Monday, January 26, 2009

A letter to the congregations of:
St Mary’s Apsley End,
St Benedict’s Bennetts End
Holy Trinity Leverstock Green


Pastoral Reorganistion

For nearly 3 years now our parish and the parish of All Saints, Kings Langley, have been engaged in conversations with a view to the two parishes uniting to form a new team ministry. We are not the only parishes facing such change – it is happening across our diocese and the Church of England as a whole, as the Church at large seeks to ensure appropriate pastoral care in every parish with a reduced number of stipendiary clergy.

Change is never easy to accept in any area of life but change can also present us with new opportunities and this is how I and the ministerial team in our parish view the proposed new team ministry. A joint meeting between our 3 District Church Councils and the PCC of Kings Langley was held on Sunday 18 January at Abbot’s Hill School. Our Archdeacon, Jonathan Smith, opened the meeting encouraging us in this new collaborative enterprise, quoting some wise words of the famous Cardinal John Henry Newman: ‘….to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’

The Revd John Quill facilitated an exercise whereby those present divided into 4 mixed groups to undertake tasks relating to communication, children and young people, ministry and mission. There was feedback from the groups illustrating clearly just how effective we can be in working together, harnessing all the resources of our 4 churches. The question was then posed – what structure would best enable us as a new team ministry to work together in a way we glimpsed through the afternoon’s exercises?

Archdeacon Jonathan then offered us a model which is described as a multi-parish benefice. Each of our districts would become a parish with its own Parochial Church Council dealing with matters pertaining to each parish e.g. maintenance of buildings, finance etc. There would be a Team Council made up of clergy and elected members from each PCC and the Council would be responsible for promoting mission, ministry and pastoral care across the benefice, with PCCs implementing the Council’s policies. The Team Council would also decide on financial matters relating to the benefice as a whole, with all the churches sharing and supporting one another in their financial responsibilities. The clergy would be licensed to the team as a whole and would minister across the benefice, offering all the churches the variety of skills and experience of each priest, ensuring effective priestly ministry in all the churches. Because this is a new benefice a new name needs to be found indicating that this is a fresh start for all the churches.

There was a very positive agreement from the meeting that this was the model that should be adopted. The next stage in the process is to begin drafting a formal document that sets out the details of a new benefice, and I have already been working with Jim May, the Diocesan Pastoral Secretary, on this very task. When the formal draft document has been drawn up there will have to be further consultation with the church councils of both parishes, other interested parties and the Church Commissioners. However, if there are no difficulties or objections along the way the process can run smoothly and hopefully a new formal team ministry will come into being within several months.

The proposed new team ministry means considerable change for all of us, clergy and congregations alike, and as I said at the beginning of this letter change is never easy. Perhaps we need to remember what this change will offer us. We will have as resources 4 church buildings all in good states of repair, communities of people with a very rich diversity of experience and skills, and a strong ministerial team of stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy and readers – many a parish in the Church of England would be envious of these resources! The new structure being proposed is not an end in itself but rather to enable us to harness all our resources and to work together to share in God’s mission to the world, and the world for us will be our new benefice and the local communities we serve. Collaborative ministry is now well-recognised to be the most effective ministry and we are now offered this opportunity as 4 churches to engage afresh in working together, supporting and encouraging one another and perhaps even daring to be imaginative and creative in the different ways in which we will work together.

Please pray for all involved in the formal process leading towards the creation of a new benefice, and let us all pray for one another, that we may be open to all that lies ahead and be prepared to support one another as we go through a period of considerable change in the life of our respective churches.

Revd David Lawson
Team Rector
25 January 2009
Here is a copy of what Karen Turner, our curate, preached at yesterday's amazing gifts and skills service. The whole day was deeply, deeply moving and very very exciting!

Sermon for the Gifts and Skills service, (conversion of Paul)
at HT 2009


In today’s readings we hear of the conversion of Paul. It is easy to skip read these passages that we know well but I would like us to go over them again with a little more consideration.

Travelling along the road to Damascus, Paul was converted from someone who harried and slaughtered the followers of Jesus into a faithful disciple who ended up travelling and converting thousands of gentiles to the ‘New way’.

Paul was changed from a well respected and zealous Pharisee, with great knowledge and authority within the Jewish structures into a follower of a lowly carpenter who had little earthly power but whose teaching and way of life was growing exponentially. God didn’t merely reform Paul – he transformed him completely, Christ came alive within him and changed him completely

Paul had struggled to gain knowledge and work hard for his position in Jewish society, but all God wanted him to do was to give himself completely to the Lord – it wasn’t an academic question it was a question of love.

The book of Galatians tells us a great deal about the Christian life – Martin Luther believed that it was one of the most important books for teaching us what we should do and how we should live – as Christ would want us to live. Paul had struggled for years on his own to gain academic qualifications but in Galatians it is pointed out the futility of working on our own – it is within this book that we discover the freedom of being renewed from within and enabled by God to become people who are right with themselves, right with their neighbours and right with their God through good and loving acts that allow us to express that Christ is alive within us. Galatians tells us repeatedly that we must look to God as the source of power and not to try to build up our own sense of importance. (its worth reading – its only 6 chapters long!)

Today we are looking at what skills, gifts and talents we can all offer to the church here at Holy Trinity. A couple of weeks ago I spoke half jokingly of cleaning the loos at St. John’s. More recently I have done some academic work to allow me to wear this stole and become a deacon. What I am discovering as I begin this new lifestyle is that some academic work is of course necessary; but even more important is that offering to God of the whole of me – warts and all – the bits that are easy to give away and those bits that I would dearly love to control all by myself – that’s what it’s really about, offering myself daily in prayer. It isn’t just about what I do and say here in church that’s important – it’s about what I do every minute of every day – and we cannot manage that level of commitment on our own – but we can if we ask for God’s help.

Paul eventually learned this lesson – he was blinded and had to be led by the hand – his power and authority completely taken away – but think about what he was given in its place. He met with our Lord and was transformed from a hated murdered into a wonderful Christian leader. In this story Paul’s previous gifts of academic study, his worldly powers and authority became of absolutely no consequence – they were achievements that no longer counted. God transformed Paul into a preacher and teacher – he sent him to Annanias for some teaching about Jesus – how humbling that must have been for this great Pharisee.

There is a second Century document that tells us that Paul was
‘a man of small stature, with bald head and crooked legs, eyebrows that met and a nose somewhat hooked.’

Not exactly Paul Newman was he?

Despite the lack of attractive physical attributes something within Paul spoke to those he met – he gained their love and respect – not only for himself but for the Christ that they saw within him. God gave Paul the words and the understanding to gain many followers for Christ.

Today let’s reflect about where we are and what we are doing. Are we only thinking about what we can do or give from our own strengths? Are we like Paul so intent on our own chosen paths that we need to be challenged as Paul was challenged? Often it is at times of great trauma’s that people do turn to God and find a new way of life. Or can we begin to consider how we can offer ourselves to God – not just a little bit now and again: but all of ourselves, day by day; allowing God to use us – to do His work wherever and however He chooses.

I’ll end with a quote from a little book I have with letters from children to God – Jeff writes - Dear God, It is great that you always get the stars in the right places. We too can be like those stars --- if we let God put us in the right places. Amen

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Some topical resources...


A Prayer for Peace in Gaza

Lord God of compassion,

whose will is for peace built on righteousness,

we pray for peace in Gaza:

for an end to hostilities,

for comfort and help for all who suffer,

and for reconciliation between Palestinian and Israeli,

through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.


Prayer for the current financial situation

Lord God, we live in disturbing days:

across the world,

prices rise,

debts increase,

banks collapse,

jobs are taken away,

and fragile security is under threat.

Loving God, meet us in our fear and hear our prayer:

be a tower of strength amidst the shifting sands,

and a light in the darkness;

help us receive your gift of peace,

and fix our hearts where true joys are to be found,

in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Prayer on being made redundant

‘Redundant’ – the word says it all -

‘useless,

unnecessary,

without purpose,

surplus to requirements.’

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in the middle of

the sadness,

the anger,

the uncertainty,

the pain,

I can talk to you.

Hear me as I cry out in confusion,

help me to think clearly,

and calm my soul.

As life carries on,

may I know your presence with me

each and every day.

And as I look to the future,

help me to look for fresh opportunities, for new directions.

Guide me by your Spirit,

and show me your path,

through Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. Amen.


Prayer for those remaining in the workplace

Life has changed:

colleagues have gone – redundant, out of work.

Suddenly, what seemed so secure is now so very fragile.


It’s hard to know what I feel:

sadness, certainly,

guilt, almost, at still having a job to go to,

and fear of the future:

who will be next?

how will I cope with the increased pressure of work?


Lord Jesus, in the midst of this uncertainty, help me to keep going:

to work to the best of my ability,

taking each day at a time,

and taking time each day to walk with you

for you are the way, the truth and the life. Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

As promised tonight...

Check out the money matters spreadsheets here.
Notes from Money Matters first session below:


Intro.
Hope you had a good Christmas. We did. Why is it though that at some Christmases we get something that we didn’t want? We have all been there - socks, hankies, talc etc... This Christmas we got something we didn’t want - Chicken Pox! But, this Christmas all of us got something we didn’t want or ask for - less money in our bank, less money in our pockets, and for some lack of a job.


MoneyExpert.com produced some figures which suggest that one in 10 adults - the equivalent of 4.4 million - had still not paid off their store and credit card bills from a year ago. But we all know that what we are potentially heading for will put us all under the same sort of pressure.

Over the next three weeks we will discover ways of managing our money so that it does not end up managing or controlling us.

Talk: Why have you come tonight? What do you hope to gain from the next 3 weeks?

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There is a story told about some of the Vikings when they were converting to Christianity in the 7th or 8th centuries. As they were converted to their new faith, they were taken and baptised in Britain’s cold rivers, many felt a dilemma. Whilst they were profoundly taken with their new faith they recognised that as occupiers of a foreign territory they might need to engage in battle. As they went under the water, some kept their sword arm raised above the surface. In effect they were saying ‘God, you can have all of me, but not my sword arm, I might need that.’

Many of us might be feeling ourselves to be under the cold water of debt right now. We might be feeling as though we are drowning beneath credit card bills, mortgage repayments and yet, even though we might be submerged beneath all of this - we can still believe that if we hold our wallet high out of the water our credit card companies, our banks, our mortgage providers wont spot it and somehow if we hold high enough or safe enough we’ll ride out the storm of late payments and red letters.

Friends, the only way we will address our financial issues is by looking inside our wallets and purses at our cards, looking at our shopping receipts, and looking at our bank statements at our incomings and outgoings. At the end of the day, debt is not something we end up in - we don’t just stumble into it like those icy rivers - but it is something we choose by the way that we behave with our wallets and purses and their contents


Part 1

Society tells us that we will be better, happier people if we own - a new car, the latest electronic gadget etc. In the uncertainty of economic downturn I will certainly become more aware - not less - of what I own.

And yet, what I own is only mine because I have been given it or have bought it. Even the money we have earned to buy goods comes from someone or somewhere else. One of the things that the recent economic down turn has reminded us is that how money is used widely affects others - whether that’s the subprime mortgage market, or the high street store. Our spending and saving affects the welfare of others both directly and indirectly.

One of the things the next three weeks will help us to think about is how wisely spend what financial resources we have because of that fact. We need to rediscover a sense of our money not just being ours individually but ours corporately. We need to be good stewards of our money and make it work for us.

Talk: Whilst many of us here today may consider ourselves reasonably secure, to make sure that we weather the financial storms, we need to try to work out what we are dealing with. ‘What you own, What you owe sheet’

Questions?

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Part 2

One of the keys to avoiding ending up drowning in the cold river of debt involves financial planning or budgeting. Whilst it might not appeal to us, often those people who plan and budget are the ones who feel that they are in control of their money and can exercise choice in how their money is used.

In good financial times, we tend to find as our income rises, so does our level of spending. As many people get wealthier throughout their lives, so their desires increase in proportion. We want the more expensive car, the larger house, branded clothes etc. Our view of what constitutes a luxury changes as we have


more disposable income. Often we don’t make these decisions consciously, but because of this tendency it is all the more important that we budget.

One of the challenges we face is balancing our long-term priorities with short term choice. In other words how do I make my available resources stretch to saving for my retirement or my children’s university education on the one hand, with the weekly shop and paying our taxes.

Talk: How do you feel about budgetting? Is it something you do/have done?

There are 4 steps to setting a budget:
Identify how much money you have coming in
Evaluate where the money is spent
Review current spending patterns and identify changes we wish to make
Track this over time to ensure that you are achieving those changes.

Step 1 Identifying our income.
This stage is really important because here we may discover that we actually have more income than we first thought. To make the most of this section tonight, I suggest that you dig out bank statements etc. and so on when you get home. But for the sake of tonight, let’s just look at the sheet together.

When you are completing the table, and I encourage you to do so, you should include all regular income, even if it requires dividing regular annual income by 12. But exclude all one off income (legacies, windfalls etc...) Many bills are paid monthly, so the tool is based on monthly income and expediture. However if you have weekly income or bills you should multiply them up to express them as monthly equivalents.

Talk: Look at sheet and see what’s needed and questions

Step 2 Evaluating where the money is spent

For this step, enter all of your monthly outgoings into the sheet.

In reviewing your spending, you will need to calculate an average month, adding up bills for a year and dividing by 12. If your review shows that a large amount of spending is in cash, you might need to make a note of where you spend this money for a week or two to guage where the money is actually going.

Talk: What does the exercise reveal to you about your financial priorities?

Next week and Wesley story...
The credit crunch is really starting to bite. May of us are beginning to find things financially hard at the beginning of this new year. Not only are we thinking about these sorts of issues in the 'Money Matters' evenings over the next 3 Wednesdays, but here on this blog will be a series of reflections for us as we faces recession together...

1. Count Your Blessings
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour
to your life? Matthew 6 v25-27

Throughout our everyday lives we are urged to want more; our society places great store on material possessions. It suggests that the car that we drive, the brands of clothes that we wear, the mobile phone that we use all define us in some way. It is easy to be lulled into believing this, and losing sight of our true value as a unique, loved child of God.

It is easy to focus on what we want, rather than what we have, and to focus
on the material rather than the other ways in which our lives are blessed. However hard life seems, we have things we can be thankful for.

Action: Spend some time writing down some things that you are thankful for. Spend some time giving thanks to God for his blessings to you.

Pause for reflection: As well as being thankful, we need to acknowledge our anxieties. What money worries do you have? Share those with God in prayer.

You may find the following prayer helpful :

Lord God, we live in disturbing days:
across the world, prices rise, debts increase, banks collapse,
jobs are taken away, and fragile security is under threat.
Loving God, meet us in our fear and hear our prayer:
be a tower of strength amidst the shifting sands,
and a light in the darkness;
help us receive your gift of peace,
and fix our hearts where true joys are to be found,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

video
(http://www.lichfield.anglican.org/news&newsID=591)

New Bishop of St Albans is announced! He is Alan Smith, currently Bishop of Shrewsbury. In a video on youtube he says:

Hello. I’m Alan Smith and today it’s been announced that I’m going to be the next Bishop of St Albans.

I feel excited and daunted by what lies ahead, although sad to be leaving the people of Shropshire where I’ve had seven very happy years.

As we seek to engage with the world, one of the most profound challenges facing us is whether we are willing to go deeper into God.

That adventure of faith isn’t without its cost. It means going deeper in prayer and worship; it means grappling with the Scriptures; being open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit; generously giving more and of course serving the communities in which we live.

I’ve tried to work that out in my own life over recent years, in a variety of different contexts.

Coming from a rural background in Wiltshire, I’m passionate about the countryside; about treasuring the environment; supporting the agricultural industry and strengthening out rural parishes

But I’ve also worked for many years in urban areas. I’ve rubbed shoulders with people of other faiths and I’ve been enriched and challenged by them.

For a number of years I was a member of a lay religious community, Lee Abbey, where I learnt a great deal about how Christians live together even where they’ve got differences. It was there I caught the ecumenical bug. Which I’ve never been able to shake off since

I was nurtured in the glories of traditional Anglican worship but I’ve also encouraged Fresh Expressions and Church Planting as we seek to engage with a fresh generation. That’s one of the areas where our Church schools have such an important role to play.

Then there’s the question of how we relate our faith to our work, especially in times like these when many people are anxious about the future.

When I take up my new role in a few months time as Bishop of St Albans, my first priority will be to listen. To listen of course to those who are already working in the diocese, and who know it so much better than I do.

But I will also want to listen to those community leaders of faith or of no faith who are as passionate as I am about the communities we serve. I’ll also want to listen to those who for whatever reason, feel their voices are not heard.

Above all when I come I will want to seek God’s guidance. So that together as the people of the dioceses of St Albans we can move together into the future to which he has called us. God is faithful and he will do it.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr Alan Smith (aged 51) was educated at Birmingham University and the University of Wales. He trained for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He served his curacy in the Diocese of Bradford at Pudsey St Lawrence from 1981 to 1984. From 1984 to 1990 he was Chaplain of the Lee Abbey Community. From 1990 to 1997 he was Team Vicar at St Matthew’s Walsall, Lichfield Diocese, and also Diocesan Missioner. From 1997 to 2001 he was Archdeacon of Stoke-upon-Trent and Honorary Canon of Lichfield Cathedral. Since 2001 he has been Area Bishop of Shrewsbury.

He served as a member of the General Synod from 1999 to 2001. Since 2006 he has been a member of the Rural Bishops’ Panel and he chairs the group which is planning the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Archbishops’ Commission on Rural Areas. He is chair of the Local Strategic Partnership for Shropshire. He has contributed chapters to “Changing Rural Life” (2004) and “Celebrating Community: God’s Gift for Today ‘s World” (2006). He has written “Growing up in Multifaith Britain: Explorations in Youth, Ethnicity and Religion” (2007) and “God-Shaped Mission: A Perspective from the Rural Church” (2007).

He is single. His interests include environmental and green issues including the work of the World Development Movement. He enjoys skiing, travelling, gardening and both playing and listening to music. He is a member of Amnesty International.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sermon for 8am on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ... NB outline paragraph included!

Many of us were baptized when we were children. We cannot remember the event though for our parents and godparents, for the priest who poured water upon our heads, for those standing round the font it was a powerful and profound moment. Each of them would have wondered what would become of us in life, what we would grow up to be, how the world would treat us and how we would respond in turn……

1. We were baptized in the name of the Father. The hopes and aspirations of others, can all to easily place us under the most extraordinary pressures in life. The pressure to be successful, to achieve, to be accepted by society’s own shallow values.

Our baptism in the name of the father reminds us that who we are cannot be defined by what we look like or what others think of us. Your value is not based on your accomplishments or failures. Your worth as a person can only be understood through God.

When you are baptized in the name of the father, you are baptized into the depths. You are baptized into the mysterious source of light and life, order and beauty. You will leave behind your bondage to surfaces, to shallowness forever. God promises that you will be alive to the mystery and wonder of your existence.

The deep into which you are baptized is what science cannot locate or name... A Chinese proverb calls this the world of the ten thousand things. The deep is the inexplicable relation between those things and their ineffable source. The Deep was the reason that Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."

The Deep made Beethoven unsatisfied with the music of his parent's generation. It inspired the French Impressionist painters to blur surfaces. It is the reason why Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky could not stop writing about God. In the 21st century the Deep aroused the imagination of particle physicists who struggled to find a language for their paradoxical discoveries. We look for the deep in cathedrals and in art galleries. Mother Theresa found it in the slums of Calcutta. Nelson Mandela found it in captivity.

2. We were baptized in the name of the Son. Although we meet very few people who seem to have an intimacy with the Deep, there is nothing really that revolutionary about it. God, or what I have been calling the Deep exists on its own, independent of our human weakness and frailty. We forget it in our efforts to impress others but we are never really offended by it. The Son offends.

The Son preaches, "Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who are persecuted"
Jesus offends us because he teaches a truth that is much more difficult to accept. We insist that we cannot remain human and avoid suffering at the same time. Jesus was persecuted and suffered before you did. He made a study of the most desperate corners of our existence.

For Christians brokenness is not a goal that we ought to strive for. When Jesus says "Blessed are the poor in spirit," he is not suggesting that we should strive to be poor in spirit, only that God will not desert the people who are suffering the most. In baptism Jesus promises that we do not have to have a stiff-upper lip orientation to the world. Because of him we do not need to avoid or ignore or by will power transcend the reality of suffering and pain.

3. We were baptized in the name of the Spirit. Now we come to the remarkable thing. This message about the possibility of our intimacy with the deep, this confidence in the power of love to overcome suffering and brokenness will be conveyed to you by the most fragile and unreliable means possible - by individual people. People who are weak, sometimes cruel and irresponsible, people with giant egos, people who are sick and suffering will be the ones to tell you about Christ's love.

Look around at the people with you this morning. This is the church, your new Christian family. They are not much to look at and frankly, most of us are not really very good at being Christians. What we share in common is a trust in a few people who came before us and told us about the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Christian message has always been a fragile thing. Two thousand years ago, under pressure from the Roman Empire, its light was almost extinguished, all of the copies of the Bible came close to being destroyed. The message, the hope, the light survived only through the efforts of fragile witnesses.

This morning’s gospel... voice from heaven - you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ The HS descended on Jesus and equipped him for all God was calling Him to.

Through baptism in the Holy Spirit God calls us by name. Through baptism we each become part of that imperfect community of saints called the Christian church. In it we will each hear God speaking to you and one day you will help others to hear this call also. Jesus’ baptism was good enough to call and equip Jesus - it is good enough for each one of us. Through our baptism God silently says to each of us ‘you are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ This morning we come to assert our need and our dependence upon God, to understand our world and that most mysterious aspect of it, ourselves, to assert that strength may come from our weaknesses and that God calls us to fulfill his purposes for us and in us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.