Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stranger In A Strange Land - Reflections on Psalm 137

Psalm 137
1By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, ♦
when we remembered Zion.
2As for our lyres, we hung them up ♦
on the willows that grow in that land.
3For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth: ♦
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
4How shall we sing the Lord’s song ♦
in a strange land?
5If I forget you, O Jerusalem, ♦
let my right hand forget its skill.
6Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you, ♦
if I set not Jerusalem above my highest joy.
7Remember, O Lord, against the people of Edom
the day of Jerusalem, ♦
how they said, ‘Down with it, down with it,
even to the ground.’
8O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, ♦
happy the one who repays you
for all you have done to us;
9Who takes your little ones, ♦
and dashes them against the rock.

Aside from the challenging images in the latter verses of the psalm, verses which the ASB (Alternative Service Book - an earlier version of the Church of England’s liturgy) bracketed off, I was reminded today as I was at a Quiet Day led by our Bishop on the Psalms, that the verses of Psalm 137 speak to the contemporary church.

It also made me think of a certain Iron Maiden song...




The writer picks up on the idea of being far from home; somewhere which is unknown. There is a lack of identity; a dislocation from the community’s story; where language and customs are meaningless and all this is held by a small group. It feels vulnerable and precarious.


The danger, in those occasions, is to give up. To hang up our lyre as it were; to no longer sing the songs or retell the stories; to allow meaninglessness to prevail.


The writer looks back to a former time in Jerusalem where this all made sense and the exiles were home. The issue with living like that is that we end up longing for former things. '... God is not the God of the dead but of the living...' '... Behold I make all things new...'


How do we live as exiles - as people of monotheistic faith in a pluralist and sometimes hostile landscape - live without looking backwards? How do we live in the now shaped by the God who was, who is and who is to come? How do sing the songs and tell the story now, without wishing to give up?


What scripture speaks into that? The Emmaus road account - walking away from Jerusalem into a new reality where Jesus is not dead but alive? The burning bush - from there Moses is sent by God on with God’s people.


The Psalmist talks with passion about not forgetting Jerusalem and the associated stories and centre of faith to give confidence to their present.


What of the church in 21st century England? Are we in exile? In many ways we are in a strange land. A place and time where the stories and songs of our faith make little sense except to a smaller community. Do we entrench? Do we give up? The psalmist would encourage us not to. We are to remember the heart of our faith with its customs and songs but to live in the present - the eternal moment that Elliot hints at in Little Gidding - knowing that the One who was and is and is to come is there too.


It leaves me with thoughts about faithfulness and about discipline. There is no hint in this psalm (or in Judaism per se) of the need for evangelism. There isn’t a sense from the psalmist that they better seek new recruits in this strange place of exile because unless they do they will die. Rather the psalm, for the Christian, hints at a return not to a place but into a relationship - with God - through Jesus Christ. What does this psalm say in a church driven by a growth agenda and Renewal and Reform?


Prayer:
God of our pilgrimage,
you sent your Son to our strange land
to bring us home to you;
give us your songs to sing,
that even in our exile
we may be filled with the breath of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

A Growing Faith. A Growing Church.




I'm thinking a lot these days about church growth. I am convinced that the church grows when God wills it. In some senses that's the stop and start of it.



There are things that we can be engaged in that open us up to being formed by God and therefore open to growth ourselves. As St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6: '...Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the growth...'


Prayer.
We should be disciplined and diligent in prayer. Prayer places us intentionally in the presence of God and as we share our hopes and dreams with God, so He shares His with us. Prayer can happen anywhere - on our own as we walk the dog; with others in a small group; dwelling in silence together listening for the voice of God. If you're unsure how to pray why not join me/us across the week (Monday 7.30am12noon/4pm; Tuesday 8.45am/12noon/4pm; Wednesday 8.45am/12noon; Thursday 7.30am/12noon/7pm & Saturday 9.30am.) You can find the liturgy we use available here or here.


Scripture.
Immersing ourselves in Scripture enables us to become more familiar with the story of our faith and thus building resilience and confidence. Engaging with Scripture also opens us up - along with prayer - to the ways and purposes of God. Reading scripture for scripture's sake is a good thing, but then to spend time with others' wisdom (through Bible notes or a course or conversation) forms us in faith.


The Sacraments.
The Sacraments are about revealing outwardly the grace of God at work within us. Thus seeking Baptism and Confirmation; partaking regularly in Holy Communion; offering and receiving prayer for healing by anointed with Holy Oil; looking to be reconciled with those whom we have let down and with God are all about building and reshaping relationships. Traditionally, the church talks of Sacraments of Service, which will usually refer Ordination and Marriage. Those two sacraments are not for everyone and they are a specific and particular call - but service more generally, seeking to put our faith into action, to serve and love one another is fundamental in following the way of Christ, and shaping community.


Faithfully living this way forms us in faith, calls us to be disciples, keeps us attentive to our Teacher, and opens us up to being signs of the Kingdom where God sets us.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

What Hope Looks LIke

I asked some of my friends recently what hope looked like and to give me some examples.  Whichever way one voted in the Brexit referendum in 2016, it is hard not to get dragged down by the bleak prospects predicted for our nation post March 29th. As a result, perhaps, we need a sense of hope more than ever.  There were a number of insightful suggestions. One wrote,


‘... Hope is not for the selfish. It is not a thing we should cling to or hang onto, it is the thing we should give to others. If someone around you is looking for hope, give it to them. This is not done in positive soundbites or long speeches, it is done with love. "Faith, hope and love. These three remain". No coincidence that all three are gifts. Gifts are not for keeping but for giving…’


Another sent me a photo taken from inside a cupboard.




Another wrote movingly,


‘... hope isn't is wishful thinking. It's a brutal fact that each of my children have a 50% chance of having inherited my husband’s condition/genetic mutation. 50% chance that they all have it, or none of them. Wishful thinking might make me ignore this statistic. Hope means that I believe that they can all live rich and fulfilling lives, and at their futures are in God's hands…’


In my experience, the word hope is one that is used with some regularly within faith communities. Hope for Christians is not feeble and frail, but sure and certain. It is simultaneously something on the horizon towards which we travel, but also something tangible which we hold in our hands and travels with us.



Hope is God’s business. It is second chances, restored relationships, forgiveness given and received, and outsiders welcomed, and the wayward returned home.


In these days before Lent, we are reminded that God’s business of hope is found both on the horizon: at the cross towards which we journey; and in the nail imprinted hands of  Jesus. As his family, that is true for us too: at the cross, we are invited to crucify with Christ that which divides and dehumanises, but also to remember that as we bear the mark of Christ on and in us by virtue of our baptism - we hold the hope for which so many look and long for in our hands.


The Benedictines have a motto - laborare est orare - to work is to pray - the idea being that their life together in the monastery would have plentiful helpings of both, but both were of equal importance in a life with God. In that sense, praying is seeking to align our lives with God and to seek His will for us.  It is not just something we say, but rather something we do; something we are.


It is all too easy when one is feeling hopeless, to look to hope arriving from on high. In these days, let our hands, our lips, our hearts and our lives be the hope that we and our communities need. Hope is a work of God in and for us; like our prayers, let it be something we do; something we are.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Stop Preaching - Start Singing (A Sermon for Advent 4)

Middletown Dreams by Rush - one of my favourite songs.
There is something evocative and beautiful about a song.

Songs have the capacity to transport us to far off shores or to the innermost parts of our being; to lift or to lower our mood. Music also can carry or even tell a community’s story - think about the music you enjoy and the way that it hangs as a backdrop to your own life or the way that you have enjoyed in sharing it with others. Music can also tenderly hold our hopes and dreams - the psalms in the heart of the Old Testament do just that - they bring every gamut of human emotion and experience into the presence of God.


Ariana Grande at teh One Love Manchester concert.

But that is true in the secular sphere - cast your minds back to the One Love Manchester concert organised by the singer Ariana Grande following the terrorist attack at her concert held at the Manchester Arena where 23 people died and 139 people were injured; or further back to the Live Aid concerts. The music performed on those occasions carried themes of love and justice which transcended politics, race and creed and carried a universal hope.


There is also something about a song which touches our hearts in such a way that enables us to enter into the reality and experience of that which is being voiced. When we listen to love songs we find a new language to express our deepest feelings for another. When we hear a song crying for justice it gives us new solidarity with those who long to be set free. In other words, in the same ways that the food that we consume becomes part of us to enable us to live - we are what we eat - what we sing shapes our inner world in such a way that it can cause us to reshape our outer world individually and corporately - we are what we sing or what is sung over us. We are both homo sapien and homo musicus.


Humanity’s experience of God can be described as the greatest love song ever sung. In the words of Scripture and in people’s experience of the Divine we hear a simple three-line song - I love you, I want to be with people like you, will you be with me? It is an invitation to hear the song of love and to join in.


In our Gospel reading, we encounter Elizabeth and Mary pregnant with children, but pregnant with so much more.  They are also the many in our world who long to see different opportunities, possibilities and outcomes brought to birth: the hospitalised woman longing to be well; the accused man longing for justice; the hungry family longing for food; the refugee longing to be accepted in their new homeland; the workless on unemployed longing for meaningful employment; the middle-aged housebound man longing to be pain free; the gay woman longing to be accepted by her parents and her church; the elderly grandfather longing to be lucid and heard.  They all sing their own songs with countless others, all of which echo God’s song of love and community for all.



Mary supremely sings of this pregnant longing. We hear this song read as scripture, we sing it in our hymnody, we pray it at Evening Prayer but all too often, the song doesn’t sound like good news to us because we are by in large well fed, or rich, or in positions of power and might compared to others locally and globally — or if we benefit from systems that oppress.  Mary articulates an end to economic structures that are exploitative and unjust. She speaks of a time when all will enjoy the good things given by God.

If we only hear the Magnificat as scripture or an evening prayer we fail to hear the call of God through it to the transformation of our lives and of our world, and we all too easily hear the words but do not listen to what they say of the love that God has for us all but especially for those that we all too often push to the margins or silence or disempower.



We have closed our ears to Mary’s radical song of resistance, even though there is so much oppression and evil in the world. We have turned Christmas into a cattle-lowing, no-crying-he-makes Jesus, Silent Night. With only hours before we celebrate his birth, we are in danger of soft focusing the manger scene failing to realise that the birth of her son in animal feeding stall are the actions to accompany the song Mary sang in Elizabeth's company. With only hours before we celebrate his birth, we are in danger of airbrushing out impoverished social outsiders like shepherds who are not just called to the manger by angels, but because they join in in a version of Mary’s song.



Today we really need to hear Mary’s song; we need to listen to what Mary’s song says to us; we need to listen what Mary’s song says about us; we need to hear what her song says about those we don’t/won’t/can’t/shan’t see or hear.  But we can only do any of that if we are singing too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

324 Bus Route To/From Maple Cross

Some of you locally may have heard that Arriva have announced that they are reviewing the 324 bus route which runs to and from the Maple Cross/West Hyde communities. This bus route is a life line for many in both communities and it's withdrawal would be a real blow socially and economically.

Today I have written to local councillor Phil Williams, and I enclose my email to him below. If this issue concerns you, please add your voice by contacting him too.


~~~


Dear Phil,

I am sorry that I am bit late to the party on this.

I was very concerned to hear recently that Arriva are considering a review of the 324 bus route to/from Maple Cross. The community is not well served with bus services with a disjointed R1 service. The W1only runs on Sundays.

Just under half of the population on the Maple Cross Estate is outside of the normal working age bracket (under 18 and over 65) and a quarter live in rented or social housing. From TRDC own development framework, you note that,

‘...The area has limited services, with the exception of a primary school and local shop, and is therefore reliant on surrounding areas. Access to healthcare provision has been identified as a particular issue for the area…'

Maple Cross JMI school is a transformative presence for good in the community, and the local shop provide some means of social interaction and shopping and the Maple Cross Community Centre works hard to bring people together, but the community relies on other services such as local doctors and dentists elsewhere. Reducing community transport such as a regular bus service would be very detrimental for residents of the estate and surrounding area.

According to social research, 16% of the population on the estate have no access to a car or van. 20% of the 16+ year olds have no qualifications and 7% of the working age population are on some sort of out of work benefit. Whilst these figures may not be particularly startling when compared to other areas within Three Rivers or nationally, they demonstrate that reducing access to public transport to and from the estate will limit social mobility and potentially employability as whilst there are some major employers on the estate, these largely require a specialist skill set.

Social isolation is a significant issue recognised by the Government with the appointment of Tracey Crouch MP as 'Minister for Loneliness' who was charged to continue the brief began by the late Jo Cox MP. The Government acknowledged that this is an issue that cannot be resolved by Government alone whether nationally or locally and will require a multi disciplinary approach. That being the case, the removal of a vital communications link will surely only exacerbate the issue.

I urge you, on behalf of my parishioners, to communicate with Arriva the inappropriateness of their proposal as the knock on effects go way beyond the financial viability of the route, but tap into what it means to be a community in the first place.

Yours sincerely

Simon

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Local Sport for Local People - UPDATE

My last post was about the redevelopment of the sports hall at William Penn Leisure Centre. FOllowing the Rickmansworth Area Forum meeting last night, I have written to all 39 District Councillors again. I enclose the text below.

~~~

Dear all,

I wrote to some of you recently, deeply concerned about the future provision of hall space to play team sport at the William Penn Leisure centre in Mill End, and I enclose the text of that letter below:

...I am writing to you to express my grave disappointment that you made a decision without consultation to change the facilities at William Penn Leisure Centre. I believe that this change will be for the worse, and to the detriment of whole community.
As part of the tendering process for the facility, I understand that the size of the current sports hall will be halved, and one half converted for use as a soft play area. The hall is a well used community facility, especially during the daytime, with many local groups including soft tennis, badminton, walking netball, return to netball, girls netball and five aside football all using it weekly. This dreadful decision will impact groups that meet at the weekend too like Tae Kwan Do where 3 generations of a family regularly take part in the sport, enabling quality time as a whole family whilst modelling that sport is something for all generations.
I do understand the economics too - whoever wins any tender, in this case Everyone Active, has to make profit on the facility, and the council need to make sure that it doesn’t run at a loss, but I’d like to suggest that if this plan goes ahead there will be significant financial ramifications, as many of these groups will no longer be able to meet at all.
When you made this decision as part of the tendering process, I believe that you did not take into account the shear number of local people who use the hall facility. I accept that some of the groups are relatively new, but nonetheless, a decision was made by you on data that was just not accurate. The netball groups probably amount to 60-80 people each week, for example.
Team sport at this level, which was specially encouraged as part of the London 2012 Olympic games legacy and is usually part funded by Sport England, is a really important part of caring for people’s physical wellbeing. I do not need to tell you the significant amount of money the NHS currently spends on ailments caused as a direct result of obesity and inactivity. Team sport such as those mentioned above are a great way to counter that rise in the present and the future. Halving the size of the sports hall prevents many of those existing team sports from being played at all on site - you cannot play netball or five aside football on half a court or pitch. You just can’t. I am aware that part of the proposed refurbishments will include an all weather 3G surface outside, but netball cannot be played on that surface, neither can badminton. By halving the size of the hall effectively stops those groups from meeting.
Team sport also builds community. As a faith leader locally this is something I am passionate about. One of the benefits of local team sport is that it brings people together who otherwise would not meet, and it allows friendships to be built. To lose the sports hall in any useable form will stop those sports happening for local people at a time that works for them. Other venues are available outside of the area (e.g. in Watford and Hemel Hempstead or indeed in some cases in the evenings or weekends), but the fact that these groups meet at a local venue at a time that suits those who attend is meeting one of your own priorities as a council for 2017/18.
The loss of this sports hall could also have other ramifications. In the event we needed to hold a big community meeting in a neutral venue, the sports hall is an ideal space. In the event of a major incident that hall will be an essential asset . I was Vicar of Leverstock Green following the Buncefield explosion. I know first hand how the Fire Service worked with Herts County Council and Dacorum Borough Council to use the hall at Jarman park for triage and temporary accommodation. Whilst we wouldn’t want to keep a hall solely for those reasons, the loss of that space could have a significant impact in a major incident.
I understand that the hall space will be redeveloped to become a soft play area. These sorts of facilities have become a God send for parents and their kids. Many of the bigger ones locally (in Watford for example) are part of bigger chains. They tend to be housed in much larger buildings with significantly more space and therefore more facilities. I am not convinced that the proposed space in William Penn with Gambardo’s for example, and talking anecdotally with local families the appeal of a bigger space is greater. Whilst soft play facilities allow parents to have a coffee whilst their children have fun but what they don’t do is model a healthy lifestyle. Children seeing and knowing that their parents play team sport though demonstrates that sport is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all.
The introduction of a soft play area into that space in William Penn is not a golden bullet either. I am not sure that the addition of this facility on site would create sufficient revenue to offset the loss of monies from the closure of all the local groups mentioned above.
By following through on this redesign you are in effect saying to our communities that profit is much more desirable that maximising the opportunities for local people in Mill End and Maple Cross to play team sport and to take some responsibility for their own emotional and physical wellbeing. Yes, I am aware that Three Rivers are not obliged to provide our community with the sports facilities that we enjoy at William Penn, but I would argue that it would be in our shared interests to keep them and that it is probably your moral duty to maintain them for the benefit of all'

Subsequently I have had email replies from a few of you, and conversations on the telephone and in person with a couple of you and I thank you for that.

I would like all 39 of you as our representatives to be aware again, that the decisions made back in September last year as the tendering process began, and signed off in April, were made based on inaccurate information about regular hall usage on a weekly basis. At the Local Area Forum last night, it became clear that no-one involved in the decision took into account the current regular usage of many groups including wheelchair basketball, netball, taekwando and other groups. What also became clear last night was that the tendering process initially began with 6 companies offering to take on the provision, which after others withdrew for various reasons, left the council with Hobson’s choice - Everyone Active.

Good practise says that when tendering for work one should always look to have quotes from three companies/contractors before proceeding with work. It seems that the you, through your Leisure Committee, decided to run with the one offer from Everyone Active who incidentally look like they are beginning to hold a bit of a monopoly on managing facilities like this as they currently run 2 facilities in Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamstead, Slough, St Albans and South Oxhey to name only a few. I am quite frankly staggered that a tender was agreed on under these circumstances.

It became clear again at last night’s meeting, that this bid was signed off without consultation with current users or the wider community. As a contract has been signed Cllr Lloyd told the assembled that there would be financial implications for reneging on the contract signed to the tune of around £63,000 annually. I am curious to know where that figure comes from or what it equates to? Do you really believe that Everyone Active would make more than that annually in their new soft play, cafe and clip and climb facilities? I would suggest not, as bigger facilities are available at the XC in Hemel and Gambardo’s (which incidentally is running at a loss!)

This must not become a party political issue. It is an issue to do with the wellbeing and health of all of our constituents. I am well aware that some of you in receipt of this email serve wards that will benefit in other aspects of this project to do with work in South Oxhey for example, but I am sure you will agree that there are many who will use these facilities from across the district, and not just those who live within walking/cycling/driving distance.

These facilities at William Penn are a community asset. I understand that the previous provider was not managing this asset well, but I am shocked that the chair of the Leisure Committee advised that, ( it’s in the minutes) once the press and public were removed, to make a decision focussing more on finance rather than future leisure provision which could be worked out a a later date.

I have also written to David Bibby, MD of Everyone Active, to ensure that he is up to speed on the feeling of some within the community

I look to hearing back from you and seeing you at up coming Leisure Committee and full Council meetings within the next fortnight.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Local Sport For Local People

Some of local women who's weekly netball will be affected.
Photo from the Watford Observer
http://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/16255477._Huge_buzz__at_netball_festival/ 
Our local district council (Three Rivers) has successfully put out to tender the management of the local leisure centre, which was won by a new company. As part of that tender, a proposal has been agreed already by Three Rivers to halve the current sports hall and turn one half into a soft play area.

This will affectively stop many local people, some of whom come to our church communities, from taking part in team sport at a time and place that is easily accessible to them. As Christians we worship a God who takes our bodies very seriously, and medical research has shown that keeping physically active is good for us physically but emotionally too.

The loss of this facility would be significant.

Tonight I have written to local councillors and I enclose the text of the letter below. Could I ask if you, if you live in the WD3 post code, to spread the word and encourage people who are concerned, which may yet include you, to write too?

William Penn Leisure Centre

~~~

Dear all,
I am writing to you to express my grave disappointment that you made a decision without consultation to change the facilities at William Penn Leisure Centre. I believe that this change will be for the worse, and to the detriment of whole community.
As part of the tendering process for the facility, I understand that the size of the current sports hall will be halved, and one half converted for use as a soft play area. The hall is a well used community facility, especially during the daytime, with many local groups including soft tennis, badminton, walking netball, return to netball, girls netball and five aside football all using it weekly. This dreadful decision will impact groups that meet at the weekend too like Tae Kwan Do where 3 generations of a family regularly take part in the sport, enabling quality time as a whole family whilst modelling that sport is something for all generations.
I do understand the economics too - whoever wins any tender, in this case Everyone Active, has to make profit on the facility, and the council need to make sure that it doesn’t run at a loss, but I’d like to suggest that if this plan goes ahead there will be significant financial ramifications, as many of these groups will no longer be able to meet at all.
When you made this decision as part of the tendering process, I believe that you did not take into account the shear number of local people who use the hall facility. I accept that some of the groups are relatively new, but nonetheless, a decision was made by you on data that was just not accurate. The netball groups probably amount to 60-80 people each week, for example.
Team sport at this level, which was specially encouraged as part of the London 2012 Olympic games legacy and is usually part funded by Sport England, is a really important part of caring for people’s physical wellbeing. I do not need to tell you the significant amount of money the NHS currently spends on ailments caused as a direct result of obesity and inactivity. Team sport such as those mentioned above are a great way to counter that rise in the present and the future. Halving the size of the sports hall prevents many of those existing team sports from being played at all on site - you cannot play netball or five aside football on half a court or pitch. You just can’t. I am aware that part of the proposed refurbishments will include an all weather 3G surface outside, but netball cannot be played on that surface, neither can badminton. By halving the size of the hall effectively stops those groups from meeting.
Team sport also builds community. As a faith leader locally this is something I am passionate about. One of the benefits of local team sport is that it brings people together who otherwise would not meet, and it allows friendships to be built. To lose the sports hall in any useable form will stop those sports happening for local people at a time that works for them. Other venues are available outside of the area (e.g. in Watford and Hemel Hempstead or indeed in some cases in the evenings or weekends), but the fact that these groups meet at a local venue at a time that suits those who attend is meeting one of your own priorities as a council for 2017/18.
The loss of this sports hall could also have other ramifications. In the event we needed to hold a big community meeting in a neutral venue, the sports hall is an ideal space. In the event of a major incident that hall will be an essential asset . I was Vicar of Leverstock Green following the Buncefield explosion. I know first hand how the Fire Service worked with Herts County Council and Dacorum Borough Council to use the hall at Jarman park for triage and temporary accommodation. Whilst we wouldn’t want to keep a hall solely for those reasons, the loss of that space could have a significant impact in a major incident.
I understand that the hall space will be redeveloped to become a soft play area. These sorts of facilities have become a God send for parents and their kids. Many of the bigger ones locally (in Watford for example) are part of bigger chains. They tend to be housed in much larger buildings with significantly more space and therefore more facilities. I am not convinced that the proposed space in William Penn with Gambardo’s for example, and talking anecdotally with local families the appeal of a bigger space is greater. Whilst soft play facilities allow parents to have a coffee whilst their children have fun but what they don’t do is model a healthy lifestyle. Children seeing and knowing that their parents play team sport though demonstrates that sport is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all.
The introduction of a soft play area into that space in William Penn is not a golden bullet either. I am not sure that the addition of this facility on site would create sufficient revenue to offset the loss of monies from the closure of all the local groups mentioned above.
By following through on this redesign you are in effect saying to our communities that profit is much more desirable that maximising the opportunities for local people in Mill End and Maple Cross to play team sport and to take some responsibility for their own emotional and physical wellbeing. Yes, I am aware that Three Rivers are not obliged to provide our community with the sports facilities that we enjoy at William Penn, but I would argue that it would be in our shared interests to keep them and that it is probably your moral duty to maintain them for the benefit of all.
Yours sincerely,