Category Archives: hope

Enabling Others to Meet Jesus (or who is going to mend the roof?)

I have written this for our Circuit Daily Devotions, a subject very dear to my heart. If you would rather here the spoken version, you can find that here.

A good stuff has been shared with us in our Circuit in the last few weeks about Equality and Diversity and what that means for us in the church.  It has been really good to have some theological underpinning for that, and much of it has been really powerful.

As part of the exploration I wanted to look about look at disability and accessibility. As churches begin to re-open, or think about it, these are important questions to ask. We have an opportunity to get it right (or better!) as we have to make some changes anyway.

“The Equality Act 2010 (using a definition from previous Disability Discrimination Acts from 1995 and 2006) defines a person with disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment which is substantial and has a long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Whilst this is the legal definition which offers additional legal protections to people with disabilities, it should be remembered that anyone may be temporarily disabled (for example when recovering from a serious illness or accident), which may also require them to need additional support or adjustment. Many people with disabilities consider that their impairments are not the key factor that disables them. Instead they are disabled by a built environment that is not planned with their needs in mind, or they are disabled by the attitudes of other people towards them.”

The Methodist Church EDI Toolkit Module 4.

That maybe comes more alive in personal story, so I am going to tell you mine, and share some of the problems that I have in in church. That’s not saying that my problems are unique or that they’re all the problems that are possible, I’m just using my example to give an idea of some of the problems that people can face. The problem with a lot of the disability’s is that the disabilities are not necessarily visible, and you wouldn’t know that someone was dealing with them or you had to help them with them.  I hope the questions I raise might give you some thoughts about the accessibility of your church building.

In Mark 2, we hear the story of the men who brought their friend who couldn’t walk to Jesus. There was such a big crowd that they couldn’t get him to the door, so they carried him up the steps to the roof and made a hole in the roof so that they could lower him down to meet Jesus. Everyone focuses on the miracle of the man walking and the big question about Jesus authority, but we overlook the man’s friends and what they were willing to do so the man could get to meet Jesus.

For those of you that don’t know me, I use two crutches to walk, mainly for stability.  I suffer with a chronic inflammatory illness that effects most parts of my body.  It causes dryness – pretty much everywhere there should be lubrication in a body, I have little or none.  That effects way more than you might think.

None of what I’m going to say are criticisms, they are questions, pointers to make us think about our church buildings.  I’m also acutely aware that my accessibility may mean someone else’s inaccessibility – something that is there to help me may be making someone else’s needs impossible to meet – and for that reason the conversation needs to go on.

The first question I asked when we moved to our new Circuit was, “which church has the comfiest seats?”! That might seem trivial, but to me it is vital, and without which physical church in a building would not be possible.  But actually, when you have a disability, churchmanship, style of worship and a lot of other things go out of the door, compared with issues of accessibility in its widest sense.

  • But let’s go back to getting in the building.  I am incredibly grateful to have a Blue Badge, but that is no help to me if there is nowhere near enough the building to park, or someone without a Blue Badge is parked in it.
  • Next there is getting up the path, hoping that there are no steps.  Is there a drop kerb where necessary – and nothing obstructing it?
  • What about the entrance into the building?  Is it level?  You would be amazed how big an obstacle a raised door frame (there must be a technical term for that!) is when you are are wobbly, in a wheelchair, with a pushchair, or just have your hands full. Is the door too heavy?  Can someone open it by themselves?  Is there someone there to open it for anyone who needs it (remembering it might not be obvious who needs that help)
  • Can I find an appropriate seat?  I really need to sit with my right leg in the aisle, preferably with a large space between rows.  Pews are quite simply an impossibility.  Would someone let me have the seat I need, or would I be “taking my seat”? Can I sit at the back, or the front, if that is necessary for my disability?  Is the seat comfortable?  Can I shuffle and change my position in it to move the pressure points?  Is there a way I can raise my legs if I need to?  How long I personally can sit comfortably is very limited (and yes, it’s less than an hour!)
  • A lot of people with disabilities are very energy limited, and cannot arrive at church half an hour early to get the seat that they need, they may need to arrive at the last minute and need to be able to have the right space.
  • What is the lighting like?  Is it too bright – or not bright enough…!  Everybody’s needs are different.  Is there perhaps the possibility for some individually controlled lights?
  • That also applies to screens.  Are they in the right place?  Are they legible?  Are they too bright, too dark or using the correct colour contrast?  (Different colour contrasts work better or worse for different people, so it can be tricky) I actually have my own individual screen at our church, so I can set it to the setting I need.  Is that a possibility in your church?
  • Likewise, if you use videos in worship, can they been seen and heard by all?  Is there some way their point can be explained.  I love a video in worship, but can rarely process them in that space.
  • Are there paper copies of words?  Preferable in large and appropriately line spaced text?
  • Can someone manage to carry, or hold during the service, anything that you are asking them to. Normal hymn books are really hard to hold and turn pages if your fingers or wrists are not good.
  • In break-out groups, can everyone understand what you want them to do?  Is everyone able to participate?  Can everyone hear, process and respond in that environment?  Can there be an alternative option?
  • How do we use language?  Do we invite everyone to “stand to sing” for example?  When not everyone can stand – or sing. Do we use phrases like “everyone can do this” – can they?
  • Is our service very singing focused?  My illness means that I can’t sing.  I appreciate what a great tool in worship singing is and one I always used a lot, but if someone can’t sing are they excluded from worship in a big way? I guess post-lockdown we are all going to have to think about that!
  • Do we speak at a speed that people can hear and process?  It takes me a long time to hear what you have said, process in my mind what you have said, and then respond.  That applies even to things like the Lord’s Prayer, which I have to dredge from my mind and process through my brain before I can say it –  slower than most.  I am usually a couple of lines behind and give up.  I stand no chance of remembering a response to a phrase in a prayer that you might ask me to share in, or what the lead in is that I am meant to respond to.  I’m fine with that, but please don’t be offended – and be aware!
  • How does celebrating communion together work?  Is there a way to be a part of the body if you can’t kneel at the rail with everyone else, or even stand? Have we found a practical way around that?
  • And after the service?  I love to share fellowship, to hear how people are and what is happening in their life, but it is incredibly hard to have that conversation in a noisy room where everyone else is eagerly doing the same.  Is there a quieter space where anyone who needs that can go and talk without the aural distraction?

As I said, that’s my experience, others will each have their own story.

No church can meet all these needs, But it is good Christian living to be aware of other’s needs and do what we can to make church buildings and services as accessible as possible. Have we at least thought that they may be needs, and ways we could work around them?  What is most important is to ask people what works best for them, and be willing to do all you can towards that.

I am very happy to share advice or experience.  Better still ask anyone you know has needs how to make worship more accessible what would help them – don’t assume.  But also, don’t forget those who won’t say.  Try and think if what might be excluding somebody and try and think of an adaptation before they have to ask.  Try not to assume what someone needs…

And for those who can’t access physical church at all, I have some thoughts coming in a couple of weeks…

We thank you Lord
for the uniqueness we each bring,
for insights,
gifts and challenges that we all have.

Thank you that all are welcome,
to your love,
to your place of worship,
to be in your presence.

Help us to be aware
that our normal
may be restricting someone else,
or keeping them away.

Help us to be bold
to ask for help,
to share our needs

And help us all to listen carefully
to what the needs of someone else are
and seek to help.

God of love and acceptance
help us to meet together
in worship of you,
that we may learn
more of one another’s story
and through that
learn more of you.

Let Us Build a Church Where Love can Dwell

The Lord Provides

God Commands Abraham to Offer Isaac

22 Some time later God tested Abraham; he called to him, “Abraham!” And Abraham answered, “Yes, here I am!”

“Take your son,” God said, “your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.”

Early the next morning Abraham cut some wood for the sacrifice, loaded his donkey, and took Isaac and two servants with him. They started out for the place that God had told him about. On the third day Abraham saw the place in the distance. Then he said to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham made Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice, and he himself carried a knife and live coals for starting the fire. As they walked along together, Isaac spoke up, “Father!”

He answered, “Yes, my son?”

Isaac asked, “I see that you have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide one.” And the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place which God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son and placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he picked up the knife to kill him. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!”

He answered, “Yes, here I am.”

12 “Don’t hurt the boy or do anything to him,” he said. “Now I know that you honor and obey God, because you have not kept back your only son from him.”

13 Abraham looked around and saw a ram caught in a bush by its horns. He went and got it and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “The Lord Provides.”  And even today people say, “On the Lord‘s mountain he provides.”

 

Reading this passage at face value, it is very difficult, really problematical.  God asking someone to sacrifice their much longed for and God-given gift.  Has God changed his mind?  Is he so cruel as to do that?  To ask for a child back?  This is not the kind of God I think I know and believe in.

What kind of father would do that to his son?  To go as far as to actually tie him up and lay him on the altar?  Was he deranged, lost all perspective, so caught up in religious mania?

What is this story doing in the bible?  Can it actually have anything to teach us?

We read the unfolding tale knowing what the ending is.  Ultimately Abraham goes on to take Isaac home with him, who goes on to be father of Jacob, and grandfather of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. I guess we don’t know how his life would have gone without this experience?

We can read it through a New Testament lens of God’s sacrifice of his own Son.  But that is not how it would have been for Abraham, or Isaac, as they live this experience, or for those first reading it.  They set out on this journey of faith.  Abraham clearly believed that God was going to do something different, because he told the men “We will be back”, but I don’t suppose he actually knew until it happened.

Just to be clear, I don’t for one minute think that God gives us things and ‘asks for them back’ or just takes them back.  Yes things happen and things and people that we treasured are taken from our lives – but never, ever by God.  See how complex this passage is…

So, I wanted to try and put myself in Abraham’s shoes as he walks this walk to Mount Moriah, his beloved Isaac by his side.  What did he think God was doing and saying – and what might it have to say to us?

I thought I had it all,
everything I’d ever wanted,
even what you promised me,
waited so long for,
and now…

You are asking me to give it up,
surrender,
sacrifice,
offer it back to you.

My most precious thing.
not just mine
but the whole family,
everyone involved.

What am I to do?
It is your gift to me,
I love him.

And there he is,
trotting along beside me –
Isaac,
my amazing son,
longed for love of my life,
trustingly,
quite literally putting his life in my hands.

How can I let him go,
my life,
my future
and the future you promised for me
and the generations to come?

Did you not mean your promise?
Was it just this –
so far and no further?
Is there a greater plan?
Do you have something else in mind?
Something I don’t understand?

So here I am Lord,
here we are,
walking as you asked,
coming to where you called us.
In fear,
in trepidation,
in hoping
that this time
I’ve got it very wrong,
that this is not what you are asking.

But I am here

And I trust that you will provide
as you always have
and you always will.

What is my most precious thing Lord?

What do I cling to
hold tightly to me,
prize above all things?

What have you given me
that fulfils my purpose
and calling?

What am I so thankful to you for?

And yet
I have to ask
if there is anything you are asking me to give you?
Not for you to destroy it,
take everything away,
but so I can receive it back
maybe in a changed way,
a new way,
a stronger way,
your way.

Help me to make sense
of the gifts you have given me
and what you want me to do with them.

To see
and understand
what you provide

 

 

God’s Outrageous Promise

Genesis 18: 1–15

A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

 

You turn up in the strangest of ways Lord.

As I sit
doing nothing really,
resting from the heat,
taking the air.

As strangers passing by
who I can’t help but invite in,
to offer respite from their journey,
shade from the heat,
an opportunity to wash,
refresh and feed.

And in them,
in that action
you speak to me.

God of presence
how will you appear to me?

Who are you bringing before me today?

Who are the strangers
who have so much to teach me,
to show me,
to point me to you,
to truth,
to hope?

Who are you asking me to entertain,
to feed,
to give rest?

Who are you calling me to tend,
to care for,
to refresh?

To listen to?

To receive from?

Who is bringing your word to me
that I might have missed
if I hadn’t invited them in?

How are you going to speak to me?

Please don’t play with me God
you know the pain I carry
deep within,
the feeling of failure,
of emptiness,
of letting this precious man down.

Don’t toy with my emotions
and allow me to hope.

My hope is gone,
my time is over,
what I believed was my purpose
has slipped by.

And yet
you turn up
and make an outrageous promise.

God of promise
who made such an outrageous promise to Sarah,
what promises are you making to me today?

What are you calling me to
that I can’t believe?

What are you asking me to trust you about?

What faith, trust, promise can I carry for you today?

I offer you what I have,
however I feel about it
and leave you
to do the rest.

Bless me
in the unexpected,
the outrageous,
in giving
and in receiving.

May I see you,
invite you in,
hear you
and join with you
on an outrageous journey of faith.