Monthly Archives: July 2020

Something for Sunday

Today our passage from Romans comes from the beginning of a long section in which Paul addresses his “sorrow and unceasing anguish” about relationships between Jews and Christians. Has Christianity superseded Judaism and how do we understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament or as I would prefer to say the scriptures and the apostolic testimony? These remain questions of great importance especially when anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise again. In our time Christians have had to examine their consciences, re-read the texts and consider how flawed understandings of God’s purposes with his people led to such horrors as the holocaust.

These re-considerations and re readings have been fruitful for Christians. We have come to new understandings of both Jesus and Paul in their Jewish context. Particular titles that spring to mind are, “Jesus the Jew” by Geza Vermes and “The Misunderstood Jew” by Amy-Jill Levine. Amy-Jill’s book is a very accessible text and can be strongly recommended to all preachers. For those who are looking for a more academic approach I can also recommend; “The God of Israel and Christian Theology” by R K Soulen. Soulen is an American Methodist Minister and academic theologian. His book is discussed over several pages by John Barton in his recent prize winning and bestselling book: “A History of the Bible-the book and its faiths”. Well that’s enough book recommendations for now.

Turning back to Paul we should note that he asks himself; “has God rejected his people?” He replies; “by no means” and then asks again; “have they stumbled so as to fall” again he insists; “by no means”.( Romans 11v 1 and 11 ) Paul then proposes a scheme whereby in the purposes of God all will be brought to salvation. He further insists that the gifts and call of God are irrecoverable that is to say God never goes back on his promises. In Galatians 3 v 29 he insists that if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Or as Pope Pius X1 remarked in 1938: anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually we are all Semites.

It’s also important to remember how deeply the world of the “Old Testament” is embedded in what we call the New Testament. Throughout the gospel record the echoes of Israel’s scripture are continually to be heard so it is important that we use this scripture in our worship and prayerful reflection. Jesus declares in the Sermon on the Mount; “think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5 v 17). To the travellers on the Emmaus Road Jesus, at this point in the story incognito, “interprets to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”. Paul when he proclaims the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 v 4 declares that “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” He means what we call the Old Testament because the gospels had not then been written. Perhaps Psalm 16 is in his mind. Some of these texts are challenging to thoroughly modern Methodists but for me at least that is why they are of great value.

To conclude on a personal note. I come from North London where Jewish people were and are a much loved and respected part of the community. When the synagogue in Palmers Green was bombed in the war a temporary synagogue was established in our largest Sunday school hall-it was a big Church. We were taught in Sunday school to take pride in this aspect of our Churches history. At about the same time the Council for Christians and Jews was established and I have been a member for some years. The CCJ has a branch in Birmingham and arranges interesting meetings from time to time.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Psalm 118 v 26 and Luke 13 v 35.

The Cheerful Unrepentant Weeds*

Weed Soil Types - What Weeds Say About The Landscape

Dear Friends one of the businesses that has bucked the trend of lockdown have been garden centres and nurseries, perhaps the thought of spending your summer holiday in the back garden has prompted many people to make the most of it.

 However there is a down side to having the perfect border or a well manicured lawn. The Department of Agriculture once produced a report that said that over 50% of our native wildflowers were seen as weeds by the public. Weeds –  undesirable, without purpose, unwanted by some. Weeds that have to be uprooted or poisoned with weedkiller.

Yet Jesus seemed very fond of weeds, “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) 

Jesus always sought out the company of the undesirable and the unwanted – lepers, Samaritans, women, children, the blind, the deaf, the lame – his severest criticism was for the religious snobs of his day with their watering cans of theological weedkiller. 

Sadly in the life of our church we too have been too eager to uproot what we perceive to be ‘weeds’. It is sometimes argued that Christianity with its emphasis on the gospel and conversion is guilty of ‘othering’ – defining different expressions of Christian faith incorrect or not really for us. 

As a teenager my youth group took part in a Sunday service where the youth group leader accompanied the singing on his guitar. Before final Amen had stopped reverberating in the rafters, a steward stormed to the front of church and very loudly told us it was the most disgraceful act of worship he had ever seen. The fact that it was his son who was the youth club leader made no difference.

Sadly the youth club ceased to meet a little later and a few years after that the church closed. But the one thing that still annoys me is that  out of our small youth group I am the only one left who is active in the life of the church. 

We need to let some ‘weeds’ flourish in our little patch, allow others to bring their vibrancy and uniqueness to the life of the Church and give our churches a future to grow into. 

God bless,


*The title of a poem by Jan Sutch Pickard in ‘Dandelions and Thistles’ – Wild Goose Publications, 1999.

GDPR Data Audits

Thanks to all Church Stewards who have been working hard on completing these for each church. I have compiled a spreadsheet based on the examples you have listed which others may find useful in completing their own. I also offer the presentation from this morning’s Q&A session which was well attended.

Please note that these are just guidelines. You will obviously have to edit the boxes to match what happens at your own church.

Your hard work is much appreciated. Stephen

Something for Sunday

The Bright Field

What’s the point of it all? Why come Sunday by Sunday. To sing the old hymns-to hear the old words and sit on hard pews. Many other things that one could be doing-cooking the lunch-cleaning the car, watching the Test match and taking the family out and most people are doing these things. Some might say that it was your duty to come and indeed I would say so myself but it would take more time than I have to justify such an unpopular line.

The parables in to-days gospel were not taught in order to raise the flagging morale of elderly Methodists. Nevertheless the first hearers of this gospel were like us in these respects. They too had been raised in an old religion and were now being called to embrace something new. For them and for us the new thing is faith in Jesus. The old thing for them was the synagogue and the old thing for us is the religion of consumerism which is so powerful and all embracing that we don’t notice how it determines all our thoughts and feelings. Sadly for us the old thing is also the old form of Christianity-the old bottle that seems increasingly unable to contain the new wine. Yet inside the old form is the seed of something new, a tiny seed perhaps like the mustard seed, the hidden treasure-the good fish amongst the stinking fish and the priceless pearl amongst the dross.

And these parables teach their hearers to be hopeful. Your hopes will be fulfilled-the Kingdom of Heaven is there. But its hidden-and you’ll need judgement in order to find it-and finding it will cost you something. Now that is the message we all need to hear. There’s a hymn which begins:- Give to me Lord a thankful heart and a discerning mind. And a discerning mind. Yes indeed! Judgement. That’s what we need. We need to be able to discriminate between the false pearls and the priceless ones-the good fish from the stinking fish. We need to be able to find the hidden treasure. We belong to the church in order to learn how to recognise the treasure. Such skills are not easily acquired. I remember once walking around a church in Portugal with a friend of mine. I can’t remember why we had gone in. Perhaps it was hot and the bar was closed. My friend is a complete atheist. As we walked around the church I appreciated the statuary, the furnishings and the peace of the place. This was the place where the treasure was hidden. Not for him though-to him it was a monument to ignorance and superstition. Both of us were committed to our particular ways of seeing and I don’t suppose that either of us had come easily to our commitment.

These parables each stress the cost of commitment. “He went and sold all that he had and bought that field.” He sold all that he had to buy the pearl of great price. The net had to take in all manner of fish. Only by focussing heart, mind and spirit will you find the treasure. You know you won’t find the secret of the treasure without commitment. Following Christ is not like watching breakfast television. Listening to the word of God is not like watching a chat show. It demands something of you. And it’s hidden. Why is it hidden? Why can’t the gospel be as accessible as  the Big Breakfast. Answer because the struggle to find the treasure is part of the treasure. It’s the quest for the Holy Grail that makes it holy.


Concealment: The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. It’s like the one pearl that’s of great price amongst all the others such that one should sell all that one has to possess it. It’s like the yeast, the leaven-hidden in the measures of wheat till one sees its effect when the bread rises. As Isaiah says of God himself: Truly thou art a God who hides himself.

That hidden quality so difficult to discern and to describe yet it gives life and beauty to everything else.

Perhaps at this stage of the history of your chapel you feel discouraged-so many hymns sung, so many sermons preached, so many meetings attended and for what! Hope denied. Apparently yes. Hope is in a way always being denied by experience but hope abandoned I think not. For amidst the fake pearls and the stinking fish there is always the promise of real treasure. Yes that was worthwhile, that person, that visit, that insight-yes that was it-the real thing-amidst all the religious claptrap and the sentimental dross-it was there-perhaps when we least expected to find it. Yes the struggle and the quest is worthwhile. Hope that is grounded on human aspirations and schemes will always disappoint. Hope needs to be grounded on sterner stuff. On the promise of the resurrection-on the assurances of God’s mercy upon fallible-hopeless creatures like us. So in the end the point of being here is to be reminded. There is treasure hidden here-there is the pearl of great price here-plenty of fakes-Oh yes!-but there’s the real thing as well. Do you know where to look for it? I hope so. And don’t tell anyone else about it. Keep it to yourself. It’s your thing-your bit of the truth-perhaps the only real thing you’ll ever have-don’t let anyone knock it because it’s yours-the bit that was just for you. And you bought it with a price. But if it’s just for me what about the rest of them. Well aren’t they a means to find the treasure-some of them are treasures themselves. Would you really wish to deny them the struggle? Strange how the gospel can seem to be a secret vouchsafed just for me and at the same time a message for the whole world.

Well that’s how the Kingdom is-the one special thing and at the same time everything.

A poem by R S Thomas:

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had the treasure in it.

 I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.

It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Interrupted by Angels.

One of the great ‘lost’ poems of English literature is Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (probably aided by opium!) but was interrupted by an un-named visitor from Porlock while in the process of writing it. Only the first 54 lines were written down and the poem was never completed. Now it may not be a work of romantic poetry but we have all had the experience of being interrupted in the middle of a task and then struggled to remember what we were doing.

In Genesis we read of Jacob having a similar experience, (Genesis 28:1-22). Jacob’s father, Isaac, sent him to Paddan Aram to find a wife. This may seem extraordinary in our culture where marriage is often entered into without direction from anyone but Jacob obeys his father and sets out on a journey not realising that his journey will be interrupted by angels.

Jacob camps for the night and in this ordinary setting he dreams of a stairway going from earth to heaven.  Angels are on the staircase and if that were not enough, the God of Abraham is just above the stairway with a message for our traveler. After identifying himself, the Lord promises Jacob that his family will multiply and they in turn will bless many other people. 

As if the promise is not enough, God reassured Jacob that he would be with him and never leave him. One would think Jacob’s worries were behind him. Yet when he awakens he is afraid. His fear may have been based on a sense of God’s Holiness or perhaps he was insecure and wondered what to do next.

Our lives have been interrupted not by a visitor, nor by angels but by a virus. Our plans have been turned upside-down, tasks remain unfinished and like Samuel Coleridge Taylor we are angry and upset. Like Jacob we are fearful.

Throughout this time I keep coming back to the words of Julian of Norwich ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ Wonderful reassuring words, but at times I am not reassured. Like Jacob I wake in a morning and am fearful and concerned.

Jacob erects a crude structure dedicated to the God he has encountered and he promises that this is the beginning of a house for God. Then he makes a vow to God promising to follow him. God has already promised care, but Jacob needs reassurance. He can’t be satisfied with the free gift of God’s grace. He must add to it.

Like Jacob we have difficulty taking God at his word, or even the words of Julian of Norwich.  We insist on adding to the gift of grace when God has already assured us he loves us. Much of our religious work may be more for our benefit rather than the Creators. God had already promised to be with Jacob. His faith story included a gift of grace as does ours. God has unconditionally promised us that he will be with us no matter what, yet we want to prove we are worthy of God. We no longer see grace as a gift but as a reward for good behaviour or faithful service. Yet grace, God’s wonderful grace, will always remain a gift. And no matter how hard we try to please God our efforts are no more than a crude pile of rocks like Jacob’s altar.

So take a deep breath, stop what you are doing, forget what you want to achieve today and allow you life to be interrupted by angels.

God bless,


Sign Up For Our New Newsletter!

We have recently moved to a more professional platform for our Circuit Emails, as you may have noticed from the Bulletin on 19th July.

We are aware, however, that many members in local churches only get this news ‘second hand’ by having it forwarded from another church member.

Every member of every local church is by definition a member of the Circuit as well. You deserve to get the latest Circuit news as soon as it is published, and we would be happy to circulate news from your church to the whole Circuit too.


Peggy Hunt

On Friday, July 17th, Peggy Hunt, a dearly loved and cherished member of Kingstanding Methodist Church and of the Sutton Park Circuit, died at Good Hope Hospital, after a brief period of illness. Our prayers surround her brother Bob and the wider family, and all her friends and colleagues at this sad time of loss.

Peggy was held in deep love and respect by all who had the privilege to know her. Her faithfulness to God, her great generosity, her wisdom and patience, and most especially her love, inspired us all. Her family have been close at her side.

I will count it as one of the most wonderful privileges of my life to have been with Peggy as she travelled to be with her Lord, taking the hand of Jesus and stepping on into glory. We praise God for Peggy and all of the gifts and graces that she shared with us, as we entrust her to God’s everlasting love and goodness.

Rev Kathryn Darby.


On 19th July a recording of Peggy, made a couple of weeks before she died, features in the evening Circuit Service.