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.