Street Party

An amazing event happened last Sunday afternoon. At 4:00PM a large group of neighbours on our road all came out to drink tea together as a way of keeping in touch and encouraging each other as the Corona crisis crept across the country.

We all were very careful to maintain a good 2-meter social distance, the lack of traffic meant we could spread quite widely across the road without fear of being run over. 

Even after living here for 2 years it was a wonderful occasion to meet neighbours we’d never spoken to before and find out about their lives and stories. From that meeting on the road, a community group has set up with folks checking in to ensure that our more vulnerable and any isolating neighbours are ok and well looked after. Offers of shopping and gardening and practical help are all now posted daily on our group.

Last night we were all reminded to be at our doors at 8:00 PM to applaud our amazing frontline medical heroes for their selfless service in this time of need.

I’m pleased to say that one of the organisers of this new community group is an RBC member – creating community is one of our values.

On Monday evening following the lock down announcement the group was buzzing with concerned messages – is everyone ok but also disappointment, we won’t be able to meet in the street again for some time. Encouragingly there were messages of hope. ‘let’s have a street party when this is all over’- and I think we will!

You may be aware of a quote attributed to CS Lewis that is doing the rounds on social media this week. The quote goes something like this.

Satan “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”

Jesus “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”  C. S. Lewis 1942

I’m always suspicious of these memes, especially as there are some questions and debate verifying whether CS Lewis did actually write this, nevertheless, it provides a beautiful depiction of Christian community being lived out practically and lovingly.

A year ago, at RBC we started talking about creating community as we realised how much people valued time being accepted, welcomed and spending time together. We were about to launch ‘connect’ community lunches in April- simple no fuss monthly Sunday lunches on site at the church building for anyone and everyone to join in, whether you’d been to the service or not.   

What’s amazing is the absence and isolation of not meeting together, community is bizarrely being strengthened and I am so encouraged by the stories I’m hearing of groups meeting online, letters, phone calls, errands and help being given. I’ve seen the inside of more people’s homes now we are online calling that I ever did in the last two- and a-bit years.

Whoever wrote that quote, something positive is growing despite the anxiety, upset, confusion worry, loss and pain of coronavirus.

My mantra for this season is this:

‘Whether gathered, scattered or isolated, we are still church’

And I see little pockets of church are happening all over.

Amazing!

See you online on Sunday – and don’t forget the clocks go forward an hour

Graham

Mum

I’m about to drive across to Oxfordshire to visit my Mother, it may be the last time I see her for a long time, it may be the last time I see her – but I don’t want to think about that. My Mum is incredible – I know many of us think this about their mothers, but I feel I can back this up well.  In my Mum’s near 90 years of life she has coped with wars, illness, recession, loss, bereavement, declining health, monumental lifestyle changes and amazing trips around the world. My Mum has never been wealthy or blessed with a high salary yet is (still) inspiringly generous with a solid and oft backed up belief that ‘the Lord will provide’ …. He always has.

Mum was a nurse and as all children of medics know that meant she gave no sympathy whenever I felt ill as a child. Mum believed firmly that the school would send you home if you were that ill…. but I was still always sent to school.

Mum’s faith in God’s guidance and providence puts me to shame as my parents took retrospectively barmy decisions to move the family to different and sometimes difficult places following God’s direction.  

In her late 80’s not only did she downsize from the big family house to a small chic two bed apartment, but she moved to a new town, church, and community. At the time of the move she commented that whilst she didn’t feel it or consider it, she realised that people saw her as ‘another’ old lady! In her new church this ‘old lady’ is the first to volunteer when a plea is given or the need arises, when people half her age haven’t stepped up.

Mum is resolutely anti hearing aids – the neighbours have got used to her deafening headache-inducing TV volume!  She’s also embraced technology transitioning from a steam powered 386 windows 3,1 computer to a sleek new iPad. However, she’s never quite mastered the art of turning her mobile phone on.

Mum would be classed as vulnerable in the current health climate we are living in, although woe-be-tide the brave person that tells her that. Sadly, it’s true, and she will need to self-isolate which will be hard for her. My sisters and I are debating whether a visit is wise, have I mixed with corona infected people this week? I’ve tried not to, but I just don’t know. So, we made the joint decision I could go, but I’m not to hug her or be near her and of course I must wash my hands.

I pray this won’t be last time I see Mum, I somehow suspect she will give Abraham a run for his money in terms of longevity, So, I’m going and Mum will probably tell me not to be so daft – ‘I’m fine’.

We don’t give up caring and loving, even when we are distant.

Is there someone you need to reach out to this weekend?

Please keep in touch

Community

It’s amazing how quickly the public tone has changed as we talk about the growing crisis with the coronavirus disease covid-19. Last week we responded with humour, laughs and joviality about elbow bumps and heel knocks in the place of shaking hands with lots of laughter and a degree of eye rolling.   Social media was awash with posts about the predicted statistics of people affected with covid-19 being very small in comparison to people affected and dying of other illnesses and diseases.   Conversations amongst my friends tended to be of the view that things had been sensationalised by the media, leading to panic over something that would blow over quickly and soon be forgotten about.

A week later the tone has changed with a growing concern for the safety and wellbeing of the  ‘at risk’ category of people in our communities.  ‘I’m not worried about myself’ said one interviewee on the news perhaps speaking on our behalf, ‘I’m thinking of my elderly mother for whom coronavirus could be deadly.’

Panic mania has also intensified with footage of supermarket shelves decimated by the rush of people bulk buying loo rolls, sanitiser and tinned goods ready to self-isolate and protect themselves in the future weeks.

I’ve noticed this week how my inbox traffic has reflected this with people raising questions and concerns about the steps and precautions we are taken within the RBC community to keep people safe and support our frontline NHS workers at the forefront of the growing pandemic.

Where is the gospel distinctive for followers of Jesus being seen against this backdrop? My hope is that church communities can model a different behaviour and response that speaks into this situation.  One way is to be attentive to those who are vulnerable, at risk and find practical ways to help. This may mean collecting shopping or prescriptions if people are worried about leaving their home. If may mean offering transport for people concerned about public transport.  It may mean sharing our supplies with folks who have been unable to get to the shops.  This an opportunity for followers of Jesus to put care, grace and patience into action as we think about our neighbours and friends who may be quite isolated and feel lost at the moment. We might want to think about phoning or contacting folks who live on their own, just to check in on them and make sure they are ok.  Immediately as I write this, I think about some of our neighbours who I haven’t seen around for the last few days.

At RBC we are taking all the recommended precautions and will diligently monitor the situation as it develops. We are mindful not to put anyone at risk or make little of concerns people have, and of course we are encouraging people to stay away from our gatherings if they are feeling unwell.  Sadly, but inevitably our prayer list is growing – please do get in touch if you are unwell or self-isolating at the moment.  This weekend we are going to be asking for people to be ready to respond in some of the ways mentioned above as we put together a response team. We are encouraging everyone who is well and able to make themselves available to support those who are not.

And of course, we are praying that the crisis will pass quickly, that the anticipated casualties will be lower than anticipated, that the affected will recover and that the church community will be a true community to all at this time.

Our current response to covid-19 is on our website and will be updated as necessary, in the meantime if you have concerns, please contact the church office.

Stay safe, stay well and look out for each other

See you Sunday?

Mind The Gap

You know those times when someone captures and articulates what you are feeling and thinking, in more succinct clear and concise way? This is exactly what Trevor Neil has done in his new book, ‘Bridging The Gaps’, in which he gives us the language and vocabulary to voice and explore the tensions between the established church and the cultural context we exist in. It’s a fascinating read – not always comfortable and potentially very challenging to members or committed regular attenders of a local church.

For a while now I’ve been unable to put helpful voice to the tension I feel that many of our churches are still  run and organised with a heavy reliance on day time volunteers, even though changing work patterns and family commitments has greatly affected the number of volunteers available. Another tension is that our understanding of regular attendance commitment has changed for many people with sports, shopping, work, family or simply relaxing at home taking priority over the Sunday service.  ‘Bridging the Gaps’ acknowledges the discomfort and whilst deliberately not offering silver bullet problem solving solutions, suggests helpful ways of engaging and discussing these tensions.

His analysis on the consumer problem of church shopping is insightful as he explores the growing trend of people being attracted to the church with the liveliest music, lights, smoke machines and trendy preachers as opposed to the strength and support of a local church community.

Trevor’s book is written with the experience and wisdom of ministry, leading churches with a particular emphasis on social action based evangelism and so he writes with considerable integrity about an area he knows well. Each chapter ends with questions that could form the basis of a very interesting growth group discussion or conversation with friends or colleagues.

I first met Trevor about 15 years ago when his church supported our mission work in Albania and Trevor was organising a team visit to serve with us at Light of the World church.  A few years later Trevor’s wife came to asses the homeless shelter we were running in Torquay and so I was really thrilled when Trevor moved to lead the team at Selsdon Baptist Church shortly after we moved to Redhill.

The CLT are all reading the book and will be discussing the chapter questions each month when we meet together. If you’d like to read a copy, I have one or two spares, otherwise I can put you in touch with the author. It is better to buy direct from him than the behemoth online book seller named after a south American jungle.

Have a great weekend and hope to see you Sunday

in loco parentis

Inspirational, is the word I often use to describe Freda Clark. She is an active campaigner for the voiceless and overlooked in society. Freda has been the driving force behind a great number of effective social action projects in this borough and continues to challenge and inspire me and many other with her ‘faith in action’ shaped life. So it’s with a genuine respect and pleasure that I welcome Freda as my guest blogger this week.

in loco parentis

When I reached my majority, my parents presented me with a formal charter which began: “On the occasion of her 21st birthday, we the undersigned…”   

This rather quaint document had two very important functions.   Firstly, it acknowledged that I was now an adult, and secondly, it assured me of my continuing special place in the essence of my family.  And I decided that it makes a good starting point to explain why I shall be sleeping in a cardboard box on a bitter March evening, to wake up cold and possibly wet at the slightly grander age of 72.  (Am I really doing this on my birthday??!!).

Quite simply, I’m doing it to raise funds for young people who had a far less privileged upbringing than I did, and who face far more material struggles than the majority of my immediately post-war generation.  Because it’s tough out there for young people, and those without parental support are at a real disadvantage. Care leavers have no “Bank of Mum and Dad” to give or lend them money or stuff, and they rarely have adults they feel they belong to, and whose care they can rely on. 

The fund aims to support young people who are wanting to move from benefit dependency into work.  They need clothes and fares for interviews; they need living expenses while they wait for their first pay cheque; they need rental subsidy, because housing benefit stops once they are in work.  Some of the money is loaned (it’s an important life skill to pay your way), and some given.  The principle is that work must not leave the new employee out of pocket.  It makes sense to remove the obstacles that stand in the way for young people wanting to work their way to independence. 

The wonderful team at the YMCA Hillbrook House are dedicated to helping young people realise their full potential, but this aspect of the work relies on donated money.  So I am hoping that you will want to support the SleepEasy cause.

I love it when my children visit; I feel honoured when they ask me for help.  That’s because they will always be “my girls”.  I love it when people are kind and supportive of my girls.  Surely God is equally delighted when we bring blessing into the lives of the precious children He yearns over.   Are not all people precious and fearfully and wonderfully made?  Don’t we all need help and encouragement along the way, but especially when we are starting out in life?

Yours in His love, Freda

Go to Virgin Money Giving, and look for Freda Clark, or cut and paste this link      

Not shipwrecked like St Paul, but Storm Ciara did leave me stranded.

Airport chaos as strike in Italy causes flight cancellations

My guest blogger this week is Miranda who last weekend was trapped in Malta……………

Not shipwrecked like St Paul, but Storm Ciara did leave me stranded.

“Are we going to land now?” said a very excited little boy to his parents.  I go unusually quiet (for me) at take-off and landing. On Thursday morning 7th February the plane landed at a warm and sunny Valetta.  The island has ‘opulent’ churches and I was there as preparations for parades and festivities to celebrate the ship-wrecked Saint were being set up.  You can read the Biblical account of St Paul on his way to Rome to stand trial here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+27%3A27-28%3A5&version=NIV

Little did I realise that a few days later the flight home would be delayed several times over. Announcements were not forthcoming and most information was gleaned from passengers on other flights.  Storm Ciara had sent European airspace into chaos with diversions to many different cities. In the onset of a storm back in the UK and an unknown departure date or time people began to rally to make friends.  Most trips take place with strangers who stay strangers but I believe there was a plan- (there always is even if we don’t see it at the time). The excited little boy entertained us with his unbounding energy and street dance moves.  I later found out that his parents were celebrating their honeymoon. John from Germany (working in London), Ian and Wendy from South Africa discussed should they buy dinner at the airport or wait to see what the airline might provide.

4 ½ Euros and a bottle of water had been given to us at lunchtime but now it was nearly 8.30pm.  As Ian went to see what was left from the Airport food court Wendy shared that she had recently had a pace-maker fitted and had wished she had brought her walking aid. She shared she was struggling more than she wanted to let on to her husband. She didn’t want to worry him. The airport floor was beginning to look like a distinct possibility for the night and so I suggested that she put her feet up on her suitcase for a while.  John shared that he thought the Brits were very good at being positive and making the best of bad situations. He also did the most brilliant impersonation of Boris Johnson who he had met at some traffic lights in London! Finbar and June were in their 80’s. Finbar was determined to go everyone on his 2 sticks but when a few us asked for additional assistance he didn’t refuse.

By now tiredness was showing and folk on timed medications were beginning to become anxious.  All kinds of bureaucracy meant that ‘luggages’ could not be returned until a formal decision between airports had been decided. All I could do was pray and ask others to pray! Thank you God for wifi and Whatsapp and a group of prayer warriors from RBC!

When the airport and airline realised there could be consequences to medication not taken by those with epilepsy, heart problems and Parkinson’s they arranged with the airline to ‘reschedule’ the flight for the next day and the airline arranged to take us to a 5* hotel overnight.   In fact we arrived before the email from the airline and were met by a very bemused concierge who watched in shock as we hauled ourselves and bags through revolving doors into a marble atrium and gathered at the reception desk to a rather stunned looking Manager. A dance troupe from Chichester made themselves at home on red velvet chaise longues and gold chairs while their tired but ‘oh so proud’ tutor lined up with their 25 passports hoping that there would be room for them all.

So why tell you this? A storm may divert you off your chosen course but remember who is ultimately in control.  Not sure if you are an optimist but I would urge you to consider that even storms can be an opportunity to do good. We are told in Hebrews 13.2 to offer hospitality and entertain strangers and that we may never know when we may have done so with angels. When the plane got to Gatwick late on Sunday evening there was not a peep from little Harry as he was sound asleep but there were genuine hugs of appreciation as we said our goodbyes. I was even able to pray a blessing over the young couple as they went on their way. Storm Dennis is on his way over the next few hours – how will you do good in his wake?

N.B. Names have been changed

British holidaymakers stranded in French Alps blast tour ...

Palindrome

The date this coming Sunday will be a perfect palindrome: 02022020! I’m thinking of setting my alarm for 02:20 AM just to add to the experience. I’m still racking my brain to think of how I can connect this to our first Frontline Sunday message which is about making a difference wherever we are and whatever we do.  This will be the first of five Frontline Sundays we are engaging with throughout 2020 which aims to encourage and equip us all to be the best faith ambassadors we can be in our regular daily activities (our work).

The balance and tension within a church community like RBC is both to encourage and equip people in their frontline activity, recognising that often these are high pressure, long hour and complex situations, whilst emphasising the strength and support of being in and contributing to the church community. They are not mutually exclusive.  This poses some interesting times: if person ‘A’ works longs hours juggling monopoly like budgets making high stake decisions every day, is it fair or right to expect ‘A’ to then volunteer their limited free time in the church community?  However, ‘A’ may have great skills and experience gained through their frontline that could really benefit the progress and development of the church community, which misses out if ‘A’ doesn’t share some their valuable wisdom and knowledge.

Person ‘B’ may be extremely gifted in finance and administration which has seen their career flourish and fly.  This is to be encouraged and celebrated.  The church needs a lot of support in finance and administration, but ‘B’ doesn’t offer their help because it’s too close to work. Or ‘B’ sees the church as a client to invoice for their time and expertise, which creates a tension.

My hope is that our Frontline Sundays will break the sacred/secular divide that work can be a place of mission and Church can be a place of work. Where ‘A’ and ‘B’ can see their skills, gifts, knowledge and experience as God given so can be used in service wherever they are; without ‘A’ and ‘B’ feeling pressured and guilty to volunteer and serve more. Conversely to challenge ‘A’ and ‘B’ that their work doesn’t always have to trump and take priority over church community life and involvement.

Last week I encouraged folk in the morning service to look out for their friends that may have missed the service to encourage them to join us this week. I hope you’ve all been able to that. If not, there’s still time to send them a message. A palindrome is where a sequence of numbers or letters can be interpreted the same way backwards or forwards – maybe it does fit with us being the same person seven days a week – in our frontline and in our church community.

See you Sunday

Bread

What a cool Baptist Association we belong to.

Yesterday I was blown away hearing about the innovative church planting and mission focused project that the South East Baptist Association is involved in.  I was attending my first meeting as a newly appointed trustee on the SEBA Executive- my role is to represent the Gatwick Network of churches at these meetings.   I’m very wary of committee meetings so did not go with high expectations but came out incredibly encouraged.

One the most exciting SEBA initiatives is called ‘Bread of life’ which will be a bakery/café/church in the heart of Strood in an area with little church presence or activity.  A former baker is going to run the project using his experience and passion to grow a new type of church. Amazing!

SEBA have been involved in a wonderful church planting initiative in Ebbsfleet called ‘Sunday Active’ which involves fitness activities rather than a traditional church service.

Other churches are actively developing missional communities that meet on a Sunday morning based around hobbies and interests such as mountain biking or walking or fishing and golf.

It makes me wonder – couldn’t we start a simple missional community on a Sunday morning? – Ideas on a postcard please.

SEBA have a pioneer group encouraging fresh innovative ways of impacting communities and planting new churches that meet regularly to inspire and encourage each other into trying new things.

As I sat through the meeting it dawned on me that I was not the young radical I used to be anymore – no I’m part of the establishment – focusing much of my energy and time on running the church organisation and the Sunday morning service.. It’s a sobering thought.

Yesterday changed my perception of Home Mission, when we give to this fund it’s more than just helping out churches that can’t afford ministers. We are giving to help the pioneers and visionaries build new Christian communities that may or may not be recognisable to us as churches.

What encouraged me most was to see the priority of mission at the heart of our association, good things are coming and it’s good to be involved. I think I’m going to enjoy my term on the SEBA Exec and what comes out of it.

See you on Sunday

Moss

Mosses and Moss Gardening, with Annie Martin - The ...

Happy New Year and welcome to the first blog of 2020. When I was younger 2020 seemed such a wonderfully futuristic concept of electric hover cars, jetpacks, people living on the moon, teleporter food in tablet form and translator ear pieces so that every language could be instantly understood.   The reality is in 2020 I’m still awaiting my jetpack and quite like living in Surrey and enjoy cooking so am not so sure about tablet meals any more.

However, 2020 will be a year of encouraging new ideas and changes in the life of our church community. One of the first changes began last Sunday morning with the launch of ‘MOSS’. This is a new Sunday morning group for our older teens (years 10 & up).  The group will meet in Room 5 at the same time as our other morning streams but will be run much like a youth growth group. At the first meeting last week, the group chose their name MOSS and have chosen their first theme – ‘Ecclesiastes’.  ‘MOSS stands for something – why not ask a teenager on Sunday what MOSS means?’

MOSS is a response to a listening exercise including our youth groups, parents and the Youth on Sunday team about our Sunday youth ministries and the need to give the older age group a different programme and the younger age group more room to flourish and grow. Sometimes there’s just a Godly conviction to do something and take action and so without fanfare or celebration it began last week.

For MOSS to succeed though it does need some help.  Practically we want to adapt room 5 into a more useable space and would like to put a couple of sofas in there. Perhaps some of the readers would like to buy these sofas or contribute towards them?  We would like to build a team and really want to encourage our men to get involved with this.  This will be a sacrificial, challenging, exciting and rewarding opportunity to be involved with our young people’s spiritual growth, discipleship and development. Is this something you could do?  Contact me or Leigh in the church office if you want to support this ministry.

And lastly can you support this new venture through prayer, encouragement and modelling good behaviour and commitment to our MOSS group; I’m especially thinking about how we personally prioritise our Sunday morning activities and how coming to church fits with that.

An other encouragement at the start of the year is the baptism service planned for March 1st – St David’s Day.  If it’s your turn or you’ve just been holding back or waiting, sometimes there’s just a Godly conviction to do something and take action! Let’s do this together

See you on Sunday

Response

It was Monday lunch time at the Toby Carvery, the place was full of different groups and parties in Christmas cracker paper hats enjoying their lunches out. The general atmosphere was one of fun, laughter and relaxation until this happened.

A man sitting close to our table started shouting and swearing across tables of diners at another couple who apparently had reprimanded him for blowing his nose whilst standing over them while they were eating. This couple spoke with good English but with foreign accents, although it wasn’t his deliberate racism that upset me. His tirade of abuse involved anatomical based swear words that I thought hadn’t been used for decades – with good reason.

The nose blower was brimming with such fury that he shouted across the crowded tables which included parents with children and a few groups of people with additional needs.  It was ugly. The mood of the room changed, people didn’t know where to look as the angry nose blower noisily suggested in no uncertain terms that this couple should be barred not only from this pub but from the country.

Recently our local postman got an earful of abuse from an angry neighbour for folding a letter to fit through a letterbox. You’d have thought he burned down the door and graffitied the house by the tirade our normally calm and peaceful neighbour subjected him too, ‘You have vandalised my personal property!’ On that occasion I made a point of finding our postman, apologising and thanking him for all he does.  Back to the Toby, there was so much tension in the air I shamefully admit, I did and said nothing…. Why? The fear of violence and backlash.

Where does this anger come from that was so palpable lying beneath the surface, ready to flare up at any time? Is it symptomatic of the current style of political leadership discourse in which insulting bravado has become the norm?  Is this sort of behaviour now acceptable? I sincerely hope not.

There are Christmas parallels here as the gospel writers paint a strong picture of a nation divided over calls for independence.  Prayers even for the non-religious for someone new to come and lead their nation to freedom; political turmoil and upheaval as a census is announced forcing people to go back to where they came from. And the tension of violence in the air of disagreeing factions failing to find accord amongst themselves.  

In the midst of this God came.

But in our age God has been here all along…… in theory.

Draw a one-mile radius from our church building and count the number of churches that meet on any given weekend. Churches that we believe are an expression of God presence, through how we act, relate and speak.  Churches whose intention is to bring light into dark places, peace into areas of tension and hope to the hopeless.

I deeply regret not intervening on Monday; I deeply regret when rather than be a peace-making, community transforming church leader I’ve been inward looking and taken my eye off the ball.

Christmas then is a reminder to consider all the tensions and troubles around us.

God has heard and responded, and we are his response.

Let’s really make a difference to Redhill in 2020 so people see and understand.

He’s heard you and he’s responding.