To Begin At The Beginning
Do you have a favourite Bible story? One with a message that particularly speaks to you, or with characters that you can relate to. For lots of people, it is one of the big stories, like Christmas or Easter. The stories that are at the very heart of the Christian faith. Some people prefer the more unusual choices (Tower of Babel?) I must admit, I have always had a liking for the story of Balaam’s donkey.
But have you ever talked with someone who has a different interpretation of your favourite Bible story? Or found that you have picked up on some details that other people might have missed? Have you ever talked with someone who has a completely different interpretation to you? It might not sound like a positive thing, but it could help you come to appreciate that story all the more.
In September, as the children and I began our journey through the Bible, it has been interesting to hear their thoughts on a couple of our best known Bible stories: Creation and Noah’s Ark. The questions and observations have been interesting, thoughtful, and show a different perspective on events. They have also identified some details that had definitely not crossed my mind. All of this has made me reflect upon the richness of the stories that have been handed down to us.
Let’s be honest, we do get a bit blasé when we’ve heard it a hundred times before. So it has been an excellent opportunity to think again about the familiar, and to look at it anew.
“Thanks For The Memories”
What is your earliest memory? Is it a clear, sharp image, or more of a hazy recollection? Or what is your favourite memory from a childhood holiday, or trip somewhere? It is remarkable how those earliest experiences stay with us, even after so much else has happened in our lives. Hopefully over the summer of 2023, you will have had the chance to develop some more happy memories, be that holidays, visiting friends, or trying something new.
Like the memories of holidays, and other good times, our ealiest experiences of church stay with us for a very long time. I'm sure that lots of people can tell a story about how they got to play the main part in a church play, or about a Sunday School teacher that they found absolutely terrifying. Or about the church they went to as an adult and got told that they were sitting in someone else's seat.
As we move in to the autumn, there will be a few changes happening to the children's activities in the Long Room, in order to make things as fun and welcoming as possible for all the children that we now have coming on a Sunday morning. Each month, we will focus on a Bible story, and explore it in different ways.
On the first Sunday of the month, there will be a expanded Toddler Praise session, giving the very youngest children a chance to get to know the church building and feel really at home when they come. Family Church will be moving to the second Sunday of the month, where we will use lots of different creative activities to explore the story in more detail. The third Sunday, we will join the rest of the congregation for cafe church, and on the fourth Sunday at Muddy Church, we will think more about what being a Christian means for how we live our lives today. When there is a fifth Sunday, there will be a Puppet Club, with opportunties to make some characters, and also to learn some of the basics of puppetry.
September is a time for new beginnings, especially in the lives of our children and young people. New beginnings mean acknowledging and celebrating the good things that we have. It also means looking forwards, and we all have a role to play in shaping the future of the church. Who do you know that might benefit from some initial positive experiences of church? It could be family, friends or neighbours. Would they enjoy the company and conversation at cafe church? Are there children and families you know, who would enjoy coming to sing and dance, or learn to make a puppet talk? As a church, we can make sure that as many people as possible can build some really positive memories of coming to church. And that what they hear will stay with them for a very long time.
Holy Spirit Fill Me Up
Which part of God do you relate to the most? Is it God the Father who is loves us and cares for us, but who also looks sternly on when we do things that we know we shouldn’t? Or is it Jesus, the human part of God who shared our earthly existence and who experienced sadness and anger? Or is it the Holy Spirit, that indefinable and mercurial part of God that is so very hard to pin down.
Throughout May and June, the children and I have been exploring different aspects of the Holy Spirit, using the story of Pentecost as a starting point. At Muddy Church in May, we made windmills and windsocks decorated with bible verses. The disciples first experienced the Holy Spirit as a wind, and God’s Spirit is often compared to a wind. In June, we thought about the Holy Spirit as fire, and brought along glass jars to fill with “twigs”, “leaves” and “flames”- our very own Holy Spirit in a jar. Even the community got involved, engaging with the Pentecost prayer station outside. Other symbols, such a dove were also included.
The Holy Spirit can cause some people to feel uncomfortable. It can be a powerful and disruptive force, making itself hard to ignore. For those who just want their Christianity in a nice neat parcel, for one hour every Sunday morning, that isn’t always welcome. But of course, being a Christian is about so much more than just going to a church service once a week. It is about how we live out our faith on every other day of the week, about how we engage with other people and show God’s love in the world. And the Holy Spirit is there to support us in this. As we talked and created, everyone had a different thought about what the Holy Spirit meant to them, and how ready they would be to welcome the spirit in to their own lives. But it was generally agreed that having the Spirit as our “friend” and “helper” is a very reassuring thing indeed.
He Is Not Here; He Has Risen!
"I’m not in a good place at the moment”. How many times have you heard someone say that? Our lives seem increasingly stressful, and we all have times when it seems like things won’t get any better, or can only get considerably worse. When people around you are celebrating, it can often feel like you are the only person who isn’t having a good time. Easter is such a joyful time of year, and yet when you think about it, how many people in the Easter story can be described as “in a good place”. The disciples must have been incredibly frightened after Jesus was arrested, and downright terrified after He was crucified. The Bible tells us they gathered together in an upper room. It isn’t hard to imagine the tension of all the people there.
Pontius Pilate was faced with what must have seemed like an impossible choice. A choice that he chose not to make in the end. Mary was so overcome by grief that, as soon as possible after the Sabbath was over, she rushed to the tomb. Peter wept bitterly after denying any knowledge of Jesus, an act that itself came from fear and despair. Even Jesus himself knelt down before God in the Garden of Gethsemane and begged to be taken out of a painful situation.
How did these situations resolve themselves? The disciples were gathered together when Jesus appeared to them, causing amazement and celebration. Mary met with a man, whom she didn’t recognise at first, but who was the risen Jesus. She was one of the first to see Him. When Peter met Jesus again after the resurrection, he was given the opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus three times. And Jesus went to Calvary to die, but rose again on the third day.
The story of Easter moves through times of light and shade, just as our own lives do. The joyful welcome of Palm Sunday, the darkness and pain on Good Friday, and then the conquering triumph on Easter Sunday. Those who were there at the crucifixion must have thought that that was the end, that they were stuck in place where they didn’t want to be. But Jesus conquered, and they could all move forward. As we have gathered together to make crosses, Easter lanterns, and hunt for Easter eggs, that message of hope underpins everything. He is risen indeed!
Like The Clay In The Potter’s Hand, So You Are In My Hand
Have you ever played the game of ‘If you were an animal/vegetable etc. what would you be?’ Everyone will have different answers (elephant/carrot etc.) but I’m sure the answer you never came up with was a piece of clay. Over the last few months, we have been learning about some of the prophets in the Old Testament, including Moses and Ezekiel. At the most recent Family Church, in February, we heard about the prophet Jeremiah, and how he talked to people about God using the example of clay. In Jeremiah’s words, God is the potter who holds the clay (us) in His hands.
Naturally, we had to have a go, and produced some clay creations of our own. The process didn’t always go smoothly, and there were some frustrations and disappointment along the way. Alongside Jeremiah’s original message, this taught us something about the problems of being a prophet, or anyone else trying to follow God’s instructions. These lessons might equally apply to any church or Christian community that is growing and developing.
There are times when things don’t go entirely according to plan. There are times when you look around and feel like everyone else is doing so much better than you. There are times when you just have to squash the original plan and start again, thinking differently about how you go forwards. There are times (as represented by my attempt to give an elephant tusks) when just because something has worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work now. (It became the first elephant with a moustache). There are times when you have put a lot of effort in to making one thing, and then realise it is becoming something totally different that you hadn’t planned for, but equally wonderful all the same. Last of all, it is alright to take great pride in your work when it is finished, to sit back and see that has come from your efforts. And whatever we achieve individually, it looks even better alongside everyone else’s.
Lord, For The Years, Your Love Has Kept and Guided
The end of December is a funny time of year, isn’t it? Aside from the lull between Christmas and New Year, when no one knows what day it actually is, it is a time when we swerve between the past and the future. Christmas is a time that can stir memories of years gone by- family and friends, and the ghosts of Christmas past. We spend much of December re-telling a story that is over two thousand years old, and yet still draws in crowds year on year. What character did you play in the Nativity when you were a child? Were you an angel, or a shepherd? Or like me, were you cast as the Christmas tree. Told to stand at the back, and try not to drop your baubles.
Who is your favourite character in the Christmas Story? I often find myself thinking about the shepherds. We know so little about them, apart from the fact that they were out in the fields above Bethlehem, looking after the sheep. In years to come, did they ever get to hear of the man from Nazareth who travelled around teaching and performing miracles? The man who was crucified alongside two thieves outside Jerusalem? Did they make the connection between that man, and the baby that they saw in the stable all those years ago?
Yet barely a week after Christmas, we come to New Year’s Eve, and the transition to another year. We start making plans (or resolutions), or booking holidays maybe. Whatever it is, we are fixed on the future. The decorations go away after Epiphany, and baby Jesus is back in the box ready for next year. But is He?
To use an old joke “Today is a gift, that is why we call it the present”. We are always told that Jesus is the greatest gift ever given, and He is so much a part of our today, our present, as well as our past and our future. He is Emmanuel or “God With Us”. He was with us in the past, He is here with us now, and will be with us throughout this year and beyond. That is something to shout about and celebrate long after the tree is gone, and the cold, dark January weather closes in. To echo this hymn (and the title), “Lord of the years, We bring our thanks today”.
Happy New Year 2023!
“Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.” Proverbs 22: 29
Do you consider yourself a skilled person? What do you think being skilled even means? Or think of it another way- has someone ever complimented you, and you respond by dismissing your own efforts? I am sure that we all have used the phrases, “Oh, it was nothing” or “I’m not really very good”.
Throughout September, there have been lots of different skills being displayed at Heaton Mersey MC. At September’s Muddy Church, we made some nature collages, using items gathered from the garden, as well as a nature mobile which is now hanging on the wall in the Long Room. We also tried some building, using Duplo to represent the days in which God made the world. There will be more building to come in October when we think about King Solomon building the temple.
Weaving is another skill that has been used a lot this month. The children and I tried weaving with blue wool to create our own ocean for fish to swim in. And at Café Church, we weaved with paper as a way to offer our prayers of intercession to God. The new Art and Craft Chatterbox group met for the first time, and it was lovely to that so many members of the congregation came along to support it. We had painters, and jigsaw-makers, as well as knitters and those who prefer crochet. Lots of wool and thread was on display!
All of these are skills given by God, as we are reminded in the book of Exodus: “He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.” Doing the hobbies that we love may not seem like an obvious way to serve God. But as the verse from the book of Proverbs reminds us, developing our skills is an act of service. In our case, we don’t bring our skills to serve an ordinary king. We come in service before the King of Kings, and He will make good use of all our skills.
Come On And Celebrate
It has been a busy couple of months, hasn’t it? Not just in the life of Heaton Mersey Methodist Church, but in the wider world as well. June started with the Platinum Jubilee, and there have been a variety of sporting fixture, including Wimbledon and the Women’s Euros. One theme runs throughout all these events, and that is celebration. As Christians, we can sometimes get very negative about things. The negative news stories don’t help, of course.
Yet as Christians (and as humans) we have so much to celebrate, and it all starts with God. His role in our lives is something that we should always be celebrating, as well as the many great gifts He has given us. At Family Church in July, we looked at an old favourite- the story of David and Goliath. We learned about how God was present in David’s victory, and how He is also present in our own victories (big and small). Surely that is something worth celebrating.
On two separate Sundays we set out to celebrate God’s many gifts to us, by exploring His world, in the church grounds. At Muddy Church in June we held a bug hunt to see how many of the smallest members of creation were living nearby, and made a butterfly mobile. One sunny day in July, we held a colour hunt and found all the colours of the spectrum (plus a few others). We then made our own rainbow to display.
At Café Church in June, we reflected on the “shameless audacity” (Luke 11: 8) with which we can call on God. How wonderful is that? We worship a God who we can call on at any time, whether happy or sad, cheerful or distressed because He has adopted us as His children. Another something worth celebrating?
So throughout this summer, when things don’t seem to be going right, what can you find to celebrate? Who can you share your celebration with? And rest assured, God will be there to celebrate with you.
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me.”
Have you seen the blossom on the trees recently? Or a cluster of crocus and daffodils emerging from the grass? Spring is here again, and it is time for these plants to decide about opening up again after the winter shut-down. But it isn’t just the natural world that has to make tough decisions at the moment. With the end of Covid-19 restrictions in England, it can sometimes feel very difficult to know what to do for the best. As we watch the news, and hear about the daily struggle that is now life for the people of Ukraine, or the impact of the rises in the cost of living. Many people will ask: where is God in all of this? Well, recently the children and I have been looking at the theme of God’s presence with us, even in the difficult times.
At Family Church, we thought about the parable of the Lost Sheep, particularly about the character and role of the shepherd. A shepherd searches out nourishment for the sheep, so we planted some cress seeds to remind us of how God provides. The shepherd knows that it won’t always be easy for the sheep. Sometimes they have to travel across empty, desert spaces, but the shepherd leads them through. Sometimes, there is the threat from other animals, like lions and bears. But the shepherd keeps his flock together, even sleeping with them, to make sure that they are safe. He also employs some rather unusual looking dogs to move in amongst the sheep without being recognised by the predators. So, we made our own flock of sheep, huddled together under the protection of the shepherd. We had great fun looking for sheep, and re-telling the story, but at the centre of everything was one question. If we are the sheep, and God is our shepherd, then what does all this mean for how God cares for us?
The theme of God being with us carried on into our March Creative Space as well. As it was close to the 17th March, we looked at the prayer of St Patrick, which begins with the famous words above. A saint who was captured by pirates, and then sold as a slave, probably knew quite a lot about trusting in God to take care of him. We went out to explore the area around the church and look for places where God might be (everywhere!) We even made our own badge using items that we found outside.
As we move in to April, it will be time to celebrate Easter, when we remember Jesus ultimate victory over death on the cross. There is nothing so terrible that He cannot conquer it, and as we have seen: Jesus walks with us always.
Church and Community Worker
“There are different kinds of gifts. But it is the same Holy Spirit Who gives them… There are different ways of doing His work. But it is the same God who uses all these ways in all people. The Holy Spirit works in each person in one way or another for the good of all.”
This passage may be familiar to you. It comes from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, and appears just before he lists some of the gifts that can come from the Holy Spirit. I am sure you can name some of them. What about wisdom? Or faith? Or public speaking? We all know people who are blessed with some of the gifts that Paul lists. I would like to briefly reflect on how different gifts have helped me so far, and will continue to be important, in the role of Church and Community Worker. There are two gifts that are particularly important: passion and inspiration.
Many years ago, I had a poster on the wall above my desk that said ‘Nothing in the world was ever accomplished without passion’. Passion and enthusiasm are at the heart of any enterprise, and without them, little can be achieved. The large number of people who enthusiastically turned up to help at the first Family Church I ran in September is a perfect demonstration. That passion covered the welcomers, those organising refreshments and those who enthusiastically joined in the storytelling. As we sailed “boats” around the Long Room, or hunted for the hidden five loaves and two fishes, there was a lot of laughter. Many of the children didn’t want to leave! As Family Church continues over the coming months, I hope that sense of joy will continue. The same enthusiasm can be witnessed every Tuesday at Playtime@Church, where all the volunteers help to make the group such a warm and welcoming place.
Of course, where there is great passion, inspiration often follows. I am sure that we all have people who have inspired us, both in our journey of faith, and in life in general. For me, as I have been working out my new role, seeing the passion that different people have for different things has provided me with a lot of inspiration. One of the first things I encountered was the passion for creativity, and there was a considerable amount of skill to back it up. That skill provided some wonderful ideas for the Advent Creative Space that was held at the end of November. On that Sunday morning, we made our own (non-flammable) candles and wreathes, and explored the significance of these Advent symbols. In February, there will be another Creative Space, this time close to Valentine’s Day, and exploring the theme of ‘God Loves Me’.
Part of that creativity has been a passion for music and performance, and so over the coming months I will be starting to develop Toddler Praise, an opportunity for the youngest members of the church to make music and worship. I also hope for another visit by Manuel the cockerel, and some of his friends. Manuel assures me that he enjoyed his first visit to café church, and hopes to be invited back again.
Another gift that I encountered early on was a passion for the environment and taking care of our world. As we emerge in to spring, with the promise of new life and new beginnings all around us, I will be running some sessions of Muddy Church, for children and their families. This is a movement that focuses on learning about God by celebrating and protecting His creation. I hope that we will be able to make full use of the outdoor space available at Heaton Mersey.
Looking forwards, 2022 feels to me like a year full of hope, with new opportunities and challenges to take up. I very much look forwards to sharing that hope with you all, and embracing your own unique gifts and talents, which lie at the heart of the journey.
An introduction from our new Church and Community Worker (Oct 2021):
My name is Sarah Rose, and I am the new Church and Community Worker at Heaton Mersey Methodist Church. I have been involved in outreach work for nearly twenty years now, firstly as a volunteer, and later as a lay worker. My first role was as a team leader at a Holiday Club in the summer of 2003. I am very much looking forward to getting involved with all aspects of life at Heaton Mersey.
One of my favourite aspects of worship has to be music and singing. There are so many hymns that I love, although Lord, for the Years would probably come out on top. For me, it is a constant reminder that God is with us throughout the changes and challenges of life. It also shows us the importance of praying for our world, and for all God’s people. For a similar reason, one of my favourite Bible verses would have to be Jeremiah 29: 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Outside of community work, my big passion is the theatre. Over the years, I have been involved with many productions, doing everything from costumes to lighting, and of course, acting. In the largest role I ever did, I only left the stage for two pages out of the whole play.
I look forwards to meeting you all soon. If you see me around, please do come over and say hello.