Easter Sunday Morning 21st April 2019

I want us to think about 4 words that link to all that we do as a community of faith, and which at Easter are entry points to new perspectives, into new beginnings and being born again.

The first word is Celebration. To what extent do you link in your minds, coming to church and celebrating?!.

We have all attended some sort of celebration in our lives. A celebration marks a particular event, achievement or anniversary.

Speeches might be made; glasses raised in a toast, there may well be a meal involved. There is a lightness in things, there’s usually music, even dancing. Graduation, a wedding anniversary. We go to witness a milestone and to support and simply share the moment.

This morning, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. In our ever-so-restrained British-ness we give thanks for love. We give thanks that God, is the only God, the true God. We know this because LOVE comes from God and is stronger than all things. 

We have discovered in Christ that LOVE is impartial, not prejudiced or divided. LOVE has no favourites and levels every playing field. God has demonstrated LOVE and the way it overcomes all barriers. In Christ we are loved warts and all!

The second word is Ritual.A ritual is a little different. With a good ritual there is a sense of formality. In a ritual we do things in a particular order. Some of what we do is symbolic and are door ways to layers of deeper significance and meaning.

In a ritual we are invited into the action. To participate.

Our willingness to participate will depend on our level of interest or commitment. If we are open to engage with the ritual we might find that our eyes are opened to truths and significance we might not have expected to experience. We might find that more than just our interest is tweaked. 

We might find that we wake up to something beyond ourselves. A good ritual is a doorway through which we glimpse an alternative universe. Our eyes and hearts and minds are opened to a spiritual experience of being transformed.

The third word is Sacrament.This word zeros in on the spiritual awakening, and a spiritual presence. A sacrament is an outward sign (like a ritual) of an inner reality and truth. Holy Communion is a celebration built into the ritual of a sacrament. 

It’s like a parcel wrapped up in wonderful and mysterious paper and it has a big colourful invitation on it – an invitation to open it and enter into the world which is revealed.

The action of this sacrament tells the story of love outpoured, of one who out of pure love gives himself and identifies with us in all our hungers, all our needs, our insecurities, anxieties as well as our hopes and aspirations.

 It reveals one who was truly present to those he encountered, walked with, healed, ate with. The message of Jesus is this: Let go, do not cling on to the life you have. Stop trying to control everything that happens in your life, because you are not in control of either the universe, or indeed your own life. Instead follow me in my way.  His way is a way which is lived for others. 

And so we come to the fourth word which is Presence.In Holy Communion we encounter the presence of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus who let go, who laid his life down for others, who did not cling on to life. 

Jesus who took bread and wine – saying these are my body and blood. If Jesus Christ can be somehow present in bread and wine, then he can surely be present in you and me. 

But vitally, Christ being Present – a presence that is immediate and actual, here and now, sets a pattern for you and me. 

With Christ present in us, we are called to be present in our world. Called to bring our whole selves – everything. To bring the best of ourselves, our anointed selves. To be intensely here, in this moment, with our brothers and sisters. To look into the eyes of our neighbours and to recognize there, the presence of another, with all the vulnerability, all the hopes, all the love that can be borne. 

This is the whole basis of the mission of God’s mission for the church. To be present to those we encounter, whether in the check out at Morrisons, on the bus, or over the garden fence, and of course to those who come through our doors, and across our thresholds. 

This work is costly, demanding and asks us to abandon all worries about the past, and what will happen in 5 minutes’ time, 5 days or 5 years. It demands that we abandon all sense of ownership or exclusive rights to anything. To be truly free and present is to be in the now, in this present moment. 

 Now is the only eternal moment in time. Think about that. Now is always with us. God is here in this moment, every moment is a moment of Communion, waiting for you to awaken to His presence. To have eternal life is to live in this present moment, intensely, deliberately, intentionally. The oxygen we breathe in this present moment is LOVE

 As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we too celebrate our resurrection, because we are all caught up in Christ. As Paul says, it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me.

 So, as you come up to the altar this morning, bring your presence, your whole self, focused on this encounter with the risen Christ. Bring your presence into God’s presence, expressed in material, elemental bread and wine, and there find new life, eternal life. There is no other way to be authentically alive. 

David Evans

Shamima Begum

You don’t have to look very far at all on social media sites to experience the torrent of racist hatred and abuse directed at Shamima Begum, the young Muslim woman who went to join IS when she was 15 years old.

I have been asked many times what I think should happen to Shamima – whether the UK should have her back, or whether to withdraw her citizenship.

What is patently clear is that as human beings we can and must do better than pour out abuse and hatred towards her. We diminish ourselves by resorting to such hate speech.

My view, as a local Christian leader is two-fold. 

First, we should allow her back into the UK to face the consequences in our legal system of the decisions she made originally in leaving the UK to join IS. To fail to do so means that she is effectively stateless, floating on the ocean of rootlessness, remaining vulnerable to the depraved influence of IS and other extremist peddlers of violence and blind hatred. By stripping Shamima of her UK citizenship, the Home Secretary has played to the gallery of popular opinion and has not acted in the best interests of either the UK or Shamima Begum herself.

 We know that she has said some deplorable things since she hit the news in recent weeks about her apparent lack of regrets and how she was unfazed by the gruesome sights she witnessed during her time with IS. These were clearly very unguarded utterances, but we do not know the circumstances under which she said these things, although we do know they were said in a refugee camp containing many IS sympathisers and people who are likely to have a direct influence over her fate in the immediate short term.

We do know that she has lost two children due to disease and the conditions she has found herself in. We also know that she has given birth to a baby son in the last couple of weeks. In light of this fact we should be clear that by stripping her of her UK citizenship, we are not just subjecting Shamima to being stateless and a very dangerous and uncertain future, but also an innocent new born child. 

It will only be in the safety of the UK judicial system that we will ever know her true state of mind, and the degree and impact of the trauma she has experienced and the extent of any continuing sympathies with IS that she may have. To prevent her return to the UK blocks any possible way back for her, and this, as a Christian, I believe is not right. 

The second thing that I consider very important is the requirement for us to hold open the possibility of restoration and rehabilitation, and therein forgiveness. The Christian faith holds out the message of God’s forgiveness to all people, whatever they have done in the past. The Christian faith has a message of robust and tough love. Face the consequences of your actions, but also know that we are all within the grasp of a forgiving and compassionate God. People, including Shamima Begum, will always have to face the consequences of their actions and be held accountable. It may be good to remember that the UK’s entire judicial system is based on accountability and justice rooted in Christian standards and ethics. This is what has historically made the UK a well-respected upholder of justice and fairness in the world. It is therefore very distressing that so much space on social media websites is now filled with the views of people whose intolerance, prejudice and hatred for the likes of Shamima Begum is so extreme and impervious to reason and grace.

Fishing with nets

Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-8

The miracle of the huge catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11) comes as Jesus finishes speaking to the great crowd of people gathered on the edge of the lake. He suggests to the owners of the small fishing boat that he has been using as a platform so that he can be heard by the crowd, that they cast out into deeper water and put down their nets to see what they might catch. But the fishermen have been out fishing all night with little or nothing to show for it. “Oh, alright then” Simon, the owner of the boat says reluctantly. They put down the nets and are literally overwhelmed by the vast catch of fish that fills the nets. Simon the owner is awed by this and falls at Jesus’ feet and states his feelings of complete inadequacy and unworthiness at the scale of this miracle catch.

Fishing net.jpg

The miracle followed the talk Jesus gave. His teaching was refreshingly simple and straightforward. It wasn’t complicated, and not hedged round with ‘ifs, buts or maybes’, not tied up with rules and regulations. “Love God and love your neighbour” (Mark 12:30) or “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) would be two summaries of what he was saying. It was all about love and being kind to others.

The miracle involves a net. The net can be seen in different ways. 

It engulfs the fish and scoops them up. So it’s like the embrace of the love of God, it’s huge. The net has to be cast, thrown out. You and me, we throw the net out. It’s sent out with no conditions to everyone and anyone.  So the net is like a giant invitation to come on board (not so welcome if you’re a fish I grant you!)

What about the invitation we are casting out there into our communities? Jesus promises us a big catch.

The size of the catch of fish in the net re-enforces the fact that everyone recognises goodness when they see it – everyone. Jesus’s teaching resonated with his listeners, and when his words are heard for what they are, they still do today. Like a tap-root of some great plant, the characteristics of justice, humility, kindness and love reach deep down into our souls. We don’t always respond in the right ways, but we recognize them as good and wholesome all the same.

I am convinced that for many non-church goers, notions of ‘God’ are coated with layers of religiosity, conditional, qualified and bounded, so exclusive and somehow linked to disapproval. The church in many people’s minds bears a message that you are “never good enough”; perceived to be more eager to condemn than to affirm. Keen on notions of sin as moral failure, guilt and shame rather than to speak of healing, acceptance forgiveness, encounter and blessing. 

As Jesus stood on that boat talking to the crowds, he was inviting them with a message that was warm, welcoming, accepting and about new beginnings. His appeal was to the goodness within each person, his understanding of their lives AND his talk of a heavenly father who welcomes the lost, the oppressed, those who thought there was no way back for them.

This is our message of today to everyone in our communities, and this is what we are doing: Come as you are, bring who you are, no pretending. God sees through the pretence and his arms are wide open in welcome. 

He sees within each person that small divine spark he planted in each of us. Come and have that spark fanned into a flame. Come, offer what you have been given by God, back to him, and discover the huge haul of love that God has for you. 

And as sure as eggs are eggs, your response will be the same as Peter’s. It’ll be the same as Isaiah’s (from our first reading), a sense of unworthiness, the acute and urgent need for a new beginning. And that is OK.

Whenever people encounter overwhelming goodness and love, there is a tendency to feel inadequate, we know this from our own experience – do we really deserve such affirmation and acceptance?

Catch of fish.jpg

But this isn’t about you and me. It’s all about God and his love, that the gulf of separation, of inadequacy has already been bridged by the outpouring of His love for you in Jesus Christ on the cross.

This is the message. This is our appeal. The appeal of simple goodness, mercy and love. Bring what you’ve got. The embrace of God’s love is as big and far bigger than the net that scooped up those fish in the nets. 

And in the face of such acceptance, our pride, our embattled separateness will crumble, replaced by a hunger and thirst for rebirth; and in that rebirth, we are turned around to become fisher folk ourselves.

 

Midnight Mass, St Augustine’s Church, Rugeley. 24th December 2018. Revd David Evans

This time last year, at this Midnight Mass I mentioned 3 things that were going to be taking place in 2018.

A Counselling Service – now called the Changing Room Counselling service would be starting.

A men’s breakfast group called Adam’s Return would be starting, giving us men the chance to talk about their lives.

A befriending group would be starting to support people’s recovery in mental health. 

Well, in February the Changing Room counselling service did begin and since it started 45 clients have been supported with up to 6 free sessions of counselling with a local professional therapist and counsellor.

Also in February, Adam’s Return began and every month between 7 and a dozen men get together over a cooked breakfast, cooked by our own fair hands. Friendships have been formed and we look forward to these times when we share experiences and help each other along.

The befriending group began, but we have learned that we need a clearer focus in terms of therapeutic activity. It’s a work in progress. Whether it will be art, gardening, singing, mindfulness or whatever. We are learning the truth that ‘the experts’ in recovering from mental health are the very people who struggle with anxiety or depression. The truth is that we all have something to contribute that often times a lack of confidence and feeling safe hinders. 

The profile of the issue of mental health was raised through 2018 by the existence of the Changing Room counselling service, but also at our Family Day, through a sponsored skydive and of course through the Cycle Challenge for Mental Health.

2019 will be a year when we develop these ideas further. We will have one or two additional counsellors joining the Changing Room counselling project.

It remains that case that mental health provision on this side of Cannock Chase is virtually non-existent. It is shameful. I have spoken to people who tell me that they have lost their treatment because they weren’t well enough to get on a bus and get to Cannock. Yes, you can get some kind of assessment for your condition in Rugeley, but no treatment. 

This will continue to be an abiding focus in the year ahead.

So you might wonder, what has this got to do with the church? What has religion got to do with this? 

It’s very simple: The church is about God. God is about love. And love is the glue which creates communities. It is the glue which binds people together. So obviously the church is involved. 

So what of 2019?

You will see St Augustine’s championing and celebrating the strengths and talents of people of Rugeley. You will see St Augustine’s always inviting people in this town to put something back into this community. You will see St Augustine’s inviting people to take part, whether it is at our Family Day, or the Cycle Challenge for Mental Health, or taking part in some kind of activity that makes us feel better about ourselves and life, like singing, craft making, gardening, whatever it takes… or whether it is about celebrating our heritage.

And all the while that is going on, the magic happens… the glue that binds us together gets stronger as friendships form, trust develops, alliances are created.

And what about Christmas? What is the connection?

This nativity. This manger scene. This birth happens in grimy reality. It does not happen in some fairy-tale make-believe fantasy. There is no other reality than this our world, and it is this, our world, that God enters in human form. He enters to transform it. This is no fantastical distraction or escapism. He invites each of us to follow in his way, to be filled with his inspiring spirit.

There are not many things any of us can confidently assert as being an absolute certainty, but there is one thing. It is called love.

The birth at Christmas brings the promise of forgiveness, the absolute certainty of love, and the hope of peace. It is these three things, forgiveness, love and peace that transform people’s reality and therefore our world.

Happy Christmas.

Changed Lives > Changing Lives. 9 Days of Prayer from Ascension Day to Pentecost

Changed Lives > Changing Lives. 9 days of Prayer from Ascension Day to Pentecost.

Ascension Day is this coming Thursday - 10th May. From Thursday 10th to Sat 19th May go to Team Blog to find material from the Novena 2018 to use in prayer.  

Come and join us for an early morning out-door service at 6.30am on Ascension Day morning at St Augustine's Church, Station Road, Rugeley. Join us too for breakfast in the church hall after the service.

Welcome to our new website!

The Team Ministry of Brereton, Rugeley and Armitage has a new website which we hope will help you discover more about the life of the Church of England churches in Rugeley, Brereton and Armitage.

Effective communication is vital in getting across what we are all about, what we stand for and how the local churches can support, reach out and help local people. Life can be tough and many struggle, but our communities are full of good people. As our new home page says we are: 

"Creating communities of hope following the example of Jesus and reflecting the love of God and Celebrating everything good about Brereton, Rugeley & Armitage."

We hope that you will use this website and the associated social media platforms to keep in touch and know how to contact us when you need support, advice or help.