Bishop Robert- celebrating what has been, looking ahead to what is to come

Text below is the transcript of the address given by Bishop Robert (that’s him, below) to the churches of the Barnstaple Mission Community on Sunday 18th March 2018.

BBC News - New Bishop of Exeter Robert Atwell installed

Philippians 2.1-16


“Is there anything of which it may be said: See this is new?” A question posed long ago by that miserable Old Testament preacher, Ecclesiastes; but pertinent for us today as we commission this new Group Ministry for the churches of Barnstaple.


Today is a day for giving the mission and ministry of the Church in this town a new look and a fresh vision. We give thanks for all that has been achieved, and say ‘Yes’ to everything that God is calling us to embrace in our discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ.


But it’s also a day for avoiding the trap of nouvelle cuisine – all style and no substance. And that will only happen if everyone here swings behind this fresh start and makes a go of it. Words by themselves will achieve nothing.


‘Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth. Tell of his salvation from day to day.’ If I had a text for today, it would be those opening words of Psalm 96. The trouble is, learning a new song is never easy. If an organist ever dares to change the tune to which a familiar hymn is sung, the gripes and groans that go up from a congregation are endless, even when the old hymn tune was a dreadful dirge. It’s so easy in life to default to the familiar, even when the familiar is negative.


I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Gareth Malone on the television and the amazing way he draws out the musical talents of people, be they military wives, or staff in the Royal Mail or the scratch choir of a hospital in Staffordshire. He always emphasises the importance of articulating the lyrics – so that the audience doesn’t miss the message.


We Christians have our own special song; and in spite of our different traditions and styles of worship, we are all agreed on the lyrics.


The lyrics are those of God who “so loved the world that He gave his only Son so that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.


The lyrics are of our Saviour Jesus Christ “who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and was obedient unto death” but rose again and longs to live through you and me.


The lyrics are those of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be Christ’s eyes and hands and feet in this generation here and now.

They are lyrics of glory because we sing of heaven and pray that one day we may rejoice in the vision of God for ever.


The lyrics are unchanging but the audience has. We live in a very different country from the days when this ancient church of St Peter was built 700 years ago or even when the late Billy Graham led his crusade in Britain in the 1960s. Our nation may not be post-Christian, but it is certainly no longer Christian in the way it was once considered to be, and we need to face that reality square on as we endeavour to get our act together.


What has also not changed is the call of Jesus Christ to follow him, his commission to make new disciples and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; to go into the world and engage in the public square, whether in the Panier Market, in local schools, or in the council chamber.


Jesus promises to be with us to the end of time, but he bids us witness: meet, act and, where necessary, confront, especially on behalf of the poor and socially excluded in our communities. We need to expose the secular assumptions that pervade so much of contemporary living in the confidence that comes from being grounded in the transforming love of God.


If you are ready to answer Christ’s call, then you need to raise your sights way beyond the inward-looking agendas that all-too-often bedevil PCCs. Beware of getting bogged down with things that do not address the issues that actually matter to the people of Barnstaple, and which, to be frank, bore the pants off most church people too.


Because let’s be clear: unless we engage with the issues that are shaping Britain today, then we will be expelled from the public square – and deserve to be. The Church of God is not a religious club for members only: it is the Body of Christ and we’ve a job to do and a difference to make. It’s why Jesus bid us be salt and light in the world.


I’ve read your Group Ministry Action Plan and there is so much that I want to affirm in what you are doing as parishes and individuals in your witness to Christ. For example, I think it’s great the way you are endeavouring to make your churches fit for purpose in the 21st century. Many young parents are happy to take their toddlers to the supermarket or to the library, but don’t want their babies crawling around under a dark pew in the dirt. Regular members in the congregation do not always realise this, confusing the smell of damp hassocks with the odour of sanctity.


The time has come to work together more strategically and more imaginatively than you have been doing in the past. This new Group Ministry is a means to that end. Together you can do great things, but separately you will be less effective. So this morning let me set before you four areas for you to think through as you discern priorities and shape your mission to the people of Barnstaple.


First, young people. How can you as a group of churches, committed to working together, engage more effectively with your local schools and young people? In so many of our schools today religion is presented as essentially irrational and potentially unstable, often on the spurious basis that science and religion are incompatible.If you and I seriously long for a Christian presence in Barnstaple in the years ahead then you need to be in your schools now, listening and talking.


Secondly, how are you going to engage intelligently with your local health centres, hospital and hospice over the major ethical issues that are arising from developments in genetics, or with the debate around assisted suicide and euthanasia? My worry is if we opt out of these debates we will collude with the growing public perception that Christians are out-of-touch, or worse still, that Christians are only given to shrill, negative and extreme opinions. In Devon there are increasing numbers of people with mental health problems. As Christians, what have you to say about human well-being in Barnstaple?


Thirdly, how are you going to engage with the new housing developments that are springing up around the place? Is a joint bid for funding from the diocesan New Housing Project Fund possible? When new people arrive in a town they are eager to make friends and to bond with the local community. What an opportunity. Don’t squander it.


And fourthly, how can you work together to support and engage with local businesses? Is their mileage for more town centre ministry, based here at St Peter’s, but run jointly by St Peter’s and the other parishes? Please don’t retreat into a privatised world of religion. Centuries ago the prophet Jeremiah told the Jews living in exile in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city in which they lived. And God says the same thing to you today in Barnstaple. As Christian people we are committed to human flourishing and building up the community in which we live and work.


For all these things, and many others besides, we have important lyrics in our Christian song. Yet, sadly, most people today aren’t hearing them. Why is that? Perhaps because the words we speak come across tritely, weakly, inarticulately; or maybe they are simply not coming across at all? Can you help one another in communicating better with the local community, learning from one another about what flopped and why it flopped, and what has gone really well and why?


Recent research has shown that putting words to music makes the words four times more likely to be remembered. I’m not suggesting that you set the Gospel to rap and the local clergy stand outside the Panier Market leading shoppers in a sing song – though I can guarantee that would make headlines in the local paper.


What I’m saying is that putting across a Christian message with credibility means releasing ourselves from Meccano-like ecclesiastical structures and stale constitutions, so that the words we use together, the very Gospel message we’re about, really does become music to people’s ears. And for that to happen, our lives and our words have to marry up.


In Gareth Malone’s last series he put a choir behind a screen and told them to sing the words of the song they were practising, first not smiling, and then with smiles. It was easy to detect which performance was which – for with the smiles came a bounce and a joy that transformed their performance. It’s why joy is key to our missionary task. Joy is what makes the Gospel infectious.


I must confess that I’ve not detected an over-abundance of joie-de-vivre in the Church of England over the past decade, and I take my own part in the blame for that. But it is why we talk about ‘serving the people of Devon with joy’. Those last two words of our third diocesan priority ‘with joy’ are not an optional extra. Miserable, grumpy, burnt-out Christians aren’t a good advert for the Gospel. Without a dollop of joy, all the words we utter will sound pedestrian, constraining, and stultifying.


So take to heart the words of St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians which we had as our reading this morning: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”


You have been wrestling with structures and stipendiary allocation for years. That’s now settled, hopefully for the long term. So the energy that has been directed inwards to sorting out your organisation needs now to be turned outwards to engage with the local community. And what better day to do this than on Passion Sunday when, in company with Christians throughout the world, we prepare to walk the way of the cross.


So let me invite you to give your best energy no longer to the organisation of the Church, but to placing all that you are and all that you strive to be into Christ’s hands. Then the words and notes you sing will become so integral to your being that the amazing truth of Christ’s vision for this world will dawn on others and we understand the meaning of his words:  “Behold, I make all things new.”



+ Robert Exon

So, it’s been a while since I blogged- actually this is my first post of the year and I didn’t even write it myself. I’ve been busy, with one thing and another- taking on a new bit of responsibility in my work, supporting a large number of bereaved families and so on, and that’s meant my notes for Sunday mornings are less fully worked out. I do want to get back to blogging, and not just posting sermon texts, but it’s one of those things that seems a bit of a luxury at the moment… we’ll see what the next few weeks bring.


Reblog- what can we learn from the plastic bag campaign?

This is mostly, well almost entirely, an environmental post; so you could be excused for wondering what it’s doing here where I normally blog about the Bible and post sermons.

The astute among you, and those who know me personally, will however know that as far as I’m concerned, care for the environment is one of the most significant ways that people can live in a way that reflects an awareness of and an appreciation for the God that Christians worship- if we believe God made all this stuff, then caring for it, enjoying and loving it is a pretty good response.

Enough of the intro, this came from the blog of Jeremy Williams… who’s blog Make wealth History can be found here. It’s one of the few blogs I always read and is always worthwhile.

here t’is:

In October 2015, Britain ended free single-use plastic bags at the supermarket, bringing in a charge of 5p. The charge succeeded in reducing the number of bags thrown away, and so campaigners are lining up the next target – disposable coffee cups perhaps, or plastic bottles. As the pressure grows around those things, it’s worth casting an eye back over the story to see what we can learn.

It took quite a long time to get that law through. The early calls for a ban came in 2007, when environmental issues were high on the agenda. The Climate Change Act was being prepared, and the Labour government took the opportunity to bundle in a handful of other environmental measures. An addenda to the bill, Schedule 6, lays the legislative groundwork for regional governments to introduce a plastic bag charge. There were no plans to actually do this at the time, and there were hopes that it could be done voluntarily. Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to bring in a charge if the retailers didn’t do it independently. A couple of them did, such as Marks & Spencer. Most didn’t, but Brown’s threat was muted by rounds of studies and consultations, and then vanished altogether when the government changed.

The Daily Mail, whose influence on this issue has been considerable, kept up its Banish the Bag campaign. Environment and waste groups kept calling for it, led by Surfers Against Sewage, Keep Britain Tidy and Friends of the Earth. A growing number of other countries were introducing charges or bans, so there was mounting evidence that it worked, and ever more case studies to learn from. The supermarkets were broadly in favour – it was better for the government to demand an end to free bags than for them all to move independently and risk customer inconvenience. Surveys showed the majority of people approved of the idea. There was no reason not to move ahead.

On the other side however, the packaging lobby didn’t want it. The Taxpayer’s Alliance disapproved and ran protests and petitions against it. It was the Alliance that popularised the idea that it was a ‘bag tax‘, when in fact the government doesn’t get the 5p charge. (Retailers can do what they like with it, though they are invited to give it to charity.) Under the coalition government, the Lib Dems argued for it. Conservative colleagues with an aversion to red tape pushed back – people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who mocked the whole idea because “the aim ought always to be to help people to lead their lives as free from state intervention as possible”. Over on the continent, Britain followed its usual stick-in-the-mud strategy and led the opposition to an EU wide ban.

But the legislation was there for those that wanted it. Wales moved first, acting in 2011. Then Northern Ireland, bringing its rules in line with its southern neighbour, which was the first country to ban free bags back in 2002. Scotland banned them in 2014 and finally the measure made it onto the Queen’s speech and then the statute books in 2015. Whitehall’s version was riddled with exceptions and loopholes, but it was finally done.

After all that foot-dragging, it worked exactly as expected. Plastic bag use was projected to fall by 80% and it did. So that’s a victory, although it’s extraordinary that it took eight years to enact a small change that almost everyone seemed to agree was a good idea. Such is British politics.

There’s a growing campaign around plastic bottle deposits at the moment. I won’t detail where it’s got to right now, but it looks like another convoluted and drawn out journey into law. Seasoned campaigners will know this stuff already, but for those of us looking on from the outside and hoping for quicker results, what can we learn from the bag charge?

  • Someone always loses, even on common sense and well proven environmental measures. Those people can be surprisingly powerful. Companies who supply plastic bags to supermarkets stood to lose millions, and understandably mounted a considerable defence.
  • We might think that a solution is obvious, but opposition to environmental measures can be very creative. All kinds of arguments were marshaled against the bag charge, calling on various research reports and think tanks to support them. The IEA fretted that plastic bags would lower sales and harm businesses. Others argued that there would be an increase in shop-lifting, or that incinerators would be able to generate less electricity. There will be always be trade-offs, but when a government is predisposed not to act, any negative aspects can be good excuses to do nothing. Campaigns need to be aware of trade-offs and acknowledge them. They also give us clues about where the holes in the legislation might be when it comes.
  • Framing is important. Many people still refer to the ‘plastic bag tax’, which was a deliberate framing move by the Plastic Bag Consortium and the Taxpayer’s Alliance. People don’t like taxes. Neither do they like things to be ‘banned’. The languages of taxes and bans were readily deployed against the charge, and this needs to be called out and corrected, especially when it the phrases are picked up by journalists.
  • The regions can and will move faster than the national government – Scotland is already implementing a bottle and can deposit scheme. Focusing on regional campaigns is a key part of the strategy. Those of us in England don’t have a regional government of our own (yet), but we can still support campaigns in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each regional initiative builds the case for wider action.
  • Making the issue political is really unhelpful. The plastic bag scheme was a Labour idea and then a Lib Dem policy. As soon as it is associated with one party, many MPs feel duty bound to obstruct it on principle. Working across parties and finding champions in different sectors can help.
  • Finally, patience will be required. And truth be told, rushing something through could backfire. It’s not always as simple as it looks, and a bottle deposit scheme is a bit more complicated than the plastic bag charge.

I’m confident that we’ll get a bottle deposit eventually. If you want to do your bit for it right now, Greenpeace have a petition here. Sign the one from Surfers Against Sewagetoo. Join in with beach clean-ups and local litter-picking initiatives, publicise them in local press, and drop in mentions of the bottle deposit scheme. To all those plastic bottles in hedgerows and gutters – we’re coming for you. Slowly.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire… yes, it’s a poem, and it’s my next step in changing the world.

If you’ve read this blog before, you may have noticed the general lack of poetry quoted here. Or written by me. Or referred to. You may have, instead, noticed references to Star Wars, Marvel and DC superheroes, climate change, politics and, occasionally, God. Today, however I want to post a pome. Not one I’ve written or just recently discovered, but one I’ve known for a long time and was reminded of earlier this week.

Urban kingfishers making a home on London's waterways ...

Gerard Manley Hopkins, aside from having an amazing name, wrote poetry that drew together and expressed his love of the natural world, developed through his training as an artist and a naturalist, and his love of God. If you want a full biography of him, you could do worse than look here. However I don’t know much about him, nor know many of his poems except this one, which has been quoted in two books by Eugene Peterson (the genius theologian behind the Message- a contemporary reading of the Bible). This poem was also shared with me by my good friend and tutor, Chris Southgate, who’s had a bit of a funny old summer, and so with all these things in mind, as well as the nightmare weather events occurring and the turn of the seasons that is taking place around us, I thought I’d share a poem…

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
When things around us make us at a loss for words- whether things in our personal circumstances, the news of earthquake and hurricanes tearing through a region, the reminder of man’s unthinking and deliberate cruelty to man that is occurring in the Yemen and elsewhere, there is a tendency towards paralysis. Those of us who overcome this may find our action is spasmodic, reflex- cathartic at best, but often simply unthinking. It may be that in these circumstances poetry, the considered words of others, can give us a moment of consideration that may lead to action that is ultimately more powerful and effective.
Or maybe I’m just becoming a bit lah-di-dah and would rather read poetry than change the world…

God is with me, even in the midst of it all.

These last few weeks have been pretty crazy in the world- most days I’ve avoided reading the news too much as it’s just been beyond my imaginings, and alongside that we’ve had a fairly full on month- From a week at New Wine (14,000 Christians at a conference that is part music festival, part worship, part learning seminars, part camping holiday- amazing but tiring), baptisms of 2 friends children, 3 funerals (all of which were close to me), and fortunately in the midst a few days off…

Somehow, in the midst of all this, God has to make sense still. Somehow,  God has to help me make sense of all this even while I’m in the midst of it. If faith doesn’t make a difference in the crazy and the rubbish, then this God isn’t worth anything.

I’ve found that God hasn’t let me down- I’ve had energy and time for all that’s been essential, have managed to get enough sleep (just) and even been sane with my family (mostly). I have, also, in the midst of all this, found time for my own prayer life and to spend some time in quiet with God- and I genuinely think that might be what has helped me get through this month- I’ve actually put into practice the idea that in order to do things well I need to prioritise being spiritually prepared- my own prayer life is like the warming up of an athlete…

Oh, and in the midst of it all I managed to attend an evening at the World Athletics Championships- here’s Wayde van Niekierk doing his final warm up prayer before winning the gold medal in the 400m…WP_20170808_21_50_43_Pro

The thing that has really struck me is that our faith in God, our understanding of God, has got to be relevant- to make sense and make contact with our everyday life, and there’s so much in the life of the church and the Christian world that just doesn’t quite connect- it almost does, but doesn’t- so people are looking for mindfulness, meditation and self-help, while Churches and Christians are offering prayer in all sorts of ways- but somehow there’s this gap… this is the thing you’re looking for, but you can’t understand the packaging, or something like that.

Anyway, with that in my mind, as I took the funeral of my friend who loved sports in general, and netball in particular, I looked for a version of Psalm 23 that would speak more relevantly into her life and those of her friends. I couldn’t find anything anywhere, so here’s my stab at it- Psalm 23, for those of us who know more about sports than sheep:

The Lord is my coach, he makes sure I have my kit.

He makes me warm down and rest after good training, he points me towards hot showers and calms me when my nerves are frayed.

He keeps me playing by the rules, for I am on his team, and I wear his strip.

Even when I compete in the toughest events, and I feel like I’ll never make it through, I will not be afraid, because you are with me; you have trained me for this and are with me in every struggle.

My God, you prepare a plan for me and encourage me even when I only see the problems. You tell me that I can make it and help me to do what I never thought I could.

Surely I will compete well, and fairly, for as long as I live- for I am on the Lord’s side and there is a place for me in his team forever.

written in memory of Jo Elliott, died 23rd July 2017.

Some helpful thoughts from a wise colleague…

This week my colleagues have been putting some really good things online, and I’m happy to share them- this comes from Bishop Sarah-

This week in Manchester we have unfortunately seen the NHS and emergency services at its best and Lucy Easthope in the Guardian online talks about how the emergency response of Monday night has been planned over many years. The planning has included “training people to sit patiently with a mother and ask her gently for permission to […]

via We need to admit how much this hurts — Contemplation in the shadow of a carpark

Borrowed wisdom

Sharing a post from my friend Ash Leighton Plom… further thoughts on Acts and yesterday’s talk will be posted tomorrow and in days to come, but I thought this was worth a read-

Today’s blog is from Martin Goss, Diocesan Environment Officer for Exeter:



Five years ago the Diocese of Exeter submitted plans to construct six small-scale wind turbines on its land in three different parishes in north Devon.  These were part of an overall strategy for the Church of England in Devon to reduce its Greenhouse Gas carbon emissions.  In the event the planning applications were withdrawn amidst an ambience of acrimony and unpleasantness.


In retrospect, it was agreed the process had not been well handled and there were lessons to be learned.  However, the continuing legacy of the whole process was to release dubious forces of animosity and division which last to this day.


This pervasive ‘nastiness’ was, on the whole, invoked by people’s fear and uncertainty about the future, and therefore triggered a reaction which was fully self-motivated and self-protective.


I sense that the same kind of bitterness is now threatening to engulf us all as we head towards the 2017 General Election.  The country is painfully divided and frightened, and extreme reactions are magnified through the media, unsettling us all. Racism, xenophobia and cultural hostility are on the rise. Cynicism prevails and lies become acceptable. All this, and more, is extremely nasty – especially if you are on the receiving end.


This is not to say there should not be political challenge and cut and thrust debate, which are both fundamental parts of our evolving democracy.  But when the entire election seems to split people or communities and we are apparently possessed by a spirit of the ‘uncommon bad’, we need to ask deeper questions. Feeling bitter is not necessarily a healthy motivator for change.



Pope Francis, in his recent TED talk, speaks rather of the need for a ‘revolution of tenderness’. Love is the tenderness which starts in the heart and extends to the eyes, ears and hands to shape a different future. “Tenderness is being on the same level as the other” he said compassionately.


To politicians and decision makers he adds, “The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, and the more responsible you are for acting humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other”. Prospective Parliamentary Candidates please note!


Through public elections people of faith are called to remember that they are also citizens and therefore have responsibilities for both the local community and the wider society in which they live. We are invited to make choices that will have consequences not only for our civilisation now but also for the future. The decisions of politicians  today will determine life in this world for generations to come…


The media and others will pressurise us into voting for those who say they will deliver good things for us – actions which will enhance oursecurity or safety, policies which favour our communities and our households.


Yet deep at the heart of the Gospel is a message to be concerned and caring for the most vulnerable people in our world – those whose human growth is stunted by disease or poverty or oppression. All Christians have a moral duty to look beyond their own interests and speak up for justice and kindness in a broken world. For us there is a vision of a different kind of society where the gifts of all are included,  and the needs of all are met. Some of us recognise this as the Reign  of God, in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first; in which peaceful means of managing conflict are preferred to violence and war, in which strangers are welcomed; and in which people are enfolded in kind-heartedness at times of real uncertainty.


We therefore vote not only for ourselves but more for others, voting out of tenderness not bitterness.


‘Everything begins in mystique and ends in politique’ said spiritual writer Charles Péguy. So to speak up for the poor, the planet and the future are central actions that grow out of a prayerful life which may begin in the mystery of God but always ends in political action…


May these sentiments influence the choices we make more than the clamour of appealing to our selfishness, greed or fear. In the end we are judged not by how we feather our own nests by how we care for the other.


All best wishes – Martyn


The future of humankind is in the hands of the people who recognise the other as a ‘you’, and themselves as part of an ‘us’   (Pope Francis)

Charlie Brown, the eternal optimist

Usually this blog is based around what I’ve been preaching on- my own thoughts and reflections on a passage from the Bible and the things that are going on in life. You may have noticed that some weeks I appear to have no thoughts (or at least nothing worth sharing)… and while this may be true, the reason nothing comes onto the blog is because someone else has preached at our Sunday worship times. In one of our churches those talks are recorded and uploaded onto our website and itunes, and you can listen to them or find them here– you can also download them from itunes, I suggest you go via our website rather than searching on itunes or click here if you want to subscribe. Anyway, in the other church those talks don’t get recorded or uploaded, instead we just allow people to remember them, or not.

A few weeks back a friend preached, and it a real good’un, and so I’ve asked her to give me the text to post here- so, a guest post by my good friend Jo Pay, based on chapter 6, verses 25-34 of Matthew’s Gospel-


When I was a teenager the Daily Mail used to run the Peanuts comic strip and I used to cut out those that I thought were apt, I occasionally come across them stuck between pages in books. There was one with Charlie Brown and Linus, where Linus is asking if Charlie Brown is worried about tomorrow; he answers no – he’s still hoping that yesterday will get better! This little cartoon strip perfectly illustrates the theme from our 2 readings today – Worry and Hope. I tried to find the comic strip, but although I flicked through a number of books I couldn’t locate it – never mind it’s around somewhere.

Now at times I can be a bit of a worry wart; am I packing the right clothes for this holiday, will the meeting at work today go alright, will I catch the train this morning as I’m running a bit late! Not huge all the time sort of worrying, but odd and quite specific concerns – probably quite trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Our reading today tells us specifically not to worry. I find it really refreshing that Jesus recognised this inbuilt trait in humanity to worry. Also it’s quite reassuring that it was prevalent enough then to warrant a mention, and there’s us thinking that we have the monopoly on things to worry about?! Times obviously don’t change that much.

So worrying, why do we do it? Is it because we think that by making a real conscious effort and dwelling on something we could possibly make any difference to a situation, or to the outcome?

Let’s look at the reading – it opens with ‘do not worry about your life’ and goes on to say ‘is not life more important than food’? This made me think about planning, just because God tells us not to spend time worrying about our life, it doesn’t mean that we can’t plan, or map out our lives. Now I might think that I do this, but oh no I’m just a mere amateur compared to some! When I worked at Wrafton Labs in the Development Team we had a gap year student, who had planned exactly how he wanted his life to be. He was working with us for a year and then studying Chemical Engineering at University. He had decided that he wanted to work for BP, he’d even decided at what age he would marry and when he would have children, and yet at that time he didn’t even have a girlfriend – wow! I’d never met anyone like that before to have such strong views on how his life would be, I remember thinking at the time what would happen if it didn’t turn out like that, maybe that wouldn’t be the case as he was so determined! In comparison my life is a bit more ‘unstructured’, allowing space for God to steer, or push. I have aspects of planning as for an example, from quite a young age I was determined to work for ICI at Plant Protection Division, and I did, however when I look back the ‘steer’ from God can be quite visible, although when you are there in the moment, it doesn’t feel like it. We don’t have to just sit there and worry about how our life will turn out, or what will happen to us – we can plan and turn it prayerfully over to God and relieve ourselves of that worry.

I was thinking of this passage as I was in the garden at the weekend filling up the bird feeders. Yes lots of people now help God out and feed the birds, however some of my shrubs still have some berries on them, and the blackbird was having a good old root around in the leaf mould finding insects, so there is still plenty of God given food for them. So why do we feed the birds? I think that it is because we care for them, enjoy them visiting the garden; Not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. Maybe some people feel that the only way they can show care for somebody is to worry for them, or about them. But we need to develop a better way of showing we care to relieve ourselves of the worry. Our heavenly Father cares for us, it says that he knows what we need. We need to sometimes give ourselves a shake and remember exactly how much God knows us, he knows the number of hairs on our head, he knit us together in our mother’s womb – put your cares back onto God. Stop worrying and enjoy the life that God has given you, know that it is all within his plan for you.

So now we’ve managed to consider our worrying habits and think about bringing it back into perspective and under control we can consider the second reading – we can have hope for today and tomorrow.

Now this reading is a bit more challenging, I’ve been doing some reading on it in preparation and one author stated that we need to read chapter 8 as the Victory chapter, the turning point in Romans where Paul tries to show us what is awaiting us. But if we are just considering the passage in question and especially thinking about hope I found a really good analogy which I will share. This passage was likened to watching a football game, or your sport of preference, between the team you support and a n other team. Your team isn’t doing well and so you are groaning, probably shouting at the TV. Part of you wants to hope that it will turn out to have the result that you want, a win for your team, however at the moment that hope is unfounded and you are in despair. Then, suddenly in the last few minutes of the game your team turns themselves around, the crowds are cheering them on – you are on your feet in the living room, shouting and screaming as they score the final winning goal. The hope you had in them has been realised. However you feel emotionally like you have gone through the wringer, yet if you watch any of that game on the highlights later on, you will have a completely different outlook all the way through, your despair is not so deep because you know the outcome.  Well this is what Paul says we should be like, our despair, our pain, our worrying should not be too deep because we know that God sent Jesus to die in our place. We can have that hope that it won’t be too bad, we can wait patiently because we know it will be good. However it is worth remembering that this hope needs to be our attitude to life, it won’t always be easy, life happens to us in all its glory and some of it can be a bit tough, we have those worries about those specific things in our life that can swamp us at times. We need to pray daily for hope to arise in our lives, to know that those things that make us worry and feel hopeless have been overcome by Christ’s death on the cross.

So let’s try this all together, praying daily for hope, kicking our worries into touch so that we shine with God’s light flooding us from within – maybe even changing what Charlie Brown thought and having hope for today and tomorrow.



Ashes, cake and beer


No, not that kind of ashes and cake… I didn’t get around to blogging anything about Ash Wednesday, partly because I was too busy prepping for it and then was trying to enjoy the afternoon with my family afterwards, but a friend of mine blogged about what he was doing here.  Interestingly he’s also thinking about how to relate to folks who would be more comfortable meeting and talking in a pub than in a church, which is something that we’re exploring in our local.

Anyway, here’s Rob’s reflections on Ash Wednesday-

It’s been a pretty busy time … a few things to update and for me to reflect on.

So we arrived at the bus stops at 730am on Ash Wednesday. We were both robed. I was a little nervous. We positioned ourselves, with our small containers of ashes and a handful of our postcards which had a lent prayer and explanation attached to them, at each of the bus stops opposite each other and waited.

We did not have to wait long until we were engaged in conversation with a variety of people. Some asked about the ‘fancy dress’ while others told us simply that they knew it was Ash Wednesday and, ‘yes please …. could you ash me and pray for me’.

In all we gave ashes to just over 30 people in the hour we were there. People seemed encouraged and blessed by our presence; even people who did not wish to receive ashes or a postcard commented that they liked to see ‘the church’ out with the people. Lots of people did not wish to engage and avoided any eye contact and it was very right to respect their dignity and give space, but many also wanted to engage and ether connect or reconnect in some simple way with God, their Creator.

Wednesday morning was encouraging.
Then came Wednesday evening.

For a large part of the previous week I had posted a message asking anyone that was interested in birthing a new church on the Greenwich Peninsula to meet me at the local pub on Wednesday evening. I even blogged it here. After much prayer I felt this was right to ‘put out there’ and was convinced that, through this, I would find the first of the new people that would join us to create church here.

I arrived very confidently at 7:55pm.
I waited.
I waited more.
It seemed I waited an age so I looked at my watch and saw it was only 8:15pm.
I laughed at myself.
8:15 became 9, and 9 became 10.
No one came. No one showed up.
The good beer could only be a scuffed and scratched, rather than silver, lining on the evening.

Whenever you plan or hope to meet with people and they do not show it is hard to take. I was convinced I would meet one key person that evening … and yet the reality was I felt pretty invisible and anonymous in the pub. A few weird looks at the start (obvs I was in dog collar!) dissolved into nothingness. Even in Rochester I was sworn at or the butt of jokes ….. but here … nothing!

It felt harsh.
I wondered if I had got everything wrong.
I questioned whether what I am trying to do here is even possible.
I then I heard a memory …. a memory about presence and being present.

I had to acknowledge that I believe I have been called here by God to work with the people that are here to create something. But …. over and above that calling, God asks me to be present here. Properly present, present and available. We were present and available in the morning and people were encouraged …. I was present and available in the evening and seemingly people didn’t notice …. but it is immaterial …. it changes nothing …. present and available is what I am called to be  ….. and present and available is what I will continue to choose to be.

So I go out today …. not too sure where … but wherever …. present and available is what I will be.

As for what we did… rather than ashing by the bus stop, we offered ashing as part of a prayer/reflection space that took place alongside our family coffee and cake morning- so we had a few folks coming along specifically for the service, some members of the church who would be there anyway coming for prayer and some kids and their mums having a good look at what was going on and taking part a bit… a different way of making prayer and the idea of Focussing on God (which was our theme for this year) accessible to folk who’ll come to church for cake but not yet for God.

On the pub front, we don’t have a name for what we’re doing, but we’re going to do something… I guess the difference between what Rob is trying and what we’re trying is that he’s at the stage of connecting with people at the moment, while a small group of us who’re involved at this stage have a list of around 20 people we could invite along… we’ll see where it goes from here…

The Holocaust and other genocides… remembering without repeating

This was posted on Faithworks yesterday, its worth a read, and whether you feel that there should be more done/said to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, or that there should be more done/said to make the genocides against other peoples during the last century, put that to one side and read it down to the end. Its the final sentence that challenges and speaks most to me…

JANUARY 27  is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date the United Nations has chosen to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were killed.

The anniversary, marked each year since 2005, falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland by the Russian army in 1945. One million people died there.

The president of the European Parliament has warned of rising anti-Semitism as Holocaust Memorial Day is marked around the world.

The Parliament held its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day with the European Jewish Congress on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

It came as Auschwitz survivors travelled to the camp in modern day Poland to lay flowers and remember those who were murdered by the Nazis.

Speaking at the memorial day event in Brussels, Mr Schulz warned that many Jews across Europe still do not feel safe.

He said: ‘Jewish life is part of our culture and our identity. Without the Jews, Europe would not be Europe. Therefore it hurts that in today’s Europe, Jews again live in fear.

He added: ‘Our collective memory of the Holocaust is fading fast, but if we allow the horrors of the past to fade into history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes again.

‘We need more that just ceremony and commemoration. When anti-Semitism is on the rise, when Jews are once again fleeing Europe.

‘When a murderous Islamic extremist ideology is threatening our existence, we need action as well as words.

‘It is time for our leaders to commit to a robust, unified and coordinated approach to tackling anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism.

‘We must all stand against hate refuse to allow history to repeat itself, making ‘never again’ a reality.’

How to actually do that? Standing against hate without allowing hate to rule us? How do we ‘tackle’ something without force or violence? And if we do go down the path of violence, what steps can we take as we go to ensure that this is the last time?

There’s an Iain M Banks novel, ‘Look to Windward’ that explores the whole idea of redemptive vengeance in parallel with soulless compassion… whether its worse or better to do the wrong things for strongly held beliefs or to do the right things because they are right, whether we feel passionately about them or not… His conclusion is along the lines of the maxim that ‘the best politicians are the ones who don’t want the job’… giving responsibility for making decisions about conflict to those who’ve suffered and survived, who’ve come to a place of personal peace and forgiveness… those are the ones who won’t glibly launch bombs for the sake of votes… or is that just another naive dream?

Oh, and what would Jesus do? What did he ask his followers to do? I don’t mean what did Thomas Aquinas theorise which became developed into the ‘Just war theory’ that the UN bases its decision-making process on, but what did Jesus do and say about hate and conflict? Answers on a postcard please.

Some borrowed thoughts on Ferguson one year later- how does race awareness look in your context?

So, I live in a mono-cultural part of the UK, not because of any ethnic segregation but because of distance and work availability. Or at least, it used to be monoculture, and monochrome (I do remember meeting, quite literally, the first black African who lived in the village, and the first Thai family who moved into the next village…). Now, 15yrs on, the culture is predominantly white british, but with a lot of diversity at the fringe- there are families from all over Europe, Africa and Asia who’ve moved here with work (schools and the hospital plus the beach lifestyle/tourism mostly); but very much in the minority.

The question I have is whether race is an issue here- is someone’s colour and ethnic background a marker or just an identifying feature?  Does it cause someone offence to describe them by their background/hair style/skin colour/employment? I know folks who’d answer both ways to that question…

But the question of race isn’t just colour- its status: refugee, migrant worker, incomer (that’s me, by the way), ex-colonial and so on. Here the question is as much about the camps in Calais, the welcome we give EU nationals working here for a summer, how we treat the families of those who’ve been recruited from overseas to run our healthcare…

Anyway, with all that in mind, I read the post below on Gospelrelevance and thought I’d share it:

One Year Later: 7 Ways To Respond To The Ferguson Aftermath

This past week marks one year since the death of Mike Brown. How should you respond to Ferguson aftermath?

Photo Credit: RAA Network
Photo Credit: RAA Network

I grew up in St. Louis, in a placed called “North County,” about 15 minutes away from Ferguson. I lived in North County most of my adult life until moving away for college. Having spent most of my life in NoCo, as they call it, these are familiar grounds. And I know about the hardships of this area: my uncle was innocently murdered when I was in 4th Grade by a stranger over some chump change.

I’m not saying I’m the most qualified to write this post. But I’m certainly not ignorant. I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m on the inside crying out.

So what should you do?

Last year I wrote a response post right after Michael Brown’s death. My aim was to challenge Christians to respond in a proper, godly way. But now that it’s been over one year, I think we should revisit the question: How should Christians respond to Ferguson?

Here’s at least 6 ways:

1) Continue to pray. 

As soon as you mention prayer, some Christians reply, “I know, I know. But what else can I do.” If this is your attitude, you don’t understand the importance (or power) of prayer. Sure, activity is crucial. You can’t just sit around and do nothing. But to think lowly of prayer is to think lightly of the Savior — the one who is ready to grant requests according to his will for those who ask, seek, and knock. Pray for humility, for reconciliation, for wisdom, for love, for help. Prayer is the first step.

2) Perform a self-examination (again). 

It’s easy to criticize the media, but this is of no value to you if you don’t examine your own heart. Do you struggle with racism? Do you racial-profile others? Do you show favoritism to your race? Others might not know, but God does. Confession and repentance is the fist step for healing.

3) Start a racial dialogue.

I think a “Win” in the past year has been the increased emphasis of CNN and Fox News and other media outlets on having more conversations about race, social justice, and the like. Sure, the info is sometimes incorrect and biased. But at least a discussion is happening, and the emphasis being made more prominent. The media — and Social Media — are talking.

What about you?

You probably won’t be on CNN this week. But you can have a dialogue with your neighbor.

One week after the shooting, I went to a gym in North County. Eager to learn, I pursued a dialogue with an African-American about the situation. I was hesitant and timid and didn’t know if he would reply in an adverse way. But he didn’t. I asked a ton of questions about his upbringing and negative experiences. I wanted to know what it was like to walk in his shoes. And I learned a lot.

Chaz and I

That one conversation taught me more about race and injustice than all the articles I read combined.

The good news is that you can do the same.

Can you have someone of a different race over for dinner this month? I promise you won’t regret it.

4) Build multi-ethnic churches.

I’ve been in the church since 7th grade, visiting dozens and dozens of churches in my lifetime. The number of times I’ve been the only minority in the room is staggering. This is a problem. Pastors in St. Louis — and all around the world — should be committed to building multi-ethnic churches.


There have been books, blogs, conferences, and movements dedicated to this point. All of which can be helpful. But something John MacArthur one said stuck with me that I think can help.

During a Q&A session, a pastor asked MacArthur for advice because his church was struggling with evangelism, seeing very few people converted. “The first thing I would do to help is hire someone with the gift of evangelism on my staff,” replied MacArthur. He explained how this can ignite a fire within the church staff, and the church itself.

This is won’t always be available. But if he or she fits the biblical qualifications, I can see how hiring a minority on staff can help promote the cause of the pursuit of multi-ethnic churches.

5) Start gospel-centered racial justice movements. 

Many movement promoting racial justice have sprung since Mike Brown’s death, with Black Lives Matter rising to prominence. This is good. It’s a healthy sign that people are being shaken out of apathy, and are moving towards activity. But here’s the deal: apart from a gospel-centered moment, the impact of various movements will be limited. What people need is not just behavior modification, but heart transformation. And that power is only available through the gospel.

6) Preach the gospel. 

Racism exists because of sin, and Jesus is the solution. Even John Piper admitted to growing up racist, and I have had my battles, being picked on from multiple ethnicities. The solution? Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News preached and taught through the power of the Holy Spirit is what will change our racist tendencies, and provoke a love for one another. Not gonna lie: a part from Jesus changing my heart, I would be a racist, prideful jerk. Jesus is — and will always be — the solution.

7) Continue to press forward and look to eternity. 

Call me pessimistic, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see a remedy this side of things. Even without violent or prejudicial actions, racism exists because of sin, because of you and I. It’s easy to point the finger. But we should be looking in the mirror. And this sin is not going away, not until Jesus returns.

And he is. His perfect life, death, and resurrection has made a way for God’s people to live forever with him. One day, in a way that I don’t understand, all this wrong will be made right.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

All the tears shed from injustice and racism will one day be wiped forever. Until then, press on.