The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd. Dr. Roger Walton and Rachel Lampard MBE, speak about the Nativity, Syria and unpromising situations in this year's Christmas Message.
The full text can be read below:
The shabby collection of rooms was perched on the edge of a steep hill above Amman in Jordan. We were visiting a family of Syrian refugees who had just had a baby, and were being helped by funding provided by the Methodist charity, All We Can.
A woman, who we assumed was the grandmother, answered the door and invited us in. We sat on the floor, along with a local health worker. The father appeared with the baby, Yosra, and three other small children. It turned out that the woman was not the grandmother, but rather the mother of the family. She was just in her 30s, prematurely aged by the privations and stresses of recent years. They had left Syria four years ago, and now lived in a couple of basic rooms. The three children were similar ages to my own, but were tiny. As a refugee the father was banned from working and the family was reliant on support from a charity in order to be able to survive.
What an unpromising situation they were in. The family were underfed, with very little prospect of being able to improve their circumstances. They were desperate to go back to Syria, but recognised that this was unlikely any time soon. And their tiny baby, who slept in my arms, faced growing into adulthood in a foreign country, in poverty.
And yet. When we asked the father of the family what he wanted for the future, instead of talking about better housing, more food, or even a return to Syria, said "I want my children to be the best people that they can be". It was breath-taking. A family were facing immense poverty and dislocation, yet had the highest hopes for the character and contribution of their children.
A similarly unpromising set of circumstances surrounded another young family less than 50 miles away in Bethlehem two millennia ago. A young girl had given birth to a baby, far from her home and her family, in an outhouse, shared with animals. She had become pregnant outside marriage, and was only rescued from shame and rejection by her fiancé taking on a baby that wasn't his. Ahead lay real danger, as the ruler of the area would soon order his soldiers to slaughter all the baby boys. A dirty, shameful, dangerous situation. An unpromising set of circumstances. And yet. This is exactly the place the Messiah, the son of God, was born into.
But should we really be surprised? This is a God who said that the kingdom of heaven belonged, not to the rich or powerful or religious, but to little children. This is a God who chose women, tax collectors, fishermen to begin a worldwide movement for the salvation of all people. Unpromising is not a word which seems to put God off; on the contrary the Bible seems to suggest that God seeks out the unpromising, the weak, the outcast in order to build his kingdom. The apostle Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, said "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God." (1 Corinthians 27-19)
We are living in times which might be described as unpromising, or even "interesting" according to the old Chinese proverb. We face great uncertainty in our politics, our economics, our relationships with one another. Around the planet there is apparently relentless violence, and the poorest, as ever, bear the consequences of our inability to restrain our use of resources. Our own Methodist Church is seeing a continuing decline in members and a shortage of ministers for the churches we have. The future is surely unpromising.
And yet. Our faith surely prompts us not to turn away purely because any situation looks unpromising. This doesn't mean facing it with blind and passive optimism. Instead we have a hope which is grounded in the foolishness of God, which is wiser and stronger than wisdom and strength of the world. And God is at work in our world, and invites us to join in. As the theologian Ken Leech said: "hope isn't a state of mind; it's a piece of work". In the unpromising situations in our world, where is God inviting us to join in? Where is God asking us to see the treasure that is hidden within the clay jars? Where is God asking us, not to be optimistic, but rather to be hopeful?
We would like to suggest that you do three things over this "unpromising" Christmas season.
Firstly, the Methodist Church, together with the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Union and the Church of Scotland, have produced a short film, "A Very British Nativity", which suggests how Mary and Joseph might have fared arriving in the UK as asylum seekers. Why not watch it, share it and perhaps show it as part of your Christmas celebrations at church - and reflect on what this unpromising small family might mean for others, asylum seekers and refugees in particular, and how we can make their future more hopeful.
Secondly, we invite you to reflect on something that initially appeared unpromising. This might be something in your own life, the life of your church, or in the wider society or world. How was the potential or transformation within each situation revealed? What was the treasure in the clay jars?
And thirdly ask yourself: what is unpromising in your life or church or community at the moment? What might God be doing there already - or what might God do if only you would join in?
In this season we pray that you will have a happy and peace-filled Christmas, and that you will know the love of God who acts through the most unpromising things and people to bring about his kingdom of holiness and justice.
The Revd Dr Roger Walton and Rachel Lampard MBE
Are you a lay or ordained person in the Church of England or the Methodist Church who longs for both churches to move towards fuller unity in mission, worship, and holiness? Do you have the enthusiasm, understanding, and commitment to raise the profile of the Covenant and to champion the work currently being done to enable both churches to fulfil their commitments to God and each other? Initially, we are seeking up to six people from the two churches to be Covenant Champions in each of nine regions for a term of up to four years. You could be one of these in your region and make a significant difference to how both churches live the Covenant. Your commitment would be about ten hours a month.
Expressions of interest are invited from lay and ordained persons in good standing in either the Church of England or the Methodist Church. Closing date: 12 noon on Monday 7 November 2016 There will be interviews on Friday 25 November 2016 in London and on Friday 2 December 2016 in Manchester. Further details and application pack, for both Anglican and Methodist applicants, from: Development & Personnel Office, Methodist Church House, 25 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5JR E-mail: email@example.com or look here.
The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference have reminded people of the central Easter message of hope, passion and joy in the midst of despair.
Dr Jill Barber said: "This Easter we share Christ’s tears for our world in all its pain. For children drowned fleeing from the unimaginable horrors of war. For unaccompanied children in the jungle at Calais, "The Easter message is one of ... life from death, love stronger than hate. At the moment of utter darkness, the light of the risen Christ breaks through."
The Rev'd. Steven Wild added: "This Easter, with joy and love, may we all cry Hallelujah and encounter the risen Lord."
Every Easter, the Methodist Church in Britain invites donations to the World Mission Fund through Easter Offering Envelopes. The World Mission Fund supports God's mission in 65 Partner Churches outside Britain and Ireland.
There will be a special dedication service within the Circuit after Easter. Please use one of the envelopes provided in the church foyer to make your gift, and Gift Aid it if you can. The envelopes will be available each week until Easter Sunday. And please continue to support this vital work in your prayers throughout the year.
About the Easter Offering
The tradition of the Easter Offering dates back to 1883 when women in Manchester collected £32 from 'Christmas pennies' at family gatherings on Christmas Day at lunch for Missionary work overseas. In March 1884, the London Districts distributed Easter envelopes and collecting bags asking for a penny a head and just over £100 was collected.
Through gifts great and small, the Easter Offering has become a significant feature of the World Church. In 1986, the Bicentenary year, it totalled nearly £200,000. Throughout the country, effort focuses on the annual envelope collection for the Fund for World Mission through the Easter Offering and the associated service of dedication.
This reflects the long history of commitment to overseas work by the women of Methodism, and the recognition that local specific relationships with oversea projects and World Church in Britain partnerships are given broader meaning by a national focus. The theme and service are different every year.
Young Methodists from across the country have taken the opportunity to share their priorities and passions for their Church, highlighted for the very first time in three new 'manifesto' documents.
Following research undertaken at the Methodist Children's and Youth Assembly, 3 Generate, three manifestos outlining the foci of the different age groups have been published online. This new venture is intended to raise the voices of the young people of the Church and highlight the real and varied concerns close to their hearts.
There are two further district-run workshops to examine the issue of whether the Methodist Church should reconsider its definition of marriage in the light of civil same-sex marriage. How do we use the Bible to help us in this matter?
The first, already publicised, is at North St, Crewe (CW1 4NJ) on Thursday 21 January at 7:00pm and an extra one has been arranged for Saturday 23 January at Wellspring Methodist Church Congleton (CW12 3AP) at 10:00am. Both will last 2 ¼ hours, and consist of input plus small group conversations and feedback. Refreshments are provided.
These workshops are open to anyone in the Methodist Church but booking is required. Please book with The District Office for the evening of 21 January at Crewe: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01270 627774.
Please book with Dane & Trent Circuit office for the morning of 23 January at Congleton: email@example.com 01260 270899.
For further info. contact David Pickles: firstname.lastname@example.org 07799 902565
Churches Together in Cheshire's service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be held at Chester Cathedral on Sunday 24th January 2016 at 4.00pm, the preacher will be Rev'd. The Lord Leslie Griffiths. Leslie Griffiths, a former President of the Methodist Conference and currently the Minister at Wesley's Chapel in London, is a well-known Methodist voice and those from the churches in and around Cheshire may appreciate this opportunity to hear him, as well as to join with others in celebrating our Christian unity.
The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference have reminded people of the importance of 'welcome' in this year's Presidential Christmas message.
The Rev'd. Steven Wild and Dr. Jill Barber highlight the central significance of Emmanuel, 'God-with-us', and how we can encounter God through welcoming others.
Click here to listen to the messages in full, or click 'read more' below for the full text.
Please find below the new strategy for our Church, which we are launching today. This is an exciting document which sets out the new vision and mission statement for our Church, and how we hope to deliver it over the next five years. Please take time to carefully read it and let Mr. John Holmes, Mr. Alan Carter or any of the Leadership Team know if you have any queries or want more information. Please use the sign up sheet in the Church Hall, or e-mail email@example.com, if you would like to:-
The Leadership Team
Below is a Pastoral Letter regarding the current refugee and migrant situation in Europe from The European Methodist Council.
We have met, as the European Methodist Council, in recent days in Bulgaria near the crossing-point with Romania. As Methodist representatives from all over Europe, much of our time has been spent in conversation on migration in light of the reality of hundreds of thousands of desperate people crossing the borders of Europe, fleeing conflict and persecution and seeking the possibility of a future for themselves and their children. We have prayed together and been strengthened in our fellowship in the Methodist family. We have drawn hope and inspiration from stories of Methodists working in many places to assist migrants and refugees. Often these are small groups of our sisters and brothers tirelessly fulfilling our common commitment to Christian hospitality and care. We give thanks to God for their vision, courage and continuing service in the name of Christ. May we all draw inspiration from their example.
In renewing our fellowship, we have recognised our differences and drawn strength from the knowledge that our primary identity comes through our union with Christ which transcends ethnicity and nationality and is always open to receive those who differ or disagree. We have been reminded, through study of the Scriptures,that the people of God have often been on a journey and frequently known what it is to be outsiders and even refugees. We have been challenged to recognise the neighbour rather than fear the stranger. However, the experiences we have shared show our tendency to forget the commandment to love when God unexpectedly gives us new neighbours.
We know that migration raises a complex set of issues that cannot be solved with simplistic solutions. We struggle together as Churches whose members continue to hold a variety of political and theological views. We seek to move beyond a sterile discussion about the rightness of migration to engaging with the many complicated issues involved in the crisis affecting our continent. In all this, we are aware of our own limitations and the need of the help of others.
The following general principles are offered as a basis for further conversation and action as Churches seek to formulate a co-ordinated response from their members. We are called to:
• renew our understanding and practice of the obligation to radical Christian hospitality to all, recognising the practical implications for congregations and individuals
• acknowledge that migration has and always will be a part of the human story
• recognise that we experience and interpret the reality of migration to and within Europe in different ways, depending on our context
• resist false narratives, generalizations and negative stereotyping and challenge those who would play on people’s fears
• reaffirm our Christian commitment to honour Christ in the face of the stranger regardless of religious background or the prevailing political situation
• encourage and support those who dare to open their doors and offer hospitality to those in need
• pledge both our continuing solidarity with those parts of world from which migrants and refugees come and our active engagement to achieve a just and peaceful world.
God calls us to continue our journey together. We believe that God also calls us to welcome those who arrive as our fellow pilgrims. We commit ourselves to immediate actions and the long-term perspectives that the issues raised by migration require. With a united voice, the European Methodist Council calls on our fellow citizens across the continent to join us in reflection and action.
May Christ bless us all, as we seek to faithfully express and reflect his love and mercy in our lives and ministry.
Don Kerr and Christian Alsted
Co-chairs of the European Methodist Council
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