Monday, 31 March 2014

The Prayer Principle

The blog title is from a book by the Right Reverend Michael Baughen a retired Church of England Bishop. He was one time Rector of All Souls, Langham Place in London, John Stott's former church. I felt prompted to buy this book for several reasons:

First, the church of which I am Vicar is dying. I should not be too surprised at this as the denomination to which I belong is also dying. But prior to my appointment I had had a real and clear sense of calling here, more than any other parish I have served in, and I felt that God had big plans for St. James. I still believe this but the lack of progress is rather worrying. In fact we seem to have gone backwards not forwards. Why? It could be I am trying to do things in my own strengths? It could mean that as with any new life there has to be some dying first? I need answers and the only one who can give them is God.
Second, I am spending more regular time with God than I have ever done before, but with less satisfaction or sense of fulfilment. I regularly read and reflect on the scriptures and intercess for others as often as I can. And yet something is missing, lacking. Could it be in the quality rather than the quantity of praying?
Third, God seems to be setting before me, more and more, some kind of trail leading me to enquire and learn about prayer, and especially the need to listen more. Through books or reviews I have read, talks I have heard and conversations I have had the subject of prayer keeps creeping up on me and preoccupying my thoughts. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and pray. Sometimes in the car I will switch of the radio and pray. There is hunger for prayer which, at the moment, is not being satisfied by my praying!
Fourth, I have a growing sense that I do not know how to pray. This may seem astonishing as I am nearly 58 years old, I have been a Christian for 33 years and I have been ordained for nearly 26 of those years. I have read widely and deeply about all kinds of prayer - contemplative, intercessory, the Jesus Prayer etc - and my bookshelves have over 100 volumes on the subject. Goodness knows how often I have preached or taught about it.  And yet I feel like I have barely prayed in all the time I have followed Christ. I feel disqualified rather than qualified to speak about ut.

So here, again, another book on prayer. But, as so often happens, reading what is probably my 101st book on the subject I noticed something different in what Michael writes which has convinced me I was right to buy it. It occurs in Chapter 13 and comes in the context of the writer talking about spiritual warfare. In this chapter he talks about what he calls the "five marks of real prayer". It is the word 'real' that caught my attention in the light of the above questions I have been asking. What does it say? Real prayer should be:

1. Accurate. "Vague waffling prayer is a waste of breath and time." Prayer needs to be on target, relying on the Holy Spirit when we are unclear how to pray for an individual situation (see Romans 8:26).
2. Fervent. See James 5:16-17. The word 'fervent' here is not meant to be seen as an emotional term. The Greek means "with prayer, he prayed" meaning that Elijah "meant business with God - his prayer was real and from the heart."  Prayers are not meant to be a recital or " a routine rather than looking to the Lord."
3. Expectant. See James 1:6. We must expect God to answer based on the belief that he is always "able to do more than we ask or think." Tentative prayer is therefore ruled out and bold prayer ruled in. Baughen writes "when we come to special evangelistic services (or events) in our churches it is not much use praying without expectation, (we must) "learn to pray 'on target' for spiritual blindness to be removed, for power in testimony and the ministry of the Word and for the Holy Spirit to be moving amongst us. We must expect God to bring His results..."
4. Earnest. See Acts 12:5. The original word actually has the "sense of laying hands on someone and thus identifying with them." Baughen continues: "When a person in special need is with us in a prayer gathering some of us may lay hands on their head, as a representative identification of the group and an outward sign of our inward 'earnestness' in prayer for them. In the same way, in our personal intercessions, it is good to try and identify with the person for whom we are praying - with what they are feeling and facing."
5 Persevering. Ephesians 6:18. "we never fully understand how our prayers are effective in the spiritual battle - nor how our prayers are involved in God's will and action. But it is clear from Scripture that they are, and this is why we must press on in persevering prayer..."

So you can see that it is not praying that is important in and of itself, it is HOW we pray that really counts in the long run. This is what I believe God is calling me, personally to, and what God is calling us, the Church to as well.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Balanced worship - the best of both worlds

Choruses or hymns? Its the age old argument about which is best. For me I don't see why I have choose. Why not have the best of both worlds? Years ago I attended a worship workshop which made a very useful distinction between the two which I have always found helpful. He (she?) said that hymns were usually sung doctrine/belief ABOUT who the God is we have come to praise. Whereas choruses or songs were usually sung TO God expressing love and adoration for him. The first category acknowledges God's transcendence, the second, his immanence. We need BOTH in worship not either/or. So the best of worship has them both.

So in the first category we have a classic like the following:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Here we are talking ABOUT God, that he is our "health and salvation". He is worthy of our praise and therefore we should go to the place of his presence - the Temple - and join others to "praise Him in glad adoration."

Now take a chorus like the following:

Jesus take me as I am,
I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You,
Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone,
Crystal clear and finely honed.
Light of Jesus shining through,
Giving glory back to You.

Here we are talking directly TO Jesus asking him to take us as we are for that is all we have got to offer. But please don't leave us like this, transform us so that your light shines through. We can then give glory back to the one who deserves it.

Two contrasting approaches to worshipping God ensuring that he is acknowledged in all His fulness as transcendent and immanent, God above and God below or alongside us in Jesus.

Interview with Justin Wellby

The following is an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Wellby. Here is a man of God who clearly articulates what it is to be a Christian and what the Anglican Church, at it's best and most authentic, should be like.

Monday, 10 March 2014

A God of miracles

Hawa Ahmed was a Muslim student in North Africa. One day, she read a Christian tract in her dormitory and decided to become a Christian. Her father was an Emir (Islamic ruler), so she expected to lose her inheritance because of her conversion. She was completely unprepared for what happened. When she told her family she had become a Christian and changed her name to Faith, her father exploded in rage. Her father and brothers stripped her naked and bound her to a chair fixed to a metal plate with which they wanted to electrocute her. Faith asked them to at least lay a Bible in her lap. Her father responded, "If you want to die together with your false religion, so be it." One of her brothers added, "That will show that your religion is powerless." Although they had bound her, she was able to touch a corner of the Bible. She felt a strange peace, as though someone were standing beside her. Her father and brothers pushed the plug into the socket--and nothing happened. They tried four times with various cables, but it was as though the electricity refused to flow. Finally her father, angry and frustrated, hit her and screamed, "You are no longer my daughter."

Then he threw her into the street, naked. She ran through the streets, humiliated and in pain. People looked at her, curious rather than shocked. Shaking and tearful, she ran to a friend. Her friend let her in, clothed her, and gave her shelter. The next day, her friend asked neighbours what they had thought when they had seen Faith running naked through the streets. "What are you talking about?" they asked. "The girl had a wonderful white dress on. We asked ourselves why someone so beautifully clothed had to run through the streets." God had hidden her nakedness from their eyes, clothing her in a beautiful white dress. Today, Faith is a full-time evangelist with Every Home for Christ.
Guido Kuwas, "Global Revival News" (12-17-01); From the PreachingToday.com email list submitted by Owen Bourgaize, Guernsey, United Kingdom

A presentation of the Gospel

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Crucifixion

The Crucifixion

You were one with the Father.
Then the Father turned his back on you.
You felt forsaken,
hanging there between heaven's thunder
and the dank spittle of earth.

For that moment you belonged nowhere.
You were love, cut off from love;
truth nailed down by lies.
You must have wanted to explode, to disintegrate,
to disappear into a void.
But that was forbidden.
And that was the test.

Your blood burst through your skin
and ran down like sweat.
Your sweat ran cold
and drained into your heart.
The universe caught hold of your pain.
The sun went blind with grief.
The earth shivered in shock.
History was torn in two.

I stood at a distance,
my collar turned up,
like a murderer witnessing
a wrongful arrest.
Steve Turner

Death and resurrection

The Morning That Death Was Killed

I woke in a place that was dark
The air was spicy and still
I was bandaged from head to foot
The morning that death was killed.

I rose from a mattress of stone
I folded my clothes on the sill
I heard the door rolling open
The morning that death was killed.

I walked alone in the garden
The birds in the branches trilled
It felt like a new beginning
The morning that death was killed.

Mary, she came there to find me
Peter with wonder was filled
And John came running and jumping
The morning that death was killed.

My friends were lost in amazement
My father, I knew, was thrilled
Things were never the same again
After the morning that death was killed.
Steve Turner



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Why keep Lent?

From the Philo Trust

Lent, the forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays), is a somewhat curious period in the Church’s calendar. Most things in the Church’s year are festivals and we happily talk about celebrating them. Lent is very different: it is a minor-key period which is never ‘celebrated’ but only ‘kept’. Some churches and Christians treat Lent very seriously, while others ignore it entirely.

Even among those who keep Lent, there is no agreement on how it should be kept. Many Christians try to give up something: for instance, chocolate, Facebook or television. It’s even become a period for us to try to break bad habits, almost as if Lent gives us another opportunity to retake those New Year’s resolutions!

Now what exactly is Lent about? One word used by those who observe Lent is ‘preparation’. Lent is about three preparations.

Lent is a preparation for Easter. Easter, with its message of Christ destroying sin and death through his death and resurrection, is the most exciting moment in the Church’s year. Yet we can undercut this note of victory by being so occupied that, amid the frantic busyness of our lives, we carelessly stumble upon Easter. Lent provides us with forty days’ build-up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that forces us to prayerfully ponder the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the best way to appreciate a sunrise is to be there in the darkness before dawn, so the only way to appreciate Easter is to have come to it through Lent. We as Christians are, of course, an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

Secondly, Lent is a preparation for Existence. A fatal flaw in our culture today is that people do not know how to say ‘no’ to bad things. It is now almost a virtue to give in to every desire that comes upon us. Yet a great element in Christian morality is to be able to say no to wrong desires. Paul, in Titus chapter 2 verses 11 and 12, says this: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ Lent gives us the opportunity to practice resisting harmful and hurtful desires that will continue for life. Trivial as it may appear, a battle won over chocolate or coffee at Lent may help us win a war over lust, lying or loving shortly afterwards.

Finally, Lent is a preparation for Eternity. If you take Lent seriously, then these forty days can seem to be a long and often wearying season in which we never get our own way. Here, for a time, pleasures are put to one side and joys are postponed. But Lent doesn't last. The darkness is broken by the joyful light of the glorious triumph of Easter Day. Here there is a splendid parallel with our lives. For many of us, much of our life seems to take place in what we might call ‘Lent mode’: things do not go as we hope, we do not get what we want and our joys are absent or at best short-lived. Yet, for the Christian, there is that wonderful and certain hope that however deep and hard the darkness is in our lives, it will ultimately be lifted and replaced by an indestructible joy. For those who love Christ, life’s long Lent will end, one day, in an eternal Easter in which death and sin are destroyed for ever.

Whether or not you keep Lent, starting on Wednesday 5 March this year – and in what way you keep it – is your choice. But to keep Lent, thoughtfully and prayerfully, is to come into a rich and lasting inheritance.
Be blessed this Lent and bless others!

J.John

Check out the website here

Swansea Deanery Ministry Area Presentation

This may, or may not be the place to put the following presentation, but as people read this blog from the parish it may be helpful.

AREA DEANERY PRESENTATION—February 26th 2014 St. Stephen’s

Welcome. Thank you for coming. This meeting has several aims:
1. To provide information about the reason why proposed changes are necessary.
2. To give an indication of what changes are required,
3. To outline of how those changes will affect us.
4. To give you an opportunity to respond and ask questions.

First then let’s begin with prayer remembering that we are God’s church, God’s people. That like Jesus we are about our Father’s business and that God has entrusted us certain privileges and responsibilities which we must discharge carefully and in a spirit of love and mutual cooperation.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church to lead us into all truth and keep us on the right path. Please then face us in the right direction, and teach us not to lean on our own understanding, but in all our ways to acknowledge you. Keep us steadfast in faith, united in love, and open to all that you want to say to us this evening; for your greater glory we pray. Amen.

READINGS: Luke 15:1-10; 19:10

PARABLE - The life-saving stations
On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters—but most of the people drown.

Let us pray

Our Father….

Diocesan Vision Prayer

God grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change;
courage to change the things we can;
and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

OUTLINE PRESENTATION

Background
In 2010 the Governing Body of the Church in Wales met to consider the state of the Church in Wales. What prompted them? Two things—negative and positive:

Negative: They were responding to a number of factors that were a cause for concern and needed addressing:
1. The decline in church membership (see slide 1)
Comment: Not had 2013 figures yet but likely to be somewhere around 50,000
Also of concern is
2. The forthcoming retirement of a large number of clergy in the next 4-5 years.
3. The shortage of ordinands (3 theological colleges have closed)
4. The growing financial burden on the parishes
Note that the number of church buildings has dropped only 21% compared to over 63% drop in membership—those who contribute to the ministry and the buildings.
5. The low numbers of children and young people
6. The growing distance between the church and younger generation.

So negatively the Church in Wales like any responsible organisation saw that these things needed addressing.

But—and its an important ‘but’ - the Church in Wales is not just any organisation it is the Church of God and therefore at the same time it recognised that just as it needed to ‘listen’ to the message the statistics and figures was giving, they also needed to listen to what God was saying too.

C.S. Lewis in his book “The Problem of Pain” wrote: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to a deaf world.” 

In other words the Church in Wales has asked the important question, what is God saying to us in this. Is God using the decline we are experiencing—the pain as C.S.Lewis puts it—to call us back to what exactly we are here for, to help heal a damaged world?

And so positively the Church in Wales set up an external review “with particular reference to structure and use of resources to increase the effectiveness of the Church’s ministry and witness.”

That is not to say good work hasn’t and isn't done and I speak for my fellow clergy in acknowledging the hard work, the faithful life and witness of Church folk throughout the years. But something clearly needs to be done and the panel met to consider how best to move forward.

How can we respond positively to what is happening to the Church? So a review panel was set up comprising Professor Charles Handy adviser in business and organisational theory, Lord Harries former Bishop of Oxford and Professor Patricia Peattie from the Church of Scotland who has vast experience in top positions in the NHS alongside her church work.

Their review panel visited every diocese in the Church in Wales, meeting with the bishop and Diocesan team in each holding open meetings for Church members to express their views.

They also met with the GB, the Standing Committee, the Bench of Bishops, the Representative Body as well as staff and students of St. Michael’s Colege. And it also held a special meeting with a representative group of young people as well as the views of over 1200 members of the Church in Wales via letter and email etc.

The Archbishop introduced the Review’s recommendations by saying:
“This could be a hugely significant moment in the life of the Church in Wales, and an unique opportunity to achieve the change demanded so clearly by our members throughout the Province. As a Church we MUST grasp this opportunity.”

And so part of the outcome to all this is the creation of Ministry Areas which are being rolled out across the whole of the Church in Wales.

(Slide 2) The following is the geography of the proposed ministry area centred on Swansea.

(Slide 3) This encompasses the following parishes and churches.

In reaching the decision the clergy from each proposed area have met and considered a number of different factors. For example historic groupings and connections, geographical location and proximity of church to centres of population, parish connections with one another. E.g. in my last Deanery of Penderi which comprised Cockett, Caereithin, Manselton, Cwmbwrla and Treboeth each parish is very close to each other, they all fit into an area with fairly clear boundaries and there has been much close social interaction, sharing of services and events over the years that it naturally lends itself to becoming a Ministry Area.

In terms of Swansea again there seem to be natural boundaries in terms of the churches this side of the river which places us together. And on the East side there is a historic connection between St. Thomas and Glantawe although in addition Llansamlet has older associations with Glantawe and doesn't quite fit geographically with Morriston to the West or Clydach to the North. It seemed sensible then to join the east and west of the river and forma Ministry Area encompassing the churches on the map.

As we come to an end of this brief presentation let me add a few things to consider and then we can open up to any questions:

First, it is instructive to consider how many Church in Wales churches there are in the Archdeaconry of Gower—68—attended by 1912 people which averages 28.1 people per church. The same geographic area is served by just 13 Roman Catholic churches, roughly the number of churches in the proposed Swansea Ministry Area.

Second, although the facts and figures I have presented can on the face of it appear a little depressing we have to remember who we are. We are not Woolworth’s or Blockbuster’s where a declining number of customers means an end to business. We are the Church of God and at the heart of our faith is the foolishness and the mystery of the cross where Jesus was crucified and all appeared lost. But on the third day he rose again defeating sin and death. In the words of Pope John Paul 2nd:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Lastly, death proceeds resurrection. Jesus once said: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

We must not be afraid to embrace the death of the church we once knew because we know the central truth of our Christian faith that through death comes resurrection.

Any questions.

SLIDE 1
Showed the following figures:

1959 the total membership of the Church in Wales (over 18) was 155,056
with a total of 1,087 paid and unpaid clergy,
serving 1,785 churches.

2001 figures showed a total membership of 80,258
with a total of 745 paid and unpaid clergy,
serving 1,475 churches.

2011 the total membership of the Church had dropped to 57,207 a 63% drop since 1959,
served by 840 clergy – paid and unpaid – which is a 41% drop
serving 1,407 churches, which is only a 21% drop.

SLIDE 2
Showed the geographic area served by the new Ministry Team

SLIDE 3
Identified the churches

SLIDE 4
Showed categories A-E which identified which Churches were considered viable or not (see below)


Category A
Those places where a continuing Christian witness is sustainable and/or strategically important:
St. Gabriel, St. James, St. Margaret, St.Mary, St. Nicholas, St. Thomas

Category B
Those places where the church community has a limited life-span, either due to the poor position or state of repair of church buildings, or poor numbers (with inevitable reduced skill-base):
All Saints, St. Barnabas, St. Peter.

Category C
Those places that were in reasonably good order and could offer alternative use:
Ss. Mark and John, St. Stephen

Category D
Those places that need to close due to serious structural issues:
St. Jude

Category E
Those places that could possibly see some resurgence as mission and outreach are developing:
Christchurch

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

What is sex?

Thy will be done

I once knew someone who struggled with the Lord's prayer. They could say all the prayer except the line "Thy will be done" the reason being that they were afraid that God's will may involve suffering or bad stuff. F.B. Meyer must have had someone like this in mind when he wrote the following:

"Many people shrink from God's will. They think it always means pain or sorrow or bereavement. They always feel melancholy when you speak of doing the will of God. How the devil has libelled God! The will of God is the will of a father. It is the fatherhood of God going out in action.

In our own life, we shall never be really right or happy until we have got to the point of saying, 'I delight to do your will, O God.' We may not begin there. The first step is to choose it, then we shall come to accept it lovingly and thankfully; but, finally, we shall rejoice and delight in it. If you cannot say, 'You will be done,' say, 'I am willing to be made willing to be made willing that your will should be done.'
F.B.Meyer

Monday, 3 March 2014

The life-saving station

The following is a video version of a parable I recently read at a presentation I gave about the new Ministry Areas which are being rolled out across Wales:

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about ...