Pastoral letter; Outrageous extravagance. Palm/ Passion Sunday

Dear Friends,

First as always I hope that this letter finds you well and is as good spirits as you can be in these times, I must admit that the continued good weather and sunshine has helped to raise my spirits, as have the ever increasing signs of new life!  This weekend though, we are at the edge of Holy Week, with its difficult themes of betrayal and death. This Sunday is Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday. Both point us in different ways to the events that are to come. Palm Sunday always feels a strange day to me, we often greet it with celebration, cries of hosanna and the waving of palms, one of the Children’s Bible’s on my bookshelf calls this passage “The great parade” with echoes of hope and celebration. There was of course a celebratory feeling gathered crowds that day, they were certainly hopeful, many would have heard the stories of the raising of Lazarus, and of the many other events of Jesus life and ministry, and anything that challenged the tyranny of Rome was welcomed. Jesus was making a point though, and it was at heart both a challenge to the political and religious elite of the day which were very often intertwined! As he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, across the city the changing of the Roman Guard was taking place with Pilate entering on a war horse and much pomp! No wonder the religious rulers were worried, Jesus was challenging the might of Rome! Both of these “parades” are document historically!

The theme of Passion Sunday gives us a different way into Holy Week, it invites us into the depths of the story, to take a walk through the whole narrative stopping just before the Easter accounts before we walk through it day by day. It looks specifically at the passionate struggle of Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross, and it starts with a look at the woman who came to anoint Jesus and the reaction of those around him:

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ (Mark 14)

This is one of two accounts of Jesus being anointed, just before he was to be crucified, in the other account it is Mary ( the sister of Lazarus) takes costly perfume, pours it over Jesus feet and wipes them with her hair, in this shocking act she like the unnamed woman from Mark is also criticised.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ (John 12)

Were there two anointings by two different women, we don’t really know, of course it is possible, but then it is also possible that the two gospels written many years apart to different audiences record the incident differently. That said there are similarities, in both cases Jesus received the ministry of these bold women who with extravagant gesture pour costly perfume/ ointment over Jesus, daring to break convention, daring to show love and devotion in a way nobody has before. For a woman to approach a man in this was shocking, for Mary to let down her hair was an intimate act, as for the male disciples and specifically the named Judas they seem to miss the point and take their annoyance out on the extravagance of the women, but I suspect they were just as perplexed at the acceptance, and attitude of Jesus, perhaps these encounters best set the scene for us as we enter into Holy Week in these strange days. We are living in extraordinary times, and seeing extraordinary events, alongside the deep grief that the world is bearing in the numbers of people who have died during the pandemic there have been amazing acts of kindness and generosity. There has also been the amazingly fast development of several vaccines, none of which have been without controversy, questions about how this has been achieved so quickly, questions about safety, questions about fair distribution all surround these vaccines alongside the hope that is engendered as the vaccines are distributed. This is something that will change the world, but of course it would be way too far a stretch to suggest that the vaccine is our saviour, but it can cause us to reflect upon the ongoing nature of salvation, and how in giving ourselves to the story and allowing it to join with our story so we enter into the ongoing action of God who did not in Christ-Jesus hold back from suffering and death but poured out life for us all. The question is are we ready to receive it, openly and humbly as Jesus did the anointing offered by the women? To receive the life of Christ in our lives means setting aside our egos and being willing to be served that we might be those who serve with the love, with the courage, with the passion that we encounter in these women!

I leave you with a short meditation and a picture:

A picture containing colorful, thread

Description automatically generatedCostly extravagance

love poured out for love

first given, love

anointing death for life,

filling the air,

seeping into every pore,

assaulting the senses, here

heartbreak and hope

mingle and flow free,

soaking and searching,

an insistent anointing

of love mirroring love’s

unfettered 

unbounded abundance,

costly extravagance,

this is

love poured out for love,

anointing death for life…

As we prepare to enter into Holy Week may we be those who are ready to receive the all extravagant divine gift! May God bless and keep you.

Reverend Sally Coleman

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Signs, and roadmaps- Pastoral letter 19-03-21

Dear Friends,

As always I want to ask how you are as we continue our journey through Lent in lockdown, March seems to be passing quickly, and in just one more week we will be preparing for Palm Sunday and then Holy Week that follows. Time for me seems to be passing both quickly and slowly, I still do a double take as I write the year 2021, as I remember vividly celebrating the new millennium, and yet over 20 years of it have already passed, for me they carried many life changes and no less than six moves all over the country.

In these days we are living with the governments “road map” to ease us out of lockdown, I am beginning to receive enquiries about weddings, and other events, which can be held once again in our church buildings. Some friends have celebrated the arrival of text messages from their hairdressers saying that appointments will soon be ready. All of this and signs of spring all around us, this week my daffodils all flowered, may well lift our spirits and give us hope.

Signs and symbols are important, and can point us to a decision, or be a confirmation of an event, or Jesus as the story unfolds in John’s gospel the arrival of the Greeks wanting to see him was a sign.

A Grain of Wheat Must Die

20-21 There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honour and reward anyone who serves me.

27-28 “Right now I am shaken. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

29 The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

30-33 Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

 (John 12: 20-33 The Message Version)

Now it is important to note that it was not unusual for Greeks or other Gentiles to be present in Jerusalem, . First-century synagogues welcomed gentiles, so it is not surprising to find Gentiles in Jerusalem for Passover as well, what is significant is that they are looking for Jesus, while others would be admiring the temple the news of this new teacher, this miracle worker, this possible Messiah had piqued their interest, they want to see Jesus, and we hear the frustration of the Pharisees in the verse immediately preceding this passage “look the whole world is going after him”. The Greeks want to see Jesus, and it is to them and the gathered crowd that Jesus gives his last piece of public teaching before his arrest and crucifixion. A grain of wheat he say must fall to the ground and die if it is to produce fruit, sacrifice and death will bring about fruitfulness, let go of your life he says, having already declared that for himself the time has come. He calls others to follow his pattern, and shares his anguish, and the crowd all hear a voice from heaven, was it an angel, was it God? I will leave that to your imagination, but there was no doubt in the minds of those gathered that something was going to happen! I am sure if it had been explained to the what, if they’d had a road map for passion, crucifixion and resurrection they wouldn’t have believed it. Jesus was about to die on behalf of the nations, and not only on behalf of all nations only, but so that the dispersed children of God might be gathered together as one” All those excluded by race, gender, ethnicity, you can keep writing the list, are to be made one, Jesus death and the resurrection of the universal Christ, made flesh in the church throughout the world will see this come about, the grain of wheat is about to fall.

In these days we have seen a lot of death, and are probably wondering where the fruit Jesus talks about might be, there have been good things arising from the pandemic, communities and neighbours coming together, and much more, I am sure we could write a list quite quickly. There has also been great grief, and I suspect that there will be more, these are dark days, and as we emerge from them I suspect we will have many questions and will be asking ourselves what comes next.

As people who have faith in Christ we can in our minds skip forward to Easter Sunday, which began for Jesus disciples behind the doors of a locked room, where they gathered in grief and disbelief, when the women went to the tomb as the dawn was breaking they were dismayed to find the tomb empty, and it took a long time for what had happened to sink in, and still there was doubt and confusion among the disciples. As you prepare for Holy Week you might like to read the gospel accounts of the resurrection and allow yourself to consider the mix of emotions they reveal. The road was not easy, and Easter morning was not greeted with Alleluias!  As we find our ways forward through this time I think that first Easter has a lot to teach us.

I leave you then with a poem, it is an invitation to Holy Week, and even though we are not there yet, this weeks gospel passage is set after the Triumphal Entry.

Invitation to Holy Week ( for Palm Sunday)

What have you seen

that draws praise

so easily from

your lips today?

what have you heard?

Has he touched your

heart too?

Have you known

and do you know the wonders

of his love?

Is it enough to keep you close

even though he leads you to his cross?

Is there another

you could go to,

one you could turn to

whose peace would match


the peace that he gives?

Will you watch with him

this week,

will you enter his story afresh,

and walk with him along the way,

beyond the cheers and palms

to Gethsemane’s depths, with

blood filled sweat and tears,

and prayers where groans replace words

for the anguish

is too deep?

Will you come to the hill

where surrendering to nails

and thorns,

beaten and bloodied he gives

his all for you?,

His invitation

is given;

walk with me,

and I will lead you

through death to life again….

it is a cycle

that bears repeating

As you continue your Lenten journey, may God bless and keep you, this day and always. As always if you would value a conversation please don’t hesitate to call me.

      Reverend Sally Coleman 

The bottom of Jacobs Ladder at Kinder Scout

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Pastoral letter for Mothering Sunday

Dear Friends,

As always I wonder how you are, I am writing to you after a very busy week, listening to the wind rattling the roof tiles above my head I am aware of the wildness of the elements and my inability to control or contain them. Talking to a friend today we mused that although the government have given us a “road map” through the next few months nothing is certain.

And yet we know where we are time wise, we find ourselves at the fourth Sunday in Lent, more than half way through our journey towards Easter Day, and at a break for a feast day ( although every Sunday is actually counted as a feast day, a break in the Lenten fast so that we might not become overwhelmed). Mothering Sunday has become Mother’s Day in recent times, with flowers being given out an motherhood celebrated, which is no bad thing, but can also be a challenging thing for those who have difficult relationships with their mothers, or as mothers, humanity is often complex.

In the days of “service” my grandmother was one of those who served ( worked) in the home of the landed gentry, and would be allowed to go home on Mothering Sunday, often bearing a cake or gifts, but with the express purpose of returning to their mother church to worship ahead of Easter Day, because on Easter Day they would be required to work, serving the family they were indentured to in their celebrations. Nice social class snippet there!

That said we do pause to celebrate Mothering Sunday, and it does give us a chance to celebrate, and also to look for a different image of God, so often God is Father, and masculine, and we use dominant words like Kingdom and reign. Mothering Sunday grants us a different lens, and asks us perhaps to loo to the mother God, while still accepting that neither mother nor father is adequate for our mysterious creator who is in fact genderless, and Spirit.

So where do we find God as mother?

In creation, brooding over the deep?

 In the beginning when God created  the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[ brooded over the face of the waters. Genesis 1: 1-2

In the mother heart of Jesus the Christ:

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23: 37b

There is a lot of female imagery given for God in both the Old and the New Testaments, and yet sadly it rarely finds its way into our everyday language or prayers. So I wonder, how do you relate to the God who mothers you, and what does that mean to you, is it an image that sits comfortably or uncomfortably in your thinking.

How do you respond to a nurturing creator with mothering traits?

I am aware that for some this may be unhelpful language, just in the same way that for others the metaphor of father is unhelpful and that we cannot capture or describe the divine or the eternal with language, but sometimes language is all we have. With that in mind I offer you a prayer:

Holy and eternal God
Mother us

Wrap us in your arms
of mercy,
cover us with your blanket
of grace,
Mother us.

Hold us and help us,
bind our wounds,
heal our hearts,
Mother us.

When our arms ache
with emptiness,
grief and longing,
Mother us.

When our minds race
with recriminations,
unanswered questions,
words said and unsaid,
still the storms within us,
pour your peace into
our thirsty souls,
nurture and feed us,
help us to stand
make us strong in you,
Mother us.

AMEN

So, in this week, where we turn our thought to Mothering Sunday, whatever it means for you I wish you God’s blessing, a time of quiet celebration and pray that you will find yourselves comforted by the nurturing presence of God however you encounter that in a helpful way.

As always, if you would like to talk please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Peace and blessings

Sally

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Pastoral letter Lent 3 2021- All are welcome

Dear Friends,

Once again I wonder how you are this week whilst reflecting on my conversation with a colleague where we both shared that we ask the same question over and over again! The of course we decided that this is an entirely normal greeting, surely we ask others how they are when we meet them, and so that greeting is not out of place, so I will say again that I hope this letter finds you well and in as good spirits as you can be at this time. I apologise for missing writing a letter last week, I quite simply ran out of time and space for writing, it was a busy week with several meetings and the representative Synod which looked at the God in Love Unites Us paper that will go to Conference this year all things being well. I will say a little more about that further on in this letter.

First I want to reflect on the fact that this is our second Lent in lockdown, and will likely be our second Easter out of our buildings. In my Easter letter last year I reflected on the words of Jesus to Mary on their encounter at the tomb in the garden, he said to her “do not cling to me”. At that time I asked the question:

“In these days what do you want to cling to that seems impossible, lots of us a separated from family and friends, all of us from our usual ways of living. Where do you need to hear Jesus calling your name, and what would you like to say to him, hear his words, do not cling to me, what in these days do you need to let go of so that you can encounter Jesus afresh?”

Of course at that time we thought we need only hold on a few more weeks and things would begin to return to something like normal, although many were expressing the desire to find a new normal, a new way of living and being, of valuing others, of caring for the environment of living less selfishly. The year has ground on and we have been in and out of lockdowns, moved through the dark days of winter, and perhaps begun in a new way to acknowledge how truly challenging and difficult this all is. We have moved from cheering for the NHS every Thursday to a much quieter way of being, and maybe just maybe that is the gift that Lent offers us. This weeks gospel reading challenges all of that though and wakes us up with a start! Here it is:

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18 The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2: 13-22)

So much for any notion of gentle Jesus meek and mild! So what had incensed him so much? It certainly wasn’t the worshippers who had made the journey to Jerusalem, making their way to the temple to make the required sacrifices that would make them ready to celebrate the Passover, Jesus himself would observe the festival and to do so carry out the required confessions and cleansing ( in that it could be likened to our Lenten fast). No, what incensed him was the injustice of the market place within the temple courts, the money changers and merchants making money from those who wanted to prepare themselves spiritually, he challenges the temple economy, questioning whether it was focused more on wealth than prayer in this he echoes the challenge of the prophets through the ages.

Why is this important to us today? What can this story shine a light on? Where do we find injustice? On Wednesday the Chancellor shared with us the details of the budget, and amongst support packages for businesses and families for furloughed workers and a plan to get the economy moving again one thing was hidden, despite all of our applause, and the constant government affirmations of how wonderful the NHS has been is a 1% pay rise, yes just 1% for people who have given so much! I am not going to comment any further I am going to just leave that there, because it isn’t something I have heard raised in the news as we devour information about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Prince Philip. I wonder though how you respond?

In challenging the temple traders and the authorities who gave them space to operate, Jesus was also affirming the value of the pilgrims who had come to prepare, to make their sacrifices and to remember the Passover as they celebrated the festival. Jesus so often celebrated those that the religious elite considered unclean or unacceptable, he saw value in each one. He did not despise the leper, he included women in his followers and he told his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. Love is the central message of our Scriptures, proclaiming each one valued and unique.

As I said earlier in my letter last Saturday our Synod met in Sheffield to look at the God in Love Unites Us document and to give an indicative vote on the resolutions within it before it goes to Conference this summer. Love being the central theme of the document as it explored what it is to be made in God’s image and what constitutes healthy and life giving forms of human relating. It looks at themes of singleness, marriage, co-habitation, divorce and same sex marriage. It acknowledges that not everyone will draw the same conclusions but invites us to be united in the love of Christ. I would encourage you to take a look at some of the resources created for LGBT History Month available on the Methodist Church Website.

For the most part the meeting was measured and respectful, the indicative vote was in favour of all of the resolutions, recognising that for some they would agree to disagree in love. There were suggestions from time to time however that not all of us are made in God’s image, that not all are to be celebrated and that some are beyond the love of God. Words like bestiality and rape were used. This was particularly pertinent to the LGBTQI+ community, and there were a number of us in the meeting. It was hard to hear. The beginning of our Bible states that God has made ALL in the image and likeness of God, it also declares that God is not gendered. Jesus himself when questioned about a widow’s place in the resurrection states that there will be no marriage in heaven for we will be transformed (Luke 20: 27-40). Paul states that in Christ there is no male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, for ALL are one in Christ. (Galatians 3: 23-29). As for the texts quoted from Leviticus and the often quoted passages in Romans where Paul apparently speaks about homosexuality it might be shocking to some to know that the word homosexuality did not appear in English versions of the Bible until 1946, and that there are many different words that have been translated that way and all equate with some form of injustice or abuse. This article speaks challengingly to the use of the word homosexuality in the scriptures and is worth considering.

Now I know this is my view, and that many will not agree with me, and that many will, but the premise of God in Love Unites us is that we center ourselves on the LOVE of God in Christ, and seek the wisdom of the Spirit to guide us to love and serve one another. There has been a positive outpouring of love in the world this year, one of our Pioneer Workers told me yesterday how generous people have been to food banks in the city who have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community towards those who are struggling. One worker on the checkout at the supermarket told me how people are much more likely to say thank you these days, or to enquire about the welfare of the one serving them. Our church buildings have been used as vaccination centres and people have actively considered how to serve and include one another. God in Love Unites us invites us to stretch our thinking perhaps and to include those who have formerly been excluded, those who wish to be a blessing to their community and to receive the blessing of God.

I will leave you with a hymn:

Let us build a house
where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where
saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
 dreams and visions,
Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew.

Here the cross shall stand as witness
And a symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

As we continue to journey through Lent, let us seek to be those who love first, who seek justice and mercy and the freedom for all to approach God in worship with nothing to hinder them.

I pray that your Lenten journey will be life giving, once again I offer a conversation to any who would appreciate it, and I acknowledge that for some what I have written will be challenging this week. You remain as always in my prayers

Peace and blessings

Reverend Sally Coleman

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Pastoral Letter- Lent 1: You are Beloved

Dear Friends,

Well here we are in Lent 2021, this time last year, whilst in Lent we were still going to worship in our buildings, news was beginning to build from China, and then from Italy and other places in Europe, that something serious was going on in the world, I think at that point that some of us were more aware of it than others. In less than three weeks the country would enter into lockdown for the first time, and new words and thoughts were added to our daily vocabulary, Covid-19, social distancing, self-isolation, shielding and so many more. We washed our hands more than ever, supermarket shelves were stripped and toilet rolls became worth their weight in gold. We had entered a strange new world. I am fairly sure that at that point none of us had ever dreamed that almost a year later we would find ourselves in the same position, the new words less strange perhaps, but our awareness heightened to the threat to life, and the welfare of all. In that time masks have become compulsory in shops and enclosed public spaces, and regulations governing our freedom change on a regular basis.

I wonder, as you look back over the last year, which some are describing as one long Lent, how you are feeling? Have you become resigned to this new way of being and are seeking to keep your head down until it is all over? Are you fed up and frustrated? Are you mourning for what was, or perhaps for a loved one? These have been difficult days, and none of us can deny that, to do so would be to lie to ourselves and to others. There have been highlights of course, we have seen appreciation for delivery drivers, bus drivers, posties, supermarket workers, and those who keep the day to day wheels of life turning, those who often go unseen or unappreciated have become our heroes, not to mention the work of carers and the NHS. Martin have looked after neighbours, communities have come together to support food banks, to deliver medicines and shopping and to help the vulnerable. Alongside that though the demand for assistance from foodbanks has risen, many have found themselves furloughed or worse unemployed, Highstreet chains have collapsed, and that is only in this country. Across the world whilst we celebrate the roll out of the vaccine other countries still have none, those working with refugees and obviously the refugees themselves struggle with daily living. Covid-19, whilst once called the great leveler is anything but that, the poverty gap is showing starkly, and the world must cry out for justice.

So here we are, at the start of a new Lenten period, how then are we going to enter it, have we, as the text of Mark’s gospel suggests, been driven here? That is just one of the themes of this reading that I would like to draw out today, so maybe now is a good tome to pause and ponder it:

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good newsof God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. (Mark 1: 9-15)

Notice the words used, after the affirmation of the Spirit, those remarkable words “ you are my Son, the Beloved” Jesus is driven into the desert, according to the text in Mark this is not a choice, it is simply a fact, the days that lay before him are not in his hands but in the hands of God. Is that how we feel at this time, Covid-19 would certainly not be our choice, in a sense we have been driven into isolation and lockdown, I wonder where we find God here? Maybe we note the next part of the text, Jesus was with the wild beasts and angels waited on him, could it be that the wilderness was not such an inhospitable place after-all, but a place of coming apart, even of resting ( though a forty day fast is extreme), and what does it mean to be with the wild beasts, or as Noel Moules puts it in his teaching with wild nature, a part of creation itself, creation we must remember that was spoken into being by the word, who is revealed to us as the Christ? Perhaps this angelic ministry and this oneness with creation is what sustained Jesus through those days and equipped him to set out into the short enfleshed ministry that fills our Gospel accounts over two thousand years later!

How do we respond now, we have been driven into our homes once again, where and how do we encounter God? If you were Jesus, I wonder how those words “You are my Son, the Beloved” sink into your heart and mind through those forty days? Are you able to receive them for yourself? For in the hardness and harshness of these days I wonder if repentance, that great theme of Lent is all about turning ( for that is what repentance is) towards God’s words of love for us, hear some of the words of Scripture:

  • You are fearfully and wonderfully made- Psalm 139
  • You are precious and honoured in my sight and I love you- Isaiah 43
  • I call you friends- John 15

I am sure you can add many more, so can I but those who print this letter to take out to those without email may not thank me for it!  So, yes, Jesus was driven into the desert, but he was also ministered to, so perhaps you can use some of this time to allow God to minister to you, to receive for yourself some of those words of affirmation, for you are loved, the world is loved, and perhaps we need to remember that in order to share love we need to receive love, we love because he loved us first- 1 John: 4. It is from that focused and grounded centre that we are sent out. Yes Jesus was driven into the desert, but the text reveals that he was ministered to by angels and the wildness of creation, may the wild Spirit minister to us in these days. I leave you with a poem for the desert:

Show me myself,

reveal to me my deepest desires,

strip away my defences,

my pretences,

my excuses,

lead me within,

through my own eternal,

internal desert,

to connect with the

source of my truest life,

no longer distracted

by the lies of comfort,

the demands that clamour…

show me that I am loved,

sought after,

treasured,

known….

and grant me the power to look

love in the face,

and see at last,

mirrored in my face,

a glimpse of your glory

You are loved, you are precious to God, you are beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made, and with you the whole of creation of which you are a part is filled with holy possibilities. As for the virus, this too shall pass, the question for us is how we will emerge. Will we like Jesus emerge from this time of testing in the power of the Spirit, in some senses the choice is ours, will we trust ourselves, in all of our griefs, doubts and frustrations to the one who holds the end from the beginning? The one whose desire is to make all things new.

I apologise for this being a long letter, I wish you many blessings for your Lenten journey, and as always I make the offer, if you would like to talk, don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Peace and blessings

               Reverend Sally Coleman 

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Transformation/ Transfiguration- Pastoral Letter 13th Feb 2021

13th February 2021

Dear Friends,

I hope once again that this letter finds you safe and well, and I wonder what kind of week you have had, as I write the snow is still on the ground here having fallen earlier in the week, and there are some rather spectacular icicles to be seen. I don’t know if you like snow, I love it, well I love it for a while, though I must admit that I am less fond of it as it starts to disappear and gets rather messy. I find fresh snowfall magical though, waking to a world transformed and sparkling white is rather breathtaking! Snow lined branches give a whole new quality to winter trees.

We will of course see transformation in a different way over the next month or so as winter turns to spring, new leaves begin to bud and bulbs push through the earth and begin to flower. Transformation is often a theme that we find in Scripture, maybe particularly in the Gospels as people encounter the person of Jesus and their lives are transformed, for some it is an encounter with a love that accepts them as they are, for others healing, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised (think of Jairus daughter, the man from Nain, or Lazarus) and the grief of their families is transformed into great rejoicing! To be transformed is a powerful thing, it might mean a change of attitude towards a particular issue, or even a new way of seeing yourself that enables you to live differently, to flourish.

Transformation is powerful, it is about change, and often complete change. It is a word sometimes used about this weeks Gospel reading, but I believe that we would be wrong to use that word, this week, as we move towards the season of Lent, we are invited, along with Peter, James and John to see Jesus differently, as he is transfigured, not transformed, before them. Jesus has been travelling with the disciples, his mind is now upon the journey to Jerusalem, today’s passage follows the feeding of the 4,000, the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida, and Peter’s declaration the Jesus is The Christ, the long hoped for Messiah, followed quite quickly by his attempt to stop Jesus speaking of his coming suffering and death. Let’s face it, all of this was a lot for the disciples to take in, and I am sure that Peter voiced what others were thinking! It was with all of this in the background then that sets the scene for what now follows:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[b] on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[c] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;[d] listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. ( Mark 9: 2-9)

I wonder what you would have made of this experience, Peter is first to speak as usual, trying to capture and contain what he sees, declaring it “good to be here”, and yet at the same time babbling away because he was terrified, and probably rightly so, the Jesus they shared their day to day life with, was not only a miracle working healer, a wise teacher, but now suddenly glowing with all divine possibilities, perhaps for the first time they were seeing who he truly was, the veil of humanity had been lifted away and the divine shone through, and yet in human form. All the possibilities of God in flesh were revealed on the mountain side, and if that weren’t enough he was joined by Moses and Elijah,  it is interesting that the disciples did not need to ask who they were!

How do you respond to this reading, to this story of transfiguration, this unveiling, this revealing encounter, and when might we experience such awe-filled wonder? Maybe it is in a glimpse of glory in nature, maybe in the sudden epiphany/ penny dropping moment as a scripture we have long grappled with becomes clear in a new way, maybe through music or art, or an encounter with another, the veil is drawn back and what is, is seen! I like to think that the whole world is charged with divine energy and potential, on that day the disciples simply saw what was, Jesus, in human form transfigured, revealing his true nature.

What then does this mean for us? We could look back to Moses encounter with God on a different mountainside, where he needed to cover his face with a veil so as not to dazzle the Israelites (Exodus 34), or maybe we could look forward to the vision of the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21), or maybe we could begin to look for divine potential and possibilities present and active within and around us. I like one of the mission statements of the Northumbria Community, who state that they look for where God is at work and go to join in, that may require us to adopt an active awareness, an openness to finding God at work in the unlikely and the unusual. So I wonder, where have you encountered the divine at work, either within you, in your community or in the world? I had the joy of hearing a young couple’s delight on seeing their baby on an early scan this week, the amazingness of new life, the wonder of tiny fingers, and the potential held in all of that full of fragile possibility. As I write I am watching the sunrise, and am pondering how many centuries the sun has risen, and how many wonders, and horrors have been blessed by a new day, the words of Mother Julian of Norwich come to mind again, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” As you ponder that I offer you the words of a hymn:

Jesus calls us here to meet him

as, through word and song and prayer,

we affirm God’s promised presence

where his people live and care.

Praise the God who keeps his promise;

praise the Son who calls us friends;

praise the Spirit who, among us,

to our hopes and fears attends.

Jesus calls us to confess him

Word of life and Lord of all,

sharer of our flesh and frailness,

serving all who fail or fall.

Tell his holy human story;

tell his tales that all may hear;

tell the world the Christ in glory

came to earth to meet us here.

Jesus calls us to each other,

vastly different though we are;

creed and colour, class and gender

neither limit nor debar.

Join the hand of friend and stranger;

join the hands of age and youth;

join the faithful and the doubter

in their common search for truth.

Jesus calls us to his table

rooted firm in time and space,

where the Church in earth and heaven

finds a common meeting place.

Share the bread and wine, his body;

share the love of which we sing;

share the feast for saints and sinners

hosted by our Lord and King

Words John L Bell (b 1949) & Graham Maule (b1958) ; music Lewis Folk Melody

Jesus calls us here to meet him. If you were on the mountainside with Peter, James and John today how might you respond to the words of the voice from the cloud “This is my beloved Son, listen to him?

With that I pray that you will find many blessings as you go into this week, that you will encounter the presence and activity of God in your life and in the world around you. As always, if you would like to talk, need a chat please call me. You remain in my prayers.

Reverend Sally Coleman

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Sunset at Redmires

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be silent….

We do not want you here,

your words are too challenging,

they make us uneasy,

you hold up a mirror to our souls,

you demand that we see differently,

but that is not our desire,

not our perspective

and our directive for you is silence,

silence and shame,

yours, you see is the blame

and we didn’t ask for your opinion….

we don’t ask for opinions

that are not ours,

so it is not just you that we silence,

but any who don’t fit,

don’t have our wit or wisdom…

no we do not want you here,

discomforting the comfortable,

pointing out privilege

that we cannot help but own…

so we will stand for our rights,

not yours,

we will speak up for our ways,

claim the high ground…

we do not want you here…

be silent…

be silent….

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Trusting, resting, waiting- Pastoral letter 06-02-21

5th February 2021

Dear Friends,

 I hope that this letter finds you well, and as always I wonder how you are this week, please accept my apologies for not writing last week but I was unwell and had some family issues to deal with. I would like to share a part of that with you, my son Christopher was admitted to the LGI for a cardiac catheter investigation last Friday, as it turns out all was well and he is well, but that hasn’t always been his story. I would like to share with you some of his reflections from a recent blog post of his, returning to the theme of Covenant again:

Last Sunday I took part in our Methodist Church Circuit’s Covenant Service on Zoom. As part of the service, I shared what the covenant means to me. I shared about how I have come into Methodism from a varied denominational background, and that in all my experience of other churches I had never come across a service quite like the Methodist Covenant Service. I explained that I have always felt a bit of a special connection with God during these services, that by reciting this prayer I am recognising that my relationship with God is more than a statement of faith, but it is a two-way interaction between God and myself that is ever changing and evolving.

When it came to discussing with the group after I had shared my piece, I was challenged when one of the people with me expressed their difficulty with parts of the prayer and explained that there are some parts that she struggles to say. Other people who were part of the group agreed and explained that there are some people from their churches who will not attend for the covenant service. Listening to these responses I could understand why some might find it difficult after all the language is incredibly challenging. It reads as a very sacrificial prayer, the first line in particular which reads, “I am no longer my own but yours,” can convey a sense of loss of control and likewise the following lines can be read as though we a pawn being moved about on a chess board. I also understand why people may feel that it is too much to promise, so they would rather not make a promise they do not feel they can keep. While I understand these interpretations, I do not hold to them. However, that does not mean I have not had my own struggles with the prayer.

The parts of the prayer I have particularly struggled with are, “put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you.” Living a congenital heart condition there have been times when due to ill health I have suffered and been incapacitated. Without going into detail on my experiences I can say that during this time the idleness I experienced and the suffering from the medical problems caused me to question what it means to say, “put me to doing” when I couldn’t really do anything and why on earth would I pray “put me to suffering and what could possibly be achieved through it?  (If you want to hear more about this experience I have written my testimony from this time and it can be found at, https://sallysjourney.typepad.com/sallys_journey/2008/01/christophers-st.html The other times I have really struggled with the covenant prayer is when I have found myself unemployed. The worse instance was when I was living in Newcastle and found myself out of work for nearly a year. During this time praying, “let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,” at the time this felt like a gut punch, the best way to describe it was by saying that praying this made me feel devalued as a person because of the situation I found myself in. However, I do believe these experiences tempered me and helped to prepare me for current and future ministry.

So, what is my view in light of these experiences? To begin with my view is based in how I understand covenant. For me covenant is how we experience our relationship with God. This is how people throughout the Bible experienced their relationship with God. In Genesis 15 when God seals the covenant with Abraham, Abraham sacrifices animals which God then passes between. Traditionally at this time when two parties had formed a covenant such as this, they would both walk between the sacrificed animals as a sign before God or the gods they believed in that they would keep the promises they had made. However, in the passage God puts Abraham into a deep sleep so he is unable to pass through the sacrifices with Him. God knew that Abraham and his descendants would not be able to keep the promises, so he freed them from being bound to them. However, God still bound Himself to the promises He made Abraham so that he could live in relationship with God. In the New Covenant Jesus is both the sacrifice and the one who passes through them in our places which means we now experience life in relationship with God through the grace of God demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. God knows that even with the best of intentions we cannot live up to the promises we make in faith but despite this he still loves us and values us, and he wants us to know Him and know that love.

I also believe that covenant in this sense puts the promises we make in the Methodist Covenant Service into perspective. Knowing that I am loved and valued by God in this way means that this is where I find my identity. The times where I struggled before were because I had placed my value and identity in what I could do or what job I had. I now know that regardless what I do or how other people rank me, my identity is found in my faith in God. I believe that in everything I do and experience God is with me to comfort and support me in times of struggle and rejoice and celebrate with me when all is well. I believe this covenant prayer reflects this.”

I suspect that we all have struggles with prayer, and maybe particularly the Covenant Prayer which starts with those amazing and grounding words “I am no longer my own but yours”. I was thinking about this as I pondered this weeks lectionary readings, and was struck particularly by the passage in Isaiah where God points out that the ways of the divine are mysterious and so often beyond us, and whilst we are a valued, loved and cherished part of the creators design there is so much more than we can see. In these days of pandemic perhaps it helps us to step back and take in a wider view, a global view, or even a cosmic view. Perhaps that is where Mother Julian of Norwich, who also lived through a time of pandemic ( the black death) was able to draw upon a well of wisdom and declare “All will be well, and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” It is worth looking up her story if you don’t know it. Isaiah 40 invites us into this mystery:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
   Has it not been told you from the beginning?
   Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
   and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
   and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
   and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.


Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
   scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
   and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
   or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
   Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
   calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
   mighty in power,
   not one is missing.


Why do you say, O Jacob,
   and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
   and my right is disregarded by my God’?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
   his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint.

(Isaiah 40: 21-31)

These words of Isaiah are both grounding in reality and deeply comforting, we are invited to wait, to rest, be in God’s presence. As Christopher shared;  “Knowing that I am loved and valued by God in this way means that this is where I find my identity.” So I leave you with those thought and the words of a hymn:

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won’t grow weary

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won’t grow weary


You’re the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

Like eagles

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won’t grow weary

You’re the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

As always, please be in touch if you would like to talk. Many blessings

Sally

You can find Christopher’s blog here

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    Reverend Sally Coleman

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beyond numbers…

numbers again,

statistics read,

those who have died,

intensive care beds,

vaccines available,

centers,

deniers,

compliers,

fines handed out,

wedding parties and wakes,

funerals,

votes/ voters…

redundancies,

the lost,

the lost hopers…

+

those who hope against all the odds…

+

may we remember that each one has a face,

a story,

a grief,

a family,

or no family any longer,

each has a struggle,

the need perhaps for a long missed cuddle,

each has a prayer,

or no prayer,

some rage and some despair,

while others get on quietly,

silently even,

sharing their tears and fears

with their pillows alone…

+

let’s not be swift to judge,

but reach out in love,

to the ones who drive us mad,

to the ones who make us sad,

the ones who make us glad,

and all those in-between,

who on our in-between days

find ways to cheer us…

or simply to be near us, through post or phone…

when we open our hearts we are not alone…

+

we are always more than numbers….

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What do I want…?

Sitting here in lockdown,

gazing over the rooftops before me, a question echoes in my mind…

What do you want, he asked me,

the question was loaded,

searching my deeper self my dreams and longings…

but my dreams, my longings have been readjusted in recent years,

I am no longer who I thought I was,

and I truly don’t know what I want…

Oh on the surface I do;

I want to meet a friend for coffee, or lunch, or both,

I want to hug people, and be hugged…

I want to get into my car and drive to the beach,

to take that holiday

to….

the list goes on..

but this is 2021, and like 202 brings lockdown and uncertainty…

new words have entered my vocabulary, lockdown, social distancing… Covid-19 (20/21)..

Zoom, Zoom in, you’re on mute…Zoomed out,

+

But what do I want, what do I truly want…

I am not sure I dare go there,

I wonder what mysteries might open within if I did…

would I expose myself, or experience some unexpected epiphany,

the unveiling of my soul,

coming to myself at last,

and finding myself home…

+

what do you want?

I’ll let the question echo just a little longer…

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