Closing Message to Trinity Methodist church

New pathwayLeaving Service

So I want to begin by reminding us of the promises I made when I arrived here, these were;

  1. I would be useless at admin, and
  2. I would take you on a profoundly deep journey of discovery of God within you if you would chose to come along.

With the first one  I think I possibly even exceeded your expectations …For your part, you  have been entirely gracious and supportive in this – thank you

With the second one… well you exceeded my expectations with numbers who did sign up, and attended the sessions every fortnight for almost 3 years,  or who came on the retreats, or who engaged in the countless one to one or small group informal conversations, or our celtic circles that have unfolded through the journey, or those who were challenged through my preaching and teaching to look again, to think outside of the box that the institution so often puts around our faith.

You also exceeded my expectations with the commitment, depth, wisdom and discernment in which you have grown and with the leadership emerging from amongst you to ensure  this ongoing spiritual unfolding.

Our work together has been an incredible journey of mutual learning and growing in The mystery of God that inspired the psalmist to write.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.

As a natural introvert and contemplative,  the evangelistic, outward facing, publicly engaging ministry is not my natural style, it doesn’t come easily at all. I have to work at it and in some ways I feel a lesser minister for those reasons especially when I see the brilliance of my extroverted and profoundly gifted colleagues.

But 2 weeks ago on ordination Sunday in which 2 of those amazing colleagues were ordained, both the  President and vice president  spoke during the morning service and it was something our president, Lorraine Mellor  said that struck a chord. She said that she and the vice president Jill Baker were very different people so much so that she wondered how it would work between them. She herself was an evangelist  with a broad engaging, outward facing ministry whereas  Jill Baker was to be found quietly leading retreats and pilgrimages. Lorraine said that she would spend the evenings at conference gathering and socialising with people in the bar whereas Jill would retreat to her room in search of the peace and silence (which is precisely how we introverts must recharge our batteries).

The distinction that Lorraine made in her address reminded me of Paul’s words in Ephesians:

‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’
It struck me that ministry is vast and God gives his people many different qualities so that collectively our gifts can portray something of those different dimensions. Length and Depth and Height and width of the love of God.

My own ministry I think, is rather like pot holing, going into the deep, deep places of the soul and discovering hidden treasures, peace and beauty beyond measure as we begin to realise that the spring from which we drink, that promises we will never be thirsty again, was there within us all along.

Now there is a huge amount of discussion at the moment at connexion, districts, circuits and local churches about what we can do about our declining numbers and empty buildings and there are many exciting new and multi dimensional initiatives in this circuit and beyond that are addressing the issues but I want to say this…

All that we do must be underpinned by a strong, congruent, and deep knowledge of who we are in Christ, and who Christ is in us, in the depths of our own soul.

Christ came that we can have life to the full but so often we wear our religion like a straight jacket… with all our oughts and musts and  shoulds and institutional habits and religious language so that we have learnt, quite wrongly,  that what we do (and indeed don’t do) is far more important than who we are in Christ.  ‘Doing’ has become more important than ‘Being’…And that is completely the wrong way round.
As you know I have a great love for Celtic Spirituality which is at the heart and soul of our Heart and Soul sessions on a monday evening.  For the Celts, Christ was in everything, through everything in the stars and the moon and each blade of grass, the cycles of nature, in the silence, in their encounters with each other, and in whomever they came across. Christ was at the core of who they were! Immanent in every moment of life. It was this way of being that attracted the world want to know this Christ. Nobody needed to meet to discuss what they must do to gain followers of Christ. Christ was immediately palpable in the very fabric and daily lives of those who followed him.

But one can hardly wonder why engaging the world in the good news  today is so difficult when the major church headlines of the last week have included things like the pope banning gluten free bread at communion on theological grounds and another mainstream denomination publicly tearing itself apart over gay conversion therapy….

These are symptoms of a religion that has lost all sight of the breadth and height and depth and length of the love of God and instead is wearing a straightjacket of human making….

So my deeply soul focused, celtic and monastic,  style of ministry – that challenges institutional norms at every opportunity is not perhaps what you were expecting when I arrived here  but is absolutely  who I am called to be with a passion, as you now well know, and I have sought to live that calling with integrity during my 3 years here.

I can’t tell you how sad I am to be going so soon, there was much more that I wanted to do and yet I know that, within my decision as within this circuit  the transformational power of the Spirit is at work. And sometimes it takes a change in circumstance to release the Spirit. The burning platform we call it. It is far easier to let the Spirit to flow and for transformation to happen when you are on that platform than when you are stuck in the rut of doing things because that’s the institution has always done them.  

This circuit has some of the most gifted people lay and ordained, that I have ever met whose ministry and leadership lives and breathes the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God. Right now you are in a position. Rather like the disciples locked in a room. A bit fearful as there is a significant change in circumstances, you are maybe wondering what the future will hold  and yet you are more equipped than you can even begin to imagine to go where the Spirit is leading you. You are rich beyond measure in your personal and corporate spirituality and are set free to be magnificent. The rest is just about  perspective. If you see this as an opportunity – you will entirely flow with and be transformed by the Spirit.

It has been a joy and a privilege for me have been a minister in this circuit. I have learnt so much and my new churches will receive a better minister because of everyone of you here. There has been much laughter, love and friendship shared between us, the occasional tussle but nothing that the grace of God, shared with each other,  did not sort out.  There is inevitably much left undone when a term of ministry is cut short and I would want to say that I am sorry for the expectations left unfulfilled  yet as I  said, these often make way for new  opportunities when the Spirit is free to do her work.

But in the end words can’t say how much I will miss you nor express my gratitude for all that you are.

So my heartfelt thanks to you all and now a blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

The Heart and Soul of the matter

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A post on facebook yesterday suggested that if we did away with religion then all the worlds problems would be solved.  Admittedly we are seeing a surge of extreme religious views right now and though that may be in the form of the right wing narrow perspectives, religion is not the cause! At the core of extremism is a particular mindset. It is a mindset that can only think in black or white, it has no capacity to have empathic understanding and it cannot see the world through the eyes of another. As an ex psychiatric nurse I am reminded of learning how certain mindsets are   ‘resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact’ and how attempts to change such minds through these means will prove impossible.

But it is the mindset itself that is the problem. It is to be found in certain groups within all religions, as well as in atheism,  in politics, in environmentalism, in science and in many other groups.  Many years ago I was friends with an image consultant who trained to become a colour analyst. She would analyse a person’s skin and hair tones and match them with one of four categories named Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter, she would then be able to give a full palate of colours (tones and hues) that the person could wear and those that must be avoided at all costs.  I was one of her Guinea Pigs when she was in training and was deemed to be Autumn. From that point on for me to  wear anything other than the range on the Autumn swatch became a real problem for her. If we met up and I was not  dressed according to the rules she would be upset and hurt, she would see such rebellion almost as a personal attack or a slight against her professional skill.  My choice was either to comply with the rules and feel very oppressed or to rebel and suffer the consequences. In the end we went our separate ways. Many years later I learnt that this person had had a religious conversion and was now bringing that same mindset to a leadership role in a religious context.

Essentially it is an extreme form of dual consciousness, this or that, black or white, right or wrong and nothing in between. It happens when we see that the external world of form is the only world in which we exist and therefore perceive that the only way to survive is to exert our control over it. It is a way of thinking that fails to understand the deeper, inner consciousness where we are all one, all connected and that to destroy, oppress, or violate another is ultimately to do these things to ourselves.

The commandment to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and to love your neighbour as self, is not a rule bound diktat. It is a formula!  To love God in this way is to discover that God is not an external force as religion traditionally teaches, but a consciousness of union to be found within our own soul. It brings into alignment our heart and mind and soul with the energy of a Love that permeates all things so that we cannot fail to understand our connectedness. As we grow towards  union with this energy our dualistic way of thinking begins to dissolve and with it our egotistical vision of self survival at all costs. Mystics of all traditions understand that our human made religions, dualistic in nature, are merely inadequate, surface projections of a a deeper single truth that holds us all.

Many decisions and rulings made this last week, from The Whitehouse to the House of Bishops, all bear their own brand of oppression born of dualistic consciousness. They can have no credibility as  reflecting the mind of God – we know that because the outcomes have been so divisive.

But, to  ‘do away with religion’ will not necessarily solve our problems, rather getting religion to let go of its dualistic, and therefore egotistical, focus and to understand the deeper mystery that lies within all is a really good place for it to  focus its teaching.

But why are we here? Why have we arrived at a place in our world when our very existence is threatened at our own hands? Well if we are so duped that the so called ‘reality’ of our external world is the only reality then the trajectory towards extreme dualism is the only possible direction of travel. Transformation will come when we discover the glorious truth that lies within each us and, if  we did but know it, the longing of every soul.

Anthony Duncan points to a stark warning given by the Kalahari bushmen as follows:

‘Western man seems to have fallen collectively into that state most feared of all by his African brothers – he has lost his soul. And even if he has not quite lost it yet, then a great many individuals among the multitude are in extreme anxiety lest he shall finally and irrevocably do so’.

If religion cannot rise to the challenge of enabling us to rediscover our soul then perhaps it it is best to ‘do away with it’ after all  – for in truth it is difficult to see what other purpose it is meant to serve.