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On Thursday 18th April one of the saints of St Martin in the Bull Ring died. Her name is Muriel Dewick and she was a remarkable woman. In a week when the nation and even the world focused its attention on another remarkable woman, Margaret Thatcher (whatever you think of her politics she was remarkable!) it is worth reflecting on what we think is remarkable or even what we think a saint is.
Sainthood isn’t really about perfection. Muriel was not perfect. She was often quite stubborn, and had a complete inability to throw stuff away. Her house was full of papers Which meant she wasn’t the most organised person in the world. But Muriel was a servant hearted follower of Jesus Christ who had a passion for mission, a deep prayer life and a genuine interest in how you were.
Increasingly in the last few years of her life she was unable to move around freely. Her body was slowly seizing up yet her mind remained sharp, focused and centred on her lord. What was remarkable about Muriel was she never moaned (something I could learn a lot from!) and her willingness to serve. Not for her the concerns of being famous, renowned or even honoured. For Muriel it was simply about doing what God had called her to do no matter what the cost, her age or her infirmities. My fear is such dedication is becoming less and less in church of today. I know that my ministry has been supported in prayer by faithful people like Muriel many of them being my seniors and many of them having been discipled in their youth. Are we creating these servant hearted prayer warriors for the coming years because we will need them more than ever as we continue along the road of scientific materialism and tabloid morality.
i’m not sure the evidence is encouraging. Too many people in our churches do help out when it fits with their social diary and if it meets their needs. Muriel would never have seen it like that. If you are needed to serve you serve and serve and serve till the good Lord says otherwise.
May God raise up a new generation of Muriel’s even if they are stubborn and disorganised. We will miss her terribly but heaven has a new remarkable saint who can now really get into service.
Yesterday I set up a prayer activity in our prayer chapel. I asked people to think of One Good Thing, thank God for the blessing, write it on a (pre-cut) flower and hang it on the tree. Just a day later the tree is covered in wonderful blessings. My favourite today is Mommy and Daddy love each other. What a blessing, however old we are! And a blessing, like so many of them, which we might take for granted unless its taken away from us.
I thought perhaps that you, our website visitors might like to join us by using the ‘comments’ link and adding your own ‘One Good Thing’. You are welcome to add one each day and use it as an opportunity to count your blessings, even on days when there seems so much difficulty you can look for something simple to be thankful for.
I have repeated some which have been posted on our tree, they are all anonymous and on public view:
Im alive, thankyou!
I got together with my misus and we’re still together after 7 years
I got an offer for medical school
Sunday drives to the Cotswolds with my father and uncle
I have got a lot of good friends
I have 3 lovely daugthers and 9 healthy grandchildren, I feel blessed
I have a roof over my head
I made it to church today and I know God is here and he is helping us
We have had good weather and my parents are still with me
I love sleeping in my new bed (age 3)
Image: Andreas, flickr
‘This is Church: How it all began’
During the next three months we will be exploring how the early church began and dealt with the issues it faced. The spread and growth of the church is recorded in the Book of Acts. This is really the second volume of Luke’s Gospel as he is its author.
Our aim is to learn from the early church and discover how their story can help us in our story here at St Martin’s. Having spent the first part of this year looking at what Christians believe through our whole church Alpha we now look at how these beliefs impact on real people building the church. This we believe will help us to deepen our faith and grow the church community at St Martin’s.
Later this year we will be launching a new vision and strategy document and we want it to be a modern expression of the church as it was then and can be today.
Dates to note:
May 12th-18th Christian Aid Week
May 19th: Pentecost Sunday
June 16th: Civic Service at 6pm
Image: Vicki Walkins, flickr
Sabbatical travels have allowed me to listen to different preachers in different places. Being in the pew and not being the one delivering the sermon has been a very refreshing and challenging experience. But as I have listened the one question that has been most prominent in my mind is ‘and the point is?’
On a number of occasions I have been given quite a lot of information about biblical characters, useful stories (and some not so helpful), and a few rather cheesy cliches that really should never have been said. On only two occasions did I feel personally challenged, engaged and uncomfortable. Now I don’t think sermons are simply about making me uncomfortable or anyone else for that matter but I do think they should make me think! Sharing lots of vaguely interesting information is vaguely interesting but that’s all it is. Surely there needs to be more of a challenge in it as well?
Whilst working as a vicar in Bristol I had the privilege of being on the local radio station and once a month reviewed the parish magazines that had been sent in to the Sunday morning programme. The criticism that came back from my reviews was that I was too critical. Those who had produced these magazines were volunteers, sincere in what they had written and I should not knock them for it. I wasn’t of course criticising their sincerity but rather the content which too often was very dull and really didn’t seem to have much point to it. I have no doubt that those who preach are sincere in what they are doing. They work hard at it and try to produce something that will at worst fill the time allocated and at best engage with people in some way or other. But do we preachers stop and ask ourselves ’and the point is?’as we prepare because if we don’t then those listening will certainly be asking that question. And the answer they come up with might not be what we intended at all.
Week Beginning: Sunday 17th March 2013
Question 10: What about the church?
Bible Readings: Ephesians 2:19-22, Matthew 16:17-19
1. What comes to mind when you think about “church”?
2. Has any of the biblical images challenged your perception of the church? (being “living stones” – 1 Peter 2:4-5, “Bride of Christ” – Revelation 21:2 or “the body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12:12-31) If so how?
3. What part do you play in the church? Is God calling you to play a different part?
Further resources for those exploring…
Books: Gerard Kelly – Church Actually: Discovering the balance of God’s plan.
I love preaching. When I say that what I mean is that I love doing the preaching thing. Now some of that is because I like to perform (it’s the actor in me or the desire to be a stand up comic or just being the focus of attention) but hopefully not too much. Some of it is because I want to communicate the amazing story of Jesus Christ and how the gospel can transform everything. And some of it is because I believe in the scriptures. We have such a treasure for all of life in the bible that someone needs to open this treasure up and share it with everyone.
I love trying to do that. I also love hearing others do it.
In the dim and distant past when I was first let loose on a parish as the vicar I sat in a meeting with fellow clergy and we discussed preaching. (We usually talked about funerals but for some wonderful reason which I no longer remember we talked about preaching.) One senior colleague stated that as far as he was concerned preaching was dead. It was pointless because people couldn’t sit and listen to one person talk to them for more than 10 minutes so keep it short at worst and even better don’t speak at all. The point I made then and still believe now is that dead preaching is dead not preaching. If you deliver a dull, irrelevant and boring sermon or sermonette then that’s how people will respond. And probably only once or twice because who wants to sit in a cold church and be bored when you can do the same at home and in more comfort.
These past three months have been a chance for me to spend time reflecting on preaching. It has been the focus of my sabbatical. I have listened to a number of preachers both in the UK and in the USA. It has been good for me to be on the receiving end as it were and rediscover what people have to encounter week by week. Initial thoughts on what I have heard?
1. Good preaching still grabs people.
2. You can preach to the committed Christian (edification) and the non believer (evangelism) at the same time.
3. The bible is always the best place to start.
4. You don’t need lots of jokes to get attention.
5. You do need passion.
None of these are I suspect particularly earth shattering in terms of insights but for me they are useful reminders. If I want people to listen to me then these are some of the things I need to put into practice either for the first time or again and again.
In July 1988 a man called Barry Rogerson, then Bishop of Bristol put his hands on my head and ordained me into the clergy of the Church of England. I was ordained with the name Stephen which was fine except I’m Stewart and maybe that’s why it has taken me 25 years to have a sabbatical. (Stephen Jones has had all the other ones I might have taken with apologies to any real Rev Stephen Jones’ who have had sabbaticals.)
But what exactly is a sabbatical? Is it just a middle class word for a long holiday and if so why not just say a long holiday? Or is it extended study leave with holiday as well? For me it has been a much needed escape from the tyranny of email, telephone, meetings, people and sermon writing and a chance to simply find me again. Not all of what I do is a tyranny but after 25 years of trying and often failing to preach the gospel, lead a number of churches, work for the past two Archbishops ( new one not included. I know nothing about him except what I read) and countless other stuff that clergy do I was in a place that felt more tyrannical than blessed. So the sabbatical began on Jan 1st 2013 and what an oasis it has been. God bless the diocese of Birmingham, my staff colleagues and the people of St Martin in the Bull Ring for allowing me this gift.
It began badly. My Mum died on Christmas Day so a trip to Scotland for the funeral took up week one. Spent quite a lot of time working through my emotions as I was not close to my Mum but she was my Mum. Still not really sorted that one out but working on it. The plan for the three months ahead of me was to spend time reflecting on preaching (which I have done and which will make up future sabbatical blogs) but often found myself being led down other paths particularly thinking on discipleship both personal and church. Again possible future blog to explain more.
The one thing that has been wonderful throughout this sabbatical has been the chance to read. I am a keen but slow reader and having the time to sit and read without thinking I have to rush off somewhere has been brilliant. I have rediscovered my love of fiction, biography and theology and I have said to myself I must not let this pleasure get lost in an over busy diary when I re-enter the world of ministry with all its joys and terrors. Add to this a chance to go to the cinema more often has been food for the soul like no other. It has allowed me to be me and with the time to reflect I have actually concluded I quite like me faults, foibles and all.
So what is a sabbatical? For me a place to find who I am and that isn’t Stephen but Stewart.
Image: Untitled by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr
Week Beginning: Sunday 10th March 2013.
Question 9: Does God heal today?
Bible readings: James 5:13-16, Luke 2:33-35.
1. Healing and miracles never stand alone. They are signs of what?
2. What do you understand by the ‘now and not yet’ kingdom of God?
3. How would you answer someone who claimed that Jesus’ command to his disciples that they should heal the sick no longer applies to us today ?
4. What woud you say to someone who thought that healing had not taken place because the person concerned did not have enough faith?
5. Do you pray for healing? If so why? If not why?
Further resources for those exploring…
Books by: John Wimber, Peter Lawrence, Francis MacNutt, Bill Johnson, Randy Clark, David Watson and Hyde Baker. (This is not a complete list)
Week Beginning: Sunday 3rd March 2013.
Question 8: How does God guide us?
Bible readings: James 1:19-25, Matthew 7:7-12.
1. Can you think of a time when you felt God might be speaking to you?
2. What do you believe God might be guiding you towards?
3. How do you think God’s guidance changes who you are and how you view the world?
4. What are the key themes you can identify from this morning’s session: “How does God guide us?”
Further resources for those exploring…