to be. A bit like reading your friends texts but not responding I guess? So I wonder, to the ‘outsiders’ travelling on our metaphorical roads and looking in; what sort of branches of the vine are we?
Either individually, collectively as a benefice, or the wider church? Are we branches ‘bearing much fruit’ or branches that ‘wither’? Only by remaining connected to the true vine; Jesus, can we be the ‘fruit bearing variety’ something to reflect on and pray about I think.
Sherri - Reader
For we like sheep........?
I have spent quite a lot of time recently tidying up after a big tree blew down in the March gales and landed on a fence. This is important, because The Sheep Are Coming Soon: the grass is getting long and needs the woolly lawnmowers. Useful and appealing though content and well-kept sheep mostly are, they can be very aggravating and silly creatures as well. Repairing my fence is important, because after a day or two the grass elsewhere is always greener and better ... and off they trot. They can be quite expert escapees, and where one goes, others invariably follow. In their urge to explore beyond current confines, they easily get into trouble: getting stuck in the fence or in brambles or undergrowth. Unless checked and attended to regularly, there they can stay forever.
I have always liked the description of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, because you have to be incredibly patient, persistent, kindly and gentle as well as courageous and decisive to be a good shepherd. And in Jesus’ day, and some places even now, armed (perhaps with rod and staff) to keep off attacking, dangerous predators.
The amount of time a shepherd in Jesus’ time would have spent with the sheep, watching and guarding them meant the flock got to know the voice of the shepherd and to trust him for safety and guidance to good pasturage. So he would walk on ahead, the sheep would follow. This physical model also became the pattern for disciples, followers of a rabbi, as they moved about: the master would lead, the disciples followed. So if Jesus is the Good Shepherd, do we view ourselves as following on in trust if we wish to be disciples, learners, discoverers of new and good things? Are we able to own up to our sheep-like weaknesses mentioned above? Or to use the language of today’s Gospel reading (John 10.16) resolving to listen out for and follow the voice of Jesus above all the many other voices that call us to what seem like brighter, better, more interesting and greener places?
David Frith, Reader
“We are witnesses of this”
This week the nation has been mourning the death of HRH Prince Philip, with people from all walks of life paying tribute to him and sharing their personal experiences of him. Such stories are uplifting and the insights they reveal help us feel closer to someone we only know of or see at a distance in the media, someone we don’t personally know.
We all love to share good news stories and our personal experiences. But how often do we take the opportunity to share our personal experience of our faith and the impact this has had in shaping us?
In our reading today from Acts 3. 12-19 we encounter Peter and John in the Temple doing just this. They have just performed a miracle at the Beautiful Gate at the entrance to the Temple, healing a man who had been lame since birth. Peter dismisses the crowd’s astonishment and deflects praise from himself to God as the source of the miracle. While he has their attention he takes the opportunity to share his experience of Jesus Christ. He talks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who restored His people to wholeness, and who raised Jesus from the dead. Rather than take credit for the lifechanging influence their miracle has had on the lame man, the Apostles signpost God working through them. In this way they bear witness to the power of the risen Christ.
Like the early Christians who picked up the mantle of sharing the gospel following Jesus’ death and resurrection, like Peter in today’s story, we too can testify to the power of the Spirit. We too are witnesses of this. As Christians it is our job to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world today. It’s our duty to share who God is and what He has done, and the transformation and renewal we have experienced in our lives through knowing Him. We can make a big impact on those around us when we share our personal experiences of this and enable those who don’t know Him an insight of someone they may want to know better.
Debbie Page – Berkeley informal worship team
Ctrl + Esc Zoom?
This has been a particularly poignant Easter for us all. We have been through a Lent of enforced fasting from much that we treasure in our Christian life: sharing the Eucharist, regular collective worship, sharing in fellowship and service. Easter Day was a real resurrection experience for many of us, with our first Benefice communion since Christmas in St Mary’s (although there was a lovely Palm Sunday Eucharist at St Michael’s, Hill).
We have learnt much from this experience about what is really important to us. I think for many, being deprived of gathered worship in a sacred space has been hard. We have learned the value of the physical presence of others in a collective act of worship. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This may not be true for everyone. Some people will have found worship easier in silence and solitude, perhaps. They may find the lack of distraction from others helpful or soothing. Even those of us who are basically sociable in worship may wonder, sometimes, if all the effort involved in being gathered is worthwhile. But it is!
My Lent reading this year has been a book by Rowan Williams: “Being Human”. Williams makes a point that resonated with me; that, as humans, we either want to control or to escape from what we can’t control. However, intelligence and humanity can only be properly exercised in relation to others. We might understand this intellectually, but we want to control people, or situations we are in with people, so that we are not frightened, embarrassed or humiliated. If that is not possible then we want to escape. Zoom is great for this; we are always in control, the “Leave meeting” button is always there!
This is not the way of the Cross, though. Jesus was often tempted to escape from people, but he did not. Even when he was clearly losing any control over his life, he chose to stay. I hope you will also choose to stay.
Steve Chandler - Reader
It’s beginning to look a lot like....Easter
Apparently one of the most ‘searched for’ items online for shoppers at the moment is ‘Easter decorations.’
Instead of baubles on a green bushy Christmas tree, the Easter variation involves hanging decorative Easter eggs (not the sort you eat) on white plain branches. At first when I read this, I muttered ‘whatever next.’ However on reflection I think it may be no bad thing for ‘more’ to be made of our Easter celebrations, because Easter has become a bit of the ‘poor relation’ to Christmas in many ways. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves and the world around us that Easter is in fact the primary celebration in the Christian calendar and the events described in John 20.1-18 of an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus are at the very heart of our Christian faith and beliefs. In some parts of the world in the days following Easter people greet one another by saying ‘Christ is risen’ and the reply will come ‘He is risen indeed, or he truly is.’ Imagine those phrases echoing around our streets and supermarkets, or even in our Churches as we walk in, rather than just being repeated as part of a formal greeting in the Church service itself. I wonder if we (I include myself here) are sometimes looking in the wrong place for Jesus, a bit like Mary as she looks in the empty tomb. Can we do the same as Mary and ‘turn towards him.’
Easter can be a bit of a turning point in the year, with lighter nights and warmer days (sometimes!) and all the metaphors that are used for hope; new growth in the garden and spring bursting forth. But the real turning point to remember is that before the disciples ran towards the tomb on that Easter morning, they first stood at the foot of the cross on that Friday and hid in despair through a bleak Saturday. What happened on that first Easter was a turning point in their lives and for the world. They encountered Jesus, stopped hiding and with the help of the Holy Spirit started spreading the Good News;
‘Christ is risen, he is risen indeed...
Alleluia to that I say! Sherri - Reader
Prayer for the appointment of a new incumbent for our Benefice
Thank you for being with us during this last year, even in the times when we have forgotten to look for you.
We ask for your guidance as we begin the process of advertising for and appointing a new incumbent for our parishes of Hill, Stone and Berkeley.
Help us to remember that you have a plan for us and may your spirit guide us in how we can join in with that plan, for the good of the wider community and those yet to know of your love for the world.
Please send the person you know we need to live and work amongst us to further your kingdom, in Jesus name.
We will be celebrating Maundy Thursday on the 1st April with a Zoom meeting. For details of how to join please get in touch with Naomi Sargent or firstname.lastname@example.org
Where is the good news?
How do you deal with the threat of a riot, or a riot actually in progress? How do you best fight a crisis when in the midst of one? Easy after the event with the wisdom of hindsight! So it was interesting to hear the Prime Minister and health advisers on Tuesday looking back on a year of Covid 19 restrictions and wondering what could and should have been done differently. No doubt the authorities in Bristol will be doing the same now after the heat and passion of unfolding events at the weekend become history to be analysed and for lessons to be learned.
The atmosphere in Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday was fraught with danger. The Roman occupying authorities dreaded the Passover feast which could easily become the blue touch paper for violent riot or insurrection. So the procurator Pontius Pilate and a full cohort of soldiers have come down from their base at Caesaria just in case... Reports of a new king of the Jews riding triumphantly into Jerusalem with huge numbers of supporters will have added to the high tension. So the Jewish authorities, recognising this, are doing their level best quietly to neutralise this terrifying threat to their and the nation’s present and future security.
In the heat and fear of danger, good decisions are not always the first ones to appeal. How do we cope with immediate stress, danger and fear? With hostility, aggression, exclusion and self protection? Or with wise reflection? Can we draw on deep inner resources, built on much thinking, wisdom, prayer perhaps, and a deep willingness to be open to and listen to other voices? Perhaps we need something of the ancient wisdom we find in the Isaiah reading set for Palm Sunday. The person being described (Is.50 v.9) has suffered violence and degradation. What is the basis for his confidence and calm perseverance with what is right and true? “It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?” Can we cultivate and rest on that confidence ourselves in turbulent and anxious times?
David Frith, Reader
Good Friday activity - Easter Garden
At Berkeley the younger members of the church make an Easter Garden. Sadly we won't be able to organise usual Good Friday activities. If as a family you would like to help create an Easter Garden for your church porch we can make that happen at Berkeley, Stone and Hill. Please get in touch with Debbie Page, Naomi Sargent or Mark Baimbridge. Alternatively why don't you have a go at making your own Easter Garden at home? Do send any photos to email@example.com and we'll be delighted to include them in the Easter newsletter.
Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense
This is a rich time of year to think about the importance of women. As well as being Mothering Sunday, last Monday was also International Women’s Day. However, there was also a celebration of patriarchy, in the Pope’s visit to Iraq and the site of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, the first of the Patriarchs of the church. The role of Pope is currently only open to men of course, but the church has not always been as misogynistic as we might have thought. There were the Old Testament heroines like Deborah, Esther and, my personal favourite, Ruth. Even St Paul, generally assumed to be no fan of women, did pragmatically recognize the leadership roles they played in some of the early churches. But, as someone once said, history was written by men.
When we read about Jesus, we see that he was very affirming of women, often surprisingly so to his followers. You may recall their shock at finding him talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. And in the end, he was sensitive to the cost to his mother of his earthly ministry and final sacrifice. We read from John’s Gospel how, when hanging on the cross, he commends his mother, Mary, to his beloved disciple with the words: woman, behold your son! and behold your mother! He recognized the cost of her love for him and in Jesus’ death we can see the cost of God’s love for us and for the whole universe. Just like our mothers, God emptied himself for the sake of his creation. This is well expressed in the title of a book by the theologian WH Vanstone: Love’s endeavour, love’s expense. For the being of the universe God is totally expended in the precarious endeavour of bringing it to fruition, to realizing its full potential. For the richness of creation God is made poor and for its fullness God is made empty. To anyone who cannot understand or accept this we might say: you have not yet weighed the cost of love, the cost of creation. Our mother’s would agree.
Steve Chandler - Reader
Celebrating Mothering Sunday
Berkeley Benefice St Mary's - Berkeley
All Saints' - Stone St Michael's - Hill
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