Reflection on Borders and Difference

This reflection was shared as part of devotions at the Gloucestershire Circuit Meeting 22nd May 2022.

Mark 7: 1-8

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
   teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

As Julie and I prepare to pack up our home ready for moving to a new appointment in a new place, there is obviously sadness at leaving behind the people we have come to know and work with over the last 8 years many of whom have become good friends. Yesterday I was reading the information for prospective candidates for the ministry and it talks about the cost of entering itinerant ministry and how difficult it can be to pack up home, leave friends, family and support structures and move to a new location and a new appointment amongst people who we meet as strangers. 

But as I thought about this I realised that while our discomfort is real, how does it compare to the distress of those who have been forced to leave their homes through no choice of their own, leaving behind their whole lives, not knowing where they will end up and when they will see loved ones again, if ever. We have all heard and seen the awful events in Ukraine and the stories of those who have been forced to leave, not knowing if  they will ever be able to return. They are dependent upon the generosity and  hospitality of strangers, and vulnerable to the prejudices and hostilities of others. Of course Ukraine is the place at the top of the media agenda right now. But is just the latest in a long list of places from which people have been forced to flee – we might remember Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and others.

A few of weeks ago Julie and I spent a week in Northern Ireland visiting the Corymeela Community. We met with a group of people with whom we had travelled to India on  pilgrimage a couple of years ago –  the theme of which was ‘Borders’.  We continued thinking about this theme as we experienced the work of the East Belfast Mission and met with people who had been instrumental in the peace process that led to the Good Friday agreement and the laying down of arms by the paramilitary groups 20 years ago. And the realisation that the tensions still exist – they have not gone away and they need to be carefully attended to. 

The reading from Mark’s gospel speaks of difference. In this case it is the differences in purity laws and traditions around eating. They have not washed their hands in the ritual way expected of the Jews. The laws and traditions are what set the Jews apart from other people. But every people have their own ways and traditions. Difference that marks out their particular identity. The Pharisees and scribes are not happy with Jesus not conforming. 

Such difference, and the expectation of conformity can be what leads to the erection of barriers, the formation of a border, a line of demarcation. A border can be a wall, a fence, maybe a locked door or gate. An obstacle to separate. This tends to happen when difference has been allowed to become a reason to hate, a reason to need to to keep peace. 

Or a border can be almost non existent – a dotted line on a map and no more. We saw this a few years ago when we drove through Europe to Italy travelling through 6 or 7 different countries with no sign of a border other than a sign at the side of the road. The realisation that people can live on a border – sharing schools, hospitals, shops, community. They may fly different flags but difference can be accepted and embraced. It can be a spark to creativity and enrichment of life. But It takes a willingness to love instead of hate, to build trust. Trust can take years to build, but be lost in a moment. 

Whenever we move from one place to another, even if it is a fairly short distance, whether it is by choice or not, we take a risk: – the risk of being accepted or rejected, of being welcomed or sent away, of being accepted for who and what we are or of being expected to conform, of having our needs met or  of facing prejudice, of being loved or hated. 

In a few weeks time, a lorry will carry all our possessions from one place to another. We will be strangers, at least for a time, but we will set up home in a secure place with all our familiar things around us. But what of those who are refugees and have to leave all behind? How does that feel? Refugees carry nothing but their vulnerability, relying on the hospitality of strangers.

How then can our churches be truly places of love and hospitality, welcome the stranger, be places of sanctuary? What kind of hospitality enables us to build a truly inclusive congregation or community? Which of our practices help to create insiders and outsiders? Jesus cuts through boundaries and separation. He was prepared to eat with anyone! He expressed solidarity with the marginalised by sharing food with them.

In writing this reflection I drew on the following resources:

‘Hospitality and Sanctuary for all’  – Inderjit Bhogal

‘Words of Hope – thoughts and reflections from Amos trust’

Note also Refugee Week 20-26th June 2022 – resources;

Churches Together in Britain & Ireland

Sanctuary Church

Prayer for Peace in Ukraine

As we stand with the people of Ukraine at this terrible time we pray for peace. The following prayer has been issued by the Methodist Church:

Holy and Gracious God
We pray for the people of Ukraine and the
people of Russia, for their countries and their leaders.
We pray for all those who are afraid; that your
everlasting arms hold them in this time of great fear.
We pray for all those who have the power over life
and death; that they will choose for all people life,
and life in all its fullness.
We pray for those who choose war; that they will
remember that you direct your people to turn
swords into ploughshares and to seek peace.
We pray for leaders on the world stage; that they
are inspired by the wisdom and courage of Christ.
Above all, Lord, today we pray for peace in Ukraine
And we ask this in the name of your blessed Son.
Lord have mercy.

An audio version of the prayer is available here

A statement from the President of Conference can be read here

You can also register to join in prayer with the  Conference of European Churches which includes the World Methodist Council, and link to a prayer issued by JPIT at the same link Here.

Moving On…..

Back at the beginning of the first Covid lockdown, when our churches were closed and unable to meet, I began using this blog as a place to draw together resources for worship and reflection and to share new and ideas. For example, I found that videos could be posted to YouTube but not here and Service sheets could be posted here but not on YouTube! So using this space to link the two seemed a good idea. It meant I needed only to email out a single link each week to keep you all in touch. At that time, in the Circuit several of us were creating Worship videos each week, others began leading services on Zoom and we were posting out service sheets and resources for those not on the internet, mainly focussed around our the churches in our own pastoral care.

Once some of the churches began to meet again we realised that we would need to continue the online presence as well, but creating a service to lead in church each week and with activities in churches starting up again it would be unsustainable for all of us to continue doing both – online and off line. So we made the decision to create a weekly service for the Circuit and this is now planned as part of the Circuit plan, someone each week allocated to create and lead it. The video is posted on YouTube.

We set out with the intention of posting a transcript that could be downloaded and posted out with the aim of keeping us connected with the knowledge that we were sharing in the same service. The transcript could not be hosted on YouTube so we hosted this on the Circuit website with link there to the YouTube video.

However, it proved difficult to always get the transcript up on the web site by the Tuesday – needed to allow time for it to be posted out. In practice we gradually moved to posting out our own transcripts or using the one from provided by the Connexion Ministries.

Recently we had a discussion at the staff meeting and decided that our online ‘Worship at Home’ ministry now needs to move into a new phase. No longer a response to Covid but part of our ministry and mission in its own right. Some of us expressed a desire to develop the online services in more creative ways.

The Ministries and Vocations team has promised to continue for another year with the At Home Services on the Singing the Faith+ website that can be downloaded posted and so these or a locally produced transcript will be sent to those not online. We will no longer have a transcript available on the Circuit website as the videos will be self contained.

We don’t know exactly how the online services will develop but they will continue to be available on the Circuit YouTube page with a link from the Circuit Website. The links are as follows:

Link to the Circuit Worship at Home Page: Click Here

Link to the Circuit YouTube page here: Click Here

If you go to the YouTube page and click ‘Home’, you should see the latest available videos there. If you want to see older videos then click ‘Videos’.

For there seems to be little purpose to me repeating those links here on a regular basis. I will add them to the ‘About’ page so you can find them there if you need to – click ‘About’ at the top of this page. I will in future revert to using this blog for my own reflections and videos when I am able to produce them! So do please click the subscribe button (scroll down and click the blue button that says ‘subscribe to on the registers’, sign up and you will receive an email automatically when I post).

In the mean time – stay safe and have a very Blessed Christmas!

Sunday 5th December

Online Worship via the Circuit Web site:

Link to the Circuit Worship at Home Page: Click Here

This week is the second Sunday of Advent – always a busy time of year when we are preparing for Christmas, planning and preparing all the extra services and events that happen over the next few weeks.

This time last year we were battling the great uncertainty of whether our Christmas celebrations would be able to go ahead. We had just come out of the second lockdown, but the Covid infection numbers were rising. In the event we had to cancel our Christmas plans. This year we continue to face uncertainty as the new variant begins to spread but hopefully with the vaccination programme stepping up we won’t have to cancel all our Christmas plans again.

Of course Christmas itself can never be canceled. We can always celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour where ever we are, whoever we are with, whatever the circumstances.

This year we are hoping and praying that most of our Christmas plans will go ahead, even if they have had to be curtailed from the usual became of the continued need for Covid precautions and social distancing. So we will still hold our carol services, but with reduced numbers meaning that maybe they will have to be ‘booked’ for seating.

As all this goes goes on we have been struggling with the Stationing process. As our time in Gloucester draws to a close at the end of next Summer, it is now that the process takes place of matching Ministers and Circuits to determine which moves will be made and where we will all end up after the great August Methodist move! We find that our excitement at exploring something new is tinged with grief at what we will leave behind.

From our point of view it’s a process of looking through profiles of prospective Circuits and making a list of potentials which we then give to the Chair of District. This can be quite s stressful process in itself and then there is the waiting while the Stationing Matching Group meets and we wait to hear if we have been matched with somewhere on our list or maybe somewhere completely different! Once a match is made a visit is organised and then the Circuit and the Presbyter make a decision on whether to accept the match.

Currently we are waiting to go and visit the Circuit with which we have been matched in the second round and we hope and pray that all will be well.

We know that in all of this God is acting even if it can at times be difficult to see his plan. Through our prayers and the prayers of others we try to determine his will and to be obedient to it. But inevitably we don’t always get it right. Maybe at times his will is hard to hear, or maybe we just don’t really want to see it. But we continue to hope and pray that God will be our guide and support in the decisions we make. Thank you to everyone who has been holding us in your prayers. Please continue to do so as we continue our search next weekend.

Lord be our help and our guide as we negotiate the path through Covid at Christmas and also as we discern your will for us in the next phase of our life in your service. Amen.