God given moments

My friend George died this morning. George was a great man of faith and integrity. He was one of several  Local Preachers I had the privilege to help train in Chippenham. One who always engaged and had more questions than answers, his eyes would light up and a smile would appear when he discovered some new insight, a new revelation about God. Good with his hands he enjoyed model making and for the last few years a group of like minded men gathered round his house, he brought the plans of a new church to life with a model, and boasted how the tiny people were in fact toy soldiers that he had adapted and painted. I saw him last in the RUH on Wednesday, a chance remark and text from Anne and meeting nearby led to one of those “God given moments” when I decided to pop into the hospital and for 40 minutes we chatted as a nurse tried to get a fresh line into his vein. We talked about family, church, model aircraft, friends and tanks. George was diagnosed with cancer last summer whilst I was on my sabbatical and was an inspiration as he bravely and courageously battled with it knowing he only had a short time left. He knew God was with him in his journey. George was a philosopher in life and no doubt in death as well.

I thank God for those “God given moments” that come unexpectedly out of the blue, when a thought, a person comes into your mind and you make that phone call, or call on someone you haven’t seen for a while. Some might say coincidence, fate or chance, but I believe they are God given opportunities inspired by the Holy Spirit. I almost called on George a couple of weeks ago  when I had another meeting close by to where he lived, I chose not to that time, but I thank God that he gave me another opportunity – such is his love and Grace.

As I pray for Anna his wife, his daughters and their families, I will remember that smile as his eyes lit up  when he saw me walk into the ward, and his words, “What are you doing here” and finally “Thanks for coming”.

Lord, thank you for those unexpected God given moments, that make a difference.

Loving God,

We pray for those we love, but see no longer

grant them your peace;

let light perpetual shine upon them;

and in your loving wisdom and almighty power

work in them the good purpose of your perfect will;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Rev Michael Etheridge

Today (16th February 2017) is the first Anniversary of Michael’s death, I will sharing prayers with his family at 10am this morning as below.

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It was a shock and sadness that my colleague Rev Michael Etheridge died this week. Michael was a well loved and respected member of staff who joined the B&SG Circuit in September and will be missed by all his colleagues both lay and ordained. Please remember his wife Helen and their four children at this time in your prayers and the members of his churches at Victoria and Easter Compton.

Prayer for Michael

I am asking that the above prayer be used on Sunday in the Churches across the Circuit. together with the pastoral letter sent to Church Stewards and Local Preachers leading worship.

The death of anyone is difficult, even for clergy irrespective of how long they have been conducting funerals as each one is unique and personal, especially if it is a family member. Colleagues and friends come a close second. It has be a privilege to know Michael and work along side him in his role of Deputy Superintendent these past 6 months, we both started in September. He was a weekly visitor to the Circuit Office, his enthusiasm, wit, and discerning mind  was a breath of fresh air as he started to transform the vision of his churches, and often keeping me on my toes.

I have also valued the concern and love showed to me by colleagues both in the Circuit and across the Methodist Connexion, some people are well known to me, but others are strangers, but all wanting to express their pastoral concern, through word and prayer, understanding that in supporting Michael’s family, that I too need Pastoring.  – This is Church at its best! and I thank God for each and every one of them as sometimes we clergy need reminding of our own humanity and that we need to be ministered too.

A service of thanksgiving will be held at Victoria Methodist Church on Friday 4th March 2016 at 2.30pm

Update: 4th March 2016Michael Etheridge

Michael’s service was held this afternoon, about 300 people attended, my thanks to Rev Peter Barber and Rev Jonathan Pye for their tributes and prayers. It was good to see so many friends and colleagues from across the Connection and the wider church supporting both Michael’s family and the church community. Michael may you rest in God’s peace and love. We continue to hold his family in our thoughts and prayers.

Thanks to Chris Dobson who took this picture at the staff retreat in October.

To download a copy of the service click : Michael Etheridge Order of Service

To read the tribute on the Facebook page of the Bristol Diocese please click HERE

Below are resources that you may find useful in your ministry with the dying or bereaved – some need updating but I offer them as they are at this time:

Dignity Funeral Services produced a good booklet Explaining death to children several years ago.                      To download a copy click Here

Prayers following a bereavement is a simple folded A4 leaflet suitable to be given to bereaved families  or as pew leaflets.

It  can be downloaded by clicking on the link:  Prayers following a bereavement

Dealing with Trauma  – Some guidelines for clergy and pastoral workers involved in understanding and caring for people with traumatic experiences.  Written by  a former colleague Rev Gordon Wilson it gives a good reminder and insight to the process and pastoral, theological implications of those involved in sudden deaths.

It can be downloaded by clicking on the link:   Dealing with Trauma

A brief Guide to Bereavement & Grief is one of a series of short folded A4 guides that have yet to be uploaded on to the site. This leaflet  aims to help people understand the stages of grief and is intended to be generally available in a display stand with others in the series that cover topics from Baptism to becoming a Local Preacher.

It can be downloaded by clicking on the link:  Bereavement & Grief 


Ash Wednesday

 REFLECTIONS FOR ASH WEDNESDAY

Fellow Worker

2 Corinthians 5.20-6.2

Paul calls us co-workers of Jesus Christ.  He realizes that we do not always live up to that ideal and he warns that we should not ignore the grace that we have received from God.  Yet, he sticks to that description of himself and of the followers of  Jesus.  We are workers, we are working at something.  We can work for money, for pleasure and power, or because we are greedy, selfish or in need.

From a Christian point of view we work to establish God’s kingdom on earth.

Action:

Consider all the things you do and don’t do in the light of being a co-worker with Jesus Christ.  Do you ever make that connection?  Are you healing the world by living in it?

(Adapted)

SACKCLOTH AND ASHES

Do you really know what’s going on inside me, Lord? 

It isn’t as straightforward as you’d hope!

I can feel really bad about some of the things going on in my head and heart.

Other things, aren’t so bad.  Sometimes I quite surprise myself.

Some of the surprises are pleasing, some are not.

I know Ash Wednesday is the day for repentance, getting ready for Lent.

The day of confession.

…..

The day for such a mega-confession that there’s nothing left to be salvaged.

It is me that’s all wrong and it’s all of us that are all wrong!

Did Jesus make people feel bad for the sake of it?  Was that his plan?

Religious professionals did enough of that.

Jesus challenged us to see ourselves and others differently, more lovingly and less pedantically.

He wanted people on friendly terms with You and themselves.

He said to so many, ‘So this is who you are, imagine who god can see you becoming.’

This Ash Wednesday I’m not just going to make a list of what I, my community and the world have got wrong.

……

This Ash Wednesday I’m going to think about just one or two situations in y life, in our world that bother You.

I’m going to imagine how Jesus would talk to me about them,

how he would talk to us about them.

What parables or stories Jesus might tell to help us see things from Your holy perspective.

It’ll be uncomfortable.  I’ll have to be honest with him.

I know that there will be confession more profound tan any list I might come up with on my own.

And I know that he will help me move on.

Thanks be to God.


Shrove Tuesday

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Lent Season, but today we feast on pancakes!!

The History of Lent

The practice of Lent likely has its origins in practical reasons. In agricultural societies (as most Christian cultures were, in the fourth and fifth centuries, when Lent is first mentioned in historical context), winter crops were often scarce. Correspondingly, a period of fasting may have been a spiritual response to a physical need. The excesses and revels of Shrove Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, were, in all likelihood, a response to the same phenomenon, as people wanted to consume perishable goods (like meats, eggs, dairy products, and sweets) before they spoiled.

As the practice of Lent evolved, it began to take on the added significance of a preparation of new church members for the baptism of Easter Sunday. In the spirit of Christianity as a community of living faith, this period of fasting and preparation was eventually embraced by all Church members. Additionally, Lent was once referred to as quadragesima, which is Latin for the fortieth day before Easter. The word “Lent” itself is thought to come from a Germanic root, lenct, which initially meant “spring” and, later, “fast.”

Why 40 Days?

Lent’s duration is actually 46 days. However, as Sundays represent Christ’s resurrection, they are not commonly counted in the tally between Ash Wednesday and the Easter. The primary meaning of the fast is considered to be a way of identifying with the suffering of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, and of acknowledging his substitutionary death for the sins of humankind. The meaning of the season is further enriched by other biblical occurrences of the number 40 — Moses and Elias spent 40 days in the wilderness, in a similar manner to Christ, the Jewish people wandered for 40 years, as recorded in Exodus, and Jesus spent 40 hours in the tomb, prior to his resurrection.

SHROVE TUESDAY (Pancake Day), ‘Mardi Gras’. (‘Fat Tuesday’)

The name Shrove comes from the old middle English word ‘Shriven’ meaning to go to confession to say sorry for the wrong things you’ve done. Lent always starts on a Wednesday, so people went to confessions on the day before. This became known as Shriven Tuesday and then Shrove Tuesday.

Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes: In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him. 

Shrove Tuesday used to be a half-day holiday. A church bell, called the ‘Shriving Bell’, was  rung signalling the start of the holiday and to call people to church to confess their sins. The church bell was rung at eleven o’clock in the morning, as a reminder to housewives to prepare their pancake batter and so the bell became known as the ‘Pancake Bell’. In some villages the church bell is still rung.

In other countries Shrove Tuesday is known as ‘Mardi Gras’. This means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French and also comes from the idea of using up food before Lent starts.  Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that observant Christians would not eat during Lent: such as meat and fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods. So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty days of Lent without going off. The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras; meaning fat Tuesday. Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour. Many countries round the world have Mardi Gras celebrations and carnivals. Some of the most famous Mardi Gras or Carnival are in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, New Orleans in the U.S.A., Venice and Sydney.

Carnival, which comes from a Latin phrase meaning “removal of meat,” is the three day period preceding the beginning of Lent, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday, (some traditions count Carnival as the entire period of time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday). The three days before Ash Wednesday are also known as Shrovetide.  The entire three day period has now come to be known in many areas as Mardi Gras.

Pancake races are thought to have begun in 1445 in Olney.

No one is quite certain how the world famous Pancake Race at Olney originated. One story tells of a harassed housewife, hearing the shriving bell, dashing to the Church still clutching her frying pan containing a pancake. Another tells that the gift of pancakes may have been a bribe to the Ringer, or Sexton that he might ring the bell sooner; for ringing the bell signalled the beginning of the day’s holiday and enjoyment, no less than to summon the people to the service at which they would be shriven of their sins before the long Lenten feast. Pancake races are still held in the town today: Competitors have to be local housewives and they must wear an apron and a hat or scarf. Each contestant has a frying pan containing a hot, cooking pancake. She must toss it three times during the race that starts at the market square at 11.55 am. The first woman to complete the winding 375-metre course (the record is 63 seconds set in 1967) and arrive at the church, serve her pancake to the bell ringer, and be kissed by him, is the winner. She also receives a prayer book from the vicar.

At the famous Westminster School in London, the annual Pancake Grease is held. A verger from Westminster Abbey leads a procession of eager boys into the playground where the school cook tosses a huge pancake over a five-metre high bar. The boys then race to grab a portion of the pancake and the one who ends up with the largest piece receives a cash bonus from the Dean.

Interesting Fact: The world’s biggest pancake was cooked in Rochdale in 1994, it was an amazing 15 metres in diameter, weighed three tonnes and had an estimated two million calories.

Skipping

In Scarborough, on Shrove Tuesday, everyone assembles on the promenade to skip. Long ropes are stretched across the road and there maybe be ten or more people skipping on one rope.

The origins of this customs are not known but skipping was once a magical games, associated with the sowing and spouting of seeds, which may have been played on barrows (burial mounds) during the Middle Ages.

Football

Shrove Tuesday sees the start in Ashbourne, Derbyshire of the world’s oldest, largest, longest and maddest football game. The game is played over two days and involves thousands of players. The goals are three miles apart and there are only a few rules. The ball is a hand-painted, cork-filled ball. The Pancake Bell

Superstition

In the Midlands, the first pancake made was given to the chickens, to ensure their fertility during the year.

It was believed that the first three pancakes cooked were sacred. They were each marked with a cross before being sprinkled with salt and then set aside to ward off evil.

The Pretzel

The pretzel indeed has its origins as an official food of Lent. However, much of the information available is based on tradition that has been handed down through the ages. Nevertheless, the Vatican library actually has a manuscript illustrating one of the earliest pictures and descriptions of the pretzel (Manuscript Code no. 3867).

In the early Church, the Lenten abstinence and fasting laws were more strict than what the faithful practice today. Many areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory (d. 604), writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: “We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs.” Second, the general rule was for a person to have one meal a day, in the evening or at three o’clock in the afternoon, and smaller snacks to maintain strength. So a need arose for a very simple food which would fulfill the abstinence and fasting laws.

According to pretzel maker Snyder’s of Hanover, a young monk in the early 600s in Italy was preparing a special Lenten bread of water, flour and salt. To remind his brother monks that Lent was a time of prayer, he rolled the bread dough in strips and then shaped each strip in the form of crossed arms, mimicking the then popular prayer position of folding one’s arms over each other on the chest. The bread was then baked as a soft bread, just like the big soft pretzels one can find today. (To be fair, some traditions date the story to even the 300s.)

Because these breads were shaped into the form of crossed arms, they were called bracellae, the Latin word for “little arms.” From this word, the Germans derived the word bretzel which has since mutated to the familiar word pretzel.

Another possibility for the origins of the word pretzel is that the young monk gave these breads to children as a reward when they could recite their prayers. The Latin word pretiola means “little reward,” from which pretzel could also be reasonably derived.

Apparently, this simple Lenten food became very popular. Pretzels were enjoyed by all people. They became a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity. Interestingly, they were also a common food given to the poor and hungry. Not only were pretzels easy to give to someone in need, but also they were both a substantial food to satisfy the hunger and a spiritual reminder of God knowing a person’s needs and answering our prayers.

Another interesting story involving pretzels arises in the late 1500s, when the Ottoman Moslem Turks were besieging the city of Vienna, Austria. The Turks could not break the city’s defenses, so they began to tunnel below ground. The monks in the basement of the monastery were baking pretzels and heard the sound of digging. They alerted the guard and saved the city.

The soft pretzels eventually evolved into hard baked pretzels. Another story is that a young apprentice baker dozed off while tending to the oven where the pretzels were baking. The oven fire began to die out, he awoke, and then stoked up the oven. In the end, he over-baked the pretzels. At first the master baker was upset, but soon discovered that the hard pretzels were also delicious. These hard pretzels were less perishable than the soft, and thereby easy to have available to give to the poor and hungry.

Candlemas – 2nd February

If Candlemas day be fair and bright, 
Winter will have another flight. 
If Candlemas day be shower and rain, 
Winter is gone and will not come again.

(Traditional)

We reach a turning point in the Christian Year with the celebration of Candlemas today. As well as being mentioned clearly in Leviticus and Luke, this date also lies half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, so it marks the day upon which winter is half over! Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth. It forms the natural climax of the Christmas/Epiphany season.

According to Mosaic Law a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean for 7 days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification”, (if a girl was born the time was doubled!). The Law dictated that when the time was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb and young pigeon or turtle dove”; the priest would pray for her and thus she would be cleansed (Leviticus 12: 2-8).

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.

“‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.

“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'”   (Leviticus 12:1f)

Forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with the Law, she redeemed her first-born from the Temple (Numbers 18: 15) and was purified by the prayers of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess (Luke 2: 22f)

Candlemas is one of the most important and oldest feasts. It was celebrated in Jerusalem at the beginning of the fourth century. And introduced to Constantinople under the Emperor Justin at the beginning of the 6th century. Its observance was ordered by Justinian on 2nd February 542 as a thanksgiving for the end of a plague and from there it spread throughout the East. The earliest reference we have of a Candlemas Procession is from Constantinople, from the year 602 when the historian Theohanus the Confessor notes that Emperor Maurice took part in it barefoot!

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.                   (Luke 2: 22f)

Greeted by Simeon and Anna, Jesus is presented in the temple, a time for rejoicing, but the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many, and of the sword that will pierce, points to the Passion and to Easter – it is a bitter-sweet festival. Providing one last look back to Christmas (Incarnation) as we turn towards the cross.

Candlemas is rich in meaning, with several themes running through it – presentation, purification, meeting, light for the world. Over the centuries the festival has been known by several different names. The Armenians call it, “The coming of the Son of God into the Temple”, other names include, “Presentation of our Lord in the Temple”. However it is the reference of light that the name Candlemas is drawn from.

In some of the old liturgies the ‘bitter-sweet’ flavour of the day was also expressed through a change of liturgical colour. The first part of the service and procession of candles conducted in purple vestments, but the Eucharist in white.

From the 11th century up to the time of the reformation in England it was the custom to bless and distribute candles to be carried in procession before every mass. Every window in Church would have candles. Candles were also placed in windows at homes, if there were not enough candles for every window, one would be placed in the kitchen window.

Let us look at the candle celebrating Jesus Christ, who is the Light of all the world. Let us look at the cross, remembering the Passion and death of Jesus. So, holding candle and cross together let us rejoice in the Good News that Christ, in light and darkness, is the one who has done all things well.

O Lord Jesus Christ, as a child you were presented in the Temple and received with joy by Simeon and Anna as Redeemer of Israel: mercifully grant that we like them, may be guided by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge and love you until the end of our lives. Amen (Church of South India)