31st August… the last day of the meteorological summer (about the only sort of summer some of us have had this year!) and also the last day of the Methodist Connexional year… How do we feel as this date dawns?
Loraine and I are almost ten weeks into our new roles and have begun getting to know new parts of the Connexion and of the world. Thank you for your prayers for us as we travel and share – those prayers make all the difference. As we all say good bye to one year and hello to a new year, prayer seems to be the place to start… so here I share a few thoughts about where my prayers may take me in these days:
Confessing and letting go – perhaps, if I am honest, there are things about the past year which weren’t so great; upsets, disputes, disappointments, hasty words... Today seems like a good day to let go of anything which could fester or distract me from my own discipleship.
Amongst people I meet in the wider Methodist church too I have encountered strained relationships, hurt and bitterness. All of this is not surprising – we all “fall short of the glory of God” (as Paul puts it in Romans3:23) – but, as I always urge those who come with me on pilgrimage, heavy loads slow us down and grievance is a very heavy load. Can we make today a day for putting down some of those loads and walking away, towards a shared goal of peace?
Tomorrow, 1st September, is being marked by many as a day of prayer and fasting. There is plenty for which to pray…
Hoping and picking up – A new Connexional year brings with it many signs of hope and new beginnings. The Yorkshire districts have been reconfigured and launched in new shapes; the districts of London, Northampton and Yorkshire North & East have welcomed new chairs, on Monday Loraine and I will share in the induction of 8 young people who will be placed in all sorts of exciting locations as part of the ONE internship programme and on Tuesday and Wednesday we will take part in new year worship in Manchester with TMCP and in London with the Connexional Team. Many circuits around the Connexion will be welcoming new ministers or reconfigured boundaries. All of this is not mere formality, but happens in a context of worship and prayer which affirms that we are looking to God to work amongst us. It is a day to listen to “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 2:7)
Longing and looking out – Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we express our longing for the Kingdom of God to come “on earth as it is in heaven”. But every day the media open windows onto a world which is very far from that Kingdom. Day by day we hear of natural disasters, catastrophes, violence, suffering. The list of places in need of prayer grows all the time; Freetown, Barcelona, Houston, Mumbai, Pakistan, Bangladesh… and there are all the places we don’t hear about in the media too. Both Loraine and I have been moved and challenged by our visits to Uganda and Ethiopia respectively. We spoke on the phone yesterday and grieved together over such a pain-filled world.
Once again we invite the people called Methodist to join us in prayer, prayer for ourselves, prayer for the church and prayer for the world. Prayer can be hard work – during a very long Ethiopian Orthodox service which I attended in Debre Birhan a few weeks ago we were given “prayer sticks” to lean upon as we stood and prayed; I would have liked to bring one home, but that wasn’t allowed. However, we do have the new Methodist Prayer Handbook to help us! This year it is entitled “Jesus the First and Last”, reminding us of where all our prayers begin and end. If yours hasn’t arrived yet, I hope it soon will; meanwhile, from day 22, here is Loraine’s prayer which we may all lean upon as we offer our prayers today and tomorrow and beyond:
Holy God of the morning: still our minds.
Holy God of creation: create through us new life and vitality today.
Holy God of whispering gentle breeze: come to us in sighs too deep for words.
Holy God of crashing thunder: break into our lives and into our complacency.
Holy God of sun and warmth: encourage us to reach out with love.Holy God of the evening: fill the fading light of this day with your awesome presence that we might worship you, honour you, glorify you , bless you , praise and adore you as we take our rest. Amen.