Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Day - he is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Message 

The biggest challenge is how to live with joy.

Across the world in every language, in churches, chapels and cathedrals – the shout will go up – Christ is risen. The whole body of Christ – the church – will declare that love has defeated hate, hope has danced on the grave of despair and life has overcome death. We will sing, some will dance, some will dress crosses and others will eat chocolate eggs (some of us will do all this and more!) – and at the heart of the celebration is the joy at the very centre of our faith. God does not abandon us, has not abandoned us and will not abandon us. The contrast with the bleak horror of Good Friday could not be greater – God’s good will for a newly created world has been made real.
What next? After the party, the singing, eating, dancing and wearing our Easter Sunday best, what do we do now? What does it mean to live as people of new life – to be those who live in the light of the knowledge of the resurrection? This is the challenge for us – the painful events of Holy Week are not where the biggest challenge lies – the biggest challenge is how to live with joy. How do we share good news, joyful news, and new-life news with a world that seems mesmerised by death? The cross we take up is to be bearers of joy to a world that is drawn to pain; to be bringers of glad tidings to a world that only notices disaster; to be hopeful where there is no hope. When the world thinks that the story is finished and all is done, we know things are only just beginning. How will you and your church be bearers of joy in your community and in the world? Do get in touch and let us know how you live as people of resurrection hope and have a very blessed and peaceful Easter.
Written as the London District Chairs' Easter Message

Friday, 14 April 2017

At The Foot of the Cross: Here is grace

Orlando: Good Friday.
Fused glass panel by Michaela Youngson
At Foot of the Cross

Here is Grace.

Here is grace, in all its humbling power – that love, so free and so creative, is willing to stoop so low, to ask so little, to give so much. And we look upon love’s face and find ourselves rooted to the spot. It would be so much more comfortable to deny, to hide, to run away – yet with the mothers and lovers and disciples and friends, we stay here. We look upon grace and we search our hearts, asking ourselves again ‘how can this be, that the creator of all, hangs, choosing helplessness, that I and all humanity might be loved this much?’

Here is grace, in our world where power warps the human heart, where the power-grabbers and status-hoarders will sacrifice anyone but themselves to cling on to wealth, false dignity and empty status. Here is one who lets go, who does not grab or cling or lord divinity above all others – here is one who empties himself of all power and pours love into the world. We live in a time where truth seems to be a fluid commodity and facts are cut, like cloth, to fit the desires of the story-teller. And before us hangs a person who offered truth, not fake news but good news – not for the comfortable but the poor, not for the complacent but for the passionate, not for the perfect but for those who know they need help, not for the holy but for those who long to be whole.

Here is grace, in the place where heaven reaches down and touches earth in blood-stained hands, where creation is embraced by arms outstretched, and the monarch wears a crown of thorns. All the accepted wisdom of the noblest and grandest, the student and the teacher is turned upside down, as all that to the world seems foolish, humiliating, hopeless is in fact the way to true wisdom. To be emptied of all ambition, is to be filled with all possibility; to let go of certainty is to ask new questions, to die to one’s self is to be made alive with the glory of God.

Here is grace, that love works to break down the barriers between the holy and the mundane. Love is active in freeing us from the fear of death, from the fear of hardly living at all. Love pays the price of releasing us from our limited perspectives and opening our minds and hearts to the fullness of God’s love.

Here is grace, Jesus Christ is love’s endeavour – the work of God. Jesus Christ is love’s expense – paying the personal price of loving without limit, that we might grasp a tiny insight into the enormity of God’s love for us and for all creation. So, we remain, watching the drama unfold. We remain, wondering at such grace, such love. We remain, here at the foot of the cross, because where else would love have us be?

Michaela Youngson, Good Friday 2017
Service of Reflection at Methodist Central Hall Westminster

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Women of the World Festival - Smashing the Stained Glass Ceiling

Opening Remarks to introduce discussion groups at the Women of the World Festival, taking place at the Royal Festival Hall, 12th March 2017

It’s good to be here and I feel privileged to be able to share a few thoughts with you on stained glass ceilings and the question of whether it’s possible to be religious and a feminist.

I’m a Christian and the bit of the Christian family I belong to is the Methodist Church. 45 years ago, following a long struggle, Methodists in the UK agreed that women could be ordained as presbyteral ministers. It was a huge step forward – all structural barriers to the equal participation of women in the life of the church and its ministry fell away – great news – those who disagreed licked their wounds and got on with adjusting to a new world order, meanwhile the activists sighed a huge sigh of relief – and if you listened carefully you could hear the tinkling of broken glass as the stained glass ceiling seemed to come tumbling down. A lot has changed since that momentous decision and yet…

Structural change – tick!
Cultural change – still a work in progress.

The majority of Methodist members are women and yet the leadership of the church remains predominantly male. I’m one of 33 District Chairs in the UK, only eight of us are women. Of the eight senior leaders in our Connexional Team, only two are women. The policy, strategic and financial committees of the church are majority male in their membership – one or two of our more pastoral committees have just over 50% women members.

But none of this is why I think it is alright to be a person of faith and a feminist. I believe my faith compels me to be a feminist!

In the story of creation – we are told that God created women and men in God’s image – equality, there at the outset – there when creation was whole, and complexity and diversity were taken for granted. Whatever we understand the myth of the fall of humanity to mean, our world faiths have in common the desire to move towards the peaceful co-existence of all God’s creatures. The prophets of old repeatedly called on their people to treat each other and the stranger with fairness, equity and respect and Amos echoed God’s desire in his words,
“let justice roll down like waters,
                  and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Further than this – central to my own faith is Jesus, who called us to love God and to love our neighbour – who came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, deliverance to the oppressed.

In the end, for me, the call to feminism is not really about how many women leaders there are in my church and it is not about whether I wear lipstick or how modestly I dress – it is about a response to the world in which I live.

A world where women do most of the work and receive a pittance in return – at the current rate it will take 70 years to close the global gender pay gap, in addition shouldering the bulk of unpaid care work limits women’s opportunities.

We live in a world where girls are forced into early marriage, trafficked for their labour and their bodies’; where prostitution is an inevitability and the market demands the commodification of our bodies.

Globally just 1 in 5 parliamentarians is a woman, and I shocked myself when I read that by thinking – ‘oh that’s not so bad!!’

Across the world one in three women will experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. I live in a country where women’s refuges are closing, not because we do not need them but because our political leaders choose not to treat the safety of women and children as a priority.

I live in a world where girl babies are killed or aborted because they are of less worth than a boy child; a world were nations that the UK trades with, prevent women from driving and having full access to work and education.

I want to smash the stained glass ceilings – not just as a matter of justice but also because the church misses out when it fails to use the gifts of all its members. Much more importantly, I want to use my prayers, my actions, my opportunities to speak to anyone who will listen, to call for women and girls to be treated with full respect and dignity and to be liberated to live life in all its fullness. The call to feminism echoes the prophets’ teachings and the message of Jesus Christ – how can I be a person of faith and not be a feminist?

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Statement from Methodist leaders following the tram derailment in Croydon

It is with great sorrow and concern that we learned the news of the tram derailment in Croydon this morning. It seems unimaginable that people making a simple journey to work, or school or home have been hurt or killed in such a sudden and tragic way.

Local church leaders are ready to help in any way that they can and prayers will be offered in churches across Croydon and London in the days to come. Church members use the tram regularly because it is reliable, efficient and environmentally friendly and this is a very sad day for the whole community in Croydon.

The prayers and thoughts of Methodists in London are with the injured and with the families and friends of those who have died. We remember with thanks the emergency services and their tireless efforts to save life and to bring comfort.

The Revd Peter Clarke – Superintendent of the Croydon Circuit of the Methodist Church
The Revd Nigel Cowgill – Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church

The Revd Michaela Youngson – Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church