MESSAGE FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT MINISTER
It has been a busy time in the life of the circuit, and I was particularly pleased to have the privilege of participating in our circuit confirmation service on Easter Day when we welcomed 6 young people into membership. We wish Zachery, Grace, Eunice, Rhoda, Joseph and Norris every blessing as they continue their journey as full members of the Methodist Church.
We have, as a circuit also had sad news to contend with. In March we learned of the death of our dear colleague the Rev’d Hewie Andrew. Hewie passed away on the island of Dominica after a time of declining health. We give thanks for his ministry, and we remember his daughter Laura and all his family and friends.
We are also still coming to terms with the sudden news that the Rev’d Dr Eleanor Jackson will be leaving us this August having been asked by the Methodist Conference to take up the post of Superintendent Minister of the Romford Circuit. You may know that the Methodist Church is very short of ministers, and it is becoming more common for the Conference to station ministers at short notice to take up critical unfilled stations. We will be very sorry to lose Eleanor and Roy but know that their gifts and talents will be of huge benefit to others. We will be holding a circuit farewell service on the evening of 17th July so I hope you can join us as we wish them God’s blessing on the next stage of their journey.
All this means that the circuit has had to think hard about how we meet the needs of our churches and their pastoral care. We had already decided that at some point in the future we would need to reduce the number of ministers, but this situation is now upon us sooner than we had planned. After much prayer and honest conversation by the circuit stewards and staff we agreed that the following arrangements will be in place from September…
The Rev’d Andrew Dart will have oversight of Clapham
The Rev’d Lena Ali will have oversight of Railton Road and Mostyn Road
The Rev’d Rita King will have oversight of Springfield and Stockwell
The Rev’d Dr Andy Lyons will have oversight of Lambeth Mission St Mary’s and Streatham
The Rev’d Kristin Markay will have oversight of Brixton Hill and Tulse Hill
These new arrangements will mean that some deep and long-lasting relationships will change as several of our churches will have a change of minister. I will be very sad to leave churches I have worked closely with for nearly 10 years, but our new circumstances mean that we all have to work together for the good of all and for the flourishing of our circuit. Some may argue that change can be a good thing, but it can be hard to accept that when you are in the midst of it! So, we go forwards in faith and in the sure hope that God’s Spirit is with us, and that God will continue to equip us and strengthen us.
I pray that as we approach the summer you will find time for some refreshment and relaxation and perhaps the opportunity to travel again to see friends and relatives. May we all know the love of God leading us on as we journey as disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
With my love and prayers,
On a gloomy and damp day in November 2017 a skeleton was dug up during an archaeological dig at a site near Cambridge. The dig was unearthing a previously unknown Roman cemetery and the skeleton was discovered along with 47 other sets of human remains. At the time, the skeleton was thought to be unremarkable and sent off with the others for cleaning and analysis. It was only then, when the mud had been cleaned off and the bones were examined properly that a grisly discovery was made – there was an iron nail protruding from the heel bone – and this was clear evidence that the man had been crucified.
Although we speak of crucifixion all the time in the church as it carries with it meaning for us concerning our redemption, there is scant evidence in the archaeological record of this most cruel of methods of execution. This body found near Cambridge is the only example of a crucified individual found in the UK and only one of 4 found in the entire world. The reason is obvious when we think about it: the only people who were executed by crucifixion were slaves, terrorists and the most ruthless of criminals. These are not the sort of people who would have been given a proper burial and anyway, cremation was the preferred method of disposal of human remains in Roman culture. Also, crucifixions were usually carried out along main roads and the victims were left hanging even after death as a deterrent to others and so their bodies would slowly rot and be eaten by carrion. For some reason, this man from ancient Cambridgeshire, was given a proper burial amongst members of his own community – he must have been well thought of, despite his humiliating end.
As we journey through Lent and towards Easter we will once again be thinking about the events that led up to Jesus’ own death and ultimate resurrection. We would do well to remember that the way that Jesus was killed was an absolute scandal – to be stripped naked and tortured and then hung up to die was an utter affront to Jewish society where nakedness and bleeding were regarded as abominable and the ultimate signs of uncleanliness. To be crucified was to be treated like the most despicable people in society. This was no honourable death but rather the worst possible humiliation – and a humiliation not just for the individual but for their family and their community. It would have been shocking in a way that we can barely understand today. For religious minded people it would have been unthinkable for the Messiah to be subject to such treatment. To have the crucifixion as a symbol of faith would have been utterly repugnant to people of Jesus’ day.
To remember such important facts is essential before we begin to use religious language and symbols about Jesus’ death. Yes, we can rightly say that Jesus died for us, and may find it helpful to think of Jesus dying for our sins. But let us not deceive ourselves, this was the worse death possible at that time, it was designed to make the process of dying as agonising and drawn out as possible. It was meant to be shocking, awful, revolting, shameful and most of all a deterrent to others.
Jesus did not choose such a death. No one would. As he hung dying, with what little energy he had left, he cried out expressing his utter despair and sense of abandonment. His disciples had run away, his friends had left him, even God had abandoned him.
So, at Easter, let us remember that at the heart of our faith is not just an act of redemption. At the heart of our faith is not just a theological truth. At the heart of our faith is the story of a real man, dying a real death, in the most agonising and shocking way possible.
Wishing you every blessing
MESSAGE FROM OUR SUPERINTENDENT MINISTER
In the Old Testament there is an important idea which in Hebrew is called Chesed. This can be roughly translated as loving kindness, but it is more than just being nice to people – it is a kind of legal as well as moral obligation to do the right thing.
In their challenging book, Border and Belonging: The Book of Ruth, Pádraig Ó Tuama and the late Glenn Jordan explore this idea of Chesed in the context of this great story which is partly set within the borders of Israel’s despised neighbour, Moab. When Naomi loses first her husband and then her sons she is left in Moab with her Moabite daughters in law, Ruth and Orpah. Within the moral code of the time, she owes them Chesed and she must find them new husbands, (literally she must herself give birth to new sons for them to marry) but this is clearly impossible and so she tells them she is going home to Israel and gives them permission to return to their fathers’ houses. Ó Tuama and Jordan wonder if Naomi’s real intention is to go off into the wilderness and die. She is in a foreign country and has lost everything - her husband, her two sons and her whole family’s future. And now she cannot fulfil Chesed. She has nothing to live for and surely the wilderness will welcome her? But Orpah and Ruth work out what she is doing, and they have a plan to save Naomi. Orpah will return to her father’s house and Ruth will stay with Naomi to stop her doing harm to herself. You know the rest of this extraordinary story – Ruth eventually becomes the grandmother to the greatest in Israel’s history – David.
I like this interpretation of the story as it reminds us that we can all find ourselves in situations where we just cannot fulfil our obligations to do loving kindness. There are many parents who, despite working hard cannot afford to properly feed their children. There are medical staff in our hospitals who do not have the resources to give the full treatment to every Covid patient. There are care home staff who have to watch their residents deteriorate from sheer loneliness because they cannot allow them to see their families. We may not call it Chesed but we understand Naomi’s predicament. It is a predicament of our times too.
As we prepare for what will probably be our second Easter in lockdown we are reminded that the disciples were also faced with a predicament that overwhelmed them. Although they had assured Jesus that they would follow him to the ends of the earth they probably never thought that this would mean facing death. They wanted to follow him but in the end they ran away, denied him, and even betrayed him. Chesed was beyond them too. Jesus faced arrest, trial, torture, and death alone. There was no Ruth to walk with him.
Yet the story of Easter, and indeed the story of Ruth, reminds us that new possibilities can emerge from hopeless situations. The disciples ran away but when Jesus rose again they were understood and forgiven; when Naomi could not fulfil Chesed she instead, found it offered to her. Easter is about God’s love overcoming our stultifying predicaments and finding unexpected and new ways to make loving kindness possible.
My hope and prayer are that this Easter we will discover new signs of loving kindness in our lives, communities and in our world. Indeed, my hope and prayer are for more than that – that as we emerge from Lockdown and hopefully find life resuming a new normal - that we will have discovered that despite our hardships and pain God has been working miracles around us.
May God bless you this Easter
With my love and prayers