Tuesday 13 November 2012

Fame at last!

Amazingly the Times has decided to publish a letter I sent them. I felt rather annoyed at their coverage of Justin Welby's appointment as our new Archbishop in Friday's edition, not because of the nice things they said about him but the way they used the opportunity to smear the Church of England as a whole.

So I was pretty surprised when I bought Monday's paper (because I'd had a busy weekend and missed the rugby internationals) and found my little diatribe in there. Here it is:

Sir, laden as it is with words and phrases such as "detoxify," "riven by arguments," "years of bitter division," "hypocritical" and "damaged," the subtext of your front page article about the new Archbishop of Canterbury hardly bothers to conceal an aim to denigrate the Church of England at all costs. The dire picture painted bears little relation to the vibrant life in experienced in many parishes.

Justin Welby should pay no attention to the problem-focussed agenda recommended further on in your pages. The Christian faith has a great deal that is positive to offer our cynical culture and I fervently hope he will make it his top priority to commend it to our nation.      

It must be terribly easy for the Archbishop to be straitjacketed by his role and all the huge expectations and burdens that go with it. Please Lord may Justin be able to keep his focus on You, Your love, Your Gospel, and making You known to the nation.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

One of the hardest things this summer has been saying goodbye to Ben. We felt like criminals as we slunk away from Heathrow having abandoned our youngest to strangers on the other side of the world for a whole year.

So isn't Skype fantastic! Through what used to be Star Trek technology we've been talking to Ben on the other side of the world. He's enjoying life and he's with a great team out there in Bolivia. He's even seen river dolphins leaping in the Amazon and families of capybaras. It's been frustrating for him that a lot of time has gone on training as he is very keen after a year of anticipation to get on with looking after those street kids - but the time will soon come.

If you want to keep up with Ben he is posting on Facebook fairly regularly and also has a blog you can follow on beninbolivia.wordpress.com. Why not add Ben to your favourites?

Elisa and I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who is supporting Ben in prayer or who has done so financially.

Sunday 23 September 2012

St Matthew's Day

I can't believe it's so long since posted. Catching up with St Matthew's on my return has been busy! Everyone has pulled together to move the church forward during my sabbatical. Sometimes as a leader you get back from time away to find the church stuck in a lay by and you've got to shove hard to get it out on the road again. This time St Matthew's is zooming off down the highway and I'm having to sprint to try and catch up! Liz and our team of wardens has done a fantastic job while I've been away.

Today's special reason for blogging is it's St Matthew's Day (well, it was on Friday, anyway, and this is the nearest Sunday). We all got together for lunch, with some fabulous curry supplied by the Asian congregation and more food from other members of the church. Then we had an amazing service this afternoon. Other services were all cancelled so we could come together as the St Matthew's family and celebrate being one in Christ for a change.

There's been so much to celebrate! Six new babies born in the last six months (we need to keep that production line going!), a great holiday club this summer, a magnificent new refreshments facility opened for use in church today, fabulous music, new faces appearing all the time, progress with re-ordering, fund raising, and just great people. You are a great church to come back to, St Matthew's!

And it was good on St Matthew's Day to draw on some of what I've been learning over the summer and set St Matthew (the apostle, not the church this time) in context as we read out his conversion story today. From Mark's gospel it is clear that Matthew's tax collector's booth stood by the lakeside and from Matthew (the gospel, not the apostle or the church this time) that it was close to the village of Capernaum, which became Jesus' home for much of his ministry. So to have wandered round Capernaum and stood on that atmospheric beach brings the story so much more alive!

It seems that Capernaum was quite a prosperous little town: lots of expensive decorative stone carving, an imposing synagogue (where Jesus himself ministered, see Mark 1:21), lots of small businesses like Simon Peter's partnership with James and John, who employed othes according to Luke 5:9-10. A great deal of this was because Capernaum was close to the border with Gaulanitis, the modern Golan, which was a separate mini-state ruled by Herod's brother Philip. Custom tolls were charged on goods brought in from Golan, and that's what Matthew and all the other tax collectors lived on. There were a lot of them, to judge by the party that Matthew threw to celebrate his conversion in Matthew 9:10. Unfortunately no-one else liked them. The only mates they had were other tax collectors, because the Romans took a cut and they were seen as collaborators.

So what are the values shown by this story for us today?

Conversion. Jesus radically changes lives! That money hungry Matthew just walked away from his tax booth to follow Jesus. Anybody could have gone off with his money! That's a change of heart. And we at St Matthew's today need to share that same living, risen Jesus with the people of Walsall and see Him change lives today. We are already seeing this happen through Messy Church and Alpha. But has God got more for us? Can we reach out through Back to Church Sunday? Or just through gossiping the gospel in our daily lives?

Welcome. How brilliant to open that new cafe area on St Matthew's Day! Because Jesus loved going to parties and being with people: check out the Gospels and note how many times He's at a party in them or compares the kingdom of God to a party. He never turned one down. He didn't turn Matthew down when he invited him to a party with tax collectors and sinners. He won't turn you down. So we need to welcome people of every sort as Jesus does. This means we may need to change! Our ways might be difficult for new people to follow. New friends used to Messy Church or Alpha may find the step up to church really hard. Wouldn't it be great if everyone who visited St Matthew's found at least one person who took an interest in them? Wouldn't it be great if there wasn't a single lonely person in our church? We'll be working on welcoome in 2013.

Discipleship. This is the key issue because it's about the quality of our life with Jesus. The apostle Matthew was so deeply affected by Jesus that he left everything to follow Him. Are we willing to give everything for His sake? He promised that if we lose our own lives for Him we will find them again - a life filled with His peace and love and deep relationship with God is what we were made for. This is our year of discipleship - let's go for it! Discipleship is the theme of our church weekend away this October. Is God calling you there? Have you gone deeper with God this year? There's still 3 months left...

Happy St Matthew's Day everyone!

Where it all started for Matthew - the beach near Capernaum

Friday 13 July 2012

Yesterday was Elisa’s birthday and we can’t think of any better present than to be here in the Old City of Jerusalem (though I did buy her something else as well). The atmosphere is amazing! Our day began with the ringing of Church bells, and if that sounds very English in a pastoral sort of way, it’s anything but. The bells have a completely non-British sound – echoes of Byzantium and W B Yeats’ ‘gong tormented sea’ (just read it). The heat is unBritish, the in your face salesmen are unBritish, the winding alleyways and lack of greenery – unBritish: and the smells are definitely unBritish. Yet we feel at home. There’s something about Jerusalem...

Our day has ended with the sight of thousands of Jewish people of every description and wearing every description of headgear. They were making their way back from worship at we presume the Western wall. Night has fallen and Shabbat began some hours ago at sunset. We went up on to roofs of the Old City to catch the evening light and found a couple of hundred young people there waiting for Shabbat to start. When it did they all hugged each other, just like doing the peace at St Matt’s but noisier (did I mention it isn’t very British) and then started singing Hebrew songs and dancing. I think they were party of American student Jews on tour. Older and more staid Jews were presumably welcoming in the Sabbath at home as tradition requires.

After that the muezzins started. I am sure it sounded wonderful before the invention of the loudspeaker but I’m afraid electronics have rather ruined the muslim prayer call for the neighbours. We suspect there’s an element of competition about it all: with so many mosques close together you’re bound to want yours to stand out from the one next door. I think it could be the same with the churches too – our spire’s higher than yours...

We have been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today, containing the sites where both Jesus’ cross and his tomb are supposed to have stood. There is actually surprisingly good authority for this. St Helena the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, researched it all in the third century and found evidence that there had been Christian worship on the site for a very long time already. Check it out online. I don’t normally go in for places dripping with gold  and jewels and I certainly objected to being shoved out of Jesus’ supposed tomb as soon as I started to pray (they can spot troublemakers!). But to stand by the site of the cross and look at the exposed riven stone (see Matthew 27 for the earthquake) was a deeply moving experience. And there were people from all over the world sharing it. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself.” That’s certainly true in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We even met some Finns and were delighted to hear stories about what God is doing in their country.

I’m sorry not to be able to post any photos either here or on Facebook. I forgot that this old laptop doesn’t have a slot for the camera’s memory card and I also forgot to bring a cable... so no pics till we get back. Sorry.

Lots of love,

Colin and Elisa x x

Friday 6 July 2012

Elisa and I are now in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. It's very very hot (everybody warned us!) and there is a haze over the lake most of the time, from all the evaporation I suppose. It's also shabbat and we are about to go off for a sabbath meal provided by our hotel at outrageous extra cost because we are are to expect that everything will be closed down.

We just had a very interesting time up on the hills close to the lake. They have unearthed the village of Chorazin including the synagogue and some houses. It's mentioned in the Gospels as a place Jesus knew and did mighty works in:

Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you Bethsaida! If the same might works that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago... (Matthew 11:21)

As we looked around at the devastated rocks that made up the deserted village, it made us feel, "Lord, don't let us become like that! We want to have soft hearts and listening minds towards you!" On the other hand those words come just before Jesus' words of comfort to those who do come to him with a good heart:

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest... You will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)

Matthew has delberately put these words of the Lord together so that after the pain that comes from hardening our heart to the Lord comes the reassurance of comfort when we are responsive to Him. How wonderful it was to be in the same places Jesus was in, to see the same hills and lake, to walk on soil that He Himself trod! So we were reminded also of the wordds of the angel after the resurrection:

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here!... He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him, just as He promised. (Mark 16:6-7)

Yes, it felt very special to be in Galilee and read that promise. But of course it means we can see Him by faith anywhere, not just in Galilee, because He is alive. Thank you for all your prayers that we will encounter His presence more deeply while we are here, I think they're working!

Just one other Bible verse. There are turtle doves everywhere, even in the big cities like Tel Aviv. It's a sad reflection that these days they have become all but extinct in the UK. Up on that hillside we could hear their cooing all round us, a sort of churr-churr. In the Song of songs it's a sound used symbolically for the the Lord's call to love Him and respond to His love (that's if you go in for symbolic readings - it's definitely a love poem as well). It's Song of songs 2:12-14. Elisa and I prayed that God would renew and restore our first love for Him too.

I'll just close with a local Jewish joke, having now swum in the waters that Jesus and his disciples knew so well:

Why did Jesus walk on the water? Because the boats here are so expensive!

God bless you all and thank you for praying!

Lots of love, Colin and Elisa.

Monday 2 July 2012

We are almost ready to take off for Israel tomorrow morning. We've eaten our last bacon sarnie for 3 weeks, left instructions for Tom and Ben and we're nearly there with our packing. As we prepare for lots of heat and sunshine it's sad to leave you all in the cold and rain.

We hope to carry on blogging a bit from Israel (provided I can get the blog to work - it took several goes today) but we'll probably put pictures on Facebook.

Your prayers for health, safe travel and an uplifting time in God's own country - and I don't mean Yorkshire this time - are greatly appreciated!

Lots of love, Colin and Elisa.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Sabbatical update (3)

The study part of my sabbatical has been going well. It's been great to mine a bit deeper into the Gospels, taking time to think about why Jesus said the things he said and did what he did, and  exploring his character more closely. I've handed in an essay called Who is David's Son to Dave Allen (no, not that one - my supervisor at Queen's College) and we've had a really interesting discussion about it with lots of ideas where to develop things further.

Elisa and I are now getting ready to fly to Israel on Tuesday 3 July. For some reason this requires shopping and I am blogging while waiting for Elisa to drag me off to Birmingham to buy some travel essentials. People tell us it's very hot and humid in Israel at this time of year so we need lightweight clothes that are still modest enough to please both Islamic and Orthodox Jewish sensibilities. We're greatly looking forward to every part of the trip, but most of all to being in Galilee and walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Several people have sent us money, some anonymously, to help us with the costs of getting to and staying in Israel. We're really grateful to you for your kindness! In fact we wouldn't be able to do it without you, so God bless you for your generosity.

The downside of being on sabbatical is having to stay away from St Matthew's. We miss you and all your love, fellowship and support. Still two months before we're back, so behave yourselves, keep St Matthew's moving forward in love, look after Liz and don't forget to pray for us.

God bless you!


Monday 18 June 2012

Thank you everyone for your prayers and support while I'm on sabbatical. It's been surprisingly difficult to adjust to a different rhythm and to start each day without deadlines to drive me on.

Last week I was at Harnhill (a Christian Healing Centre near Cirencester) on a course called Learning Healing Prayer. It was a very useful and productive week even though I did more crying than I have done for years. I decided that it was time to do something with the anger that keeps burning up inside me (I know you don't believe me but it does) and I couldn't get there without probing at some touchy stuff… So I've ended up a bit like a wet rag but happy that God knew about all the painful things and is working through it with me. Let's see if I'm any different when I start back at work in September.

The quadrant model they use to help them listen out for where people are hurting and where God wants to heal is very useful. So the week has all been very productive and worthwhile. I'd like to see if I can get some of St Matthew's Prayer Ministry Team to go along next time Harnhill do the Learning Healing Prayer week. Their website is on  www.harnhillcentre.org.uk – let me know if you're interested when I get back.

Be in touch again soon, Love Colin.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Thanks for keeping up to date with my sabbatical news. Although my reading list of weighty theological tomes is as long as your arm, I'm enjoying getting back to some study and organising my own thoughts about the amazing character of Jesus.

On Monday though I'm taking a break from study. I'm off to the Christian Healing Centre at Harnhill for a week of healing ministry. Please pray for me as I seek to go to a new level with this.

Finally I wrote a couple of articles in "thought for the day" style for the local press just before I went on sabbatical and I hope you might like to see them - see posts below.

God bless you, keep on praying and loving one another!

Theory of Everything…

Three people are standing by the railway line as the London to Brighton train hurtles past, discussing what makes it go.

 The first one says, "I'm a physicist. When a magnet moves through an electric coil a powerful force is generated. This can be harnessed to turn a wheel. That is why the train goes to Brighton. It's just physics."

 The second one says, "Well I'm an economist. There would be no trains to Brighton if there wasn't a strong tourist industry there. Obviously it's market forces that make the train go."

 The third one says, "Yes, but why should there be a tourist industry in Brighton in the first place? As a biologist I know that people evolved as opportunistic feeders driven to exploit new environments - such as the seaside. It's deep human drives that drive the train…"

 Who's right? I'll leave that to you, but I know who's wrong. It's the one who says, "Only my explanation will do. Other explanations don't fit my rules – so they don't count." Such a person shuts out the full experience of the reality before them. Instead of helping them come to terms with reality, their explanation closes life down.

 One of the many things I love about trusting in God is that it allows me to be fully open to life. God is beautiful, God is love, He is the rational Creator of everything. So I can be inspired by the beauty all around me, I can try to live a just and loving life, I can use my reason to study the universe, not on the basis of fractured and partial views of reality, but in relationship with the One.

Scientists are trying to put together a theory of everything. They are doing this because a theory that explains lots of things is unquestionably more powerful than a theory that only explains a few things. The trouble is that the physicists' "everything" is limited to physicists' things: mass, electro-magnetism, nuclear and chemical forces. What about beauty? What about ethics? What about consciousness? What about love?

A theory that explains lots of things is more powerful… Such a theory has been alongside us for millennia (among others, belief in God also inspired all the great pioneering scientists – check out their biographies). It's more than time that we dusted this theory off and took a fresh look.

Athens sneezes, Berlin catches cold, the Euro is rushed to hospital and suddenly the world economy is on the brink. And now we're all asking, "What will happen to my job? Will my kids ever find employment? What about my savings? Is my money safe in that bank…?"

 It's a great irony that the very soul of our materialistic culture is nothing more solid than an idea. After all, you can't eat gold if you're hungry. You can't get warm with silver – though I suppose if you had enough paper money to keep a fire going you might be all right. Money only works because we all agree to believe in it. It is no more than a promise. As that bank note in your pocket says, "I promise to pay the bearer on demand…"

 So what follows when people stop keeping that promise? That's what is happening in the news right now. If Greek banks don't back up their promise to pay what they owe… If a corrupt world slides into massive, unpayable debt… if speculators invent sub prime  investments to con a gullible public… if the greedy award themselves telephone number salaries while fleecing everyone else… Well, money itself is undermined. People don't trust the promise any more.

 So beneath one abstract idea, money, there is another, more fundamental idea, which is the only thing that can make money work. Integrity. Without integrity the whole system falls down. Where oh where can we find people who will keep their promises, who are driven by concern for others instead of exploitation, who turn away from cheating and corruption?

Trust, integrity, honesty… Christian values arising from a God who is trustworthy. Without them the whole system starts to look like a house of cards. Or as Jesus puts it, "Don't set your heart on treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and thieves break in and steal. Set your heart on treasures above…" Where's your treasure today? In the faithless promises of bankers? or in the promises of God?

Anyway, next time you meet someone who says they only believe in things they can see and touch, find out if they really mean it. Point out that their money is no more than an idea and tell them to hand it all over. I think I know what the answer will be…

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Not much to report as far as the sabbatical is concerned so far. Since 1 June I've been down to my brother's 50th birthday party, watched a lot of Diamond Jubilee telly (as is my duty since the Queen is Governor fo the Church of England) and caught up on some much needed rest. Because it was really busy just before I went off, with Radiance, the confirmation and everything.

Wasn't that confirmation special? We had a barbecue for our 6 newly confirmed people and their families, and everyone was still glowing! It was a wonderful evening of worship, witness and commitment. And as for Leanne's testimony - you really put us through the wringer Leanne. Sorrow, joy, pain and love all mingled together, just like the Gospel. Thank you! Huge thanks too to the Church Hill Praise Band, the technical team and the office because we couldn't have begum to do it without you.

What about Radiance? Not all the feedback on the poets was positive because not everyone likes poetry. But a quite a few people said they enjoyed my piece called Living Water, so it's copied out below. Others said they would like to order our book Five Squared. Well you can find it on www.Lulu.com: go to buy, then type in Five Squared in the text box. It's £12.50 + p&p. Enjoy!

Anyway sabbatical things start seriously soon. Off to Queen's College in Birmingham on Thursday for some induction, then a week at Harnhill near Cirencester to learn more about healing...

Living Water

Little bottle at my elbow,

can it be that you have shared

in the world-encircling surf and surge,

that you threw yourself on the shore

to break cliffs and drown cities

that you danced with the moon your lover

and beat with the steady breathing of the earth,

that you were home to shark and sponge

and Beryl in a bikini?

O can it be that the sun your father

warmed you and called you higher,

that your brother the wind chased you

rapturously round the skies

to make diamonds together, swifter

than Superman and more gaudy?

Did you invent a billion new shapes

as you drifted over the mountains

and hardened into the monsters that grind them away?

Or did you fall as swift rain

that quickens the earth and spurns it

as you spurted through its valleys

to surge in the seas again?

How can it be that we caught you

and moulded you to our plastic will?

That you wait, servant-like,

in the shape we assigned you

until the time comes to pour forth again?

If it be that I may taste of so holy a thing,

then may the tide of the universe in you

flow through this body

and live in every cell.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

As most of you know, I'm off on sabbatical from 1 June. Among other things I will be writing up some thoughts on the Gospels at Queen's College Birmingham, going on a healing retreat in the Cotswolds, spending three weeks in Israel and taking time to seek fresh vision and direction from the Lord.

 I hope to update you on my progress via this blog. I can't promise to do it every day, but please log on and check up on me from time to time.

 I'm afraid I will not be available for church business at all until 1 September. All my e-mails and letters are being redirected. Please contact the office, the wardens or Liz as appropriate. Please be considerate with Liz, it's a lot of responsibility to handle on your own so do think twice before adding to her burdens. I don't want to came back and find her worn out, fed up or having a nervous breakdown!

 St Matthew's seems in a good place at the moment with lots of lovely things happening and an encouraging atmosphere. God is at work! I know I am leaving you all in good hands. God bless you and have a great summer! Don't forget to pray for me.

Friday 13 April 2012

What a fabulous Easter! We had some great events like the concert, the Great Cross Bun Hunt, the Passover Meal... Come Easter Sunday morning, St Matthew's was rammed! And what an atmosphere! It was a really joyful encounter with the risen Lord. Thank you everyone who made it possible and everyone who took part. You are wonderful!

Sunday 8 April 2012

Easter 2012
Talk at St Matthew's 6.30pm on Easter

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. We saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem and taking over. He's the King. Jerusalem is the city of King David and the crowds acclaim Jesus as David's heir. Then we saw Jesus striding into the Temple, chucking out all the stuff He didn't like, and taking over the teaching ministry. He is the High Priest of that Temple.

In the same way this Easter Sunday we see Jesus going to the tomb, the darkness of death – and taking over! He's not having it any more! He is saying to death, "Your reign is over! I may let you exist a bit longer, but you are not in charge any more. I'm the boss here now." King of Jerusalem – High Priest of the Temple – Lord even of death.
That Palm Sunday was a day of great rejoicing – because Jesus had come to Jerusalem to be their King. So here are four reasons to be joyful this Easter Sunday:

·         Death is not the end. We are no longer lost in an aimless wandering! Our life is no longer random! We are on a journey to the heart of God, that's our destiny, and because of Easter Sunday, nothing whatsoever, not even death, is going to stand in our way. So we can live lives of passion, commitment, purpose. Eternal life starts now and changes us now in the presence of the Risen One! So be joyful!

·         You can get through any darkness – consider Mary. The risen Jesus knows you personally and says your name as He said hers. I don't know what you are going through… I know all this talk about joy will seem really glib to some people here – "how dare you tell me that my sorrows are so easily left behind…" All I can say is – the Cross. Jesus gave it everything. This is not a cheap victory. But it is still a great victory. So be joyful!

·         You can face any challenge – consider the disciples. They were terrified. The same unholy alliance of Romans and religious leaders that murdered Jesus are after them now. They are cowering behind locked doors. But God gives them a job! Go and tell everyone the news that Jesus has just been killed for. They can meet this challenge because Jesus is with them. Life is an adventure with the risen Lord! So be joyful!

·         You will have peace. The first words of the risen Jesus in next bit of John – "peace be with you." All those things that destroy our peace – anxiety, fear, insecurity, worry – we can picture in the tomb of Jesus. After all, one day we'll be dead and we'll have done all that worrying for nothing. So leave it there in the tomb and concentrate on living! So be joyful!
4 Challenges:

1.       You need this resurrection power in your life now! Don't miss it! You have to respond personally to Jesus like Mary did.

2.       You can't get it without first coming to the Cross. It's all part of the deal. "If you will not bear the cross you can't wear a crown." Through repentance at the foot of the Cross we come to the place of resurrection.

3.       There will be challenges – but you can face them because He is beside you. There will be stuff you have to let go of, because they are not what He wants for you.

4.       You will have to share it. Jesus is not just risen in your heart, He has risen in the hearts of your brothers and sisters too – "Go tell my brothers!" said Jesus to Mary. And if he hasn't risen in their hearts yet, He wants to be!
And you can meet those challenges, you can do that sharing, you can come to the Cross – because Jesus is alive! Happy Easter!


I wonder what comes into your mind when you hear the word "spirituality."

For some people it's got to be exotic, like Native American rituals or the Maharishi. Others turn to New Age mysticism - ley lines, crystals and all that. Still others find spirituality in communing with nature. And a great number experience it through the arts – beautiful images, ancient architecture, powerful music… What is this longing that seems to call out to us with so many varied voices, this beauty that flashes unexpectedly across our lives, this hunger that cannot be sated with food and shelter and material comforts?

In Christian thought it arises from our relationship with God. A very wise Christian sage said, "Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee." Although our relationship with God has become marred, He still speaks to us in the beauty of His world and in the restless longings of our hearts.

It's odd then that many people don't really associate spirituality with Christianity. Before I became a Christian, church was the last place I expected to meet with God. I assumed it was all about sad people doing boring, wordy rituals. How amazed I was to discover the things the Bible actually teaches about spirituality. The Holy Spirit is portrayed in a multiplicity of ways: a river of living water, a rushing wind, a raging fire, an outpouring of love, the quiet breathing of God Himself… All we have to do to be refreshed by that river, to sail on that wind, to be warmed by that fire, is to make a connection with God in the way He has provided, through Jesus His Son.

Anyway, St Matthew's is privileged this year to be hosting Radiance, a festival of Christian spirituality. There's time to explore the extraordinary depth of Christian spiritual experience, workshops looking at a wide range of spiritual disciplines, and contemporary encounters with the living God through art, music, prayer soaking and poetry. It's all happening on Saturday 26 May 10am-4pm at St Matthew's Church, in St Matthew's Centre and all over Church Hill.

So you don't have to go to Katmandu or Uluru! You can discover the spiritual treasures of our shared Christian heritage right here in Walsall!

Saturday 26 May 10am-4pm
St Matthew's, Church Hill WS1 3DG
admission £5

Thursday 29 March 2012

Here's my Rector's report for the AGM 2012:

Rector's Report 2012

Annual Parochial Church Meeting 2012

Plusses - It's been an exciting year with many great highlights!  Here are just a few:

St Matthew's is visibly growing. I know there are more people at our ten o'clock services because Liz and I have to consecrate bread and wine for them all! It's been encouraging that so many families and children are part of that growth. I hope you are as inspired as I am to see all the kids come flocking forward when it's time for our Children's Church Spot.

In no small part this is due to Liz Burley's brilliant work. Messy Church and Blue Coat children's clubs have been hugely enjoyable (see Liz's own report), but best of all was the amazing (and exhausting) Holiday Club last summer. We are building up momentum! People who have enjoyed Messiness in all its forms are trying out things like the Crib Service, Mothering Sunday, Alpha…

Our growth has been in quality as well as quantity: there is an atmosphere among us combining awe in God's presence, joyful expectation and love for one another which bodes well for the future. We have launched our year of discipleship and people are clearly up for the challenge, if your responses to the Lent course and sermon series are anything to go by.

Youth is another growth area. Lee – what can I say? He's a one-off, isn't he? Thanks to Lee we've seen Youth Church start up on Sunday mornings and lots of engagement with Blue Coat students. Urban Spirit is really taking off following the changes made last year. The Faithworks Team has also been running a Night Café and are now attracting 40 or so completely unchurched kids on Friday evenings to the St Matthew's Centre.

The Centre itself has held up remarkably well financially in these recessionary times. Adrian has put in a brilliant performance in managing and marketing. Its finances, and those of the church as a whole, have done much better than I expected in this climate. Huge thanks to all of you who give so generously and enable it all to happen.

Minuses – Of course there have also been some problem areas:

We have lost some highly valued members who have died or become too frail to get to church. Although it's not easy to pick out individuals, we greatly regret the passing of Martin Barker who has done so much for us with so much enthusiasm. And we need to keep praying for our former warden Margaret Eddowes.

The theft of two lots of lead from the church roof followed by copper from the Centre roof has cost huge amounts of time and effort from people who are already stretched - not to mention money! It was a blow to be refused a grant from English Heritage to help us with the roof. This led to the stalling of the whole re-ordering project while we tried to sort out where that left us. The governance of Blue Coat is still in a temporary structure and we need to use what influence we can to make sure our links with the school are developed. And we still have too much of the work of running the church left to too few people.
The Future!

The Truscott report is going to be a major part of our future. We need to overhaul our structures and communications so that we can direct our talents and energy to bringing in the kingdom of God, not just to sorting out crises. I'll be talking about this from Acts 6 on AGM Sunday, looking at how the early church really grew when the leaders were able to delegate management tasks and focus on vision, prayer and teaching. We have an excellent Task Force who are making a great start on implementing the report.

I think we'll see a growing sense of engagement with God and personal spiritual progress as we continue working through our Year of Discipleship. I'm particularly looking forward to the Weekend Away in October. I think it will be a milestone for many of us. We will also need to give disciples real responsibility if they are to mature, so we must aim to grow leaders during the year ahead.

Progress on re-ordering this year will depend on whether we can attract a grant from English Heritage this time around. Please keep this in your prayers!

Further ahead, we must look outwards and seek fresh vision how to be the Borough Church that has a ministry to Walsall as a whole. We need to make sure that our mission is properly resourced and funded: the growth we are seeing isn't there by accident, it's there because we have invested in it, through the Centre, through the Family and Children's Worker and through Lee. Some of their funding will be coming off stream soon – let's make sure we channel in new funds to support growth. This means we will have to learn the art of visionary budgeting! What we must not do is to shrink because we don't believe in what we are doing enough to pay for it properly.

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is moving at St Matthew's. Brothers and sisters, let's ask God for more and let's prepare to grow! God bless you in the 12 months ahead, and God bless St Matthew's and continue to build us up.

With love in Christ,


Saturday 11 February 2012

Encouragements from God

We had a great meeting with the Home Group Leaders last week. It was one of those prayer times when God seems so near you could almost reach out and touch Him. We pictured ourselves in prayer standing on the hill top outside St Matt's looking out over Walsall with some words from the Moving On course: This is our mountain top (St Matthew's), and this (Walsall) is our Galilee. At the end I asked if anyone had received any words from God and here are three:

·       We were standing at the west end of the church, outside on the path looking over  Walsall.   Jesus was standing at the back of the group, also looking out. Then he somehow turned to us all and started talking to us, like friends .... (or a group of budding disciples?) He also made a sweeping gesture over the town with his arm, as if to say "all this is out there...."

·       "Follow me, keep going forward, this is the path, straight ahead, do not look back. We must honour the past but not get stuck in it." As the Lord said to Joshua, "Be strong and very courageous" 

·       Come follow me! (down into the town among the people where Jesus wants to lead us): men of faith, rise up! Rise up church with broken wings!

We also had a great Prayer Hour this morning. Nine people is the most we've had for ages. God is up to something when He calls His people to pray! Yet another person had an encouraging picture as we prayed about all the problems we are having with our church building and environs. "There was a great glow in church as we were all worshipping. It emanated out through the walls and shone around St Matthew's like a force field."
Ranting on

I don't often go off on a rant, but could not restrain myself with this one...

A court has now given its verdict that is illegal for local Councils to say prayers at their meetings. The action was brought by the National Secular Society after a councillor in Bideford proclaimed that prayer offended him. It wasn't good enough for him to stare out the window or politely excuse himself. Oh no, it discriminates against his sensitive soul. In agreeing with the National Secular Society the judge has taken the view that religion has no public place in British life.  

Readers please note that this sets a legal precedent which can now be used to ban prayer anywhere – schools, hospitals, opening ceremonies, carol singing and Parliament as well as all Councils. I am personally outraged because I led prayers at Walsall Council when I was Mayor's Chaplain to Cllr Gary Clarke in 2010-11, as has been done for hundreds of years. But I also have three very good reasons for saying that this is wrong, wrong, wrong!

1. It is totally unBritish. Live and let live is the national motto, never mind Dieu et mon droit (which as well as being French has God in it, so there's another one that will have to go). There are nasty, intolerant people at work in this case and they are the secularists. To these bigots tolerance has come to mean the suppression of every distinctive opinion in case someone gets offended – but that's actually intolerance! In my book tolerance means respect for those with whom we disagree.

2. It cuts us off from our roots. We are not a secular society. The roots of our way of life all come from our Christian heritage. You don't have to look very far into the history of education, health care and social welfare in this country to find that it's the Church that started it all as an expression of Gospel values. We in Walsall should know that, because of the brilliant example of Sister Dora. She brought health care to the masses in our town because of her passionate Christian faith. Secularism seeks to destroy this heritage.

3. It is out of keeping with the times. Our society is in freefall because its foundation of shared Christian values has been eroded. When we look at marriage, the banks, the greed of rip-off Britain, teen pregnancy, rising rates of self-harm, stress-related disease, drug and alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour it is clear that we are in deep trouble! We desperately need to hang on to our values! Let's not chuck them away to please these intellectual fascists.

Secularism banishes all ideas of absolute right or wrong. There can be no ultimate meaning or purpose to our lives and no accountability to or succour from a higher being. These chilling beliefs corrode the soul and undermine society. They have come in because we have let them. We have done nothing to stand up and be counted. Let's do it now before it is too late. We are already careering down the slippery slope.

I think I'll sit down now and have a nice calming cup of tea…

Friday 27 January 2012

This article should appear in next week's advertiser. Let me know what you think of it.


What were your highlights of 2011? For me, it was the fabulous children's events up at St Matthew's. We had an amazing holiday club with 75 kids noisily enjoying themselves… fabulous fun at Messy Church… joyful celebrations at Blue Coat Sunday… deeply touching nativity plays… our kids are funny, inspiring and full of life.

Yet as adults there is something poignant in the happiness of children. As we get older we discover how much pain relationships can bring. People let us down… people we care about suffer… people die and leave us grieving… We fear for our children because one day they too will be cast out of the garden of innocence. We wish we could protect them from the bittersweet fruit of this knowledge.

Jesus said some odd things about happiness. You can find them in the Sermon on the Mount. They're often written as "Blessed are the poor in spirit" etc, but in the original language He just meant "happy". So – "Happy are those who mourn"? "Happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice"? "Happy are you when people give you a hard time?" So you're happy when you're not happy? What is He saying?

It doesn't make sense without God. Those who mourn can be happy because God can bring comfort: He brought life out of death in the resurrection of Jesus. He can fill us when we are empty and accept us when others reject. This is happiness stronger than sorrow, stronger than death. When everything else goes, God's love is still there for us.

It's all about relationships. In Jesus, God heals our relationship with Him, so that the love can flow once more. Perhaps "Blessed" is better after all: we can be happy, not because we find happiness in this or that, but because God blesses us.

Happiness… We're all searching for it. Sometimes it seems ever further away in today's society. Material things, success, celebrity culture – they are not enough to satisfy our souls. May you find the happiness you are searching for in 2012. Keep looking and don't give up! It's out there. But I suspect you're more likely to find it when you look in the place God put it – in Jesus His Son.

Happy New Year from everyone at St Matthew's!

Sunday 8 January 2012

Message for 2012

 Dear member of St Matthew's

Jesus never told us to Go and make converts of every nation – good as it is to be a convert. He didn't say Go and make churchgoers, nor Go and make Christians – though it's good to be a Christian and a churchgoer too. No, Jesus said, Go and make disciples.

But what is a disciple? They weren't unique to Jesus. In the Bible, John the Baptist also had disciples, for example. So did other distinguished Jewish teachers, or rabbis. And so did the philosophers of the Greek-speaking civilisation of Jesus' day. These disciples all sought, not merely to hear what their teachers had to say, but to learn how they lived. Above all they wanted to be like their teachers because their teachers' wisdom should be earthed in the way they lived from day to day. For this reason disciples would follow their teachers everywhere – according to some sources, even to the loo and under the marriage bed! They did this so they could copy the ones they followed and grow to be more like them.

So a disciple is someone who tries to spend as much time as possible with their master, in order to learn from their master how to grow to be more like their master. What a great ambition for a Christian – to grow to be more like our Master, Jesus! Did you know that is God's plan for you? According to Romans 8:29, God has "predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son."

That is why I want 2012 to be a Year of Discipleship for St Matthew's. We have quite a few new people in church. What are we doing to help them grow to be more like Jesus? Have we got more to offer them than forever recycling them back to Alpha? Are there people who've been around a bit longer and who perhaps have lowered their expectations and stopped growing? Unless the church is making disciples then it is not doing what Jesus told us to do.

 Here are a few things currently in the pipeline for our discipleship agenda:

·         we're running with the theme of discipleship in our January teaching programme.

·         there's a gifts course over two evenings on 25 Jan and 1 Feb. This will help you discover what gifts God has given you and what He is calling you to do in His service – a key part of being a disciple.

·         our Lent course, Moving On, runs on Wednesdays from 29 Feb to 4 April and is designed to help us with first steps in discipleship.

·         in October we have weekend away together booked. This will be a great time of fun and friendship and also help us with our spiritual growth as disciples.

·         Join a home group or cell group – this is where we can support and encourage each other in the nitty gritty of living out a Jesus lifestyle.

Discipleship isn't just about hard work and duty. Let's enjoy getting to know Jesus better, let's learn together through our mistakes and weaknesses, just as Peter and the other disciples did in the Bible. Let's be new, different  people at the end of 2012 compared to what we are now at its beginning. There's an adventure in store for us!

With my love and prayers for the coming year,


Permission granted!

St Matthew's seems to have quite a buzz about it at the moment. Here's why I am in good heart as we stand at the start of 2012, wondering what may lie ahead:

·         Things are really taking off with our families and children! Liz Burley our new worker launched Messy Church just over a year ago, loads of people are coming and there's always a great atmosphere. Children's Church is growing on Sunday mornings and we had an amazing holiday club last summer (another to follow this year).

·         We now have a youth worker, Lee, for the first time for years. Lee has launched Youth Church on Sunday mornings and has got involved with Blue Coat school. He has linked up with the Faithworks team who are working with young people across Walsall. The new night café is attracting 30 or so young people with no church roots to the St Matthew's Centre every Friday night and is still growing.

·         The young people of Church Hill Praise continue to inspire me with their fire and passion! They fill me with hope for the future.

·         We've had a great Alpha Course with over 40 participants, thanks in no small measure to our curate Liz, who organised it. She has been breath of fresh air.

·         St Matthew's Centre is booming under the leadership of manager Adrian Perks. There seem to be more and more community users in there all the time (and even two or three other churches who hire our premises)

·         Our Asian congregation are in good heart too – their local radio broadcasts are great!

·         I particularly feel this when I see our members supporting , helping and caring for each other because then I know that the Gospel is being lived out among us.

So I think, by the grace of God, we are an inspiring community to belong to. The question that bothers me is, what holds others back from joining in? It has surprised me to discover that many people feel they need permission to come to church. Several times lately I have been asked, "am I allowed to come to church?" Sometimes it's because the building seems so imposing, sometimes because people don't know what goes on in there and are worried they won't fit in, sometimes because they weren't baptised, sometimes because a vicar has been unhelpful or even rude to them in the past… But whatever the reason, it's not good enough. Because the heart of the Gospel is that Jesus welcomes everyone – especially sinners. He said, "Whoever comes to me, I will never send away" (John 6:37). So you are all allowed, by express permission of the King of kings!

Why not give St Matt's a try in 2012?