Friends

We had amazing time at Integrate EXTRA today. After an hour and a half of games, crafts and sports for all the family, we gathered around meal tables. At the table we spent time in worship, doing games and learning about friendship.

With a loneliness epidemic in the west it is so important that we learn to make friends,keep friends and help others to make friends.

The Integrate community, being such a friendly bunch,were really good at identifying lots of qualities and actions that are needed for good friendships. We thought about talking openly, truly listening, being trustworthy and honest and remembering to smile and have fun. We also noted that some people have lots of aquaintances but feel that because they have not been able to be open and vulnerable with people, the real them is never seen and so they feel lonely.

Right at the beginning of the Bible, there is the first of many words about the importance of friendship and relationship. ” It is not good to be alone” It is in relationships and friendships that we give support and receive support. In friendships we grow and develop as people learning from each other and having rough edges smoothed.

However I am convinced that the most important friendship anyone can develop is a friendship with God. As with other friendships this includes speaking (prayer) and listening (silent prayer), it involves trust and responsibility ( doing actions that we known are right and good) and it involves learning to know the other better( reading the Bible and spending time with God and thinking about God).

Abraham has been described as a friend of God. He grew in his knowledge and love of God. He listened to God and followed even when he couldn’t see or understand the full picture. When we grow in our friendship with God we realise that we are truly never alone. We have someone who has always got our back and is always ready and willing to listen, encourage, challenge and strengthen. And people who really deepen their friendship with God also find that their other friendships also deepen.

Things to ponder:

Are your friendships deepening?

When was the last time you made yourself vulnerable outside of your immediate family?

Are their people who you could help develop deeper friendships?

Could you be described as a friend of God?

Resources:

You version Bible app ( The Bible plus loads of resources about how to develop friendships, avoid fear, grow in joy etc)

Pray as you go app ( guided prayers and reflections)

Centering prayer app ( app to help you grow in silence and listening to God)

Spotify/Apple music/Amazon music/you tube ( so many great songs to listen to and sing along too.)

Asking Questions

Anybody who has spend any length of time with a young child will know all about questions.  “What is that?” “why is it there?” “Who made it?” “how does it work?” . Inquisitive children are so eager to learn about the world that questions come in rapid succession.   It is both a delight and a challenge to patiently answer them all.

Sadly, as the years go by humans usually become less inquisitive. We can be so rushed that we are simply getting on with living rather than asking why things are like they are and how could they be different.

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Many of us,however, still have questions inside us but we stop asking them out loud for fear of seeming foolish.  Just as a child grows in knowledge when she or he asks questions the same is true for an adult. The best learning always occurs in a safe environment where both expert and student ask questions and seek answers together. If we want to have a community and a world that keeps developing we really do need to keep asking questions.

In the realm of faith, sometimes the impression is given that people of faith must keep a lid on their big questions. It can seem as if they must blindly accept things as they have been presented without questioning them. There is a lurking fear that asking tough questions can make you seem unorthodox and that asking one question too many cause cause one to end up losing their faith. The truth is that if a question is within us then it should be asked. If we do not ask the big questions about suffering, judgement, other religions, human sexuality etc we are in more danger of harbouring a distorted view of God and of the scriptures and this is more likely to lead to the abandoning of faith. This is why for three Wednesdays in November we are gathering a group of people with some big questions to do a short course called The Big Ask. The course curriculum is set by the people attending as we have a go at explore some big questions each week. This course is suitable for people who would call themselves Christians but have big unanswered questions that they would like to tackle. The course is also for people who are enquiring about or possibly interested in faith but have big questions that are currently obstacles for them. If you live in or near Doncaster and would like to come along please get in touch.

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Loneliness

It has long been known that loneliness is a problem for those of us living in the western world. But the extent of loneliness is reaching shocking proportions amongst young and old. An excellent BBC news article published today gives a detailed account of this epidemic.

There are many suggested solutions to combat loneliness such as keeping busy, joining social clubs or volunteering. But one of the biggest challenges for those that feel lonely is the fact that for some even with many friends, acquaintances and varied activities the ache of loneliness remains. Loneliness evaporates when we have even just a few people that truly know us. It is when we hide our real self and feel that we have to present an idealized self to others that the loneliness actually grows.

This is where joining a faith community and getting to know God can make all the difference. In a good faith community, an opportunity is available to sharing with others about how life really is. People are not forced to share but they can if they wish! I have found that, the supportive environment, when people have made themselves vulnerable with others, a closeness and a trust develops as people become true friends.

Even more importantly, I have witnessed that when someone gets to know God they discover that they are genuinely and truly known. With God they do not need to pretend or present anything other than their genuine self. They discover that God is like a good parent and a good friend who always remains with them and always supports.

If you have good friends and you have a good faith why not take a few moments to be thankful for that.

If you know of lonely people why not reach out to them even today.

If you feel lonely or want to know God try contacting your local church where the church leader will be delighted to help you connect with others and connect with God.

Family is for everyone

allen-taylor-709552-unsplashPhoto by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

It’s peak holiday season and many in the UK have just been away or are about to go away on a holiday. At church we have been praying lots for the families who we know are away on holiday. We are doing this because we know that the 1 or 2 weeks away without any interruptions can be a crucial time for building a sense of family togetherness.

I do not know the story behind the family Allen Taylor has captured on camera (see above) but they certainly appear exude real happiness and joy of being together. When a family works well people are safe to be themselves. They feel loved , supported and encouraged. A family like this is wonderful at building confidence and countering loneliness. The reality is that all families have their issues and helping a family work well takes large amounts of patience, love, forgiveness and perseverance.

Not everyone has the privilege to be part of a well functioning loving family unit and increasing numbers of people live separated from any effective family support or do not have any relatives to call their own. It is not fair that some enjoy the privileges of being part of a good family and others do not. This is part of the reason why at St Francis part of our vision  is to be a loving family. We delight to have people from all different ages and a variety of backgrounds and situations who are part of our church family. Whether your experience of family life is great, mediocre or non-existent we seek to offer a place and a community where true family happens. With a good biological family, you are loved, accepted and treasured regardless of past failings or current ability to contribute to family life. The same is true for a good church family.

Last week we sought to give a group of over 70’s a taste of the kind of family life that is possible at church. Over 3 days we held a holiday at home and the 40 guests loved the crafts, games, chat and food. Many of these people were single through bereavement and their children lived a good distance away. They had known a regular experience of family life but for most these experiences were now well in the past. From day one at Holiday at Home it was possible to see a sense of community develop as love and care was given. People quickly relaxed into the “holiday” and in the feedback we received a big feature was the interactions with the church volunteers who helped create the family feel.

Our western society is facing an epidemic of loneliness and it affects people of all ages and even effects those who live in family units. It is important that we not only acknowledge this but we reach out to try to do something about this.

Reflect:   What can we do this week or this month to combat loneliness?

 

Team work

 

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Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

I love this incredible photo of the Amish Community building a barn. The photo, captured by Randy Fath, shows more than 60 people engaged in working towards a common goal. It is beautiful to see.

Work places often emphasise team work because managers acknowledge that the synergy created by good team work produces far more than can be achieved by individuals working alone. Good team work requires people to drop their own agenda and desires in order to work towards achieving a bigger goal. We don’t always naturally slip into “teamwork mode” as, if we are honest, we all have our own stuff we are dealing with. Sometimes we can slip into the trap of believing  that it is easier to get on with things ourselves or we can feel nervous to ask someone to help us. But, when we do truly work as an effective team, the end results are always more satisfying as well as usually less exhausting!

At St Francis church, where I am Vicar, we have a vision to be a growing and loving church family through which God transforms lives and builds community. To fulfil this vision we do need to learn to work together as a team because without one another we would flounder.

I want to celebrate two ways that we have recently enjoyed good teamwork:

  1. Integrate

This is a fortnightly gathering of families where we have loads of crafts, games, sports as well as space to chill out and relax. In the second half of Integrate we gather for activities, games and some learning about life and faith and we enjoy a meal as a community. Integrate is set up and run by a really small, but dedicated team who work incredibly hard to ensure that everything is safe and enjoyable for all. Everyone knows their job and in the short window of time that we have to set things up it all gets done as we work individually and together. Even more pleasingly, the wonderful parents who come to Integrate are fabulous at helping at the meal time and with the packing away. This makes everything work better and gives us the satisfying feeling that we are one family working together. ( For an insight into Integrate here is a video we recorded last year: Integrate Video )

2. 24 Hour Prayer Room

As part of the global initiative “Thy Kingdom Come” St Francis is currently running a 24 hour prayer room for the 10 days between Ascension Day and Pentecost.  With over 200 hourly prayer slots to cover there was no way that only 3 or 4 people could do all the praying for our community and world. It had to be a team effort that required a large team. It has been a brilliant experience as people have sacrificed their own comfort in order to serve the bigger goal to keep the prayer room open for the full 10 days. This has meant that some have gone without sleep, some have missed meal times and others have been available on standby at any time. After each person completes their time slot they pray for the next person, “handing on the baton”. The wonderful thing has been that as people have focused on the bigger goal of praying for an blessing our community they have found that they have been blessed in the process as they have drawn closer to God and become part of something so much bigger

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As part of the prayer room people are invited to add their own prayers and praises by writing on the walls so that others coming after them can pray and be encouraged. The prayer room finishes on Sunday morning at 8am. If you would like to find out more or join in see this short video Prayer Room Introduction

Team work is not always easy but when we make efforts to surrender our own agenda, comforts and desires for something much greater, we discover a far higher level of satisfaction than we could possibly have imagined. In short, it is hard but usually worth the effort.

Things to thing about:

What makes it so difficult for you to surrender your own agenda for the greater good? What could help make this easier?

What can you do to make the teams that you are part of  function more effectively?

Are there people in situations where you could lend them a hand and become part of a new team?

 

 

We need each other more than we think…

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I am fascinated by just how similar and how different we can be are in our personality and temperament. We often migrate towards people with similar views and temperaments. This appears to make life more comfortable and easier. Those who are very different to us can be hard to understand and can cause serious irritation unless we make significant efforts to be loving, open minded and understanding.

I have come to understand that unless we engage with people of differing views and outlooks we become very narrow indeed. As a Vicar (Pastor) I deliberately spend at least some of my time reading the theology of people from different traditions because I can learn valuable insights from others. Also by seeking to understand the perspective of someone who is different from me,  I gain a greater understanding of my own standpoint.

There are so often misunderstandings and judgements made about those who are different. We are probably all aware of the ways that introverts and extroverts misunderstand each other, and at times, downplay the value of the other. One is not better than the other. If we were all introverts the world may be more comfortable for introverts but it would not be as rich. If we were all extroverts, we may enjoy being with similar people but we would miss out on all the contributions that introverts make. The world definitely needs both introverts and extroverts! We each offer something precious to any group of people and it is important that we take the time to learn from and value one another’s contributions.

We hear lots in blogs and in the media about the power of positive thinking. We hear about how approaching life with a positive attitude will make all the difference. This is absolutely true. However, if we approach life with an undiluted positive “go for it” kind of attitude we can run into trouble. We will find ourselves attempting things that are way beyond our abilities and resources. We will end up doing far too much and becoming exhausted and burned out. The supremely positive person is a great person to be, but amongst our friends and team we need to also treasure the person that is a little more cautious and, dare I say it, a little negative. The cautious and more negative person, if listened to,  will help prevent the positive person from the  burn out that comes from doing far too much. They can also help them to see the potential challenges and pitfalls that the “go for it” positive person may have missed in their enthusiasm to get on with it. The more cautious person also needs the positive person to encourage them to step forward and attempt things even when there is some risk of it not working out perfectly. There is one couple that I know that are on the extreme end of the positive and negative spectrum. As I have conversations with each of them I am so grateful that they have each other! Over many years they have learned to understand each other and they value how much they need each other.

If you are a naturally positive person who is always rushing into new adventures,  keep going for it but find a more cautious person and value them and the insights that they can give you. If you are naturally a more cautious and perhaps negative person, don’t let people look down on you but know that you make a valuable contribution. Finally, keep allowing yourself to be influenced by more positive less risk averse people so that you are able to carefully attempt new things.

We Can Grow!

grow 1Three weeks ago we had a special service at church where we looked at our vision. We were concentrating on the first part of our vision which is all about growing. We looked at the conditions needed for us to grow in faith, in love, in generosity,  in courage and in the numbers of people we are reaching with God’s love.

We planted some bulbs as an illustration because we wanted to make things practical. Bulbs will usually grow well if they are given the right amount of water, have good soil with nutrients and they have access to plenty oxygen and sunlight. The daffodils have been  the quickest to grow, now finally the crocuses and hyacinths are just beginning to show their colours.  During the service we tried to emphasise that in all good things growth comes naturally when we provide the right conditions and we invite God to provide the energy and the growth. We also emphasised that different things grow at different speeds and there are different seasons in life. But most of all we wanted people to know that growth was possible with the right conditions. For example, If someone wants to grow in courage they need the right conditions of a safe and supporting environment where trying and failing is still applauded because someone who has tried has exercised courage and hopefully learned something in the process. They also need to keep asking God to give them the opportunities to take courageous steps and the help to take them.

In this particular service people wrote on colourful lolly sticks areas of life that they wanted to grow in and we have promised to pray for them. Since that time it has been incredible to notice growth in so many areas of church life. It has also been wonderful to see growth in individual lives. Of course not everything is growing at the same speed and not everything is growing  but I am increasingly positive about pursuing growth as a community and also as individuals.

I had the privilege of being invited to attend a course at Windsor castle which was all about nurturing growth as ministers for the week immediately after the service about growing.

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It was incredible to witness the change and growth and development in this small group of experienced ministers given the right environment. The facilitators were exceptionally good at creating a safe, loving and positive environment where people were comfortable to become vulnerable and invite God into their situations that needed to change or grow.

I have always believed that God can make things grow and can bring transformation. What has changed for me is the realisation of just how important it is to create the right conditions for growth to happen. Without the right conditions, we often put up unconsciously too many barriers which inhibit growth. With the right conditions we let our barriers down and beautiful things begin to happen.

How can you become someone that helps yourself or another person to grow? How can you help create the right environment for growth? How can you be one who co-operates with the God that wants to grow good things?

Further Reading

1 Corinthians 3: 5-11

St Francis Church Vision

 

Advent Hope

markus-spiske-463496 (1)Photo Credit: Marcus Spiske Unsplash.com

We have just decorated our Christmas tree and we are feeling very “Christmassy”. This morning our children awoke to find their boots filled with sweets. It’s St Nicholas day and despite not living on continental Europe or having ever taught our children about “Father Christmas” they like to make the most of every tradition when sweets are involved! We love all the traditions and love being part of a church community where we have loads of different types of services and ways of celebrating  the season. This  year we have a massive Advent Calendar Window with activities to focus our minds on the season.

But  there is a problem. December is a dreadfully hard month for anyone who is hurting. The pain of the bereaved and the lonely  intensifies as they witness all the “happy” people on social media, on Christmas adverts and  amongst people that they know. Of course people are not really quite as happy as they seem and life is never that perfect, but it is hard to remember that when you are lonely and in pain. This is why it is so important to have running alongside all the Christmas festivities another theme – advent hope.

The great advent hope for Christians is that one day the pain, heartache and injustices of this world will be put right. The advent hope is a firm belief and longing for Jesus to return as king and judge. Christians believe that when Jesus comes again death and bereavement will finally vanish.  As Jesus comes to earth he sets things right and deals with injustices and cruelties but he also brings the fullness of the joy, peace and love of heaven to earth. There are many pictures of this advent hope. The one from today’s Church of England communion service is one of the wait being over and God living with his people and there being a great celebration with the best food and drink in a place of safety, security and joy.  (See Isaiah 25:6-9) 

If you are feeling low while everyone else appears to be happy, as you get to know Jesus more, the advent hope and joy can even begin to enter your life now as you have a taste of heavens love, joy and peace even in the midst of your pain. Even in pain, many find that reaching out to show kindness to others helps ease the pain, even if it is just a little. If you are feeling ok or even good at the moment, why not seek to bring a bit of the goodness of heaven into people’s lives now as you show them kindness, love, compassion and goodness.

Happy Advent!

 

 

Showing emotions

British people are often stereotyped as people who are reluctant to express emotions and true feelings. As with most stereotypes there is some truth in this. The twitter account Very British Problems delights in the occasions British people so often don’t express what they really want or really mean.  As this hoody demonstrates:

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The fuller picture, of course, is that some British people are very expressive emotionally and others are less expressive.  There are times when we really do need to let people know that we are having a bad day. Sometimes we really do need to be vulnerable with people and let them know that the painful issue that we are going through is so very hard and we are struggling to cope. But there are other times and other circumstances where the right thing is to get our head down and get through the day. There is a right time and place for both of these responses.

If we live in a perpetual state of expressing every negative emotion to those around us the moment we feel them we are in danger of becoming a difficult person to be with. Yet if we hardly ever express to others how we are really feeling we can be accused of being “not being real” as people find it hard to make connections with us at any point of need. More significantly we risk damaging ourselves as we bottle things up.

The Christian faith offers some very rich resources to help get this balance right. The Psalms give us many examples of the fullest emotional expression during times of pain and hurt eg)Psalm 69 . There is also much encouragement to keep going and press on despite  the pain that we see and experience eg) 2 Corinthians 4: 7-11. We certainly need the support of friends and family when we experience hard things. It is right to express our feelings to them when we are finding things particularly hard going.  But in order to avoid the danger of wearing them out with our complaints and difficulties a better first port of call is surely to talk with a God who truly understands  and truly knows.  More significantly he always has the power, the wisdom and the desire to help and support us. We can always be emotional and real with God – we do not need to worry about holding ourselves back. Take some time to reflect on being real with God by watching and listening to this:   A Song of Lament from Rend Collective

 

United Communities

alex-holyoake-354923.jpgDuring the summer season we have witnessed divisive and sickening racist demonstrations in the USA, multiple terror attacks all over Europe and a North Korean leader launching missiles in highly threatening ways. These are just a few of the bad news stories over the last few weeks.  We should be saddened, shocked and appalled at these events. Yet we must not let this dominate our outlook there are other stories out there where great kindness and unity have been demonstrated. There is much that is broken in this world but there are also many people who are trying to live in ways that bring unity, healing and love to individuals and groups.

At every disaster there are local people as well as international aid agencies that seek to bring help and healing. We usually don’t hear so much about this as the media seems to prefers to focus on an ever increasing bad news agenda of death and disaster.

At a local level there are beautiful things happening in communities all around the world and we need to use the power of social media to share some of these things. Here are 3 recent ones I am aware of:

  1.  I found out recently that a newly bereaved elderly woman has been comforted by the visits of at least 5 different neighbours who were prepared to stay for as long as was needed to listen and love. I found out that some of these same neighbours do the weekly shopping, the gardening and regularly call in. Isolation is broken down and community is growing.
  2. The local Anglican churches in Doncaster work together in Mission Partnerships and last week our youth worker took  youth from two churches to a Christian Festival called Soul Survivor. It was a mix of worship, learning and fun. I had the privilege of being with them on Day One of the festival and picking them up on Day Five. It was amazing to see the way that these young people with different backgrounds, personalities and ages became like a family as they focused on what united them rather than what made them different.
  3. On Sunday afternoon we are hosting a community event to celebrate music and community.  The bands that are playing will be made up of people of diverse ages and backgrounds. We also hope to have representatives from different faith communities so that we can publicly show that our common humanity and desire to love unites us. In standing together we want to declare that love will triumph over hate.

What good news stories are you aware of? How can you help create a good news story?