That the world may belong …

It’s Resurrection Day, the morning we celebrate the fact that the tomb was empty. Despite all the attempts of the authorities to silence Jesus and his message of overwhelming love and hope, he had broken death’s stronghold.

On Easter morning hope was reborn. As first light dawned it became clear that darkness would not have the final word and the cross – that foul instrument of torture – became a symbol of rebirth.

Here is a hymn that reminds us of all the ways the cross still stands to call the Church to action in the world for the good of others.

It is sung to the tune for Great is thy Faithfulness.

God of our sunrise and light of the morning,
dawn on our worship, renew us today.
Come by your Spirit and fill with your passion,
set us on fire with the Gospel we pray.
 
Chorus
We are your people, the Church you have chosen.
We are a gift to the weak and the strong.
We are the shape of your love for all people.
Help us to live that the world may belong.
 
Jesus your cross is the hope of the hopeless,
guide of the blind and the staff of the lame.
Here, as the nations are grieving and limping,
Give us compassion to live for your name.
 
Jesus your cross is the world’s consolation,
object of pain yet the strength of the weak.
Here, as we struggle for peace and for meaning
Jesus we ask for your courage to speak.
 
Jesus your cross is the birthplace of justice,
cloth for the naked, refreshment for thirst.
Here, as we seek ways to live out the Gospel,
May we repent of our need to be first.
 
Jesus your cross is the mystery that beckons:
drawing us close till we see face to face,
sharing your love with the world in its turmoil,
blessing with your uncontrollable grace.
Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

All change

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a strange place to be: at home in the manse surrounded by the normal things of ministry, not sick, not on holiday but not working.

I’m beginning a Sabbatical, not unique among Methodist ministers but still rare enough that people get confused about it and wonder if I’ve been send to the subs’ bench or the naughty step.

Others of course smile broadly and declare: “Three months holiday, eh! It’s all right for some.”

Well, there’s some rest time, of course. There is also some work-related activity and we are encouraged to do something that stretches us spiritually. Sabbaticals are a gift from the Church to refresh and reinvigorate our ministries.

I’ll be working on my hymn-writing and we’ll make a couple of trips including one overseas visit that I’m really excited about, but mostly it’s about being quiet and trying to hear God.

That’s all change from the frenetic pressure of a diary and a helpful one too.

Change: One person at a time

Parliament terrace
The Thameside Terrace of the Houses of Parliament
In company with many, I passed under the scene of the attack on a tube train at the exact moment it was happening: entirely oblivious to the atrocity taking place above.
What is the proper response of people of faith? Surely not to display some kind of righteous, holy anger, but to find ways to reflect the grace of God in all aspects of our lives.

The recommended tune for singing these words to is Go Forth.

To God we come and lift our voices high;
 
children of hope, we sing his majesty!
 
Called to be faithful to the Lord of life
 
– to change the world, one person at a time.
 
In faith we build communities of Grace;
 
hold broken lives for God’s love to retrace.
 
Ours are the faces and the feet he’ll use
 
to change the world, one person at a time.
 
 
Our lives become a song of hope for all:
 
‘Jesus is Lord’ is now our clarion call!
 
God’s chosen people take it to the streets
 
to change the world, one person at a time.
 
 
Open the doors, let none be left inside:
 
send us to share with all who fear the light.
 
Praise God who calls his Church to dare to go
 
and change the world, one person at a time.
Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG http://www.songsolutions.org

On the radio: panto and Pontypool

Panto pioneering (Thursday)

Church leaders like me have to handle a number of different tasks, like public speaking, leading worship and organising events, but until I worked in one particular job I had no idea it included being the Wizard of Oz!

For a few years, I worked as a Pioneer Minister – doing church with people who don’t do church – in a community where there were no Methodist buildings. It meant I had to build links with the community through other means and so Joy and I decided to join the local panto group.

We’d spotted a poster advertising the start of rehearsals and nervously walked in one evening. We needn’t have worried. Instantly we were welcomed in, ‘adopted’ by a friendly group member and helped through our first visit. When we went for the second rehearsal we were greeted with a delighted: “you came back!”

We were part of the society for three years: performing in the chorus, playing in the band and, yes, I was the Wizard of Oz! There are even a couple of embarrassing photos on Facebook. Now, even though we don’t live in the area, we still keep in touch with people from the society and go back a couple of times a year.

I learned a huge amount from the panto gang about how churches can be better at welcoming and keeping people. We were simply accepted for who we were and what we could offer, encouraged to offer our best and challenged to grow. We were welcomed back every time and reminded about the core purpose – to play our part and get the show on stage.

Although only one of the company had any kind of church connection, a number began to refer to me as “our minister”. It felt as though I was doing my job too.

 

Pontypool rugby (Friday)

This time of the year is one of my favourites. It’s got nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the Six Nations Rugby tournament which this year is turning out to be one of the best in a long time.

I grew up in Pontypool in the Welsh Valleys, home to the Pontypool Front Row and a whole collection of Welsh internationals. In my teenage years we lived alongside our heroes and on more than one occasion I would travel to school with Terry Cobner, captain of Pontypool and a future Welsh skipper, sitting in the front seat of my Dad’s car.

My own rugby ability didn’t amount to much. The nearest I got was as understudy to Pontypool full-back Peter Lewis … but that was as an actor in our school production of Oliver!

Anyway, back to rugby. I’ve got my Welsh rugby jersey, hat and scarf – I’ve even got some Welsh cakes – and I know which of my Scottish friends I’ll be exchanging banter with on Facebook tomorrow morning before kick-off.

When Wales beat Scotland I will, of course, be generous in victory. Should the unthinkable happen … well, I’m not thinking of it!

Of course, at the end of each game someone chooses the Man of the Match, the player who outshines everyone else.

The Bible tells of how God used prophets and others to try to get his message of love across but in the end needed Jesus to come and demonstrate that love by teaching, healing and ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The salvation of the world needed someone to reflect God’s glory and bear the imprint of God’s character. It needed God’s Man of the Match, living alongside us: modelling heaven’s love on earth and defeating death for all.

Oh, Cymru am byth, by the way!

On the radio: music and medals

This week I’m doing the early morning Daily Thought on BBC Radio Solent’s breakfast show, hosted by Julian Clegg. Each day from Tuesday to Friday at about 6.50am I get 90 seconds to catch the listeners’ attention. Here are the first two.

Music in heaven (Tuesday morning)

It began to dawn on me recently that I really am getting old. Our oldest grandchild had a party for his 13th birthday and my job was to be the bouncer – not so much keeping people out as making sure that his friends were safely inside the hall.

Everything was fine and the evening was a great success. The pizzas went down well, the volume level was constantly at 11 and the music … well, the music was just unknown.

I used to pride myself on knowing my music. I’m still pretty handy with the Solent Secret Sound and do OK in music rounds if we’re at a quiz night … but I only knew two tunes during the entire evening and sadly, one of those was Gangnam Style.

It made me wonder about the music in heaven.

After all, the parade of composers and instrumentalists we have lost just in the last couple of years would give us an event to rival the greatest festival and it would go on for days. Just imagine Beethoven and Bowie comparing notes before going on stage with John Lennon and Nat King Cole.

I’m pretty sure God loves good music and I’m confident too that God doesn’t make the distinction we do between sacred and secular.

The oldest recorded book of songs is the Psalms. In Psalm 96 it says:

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

It’s a call to lift up your voice and sing – whatever is in your heart. That’s a good way to start the day. Just sing. Have a great day as part of the heavenly choir.

 

Missing out and why you shouldn’t (Wednesday morning)

For a number of years before becoming a church minister I worked in newspapers and spent some time as a sports writer in East London.

I used to talk to decathlon hero Daley Thompson every week at the point when he was winning Olympic and World titles. In the summer of 1978 I predicted in the paper that he would win gold at the Commonwealth Games in Canada and then went on holiday to Cornwall.

We stayed up into the early hours of the morning to watch Daley in action on a TV with dreadful reception – it was long before satellite TV – and saw through the fuzzy lines the prediction come true. The next day I read in the paper how Daley, as calm as ever, had received his gold medal, made a phone call and then spent the afternoon reading a book.

When I got back to work after the holiday my editor called me across and said: “You had a phone call while you were away. Daley Thompson rang from Canada with the exclusive story about his gold medal win but wouldn’t talk to anyone else.” I’d missed the biggest story of my career!

Now when Jesus was on the earth, he frequently reminded people that there was an opportunity they didn’t want to miss. The line he used was that the Kingdom of God was near at hand: the opportunity to live in a close relationship with God every day.

As a church leader, I’m glad that’s not an exclusive thing, but available to everyone. Knowing God’s presence in my life has helped me cope with difficulties and not get carried away when things go well.

Mind you, it doesn’t mean I remember everything – I need a diary for that!

Aberfan: a hymn in remembrance

disasterjpgThe next two weeks are full of difficult memories in our family. The name Aberfan has scarred the whole nation of Wales but for my wife’s family there is a deeply personal resonance as the 50th anniversary of the tragedy is marked on October 21.

My father-in-law, the Revd Irving Penberthy (pictured below), was the Methodist minister in Aberfan when the disaster happened. Many of the 50-strong Sunday School died and he spent days comforting families as they discovered what had happened.

His immediate job was to go with them into the makeshift morgue and be with parents as they found their children. Then, as the village discovered how to live again, he rallied the community to build a community centre, to sing together, to learn how to laugh once more, to rediscover faith.

dad-at-aberfandad

He now lives in Devon and is the only surviving minister from that day. He has been interviewed by a number of media outlets including the BBC and we will be taking him to Aberfan to speak at one of the 50thanniversary memorial services.

Next Sunday, Radio 4’s Sunday Worship broadcast at 8.10am will feature a short interview with Dad. On the same day, All Things Considered on BBC Wales programme at 09.03 will also be about Aberfan.

The following week, October 23, BBC TV’s Songs of Praise will be about Aberfan and will feature Dad reflecting on his experiences 50 years ago.

He has also been interviewed by a reporter for Wales Online, covering the Western Mail and South Wales Echo, so it’s likely there will be some coverage in those papers too.

On October 21 the BBC are also broadcasting a live Daily Service at 9.45-1000 on Radio 4 long wave. The Revd Roy Jenkins will be presenting.

As part of the reflecting on  everything that happened, I have written the following hymn. It will be sung at the service where Dad will speak and is being sung at the start of the service on Radio 4 on October 16 and also will close the Songs of Praise broadcast on October 23. On that occasion it will be sung by Treorchy Male Choir.

 

The tune, as fits a Welsh reflection, is Dim ond Iesu (Here is love, vast as the ocean).

God who knows our darkest moments

meets us in our brokenness:

walks beside us as a whisper,

holds our pain in his caress.

God, who leads through shadowed valleys,

where death’s bleakness dims our sight,

speaks a peace beyond our knowing,

floods our anguish with his light.

 

Far beyond our grief’s horizon,

as Creation holds its breath:

Love Divine, revealed in Jesus,

tears apart the chains of death.

Servant son and humble healer,

by your cross and life laid down

you have carried all our suff’ring

and you wear the victor’s crown.

 

Lift us up, now, risen Saviour

to the place where mercy plays,

where our broken hopes and heartache

find their healing in your gaze.

This is love, that God has saved us!

This is love, that Christ has died!

We rejoice that love has conquered

and has drawn us to your side.

Copyright 2016 © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

Breadxit, Dave and George

“I say DC, is that you?”

“Of course it is, George, you rang my phone didn’t you?”

“Yes well sometimes one of those security chappies answers and I wanted to be sure it really was you.”

“I don’t have any security any more, more’s the pity. Only yesterday someone in Waitrose took the last bottle of organic full cream milk right from under Sam’s nose. A couple off months ago I could have had them deported. Now all I could do was sniff loudly.”

“Gosh DC, milk eh? How much did that cost?”

“Dunno Georgie. I think it’s about £15 a bottle. A bit like cheap Scotch.”

“Is it. Well I never.”

“No, I guess you didn’t. Anyway, what did you want? I’m very busy ironing the children’s sandwiches for school.”

“Oh yes. I’ve just heard some great news! Apparently Bake Off is leaving the BBC – that’s a TV station they tell me, a bit like Sky News but without Kay Burleigh.”

“And …?”

“Well, I was thinking, if you’re retiring from Parliament and those bounders in the boundaries whatsit are going to do away with my seat by the next election, we could do with a new challenge.”

“And you think we should become contestants on Bake Off?”

“No DC. This is my cunning plan. D’you like that phrase? I heard that on a history programme: Black-something. Anyway. I think we would be the ideal presenters of it!”

“Are you mad Georgie?”

“No listen DC. Apparently the two who do it now are this pair of comedy women – Mel and Sue. We could be ‘Call Me Dave’ and ‘Soggy Bottom George’.

“Soggy what?!?”

“Soggy bottom … it’s when …”

“Don’t even bother to explain George. Listen, I’m getting out of Parliament because I don’t want to be a distraction to the PM.”

“Oh, is that the real story? I thought that was just the news release from Number 10.”

‘Well it is really but I can’t tell them the actual reason.”

“Oh it’s not that again, is it DC? You haven’t! Tell me you didn’t!!”

“It’s OK George. I’ve got it under control. The therapist says it could be quite good for me.”

“When?”

“Week three. Simon’s really excited about it by all accounts.”

“Well he would be. It’ll be the first time a TV talent show’s featured an ex-Prime Minister dressed as Marilyn Monroe singing ‘I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts’.”

“Simon thinks I’m a natural.”

“Oh Lord.”

New hymn for a new circuit

Tomorrow we celebrate the launch of the new Winchester, Eastleigh & Romsey Methodist Circuit with a special service at Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church.

We’ve pulled together a band from the 16 churches for the occasion and we’ll be singing a new hymn I wrote to reflect what we hope will be a new unity across this part of Hampshire.

Please pray for us as we embark on this new adventure.

The words of the hymn are printed below. The tune is sine nomine which many congregations use with the traditional words For all the saints who from their labours rest.

We come as one, united by the call:

drawn to declare that Christ is Lord of all.

Clear in our purpose, firm in heart and voice:

the Church of Jesus singing hallelujah!

 

Praise be to God, who blesses us in Christ:

Son of the Godhead come to bear the price.

The empty tomb declares that Life has won

and calls the world to sing a hallelujah!

 

In Christ we know the riches of God’s grace:

Love freely given, Death has been displaced!

In him we have redemption through his blood

and so we join in singing hallelujah!

 

With one accord we lift our voices high,

as all Creation joins to glorify

the one great God who chose us for his own.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

… and I'm looking for the key