Groups or Individuals
This week, I caught a programme on BBC1 about a community event in Mid-Ulster, in Northern Ireland. It charted the efforts on the gay (LGBTQ+) community to organise a Gay Pride march. Gay Pride marches are something I normally associate with cities, not rural areas such as Mid-Ulster. An extra consideration here is that Mid-Ulster is an area where the Free Presbyterian Church is particularly strong; this regards same-sex relationships as sinful. But the local Church of Ireland minister, the Rev Andrew Rawding, is a firm supporter of gay rights; he has condemned the Church of Ireland for its “homophobic, discriminatory and prejudiced stand” on same-sex marriage. As the Church in England is currently in a major project to examine its own teachings on sexual relationships, I watched the programme with some interest. Some of it was very predictable; interviews with the main organisers of the parade and the Free Presbyterian Church setting out their respective positions. But it did focus on one very interesting dynamic. The Rev Rawding was on the organising committee but some appeared very unhappy that any person from an established church should be helping; they argued that this was inappropriate because of the historic stance of the churches towards the gay community. I think the Rev Rawding agreed to take a back seat, although he did take part in the parade. I struggled with the hostility to the Rev Rawding; it seems that some prefer to judge people by the organisations they belong to rather than what they personally believe. It is convenient to group all people together rather than to see the individual, but in the Gospels, we see Jesus doing the opposite. He reaches out to those who are outside the approved parties, treating them for what they are and not attaching labels. It is hard, it is not something I always do, but it does seem to me to be the way of the Gospel.
Rev David Poyner
The Long View
Back in the early 1980s, I was an avid attender of the cinema. Some of the most powerful films of that period came from America as it reflected on the legacy of Vietnam and Cambodia. One I especially remember was “The Killing Fields”, the story of how an American journalist struggled to get his Cambodian interpreter to safety, away from the Khmer Rouge, who were about to embark on a murderous mission of revenge against all those who they thought had opposed them. It is hardly surprising that film has again been in my mind with the events in Afghanistan this week. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be one of the crowd outside Kabul airport, desperate to escape but probably with very little realistic chance of that happening. Of course, the worse may not happen, but I am not hopeful.
I’ve written previously about how I find inspiration in the words attributed to Mary, part thanksgiving, part prophecy, when she learns she is to give birth to Jesus. In a modern version of this, “The Canticle of the Turning” we have the words “Let your justice burn, the world is about to turn”. As history seems about to repeat itself, those desperate to escape may wonder when exactly the world will turn, when this justice will appear. The Christian answer is that with the coming of Jesus, the world has turned, but the God who allowed himself to be nailed to a cross can only act through love. It is easy for love to be brushed aside by a man with a gun, but the God of eternity takes the long view. That love, that justice, is more powerful than any number of guns or perverted ideologies. God’s Kingdom will come, the will of God will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.
Rev David Poyner
I’ve Changed my Mind
A few weeks ago, I pontificated about wearing face masks. I said I would continue to wear them in public places, to protect those around me. As luck would have it, this appeared last week in the Bridgnorth Journal, as “Prayer for the week”. Anyone who read that and then saw me on Sunday evening, sitting in Billingsley Church without a mask, could, correctly, accuse me of not practicing what I was preaching. In fairness to myself, the big point of the article was about how small acts of restraint can make a difference, something I stand by. However, it is fair to say that in places where I’m pretty sure everyone has been double-jabbed, I now see less point in wearing a mask. I’ve changed my mind.
You may conclude from this that I’m a ditherer who really shouldn’t be writing in public. On some issues, that is true. But I’m not ashamed at admitting that there are many issues where I find it difficult to know what to think, never mind what to do. We have some general moral guidelines, such as the Ten Commandments, but we are left to work out the detail for ourselves and that means that many things are not clear. There are incidents in the Bible where Old Testament leaders are pictures as arguing with God and getting a change of plan. Jesus himself was open to interruptions in his ministry, often from women and was prepared to change course as a result of this. The life of faith has to be played out in a world where issues are complex and full of hard cases which challenge simple judgements. Sometimes I have had to admit that my initial reaction to a situation was wrong; to me, the only honest action is to admit to that. St Paul wrote of how in this world, we God as but a poor reflection in a mirror; I worry about some who always seem to see the way of God perfectly.
Rev David Poyner
This week, the late Dr Abbas Khan has featured in the news. Dr Khan was a UK surgeon who went to Syria in 2012 to treat victims of the civil war. There he was arrested and died in custody. He was perhaps, a kind of a martyr, losing his life whilst saving others. However, the reason the story is now in the news is because it has a sequel. It inspired the then 15 year old Karim al-Jian, born in Syria but raised in the UK, to study medicine. Karim has just qualified and met the family of Dr Khan to tell them how he had been so influenced by Dr Khan’s life and death. As far as I know, Dr Khan’s family were completely unaware of this.
There are many people who we meet once or twice and never see again. We have no idea what impact we make on them. Probably in most cases neither they, nor we, remember the encounter. But occasionally, we may make a difference; something as simple as a smile or a brief word of support may be a life-line. In vicar-speak, by these brief acts, we open the way for God, the Holy Spirit, to act, even though we almost certainly will never know what we have made possible. Around 2500 years ago, an individual known today as Deutero-Isaiah wrote these words, now part of the Book of Isaiah in the Bible:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord…
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…. so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Rev David Poyner
There is a danger that any church can become so obsessed with its own existence and a narrow focus on “saving souls”, that it forgets Jesus’s teaching on loving others; the parable of the Good Samaritan is there to remind us we need to look outwards to serve and be served. At Billingsley, we try and offer financial support to one or two causes each year, one local and one further afield. This year, our local cause is the Borderlands Rural Chaplaincy, an agency that offers support to those of all faiths and none who are struggling in rural communities such as ourselves. Below is an extract from their website, https://www.borderchaplain.org/ If you are able, remember their work in your prayers.
Borderlands Rural Chaplains work in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Eastern Powys. We are a confidential, listening ear offering pastoral support to farmers, farming families and agricultural communities. Since our inception in 2013 we have helped over 100 individuals and families through difficult situations such as animal disease, family problems, mental ill-health and the demands of farming processes. Funded, supported and managed by churches of different denominations including Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Anglican, we assist in various ways from a one-off phone call to on-going pastoral care. We collaborate with national agencies who can assist farmers with emergency finance.
Working alongside other agencies such as the Farming Community Network, Shropshire Rural Support, The Arthur Rank Centre and The National Farmers’ Union, we are “church without walls”, committed to serving our rural populations.
Re David Poyner