Rev. Anne Smith is the superintendent minister of the South West Worcestershire circuit.
Within the Church at the moment – not just the Methodist Church – there is an emphasis on discipleship, on the individuals called to be a follower of Jesus and the responsibility to call others to Christ. The Methodist website ‘Deepening Discipleship’ says:
‘Discipleship is a lifelong process. We are never 'done' with discipleship, as it involves the ongoing formation of our lives into being like Jesus. While we should hope to deepen our commitment and grow in the grace of loving God and neighbour, this is a journey that continues into eternity.’
This year to link with Lent, Gordon Leah has developed a series of studies called 'Our Discipleship – Reflection and Action' which I commend to you all. Lent is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection, a time of taking stock of our life and getting back on track or even finding the right track in the first place.
To compliment this at St Andrew’s we have a series of invited preachers who will look at the themes each week and preach accordingly. It is the first time in a while we have done this sort of thing and I hope people will find it helpful. I am sure the members of the Worship Committee would value any comments.
To think of ourselves as disciples can be awe inspiring or intimidating – we can feel ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘It is too much’. Yet as Methodists on the first Sunday of the year we say ‘I am no longer my own but yours’ – what is that other than committing ourselves to life-long discipleship?
But being a disciple does not mean that we have all the answers. You only have to look at the first disciples. They were a real motley crew, they were full of questions, of doubts and of fears. Each of them were different and when they failed in some way or another Jesus gently brought them back to his way and offered them a fresh start. Becoming a disciple is a commitment to a process, a lifelong process of becoming like Jesus, of letting all our words and actions reflect our intention of following the Jesus way. And it should be awe-inspiring for we are not worthy of this calling yet God in Christ calls us so, God in Christ makes us so.
Our life’s work is to discover how we can better follow Jesus and serve him in the world. It can sound limiting - yet with commitment to this way comes the freedom to be the people God created us to be.
As we begin our Lenten journey may God guide and help us, now and always.
God bless you and keep you always,
HAPPY 2013 TO YOU ALL.
Like last year, I decided to google 2013 as I prepared this letter (though last year I googled 2012). Like last year, there are those who predict the end of the world this year and someone thinks there will be nuclear war this year. There have been films, books and computer games set in this year and 2013 is the first year since 1987 that there has been four different digits to make up the number.
What will 2013 bring? We do not know - we do not have a crystal ball. For some it will bring joy, for others pain, there will be new discoveries and innovation, there will be comfort as some things stay the same. In “Singing the Faith” there is a section ‘Our Journey with God’ which includes some lovely hymns – old and new – which encourage, challenge and comfort us. I commend them to you.
However, what I do know about 2013 is that God will be with us. For that is the promise of Scripture and that is the truth we have experienced in the past. May we know God’s presence with us always
May God bless you and keep and guide you always,
Our autumn house group study material, so well put together by Gordon Leah, has asked us to look at meals with Jesus. At both St Andrew’s and Norton eating together has become very important. Whether it be on church premises or at a local “eatery”, on the banks of the Severn or in fellowship groups, the majority of people enjoy the opportunity to eat together.
There can be exceptions to this and as we try to build an inclusive community we must always be aware of those who we are excluding and endeavour to make sure they are included, if not in this way, then, in other ways. The early Christians were soon in trouble (Acts 6) with the distribution of food when there was discrimination between the Helenists and the Hebrews. Paul had to get very firm when writing to the Corinthians about the manner in which they came together to share the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Corinthians 11:17ff).
Jesus enjoyed many meals recorded for us in the Gospels and they were not without their controversy – it was mainly about eating with the wrong people and the behaviour of others but also about Jesus’ lack of fasting. So meals were an important part of gossiping the Gospel as they provided a place where deep truths could be shared in a communal way. There is a danger that we choose to sit with our personal friends thus cementing already close bonds rather than engaging with those we might not know so well in order that we can build up the community of faith. It can be very intimidating to walk into a room full of tables partially occupied with a sea of upturned chairs which say, "You are not welcome to sit with us.” We would never articulate that but we don’t need to – the upturned chair says it for us. Perhaps the exception is when we have invited someone to come who is new to church because they will need the security of being with those they know.
Jesus’s Gospel is one of welcome and inclusion and so as disciples we need to follow his lead. I believe that that is why, within the Methodist Church, we have an ‘open’ communion table at which all are welcome. It is not our table but it is Christ’s. It is He who welcomes us there. As He shared at that first meal in the upper room with those who would betray, denied and abandon Him, so He welcomes us in his generous love and grace. Many of the hymns for Holy Communion express the fact of God’s love eg “I come with joy, a child of God, forgiven, loved, and free,” and our need of His mercy and forgiveness (though we have lost some which call us to confess our sins – a preliminary to receiving communion). Many of the modern ones especially focus on the sending out element and the necessity of what we have experienced in worship to shape our thoughts and actions in the world. As Fred Kaan writes, "Then grant us courage Father God, to choose again the pilgrim way and help us to accept with joy the challenge of tomorrow’s day.”
May God bless you now and always,
Newsletter: December 2012
The “WORCESTER CHR12TMAS” (the words ‘days of’ are printed up the 1) dropped through the letterbox last week and it’s not even Advent as I write. It tells of what the city can give to us and the motto at the bottom of each page is “shop eat play | live Worcester”
Christmas seems to be coming earlier each year as the shops, restaurants and leisure venues vie for our custom – yet we still have the season of Advent to travel. Christmas does not begin until 25th December – yet we still need time to prepare. There are presents to buy, there is food to prepare and there should be time to give to friends and family as we share together some of our leisure time. (I can hear you say ‘what leisure time?’). It is all too easy to miss Advent out.
Advent, often marked by a calendar or candle, begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25th and not on December 1st as calendars and candles tend to. It also begins the Liturgical year, having been “Stirred up” on the last Sunday of the year by the Collect (Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by You be richly rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.)
Advent is a time of preparation. The word is taken from the Latin “adventus” coming - and we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ child but also for the second coming. Jesus came as a baby, born in a stable in a very uncertain world – the supreme gift for us and for all people. We look to his second coming when he comes as Lord and Judge. We are told in the Gospels that the time for this Advent is not for us to know and that sets before us a challenge – to be ready.
This getting ready does not plunge us into a frenzy of activity but rather requires us to reflect in a similar to the reflection of Lent, including for some a period of fasting! (that could be a bit of a blow to seasonal eating out!) Our reflection leads us to passages of the Bible found in the Old Testament Prophets and in Revelation. It challenges us to prepare hearts, minds and lives for the coming of the Christ child as well as taking stock of how we fulfill our calling as Christians. It also challenges us to consider the end time when Christ will come in all his glory.
All this while we are preparing for the celebration that is Christmas. As Christmas becomes more and more commercialised it is important that we take time to think on the real celebration – that the God who created the universe and all that is in it left his realm to risk all beginning in a stable in Bethlehem only to complete his earthly life on a cross outside Jerusalem. Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus
May God bless you this Advent, Christmas and always,
Jim and I wish you all a very happy Christmas
On 13 October, St Andrew’s Singers present “Jail Break” the story of Paul and Silas as recorded in Acts 16 with references to the Letter to the Philippians and Isaiah 61. The theme of the work is conveyed in the first statement of the musical, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty”. As the story unfolds you see the various ways in which liberty and freedom are found.
There is the freedom found when you know you are doing God’s will. Paul and Silas' mission seems to come to a halt and their efforts to go where they feel they should go are thwarted, but then they get the call, “Come over to Macedonia and help us,” and their missionary journeying begins again.
There is liberty found when faith is refreshed and renewed. Lydia is described as a worshipper of God, yet she embraces the Gospel proclaimed by Paul when the Spirit, “opens her heart”. She then welcomes the evangelists in her home.
There is freedom found when release comes from things that would restrain or confine us. The slave girl, exploited by her owners as she was able to make money for them with her predictions of the future, was freed after Paul became annoyed at her constant crying out. That ‘healing’ ended up with Paul and Silas having their liberty removed.
There was the opportunity for liberty for Paul and Silas when the earthquake broke the prison doors open, but they remained captive so that the jailer and his family could be saved – it is not about gaining freedom at any price.
Indeed, with freedom comes responsibility, with liberty comes accountability and that is where we turn to Philippians and that great early Christian hymn that begins with ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’. We are called as followers of Jesus Christ and encouraged to allow the mind of Christ to be our mind. This is the mind that is not centred on ourselves but looks to the concerns of others. It is the humble mind that looks to serving others. It is the obedient mind that seeks the will of God and then does it. It is the joyful mind that in all situations offers thanks to God.
The Letter to the Philippians includes some wonderful passages which Roger Jones sets to music and the work culminates in Charles Wesley’s “O for a Thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise”, a hymn that expresses the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a prayer that asks God to help proclaim his name. And that is the purpose of our freedom in Christ - that we may proclaim in our lives the God we know in Jesus.
We hope you can come along and join us on this occasion to enjoy “Jail Break”
May God bless you now and always,