Tag Archives: UMC


I mentioned yesterday that I had the gift of a sabbatical earlier this year. As part of it Joy, my wife, and I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

One reason was to meet a man I had only ever known on social media. Dean (pictured) had for 17 years been a champion of the hymns I write. As the head of worship for the United Methodist Church in the US he had put them on their website and helped get two of them into a church hymnbook.

Version 3Three years ago, I had been due to speak at a hymnwriters’ conference in the US but was unwell and had to cancel so this trip was our first opportunity to finally meet.

He was a generous tour guide, taking us around Nashville in his car and introducing us to his city, even though he was struggling with a heavy cold. Then, on the last day he insisted on taking us to our airport hotel and inviting us to share a family meal to celebrate his father’s 98th birthday.

Although we had never met, there was something precious about being part of the worldwide family of 80 million Methodists while we were in Nashville.

In the Bible, when Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission tour, telling them that wherever they went they should learn to be good guests: to accept the hospitality people offered, eat whatever food was set before them and learn to be comfortable in unusual places.

Dean’s welcome certainly made Nashville a good place to be and made me reflect on how I could be a better host to those I encounter.


Manchester: When the waves are crashing

Reflecting on the events in Manchester, it seemed that a Blues piece may be an appropriate response.

How should we be when everything we cling to is shaken? What do we cling to when all our certainties are under threat? What about when even our faith feels shaky? If we can’t hold on our only hope is that Jesus will hold us.

This hymn When the waves are crashing is in the United Methodist Church’s Worship & Song hymnal with a tune written by Jackson Henry. It was a great delight last week when Jackson and I managed to meet up in Nashville for the first time.

Waves crashing

‘Be on guard … be alert … and pray’

I rarely reproduce my sermons on here but I had so many positive responses to yesterday’s message that I felt I would. It was based on the Lectionary Gospel lesson for the day.

These are notes, rather than a full text and in places I deviated, so it may read in a stilted style here and there.

Luke 21:25-36
Jesus is talking to the disciples about Signs of the End of the Age and The Coming of the Son of Man
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29 He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Exhortation to Watch
34 ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’

‘Be on guard … be alert … and pray’
When our children Sian and Andrew were young – about 7 and 5 – we took them for a day plane spotting at Heathrow. In those days you could go to a viewing platform and spend a long time just watching the air traffic arriving and leaving.

We arrived to find dozens of people with banners all waiting for Michael Jackson to arrive. The camera crews were filming lookalikes, interviewing superfans and waiting for the moment when – sure enough – Jackson paused before driving away and looked up to the viewing platform and waved to the fans who screamed at the top of their voices as the moment they had been waiting for arrived.

They had arrived prepared and waiting for this moment. We were completely unprepared – taken totally by surprise.

Today’s Gospel reading is a reminder that we are waiting for something.

As Luke puts it: Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.

It’s particularly interesting now that Advent is timed to follow on after the added chaos of Black Friday, or as the signs in Romsey yesterday said “Black Friday weekend”!

It’s imported from America and the irony is that it’s a shopping frenzy initiated there on the day after everyone pauses to give thanks – supposedly to God. On Tuesday, as a counter to Black Friday, UMC supports Giving Tuesday, encouraging people to give to charities.
Supporters are urged to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

In 2014, more than $2.5 million was donated by US Methodists on #GivingTuesday. More than 770 projects and missionaries received more than 8,700 gifts. It was a global event, with people in 25 countries taking part.

For those who will listen, the first Sunday in Advent becomes a more crucial moment in every year – a theological pause before we get too engrossed in tinsel and turkey.

Each year the Lectionary refuses to let us dive straight into all the stuff of birth stories and instead focuses our attentions on the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew, the readings focus on the unpredictable timing of Christ’s return. Mark adds that all of nature will be in an uproar. Luke has all of this, plus the disturbance of the nations.

Every year, this week is specifically a reminder that our hope is in Christ. Much more appropriately this year, as we seem to be yet again in a period of history devoid of hope for so many people, you and I are the carriers of a message of great hope.

We don’t have to have many conversations to know that a number of people have given up all hope. How does Luke put it? “on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world”.

What is our message of hope? Well Fred Craddock in his commentary on Luke says it is important to understand how to read this section of the Gospel, written in a style called apocalyptic which means revelation, not doom-laden as popular culture so often understands it.

1    The coming of the Son of Man (vv25-28)
Jesus is telling people to be ready – to be prepared for the Second Coming. Of course the early disciples lived in the expectation that this would be almost immediate. Sadly we know that nations have been in anguish in almost every year of human history – but we still need to be ready.

2    The lesson of the fig tree (vv29-33)
The parable of the fig tree is a reminder to us that we need to have our spiritual antennae tuned to signals of where God is active – where the Kingdom of God is changing lives for the better; where we must join in.

3    Watch and pray at all times
Jesus stresses that the last thing the people of God must do is get weighed down by the pressures and anxieties of life. Watch and pray, watch and pray so that when Christ returns we are ready.

Fred Craddock says in his commentary that we need to understand that, in apocalyptic writing, the most crucial element is left to the end: so watch and pray at all times is Jesus’ urgent challenge.

We mustn’t minimise the weight of the news stories we hear each day but we mustn’t sink under them either. Every generation has faced moments that they believed signalled the end of Life as we know it – and some more imminent than we hear talked about today.

In each of those times, the Gospel call has been the same.

Watch and pray.

Share Jesus.

Be a people of Grace in a frequently grace-less world.

Stories of celebration and struggle


Yesterday was a day of contrasts at the Extended Cabinets meeting of the European Methodist churches here in Braunfels, Germany (pictured above).

We three Brits presented our Fresh Expressions material, which generated a remarkable number of conversations over meals and in snatched conversations. In truth, we’d been talking to people since we arrived on Sunday because the level of curiosity is really high about how to answer decline in inherited church. But of course the position in a number of countries is so different to Britain (more on that later).

In the afternoon I got my first bit of fresh air in more than 48 hours as most of us walked into Braunfels, the small town where the German Methodist church owns the retreat centre we are staying in. The chapel in the centre is also the town’s Methodist Church so we were juggling our use with a youth group last night.


  • Pictured: a Fresh Expression of outreach? Fresh Expressions missioner Stephen Lindridge in the stock at Schloss Braunfels

The walk was another chance to talk to people about their life as pastors. In many ways we share the same dreams: to see a confident Methodism reaching out as a Discipleship Movement Shaped for Mission.

But, for example, it’s a lonely business enthusing the saints for the work of ministry when you are a minister in Finland, your nearest colleague is 160km away and you only meet other Methodist leaders twice a year. At the same time you harbour dreams of spending half your year working as a Fresh Expression missioner to Hells Angels/Bandidos and the thousands of other Harley riders in Finland, but have no way of seeing where the money is coming from.

Nonetheless, the enthusiasm for new ways of being church is plain to see and the common understanding of being connected not just by our faith in Christ but also be the worldwide family of Methodism is so strong.

Within moments of arriving here on Sunday I was being thanked for the financial support that the Methodist Church in Britain had given leaders in Siberia and other parts of the former Soviet Union to visit Oxford. I had nothing to do with it, but I represented a church that had enabled these pastors to learn.

In return, I have been humbled by hearing how people with virtually no money or other resources are so passionate about sharing Jesus with their communities. It’s not without it hardships.

While we heard about the birth of a new Methodist church in Romania, with liturgies in their own language written just this year, we also heard about the Methodist Church in Hungary’s struggle to be recognised by the government. It is now the only member of the Council of European Churches that isn’t recognised in its own country.

It used to be but, following the collapse of Communism, the new government decided to “rationalise” the number of official churches – a euphemism for reduce – and cut the number to a level which excluded the Methodists, who are now just an association. There’s a chink of light that when the law comes into force in January they may be able to get a reversal of the ruling but not huge confidence.

Celebrations in some places, struggles in others … and all the time wrestling with how to be faithful followers of Jesus.