Message from Clare Downing, Moderator of Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church

If I had a pound for every time over the last three weeks that I’ve read, heard or said the words “when things get back to normal” I’d be rich by now. Whether it’s about worship or shopping, meetings or coffee with friends, we are living in strange times where many of us are disorientated by the fact that things are not normal. We may be feeling very isolated, or possibly overwhelmed by all those virtual ways of meeting up. We may be delighting in having time to catch up with half finished projects, or lack the concentration to start anything, let alone finish it. We are having to think and plan differently.Two thousand years ago, in the aftermath of the death of a travelling preacher, a group of his friends were also in a state of disorientation. They reacted in different ways – some wanting to ensure that practical matters were taken care of, some self-isolating for fear of the authorities, some debilitated by all that was happening. And in the midst of this, we have Simon Peter announcing that he is going fishing. In other words, whilst everything around him is so strange and uncertain, he wants something to be normal -and fishing is, for him, the habitual thing to do. Of course, if we go further on in this story from John’s gospel, we discover that the fishing trip is anything but a normal one, and it ends in breakfast on the beach, and the challenge to Peter to respond again to Jesus command to “follow me”.During this rather strange Easter time, we too might want things to be normal. For Peter and the other friends of Jesus, despite their best efforts, they could not return to a previous way of life. The resurrection gave them no choice but to do things differently. Perhaps as we celebrate Easter this year, whether alone with a Bible, or in a video linked act of worship, we might be challenged by Jesus to follow him, not to expect things to return to how they were before, but, in the words of John Bell’s famous hymn, “let me turn and follow you and never be the same”.May you know both the peace, and the provocation of the risen Christ this Easter.

Recognising Jesus in the Lockdown

Jesus in the garden, newly risen from the dead,
who stood by weeping Mary, and who heard the words she said
as if you were the gardener, till at last your shepherd’s voice
called her ‘Mary’ and with one word gave her reason to rejoice,
Jesus in the garden, ever new but still the same,
help me recognise you in the speaking of my name.

Jesus on the journey, fellow traveller on the road,
who met two sad disciples, walking with them as you showed
the meaning of the scriptures that predicted you would rise,
but only when you blessed the meal could they believe their eyes.
Jesus on the journey, meet me where my hopes have fled,
help me recognise you in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus in the locked room, breaking through despair and doubt,
who comforted your friends when they had shut the whole world out,
who came again for Thomas, and revealed your hands and side
so that he could touch and know you as alive, though you had died.
Jesus in the locked room, breaking through our self-built bars,
help me recognise you in the touching of your scars.

Jesus on the shoreline, cooking breakfast for your friends,
who offered guilty Peter one more chance to make amends,
who filled a net with fish for him, and helped him to recall
the first catch that convinced him to respond to your first call.
Jesus on the shoreline, know my best, forgive my worst
help me recognise you in the way I met you first.

Minister’s Greeting April 2020

Dear Friends,

What uncertain and confusing times we are living through.  Just as the need for prayer is greatest due to the coronavirus pandemic, Churches are obliged to close for Sunday worship (often for the first time in their history.) Even during the war, Churches remained open. Being currently frustrated in our calling to share the good news of gospel hope in the normal manner, Ministers and Elders have rushed to set up new and innovative ways to achieve this. We encourage you to take advantage of the inspiration provided by some of the URC’s leading lights, such as URC General Secretary Rev. John Proctor. We have also set up new procedures to ensure pastoral care and prayerful support in these new circumstances.

As we continue our journey deeper into Lent, the powerful imagery of the shadow of the Cross falling across our path takes on a new significance this year. However, we Christians know how the Gospel narrative unfolds: we know that beyond the passion of our dear Lord, there is the joy of Easter resurrection. We serve a living Saviour, even as we dwell in dark days of uncertainty. There is a Redeemer! He lives! Don’t ask me how I know He lives…He lives within my heart! Why not take this time of relative isolation to read the Good Book, especially Matthew’s Gospel account of the events leading up to Jesus’ time in Gethsemane and his arrest, unfair trial and Crucifixion? But don’t stop there…read on to the end of the Gospel. As the hymn goes:

All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew,
me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

May God richly bless you all and keep you safe in his loving hands,

Your friend and Minister, Reverend Anthea Wickens