Greetings from Ros
In recent months life has been up & down for me with all kinds of mixed emotions. There’s been the excitement of finally moving into the Manse. But there’s been the disappointment of yet another health issue, just when I thought all of that was behind me. There’s been the frustration of constantly feeling the energy drain as a consequence of a severe vitamin D deficiency. There’s been the fun of getting out & about in the fresh air on doctor’s orders. There’s been the need to take care in pacing activities so as not to cause coming to a standstill. There’s been the joy of having to stop & be still to spend time with God. So there have been advantages to emerge from the difficulties.
Sometimes things leave us with mixed emotions. Last month I went into Derby to see the Knife Angel whilst it was outside Derby Cathedral. Looking at the sculpture was very uncomfortable & challenging. There was a sense of amazement at the way so many, 10,000, knives had been put together to form an angel. I couldn’t say it was beautiful but it certainly moved me, especially seeing that some of the knives had been engraved with the names of victims of knife crime. All of the knives that had been used had been handed in during a knife amnesty held throughout the country a number of years ago. The whole sculpture was a reminder of the issue of knife crime & the loss of life caused by knives. On the day I went to see the angel there were further deaths caused by someone wielding a knife reported on the news. It certainly gave me plenty of food for thought. I was glad to be able to go into the Cathedral for some space to reflect & pray.
In the Bible we find a number of people who experienced mixed emotions. Elijah was one of those. He had the amazing experience of seeing God’s amazing victory over the prophets of Baal. But this was mixed up with the despair of having a price on his head & the loneliness of feeling all alone. But God took care of his physical needs for rest & food & led him to a cave where he was to meet with God. This has been my desire in the midst of the mixed emotions of recent months. It is in allowing God to break into all the circumstances of life that we find him drawing us closer to him as we make new discoveries about him. Elijah didn’t encounter God in the wind, fire or earthquake but in the still small voice. Life may feel as if it is full of the noise & drama of the earthquake, wind & fire but we still need to listen out for God’s quiet voice. Love, Ros
This month is a busy month for us as a fellowship. We have our Away Day & our Church Anniversary, as special events. But of course the routines of church life will carry on as usual.
We will find ourselves looking back & remembering the history of the church & what has contributed to making us the fellowship we are today. This links in with a theme that has been constantly on my mind over the Summer – that of thanksgiving. It is very relevant to us at this time of year, having recently celebrated Harvest. It is so easy to focus on the negatives whilst overlooking the positives. But thanksgiving causes us to focus on the things that we appreciate & want to thank God for.
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)
We will also find ourselves focussing on the present, on who we are as God’s people here in Swanwick today. As I have pondered this over the summer, I have been encouraged. Yes, I acknowledge that we have many issues to resolve & mountains to overcome, but I can see God at work & that always encourages me. Although we may be small in number, we are a team pulling together. We cannot ignore the difficulties that we face but, & it is a big BUT, God doesn’t appear to have given up on us, so we shouldn’t be disheartened. This does not mean that we are to bury our heads in the sand for we need to be real & realistic & recognise the difficulties we face, but we must ensure that we do not focus on the difficulties without honouring the positives. Yes, I know that I’m naturally an optimist & some of you are pessimists but we need both to bring a balance. We need those of you that want to keep us grounded in reality & we need the dreamers who wander off on flights of fancy seeing possibilities that may seem to be in cloud cuckoo land.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
This brings me to the 3rd focus, that of the future. Whilst there is something relatively concrete about the past & the present, the future is unknown & therefore uncertain. The only certainty is that God will be with us in the future as we put our trust in Him. He can be trusted & relied upon. Whatever God has promised we know He can & will do it!
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
This week has been one of opposites. One day I spent all on my own having a day of retreat in order to consider and pray for the situation we find ourselves in the world & in the church today, and to ponder and pray for the future. Another day I met up with some friends who have been there for me over the years that I've been in ministry. It was a day of remembering, catchin gup with where we are now and our hopes for the future. Both days had their similarities but were also very different.
I stayed at the Manse for a few days, but other times I was out and about, including having a morning at Hardwick Hall Estate and Gardens. That day gave me plenty of food for thought and set me off thinking about how extreme opposites can live in harmony and add to the beauty of life. There were formal gardens interspersed with wildlife havens. There were flowers, seeds and fruit on the same plants. There was an ornate, well preserved hall and an old crumbling ruin that was having to have essential maintenance done so access was prohibited. As I wandered around I was struck about how this is often the case in my life. Some areas are flourishing and other areas are crumbling.Some areas are attractive and tended and other areas are overgrown and wild. I has certainly made me think.
Talking of wildernesses... I've been looking at the Manse garden, which hopefully will be transformed this weekend. It certainly is overgrown and in need of some pruning and TLC. Looking at it, there are many weeds to be cleared but there are also a rose and honeysuckle that are flowering abundantly. Today I became aware of the smell of lavender but had to look hard to find the plant in amongst the weeds. It was only the smell that indicated the presence of the plant and I had to look hard for any other evidence. In our lives we can often be a mass of contradictions with beauty lurking in amongst the wilderness. We sometimes sing a song 'May the fragrance of Jesus fill my life'. The lavender plant reminded me of that. What fragrance do we leave? How much wilderness is there in us. What is blooming despite the lack of care and tending? What are the weeds that I need to work on and remove from my life?
All this reminds me of Jesus' words, 'My Father is the gardener' in JOhn 15:1.
I pray that this month will bring you refreshment and restoration.
As I write this I'm sitting in the Manse, admiring my new home and giving thanks for everyone who has played a part in getting it ready for me to move in. Some like Brian and Sue and Martin have invested many hours in getting the work done, Others have helped clear up and clean. Others have provided support, encouragement and prayers. Many have given money towards the Gift Day Appeal for the Chapel windows and Manse refurbishments. Thank you so much to you all. The Manse is looking good and slowly I'm unpacking boxes and making it more my home. The unpacking and garden are the two ongoing projects but they are a work in progress and will slowly be transformed.
As far as the Chapel windows are concerned, the transformation is amazing. I was so surprised when I first saw them with the matching pattern. On top of that the new pasterwork in the Schoolroom has made it look so much better. All of this work makes the building look more loved and cared for. It certainly brings a message to anyone coming in. It's things like this that people notice and impact how people view us. Now there's only the office to deal with (and the graveyard and the balcony and, and - ed) bu this is already on the horizon after many years of the rotten floor creating major problems.
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)
God is in the transformation business too, but he is more interested in internal matters rather than external appearance. The Holy Spirit works on our hearts, character, attitudes and motives. His purpose is to encourage the fruit of the Spirit and in the process make us more like Jesus. August is often a quiet month that gives us an opportunity to recharge our batteries and workj out our walk with God. Our services are focussing on Celtic Christianity and its application in our lives today. We will be taking a feature of the Celtic church and a Celtic saint each week to see what we can discover for our present situation. As you know, this is something dear to my heart as I have spent many periods on study leave with my friend Jean learning more about Celtic Christianity and visiting sites associated with the Celtic saints. We have travelled to some amazing and surprising places and made some unexpected discoveries and connections. Our times away have been a mixture of pilgrimage, retreat and study and we have always returned tired but refreshed! So a time of busyness can be a time of refreshment as much as a time of quiet reflection. The important thing is the focus upon God and an openness to his Spirit's prompting.
I pray that this month will bring you refreshment and restoration.
As I sit down to write this I’ve just arrived home from Study Leave in Scotland. But I return to a new situation as on Monday I finally get to live in the Manse, unless there have been developments whilst I’ve been away that I’m unaware of!
My time away has been different to other Study Leaves due to both of us being older & having had health issues. We had to find new ways of doing things & try not to try doing too much! There were some things we had to admit that were now beyond us, but we made sure that we didn’t use that as an excuse because we just couldn’t be bothered or simply didn’t want to do it. Now that I’m back the same will apply in my new setting of living in the village. It also applies for us as a fellowship. It does us good to periodically reassess what we are doing & why we are doing things. To open ourselves up to new opportunities & new ways of doing things is important, as is knowing ourselves, where we are & what is important to us as a fellowship. We are having an opportunity to do this on our Church Awayday, so please be sure to get this date in your diary & make it a priority in your diary (October 5th). My time on Study Leave has reminded me of the value & importance of stepping outside your normal setting in order to consider with God what you are doing & to explore new possibilities. But it isn’t just the day, as we need to start the planning & preparation now so that we are primed on the day with an openness to listening to God, each other & others.
On our Study Leave we found our plans constantly changing, sometimes due to the weather, sometimes due to the circumstances or decisions of others & sometimes because we got distracted or discovered something new to explore. Sometimes we were disappointed or frustrated by this, because we were being prevented from doing something we had set our heart on. Sometimes we were delighted & excited by it as new possibilities opened up. Sometimes we simply rearranged our plans & decided to return another day whilst dropping something that wasn’t central to what we were doing. That’s the benefit of not being on an organised tour when you have no say in the itinerary or time allocated to each activity or place. As we move forward as a church, not just in our time of assessment & exploration but in what follows out of this, it is important that we continue to listen to God & each other. Each of us have a voice to speak & ears to listen. Each of us needs to play our part in this process.
While we were away we went into a number of churches. Each of the churches gave us something to ponder, some from a negative response & others from a positive response. With one church there was a complete focus upon the building, which was beautifully carved but there was nothing that pointed to God or worship. It felt no different to a stately home & didn’t encourage us to worship or linger, although we did sit & linger outside as we admired the scenery & the sun on the different coloured stones of the external walls. Another was a Cathedral but looked as if it had seen better days & was living on past glory & in the present was caught up in not offending people of other faiths & none to the extent that the Christian faith it represented was hidden & drummed down. Another was welcoming & open about their faith & appeared to be active in their community. The town they served had lost its identity as an industrial powerhouse & had had to reassess its role & purpose & this had impacted the church but it had moved on with the town. These visits gave me much food for thought regarding us here at Swanwick. What unspoken messages do we give to people who come into our building & to those outside.
Strangely, it was a visit to a cafe that gave me more food for thought. It was a cafe that specialised in chocolate. The woman who served us was passionate about chocolate & that was infectious. She was also incredibly welcoming & able to engage with all age groups. She was such a breath of fresh air. That’s what I want for us, about Christ & our faith rather than chocolate.
I took a book with us to give a framework to our spiritual journey over the week. Neither of us liked the book & it didn’t help or engage us. But it did give us a theme for each day. The final theme was 3 essential things. I can’t remember what the book suggested these should be, but we came up with our own which Jean summarised into PRAYER, CARE & SHARE. No doubt there will be more on that over the coming months.
As you may have gathered, I’ve enjoyed my time away, but I’m glad to be back & looking forward to what is in store.