Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Women Bishops, Chichester Diocese and the future….

The 'Bolney Babes', 4 women chosen to serve communion at the consecration of the new Bishop of Lewes,
Richard Jackson. One (me!) training to be a priest, and the other 3 married to one!

So, 18 months ago I wrote here and here, after the previous failed vote in favour of women Bishops, about how gutted I was that the vote had not passed, that I was surprised by how strongly I felt and how tough I was finding it in this diocese.

Well, what a difference a few months makes… yesterday afternoon I was in the park with 2 of my kids watching the tweets roll in, keeping me informed and as I saw there were just a few speakers to go we all headed home. I knew whatever the result was, that my reaction would be loud and over the top so I'd rather do that in the comfort of my own home! So as I sat in my kitchen watching the live feed (which miraculously came through just as the vote took place and the results were read out - and it has been a shocking connection this week!) I wept and tried to explain to my youngest daughter why I was crying and why it was so important, I was reminded of exactly the same scenario in Nov 2012, when the vote failed and I sobbed as my kids wondered what on earth was happening to Mummy!

So yesterday I cried as I heard the result read out. In fact I was on the verge of tears all afternoon, but the funny thing is I didn't actually feel that full of joy, more of relief. As I wrote back in 2012, that vote had made it very hard to defend the Church of England, and to be honest I wasn't sure how I would handle it had it not passed. Although it was unlikely to fail this time, there was still the fear that it could. The fear that my church would reject me and people like me, again. I've only been in this for a few years but some women have had to go through this rejection time and again for decades. So although I am over the moon that the vote was passed, there is a tinge of sadness as I think about how long it has taken, the pain that has been caused and the hurts suffered, of those who have given up along the way, the damage that has been done to this church of ours and what's more to the reputation of those who profess to follow Jesus.

All that said, I do sit here this afternoon, reflecting on it all, and like many women working for the church having had various jokes made about when I will become a Bishop (not even ordained yet…!) and feeling rather hopeful about the future of this church. To be fair I don't think I've ever not been hopeful but it's a whole lot easier today, that's for sure.

I also wrote back in 2012 about struggling in the Diocese of Chichester, and yet, again, I am staggered by how different things are today, some 18 months later. The now not so new Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, is a lovely bloke and I have been really impressed by his ideas and plans for this diocese. He has not got an easy role, there's no disguising the fact that this diocese needs a re-branding campaign and he is clearly picking up the pieces from other peoples failings and mistakes, and having to sort it all out. I have also been really encouraged by his stance on women in ministry, whilst clearly not able to support the ordination of women I have never once heard him speak against women, in fact quite the opposite, all I have heard him say is very positive and recent new appointments show that as well. One of which is the new Bishop of Lewes, Richard Jackson,  who happens to be a friend of ours, so I know personally what a fantastic appointment that is for this diocese. In fact, when he ordained the first women in the diocese ever to be ordained by a serving Bishop in this diocese, just a few weeks ago, he personally delivered a rose plant to each of them, with a note saying ' I'm sorry this has taken so long'. Aside from that and perhaps more importantly he is a Godly, spirit-filled man, with a passion for mission, and, a sense of humour!

++++++


A few weeks ago I was tweeting for the @OurCofE project and had a few tweets hurled back at me for saying that God was really moving here at the moment, as someone had thought I was saying He hadn't been previously! My point was that Chichester has not had a particularly good reputation for some years, but that now I can see how things are changing and what an exciting place it is to be. 18 months ago I was seriously thinking, how can I possibly stay here? and now I don't want to leave!

This really is a place where God is on the move, not that he wasn't before, but it's a whole lot more obvious right now! There are such exciting things happening, appointments being made, strategies being forged. Chichester is no longer the last bastion of male supremacy, it's no longer in the dark ages and no longer can it be called the 'dead see'. 

Watch this space people…

  

Saturday, 5 July 2014

@OurCofE - my experience


A few weeks ago I got to take part in the @OurCofE Twitter project which is currently running. I’ve got to say I think the comms office at Church House have excelled themselves with this one. What a fantastic idea, bang up to date, great way to interact with people and ‘such fun’ !
@OurCofE is basically a year long project, running on Twitter to ‘tell the story of the Church of England through the eyes of its people, providing a daily insight into modern faith in action’. A different person from within the Church of England tweets about their own life and experiences within the church each week. So far it has included a Bishop, Vicars, Curates, people overseeing churches and a school chaplain to name just a few.
The CofE PR says this:
‘Followers will be able to peek behind the curtain of church life and see behind the scenes as they get a feel for daily life in parishes.  In addition to daily life there will be a glimpse of the inevitable unusual and unexpected events that come with being part of the Church of England.  Through it all the account will seek to show through thousands of tweets how God is at work in His Church each day.’
So, when I heard about this idea back in March I applied straight away, a twitter addict and a lover of the CofE I was keen to be involved. Getting to tweet about God and the church - some of my favourite things - how much more awesome than that can it get!? So then I was super excited to get chosen to take part.

My input was really on 2 main levels,
1)     as a member of staff at a Fresh Expression Church based in Mid Sussex and
2)     As an ordinand studying at SEITE.
and it was great to be able to give a perspective on both.

As the week approached I have to admit to being both nervous and excited. I had been following the account from the beginning when it started with the fabulous Kate Bottley (The vicar from Gogglebox in case you didn’t know) and there have been some fantastic tweeters so far, giving a really broad view of the work and life of the Church of England. So it was no small task to follow the amazing tweeters that had gone before. And of course there was the added thought that I would be representing the CofE too – someone said to me – ‘ohh you’re the face of the church this week’ – so, no pressure there then!

All that said it was such a great experience and a real privilege to be part of it. I have to say I have never tweeted so much in my entire life (my husband might disagree with that one…!) I was quite taken aback on the first morning to suddenly have so many retweets, favourites and replies! What a great bunch of people the followers are, I really felt like I had suddenly been embraced by an amazing community, with so many people interested in what I was saying and wanting to know more.

One thing I really loved was that each morning I do Morning Prayer (see I'm almost a proper Anglican) and so I offered to pray for people each day and quite a few responded. I always think it’s a completely privilege to pray for others and this was no different. It really did give a sense of community that people felt able to ask for prayer. Those who say social media doesn’t provide a real community are often wrong…



As I’ve said the interaction on the account was great, so I really wanted to highlight that during my time tweeting there. On day 3 I think, I was banging on about how much I love my church so I thought I’d ask others what they loved about their churches using the hashtag #IloveMyChurch  Well, what a great response, people really got hold of it! One thing that was really lovely was many people saying how welcomed they felt in their churches despite being broken or having difficult issues. That is what the church is all about – loving EVERYONE! and it was so great to have an opportunity to show that. Another great one was asking people to say who their #ChristianHero was - had some great responses to that too, from someones primary school teacher, to well known legends of the faith and just ordinary, everyday people.


 Have to say I may have been inadvertently slightly more controversial than intended. On the first morning, after innocently mentioning the book of Job, a whole Twitter discussion opened up about suffering and whether God deliberately allows stuff to happen. I so wasn’t ready for that! Then there was the debate about whether one should refer to Theological College as #VicarSchool - don’t even get me started on that one… That said one of the things I love about Twitter is the chance to chat and debate things with others, and it was no different on the @OurCofE account, except just slightly more frenetic!

Something I feel passionate about is helping people to see the heart of the church and the love that flows through it from people full of Jesus. So often I meet people who have a story about how the church has hurt them or let them down and I want to say that’s not everyone and it certainly isn't every church. The church is full of people who give their time, who welcome strangers in unconditionally, who help the broken to see their lives transformed. I want people to see the communities who are brought together by a building, a person, a welcome. I love that Twitter is a great place to do that. I know not everyone understands how Twitter works, not everyone ‘gets it’ but even those that stand on the fringes get to see a different perspective. You can’t avoid it on Twitter, opinions, ideas, thoughts, they all get thrown around like rice in a liquidiser. It’s all in there! Thing about a lot of social media is you never know who’s there just watching. My husband calls himself a ‘twitter voyeur’, he reads a lot of tweets but doesn’t often tweet himself. He might not choose to interact as much as I do but he is still getting reached by all those grains of rice…

This is from the Church of England Website:

Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Head of Social Innovation at Twitter, said:
"The incredible engagement levels we see on religious tweets the world over prove the power of 140 characters to convey hope, motivation, and inspiration. The @OurCofE Twitter account will build on this by telling the story of the Church of England through the eyes of its people, providing a fascinating insight into modern faith in action. Spanning great cathedrals to tiny parishes, it will provide real-time glimpses into the workings of the church for followers across the world, 140 characters at a time."
I love that line: '...the power of 140 characters to convey hope, motivation, and inspiration'. Imagine if we all used Twitter for that alone, how much more powerful would it be as a medium for change…?


 ..oo0000oo..



If you are interested and want to find out more you can check out the info here, and my own tweets from the account are here (although not the replies to individual tweets so you can't see whole conversations, but you can always read back through the tweets on the account if you are that keen!)

Also If I have included one of your tweets in these images and you would rather I didn't please do let me know.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

'If Jesus is the answer, what are we going to do about it?' // Luke 3:1-20 // Talk 29/6/14

Notes from last Sundays talk for those interested… as aways, these are just my notes so, sorry for errors/typos etc… 

also available to listen here

Luke 3:1-20


So a quick recap, we are in our series on the book of Luke. In the last few weeks we’ve seen the Holy Spirit as a focus, coming on Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and last week we heard how the HS has been working through Dan & Pete Hall in their time abroad. Isn’t it great to hear how the HS is the same HS working then through these people we are hearing about, and now through some of us…?
We’ve also seen the focus on Jesus, not directly, but in pointing the way to him – or in the waiting for a messiah.

So we are continuing in that today as we hear about John the Baptist, a prophet marking the way to Jesus.

I spoke a few weeks ago at the beg of the series about the birth of JTB, and in a way todays talk is a bit like the second part of that – as here we see JTB fulfilling his purpose. In Luke 1 we saw the angel say of JTB before his birth ‘he will be great in the sight of the Lord.. he will go on before the Lord… he will make ready a people prepared for the Lord…and later his father Zechariah prophesying over his new born son says or sings of him:
 'you my child will be called a prophet of the most high,  for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of  salvation through the forgiveness of their sins….to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace…'

I spoke about Jesus being the answer and that Johns purpose, as ours is, is to point the way to Jesus.

So here in our passage today, we see John fulfilling his calling. To prepare the way to the Lord, to point people to Jesus, to prepare them for his coming.

And my question a few weeks ago was: ‘what’s the answer?...’
And todays question follows on from that - ‘what shall we do about it?

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There are no two ways about it this passage is a challenge to us all. What John said then, challenges us just as much now, to live a life worthy of Jesus:
 to live a life that is transformed by Jesus, 
to live a life that honours Jesus, 
to live a life that points to jesus. 

It is not about ritual, or religion, it’s not about an act – of baptism, salvation, conversion, whatever yours is, its about so much more than that... #thereismore !

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So as I said it’s a challenge – I mean John does not exactly mince his words does he? There some pretty harsh language in here:
How would it be if I stood up here and said to you, 'you bunch of sinners, you are what are you even doing here? Who told you to come to church?' I’m not sure I’d be winning any friends, or being particularly welcoming to our church!
But this is the first thing John says to those coming out to him in the desert.
What does he say to those coming to be baptised? He calls them a ‘brood of vipers’ great greeting isn’t it?! People must have arrived thinking, we are here, we’ve made it, they would have trekked out into the desert – found the man people were talking about, the man people thought could be the messiah and what does he say to them? Basically he insults them doesn’t he?!


It’s uncompromising language – no two ways about it. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire… The ‘chaff’ will be burned up and thrown into the unquenchable fire – I mean he’s saying to them – if you don’t make the mark, that’s your destiny. Being thrown into the fire.

Difficult to hear isn’t it? Scary even. But we can’t ignore these words, reading them today? The passage said the word of God came to John, so we can be sure he is preaching this challenging message on the back of that. I think Johns words are harsh because they need to be, he needed to get through to the crowds, to shake them from their lives of living under the law. To get them beyond the ‘we’re ok because we’re Jewish’… NO. he says. you’re not. More is expected of you…

So what do those words say to us today ?
Are they a challenge to us? Do they seem harsh? Perhaps we need something to cut through our daily lives, to speak directly to our hearts?

xxxxxxx

John is preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

a baptism of repentence – for the forgiveness of sins.

And for the Jews then, hearing Johns message would have been familiar with the act of baptism, and of ritual cleansing, washing clean – but for them it wasn’t just a one off, it happened regularly, according to Torah – the Jewish law, people were ritually cleansed, purification etc  for many reasons.

The CofE says this of baptism:
Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God’s love.

A first step – your first step with God might not have been baptism, it might have been something else…:  making a commitment, dedicating your life to God, saying the sinners prayer… but the point is, what is your next step, and the one after that, and the one after that?

I see it like this:

It’s 3 fold:
We come to God, we get right with him.
We receive from him and then
we get to bear fruit for him.


Like a repeating cycle…

And that actually is the point John was making – this so much more than ritual, than an action. This is more than just something you do and walk away from, having done what is required of you. This is a step to a new life. It’s about a heart transformation. Jewish law was full of just that ‘laws’ and requirement, ritual cleansing, lots of ritual.

But this baptism was about so much more than Jewish ritual cleansing. It required of those taking part ‘repentence’  and the expectation was that it would be a transformation,  that something would change. It was no good coming to take part in this ritual and then just going back to your old life,  John says, ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentence’. ie: if you truly repent, your sins are forgiven. Your life will be changed your actions will be changed…


Repentance can be an off putting word  can’t it? It conjurs up images of shame and guilt, and perhaps to some extent it should but the definition of the word repentence says this:

Repentence is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and resolving to live a more responsible and humane life (and we could add  in a Christian sense, perhaps resolving to live a life more focused on God.)

That’s not so scary is it? And that is all that God requires of us to have a relationship with him.

It’s not just about doing something publically, or taking part in a ceremony, more than that has to happen. We have to come willingly, but putting before God our wrong behavior, and as a result God draws closer to us, he cleanses us, he forgives us and a transformation takes place.

But it is always our choice. And it isn’t always easy. But if you want to know more of God, if you want to be closer to him. If you want to bear fruit for him, that is what is required of you.

xxxxxxx

So this morning I think we should be asking - is there anything stopping us receiving from God? Is there anything we need to lay before him?

Remember the 3 stages:

we get right with God
We receive from him and then
we get to bear fruit for him.


It’s  a repeating cycle… not a one off action, but something we need to continue to do throughout our lives…

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As I said earlier - Have we had a key moment like this – a physical action - might be baptism or confirmation, or it might be an action of saying the sinners prayer, making a commitment to God. But then, what do we do with that?

Have we had the same heart transformation? Are we transformed? Do we go on being transformed?

It’s actually surprisingly easy to get into a pattern of life that includes God, but is on our own terms. It might be - I don’t need to go to church… I meet God out in fields when I’m walking.  Or I go to church on a Sunday, what more do I need to do?  I go to a prayer group….  I wonder how many of us have found ourselves ‘going through the motions’ of being a Christian. But where is our transformation?

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Are we resting on our laurels, resting in the knowledge that we are Christians, our place is secured?  Last time I spoke I said that WE are bringers of Gods kingdom. So are we actually bringing it? Or just sitting around, looking forward to it?


John says to the people here – don’t say to yourselves, its ok we have Abraham as our father – ie: their Jewish inheritance, we’re ok. What does he say to them? Yeah right, God can make sons for Abraham out of rocks – you still think you’re ok?

Well how about us? Do we find ourselves reliant on carrying a name? And often it isn’t that we are deliberately ignoring our inheritance, I don’t think those Jews were being beligerant I think they actually just didn’t even think beyond themselves ….


So let me ask this: Actually what does saying  “I am a Christian” – mean to us? We bear the name of Christ – Lord of all. Saviour of the world. King. 


But you know we see Jesus in Matt 7 saying this:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven


Shouldn’t “I am a Christian’ mean something more than just a personal statement?

What is the difference in us? Compared to those around us?

Me  called myself a Christian for years – expand on give example...

bottom line - No relationship, no repentence, no fruit…

+++++++

Here's a great example: I expect that you have all seen pictures of Pope Francis on the news or in the papers. Now there is a man so obviously lives with a heart full of Love. And it overflows from him doesn’t it? He is continually challenging the perceptions of his role isn’t he? He lives in a small apartment rather than the Vatican palace. He makes time for people, normal people not just dignitaries. This week I saw a really beautiful film of him, where he was traveling through a town on the way to an event and the people knew he was going to travel through and some had stopped at the roadside to wave. One family had a severley disabled daughter and they put up a banner saying Pope please stop here and bless Roberta. And he did just that. He stops right alongside them, gets out and comes forward and kisses the girl and then spends few minutes shaking hands with those around him. It is a really moving clip.

Here is a man so obviously overflowing with the love of Christ.

Now he is the Pope and he was elected via a ritual, an event a physical event, as have many popes before but it is so evident that here is a man who is not defined by this event, his title or the doctrine of his church. Here is a man producing fruit for the God that he loves.


Matthew 12:34
34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of


You know if you watch the clip as well, the other thing I noticed that there are officials around him and they are all smiling, hardened body guards an a cardinal!. And one of them stops to pick up something a member of the family has dropped. They aren’t just standing on duty and doing a job, I think they have all been touched by the actions of the Pope, his demeanour, his heart…

Could we say the same about the people around us? Are they touched by the overflow from us? By our fruit?


Xxxxxx


Msg version of this passage says this:

Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin…

… What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”


So, where are our lives green and blossoming? where is the fruit in our lives? Where is the evidence of a life changed? Where is the presence of God in our daily lives?

The people in the passage ask ‘What Should I do?’

It could be in so many different ways, from the small to the huge. Checking on your elderly neighbour to social action projects. From offering to pray for a friend to taking part in street ministry. From  getting alonsgside someone who is struggling to living incarnationally in an area where God has called you – these are all things people in this church are doing.

Sometimes it can be as simple as being open about your faith. My husband Phil, some years ago had a colleague who was a Christian. She didn’t shout about it but she was just open about it, when asked what she was dong at the weekend she would say, well I’m going to church actually.
Anyway they were colleagues for a number of years before we both began to really look at the Christian faith. It was at that time when Phil had a lot of questions (we both did!) that he was able to say to her – do you still go to church? And that opened up an amazing conversation about Jesus and she answered so many of his questions. And in fact the very next day he gave his life to Jesus.
That only happened because she had a relationship with Jesus, she was bearing fruit just by being open about her faith in a quiet and unassuming way.

Here’s another story to the other end of the spectrum. I am involved in a small charity called Hope House Haiti UK, which I have mentioned before, we support a school and orphanage in rural Haiti, one of the poorest areas of the world. 3 years ago my friend, the chairman of the charity and I were at the Hillsong women’s conference. At that conference she felt God saying to her, you need to go to Haiti. She had a contact in her family and she went for a short term trip. From that, the last 3 years have been bonkers! She has been out every year since, taking a small group of people. Now 3 years later we have set up a charity to support them, we have raised thousands of pounds for them, and next January she is taking a group of about 10 people out there.
And everything about this project from the people, who run the school and orphanage to those of us running the charity, it is all based on a relationship with Jesus. Prayer is so key, hearing from God is vital. Hope House is the fruit of a relationship with God…

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The point is fruit is the evidence of a life transformed. If you’re still not sure about what is fruit, a good place to start is Galatians 5 – the fruit of the spirit:

Galatians 5:
Love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self control…

Can we say we are displaying the fruit of the Holy Spirit?


But lets remember our cycle:  to bear fruit we have to be in the right relationship with God.

Get right with God, receive from God and bear fruit for God…




xxxxxx


Now, It is really important to say that we are not talking about works here… You cannot earn your place in the kingdom.  It is a gift, a free gift for anyone – as we see in v 6 – 'all people will see God’s salvation' – it is there for everyone. That’s what Grace is – that God gives us this amazing wonderful gift even though none of us have a right to it, none of us have earned it, none of us deserve it. But we still get offered it.

So, I’m not standing up here saying you need to produce fruit in order to get into Gods kingdom. No. but what I am saying is that you have been given this amazing gift – so what are you going to do with it? Where is your fruit?

xxxxx

SO I guess the question for us is exactly the one the crowds asked:  what should we do?


The bible says this:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

++++


Our cycle again:

1) Get right with God (ie; repentence). We come before God and get right with him.
2) We receive from God. Having got in a right place with God we put ourselves in a position of being able to receive from him…
3) we are filled up, we go out and share – we bear fruit for God



xxxx

So as I draw to a close I want us to be thinking about where is our fruit? Both individually and corporately.

As a church we went through a corporate period of repentence back in September. It wasn’t easy, it was quite painful but it was the things that God had brought to mind that we brought before him. And I think since then we’ve entered a period of receiving from him, we are getting prepared to go out and bear fruit.

So now is the time for us to be asking corporately ‘what should we do?’

Our vision statement is to be ‘a transforming presence in Mid Sussex’. How can we be a church that is exactly that – a church that bears fruit?


There are things starting to happen,
We have started to develop our outreach locally as many of you will have heard about - expand…
and that feels like a real example of having repented, we are receiving from God and he is allowing us to bear fruit. Amazing ways he has opened doors, answered prayers, created opportunitites…

Is God calling us as the church to something in your area? Or to a specific need?



And as individuals – what should we do?

What is God asking of you – are you right with him? Or are you just going through the motions? Where is your fruit?



Are we:
living a life worthy of Jesus
living a life that is transformed by Jesus
living a life that honours Jesus
 living a life that points to Jesus

Remember:

Spend time with God – get right with God
Receive from god
Go out and bear fruit for God – share God…


let me leave you with this one question:

If Jesus is the answer, what are we going to do about it? What are  YOU going to do about it?

 END