Sometimes children can have a disarming degree of honesty as one 5 or 6 year old girl showed on a recent school visit to the Chapel.
I was expecting questions about the number of bricks or even the number of crosses (as we set a challenge for last year’s visit) but no. In the midst of me talking about the differences between the Anglican and Methodist churches – stained glass windows or not, pews or chairs, organ or worship band – she wanted to ask if she was a Christian.
I hope I was able to answer her question satisfactorily as I spoke of people who inspire us, who we try our very best to be like and thus become their followers. So a Christian is someone who seeks to do their very best to follow Jesus - part of what Lent is about is reflecting on what this might mean in daily life. To Christians though Jesus is more than just a hero to admire and model our lives on. Christians believe Jesus was God seen in a human life, God walking and talking with us. A radical belief then as now, as was the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead which we’ll remember and celebrate on Easter Day.
It’s a belief that meant many suffered horrible deaths (originally to be called a Christian was a term of the deepest insult). Christians were despised as the lowest of the low and went into hiding, unable to meet and worship freely for fear of the dreadful fate that awaited them.
Their only means of communication was the sign of the fish, one of the earliest Christian symbols, which was perhaps chosen because Jesus’ ministry was associated with fish: some of his disciples were fishermen and one of the loveliest of all stories after the resurrection involves Jesus sharing fish with friends who had run away, denied and betrayed him.
However the symbol also has a deeper, richer meaning because the letters of the Greek word for fish, Icthus, could be taken as short-hand for Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour.
the gospel in a word.
Easter Blessings to one and all
Rev Melanie Greenall
I wonder if you’ve got the same problem as me.Nothing drastic – its just that I cannot seem to get along with my varifocal glasses. I managed pretty well for a year and then my prescription was changed. Long distance vision is still good but gradually I’m pulling my glasses further down my nose to get books/papers/computer screens into sharp focus once more and I’m beginning to look more and more like an eccentric professor! I never realised varifocal lenses need adjusting at regular intervals as our point of focus changes.
Our point of focus can change in life as a whole too; sometimes deliberately with the choices we make but sometimes we’re blown off course by circumstance.
Transferring relevant dates into my 2017 diary I’ve been reminded of J. M. Barrie’s words: “the life of every man is a diary in which they mean to write one story but write another; and the humblest hour is when you compare the volume as it is with what you vowed to make it.”
Looking back over the past year, I realise how true that is; priorities have shifted with changing circumstance and some of what was in my diary for 2016 went out the window.
As I plan 2017’s services, meetings, visits etc. I recall some words read at the recent funeral of a remarkable woman of faith which asked ‘from where will my help come?’ going on to declare it comes from the Lord who watches over his coming and going (Psalm 121).
I pray we may all be mindful of that as we work out how best to use our time and what our focus will be in coming months.
Rev Melanie Greenall
‘Christmas is Coming’ is the theme tune of an advertising campaign for a soft drink that calls itself the real thing. A few weeks ago I was reminded of this as I visited Brigg Garden Centre with a friend. Oh my goodness - I don’t think I’ve seen so many Christmas decorations under one roof! You could have a red Christmas, a purple Christmas, a gold Christmas and yes a white Christmas too. You could even have a mad hatter tea party Christmas!
I wonder if you love this time of year – the excitement of present buying, parties etc. Or perhaps you dread it as it emphasises the fact loved ones are no longer here or because the pressure is on to get it all absolutely perfect. Maybe you imagine Christmas to be like the images on ‘religious’ Christmas cards – serene faces smiling at you.
The reality was vastly different as the BBC highlighted some years ago in ‘The Nativity’ which showed the strains and stresses Jesus’ birth caused and the pain and agony of child birth without midwives or hospitals. Far from perfect. Yet this is the mess, the muck, grime and struggle that God took the risk of being born into, for that is who was born to Mary and Joseph. In the words of a lovely Christmas song ‘Mary Did You Know’ in her arms Mary held ‘the Lord of all creation….the great I am.’
Like any baby the birth turned things upside down for that little family but the ripples of its reality can still be felt today as we will soon sing once more ‘joy to the world, the Lord is come’, not the Lord remote with clean hands but the Lord moved into our neighbourhood to share our reality and transform it with the reality of his presence and love.
No doubt in coming weeks proud parents and teary-eyed grandparents will watch tiny tots with towels wrapped round their heads with rope, children with paper crowns and stars as we once more retell the wonderful story of Jesus’ birth. Christmas is coming: the fun and excitement but also the celebration of the ‘real thing’: God born among us.
May you and yours enjoy all this season brings and may we all have our eyes opened once more to this ‘well good news.’
Rev Melanie Greenall
July / August
I wonder how good you are at packing? Better than me I hope!
I don’t travel light as anyone seeing my suitcase for two nights away in the Lakes recently would have realised. It looked like I was going to be there for a week. I'm definitely my mother's daughter in dreading packing for I've never learnt the knack of packing a few clothes that can be combined in different ways to make up many outfits.
This problem is taxing my brain as I think about being ordained - you see there will be a quick (less than 24 hours) turnaround from getting home after ordinands’ retreat to setting off for London and the joys of lugging my case on the tube on a Saturday morning. I can't wait!
What to take and what not. What do I need and what not? What really matters?
Questions that are not just relevant to packing for an exciting weekend but to life too.
We all collect goods and trinkets and items of sentimental (if not physical) value as we experience the different phases of our lives. Things that bring back so many memories as we see or handle them. Perhaps that is why it is so hard to clear out a loved one's home when they've died. The memories come rushing back and can be overwhelming. Yet as we journey on in this life, I believe those loved ones remain always in our hearts, with or without a physical reminder.
One of my favourite hymns is 'Great is thy Faithfulness' with its words taken from a little known Old Testament book. Great words. Comforting words. Encouraging words. They speak of 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow' and 'all I have needed thy hand has provided'. All I have needed; not necessarily all I have wanted.
We all want so much out of life, partially fueled by media hype, but the truly content have learnt the lesson of living with just what they need.
That’s a lesson I’m still learning, especially as I look at my bulging suitcase!
As I left the petrol station recently the attendant cheerfully said “see you later!”
The phrase seems to have replaced the previously annoying greeting of “have a nice day”, but I have to admit its beginning to prove equally grating on my nerves!
Oddly though it’s a phrase that could be said to sum up this period of Eastertide for, despite what the shops would have you believe, Easter hasn’t ended: according to the Christian tradition it continues until we celebrate Pentecost on May 15th. It’s a period when we continue to think of all those wonderful stories of the risen Jesus walking and talking with his friends and then……disappearing. He seems to have a habit of being there one minute and gone the next.
It might surprise you to know that the initial reaction to Jesus being alive wasn’t wanton joy but unbelief and puzzlement. Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than when two weary travellers were on their way home to Emmaus discussing all that had happened over Passover in Jerusalem. Suddenly they were greeted by a stranger whose words stirred their hearts and minds to such an extent that they invited him in to share supper with them. He blessed and broke the bread in an oddly familiar way and then Jesus (for that is who the stranger was) was suddenly gone once more, leaving behind two transformed folk: once they’d trudged to Emmaus with heavy hearts but now they run to Jerusalem, hearts bursting with joy.
Its one of my favourite stories as it seems to echo much of my Christian journey. The two travellers are said to be discussing what has happened but apparently the word used can also mean turning over in your mind, endlessly going over things that have happened, trying to find an answer. At times that can be how it feels for us. Yet as a colleague once said to me: ‘keep on keeping on’, meaning keep on walking with Christ as the stranger at your side. Problems don’t disappear and there may be some time of trudging to endure but sooner or later, if you dare to invite him along with you on your journey, you too may have that ‘breaking bread moment’ and hear a cheery ‘see you later!’
Grace and Peace to you all
Rev Melanie Greenall
I recently spent a few days at Launde Abbey with some of my fellow ministers, sharing and supporting each other in our roles. On the last day we gathered in the beautiful little chapel to share bread and wine together in a service of communion, reminding ourselves once more of the great love Jesus showed us and the responsibility given to us to demonstrate that love to others.
The order of service used spoke about the shock of God’s love; words that seemed to strike a chord in me, as I kept turning them over in my mind. Shock is such a strong word conveying a depth of feeling and emotion and I wondered if I was ever shocked by God’s love. In his song Pretty Amazing Grace Neil Diamond wrote: “you stood beside a wretch like me.” Ever since I heard those words they always come to mind at this time of year. There are times I’ve made such a mess of things that I feel like a wretch but I’m reminded of God’s pretty shocking love when Jesus died on Good Friday for me and all wretches, whether or not we feel that bad about ourselves.
Good Friday was a shock to the disciples, but a bigger one was to come – with the benefit of hindsight we forget just how unheard of, how mind blowing, how completely out of the realms of possibility Jesus rising from the dead was on Easter Sunday. It was a shock in every sense of the word, if ever there was one. How would the disciples react?
I wonder how you react when shocked? Are you struck dumb and paralysed or are you galvanised into action, shaken out of a daydream. During April we hear of some wonderful stories of how different people reacted to the shock of Easter – Thomas with his questions, Peter gone fishing, two people hot footing it back to Jerusalem, after a very odd conversation with a stranger. Where are you, where am I, in the story? Will we be struck dumb or galvanised by the shock of God’s love into joining in the journey?
Easter Blessings to one and all
Rev Melanie Greenall
March is a month of change. The days get lighter – even more so once the clocks change at the end of the month, though there is the pain of losing an hour in bed (an issue for all sleepyheads like me). This year the date is March 27th, which is also Easter Sunday so it will be an extra challenge to get up for early morning/sunrise services.
The tradition reminds us of those wonderful words from John’s Gospel that ‘early in the morning, while it was still dark’ some women went to the tomb and found not the dead body they expected to anoint but rather a risen Lord.
I love the fact that John notes it was still dark – in the darkness life replaced death, exuberant life that in words of one lovely Easter hymn ‘death could not hold’. In the darkness singing and gladness replaced mourning and sadness. One life reborn giving hope that death is not the end, more the beginning of the next stage of the journey of faith.
As we journey on in Lent, reflecting on all Jesus went through for love of us, may we too find not just a man who was cruelly treated and died but rather a risen, living, divine presence that can be found while it is still dark and who journeys alongside us.
Easter Blessings to one and all
Rev Melanie Greenall
2016 is one of those years when time moves on pretty sharpish as a minister: there’s hardly time to draw breath after saying goodbye to the shepherds and wise men for another year before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is February 10th.
Lent is a time when our thoughts turn towards the ‘child so dear and gentle who is our Lord in heaven above’, as a lovely carol puts it. The baby in a manger of our nativity scenes didn’t stay that way forever but grew into a man who would astound all with his words and his actions; causing fear and anger in the political and religious authorities of his day but inspiring worship in others as the realisation dawned that Jesus wasn’t just a man, he was God himself, living and breathing their lives, experiencing the good and bad of life on this planet.
According to the New Testament, before he began his ministry Jesus spent time alone in the desert deciding on how best to fulfil his mission, his divine objective of showing the reality of God reaching out to all humanity. Christians reflect on this during Lent which isn’t just a time to give up chocolate, alcohol or something else. Rather it’s a time to consider all that Jesus grew up to become and teach, to reflect on his message of good news and his definition of what that might mean (his manifesto you might call it) as seen in his first sermon: good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed.
Lent is a time when Christians reflect on those priorities and consider how little we buy into them, how poorly we follow Christ’s example in the way we live our lives today. Such ‘navel gazing’ could so easily lead to despair as we realise just how much we still have to learn. Yet even then, ‘when our hearts are far way, God’s love goes further still’ as a modern song puts it. Even then, knowing the mess we make of our world and our lives, come the wonderful words ‘father forgive them for they don’t know what they do’ and forgiveness becomes ours.
In coming weeks no doubt there will be countless cards signed with loving kisses: some expressing genuine affection, others may be sent in a less serious vein. However the kiss I long to receive is the one described by a 19th century hymn writer, speaking of God’s love: ‘Here is love vast as an ocean….heaven’s peace and perfect justice kissed a guilty world with love’
Rev Melanie Greenall
I recently ventured down to London to meet up with a friend. Travelling back after a lovely day I found myself, along with several hundred other commuters, with my eyes glued to the travel information board at Kings Cross railway station, awaiting news of which platform I had to dash to. It reminded me of Advent which is all about waiting – waiting in endless shopping queues, waiting for Christmas to arrive with excitement (children / big children like me) or trepidation (many adults).
Christians also believe that we are waiting to once more retell the amazing story of ‘our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man,’ God moving into our neighbourhood as one modern version of the Bible translates the more traditional ‘the word became flesh and lived for a while among us.’
In one of my favourite resources for this time of year, Nick Fawcett suggests a Jerusalem resident at the time of Jesus’ birth might have been tempted to say: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light….do you remember those words? Do you actually believe that things will change, that the Messiah will come?”
Since the clocks went back the nights are quickly becoming longer and seem darker. That kind of reflects our world too at present with ongoing issues of people desperate to leave the war zone that is Syria and increased tensions in Jerusalem. The world seems to be getting a darker place, a place where it is getting harder to believe that things will change, that God’s kingdom will come as he promised.
‘Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light’ says one of the lovely carols we shall soon be singing. I was reminded of these words when, driving back from Newark after my train journey, my eyes were drawn to the beautifully lit Lincoln Cathedral; a beacon in the night sky, one that I understand was used by pilots during the Second World War.
The light has shone in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).
Sometimes that can seem hard to believe, yet there are sparks of hope in the way local schoolchildren have risen to the challenge of collecting items for the Foodbank (stimulated by the visit of a ‘Lincolnshire Baron’).
So I am with the Jerusalem resident I mentioned earlier when he says: “I may have my doubts, and it may not be easy, but so long as there’s even the merest spark of faith left….I’m going to go on hoping, and go on praying: come Lord come!”
May you and your family experience all the wonder and joy of Christmas anew this year.
Rev Melanie Greenall
 Reflective Services for Advent and Christmas by Nick Fawcett ©2001 Kevin Mayhew Ltd
“It's very nice to go travelling but it's oh so nice to come home.” So once sang ‘Old Blue Eyes’ himself, Mr. Frank Sinatra. I wonder if that’s how you feel as we enter the autumn months, assuming you managed to get a holiday over the summer. Fortunately I did, spending a lovely, if very hot, week in Croatia. When people asked me where my home was I found it hard to say. A year ago I would have had no problem – Freckleton, Lancashire where I grew up and where I still lived in my parent’s house. Now though its become more complicated and I think I understand what Paul Young sang about in the 1980s – “wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home”.
As I write this I’m conscious that 12months ago I was getting ready to move across country to Lincolnshire which soon became my home too, thanks to the welcome, love and support I received. Yet I also spent a very formative 2 years training at Durham and on a recent trip back to see an Anglican friend preside at her first Eucharist it felt like I was going home.
So where is home? According to a 1990s TV programme, home is “where the heart is.” I rather like that definition as it sums up all that is good and right about home; its where you feel safe and secure, loved and encouraged, strengthened for the daily journey through life. To me that sounds like a nice place to be; content and at peace.
As Christians we believe that we not only have earthly physical homes, we also have a heavenly spiritual home, a place where we can be in God’s presence, content and at peace, loved, encouraged and strengthened. Of course there are some places here that carry an echo of that feeling. For me it has to be Durham Cathedral where it seems the prayers of generations of saints ooze off the walls. Where is your spiritual home, the place you feel you can simply be ‘you’, open and honest and no need for pretence or masks, the place you can connect with the divine one?
As we continue to journey together in coming months my prayer is that our church buildings and our own homes will provide that space and enable others to find hope in place of despair, love in place of rejection.
Grace and Peace
Rev Melanie Greenall
I recently visited a friend in Leeds who asked me how I was settling in Lincoln and if there was anything I missed about my Lancashire home. I’d been told Lincolnshire was flat and I’d miss the hills. Well actually its hillier here than my home on the Fylde Coast so no I don’t miss the hills that much. What I really do miss though is the sea, which was only 4 miles away in Lancashire; the light playing on the water, the sound of the waves breaking on the shore, the fun of finding pebbles and shells of all shapes, sizes and colours and which would often fill my dad’s car boot.
Shells have always fascinated me – the fact that sea creatures once lived in them and that they’ve now been abandoned for the likes of me to collect as well as their beauty and variety. The scallop shell in particular has also taken on a metaphorical meaning, associated with journeying and pilgrimage. This is based on the legend that James, one of Jesus’s closest followers, journeyed to Spain and was buried at Compostela, on the North West coast of Spain, where scallop shells abound and this spot later became a centre of Christian pilgrimage. If you saw the film ‘The Way’ starring Martin Sheen a few years ago you’ll know it remains so today, drawing people from all over the world to walk the several thousand kilometers over a number of weeks.
Apparently the scallop shell became the symbol of the Camino de Santiago (the way of St James), because it was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. The shell sign apparently frequently the path pilgrims take to assure them they haven’t taken a wrong turn. Its also said the grooves in the scallop shell, which meet at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims travelled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela.
In ‘The Way’ a grieving father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son, who died while traveling the Camino de Santiago, and decides to take the pilgrimage himself. In doing so he discovers a lot about himself, life and the odd bunch of fellow pilgrims he meets on the journey.
It will soon be the holiday season and some will be travelling away. Perhaps it won’t be as exhilarating and taxing as walking The Way. Wherever you go I pray you too find out more about yourself, the world and its beautiful variety of life and your fellow travellers. As one pilgrim apparently stated “in all their variations, shells marked the route for hundreds of miles. They reminded us that in the midst of a world both beautiful and broken there are signs to help lead us forward, sometimes right under our feet” (taken from www.cwrl.utexas.edu).
Rev Melanie Greenall
Its funny how sometimes things hit you between the eyes as it were. I recently had a few days catching up with friends and ex-work colleagues in my Lancashire home. Shopping in one of my favourite stores I spotted a quote by American author, Neal Donald Walsch that had me transfixed: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
It struck me as an odd thing to say until I began to reflect on my life journey to date, for in many ways my life has begun since moving to Lincolnshire as a ‘fresh out of college’ minister. It certainly feels like I’m at the end of my comfort zone at times but I’ve found out new things about me, the people and communities I serve and above all about the God who loves me and has called me to this life.
I wonder if the first disciples also felt at the end of their comfort zone after the drama of the resurrection, the risen Jesus walking among them and then being left bereft again after the Ascension: the challenge of continuing the work Jesus had begun ringing in their ears. Who were they but ordinary blokes from Galilee, completely out of their depth in the metropolis that was Jerusalem, among all the educated and religious leaders of their day?
Yet the book of Acts records them making their way in the world, very much living out what they’d seen and heard of Jesus. They’d been given a new lease of life, maybe discovered the ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus promised he’d come to bring (John 10:10).They’d experienced the love of God bursting through into their lives at Pentecost and found themselves filled with a life, energy and courage they’d not known before, a life that enabled them to live far beyond their comfort zone.
Earlier in the story, Jesus had appeared to the disciples in the midst of a storm and invited a headstrong Peter to walk across the water to meet him (Matthew 14: 22-33), something he’d done until spotting the wind and the waves, when Jesus had reached out to him as he began to sink.
We all have our comfort zones; those places or people, those times in our life when all feels good and right with the world. Equally we all have times when we feel as though we’re out of our depth and in danger of sinking, only to discover we’ve an energy within us we never knew we had. We learn something new about ourselves and in that sense life does begin for us. When we stop trying to do things in our strength and instead draw on God’s strength we are enabled to survive beyond our comfort zones and even to thrive there. Dare we step out of the boat with Peter and find ourselves held and supported by the power of God?
Rev Melanie Greenall
Spring has finally sprung! Not because we’ve passed a certain date on the calendar, nor that we’ve turned the clocks forward. As I sit in my study I can hear birds singing their hearts out, see blackbirds foraging for their nests, see shoots and buds springing forth and the beautiful blossom trees in next door’s garden. As the weather gets warmer (we hope!) its only natural that our thoughts turn towards spending more time outdoors, enjoying the simple delights of God’s creation, including our gardens.
I’m afraid I never inherited my mum’s green fingers and so am reminded of the nursery rhyme that says:
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
How do gardens grow? They need the light and warmth of the sun together with refreshing rain in just the right balance. They need the nutrients from the soil (supplemented by the impatient among us with Miracle Gro or something similar!).
How do we grow? We too need a balance of things; the right balance between work and rest/play. I pray that during the coming months we may all find the time to relax a little, maybe to get away for a while, to allow a sense of perspective on our priorities and goals in life.
We also need to be fed by those things that build us up or as Paul says: ‘Fill your minds with those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honourable’ (Philippians 4:8). Pay attention to the positive and don’t focus on the negative. If only politicians of all persuasions lived by that.
We recognise when spring has come. We can also recognise when God’s love has come.
We’ve just celebrated God’s love clearly seen upon a simple wooden cross, followed a few days later but by the most amazing, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping moment in history when God raised Jesus from the dead. Its a moment that continues to have an effect: later this month we remember how John Wesley’s heart was ‘strangely warmed’, not by the summer sun but by the joy of knowing God’s love in the depths of his being.
Then, at the end of May, we remember how the Spirit came upon the first disciples, lifting their spirits and re-energising them, transforming them from frightened people huddled behind closed doors to bold and fearless people prepared to stand up for their faith, much as brothers and sisters in Kenya, Nigeria and many other countries are doing today.
A prayer by Doreen Warman (from her book Second Thoughts):
“Living God, let the sunshine of your love bring warmth to our lives. Let the flame of your Spirit thaw the coldness of our hearts and let the glow of your presence permeate our being so that we grow and blossom in your garden and bring joy to a wintry world”.
Rev Melanie Greenall
Recently I had the opportunity to stay at Launde Abbey for a few days retreat to gather my thoughts before Easter. One afternoon I took a walk and stumbled across a walled garden which sounded lovely. Sadly reality did not match expectation and I didn’t find the delights of the walled garden written about by Frances Hodgson Burnett in her book The Secret Garden. Instead of climbing roses and birds singing I was met by the apparent barrenness of bare earth, save for a few forlorn patches of colour, dotted here and there.
Sometimes our lives can feel like that and all we can see is barrenness and despair, with only small glimmers of hope dotted about. I guess that might be how the first disciples felt after their close friend, the one they’d come to believe was the long awaited God’s deliverer, had been cruelly crucified on Good Friday. What on earth was good about it? It was the day when the sky turned black, when all air and life seemed to be sucked out of existence but it was also the day when God’s arms were stretched to breaking point in order to enfold and embrace humanity once more. It was the day death died and love triumphed.
In The Secret Garden the two main characters, Colin and Mary, are both somewhat unpleasant children at first but become transformed by the renewal of the garden. It acts as a catalyst for their healing. In the same way the garden where Jesus was laid in a tomb, and from which he arose on the first Easter Sunday, was a catalyst for the healing of the disciples. We’re told that Mary stood weeping and yet the sound of her name spoken in the familiar way caused her to run and breathlessly tell the disciples the unbelievable news that Jesus was now alive. This news transformed them and began to heal the hurt they had felt at how they’d abandoned him to his fate.
The Easter garden can be a catalyst for our healing too, reminding us that, in the words of one of my favourite Easter hymns, ‘When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, then your touch can call us back to life again. Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been. Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green’.
If we dare to go to that place in our thoughts, to face up to the sorrow and grief, we too may hear our names softly called and realise how much we are loved and what healing power can be found in the simpleness of a garden.
as the leaves of the tree, dying, fall to earth
and become a source of sustenance
and new life for the plant;
so the body of your dear Son
suffered death and was buried,
so that all who look to Christ might have new life.
May my faith grow, my life be transformed,
Perfected by his self sacrifice. Amen
(Taken from ‘The Leaves of the Tree’ reflections for Lent produced by Methodist Women in Britain (MWib) downloaded from www.mwib.org.uk )
Tapestry made in 2005 by Jackie Smith(downloaded from www.mwib.org.uk)
Wishing you a joyful Eastertide celebrating the Christ who is alive
Rev Melanie Greenall
If you’ve tried to go into Lincoln recently you can’t fail to have noticed that travelling is even more of a nightmare than normal, especially if you need to get to the Crematorium as I had to recently. There seem to be roadworks almost everywhere, bringing increased stress and frustration to people’s already busy lives. Warning signs advise you to ‘Please find an alternative route’. Sat Navs become useless and so more old fashioned methods are needed such as reading a map. However, without local knowledge that can mean you end up driving down less than familiar side roads, hitting a pothole and shredding your tyre-not a good way to spend a late afternoon I can assure you!
Choices made can affect what happens in the next few hours, or potentially the rest of your life, depending on the nature and size of the decision being made. During Lent Christians remember the 40 days and nights the gospels tell us Jesus spent contemplating the way ahead: the path he should take, how he was to exercise his power as God’s Son. Decisions that would affect not only the rest of his ministry but also the lives of countless millions ever since.
Traditionally Lent has been seen as a time of reflection on the journey Jesus took as a result of those decisions; a journey that eventually and inevitably led to the cross, for he’d upset the natural order of both the political and religious leaders. Christians reflect on Jesus’ call not just to give up something but also to take up something-“if anyone wants to come with me, he must forget self, carry his cross and follow me”. We spend time considering how our lives match up to his and find them wanting; too many potholes, blockages and diversions marring our lives.
For me some lyrics from the 1973 film Godspell sum up what Lent is about:
day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray
Lent provides time to reflect on the alternative routes that could lie ahead. Whatever choice you make I pray it is one without too many potholes.
Rev Melanie Greenall
It seems you can study almost any subject these days, though apparently Sir Paul McCartney thinks it ridiculous that you can study the Beatles.
One of their most famous songs, amazingly released over 40 years ago, was 'All You Need is Love'. If only it was that simple. Over the years many songs have been written about love, some of which, such as ‘Love is in the Air’ or ‘Love is all Around’, will undoubtedly be re-released on an album to mark the card manufacturers' favourite day - St Valentines. Its hard not to get caught up in all the romantic atmosphere. Other more cynical people might ask, like Tina Turner, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ or question, like Howard Jones, ‘What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?’
The Christian answer would be yes they do and love has everything to do with it. The Bible says God loves us with a never ending, death defying love and that God doesn’t just love but that He is love itself: ‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us’ (1 John 4 verse 10). ‘No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13).
As I write this I’ve been reflecting on the Methodist Covenant Service, where we seek to respond to God’s love by offering ourselves wholeheartedly and unreservedly for Him to lead and guide us wherever he sees fit. Not words or commitment for the faint hearted. The service has sometimes been likened to a renewal of marriage vows and in way it is. In any marriage two people offer themselves ‘for better, for worse, in good times and bad times’. Sadly things can go wrong and relationships break down. Sadly too we can often fail to live up to the trust God places in us, to respond to his love but He still commits himself to us ‘for better, for worse, in good times and bad times’. In the words of a modern Christian songwriter, Matt Redmann: ‘when our hearts were far away, Your love went further still’; further still than any mess we’ve made of our lives.
Maybe ‘all you need is love’ is too simplistic but God’s love is not a bad place to start.
Rev Melanie Greenall
I’ve recently returned from an 11 day Bible Lands study tour, though according to the timetable we were on a “Holly Land Tour”! Arriving at Istanbul airport I noticed one shop had the intriguing name of “Joy Shop”. Sadly we didn’t have time to stop to see if this was a translation error but it made me wonder what might be on offer.
Michaela Youngson suggests that joy is “the smile of my child, the laughter of a good friend, the crunch of leaves on an autumn path”, the sort of things that money cannot buy, going deeper than mere happiness which can often be fleeting and elusive.
Paul tells his Philippian readers to “rejoice always”. This may seem a little fanciful, given all that life can throw at us but Paul knew what he was talking about. He wrote these words while in prison in Rome, awaiting his death. Still he could say “be joyful” for he had such a personal and trusting relationship with Christ that this could withstand the ups and downs of each day’s journey.
We shall soon be hearing once more the wonderful story of the angels appearing to terrified shepherds, bringing them good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10). Words echoed by Isaac Watts when he wrote “Joy to the World. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King”. At Christmas we celebrate the amazing truth that God has come to us and is with us in every part of life, whether sad or glad, his love surrounding us and giving value to our lives. That is surely a cause for joy, the sort of joy you cannot find in an airport shop or any other shop for that matter for it is freely given.
God of Christmas, grant us the joy which comes from knowing you. Help us to see through the tissue and wrappings to your great gift of love and find Emmanuel in our hearts (from Second Thoughts by Doreen Warman).
Rev Melanie Greenall
“Memories may be beautiful and yet, some too painful to remember we simply to choose to forget”. Some words from one of Barbara Streisand’s most famous songs that seem particularly relevant at this time of year as we enter November, the month of remembering. First there is All Saints Day when we think of all those people who have gone before us, who have shown us what it is like to live a life that reflects the Christian gospel. There is also Remembrance Day when we remember and reflect on those who gave their lives that we might live, particularly poignant this year as we mark 100 years since the start of the First World War.
As well as being a vital part of our shared human experience, remembrance is part of the very fibre of our Christian being. At the heart of Christian Worship we are called to remember who God is and where He has been in our lives as well as in history. When the Israelites had been rescued from Egypt, Moses reminded them to remember and not forget the Lord and all His benefits (Deuteronomy 8).
What does it mean to remember? You might think it is quite simple, that like an iPlayer, the brain records some thought or event that can later be ‘played back’ when wanted. Remembrance, however, is not just about the past. In Jewish thought to remember is far more than a purely mental activity, a simple recalling of something that happened long ago. It has more to do with recalling events so that they become real and alive in the present, relived almost, their significance and power experienced once more. It is in this sense that Jesus told his disciples to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19). Yet even reliving our memories in this way is not enough: we need to learn from them, to use their recollection and experience to redirect us in the way we live and behave in the future. That is something we surely all need to do, especially given the current world and national climate.
Rev Melanie Greenall
Autumn is an interesting time of change. After a summer of relaxation (for children if not parents!) lessons have been resumed or perhaps the step has been made from pre-school to school or even ‘big school’ some distance away. For farmers there is the hard work of harvesting and making sure all is ready for winter. We see the leaves turning rich shades of red and golden and brown which in the autumnal sun add such beauty to our world.
In the Methodist church too it is a time of change as all over the country ministers leave behind trusted colleagues and friends made, move to pastures, developing new relationships and bonds and seeking out where God is speaking.
Let me introduce myself as the new minister in pastoral charge of Navenby Methodist church. My name is Rev. Melanie Greenall and I will also be looking after Bracebridge Heath and Washingborough churches. I am a Yorkshire lass by birth (please don’t hold that against me!) but have lived in Lancashire for the last 47 years in a large village called Freckleton. I trained as a pharmacist in my home city of Bradford before returning home to work at the local hospital for 15 years and latterly within GP surgeries.
Though christened in the Congregational church I have attended my local Methodist church most of my life, becoming a local preacher several years ago. For the past two years I have had the privilege of training at the Wesley Study Centre, Durham.
It has been an amazing journey but then God is a God of surprises who has a tendency to confront us as we wander along life’s path in the seemingly ordinary and everyday conversations and people we meet. Gerard Hughes says “God is a beckoning word who, whenever we are tempted to feel we have arrived and know where we are, dances on ahead of us and invites us to follow Him”.
I look forward to hearing your life journeys and sharing with you in the adventure that is faith.
Rev Melanie Greenall