Lent Sermon 2 (Audio)

1 04 2014

Pete HarrisRecording of Sermon given by Pete Harris on the third Sunday before Lent (14mins).

Lent Sermon 1 (Audio)

23 03 2014

Simon ReedRecording of Sermon given by Simon Reed on the second Sunday before Lent (25mins).

Live deliberately

10 01 2014

This time last year I looked ahead to what lay before us as a Parish in the year ahead.  It’s good to look back and see what has been achieved.

In April Steve Macbeth, and his wife Lisa, joined us as Community Minister at St Mary’s.  In the eight months since then we’ve seen our new church facilities expand their usage with Age UK setting up there, two new weekly coffee mornings for the local community, and a Payback team improving the site still further.  The two big projects go live this month – a new West Twyford Parent and Toddler Group at St Mary’s, and the long-awaited restart of a parish Christian group for teenagers, headed up by Steve and Lisa.

In October we celebrated at last the ordination of Pete Harris, officially recognising him as Minister at St Mary’s and filling the gap in our clergy team which has existed since 2010.  It’s no coincidence that with Pete taking on leadership at St Mary’s and freeing me up to concentrate again on the Ascension, we have seen growth in numbers at both churches in the past year.  Whatever you may still hear in the media about Christianity in this country being in crisis, or people saying that both our congregations are made up largely of older people, IT SIMPLY ISN’T TRUE!

Our current Alpha course is the liveliest I can remember.  One of the people on it has just taken first steps into Christian faith, having grown up with something very different.  Her personal motto is “Live deliberately,” and I believe that fits perfectly with what Christian faith is all about.

Jesus did not come to give us a spiritual insurance policy for when we die, or crutch to lean on when we feel we need a bit of help (although he does do both of those things).  Instead he came making the controversial claim in both words and actions that God is the true ruler of this world and he calls us to come and live deliberately under that rule.  Jesus knew from the start that this would involve sacrificing his own life in the most horrible way in order to take responsibility for the evils which pervade all creation including us.  Jesus assures those who follow him that their sins are forgiven by God and they are loved and accepted as they are.  He also calls them to live lives of sacrifice, dedicated to following him.  Before us lies the gift of a New Year – let’s choose to live it deliberately as Christians.

Happy New Year!


God in the ordinary

6 12 2013

The most important thing about the birth of Jesus is not precisely how, when or where he was born, but that he was indeed born.  Only two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke, give an account of his birth.  Mark and John may have chosen not to because they did not think it was that important, and the rest of the New Testament supports them because not a single bit of Christian teaching is drawn from the infancy accounts.  Nor did the early Christians start celebrating Christmas until the third or fourth century!

And yet these strange stories have a gritty ring of truth about them.  Some say they are just fiction, written to fit the prophecies of the Old Testament, but they’re not like that.  The fit isn’t good enough.  Instead Matthew and Luke seem to relate these odd events and in them spot echoes of these older books which they then highlight.

The most striking fact though is the way that the birth of Jesus is all of a piece with the rest of his life, and in that way turns upside down our preconceptions of what God is like.  The “wonder” of his birth is not the shared parental feeling of a new life safely delivered, but rather the circumstances in which it happens.  If the idea of God entering the life of the human race is not startling enough (and ask a Muslim if you want to know how disturbing that idea is), then take the fact that he is born in poverty, nearly destitute, and by the age of two is a refugee in a foreign country fleeing from a murderous regime.

This same child grows up to confound expectations by taking the high ideals of the Ten Commandments and lifting them to an even higher level, whilst saying at the same time that the kingdom of heaven is for the crooks and the whores and the irreligious drop-outs – the very people who are least likely to be able to live up to these ideals.  He then confronts the political and religious powers knowing full well that they will kill him, saying that in doing so he will take upon himself all the evils of the world including theirs, and overcome them.  Which he did.  Three days later.

Jesus’ life declares that you find God not in some sanitised heaven but in the grit and the grime and the graft of daily life.  Christmas just marks the beginning of that.  It’s worth a party or two – but come and learn how to find God in the ordinary the rest of the time.

Merry Christmas!


Repairing our broken society (Video)

10 11 2013

November Letter

9 11 2013

November begins with All Saints Day when we remember our ancestors in Christ who have gone before us.  Without them, the exceptional and the ordinary, we would not have a Christian church today.  Celtic saints like Patrick, Columba and Aidan left their homes to travel and bring the love of God to others.  16th century saints risked death to change oppressive religious structures.  18th century saints like John Wesley took on the establishment to bring faith, hope and a better life to ordinary people.  The church of the past encourages and urges us to face the challenges of being the church now and in the future.

Last month I saw a bit of what that future might look like.  My book Creating Community has created interest in the wider Christian world and I was invited to speak at an event in Swansea, South Wales.  The missing generation in many of our churches is the 18-35 age group and the younger members of several Swansea churches have got together to do something about that.  “3” is an experimental event which happens three times a year.  There are three speakers, three discussion slots, three performing artists and it ends with a three course meal.  The big idea is “to engender a creative environment in which to challenge, stimulate and explore what the church of the future might look like.”  It seemed to be working as there were about 75 people there.  Here are a few things I noticed about a church event which is successfully reaching younger people.

* Technology.  There was a professional quality sound system and three screens.  One in three people in the UK now uses an e-reader.  High quality sound and vision in our churches is not a luxury but an essential.  One of the “speakers” was actually a video blog by a teenage girl sharing her experience of experimenting with different forms of prayer.

* Participation.  People didn’t just come to be talked to (though they soaked up what I had to say).  Each talk had space for discussion and response.  One of the screens was to allow people to post instant comments and responses via Twitter.

* Creativity. The main music was from a professional DJ.  He used pre-recorded sound loops of rich atmospheric ambient music, over which he played live.  This provided a setting for spoken meditations on passages of Scripture with words and images on the screens.  At the end you could hear a pin drop.

* Hospitality.  The “church” was set up with tables, chairs and sofas.  There was a café offering tea, coffee and cake all afternoon – very good cake, produced by a local social enterprise project.  There was quality without extravagance in everything as befits a Costa Coffee shop culture.

And although this didn’t call itself church, that’s exactly what it was – there was worship, prayer, Scripture, teaching, togetherness, and in the middle of dinner we broke bread and drank wine to remember Jesus.

Our churches have great riches from the past but to be faithful to the Gospel we also have to discover the riches of the present time and culture.  “3” is doing that.  What can we do?

Best Wishes


Good gifts all around us

30 09 2013

It’s Harvest time again and it’s good to pause and reflect on the way in which the natural world teems with life.  Even in London’s urban sprawl we can see birds and animals and insects everywhere if we just stop to look.  On top of that, even in times of economic recession we are all of us among the richest people on the planet.  We have fresh water literally on tap, so much food that we throw it away, roofs over our heads, and access to free medical facilities whenever we need them.  No matter how pressured we may sometimes feel, we have every reason to thank God for the privilege of living where we are.

But with privilege also comes responsibility.  An important part of being a Christian is recognising that everything we have is a gift from God and it is to be shared when necessary with those who do not have enough, and offered in support of the mission and ministry of God’s church.

This is something which not enough of us grasp fully.  There is great generosity when there is a specific need or appeal, and the fact that we have been able to reopen St Mary’s and improve the Ascension speaks volumes for our ability to dig deep.

The problem lies in supporting the week by week activities of the church – which I’m delighted to say are expanding.  This year we have seen growth in numbers at both churches and expansion in the types of activities we can offer.  All of this costs money.  Last year our churches, staff and activities cost just short of £110,000 to support.

£63,000 of that came from the giving of church members.  The rest came from letting out our buildings, and other smaller sources of income.  None of our regular income is from grants or subsidies of any kind. £63,000 a year given by church members sounds like a lot of money until you break it down.  It means on average that each member gives only £50 a month or £11 a week.  Break down the average further and it turns out that a third of our members give less than £25 a month (or £6 a week), and another third give no more than £50 a month.  That means half of our total income from giving comes from only a third of our members.

We can do so much better.   The Bible suggests that we should aim to give away around 10% of our income and it doesn’t need a mathematical genius to work out that our income as churches is nowhere close to that when compared to the amount of money most of us have each month.  It’s time to learn that how we use our money is as much a measure of our spirituality as the amount of time we spend in prayer.  Everyone enjoys it when we welcome new people into the church, when we’re able to put on good activities for children and retired people, when we’re able to do things well, rather than in the most bargain basement way.  There’s a huge joy and satisfaction in investing in something worthwhile and seeing it realise its potential.  Many of you speak of how much you value the life of our churches.  It’s time for us to show how much we care by the way we give.  Good gifts are all around us.

It’s time to give something back.

Best wishes