Friday, 28 October 2011

A different world

First day reports from those who have travelled tend to be rather similar - lots of references to queues, endless beaurocracy at airports and huge amounts of tiredness on behalf of the traveller - well, that's that bit covered! Sandra my colleague and now, already feeling like an old friend, and I arrived in Quito at Midnight local time last night, this was to our bodies 5am and as she had been up since 4am and me 6.30am the previous day, you can imagine our weariness.

Of course the first impression of Quito was the warm welcome from 'Fred' - well I think that's what he said his name was - he is the son of Bishop Salamon who is the leader of the Methodist Church in Ecuador. The Bishop offered an equally loving welcome and drove us through deserted streets to our hotel. The architecture in this part of town is concrete and square, with lots of graffitti. Shops were all closed last night apart from a disco/karaoke place - I suggested we visit but I think that was the thin air of 9,000 feet altitude talking!

Our hotel is a 'Howard Johnson' a reliable American chain - lovely room and really helpful staff. The security at the door last night is a mix of reassuring and disconcerting. My room is on the 12th floor and the views across the city to the hills that surround it are fabulous. Today is a rest day and will include a tour to the 'centre of the earth' - the equator. Tomorrow will be a day of more travelling, about three and a half hours to help run a worship workshop and to witness the opening of a new church building. As well as this personal blog, Sandra and I will be uploading reports to the World Church Relationships site - so watch this (and that) space!

As for 'a different world' - well that's not Quito... it is different to the world I know and experience but it is also similar in the human jumble of hope and love and anxiety and noise. What is different for me is that last time I travelled to anywhere near here, was a visit to Cuba in 1991. I wrote a journal - I still have it and love looking back at all the adventures we had. I wrote it with a pen on paper. We had no contact with home, apart from postcards that we sent, everyone had to wait until we landed back home to find out that we were ok, happy and all that had happened. Yesterday I rang Sandy from Miami, my journal is now a blog and I have 'Facetimed' Sandy and Tamsin at home, having a live and visual conversation from my hotel room. I have uploaded the first of what will be many photo's to my Facebook page - this is such a different world from 20 years ago and, if you like communication and immediacy it is definitely better. What I need to build in though is time to reflect - first impressions and reactions are not always the best, so I will want to find space to mull over all I see and experience. Sometimes being cut off from all I know and understand is important - what does it feel like to be 'dis-connected' in order to re-connect? So, after I've spoken to Rob in an hour or so, I will refrain from 'Facetiming' for a couple of days - so I can be really here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Matthew 18 a new perspective

The realm of heaven may not be compared to a Government that wished to settle accounts with it's financial institutions. One such institution had used the funds entrusted to it to lend to others who were unable to pay it back. The institution's account books looked at first glance to be very healthy but this was not true, the value on the books bore no relation to the capital supporting the institution's debts. Many who were owed money by the institution found that their account balances were worth less or worthless.

The Government was under pressure from the media and the public to support those who had lost their shirts as a result of the actions of the institution. The institution pleaded with the Government to be let off and to continue, arguing that to be punished for its actions would be disastrous as its creditors would loose out and the world would come to an end.

The Government rescued the institution giving it lots and lots of public money, letting it go and continue to trade in a similar way to that which had led to the trouble. The institution and its shareholders were happy.

A person who had borrowed money from the institution to buy a home was unable to pay. How did the institution (so recently in receipt of grace and oodles of tax=payer's money) act? It turned the borrower from their home along with the family.

How did the generous Government respond to this graceless and cruel action by the institution? It declared that this was not its problem, cut housing benefit, made it harder for the borrower to find work and continued to offer the institution all the support it needed, giving it until 2019 to change its working habits.

And the place of forgiveness in this story....?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Getting Worship 'Right'

As a preacher who is passionate about leading worship I know that getting it 'right' is a minefield of negotiated pathways, twisting paths and a need at times to return to the beginning to start again.

The Methodist Conference Worship this morning was, I think, the nearest to 'getting it right' that I have experienced in a long time. This was certainly borne out by the wonderful atmosphere, a great sense of joy and so many kind and thoughtful words from people afterwards.

There are great challenges when planning Conference Worship, not least a myriad of decisions taken along the way to accommodate all sorts of hopes, desires, tastes, hang-ups and perspectives. There are also the institutional challenges of containing the momentous occasion of the Reception into Full Connexion within an act of worship that includes that hugely significant act but is not only about that act.

Planning begins months before and involves the President and Vice-President Designate, those responsible for the ordinands and those responsible for the due order of formal elements of the event.

The most wonderful development in all this for me has been, the increasing involvement over the last two years of superb musicians, who have a profound understanding of what happens in worship and are, like me, committed to using the best available mix of styles, focussing most importantly on the theme that will develop through the whole act of worship.

Important factors such as the use of inclusive language are made easier as our denominational resources begin to better reflect this aspiration for the church. Singing the Faith offers a range of known, loved, traditional hymns and vibrant new texts, some to familiar comfortable tunes, others to tunes that some find challenging.

Here is one of the 'pinch points' - in our attempts to please God through our worship we cannot always pick everybody's favourites and may even pick songs that some people find challenging. I think that there are some issues here that have to be considered sensitively, such as language that might re-open wounds for people who have been through trauma or have had difficult relationships. Theology is a real challenge - as a 'mainstream, liberal methodist' whose natural perspective is to focus on God's love played out on the cross, rather than a substitutional or penal perspective, there are some songs I avoid. Yet we are a broad church and that has been a challenge for those of us tasked with choosing our current authorised hymnody. I don't mind if people offer feedback about the content of a particular hymn - I do get more uptight if the feedback is about style rather than substance. We all have preferences and enjoy particular forms of singing but surely we can have the grace to allow worship to be a space in which all are able to offer praise to God, knowing that there is more than one way to do this.

Planning Conference worship is a privilege and delight and involves the making of many decisions and editing, reediting and proof-checking the text. Choosing to have a story-teller to open up the scriptures is a risk. The risk payed off today - we heard in wonderful tones a holding of each text within a broader perspective on the life of Jacob and the life of Christ. I have already picked up criticism that the full text was not on the screen, or that we used a 'paraphrase' of scripture in worship. On the screen were excerpts from the Handwritten Bible - one of the decisions to be made this year was how to include and honour that project in worship without shifting our focus from God. So a creative compromise was born. The full texts were in the printed service booklet for those who wanted to reflect on God's word as understood by the writers of the NRSV.

My favourite moments in the service (and there were many) include the sung intercessions - the solos and the congregational responses were so beautiful and prayerful and I enjoyed sourcing and choosing images from David Perry, TwelveBaskets and a free stock source (these last ones carried watermarks - but were such striking images I chose to use them - this has produced a negative comment on Twitter, I'd love the person who twittered to get in touch so we could talk about how I might have got rid of the watermark without breaking copyright law).

The music group were just wonderful, skilled and sensitive, able to take us to a new place.

I could write more - there is so much to reflect on. I'm grateful to my partner Worship Co-ordinator, Paul and Director of Music, Ian, for their incredible hard work and to all the band. Also to Joseph for his great story-telling, to Christy-Anna for sharing in the prayers, to Ruth for her praying and careful leading and to Leo for a sermon that was well-crafted, offering inspiration and was a good length.

Most of all, I'm grateful to God for helping us to navigate the minefield and for being present with us in what was a very special time of joy, solemnity, inspiration and assurance.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Capturing Light

Since January this year most of my days off have been spent at a workbench, playing with glass. I sit with a coffee, Desert Island Discs playing on the radio and decide what I'm going to make this week. Will it be some classy coasters, a large gently curving plate or bowl, some jewellery or a window hanger? Once the items are decided I then choose what colours I'm going to use - will it be vibrant sunset oranges, reds and golds, or sea blues and greens, will I use some powdered glass (frit) to add texture or insert copper foil which oxidises in the kiln to a wonderful pink or green?

So many decisions - so many things to play with.
Once my pieces are ready, they are loaded into the kiln. If it's coasters, then it will only take one firing, but a complex plate might take three. The first to 'tack' frit and powders to form texture, the second to fuse additional elements into the piece and the third to 'slump' the piece into shape in a mould.

Each firing takes about 12 hours before the glass is cool enough to open the kiln without mishap. So one plate can take three days - but the fiddly work is done before the first firing - so I can unload and reload the kiln in about 15 minutes during a break from work.

The joy of taking a beautiful item out of the kiln is wonderful. I usually have a good idea of how a piece will turn out but even so there are often surprises - the way two colours work together or some bubbles have formed, or an element of iridescent glass catches the light, or some copper has coloured - all make for delight.

When leaving college to be a minister (17 years ago!) we were reminded of the guidance in 'The Constitution, Practice and Discipline' of the Methodist Church, to cultivate a hobby! I've learnt since that the instruction should be "find a hobby that cultivates you"! I am much better at protecting my days off now and feel fed by this new creativity. I can make the process about work and theology and reflection on spiritual things (can't avoid it really) but that's definitely not the point.... I lose myself in the world of colour and shape and, to some extent, in the gadgets, tools and technical side of the glass-fusing world.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Looking forward to Trinity Sunday

A reflection for Trinity Sunday

The Weaver, The Word and Wisdom

In the beginning, the Weaver, The Word and Wisdom

moving in relationship together,

caught a vision of potential,

a glimpse of possibility, and,

with tentative steps, creation’s dance began.

Creation was shot through with the generosity of the Weaver’s grace

The rhythm of life’s passion played loudly

as a constant beat at the heart of myriad universes.

Against this universal backdrop The Word moved

and became free, small and intimate.

In the cry of a child, the song of a woman

and the shout of a dying man

the Word’s voice added melody to the Weaver’s song.

In the midst of confusion, absence and loss,

Wisdom found her way.

She had danced with the Weaver’s threads, throughout all time,

weaving a maypole dance of energetic passion.

She added harmony to the beat and the melody

and composed a symphony of colour.

If creation for a single moment fails to hear the Weaver’s rhythm,

or misses the Word’s intimate melody,

then Wisdom will dance through the silence

until all that is joins in love’s rejoicing.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Methodism - what will become of us?

I agree with David Gamble, in 100 years the Methodist Church might be part of a new church. What might that church look like?

People will love each other and the world, this will be seen in active caring and the creating of safe spaces to be themselves, to worship with freedom and integrity. It will be seen in the amount of time the work of that church is done away from chapels, churches and cathedrals, taking place rather in art galleries, prisons, hospitals, on rubbish tips, in estates and tenements, in theatres, on farms, in villages, in rain-forests and deserts.... in political engagement, on marches and rallies, campsites and mines...

All food and drink served, consumed and given out by the church will be fairly traded.
All power used will be from sustainable sources.

Worship will be a place where people feel safe to be themselves and to celebrate tastes and styles that are not their favourite but are part of a patchwork of wonder, love and praise.

It won't need the following:
"Sub-dean designate of St Albans. Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiffs; bishops, the Lord Mayor Locum Tenens, the State Trumpeters of the Band of Blues and Royals; ..., the City Marshall, the Sheriffs, the Aldermen, the Ceremoniarius (?), the Dean and Chapter, the Sword Bearer, the Serjeant at Arms, the Archbishop of Wales " as were present at a service for the 'Sons of Clergymen' at St Paul's Cathedral today.

It will be a church where women, men, children of any colour, culture, sexuality, language, psychological, physical and mental ability are not just welcome but are able to fully participate in the life of the church and in working out what kind of church it should be.

The leadership of this church will be shared and the structures of each local expression of the church will be formed according to the gifts of those who worship there. Church leaders will not burn out from overwork and will not be defensive about the way they spend their time because all feel valued, supported and loved, whatever their responsibilities.

That's just my starter for ten - and just one more thing.... is church the right word? Can we again become a movement within the realm of God?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Blogging Again

Inspired by Barbara Glasson I am going to try and blog more regularly but with short bits of news, rather than waiting until I have something big to say!

I'm just back from leading the Hemel Hempstead and Berkhampstead Circuit retreat at High Leigh. It was lovely and people seemed to really appreciate my contribution and willingly entered into the exercises that I invited them into. I also realised I need to brush up my OT knowledge after an embarrassing performance in a quiz!

My glass-fusing is going well, I am enjoying it so much. Sandy and Tamsin will hold a stall selling it at the Twyford CofE High School Summer Fair. I can't be there as I'm working, but if you are in/near Acton and want to see - or even buy some, you would be welcome. Food and games stalls and all the fun of the fair!! 18th June, 2pm - 5pm.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

some texts for Maundy Thursday

Jesus Laments Over Jerusalem


Jerusalem the place where

the prophets are killed,

the truth tellers stoned,

the peace bringers torn apart.


I long to be to you a mother hen caring for my brood.

I long to gather your children together.

I long to give you peace and bring you healing.


Will you not heed my invitation?

Must you continue to tear yourself apart?

Are you not willing to listen?


You will be left desolate.

I leave you now.

Even when you shout,

‘Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’

your praise will soon fade to numbed silence

and your joy will make way for tears.

Enough Faith?

They have come so far.

If only they knew

how close we are to the end;

how just beyond

the dawn of their perception

lies the secret of salvation.

We have come so far.

If only you knew

how I have longed to drink

deep from the cup of obedience;

yet now there is no satisfaction

in the bitter dregs of an unanswered question.

I have come so far.

If only I knew.

Is my faith enough

to bear me on the bough

of death’s destruction

and beyond to resurrection?


All this effort,

Is it worth it?

What difference my death?

What possible difference can it make in this world?

My enemies gather in the dark shadows,

I feel their antipathy, their anxious, excited anticipation,

I sense their incensed, self-righteous, unholy expectation.

All this effort,

Is it worth it?

What difference my death?

What possible difference can it make in this world?

My friends sleep in the dark shadows,

I feel their confusion, their careful words and worried glances.

I sense their fear, their failing faith falling into despair.

All this effort,

Is it worth it?

What difference my death?

What possible difference can it make in this world?

My God, are you there in the shadows?

I feel your prompting, parental prodding towards promise and duty,

I sense your pain, contained in this bitter cup you urge me to drink.

All this effort,

Is it worth it?

What difference my death?

What possible difference can it make in this world?

Here I am, here, deep in the shadows.

I feel your strength, flowing as an offering through my fear,

I sense there will be more, I choose the cup, its contents and its cost.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

John 13.1-17

Bible Study

First used at Diaconal Convocation, 2010. This could be used in Holy Week

If using the narrative ‘The Water Carrier’ try and have one person read the water carrier’s account and other voices to read the ‘Contemporary Echoes’


Beverly Gaventa[1] describes this passage as a ‘commentary on Jesus’ death’. This makes a certain kind of sense. The passage, as Pete Phillips[2] said, marks a radical shift in John’s narrative – moving from a blow-by-blow account of Jesus’ life – to extensive reflections about his death. The whole of John’s gospel does point to the death of Christ, weaving the theme of his cosmic significance in from the very start.

Whilst we do remain shocked by the basic, earthy act of washing someone’s feet, my brother in law who has a phobia about feet– is probably the only person I know who would come close to understanding the shock of the disciples at Christ’s actions.

The scandal of foot-washing has little power to scandalize most of us because we have come to understand this action in the context of the incarnation.

The cosmic Christ – the Word, the Logos – the one without whom not a single thing was created is getting down and dirty amongst human beings. The one that Graham Kendrick describes as ‘having flung stars into space’ is born in a shit-ridden stable, in poverty, fear and dereliction. Are you shocked by my language? Tony Campola, the American evangelist was preaching to a congregation about poverty and said this, ‘Everyday thousands of children die in their own shit’ and what is most scandalous is that you are more shocked that I used that word, rather than the deaths of so many.’

We miss the point of incarnation if we do anything other than pretend that Jesus entered this world to share in all it’s messiness as well as all its glory.

Being a book based on what we might call a platonic or dualistic understanding of the order of things, John goes furthest in describing the enormity of the gap between the cosmic divine and the base earthiness of the human Jesus.

The foot-washing hints at John’s desperate intention to help the reader understand just what it meant for the Word of God to be made low.

As he turns towards Jerusalem and all the inevitability of humiliation and death – Jesus takes a pro-active step in choosing humiliation before it is heaped upon him. He chooses to show the disciples that his death is part of the different kind of realm that he is part of and that they can share in.

Gaventa suggests that when Jesus takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself and puts on his robe again – the writer is reminding us of the good shepherd in John 10, who lays down his life in order to take it again.

In the conversation with Peter, we are drawn into an understanding of discipleship that recognizes that there is no other way to be fully part of Jesus – to share in his realm – than to go with him to and beyond the cross. We have all the privilege of hindsight – Peter is a gift to the story-teller because his apparent ignorance is used a way of enlightening the reader – and possibly making them feel better about their own ignorance!

Perhaps it is too much of a stretch to say that the action of this story is truly a metaphor for death – but it certainly sits in the context of Jesus’ own prediction of his death and his promise to Peter that in the future he will understand what all this is about.

So we have a different kind of realm from the power-hungry, hierarchies of the human world. We have a discipleship that is caught up with the humiliation, suffering and death of Christ – and we hope, with the hope of resurrection beyond. For me, however, it is the earthy, hands on, intimate, messy action at the centre of the story that has the most significance. This is the essence of incarnation – of God with us.

There is nothing saccharine or sanitized about this Christ, this Jesus - a man who can command a crowd, feed a crowd, stir up a crowd, a man who can still storms, raise the dead and heal chronic disease – gets down on his knees and comes into contact with the corns, calluses and carbuncles of human living.

Where do the corns rub today? Where does our mission, our ministry reflect the truly incarnational presence of Christ that I believe continues to refresh, cleanse and heal in a hurting, aching, tired world today?

As I reflected on that question I was struck that someone who might help us to explore that question is one of the missing characters in the story – the one who brought the water. So we are going to hear her story now, but she will pause from time to time to allow some other, contemporary stories to be told.

The Water Carrier

I carried the water, every day, jar poised precariously on my shoulder, taking care that not one precious drop be spilt. It’s a long walk to the well just outside our village, my feet find the same worn grooves in the path that they always have. Perhaps my mother and grandmother and my grandmother’s all the way back to Ruth have moved like a flowing river along this path.

Contemporary Echo 1

I walk further everyday to find water. The well close to the village has dried up and the pump that the aid agency put in has stopped working. In fact even the old reliable river has dried to a muddy trickle.

Someone told me that, about 100 miles away, a big company has bought some land and is moving the direction of the river that runs through it – that’s our river, our water supply. Our children’s feet are not muddy anymore – just covered in fine dry dust and we cannot spare water to wash their faces, let alone their feet.

You have to shimmy when you walk – those of us who carry water have a certain sway to our hips. It’s a way of balancing the heavy jar and ensuring that the water circles within rather than slopping over the edge. There’s a rhythm to my walk, a rhythm to my days, a rhythm to this reassuringly mundane life.

The children in the village know about rhythm, they bang sticks on the water jars that line up ready to be collected. Bang, bang, smash, smash bang. There’s one boy who plays the same beat every time – it sort of goes ‘dance, dance, I like to dance’. Well, they are the words I hear in my head – perhaps it’s because I do like to dance, even if most of the time my dancing partner is a great big jar that is either empty or full of water!

Contemporary Echo 2

My son, Mark, was killed. Shot dead in an alley just behind where he lives. You might think he deserved it – he wasn’t always a good boy, but he had a son Joey – he was starting to turn his life around. All he did that night was go out to help a neighbour who was having trouble with his bike and, wrong place, wrong time, wrong bloody nightmare.

She ran to get me – his girlfriend. I picked up my boy, he’d gone already. His blood was all over me – my skirt, my hands and my legs. Don’t matter how often I wash it’s still there.

I helped fill in the grave – that’s my people’s tradition. We sang ‘Over my head’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ at the graveside and our minister, she wept with me. I’ll always remember that, her crying and me crying and all the aunties cryin’ – it was like a river. God I wish I could wash this all away.

The festival, Passover, was approaching and people where beginning to gather for meals and the telling of the old stories. Stories about the way Yahweh interferes in people’s lives. Sorry, I know that’s a bit sacrilegious but that’s how it felt when I met Jesus – as though nothing would be the same again, not as ordinary, not as mundane, not as predictable. Somehow the rhythm had changed and I’m sure it had something to do with a different kind of religion from the one I know that is about rules and fear and jumping through hoops.

Contemporary Echo 3

You know filling in asylum application forms is not easy when English is a long way from being your first language. So you get it wrong and they send it back, so you start again and you send it in and you’ve missed the statutory limit on how long you have to register and it goes on and on.

It was in the middle of all this I saw a sign over a church, in Southall, it said something in Urdu about help with immigration issues. I didn’t think they’d help, me being a Sikh, but the project at the back of the church really helped.

I felt like for once my hands were not covered in ink from filling in forms and my feet were not aching from standing in queue after queue.

I’d brought four jugs of water home, ready for the feast. Festivals are hard work, lots of ritual washing, lots of cooking and mountains of washing – clothes, cloths, bedding, plates and cups. Normally that would be plenty but not this time.

Jesus came to the house with his friends, an interesting bunch – odd really them all being together, a well-healed tax-collector, big lumbering fishermen and the rest. They laughed together a lot and told stories. When Jesus talked the others all listened. I did too, from here in the back room – out of sight, out of mind. I was run off my feet sorting out the food and wine, clearing away the pots.

It went oddly quiet in the big room so I stopped what I was doing to see what was happening.

Jesus had got up, stripped off his robe and wrapped a towel around himself. What on earth was this all about? I couldn’t believe it – he actually knelt in front of his friends, each in turn, picked up their feet, rested them on the towel and washed them. I was too intrigued to be as appalled as I should have been. It was bad enough that he was pouring water – and might I add, lots of it – over their feet – he was actually touching them, rubbing the muck off with his hands, drying them with the towel.

Contemporary Echo 4

I was absolutely ratted, out on the Bigg Market, Friday night, like yer do you know. My mate Tanya, some mate she turned out to be, had set me up with a right idiot who couldn’t hold his booze.

She cleared off just as he threw up all over me red patent leather wedges – you know the sort, look dead expensive, but you can get em for a tenner at TK Max.

Any how, there I am stinking to high heavens, falling off my now minging red patent leather wedges, crying me eyes out – making just a little bit of an exhibition of meself.

Along comes this wifey and two blokes in uniform – they weren’t Bissies mind you – not even them plonker specials. They said they were Street Pastors, whatever that is.

Anyhow one of em whips out a load of wet wipes and asks me if I want to clean up – so I did – well I tried but I kept loosing my balance, couldn’t stay upright on my red patent leather wedges. Do you know they took me over to a bench and the woman gets down on one knee and wipes my feet for me? I thought I was dreaming. I was swearing about the state of me shoes mind, said they were full of the lumpy stuff and I couldn’t walk on em. Now you won’t believe this – the women gets out a pair of flip flops and gives em to me. When I say that I’ve only me taxi fair home, she says ‘eh don’t worry about it pet’ they’re a present.

Well, you canny say fairer than that?

The big guy, Simon Peter, tried to stop him – I don’t blame him. It’s shameful I wouldn’t let the lowest servant in my household touch my feet, let alone rub them. Talk about humiliating! What did he think he was playing at?

Mind you as I watched, his friends listened to him and they began to copy him – nervously at first, then they seemed to quite enjoy the attention and the intimacy.

That’s what struck me most (well apart from how many extra trips I would have to make to the well that day) – it was how intimate it all seemed. It was like a closed circle – inside the circle they were privileged, they knew each other well and knew Jesus, understood something about how special he was. It seemed like a perfect little community, I couldn’t see any cracks, though one guy looked less comfortable than the rest. Mind you, what do I know? I was outside the circle, no way into it for me. As I watched, I suddenly felt very sad. It was like I was watching something through a window, disconnected. I felt unwelcome, an outsider.

Contemporary Echo 5

You know I’ve walked past that building every day for years, decades. I used to take my kids to playgroup there – in a room at the back, when my wife was too ill. She suffers with her nerves – The doctors used to call it manic depression – now it’s Bi-polar. Whatever you call it it’s a pain to live with.

I used to look in at the church through the door on the few occasions it was open – always seemed a bit imposing, a bit mysterious. I was never quite sure what went on there. I certainly never thought I’d want to go in, let alone be welcomed.

Well, the kids are grown up now and doing really well. My wife? Well good days and bad – actually its more like good 6 months and bad 6 months and when it’s bad, it’s bad. Meds help but there’s only so many pills you can take and when she’s on the top of the curve she stops taking them because she thinks she can conquer the world.

She dismantled the computer the other day, she’d bought ‘build your own PC for dummies’ or such like and thought she’d increase our RAM (whatever that is). Trouble is before she put it back together she went into a sharp dip and now we have bits of useless IT all over the floor!

A couple of years ago they changed the front of the church. Got rid of those massive dark doors and put some lovely etched glass in and they made a light and airy welcoming area. It was so lovely I asked if I could go in. There was a man there wearing a blue uniform, said he was a deacon, and he showed me round. I found him really easy to talk to and told him about my wife. He told me the church had a group for people who lived with those suffering mental health problems – a ‘time out’ group he called it. I go nearly every week, just for a couple of hours, we meet and have coffee and cake and talk about how mental health has affected our lives. I’ve learnt about all sorts of support I never knew about.

Now when I pass the church, I don’t feel like it’s a weird place – it feels like somewhere I belong.

All the weirdness of touching dirty feet, of invading the space of another person, of meeting their eyes while they performed this demeaning task – all that seemed less important than the bonds in that group, their special way of doing things, their peculiar habits – rituals you might call them.

I didn’t feel I could be part of what they had. When Jesus got up to leave he came over to me and thanked me for looking after them. As he handed me the towel his hand caught my arm and he looked directly at me and seemed to know all that I was thinking. He didn’t say a word but I felt as though he had washed me and as though I didn’t need to be in their tight little circle after all – his influence was not limited to that group – but seemed to stretch out beyond them, beyond my home, even beyond my little village – like a river in full flood.

Discussion Question

Where does our mission as a church and our ministry as Christians reflect the truly incarnational presence of Christ that continues to refresh, cleanse and heal in a hurting, aching, tired world today?

Michaela Youngson May 2010

[1] Beverly R Gaventa in ‘Texts for Preaching Year B’, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004

[2] In his Bible study on this passage at Diaconal Convocation 2010.