We need to talk about money!

Royal Mint Makes No New 1p, 2p or £2 Coins, As Britons Ditch Cash

It’s an uncomfortable subject to write about, but it is vital you know the church’s financial situation as we pray, plan, and prepare for RBC’s mission and ministry in 2021.

On 26th November, the leaders will be presenting a budget to church members that is a demonstration of great faith.  The reality is that without a significant change in our income, to minister at current levels, we will be in significant deficit by the end of 2021.   Without an increase it will be extremely difficult to maintain our current ministries, let alone develop, grow, and expand.  It will be a challenge to replace team members and all our mission partners will be under significant review. The smaller ministry team will have to diversify their interests and activities and effectively be spread even more thinly – and some ministries will have to stop.  I can say, hand on heart, that we have been trimming costs and cutting expenditure to avoid this, but I fear that next year we will be at a breaking point.

Despite this we are still celebrating people coming to faith, baptisms, new members, social engagement, and commissioning people to new areas of mission.  Despite lockdown many ministries are flourishing, but I truly believe our disciple-making potential is so much greater than we are currently realising.

There are practical projects that must be put on hold; repairs, replacement, and maintenance and the longer the delay, the greater the cost – it’s a vicious cycle.

In the Bible Jesus talks about money more than any other thing, more than he talks about love or heaven and hell combined. Sixteen of the 38 parables are about money, one out of ten gospel verses are about money, 2,000 bible verses relate to money- money is clearly important to God perhaps because, ‘Money is an exact index to a person’s true character’ ( Richard Halverson).

The challenge a local church like ours has about raising money is that we are a local church, not a national or international charity. We can only draw on the support from our community, we don’t have the interest reach to organise large scale fundraising activities – nor would we want to. We are totally reliant on the attitude, ability, and generosity of our community. So, it’s a challenge to ask our community to prioritise the church when it comes to giving.

The author and pastor Tim Keller once wrote, ‘If my response to money is “I couldn’t give any more away, I couldn’t live any more simply, I couldn’t be any more generous with my money.”  Then it’s likely your hearts are not right with God.’  I think deep down we all know this is about our hearts, but many of us ignore this.

I know for some people 2020 has been financially hard, but I have been moved to tears by the generosity of those who have given their commuting money they no longer spend, or the money saved by not eating out, to the church.

We need to talk about money – it’s uncomfortable but it’s necessary – I hope you understand why.

If you are interested, you can hear some of my past talks about money using the following links:

Knowing Your Treasure: 08.10.17 http://www.redhillbaptist.org.uk/sermons/2017-10

How Much Is Enough: 08.07.18 http://www.redhillbaptist.org.uk/sermons/2018-07

The Secret to Joy: Giving: 06.01.19 http://www.redhillbaptist.org.uk/sermons/2019-01

Live Generously – A Sacrificial Community : 27.10.19 http://www.redhillbaptist.org.uk/sermons/2019-10

See you on Sunday

No Trouble At All

Today (Friday 30 October) is Leigh McLean’s last day in the church office as the Church Manager and I am so sorry to see him go. Leigh and I go way back from when he was one of my youth leaders at Streatham Baptist Church in the 80’s and it has been an absolute joy to reconnect with him here at RBC. Sadly, as I have got older and my forehead larger, Leigh has pretty much stayed looking the same – he must have an aging portrait of himself in an attic somewhere! However, rather than regale you all with rose tinted stories of South London youth (although it was the best place in the world to grow up)

I just want to put down in words what an amazing 18 months it’s been working with Leigh. We have laughed, cried, prayed, and partied together often within the same hour. Leigh’s mantra of ‘no trouble at all’ has never been just empty words but applied to every request and situation. From blocked pre-school loos (don’t ask) to the most colourful, interesting, and frankly scary people turning up at the door to see ‘The Vicar’ ……. ‘Leigh could you join me for this one?’ …… ‘Of course – no trouble at all’.

So….I’ve written a little poem about Leigh – a rap if you will – to celebrate and say goodbye to Leigh. It works best to the tune of ‘Rappers Delight’ by the Sugar Hill Gang – don’t ask me to perform it ……. Here’s an extract:

Now here we are, it’s a sad, sad day
I never want to repeat
I’m saying goodbye to Leigh Mclean –
The coolest man you’ll ever meet.
He walked in the office – over 6 foot tall,
Shirt, tie, and a brief case too
With a big broad smile, a calming voice,
He asked: ‘Can I help you?’
In 18 months, he’s done so much,
the list is very long
And he tells some awful jokes
that are very, very wrong.
There’s no problem too much for him
no job too big or small
Whatever you ask, whatever you want –
he says ‘no trouble at all’

He’s introduced us to church suite
where the rota’s never end,
He sorted out the bad Wi-Fi
that drove us round the bend.
Weekly emails, minutes, notes
and meetings to arrange,
taking care of our intern-
yes, I’m talking about Gabe!
The printers jammed, the lights don’t work,
the heating’s always on,
That’s no problem for my man
with him all stress is gone.
He has to do some nasty jobs
0ffice 365 to install,
whatever you ask, whatever you want –
he says ‘no trouble at all’

He’s the C to the H to the U to the R
to the CH Manager,
From the FMT to the CLT
to putting notes on cars.
He moves the chairs, he repairs the stairs
installs new thermostats,
he tells a story and dresses up
to help Toddlers and Pat.
Mettle and Moss and Baby Grow,
Any group that comes on site,
Community groups, and charities
Homeless shelters at night.
With his little notebook and old laptop
He never drops the ball,
Whatever you ask, whatever you want –
he says ‘no trouble at all’

Goodbye Leigh
God Bless You
Thanks for being you and doing what you do

Circuit Break

‘Know when to stop’ is a phrase that I’ve heard throughout my life:  As a precocious little brother to three older and wiser sisters who’d had enough of my crack-a-joke book jokes, to the police man reminding me that the red traffic light is not a philosophical discussion point, to the doctor many years ago telling me that if I want to be around for my family I need to take a break.  Stopping, pausing for breath, taking a moment etc. is usually a very good thing to do with a greater outcome, than ploughing on heroically.

This is the thinking behind our three-week circuit break starting on Sunday November 8.

I am so proud of our online services we have been offering since March this year. I’ve not found or seen another church producing online services as good as these in such high quality. I truly believe we have curated something quite unique that will stand the test of time. We have viewers joining with us from all over the world, friends new and old, near and far are part of our growing online congregation. Thanks to an amazing team, a colossal community of creative talent, a risky giant-step taking faith and prayer, prayer, prayer, prayer, we have been able to build and maintain our online and onsite presence.

I truly believe that we need to take a short break, a ‘circuit break’, for a few weeks to give us a church community the opportunity to rest, reflect and reset before we move into the advent and Christmas season.  So, we are taking the risky step of trying something completely different for three weeks (8, 15, 22 Nov): our Sunday services will be on zoom only. It will give us all a chance to reconnect, recommit and relate to each other again in real time – albeit from the comfort and distance of our own homes.

We are planning some amazing times of worship, teaching, interaction and conversation for these three weeks and we will make sure that we stay as inclusive and welcoming to new friends and visitors as we have been online.  These zoom services will not be recorded or streamed later, so in a throwback to the BC (before Covid) services we are asking people to commit to joining us online at 10:00 on these Sunday mornings- with your cameras on. You can still be in your PJ’s, no one will mind!

I’m actually really excited about the idea and what will come from these three weeks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

See you on Sunday (still online for 2 more weeks)

Onsite Delight

I was so glad to be at the Sunday onsite service viewing last weekend. It almost felt like BC (Before Covid) times. I introduced the service and welcomed folk – just like I used to,then we handed over to the worship team for a song and worship. As the music started everyone stood and people actually started singing! – With their masks on and in quiet voices we joined in with the words on screen and the beautiful melodies of John and Sian, it felt just like one of the moments in a BC Sunday when with eyes closed and hands raised we could get lost in the musicianship and content of spiritual praise and adoration.

Later in the service when we came to the teaching section, I preached live. It was the same as the online message – the difference being this was live and by definition more responsive and interactive. We closed the service in the same way and at the same time as the online service but then followed it with a special time of prayer……., live prayer in real time – something that’s hard to capture in our online service.

These Sunday onsite services are a bit of a test – always under review as we practically work out how we can transition to covid-safe gathered Sunday worship. We follow the same streamed service online but because we are together, we are incorporating more and more live elements. It feels good and I think it’s working – we’re certainly getting good feedback. We are very careful to maintain good covid-secure protocols but even amidst all the restrictions we are having some very special times of gathered worship.

So, If your Sunday mornings have become a bit too routine and you find you are disengaging or only half watching our online service, this week, get up, get dressed come along to our on site service. This week we will be sharing a covid-secure live communion. You can register via the links on the RBC website. It will be lovely to see you in person.
It will be an Onsite Delight!

See you on Sunday (Onsite or Online)

Familiar but Different

Removals Streatham, SW16 Moving Company, Man and Van ...

I grew up in Streatham, South London and it will always have a special place in my heart and affections. As a local I used to know my way around the area without even trying. I knew the cut throughs for bikes and shortcuts for cars, I knew the best record shops (I know!) and which shops would be the first to sell the latest comics. I knew all the safe places and places to avoid.  Last year myself and Grant Robbins attended a one-day conference in Streatham, and I was discombobulated by how much change had taken place there. Even the station I used to use every day for school and work had been redesigned, staircases and exits had changed. Everything was familiar but different.

I’ve written a letter to the RBC community today outlining our thoughts on meeting together following the announcement that churches can reopen after the 4th July. I want to argue the point that we never closed, in many positive ways our community has been more open, active, and united than ever before, with regular and better attended meetings. We just meet remotely- we certainly haven’t been closed. But when our building opens it will be familiar but different and for many of us the changes will be very disconcerting.  Rather than focus on what we can’t do…. how things used to be, we are positively concentrating on what we can do…. We can meet, we can pray, we can socialise, we can re-prioritise, we can reimagine the RBC community.  Some people won’t want or be able to physically come to the building, so we are investing our resources into developing our online presence alongside our incarnate local expression of community.  It will be familiar but different for all of us.

‘Familiar but different’ applies to the new moral awareness prevalent as we emerge from lock down. Encapsulated by the black lives matter equality demonstrations. The ‘familiar’ is that many people accept that discrimination at any level is wrong. The ‘different’ is the new awareness of systemic inequality and prejudice based on ethnicity and skin colour which runs deeply in UK society. The difference is white people like me learning about the privilege that we have been advantaged by based on our skin colour and ethnicity. This is more than a reinforced political correctness about what can no longer be said but a realisation that a change is long overdue. The encouraging difference is that this demand for awareness and change is being voiced across the boundaries of colour and ethnicity.  One of the first baby steps in this direction is to listen to the voices, opinions, stories, and experiences that have historically been subdued, quietened or just dismissed. My fear is that despite the intentions of many people arguing ‘don’t all lives matter’?  the reality is we are not really listening to what is being said.  I’m not the best voice on this issue, I suggest you read Yinka Oyekan’s Facebook posts or YouTube videos by authors like Akala

Listening is the last ‘familiar’ but ‘different’ theme to mention today. Since our 24:7 prayer week finished last Sunday the team have been engaging in listening to the reflections and feedback as it comes in. Deep in the DNA of RBC is an activist mentality, to plan, organise and keep busy. But this week we have been learning to listen. The amazing thing that God seems to be saying through the diverse voices of our community could be distilled to one powerful verse…

‘I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it’?  Isaiah 43:19

And I’m quoting from The Passion Translation which for many folks will be familiar but different.

Graham

Listening

Like you I have been appalled and horrified by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by state police. My heart goes out to his family and community over his brutal mistreatment and the flagrant disregard for his humanity. I shamefully recognise that his inhumane treatment is symptomatic of a deeper devaluing of black lives, in particular black men, and that his death has tapped into generations of anger and frustration as the result of systemic brutality and discrimination.  

As a middle aged, middle class, white man I am conscious of my privilege  and accept that there are areas of inequality even within RBC that must be addressed. I have to say that whilst I cannot personally understand the anger which many are feeling, having not experienced the routine discrimination faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic peoples, I have been silenced by the stories I’ve been hearing from members of RBC about the racism they have experienced and lived with all their lives.

It’s not my voice you should be hearing on this topic, instead this week I’m using the platform of my blog to direct you to the powerful and stirring words of the President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Yinka Oyekan. This is directly taken, with permission, from Yinka’s Facebook post on 01 June entitled, ‘We are all George Floyd’.

WE ARE ALL GEORGE FLOYD; black people can’t breathe!!!!! –
5 ongoing issues that are choking the life out of black people and people of colour!

George Floyd was a Christian who was struggling to get his life right. Before his life was mercilessly ended, it is alleged that they beat him in the police car and then dragged him out and only then did they suffocate him. The anger over George’s death is understandable. Only one police officer has been charged when four were involved in his death, two holding down his lower body whilst one knelt on his neck suffocating him slowly as he cried for his mother, pleading for his life while the fourth who had the power to stop them watched. It was cruel inhuman and in the truest sense evil.

It is a metaphor of what has happened to black people and people of colour over the last few centuries.

BUT:

Black people still face more significant challenges to success and life compared to their white counterparts living in the west, let me show you five reasons why!

1. Racism exists in the workplace!

Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that to receive the same pay and performance reviews as their white counterparts, Black workers have to work twice as hard[1]. Worse still the discrimination is shown to create a feedback loop which results in ongoing negative stereotyping. But even where the productivity of black workers is superior to their white colleagues, the research shows that discrimination persisted, which could lead to lower wages or slower promotions.

I know black kids who have had to change their name in order just to get an interview for a job because when they used their African names, they couldn’t get past the front door to secure an interview. These are graduates who have worked hard to achieve a quality degree but then find in the west (usually white middle-aged men) barring their progress or chances. What hope then for those who have little or no education?

What has the world lost because of such discrimination? Consider this; Percy Julian was a pioneering black chemist. He was not allowed to attend high school in America but went on to earn his PhD. His research led to drugs that treat glaucoma and arthritis, a brilliant mind who faced prejudice at every turn; he is regarded as one of the most influential chemists in American history. What other great scientists and innovators have been lost because the challenges were just too much for them to overcome. Why should any black kid have to overcome such challenges?

Let me be clear for every successful black worker you encounter in the west be sure they have worked their socks off to get anywhere near the top of their sector.

2. Racism exists in the Church!

I’ve watched it over the years even in ministry, and I almost never comment on issues of race in case it is perceived as “playing the race card”. But I have watched black ministries being stereotyped, just ask yourself how many second generation indigenous black leaders exist in the UK church, you might be surprised. Or ask this question why is it that national black leaders come predominately from black majority churches and not indigenous ones? Leaders Like Sentamu off the Church of England are rare. Do not believe that racism exists only outside the Church. When God sent an outpouring of the Spirit in Reading, some discounted it because I was black, I have been told as much by fellow white ministers, some who later apologised to me. The assumption was it’s a black church thing, the fact is our church is predominantly white but also has different races in it.

My first memory of going to a ministers prayer meeting in Reading was to be told by a leading figure not pray too loudly as it was off-putting for others, I ignored the request, now everyone prays as they wish loudly or quietly all prayer types are accepted.


Let us be clear; Christianity has been an engine for the progression of Black people predominantly by black people, but also as a tool for oppressing them by white people [2]. Apartheid, for example, partially based on erroneous theology only ended 25 years ago in 1994. From the earliest days, Black Christian communities have helped black people make progress in an otherwise hostile west. It might seem odd now that the first African American Catholic priest had to attend seminary in Rome because no American seminary would take him. But the legacy embedded in disputes over slavery in America with the Civil War prompted the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians to split into Northern and Southern factions. Yet the truth is amongst people of colour, the words of Martin Luther King Jn is what fills the heart. Black people want to work with and live with other races, not seeking unfair advantage, but longing for an equal playing field where they can breathe, it is less prevalent now in the Church, but it still exists and manifests especially where white believers have a sense of entitlement connected with the colour of their skin.

3. Racism is in our judicial system!

I wish to applaud the attempts of the judicial system in trying to root out all forms of bigotry, but I remember when I served as a magistrate the need to explain to colleagues that when a black kid is in the doc and refuses to look you in the eye it is not because they are guilty, shifty as they may seem, but rather it is because if they have been properly brought up in a black context they will have been taught not to look an elder in the eye, they are simply trying to be respectful.

Yet I witnessed more than once as a magistrate police officers having to be reprimanded because their story was just not credible. Now let me be clear 99% of police officers are exemplary public servants, but racism does exist, and when it appears it is ugly.

4. Racism is historic

They say the victor writes history; It is only now that western history and Hollywood is highlighting the contribution of black individuals. Many of the contributions that black people made in the second world war were simply written out of the early historical narrative.

Yet some of the most significant historical achievements of humanity both scientific and heroic came from the ranks of people of colour people like Alice Ball, an African American chemist who developed the first successful treatment for those suffering from leprosy.

For young black people finding heroes who are people of colour that make contributions to life, demands a lot of research, they are not featured in academia or business news as much as they are in sports or music. Yet you only have to visit a local hospital to see the contribution they make to health, they just need the media to let them breathe.

5. Racism is in our schools!

It’s not conscious; most teachers are good and decent they are teachers because they want to help children and care about them, but let me be clear teachers carry prejudice, and the statistics show it. In 2011 research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills demonstrated the bias. Black applicants predicted grade accuracy was the lowest at only 39.1 per cent of predicted grades being accurate, while their white counterparts had the highest, at 53 per cent.

The study showed that Black students have their grades underpredicted. So if you are black, you are unfairly expected to do worse than your white counterpart [3]. This is why the decision to take predicted grades as the benchmark results because of coronavirus is an unjust one for black kids; the academic system needs to let them breathe.

“I can’t breathe”, is a phrase that black people and people of colour have to work through in the west in everyday life in a way that many white people will never have to face. George Floyd’s dying plea is a literal metaphor for the cruel injustice that continues to be inflicted on people of colour.

As Christians, we should take a stance against racial prejudice, and where we can do our bit to stand up against it, and any oppression of minorities whenever it rears its ugly head.

Yinka Oyekan
President of The Baptist Union of Great Britain

footnotes
1. https://www.nber.org/papers/w21612
2. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
3. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/…/11-1043-investig…

The Baptist Union have posted several helpful and provocative article as a response to the murder of George Floyd.which you can access through the following link https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/579501/George_Floyd_our.aspx

At RBC our 247 week of prayer starts this Sunday at 12:00 PM.  I believe we should be talking and praying about the issues Yinka raises and many of our church community have experienced. People like myself need to listen and hear the voices of the people in our community that have lived and been hurt by racial prejudice and discrimination. This may be uncomfortable and challenging for some of us, but as one of our church community said to me just today, ‘Jesus’ command to His church is that we should love one another and this should be at the heart of our relationships with each other’.

Will you join me next week in praying in repentance and hope ?

A few things learned in lockdown

There’s a few things we’ve learned about streamed services over the last few weeks that will be fun to share with you all as my blog this week.

RBC is brimming with talent and creativity

I have so loved involving folks who may not normally get involved with our Sunday services. It’s been wonderful to showcase our wonderful diverse community and to let ideas run and develop. We’ve had some amazing creative moments in our services and there’s more still to come.

Nearly live is better than live

The service is live streamed, but all the content is pre-recorded. I usually record my introductions and welcomes on Sunday morning at about 7:30 AM to make it as current as possible. But apart from week 1 nothing else has gone out live.  This allows us to cater for potential glitches and problems that inevitably arise with technology.

Location location location

I record my sermons on site at Church using a green screen with Theo as my cameraman. It’s quiet, empty and with great acoustics. Outside recordings always look great but pick up a lot of ambient noise and traffic so unless you have a really professional set up it’s better to record inside.

Licences and copyright

Did you know most weeks we pick up a warning about a potential breach of copyright or licence for the music we use? This has been a very complicated area depending on whether we use pre-recorded music or live performance and so it limits our song choices.

The worship leaders want to lead not perform

Which is why we don’t show the musicians playing but just have their music, voices, and the words on the screen.  Recording a small worship set can take a long time sometimes, up to eight hours to get everything right. That’s dedication and commitment!

10 minutes is a long time

We’ve tried to keep all the talks, teaching and sermons to as close to ten minutes as possible. Research suggests that people have a much shorter attention span on screen (think how short and concise news articles are) and are likely to be distracted if someone is on screen for longer than ten minutes. This has been a great discipline – if you can’t say it in ten minutes are you saying too much?

Facebook has been the best option for us so far

This has been such a tricky area to get right but Facebook live has been the most convenient and easy platform to broadcast from, especially as it allows the comments and interactions we enjoy on a Sunday morning. You don’t have to be registered with Facebook to join the service – but can connect through the church website.

After service chat rooms are both fun and frustrating

The best way to join the zoom after service chat rooms is to have your camera on and name clearly displayed. Samsung G5 and iPhone 6s won’t be allowed in as we don’t know who you are. This is to keep the rooms safe from zoom bombing! If you don’t know that is… trust me it’s bad!

Visitors and guests to our services are all followed up

As best we can and welcomed to RBC community

Bloopers and outtakes

I’m told that Matt and Rachel are keeping a store of mistakes and outtakes ready to play at some later date. I feel very nervous but am wondering whether this could be a good fund raiser for RBC…

The new normal

The reality is that online streamed services are going to be how we must do things for much longer than we originally anticipated. It’s going to months before we can go back to the Sunday services we used to have. So the team (and it’s a big team that pull the service together) are committed to learning, improving, honing, producing and delivering the best service we can to allow us to continue to worship, encourage and grow together as a church community. This is a new way of living that we are all adapting to. I know that its not for everyone.

RBC is very adaptable

I am so amazed and grateful at how people have adjusted to zoom, Facebook, and other online media as we grow together as a community. What a church we are. Thank you for being so gracious and adaptable.

See you Sunday online at 10

50

It was my birthday on Tuesday, a fairly significant birthday as I’ve reached the half century milestone of 50 years old and being someone who likes a good party, I had big plans for this weekend.  A year ago, we started planning ’50 fest’ in the McBain family camp. The idea was a sort of middle aged, middle class mini Glastonbury type event with live music, comedy, poetry, great food and best of all friends from all over the world coming to join us over the weekend. Mairi also has a big birthday this year so we were going to combine both celebrations – I’m not allowed to say her age, but we were born in the same year!

With the onset of lock down restrictions we had to make some different plans – 50 fest still happened – it was just the 5 local McB’s, a few zoom calls and a really fun day of different treats, surprise activities- oh and incredible food.

I think it was actually one of my best birthdays ever, rather than lament what we didn’t have or couldn’t do, we simply stayed in the moment and were greatly enriched by being in the here and now.

This wasn’t my only celebration this week. Yesterday I completed my Pastoral Supervision course and am pleased to announce that I have passed and am able to register and begin building up my pastoral supervision hours.  It’s been a great class to learn with and we had planned an end of term celebration – and you know I love a party!

In its place we had two long days of zoom facilitated teaching, the usual empowering and uplifting environment of being in a class with likeminded students replaced by the out of sync timings and delayed voices of zoom calls… what a shame.

Until we came to our final session. All the students and the tutors contributed reflections, readings, stories, and songs as our final goodbye- it was emotional. poignant, wonderful, and appropriate.

In that moment there was great beauty.

At our CLT prayer meeting last night, rather than fill the hour with agenda driven prayer topics we allowed space, we waited, we stopped, we had silence.  A strong sense came from the whole team of God communicating to us something about living in the moment – enjoying the now and being attentive to what is happening now rather than lamenting the past and planning for the future.

I shared a story which I have been using and pondering a lot since I heard it at the start of this week.

A monk was being chased through a forest by a pack of wolves. 

He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. 

As he hung there, he looked down and realised it was only half the pack of wolves chasing him, the other half were below him jumping up and nipping at the end of the vine.  Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

There’s beauty and fruit to be enjoyed in the moment – no matter what the future holds!

Connection

When lock down started on the 23rd March I had these grand ideas that I was going to record a video blog – a vlog every week and post it up on all our social media platforms, to keep in contact with everyone. I’m so glad I didn’t as  its seems every church minister and their dog also had the same idea, and now I can’t log onto Facebook or YouTube without being assailed by another pastor posting another video of their last service, or the thoughts about their next service, or general musings about the day. I daren’t log on today for fear of seeing yet another warm smiling vicar (usually someone I was at college with) sat in front of their impressive home library of theological books sharing another rich vignette of spiritual wisdom while they look slightly off camera!…. I know, I know ‘pot, kettle, black’ etc.

Stop! I’m being overloaded here – I’m drowning in a sea of video updates and well-meaning, warm smiling messages.

Its not just ministers – instead of a simple email, managers, lecturers, financial advisors –  sending videos of themselves, saying aloud what they would have written; and instead of a phone call, it’s all zoom conferences and skype calls – and don’t get me started on Microsoft teams.  The other night, the internet in the manse crashed because all of us were on zoom calls.  I had to revert to using my mobile – no image, no video, no delay – just conversation – it was bliss and my eyes didn’t hurt afterwards.

I have a suspicion at what might be going on here: there is a heartfelt desire to connect with the people we love whom we are missing. Us ministers are strange breeds, generally we like folk (not only the music – that’s just me) and when we are disconnected from people, we lose something of ourselves.  

But there’s also a sense of justifying our existence, I’ve been a Baptist minister for over 20 years and yet I still find myself explaining to people who’ve known me a long, long time that this is not a Sunday job, but a full life vocation.

Without Sunday morning services running as normal and the added spectre of furlough and reduced giving lurking, it’s a way of saying, ‘I’m still here and this is what I’m doing’, and for some it’s their way of saying, ‘Help’.

Perhaps I’m being unkind, but I suspect there’s some truth in this and I also hope you can see I’m also poking fun at myself. 

I think we are learning something about the importance of connection, and how important it is to us. Connection goes deeper than contact: connection is at the heart of the biblical narrative of God and his creation. The ultimate sign of God’s connection was through Jesus, a living, breathing, laughing, crying person, but also God – that still does my head in, connecting with us ‘incarnationally’ – in flesh. A part of being made in God’s image is our need for connection. (If you’re anything like me as soon as you hear the word ‘connection’ you think of Justine Frischman & Elastica, what a tune).

This is my personal challenge this next week: to connect with more people through phone calls, personal cards and hopefully a sensible social-distanced chat on the street. Perhaps this could be your challenge too.

Don’t schedule a meeting, make a phone call.

Unplug your headphones and pick up the phone.

Stop typing and get writing with a pen.

Connect not contact!

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Isolation

As we move into week 3 of the lock down or is it week 4 (?); I’m not sure anymore, time seems to be moving so differently since all our routines changed so dramatically.  I’m finding that days are blurring into each other, is it really Friday today? Is it really Good Friday?

Isolation is affecting us all in different ways, last night at 10:00 PM I realised that I hadn’t exercised all day so had a glorious but slightly eery bike ride around Redhill and Reigate. The roads were so empty it felt like a scene from The Walking Dead.

Isolation and staying at home means different things to different people, the team at RBC have been making an effort to check in and keep in touch with the folks who may be finding isolation more troubling than others.

It struck me today how isolation is an oft missed theme of the Easter story and especially the horrific Good Friday narrative. Mark’s gospel brings a particular emphasis to Jesus’ lonely last hours on the cross:

The Death of Jesus, Mark 15: 33-41 (NIV)

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[a]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[b] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[c] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

After three hours in the burning middle eastern sun, Jesus now suffers into the darkness, even the taunting that accompanied his first few hours are now silenced and Jesus is alone… isolated.  Ever since Gethsemane he has been separated from all human support.  Now as his life ebbs away in painful throbs he addresses his Father not with the close intimacy of ‘Abba’ but just the almost distant, formal ‘My God’. Jesus is now facing isolation from the very trinity he is part of, who can comprehend such isolation?

Then he dies, alone, isolated, rejected, silenced. In this account Mark doesn’t record any final words, just a cry, a final breath.

The torn temple curtain reference is strange, but it tells us two important points: now the way into God’s presence is open and the physical holy place that only priests could enter is accessible to all. To emphasise this Mark cites a pagan foreign centurion with the insight and discernment to recognise who Jesus was.

There’s a powerful dichotomy happening; the isolated saviour who dies alone ends our isolation from God. Jesus’ separation from his father allows our connection to our heavenly father.

Of course, the story isn’t over.

Sunday is coming.

I hope these words help, particularly if you are struggling with isolation this weekend.

We’ll be together again online at 7:30 PM tonight and tomorrow for our Holy Week reflections and then online at 10;00 AM on Easter Sunday morning.

Why not invite a friend to watch the service by sending them the link to our website?

http://www.redhillbaptist.org.uk/live-streaming

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