Monday, 24 December 2012

VP - Christmas greetings

I've had plenty of correspondence in December concerning decisions taken at conference in July, but it has been a quiet month re official VP appointments, hardly surprising in the busyness that takes over for Christmas preparations. It has meant that I have been to a number of local carol services, carol singings and later today, crib services in various villages. After going around one village singing carols we all ended up outside a barn and some outbuildings, then treated to a short 'pageant' with shepherds round a brazier with their sheep, angels appearing (dazzling when the floodlight was turned on), Mary and Joseph arriving on a pony (donkey temporarily unavailable!) and wise men singing 'We three kings' as they approached the infant. It was special. But then the real Christmas story is special, and always will be. "Our God contracted to a span; incomprehensibly made man." The light shines in the darkness, even in Syria or Mali or Newtown Connecticut or with people affected by flooding, because God has chosen to be with us. We're human, so we don't always get it right, we too often make mistakes that lead to unhappiness, distress and grief - but God (Emmanuel) thankfully, happily is alongside us all to redeem, restore and forgive. Which is why my wish for anyone reading this, but also my prayer, is summed up in these two words - Happy Christmas.

Friday, 7 December 2012

VP - Freshness in Advent

Last night I gave a short presentation to the Banbury Circuit meeting about some of the things that I've been engaged in this Autumn as VP, and therefore why I have been absent from them so often. I found myself talking about Fresh Expressions of church, not so that they can replicate the ideas of others, but so that seeds can be sown. Some of what came to mind was experienced in District visits, other ideas came from an inspiring few hours at the 'Fresh Ways Practitioners' Forum' held in London on Monday. Did you know that 25% of all Methodist churches have started a fresh expression? That in an 'average' new expression, for every five people there is one person who is a churchgoer, two de-churched, and two unchurched? That sacraments are important to these expressions of church, even if it is not church as many would recognise it. There are some great things happening in big churches, ethnic and language-based fellowships, rural and urban settings, across all geographical, social, ethnic, demographic and, dare I say it, theological differences. Praise God for what is happening both inside and outside the churches. Interestingly, the awareness of God moving outside the Church was the subject of a number of conversations I had following a service in Berkhamsted on Sunday morning. And it was also an important theme running through a conversation with a wise old friend in Birmingham earlier today. I need Advent again to give me a little more time to reflect on what I see around me, to hear what people are actually saying, and to discern where my energies are needing to be focused. Just possibly, and if I pause long enough to 'be' rather than 'do', I might experience Emmanuel in a new, even fresh way. Hope so!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

President on the death of his cousin Jeremy Sorrel
This isn’t easy – far too mixed up and complicated, but it’s part of being me and being a President.  I’m not a President with a very confident Presidential manner I fear and this blog will confirm it.  I don’t have even a small number of the right questions, and even fewer answers.  I’ve also found that as I get older I find it harder and harder to have opinions about lots of things that I used to find necessary.
But my cousin Jeremy has died and I’m sad and troubled.  He was a few years younger than his brother Jonathan, who in turn was a couple of years younger than me.  As a child I remember them both very well.  Jonathan was and is one of the brightest people I know.  He is a brilliant musician and composer and he now lives in Malta with his family.  Jeremy had Down’s syndrome and wasn’t brilliant or a composer.  We have not kept up with our Cousins very well and now I regret it.  Malta seems far away and Jeremy was well, Jeremy.  He lived an independent life and we wrote letters at Christmas.  He was a regular Church goer with strong views about what kind of Church he would go to.  My Uncle Graham, his father, was a professional singer before he retired and for many years was a baritone with the brilliant St. Paul’s Cathedral choir.  Jeremy used to visit his father at work and on one occasion, after Matins, processed out with the choir and clergy, taking the place of the Bishop behind the Dean.  It was frowned on.  But it was Jeremy.  He used to write to Prime ministers and the Queen, to famous people and his local Mayor. Their replies were put up in the Church.
But I didn’t give Jeremy time and as I saw a full Anglican Church for his funeral who all loved him, the local Mencap group and his daily helper so moved by his death, I felt I had cheated myself.  He was a good cook and I hadn’t known it or tasted his food.  I feel sorry and ashamed that because he was Jeremy I hadn’t gone out of my way to visit him.  We sang ‘Be bold, be strong, for the Lord you God is with you’.  I’m quite sure my Uncle would have found that hard – hardly Purcell, Bach or even Rutter.  But it was Jeremy and he was a precious individual in the sight of God who he learnt to love and follow.  He was man of humour and emotional intelligence, integrity and loyalty.  He was my cousin and I’m proud of him and sad he has died.
President says, "No Christmas Presents Please"
This is only relevant to a very small number of people.  Most people were thinking - but we weren't going to buy him one anyway so ignore this blog.  A few really organised people may have bought one all ready - in which case thanks and I'm really grateful but don't read this blog!  But to the very few who were thinking they might, including family and friends, please don't.  I've got enough stuff.  I'm full. I'm overweight with kit.  Instead - please would you either give some money to a charity of your choice or send me some money so I can twin my lavatory  If I get more than enough for one, I'll twin two, and so on....  Or twin your own lavatory and tell me because it will make me happy.  Or if you can't abide not giving something because it just feels wrong not to, please please let it be something you've made.  Lots of love Mark