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So, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about running, and in particular my half marathon run with my brother-in-law, Scott, in October.  To be honest, our training hasn’t been going well, between writing essays, work and Scott moving house it’s all a bit frantic.  But we’re committed and tomorrow I will run.  Promise.

Why is this so important to us?

Well, in just 14 weeks we’re running the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow in memory of my mum, Annis, and we would dearly like you to help us raise £2,000 to help a brilliant organisation who helped her over the last 16 years of her life, macmillan cancer care.

We know that £2,000 is a lot of money and that you are all skint, but it’s been a cracking day and I’m sure you’re sitting somewhere nice with a nice cold beer or a tasty ice cream.

How about, instead of having another one, you donate £3 to macmillan instead?  You donate £3 and tomorrow I’ll run 3 miles.  Deal?

Just text STEW68 £3 to 70070 or visit our justgiving site and donate there.

We and the thousands of people who are living with cancer and it’s effects would really appreciate it.

Thanks.

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Who else needs your space?

My churches hosting co-working revelation got me thinking…

Church halls have often been a hive of activity with anything from Boys’ Brigade to dance classes and slimming clubs.

That’s all good.

But who are you missing?

How can you help your community to engage with each other and make things better?  How could your church support community projects and create and nurture community at the same time?

Detroit SOUP – image by Dave Lewinski

 

 

Detroit SOUP inspires me.  Why? Because it’s easy and effective.

Here’s what SOUP say about SOUP:

SOUP is:

Detroit SOUP is a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects in Detroit. For a donation $5 attendees receive soup, salad, bread and a vote and hear from four presentations ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology and more. Each presenter has four minutes to share their idea and answer four questions from the audience. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think benefits the city the most. At the end of the night, we count the ballots and the winner goes home with all of the money raised to carry out their project. Winners come back to a future SOUP dinner to report their project’s progress.

Perhaps it’s easier to watch what happens:

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So, could you do something like SOUP in your church hall?

I think you could.

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I came across an article about church as a space for co-working yesterday.

It was one of those moments when you think that something is so obvious you can’t believe everyone isn’t already doing it!

We know that working patterns have changed.  Loads of people work from home now.  That’s great.  You don’t have to commute.  You can work in your pjs, listen to whatever music you like as loud as you want, video conference, email, work hours to suit your life… Home working has lots of upside, but it can also be a lonely existence.

That’s why you see so many people camped out in coffee shops with their MacBooks.  They are looking for company.  The presence of other human beings.  And cake.

nomad worker http://www.travelandworkonline.com

But we also know that being with others is a creative way to work.  Those conversations where people ask what you’re working on and then add some insight or suggest a contact that could help, or suggest working together on something…

So, why doesn’t your church create a space for these nomadic workers?

You have a hall that probably doesn’t get used much during the day.

You have tables and chairs.

You have a kitchen and toilets.

All you need is some good, reliable wifi, power sockets, a wifi printer and someone to be around to welcome people and put the kettle on and make a decent cup of coffee.  Stick in some whiteboards and plants and you have just created co-working nirvana.

It’s like a constant coffee morning for people with jobs.  And they will pay to use your space.

I’m not suggesting you become a start up incubator, yet, just a nice friendly place with space and a welcome.

There are some great examples of churches who are already doing it…

St Lydia’s in Brooklyn is my favourite.  They do dinner church so they were already half way there.

Sy Lydia’s Co-working

So, what’s stopping your church from being a space for co-working?

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A sermon based on 1 Samuel 17:32-49 & Mark 4:35-41

Today we find ourselves with two of the most famous stories in the Bible. Ones we have heard over and over again. The Old Testament gives us David and Goliath, that epic tale of the shepherd boy who took on the mighty giant. It’s a story we have grown up with. A story we love. A story we tell to our children about the brave wee boy who faced up to the mighty giant.

The Gospel gives us Jesus calming a storm. Again, it’s a story we have heard often, although we mostly hear the versions where Jesus comes walking on the water in the middle of the night. Luke even has Peter getting out of the boat and joining in until he notices the waves and sinks.

So, what are we to make of these familiar stories? What does placing them together like this allow us to see? What can they offer up to us in our world so very different to that of kings and armies and boy shepherds and giant warriors? Our world seems so very far from the days of the miracles and wonders of Jesus.

Except our context isn’t so very different, is it?

Again and again we find ourselves at war, standing face-to-face with another giant, another group of people who are different from us, who for reasons we don’t really understand end up on the opposing side, there to be fought, to be defeated.

And that, for me at least, is one of the difficulties with this story of the shepherd boy and the giant. We take sides. God takes sides. The giant warrior Goliath and his Philistine army are bad. They are evil. They are the enemy. That kind of labelling sticks around for a long time. We still call uncultured people ‘Philistines’ today. How’s that for a bit of latent racism?

This was almost a sermon about armour that fits. That’s the easy sermon for today. We look at little David trying to wear the armour of the great king Saul and we see that it doesn’t fit. The armour weighs the little shepherd boy down. It restricts his movement and limits his reach. It’s a great sermon for a church which feels threatened and insecure, who look around and see a scary world where the enemy is all around and where the great secular giant stands taunting us to come out and fight.

We could talk about casting off the past, freeing ourselves from the traditions that bind us, hold us down and keep us from reaching beyond our walls. We could see our traditions and doctrines as the armour of the past that no longer fits us, but it’s all that we have. Without the armour we are exposed and open to attack.

We could see ourselves as the underdogs. Just one well placed stone fired from our slings and the giant will be vanquished and everything will be wonderful.

We could sing some more hymns of war-like triumph like Fight the Good Fight… How about Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before? All too often that’s exactly where this story takes us… We watch with the Israelites as the shepherd boy walks out with his sling and some stones, we quake as the giant Goliath laughs at his puny opponent, we hold our breath as the pebble flies, time standing still as it strikes the mark, and we explode with joy as the giant falls to the ground. Victory is ours. Our God is greater than your god. We’re better than you.

And we hardly even notice that we are sucked into a never-ending cycle of violence.   This week this took the form of a white man walking into a prayer meeting in a black church in North Carolina and murdering nine people as they prayed for peace to God, the same God in whose name untold violence has been done across the centuries. There will be cries for the gunman to be executed, as though an eye for an eye is justice rather than revenge, but it seems that the most startling and most difficult thing to understand is a victim’s children expressing their forgiveness and love for the person who shot their mother. That’s what’s missing from the story of David and Goliath. We rationalise a violent story as being about overcoming adversity or winning against the odds. David stepping out and making peace with Goliath would be a story worth holding in such high esteem.

So, let’s step away from the murder of one larger man by another smaller one, as though it is some kind of example of faith. Let’s look instead at the contrast between that story and the example of God’s Son, Jesus, as we find it in our Gospel reading today.

This story of the storm comes at the end of a tumultuous day for Jesus. Earlier he had been brought news that his cousin John the Baptist had been murdered by Herod.

There’s a moment of temptation there. Remember when Jesus goes off into the wilderness after his baptism by John? After 40 days alone he is tempted, tested. Power and dominion are part of the test. Just say the word and all this can be yours. But Jesus doesn’t want it. Rely on God. That’s where real power lies. So there will be no armed rebellion with Jesus riding on a great white horse in shining armour at the head of the people’s liberation army. There will be no revenge. Herod will meet his maker at another time and in a different way but Jesus will not take up arms.

Instead Jesus tries to find somewhere peaceful to grieve for his cousin. Instead followed and surrounded by thousands of people. He feeds them all with a few loaves and some fish and heals the sick. He chooses to restore people to health and wholeness.

Again we read that Jesus tries to get some peace and heads out in a boat with the disciples as evening falls. He’s exhausted and is soon asleep in the back of the boat.

A gale blows up and soon the water is crashing over the sides, swamping the boat. The disciples are terrified and start to panic. They call on Jesus for help. “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

Peace! Be still.

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

It’s interesting that in the face of the gale and swollen waves that Jesus chooses to speak peace. Peace. He rebuked the wind and waves in their violence and chaos and brought peace.

It happens again and again in the Gospels. Jesus never once harms someone. He heals hundreds and feeds thousands. He talks of service and humility. He speaks about forgiveness, not just the moving past a small hurt but the difficulty of facing pain and suffering and choosing peace and lasting justice built on the restoration of relationship and community.

And still we choose David, the warrior poet, rather than Jesus, the healer and peacemaker, as our preferred model. Perhaps it’s just easier to see ourselves in the flawed humanity of David than the perfection of Jesus. But to do that means we don’t take seriously the fully human Jesus. We make him into some kind of sterilised angelic being, gliding through the world in sparkling white robes that new improved Daz could only dream of. We don’t see Jesus wading through the mud and garbage of the world with the rest of us.

We see only the glory of Jesus on the cross and forget that it was humanity’s love of power and violence that put him there.

There are many giants to be slayed.

God’s word is not safe,

it is dangerous.

It’s not benign,

it is powerful.

It encourages action and dissent

and sounds an alarm for us

to take up its challenge

and fight the monsters of today.

 

And in that call to action there is a choice

Always the same choice

Do we strap on our ill-fitting armour

draw our swords

and march out to slay

our giants,

those ideas that scare us,

those people who are not like us

and don’t like us?

 

Or do we stand in the face of the storm

and confidently,

faithfully,

speak the words of Jesus:

 

Peace! Be still!

For God does not dwell in the past,

and these stories do not remain on the page.

 

Will we continue to stand in amazement and look with awe upon the Son of God who commands even the wind and the waves but we still fail to hear the words he speaks to us:

Why are you afraid? After all that we have seen. After all that He has done. Have you still no faith? Are you still afraid? Peace! Be still.

 

The Good News is a living word

that speaks in every age,

that calls on God’s people

to rise to new challenges,

to seek new ways,

to love and to serve

all God’s people,

not just some of them.

 

Amen

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Intergenerational church.013

Amy Peterson

I’m training to be a minister.

I have all kinds of issues with that statement, but for now it can just be a few words that give context to what follows.

Part of my training is to spend time with the Scottish Episcopal Institute studying a diploma in theology for ministry.  I had very little experience of the Episcopal Church prior to this so their use of written liturgy and the way they celebrate the Eucharist (communion) was odd to me.  I had never experienced a sung compline or evensong.  My experience up to now had been of  preaching box churches, cubes of Mother’s Pride and shot glasses with a varying quality of content, all ‘dispensed’ in a way which is often the antithesis of communal.  But that is my primary experience.  Most of the other times I’ve participated in communion have been in ‘informal’ gatherings with a common cup and a lump of bread which feel more communal but sometimes lack a sense of connectedness to much beyond the people we are with at that time.

I know that church is odd, but because of my previous experience with my brand of oddity I thought Episcopalian liturgical practice was just plain weird.  It sits a little uncomfortably with my view of ‘priesthood’ and what happens when we celebrate the eucharist, but there is also something about it that speaks to me.  There is great depth in the weirdness which seems perhaps to be missing in what I’m used to.

So, confronted with this ancient ritual and drama, I wonder a little more about what we think church is, and is not, and what we might have gained and lost in our rush to be ‘relevant’.

If you search back on this very blog I’m sure you’ll find me railing against a church that finds itself ‘irrelevant’, and I still believe that to be true.  The relevance I hope for is that what we do helps people to connect with God, each other and their communities.  That relevance is captured in what we do and say, not necessarily in adopting the latest cultural fad or style.

This would be the stage that you point at me and call me middle aged, expose my growing ‘conservatism’ and  wonder what happened to the rebellious youth…

He’s still here.  I hope.

I’m still passionate about people who lead worship being creative, engaging and taking risks, but all that happens within and around a central act where we gather around a table and break bread and share wine together.  We join in a great and mysterious act that binds us together with what was, what is and what is to come.

“I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘‘relevant.’’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”

That’s nothing less than radical.  That’s nothing less than transformative.  That’s nothing less than deeply relevant.

And it’s weird.  And I like that.

I’ve come to like the use of the same words at the same point.  The words of Compline have become dear to me and the appearance of some of those words in my mother’s funeral service struck a real chord, exposing that deep connectedness again.

It’s there that relevance lies for me.  In the depths, not the shallows.

It’s in the words of our rites and rituals.  It’s in the words of carefully crafted sermons.  It’s in the poetry of prayer.

Some of the mystery and life in those words is in the speaking of them.  Rob Bell told a story in a recent podcast of his preaching class at seminary where a student preached a very boring sermon.  The teacher picked up the script and started to read the same words…  The class were amazed.  It turned out that the words were great, it was the initial presentation that was lacking.

Church is weird.

I hope it stays that way.

But I also hope we can remember that the weird stuff we do and say needs to be done and said well.

 

 

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macmillan poster

 

My brother-in-law Scott and I have decided to run the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon on 4th October in Glasgow in memory of my mum, Annis.  We’re raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Care, a charity very close to my mum’s heart.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and secondary cancer in 2013.  Throughout her battle Macmillan provided amazing support and care for both her and my dad.

Neither Scott nor I have run 13.1 miles in a long time so your support would be greatly appreciated.

Text STEW68 £5 (or whatever amount you wish to donate) to 70070

or vist my Just Giving Page

Thanks for supporting us and helping to remember Annis.

mum

 

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loom

There are times when it’s ok to let something pass quietly.

There are other times when something has to be said.

I was charged with leading worship at the URC Youth Assembly last weekend and as we neared the end of our time together it grew more and more apparent that we should acknowledge the moving on of those aged 25, who would be old to return next year.

I saw a loom like this one on Twitter last week.  Someone created one for the Deep Impact conference in Aviemore.  It looked great, so I stole it.  I was going to use it for something else but as the young people wove their brightly coloured strands together it struck me that this could be something we could use to mark a rite of passage.

Here’s what was said between the singing of Guide me, O thou great Jehovah and I, the Lord of sea and sky:

“Could those for whom this is their last Youth Assembly please stand if you are able or raise your hand to let us know who you are.

You know that I like songs and that extends, perhaps surprisingly, beyond Abba’s greatest hits. There’s a song by Semisonic called ‘closing time’. Everyone thinks it’s about chucking out time at the pub. But it’s not. It’s actually about a man contemplating the birth of his child. It has one of my favourite lines in it, and I think it says something for us all, but especially for you at this time. It’s this:

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Youth Assembly is one of those things that come into our lives and it can be a hugely significant part of both our journey of faith and our journey through life. For those who have come to the upper age limit today, passing the grand old age of 25, this time of worship marks the end of your time with this particular part of the church.

And that is how it should be. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. And that’s as it should be.

God needs you. The church needs you.

So we want to take the opportunity to thank you, for you’re the gifts you have shared with us, for your enthusiasm and most of all for your friendship. You have blessed this community. Your stories, just like the strips of cloth on the loom, are woven into the story of this church and have been an integral part of the fabric of our life together, bringing colour and beauty.

We would like to bless you as you step out from this place and set out on new journeys of faith.

We would encourage you to take all that this place has meant and still means to you with you, to take the best of us, to take your passion for God, and share it with those you meet along the way, wherever your journey takes you.

When we bless people and send them out we have a tradition of ‘laying on hands’. So, could those around the people who are moving on gather round them and just lay your hands on their shoulders as we pray a blessing on them.

 

A Commissioning (adapted from Spill the Beans)

The Gospel,

The Good News of Jesus Christ

is demanding,

and challenging,

and subversive.

It is nothing short of revolutionary.

 

This is the message we preach.

This is the story we live.

It’s not an easy life.

But is a life like no other.

 

The call to you

is to stand up and be counted,

exactly as Jesus did:

to go after the big fish,

to make disciples of all people

often leaving familiar things behind.

 

It’s time to step out

Time to embrace your calling

Time to break cover

Time to follow Jesus

into the world

 

But go with our friendship

go with the love of God almighty

go with the leading of Jesus, the Christ, your saviour

go with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit

to guard and keep you safe

this day and always.

Amen”

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