“Overdose for Christmas, give it for Lent” sang Robbie Williams in his song Millennium. Perhaps this was a critique of modern society/religion but the idea of “giving it for Lent” has been around for as long as I can remember – the “it” being whatever we choose – coffee, chocolate, alcohol, etc.
This may be a way in to Lent but it misdirects us from the richness of the season. In her recently published book the Divine Heart of Darkness, Methodist Minister Cathy Bird reflects on her experience in Longyearbyen in Svalbard – the most northerly inhabited town in the world. Staying during a period of perpetual night Cathy delves into the darkness “finding God in the shadows”.
Lent offers a time to explore – the idea of giving things up flows from the tradition of fasting – a practice of self-denial allowing us to focus more thoughtfully on our relationship with the living God.
The first words Jesus speaks in the gospel according to Mark includes the phrase “repent and believe the good news”. It is both a turning away from but also a positive embracing of the kingdom. In this spirit I invite you to join with me to take some time, delve into the darkness, and as part of this pray week by week for the communities of which we are a part; as a member of the local church to pray for the preacher who is preparing to lead worship at the church in that week; and for Preachers to pray for the churches where you will be leading worship. Together we build one another up to the glory of God. (And if you are still worried about chocolate – don’t give it up just commit yourself to buying fairtrade)!
Bah humbug! I have just spotted another advert on the TV advertising Christmas and it is only the beginning of November. I think I am turning into Ebenezer Scrooge – Lord have mercy! I have found myself chuntering about the deluge of adverts now Halloween is over. Having turned 50 a couple of years back I am clearly on the slide to Grumpy Old Man status.
BUT…I do believe it is important to wait for Christmas otherwise we end up devaluing it. For us, as Christians, Christmas is first and foremost a spiritual event and cannot be rushed. Think of Mary waiting for 9 months – you cannot rush a pregnancy! The church has used the time before Christmas to help us prepare (Prepare the way of the Lord say Isaiah and John the Baptist). For the Church, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and lasts through to January 5th (twelfth night). Epiphany is celebrated on 6th January recalling the arrival of the wise men/magi/stargazers/kings or the ones who got to wear the posh clothes instead of the tea towels in the school nativity.
At the recent local preachers training day, preachers and others gathered to think about Advent and how we can use this time in our churches to help us prepare to celebrate Christmas. All the circuit churches were represented and between us we reflected on the Bible passages we might encounter in Advent and what ideas might flow from this. This is being developed as a gift offered for use by all our churches along with the traditional advent wreath.
One of the key questions for us in advent is what does it mean to let Jesus a little bit more into my life? What does it look/feel like? A time for honest reflection – thinking about what it means to be in the dark, or what it feels like to be trapped? Can we open ourselves just a little bit more in the knowledge that we are met with the truth of God – the light of the world breaking through boundaries, the word becoming flesh reaching out with love. Christmas is huge! Like the arrival of a first child, it is like nothing we have ever encountered and turns our lives upside down: it even has the capacity to transform a grumpy old Ebenezer Scrooge. No wonder the shepherds were terrified and amazed and the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest” (but not before Christmas night!!)
Please contact the Rev Nik Wooller if the services of a Minister are required.
An exciting start to our new connexional year. We welcome Revd Nik Wooller half time to the circuit. I understand that people are trying to identify which Ni(c)k with comments such as ‘young Nik and…’ hmm, perhaps something like ‘slightly less young Nick’?!
Nik will have oversight in Blairgowrie and this is a time of learning and opportunity so please pray. Nik will share oversight with myself in Perth helping us to discover what it means to be church in our communities. I know you will make Nik welcome and strangers will soon become friends. The other half of Nik’s time will be spent working with the District, building relationships alongside churchless Christians. Please pray for Nik and her ministry.
We celebrate with the Perth congregation as they move back into worship in their refurbished premises and I encourage as many of you as possible to join in the fun on the open day on Saturday 16th September. You will see a transformed bright, welcoming and flexible space. A Service of rededication takes place on the morning of 17th September. Please pray for Perth at the threshold of this new beginning.
Dundee are exploring closer relationships with the United Reformed Church and will be sharing in worship once a fortnight. This will give both congregations time and space to reflect on the way forward. Please pray for developing friendship and fellowship in Dundee.
At Montrose the Methodist congregation now share worship on a weekly basis with the Knox United Free church who have made us very welcome. Every second and fourth week the Methodist Church takes responsibility for worship with the remaining weeks being the responsibility of the United Free Church. This is an exciting time for these congregations and I know your prayers will be welcome. I should also like to offer congratulations on behalf of the circuit to Simon Richardson (a member at Montrose). Simon has won bronze and silver medals for Table Tennis in the Special Olympics held recently in Sheffield.
In Arbroath please pray for St Johns as they seek to serve alongside others and work out the way ahead.
Having travelled to Bulgaria in the summer I was delighted to share in worship with the Methodists in Sevlievo and visit one of our preachers, Julya Walsh. I encourage you to continue to pray for that church and for Julya and I know they will pray for us.
On the way back from Bulgaria I was reminded of the power of prayer when we stopped off in Leipzig in the former East Germany. For a number of years in the 1970s/80s a small group of people met in the city centre church of St Nicholas. They met on Monday nights to pray for peace. Over the years this group grew. By 1989 the group had become very large and after an hour’s service the minister led 7000 people out on to the streets where they were joined by people from other churches. With strict instructions from the ministers not to be provoked into violence they walked around the ring road in Leipzig with people abandoning cars to join in. They walked past the headquarters of the Stasi (Secret Police). In all about 70000 people gathered that night in what became known as the peaceful revolution. News of this spread and two weeks later the Berlin Wall came down.
As we enter into this new Methodist year, with many challenges and questions, I encourage all of us to prepare by taking some time to pray.
As we celebrate Pentecost, the sharing of the Spirit among God’s people, we can be encouraged by glimpses of the work of God around the circuit.
In Montrose, from 2nd July the Methodists are going to start sharing weekly worship with Knox United Free Church. This marks a new stage in the journey of Montrose Methodist Church. The two churches will remain distinct but share in Sunday worship and other activities. The leading of worship will be alternate Methodist and United Free (arrangements are being made to ensure Local Preachers have a copy of the BBC Songs of Praise hymn book which will be used). This is an exciting time after a good couple of years in the Dance Centre and is a response to prayer, seeking God’s guidance and invitation.
In Arbroath, St Johns are on the brink of beginning a clothing project (similar to that of Dundee) working in conjunction with Angus Council. In Dundee the clothing project has completed 6 months and has helped 85 people directly and a number of others indirectly. The main reason for people seeking help is homelessness. Such experience should prompt us to ask questions of all who are candidates in the coming General Election – please make sure you vote on Thursday 8 June.
The circuit has now taken possession of the new manse in Blairgowrie. Some work will need to be done in readiness for Nik Wooller and family arriving in August. Nik will begin her new half-time role with us on 1st September and will have pastoral oversight of the church in Blairgowrie/Rattray. She will share oversight with myself of the church in Perth and we will both work across the circuit. The welcome service for Nik will take place on Sunday 27 August 3:00pm at Perth by which time the ceiling will be up and the floor down! A service of rededication for the church will be held on the morning of 17 September.
Thank you all for your willingness to be open and allowing the Spirit to challenge us. The Local Preachers were reminded of the need for us to be flexible and open when we spent a good day with Bob Bartindale (the Connexional Ministry Development Officer for Worship and Local Preachers – and no he wasn’t keen on his title either!). As Methodists we are all strongly encouraged to engage with further learning to help us think about our experience of God in the contemporary world.
A good opportunity to explore faith is at the Solas festival 23rd-25th June near Perth. I shall be leading worship there on the Sunday morning. The day I attended last year was great – I heard local MSPs thinking about society and faith, I shared in a workshop led by the Corrymeela community leader, made shelters with refugees and just had fun. In July I shall visit Bulgaria and look forward to preaching at Sevlievo Methodist Church and discovering a bit more about the work Julya Walsh is involved with.
I encourage you all to pray for the mission and work of all the churches in the circuit and for Nik Wooller as she prepares to move. May we grow together in God’s love as we seek to serve our communities.
With love, Nick