The way ahead?

June 27, 2020

You may have heard that places of worship are going to open on 5th July, and you may well be wondering when our churches are once more going to open their doors on Sundays. The short answer is, “Not yet” … for reasons that I hope will become clear.

Even when the churches are able to hold services, the number of people who can be there will be very limited. We will not simply be able to welcome in anyone who turns up. We have spent the past couple of weeks at St Michael’s establishing strict hygiene protocols, working out how many we can sit at a safe social distance of 2m, and carrying out a full risk assessment. (We are carrying out a similar assessment at St Aubyn’s next week, in conjunction with the library.) At St Michael’s we are also working out how to livestream our services for those who cannot be there.

It is important to understand that even should we gather, services will for the time being be very different. There will be no singing, no sharing of the peace, no refreshments, no Holy Communion. We cannot produce notice sheets, hand out literature, even have Bibles on our seats. We are still waiting for further guidance from the Church of England but what we can do will be restricted for the foreseeable future. Do we really want to meet in such circumstances?

However as we search for the way ahead, it is important we have a common vision of where we believe the Lord is leading us. So I am going to ask some questions, and I really would value your answers, so we can start to see how and when we might think about reopening. Please do spend a few minutes thinking through your answers, and let me know by e-mail, phone, message, letter – it will be very good to hear from you!

What has been good about online church you want to keep on doing?

What is it about online church you don’t want to continue?

What is it about church before lockdown you miss?

What is it about church before lockdown you don’t want to return?

Hopefully the more answer these questions, the more we will understand the Lord’s good, pleasing and perfect will. In the meantime, keep on watching online. It is always great to see you!


Two months in….

May 13, 2020

It’s nearly two months since we stopped meeting in a building. It’s been a difficult and disorientating time. We have faced challenges we have never experienced before, from the loss of loved ones to struggles with unfamiliar technology. We have had to confront fears of the unknown, and make brave decisions about when to leave the house and why. Some of us are feeling particularly isolated, and some are struggling with physical and mental health. 

But the work of St Barnacles, and indeed St Aubyn’s, goes on! We have:
Sunday services – either online at 10.30am, led by myself or by phone, led by Revd Sue
Small groups – meeting on a Monday and Thursday evening
Junior church – next meeting this Friday afternoon
Morning prayer – every Tuesday at 9am at St Aubyn’s
Open Church – at St Barnacles from 10.30am to 1pm on a Tuesday, and 2.30pm on a Thursday at St Aubyn’s
Quiz nights – the next one is happening this Saturday at 7.30pm.
Monday to Thursday broadcasts – to encourage and strengthen us in our faith

That’s quite a list isn’t it? So I want to thank everyone who is taking part and contributing to all these events. My prayer at the moment is that we wouldn’t see these as stopgaps but we would have more and more a culture of inviting others to join in (with appropriate safeguards, of course), and that we would encourage each other to stay engaged. I recognise as the months pass by it is easy for enthusiasm to wane, or find other online services that are definitely rather more polished and professional!

What of the future? Well, I would very much ask your prayers for the leadership team as we meet tomorrow – 14th May – to take stock of where we are at the moment, and to start planning for the future. Right away, it needs to be said that whatever we decide we will exercise utmost caution, and follow diocesan guidance wherever possible. It may be many months before we can meet as we used to, and how we meet will be very different from the old, familiar ways. 

Some will want to meet sooner, others will have grave concerns about going to church at all, and it is so important that beyond our online events we all keep talking to each other. In this respect I would continue to commend the work of the Pastoral Action Team, who are doing a great job of supporting the church family. But whether you are a regular member of St Barnacles or not, please keep in touch. And even though we may not be physically together, spread the word! The church of Jesus Christ is definitely still very much alive in Devonport and Stoke.

 


Letter to the church

April 26, 2020

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It is strange to think that yesterday (April 25th) would have been our Annual Parochial Church Meeting. We would have received reports on the life of the church in the past year, elected churchwardens, PCC members and deanery synod representatives, considered the church’s finances and taken note of the revised electoral roll. It already seems like a world away.

But nonetheless I want to mark the occasion by doing what I do every year – namely to give thanks to so many of you who have served so faithfully in so many ways over the year, some in official capacities, some in small, unseen roles that really only the Lord knows about. I want to thank all those of you who worked so hard in making the Open Church project such a success. I want to thank you for your welcome to Revd Sue and acknowledge her contribution to the life of the church. I want to thank you for your positive and constructive working with St Aubyn’s and it has been so good to see how our partnership there has been developing.

And I know that many of you are still serving in so many ways even in these strange and difficult times. I want to thank the Pastoral Action Team for their hard work in caring for the church family; for the many who are so faithfully praying; for those who are making a real effort to get to grips with strange and new technologies. 

I also want to thank you for your generous giving. It is remarkable how each year we see the Lord providing for the needs of the church, and that is only because so many of you show such grace in such sacrificial contributions. I am aware, as I write, that this morning would have been our Annual Gift Day. We will need to keep careful watch on our giving over the next few months. I know that for some it will not be possible to give as much as before; however we still have financial obligations as a church. So if you are able to think about making a gift, or increasing your giving, please do let me know.

In this strange world of lockdown I am also grateful for so many who have responded so positively to the online services, and engage with the small groups and my daily broadcasts. Online worship can never be a substitute for the real thing. However it is humbling to see just how many people engage and I can only trust that the Lord is still using His word to change lives even in such difficult circumstances.

The one thing we must understand is that church life will never “return to normal”, even if normal ever existed. Church from now will be very different, and we must prayerfully and together work out how the Lord is leading us on, and what it will mean to be the body of Christ in a community that will have been deeply, deeply affected on every level by the pandemic.

In the short to medium term it may be that lockdown will be eased, although with a second wave this relaxation of conditions may soon be revoked. However many of our congregation fall into the self-isolating category, or like myself into the category of those socially distancing. Even if we hold services at church, we will need to continue to invest in our online presence, and we need to plan now for how we do this. This will involve investing in new technology and in learning how to use this effectively, and it is likely that even after the crisis is fully past we will continue to develop an online presence. 

There will also be great changes as to how we meet to worship. We will need to observe good hygiene, so we will need gatekeepers to make sure everyone washes their hands on exit and entry. The cleaning rota will suddenly take on far more importance. We will not be allowed to hold paper so everything – readings, notices, liturgies – will be on screen. How practically we will take Holy Communion, that is somehow I have not even begun to work out. 

Some of these changes will no doubt continue into the long-term, and there will be some changes we can’t even yet anticipate. I believe that when this pandemic is fully over (and that may be a matter of years, not months), there will be such a hunger for human contact and for physical worship we may well see even more people use our buildings. That is why I believe we need to press ahead with our plans to extend the kitchen (which we should note wasn’t able to meet hygiene regulations even before the lockdown) and to provide an additional room for children’s work and prayer. 

One very simple reason why we cannot “return to normal” is that we have lost, and may continue to lose, saints who have gone to glory. Again, we will probably have to wait until lockdown is fully lifted until we hold thanksgiving services for those who have so far had only the briefest and smallest of funerals. But I very much hope and pray that at the same time our online presence will eventually lead to others joining us, and we have to remember that no matter what happens Jesus is still Lord of His church, and there are plenty of chapters yet to be written in the story of St Michael and St Barnabas.

Right at the beginning of the outbreak the Lord led me to Ezekiel 37, and the vision of the dry bones. If you have ploughed through the previous 36 chapters, you will see there is an awful amount of death and destruction in this book, and apparently very little hope for God’s people. And what is so striking is that when the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Can these dry bones live?”, Ezekiel doesn’t say, “Of course not, they are dead.” He says, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. We too need to renew our faith and trust in the resurrection power of Jesus, and trust that He can still bring life out of death. 

So as I have been walking the streets of Devonport and Stoke, I have been praying for that same resurrection power to work in our local communities, that through the sharing of his word and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we will once again see new life, and men and women, boys and girls, coming to a living faith in Jesus as His Saviour. 

In the meanwhile it seems to me that even though the physical and mental toll of this crisis is great, we need to stay faithful, to keep praying and reading our Bibles, and to meet for worship wherever we can. I know this isn’t always easy, which is why more than ever we need to be the body of Christ, caring for one another, encouraging one another, and bearing one another’s burdens. 

This is why, finally, I want to thank all those who provided such love and support to myself, to Lynda, to Lizzy and Mary over the past year, and especially in the past few weeks. Without this love and support neither I nor Lynda would not have been able to continue the ministry the Lord has given us here. May the Lord bless and keep you all, and I look forward one day to seeing you all again “on the other side”.

Revd Tim Buckley

26 Apr 20

 


Lenten Isolation

March 14, 2020

 

The promise of new life

The promise of new life

I have been away on a very special retreat and am now off sick, but it has been impossible to ignore all the news coverage about COVID-19 – indeed there has been a fantastic group of workers here at St Barnacles who have worked so hard behind the scenes making sure we are following the appropriate guidance. I have also read many excellent articles looking at the social, scientific and spiritual impact of the pandemic, and there has been so much information to take in!

One thing I haven’t heard mentioned much is the simple fact we are still in Lent, in the season of the year where we remember Jesus choosing to isolate Himself for forty days in the desert. Having just spent three days not being able to do very much at all, it seems to me that there are two ways we can spend any time of enforced isolation.

We can amuse ourselves by:
– watching all the old box sets we have seen many times before
– playing our favourite computer games until we reach grandmaster level
– expose ourselves to endless daytime TV (believe me, I watched four hours of programmes about traffic police yesterday in a semi-comatose state – the roads are even more dangerous than I thought out there!)
– listen to our radio stations recycling the same stories again and again throughout the day (although we of course need to keep updated)

Or we can spend such time as we can manage in following Jesus’ example and:

– pray for God’s kingdom and God’s will to be done
– go deeper into God’s word
– reflect on God’s priorities for our lives
– deal with the temptations and sins that perhaps we would not otherwise confront

And we must not forget, Jesus’ isolation in the desert was only a season of preparation for a radical ministry of service to others, as He went about in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the good news of repentance and forgiveness, and to bring healing to others.

We perhaps do not have to isolate in the same way as Jesus (but it would be good if we all followed His example more often). We can use modern technology to keep in touch, to develop networks of prayer and care, to spread the Christian faith, all from the privacy of our own room, and indeed over the next few days I will be experimenting myself with some new methods of making contact, as I am able. Coronavirus presents a huge challenge, but also perhaps gives us an opportunity to be a 21st century community of faith that shines brightly in a fearful and uncertain world. Watch this space!

By the way, you will have noticed I have not used the term “self-isolation.” I am not a mental health professional, but there are too many people who already struggle with a sense they are isolated – and not just physically – from others. It reinforces a sense of loneliness and can profoundly affect our wellbeing. As a believer, I am reminded however of the words of the Psalm which tell us that no matter where we go or whatever lies before us, we are never isolated from the presence of God. 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
(Psalm 139:7-14)


SLOW church

August 27, 2019

slow church

We live in a busy, busy world. Everyone seems to be in such a rush. There is so much to do, and so little time apparently to do it in. We start the day with one to-do list and end up with another that is just as long. Our phone gives us constant reminders of appointments to be met, and deadlines to be completed. We feel guilty at not achieving, and we end up measuring ourselves by how much we got done.

But deep down we also know such busyness and such pressure is not actually that good for us. Prolonged stress affects our health and our relationships, and actually damages our productivity. That is why over the years we have seen various counter-cultural “slow movements”. There is slow food phenomenon which involves taking time to prepare, serve and eat a fresh meal, maybe over a course of several hours. There is “slow TV” which may involve an hour or more of just sitting and watching, say, a bus ride, or a craft activity.

And I would like to propose that we also have SLOW church.  It can be so easy for a church to become just another organisation which measures itself by how many activities it puts on, or how many people come through the door. But church life flourishes when time and energy is spent investing in relationships, when other demands are laid aside simply to listen to one another, to laugh and to cry, to share and sometimes simply to be with each other.

So I want to build up a SLOW church, one that is:

Safe
Loving
Open
Welcoming

Safe  – I am aware that many people spend a lot of their time feeling very vulnerable, whether because they are in an unhealthy relationship (or on their own), or living in unsuitable accommodation, or struggling with some habit or addiction. Church needs to be a safe space where folk discover security, and have permission to discover who God created them to be. That is why safeguarding is at the heart of SLOW church.

Loving  – Our aim at St Barnacles is to build a community of love, aware that Jesus commanded us to love another as He first loved us, aware also that this difficult  word “love” can only be understood by His death on a cross for us. So we seek constantly the guidance of the Holy Spirit not only to love those who are like us, but the newcomer, the outcast, those we find difficult to love, and to develop stronger and more effective networks of pastoral care.

Open  – I am referring here primarily to physical accessibility. We need to work out how to make the church an effective meeting point for the local community. That is why our Tuesday Open Church Project is so important. It is becoming known as the place where you drop in, have a cup of tea or a bite to eat. It is still a small and quite fragile project but it is absolutely central to our mission at St Barnacles.

Welcoming – No matter who comes through our doors, no matter what issues they bring with them, we want to welcome them in the name of Jesus, and to see them as precious in our Saviour’s sight. Again we have to be sensible about safeguarding, but we want to demolish stereotypes that church is only for a certain type of people. We want people of all ages and all backgrounds to be part of our community because that it is the very nature of church, as the New Testament makes clear.

How does SLOW church  fit in with our existing Mission Action Plan? At the heart of our Mission Action Plan is the image of a tree, and a tree on the whole grows slowly. If the Mission Action Plan defines what we aim to do, then this model of SLOW church helps us understand how we are going to achieve these goals.

And what does SLOW church look like in practice? The best answer is, come along on a Tuesday! Or indeed join us in worship on a Sunday. We are a long way from being the church the Lord wants us to be, but we are a work in progress, and by His grace and mercy He continues to work slowly and patiently in each and every one of us.

 

 


Looking around or looking up?

July 6, 2019

Image result for night sky

We’ve been looking at the story of Abram (as he was known then) in our small groups, and we have been learning so much about living by faith.

In Genesis 13 Abram is with his nephew Lot and it is clear that the pasture land they are sharing will not sustain both of their flocks. So Abram gives Lot the choice of where to go. Lot looks around and sees the fertile plains of the Jordan valley.  It is a natural choice, you might think, to go where the grass is greenest. Only next to those pastures is the city of Sodom, and indeed by the next chapter Lot is living right in it. What might sometimes be the most obvious choice can so easily turn out to be the wrong one. Lot was so focused on what was best for him he left the Lord out of the occasion.

And what of Abram? He is left with the scrubby, desert land. How is he going to be blessed? Well, after Lot has gone, the Lord tells him to Lift up your eyes and repeats the promise of the land and of many ancestors.  And indeed, when we look to the Lord we find more blessings than ever we realise – provided that our focus in Him (Gen 13:14-17).

At the start of Genesis 15 Abram is worried because there is still no sign of the promised heir. Even though the Lord has given him a vision, Abram asks O Sovereign lord, what can you give me? He has lost sight for a moment of who the Lord is, and he is only looking around at his present situation. So the Lord takes Abram outside and tells him to look up at the heavens and count the stars. Abram needs to refocus, needs to remember who the Lord is and just how much He is able to give him (Gen 15:1-6).

And Abram’s response? This is a verse that takes us right forward to the New Testament: Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (verse 6, cf. Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:22). Abram is no longer looking around at his circumstances. He is looking up at the Lord, and placing his life entirely in His hands. As a result he is declared right before God.

And that same response is demanded of us as well. At the moment our church is going through a time of change. It is easy to look around and to become discouraged. We may wonder what the Lord can give us. We may focus on the immediate and the visible rather than on the eternal dimension. Abram’s example tells us we need to refocus and to lift up our eyes. So the question is: will we follow His example and live by faith, and by faith alone?

 

 


Some important principles

February 23, 2019

Cross and BibleWe had a really good discussion at our small group on Thursday night about sexuality and marriage, and a number of key points came out, which seem relevant to a whole host of other issues as well. Here’s a summary of our conclusions:

God’s people have always been called to live differently. Genesis was written in the world where other cultures worshipped many different gods, participated in fertility rituals and treated women as goods and chattels. The account of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 promotes a radically different picture of who God is, of what it means to be made in His image, and what it means to be male and female. When we live in light of this teaching and we will find ourselves at odds with those around us. That is why, as the apostle Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:1, we are strangers in the world, and why our experience as Christians is so often that of exile and persecution.

Our identity is not something that we choose. The essence of sin is that we choose for ourselves who we are, and that we change our identity as we see fit. This is not only true of sexual identity but in many other areas of our lives and it is a large part of our general rebellion against God. As believers, our identity comes, however, from being in Christ and accepting the identity that He gives us. This involves fundamentally changing how we view ourselves and others, and such a change can only happen when we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us at the very deepest level.

We all fall short of what God intends. So often the church only seems to focus on homosexuality but there are many and different ways in which we fail to live up to God’s teaching, and we need to address issues such as sex outside marriage, pornography etc. etc. recognising that, according to Jesus, our thoughts matter as much as our actions (see Matthew 5:27-28, Mark 7:22-23). We truly need to be a community of grace pointing one another towards to cross of Christ where alone we can find forgiveness and healing and renewal.

We need to offer a positive alternative. So often we can say that a particular behaviour or attitude is wrong, without offering the necessary help or support that someone is looking for. This is where it is so important that we create a church where everyone finds welcome and support, where there is a safe space to enable people to be real one with another, where there is genuine love and friendship and support.

We need to tell a better story. The evening ended, after the study, with folk talking about their favourite TV series. We are all influenced by the media we watch, and we need to be aware that each has their agenda, to influence how we think about issues such as sexuality and marriage, and to promote acceptance of an ever wide range of lifestyles. Our church needs to be a place where we have testimonies of God changing lives for good, where the witness to the work of the Holy Spirit is so compelling and so attractive others are drawn to our story and discover the joy of obeying and loving God.

Our ultimate fulfilment is not in this life. The agenda of the world is that this life is all that matters, and in most cases that sex is the ultimate fulfilment of our identity. As Christians we are called to have a different perspective – that all things will be made new in Christ. Even the best and most satisfying marriage will be as nothing compared to being in the presence of our Saviour, and, whether we are called to singleness or marriage, we need to always keep this ultimate reality in mind. Otherwise there really is little point in self-denial: “Eat and drink (and have sex), for tomorrow we die”. Such indeed was the view of the pagans in Corinth and such has been the attitude of the world ever since. But what was Paul’s response?  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”(1 Cor 6:19-20)

There was a lot of ground covered that evening! But even so, at the end, we still felt there was so much more much we needed to discuss and to pray over. I really want to thank the group for their openness, their honesty and their willingness to wrestle with the tough questions. Next week we are going to continue our exploration and look further at the implications of the fall. Others will be very welcome to join us, and even if you can’t make it, do leave a comment or a question on this blog. This really is a debate well worth having.


Three little questions

January 22, 2019

you are the light of the world

At St Barnacles we are thinking a lot at the moment about what it means to be the light of the world. It is relatively easy to shine with the light of Jesus Christ when we are gathered together in worship and fellowship, but what about when we go out into our daily lives? How can we best support and encourage one another Monday to Friday, and know that we in turn are loved and prayed for by others?

That is why you will find some slips of paper at the back of church with three little questions:

  1. Where do you usually spend your week from Monday to Friday?
  2. How does your Christian faith help you day by day?
  3. How can the church family best pray for you?

If we have enough replies, then we will publish the replies on our church website as our Lent initiative this year. So please do think and pray about your answers, and hand them to Revd Tim, with your name on! The more we can encourage one another, the more we will able  to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have  (1 Peter 3:15).

Our Mission Action Plan has as one of its three aims, “being in the wider world, as servants of the Lord, wherever we are.” My hope and prayer is the answers you give will enable us to meet that aim more and more, and make our witness for the Lord Jesus even more effective. I look forward to hearing from you!


The gift of generosity

February 17, 2018

I love it when themes come together.

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Sackcloth and ashes

Last Sunday we talked about the new covenant promised through the prophet Jeremiah. We saw how it was realised through the life and death of Jesus, how He was able to bring about the complete forgiveness we all need, and how when we say “Yes” to Him, He comes and lives in our hearts and minds by His Holy Spirit. Read my sermon for full details.

Then on Ash Wednesday we looked at the theme of repentance. We explored various prayer stations which caused us to consider what repentance means not only for us individually, but also for the life of our church, our local community and our nation. I explained that repentance is not so much what we do as what we receive – a new heart and mind from God which transforms how we see ourselves and the world around us.

Which is all very well, but what does all this mean in practice?

The answer came on Thursday when we looked at the first group study produced by 40 Acts for Lent this year.  (If you haven’t signed up for their individual Lent challenge, then may I encourage you to do so.) The sign that we have responded to the incredible love and mercy of God, and that we have been renewed in heart and mind by His Holy Spirit is clear – it is a pure and simple generosity that flows through the life of every believer and through the life of the church.

So, for starters, the Lord wants us to be generous in our time  – being willing simply to be with one another, to support, encourage and listen, and to make deep Christ-centred relationships. We cannot be the church of Jesus Christ if we do not really know one another.

He wants us to be generous in our money – not giving what is left over, but the first of what we receive and holding nothing back. Too often we say our security is Jesus, but do we believe in our hearts that our Lord blesses those who give whatever they have?

He wants us to be generous in our welcome – drawing in the newcomer and the outsider in simple, practical ways that make them want to come back. Most people make the initial step towards faith not because of what someone has said, but because of the love someone has shown them that has pointed to Jesus.

He wants us to be generous in our hospitality – not giving out the cheapest tea and biscuits, and then demanding payment, but freely giving the best of whatever we have.  We have a God who invites us in to share in His goodness. In some small way we need to reflect that invitation through eating together and sharing fellowship one with another.

He wants us to be generous in our gifts  – every church member has been given some kind of ability by God to use in His service. We cannot properly function as the church of Jesus Christ if some are holding back on the gifts they have been given. To be the body of Christ, all need to be encouraged to contribute in some way because it is only as we work together that the Kingdom of God is truly built.

No doubt there are other ways that the Lord is calling us to be generous, but certainly all the above points certainly challenged us on Thursday evening. We’ll be continuing our series from 40 Acts next Thursday evening – why not join us? And let’s pray we continue to grow in our generosity as a church, and so show others that the Holy Spirit really is at work among us.


Planning Ahead

July 26, 2017

When I arrived in the parish nearly 15 years ago, one of the most fundamental decisions I had to make was to consider what kind of ministry I was called to undertake. One thing about being a vicar is that there is no set job description, and it is important to prioritise from the off where you are going to invest your time and energy.

For me, the most essential part of my ministry always has been to teach and preach the Bible as the living Word of God. This isn’t to deny the very real and very practical issues that so many people in our parish face. But the danger can be that by seeking to meet all those needs all your time and energy gets focused on the immediate concerns that lie before you, and you never get round to preaching the good news. Your ministry becomes that of another voluntary agency seeking to do good, but probably with rather few resources and doing it far less well than others more qualified than yourself.

Yet what should be distinctive about the church is that it should seek to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, because ultimately the real need of every single person in our parish is for a living relationship with Jesus Christ. This does not mean we ignore the practical issues that confront us, but we make it clear that we do so in the name of Jesus Christ who died in our place for our sins. Because actually the greatest act of loving service we can offer anyone is to point them to the one who alone can bring hope and peace and forgiveness to whoever turns to Him – sometimes by words, sometimes by simple deeds of humble service.

Of course before the church can proclaim this good news, it has to know the good news for itself and see how it relates to everyday life in Devonport and Stoke. And this is where my role as a vicar comes in. My aim and my mission is to bring the words of the Bible to bear on every meeting, on every decision, on every pastoral encounter in the church. For it is only as the whole church is fed and nurtured by the living word of God that it can be confident in the message it proclaims.

That is why every so often I take time out to plan preaching programme for the next few months. I want to discern where the church is at, how it needs to be fed, and what the Lord wants to say to us. For me, putting this programme together is at the very heart of my ministry.

Recently I have put together the next preaching programme from 3 Sep to Easter Sunday, 1 April. What factors have guided my thoughts?

From September to Advent, we are moving from Mark 7 to Mark 13 and seeing how Jesus helps us answer some very important questions – everything from what it means to follow Him to why marriage is so important. For those who have recently completed Christianity Explored this will also be a further opportunity to engage with Mark’s gospel.

After Christmas until Lent, we are looking at a prophet we have never studied before, Jeremiah. The whole book of Jeremiah is very long and not particularly cheerful, but we are just taking a few passages to look at some of his warning and see how relevant they are to us today. For example, “Don’t be a Sunday Christian”, “Don’t worship idols”, “Don’t ignore God’s word”.

During Lent we are going to do something rather different. I have always been concerned that so often we rush through whole swathes of the gospel in the week leading up to Easter and never really spend the time we should looking at the arrest, trial and condemnation of Jesus. So we are going to linger in Mark 14 in particular and look again at the journey to the cross and our response.

I very much you are going to join us in our journey through Scripture. Why not use the summer to read ahead? And please would you pray that it is God’s word that is faithfully preached, and that many recognise their need of Christ? Thank you.