February 2021 Magazine
A FEBRUARY THOUGHT
“God’s strength in your weakness is His presence in your life” A. Stanley
I’ve just been reading about an American Air Force surgeon in Iraq. It’s very moving, very humbling to read about how he deals with the traumas of daily surgery on horrifically wounded soldiers and Iraqis. But even worse are the traumas of the silence of his room and his own thoughts.
For people of faith one of the challenges of the Lockdown is house bound isolation or alternatively living on top of each other; for families there are anxieties of home schooling and economic pressures – like the surgeon in my book the frantic pace, then the enforced seclusion and then living together as in a fish bowl. Can we then be surprised about the upturn in divorce, abuse and more addictions? These are very stressful days.
Be clear, I’m not making excuses for people harming other people. Lockdown is soul destroying for many people. In these situations, we pray prayers from the heart or from exasperation of life or from fear and pain, not from beautiful worship in an aesthetic setting. Our prayers at this time are much akin to those of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like Jesus we must try to hold onto our faith. Like I was telling the children this week in a Zoom assembly as members of God’s family we must be kind, honest and open to each other. It’s very difficult advice but the saintly Billy Graham, said. “Don’t let circumstances distress you. Rather, look for the will of God for your life to be revealed in and through those circumstances.”
Today, we have many heroes, many saints and special people to inspire us to acts of kindness and generosity and love. Nurses, cleaners, doctors, post office workers, care workers etc. The church has always been inspired both by people of the past and people of this present age. Think for a moment, are we as courageous as the people I’ve mentioned. Can we have the love, humility and care of a Covid nurse? Imagine washing a patient who can do nothing for themselves.
I’ve been on both ends of this image. It’s a privilege to care for the sick but in the role of a sick person we have to allow others to minister to us. In your daily life I pray that you have the good grace to serve and be served. Max Lucado said, “i simply think God is greater than our weakness. In fact, I think it is our weaknesses that reveals how great God is.”
Sadly, at times like this pandemic some people think, with some resentment, that it’s very easy for Christians to deal with life. But I’m a Christian not because I’ve got everything sorted, not because I know all the answers but because I’m so often weak and I need Jesus Christ as my saviour. I’d say that this is the truth for many Christians or people of faith. So, whether we believe in God or not, may we accept our weaknesses and so serve each other with love. All human beings are very precious and deserve love and respect, for we never know the pain of other people. Like the surgeon at the beginning of my thought we may be carrying a lot of things in our hearts and minds and bodies.
Dear friends, I pray that you keep safe and well. Everyday you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.
Stephen Monk (Revd)
Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who sleep.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Attributed to St. Augustine
as we remember before you the thousands
who have died,
surround us and all who mourn with your
Be gentle with us in our grief,
protect us from despair,
and give us grace to persevere
and face the future with hope
in Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen
As we are still in Lockdown, we are not able to run courses in our churches as we normally do. This year, in conjunction with the Methodist church, we will be using Zoom to do this. There will be a course on a Monday evening led by Robert Foster of the Methodists and one on Thursday mornings led by Stephen Monk. All those who have email addresses known to us will be invited to join one of these according to preference of time and day.
If you would like to join but do not receive an invitation please email us. Contact Stephen or Ian.
For those who do not use computers or the Internet we are looking at sending out something in print.
Jigsaw Food Bank
They are helping more people than ever and require extra donations. While we cannot collect these at church, don’t forget the bins in our local supermarkets – Sainsbury’s and the Co-op.
Alternatively, get a cheque to Ian Sutton and he will make sure the donation is forwarded to them. You can use the contact us page on this web site to find out how to contact Ian.
How to handle temptation (article from PP)
“I can resist everything but temptation” (Oscar Wilde). During Lent we remember Jesus’ experience in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), when ‘He was led by the Spirit… to be tempted by the devil.’ (1). Temptation is a test of obedience whether we do things our way or God’s way. After 40 days of fasting Jesus was tired, hungry and vulnerable. Like Him, the Devil will attack us at our most vulnerable moments, especially during this pandemic.
The first temptation was to turn stones into bread: Jesus’ ministry was not about meeting His own needs, but being nourished by God’s Word. ‘We do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Deuteronomy 8:3). Like Jesus, we are called to make God our priority and trust Him completely.
The second temptation was to put God to the test: Jumping off the Temple pinnacle would have been a dramatic way for Jesus to gain popularity, but this is not God’s way! ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Deuteronomy 6:16). We too need to learn this lesson!
The third temptation was to worship Satan: Finally, the devil took Jesus to a mountain to offer Him worldly power. In contrast, His calling as Messiah was marked by suffering and honouring God. ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’ (Deuteronomy 6:13). This is often our experience in living for God.
Jesus stands with us in our temptations. As we claim the promises of Scripture, we will find strength in the power of the Spirit and the victory of the Cross.
‘If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest!’ (Corrie Ten Boom).
Editor: As Valentine’s Day approaches, Canon Paul Hardingham considers romantic love. (article from PP)
As we mark Valentines’ Day this month, it’s good to ask the question: what does real love look like?
The Apostle Paul says: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not
self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’ (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8).
Love is unconditional:
At heart, love is not just feelings but action! Paul talks here about unconditional love, using the word agape, which demonstrated in God’s love for us: ‘We love, because He first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19).
Love is forgiving: According to the film Love Story, ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’ This is rarely true in our experience! According to Paul, love is being ready to forgive others and ‘keeping no record of wrongs’ (5). We can only forgive others because we know God’s forgiveness in our own lives.
Love is sacrificial:
Paul says that agape love is not selfish or self-seeking, but selfless and self-sacrificial, putting the needs of other people first. This is modelled by Jesus giving His life for us on the cross. Take the words from 1 Corinthians and instead of the word love, substitute your own name. Now substitute the word Jesus. This is the Jesus who is available to you to make your love for others grow and flourish.
Someone once compared love being like a group of porcupines huddling together on a cold night. The closer they get, the more they jab and hurt each other. ‘To love at all is to be vulnerable.’ (C S Lewis).
Editor: Here is a beautiful paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 – the love chapter.
Describe what love is
J R Miller (1840-1912) was considered by many to be the most gifted devotional writer of his generation. His book ‘In Green Pastures’ was much loved. Here is J R Miller’s paraphrase of the famous ‘love’ passage in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love thinks no evil. It does not suspect unkindness in kindly deeds. It does not imagine an enemy in every friend. It does not fear insincerity in sincere professions of esteem. It does not impugn others’ motives nor discount their acts.
On the other hand, it overlooks foibles and hides the multitude of faults that belong to every human being, even to those who are the holiest and the best. Love believes in the good that is in people and tries to think of them always at their best, not at their worst.
It looks, too, at the possibilities that are in people, what they may become through divine love and grace, and not merely at what they now are. It is wonderful how seeing through love’s eyes changes the whole face of earthly life, transfiguring it. If the heart be filled with suspicion, distrust, and doubt of people, the world grows very ugly. But love sees brightness, beauty and hope everywhere.
Shrove Tuesday: Who’s for pancakes?
by David Winter
Why do we have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, as we call it today? And what is Shrove Tuesday? And why do thousands of people feel it rewarding to race along a street somewhere tossing pancakes from their frying pans as they go?
Well, the answer to the first question is that it is the day before Lent begins and for well over a thousand years that has meant it was the last chance to enjoy meat, fat and other tasty dishes until Easter Day. The ‘Lent Fast’ was widely and strictly observed. The food in the larder wouldn’t keep for six weeks so it had to be eaten. With all these rich foods no wonder the French call it ‘Fatty Tuesday’ – Mardi Gras.
So, what have pancake races got to do with all this solemnity? ‘Shrove’ is an old word for ‘forgiven’ and in those days to prepare for the rigours of Lent people would want to confess and seek forgiveness – not quite what you want at a party. The answer is quite simply enjoying yourself while you can! So, on Shrove Tuesday this year let’s have some fun and make it last as long as possible.
The most convincing (and amusing) of the explanations of pancake races is of outwitting the Sexton who rang the curfew bell that marked the start of Lent. He was reluctant to do it while the race was unfinished. So, the revelry caused by dropped pancakes, postponed the inevitable.
Since the Reformation it has not been so rigorously observed in Britain, but still people will resolve to ‘give up something for Lent’. Six weeks is about right as a duration and Sunday has always been exempt but make the most of those pancakes. They may well not reappear until April 12th!
Food for thought
Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace. – Jerry Bridges
It is but right that our hearts should be on God, when the heart of God is so much on us. – Richard Baxter
The Church at Home
Editor: The Revd Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, considers the growing problem of fake news.
Truth at risk of being auctioned to the highest bidder – Archbishop
Truth is becoming a commodity, up for auction to the highest bidder, says Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell in a recent article published in Radio Times.
Lamenting the decline of truth in public life, the Archbishop explains “The echo chambers of social media and the fake news that often goes with it have led us to mistrust and cynicism.
“In other parts of the world, even news channels seem to be mouthpieces of certain political parties or vested interests.”
Commenting on the US Presidential election, Archbishop Cottrell says “Look at how divided and mistrustful of each other the people of that nation have become. Most alarming of all, there seems to be no common understanding of what is true or who can be trusted. Truth itself seems to have become a commodity, bought by the highest bidder.”
The Archbishop’s words echo those of former President Barack Obama, who told the BBC that the US was more sharply divided now than when Donald Trump won election four years ago.
Using the term ‘truth decay’ to describe a rise in conspiracy theories and disinformation in the US, Barack Obama said, “I think at some point it’s going to require a combination of regulation and standards within industries to get us back to the point where we at least recognise a common set of facts before we start arguing about what we should do about those facts.”
The Archbishop of York, who took up the post last July, is warning that the divisions in the US could come to the UK. He believes that the BBC and other UK ‘public service broadcasting’ channels like Channel 4 have a vital role in holding the country together.
He says “I know that there are many across the country who feel that during this terrible pandemic year, others have been favoured at their expense. The vision of the united but diverse nation that we see on TV programmes such as ‘Gogglebox’ is not always what we see around us.”
The Archbishop is worried that the rise and spending power of US broadcasting giants Netflix and Amazon places “our British way of doing broadcasting under threat. A voracious, unchecked market may just sweep it away. Even some of our own politicians don’t always see this.”
He adds: “Along with the NHS, and even the Church of England, the BBC and other public service broadcasters are a precious part of our cultural ecology. They help us to see ourselves clearly. They can be trusted.”
Meanwhile, a project running in the CofE’s St Albans diocese has brought together journalists, scientists, representatives of Big Tech and authors with people from a range of faiths to consider how the rising tide of disinformation and fake news can be stemmed.
Grove Books has published ‘Responding to Post Truth’, showing how churches and Christians could fight back against fake news and disinformation.
You can order a copy at:
Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Sir Keir Starmer praises churches
Christianity has provided a blueprint for social improvement, according to the Labour Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer.
Writing in a recent issue of Church Times, he said, “For all the loss and difficulty, we should not let this year be defined by pain. Throughout the pandemic, we have also seen the best of humanity.”
Sir Keir said that during this past year “religious institutions and local communities have banded together for the common good, showing us the very best of Britain.” And he went on to say that “the best of British values” that have surfaced during the pandemic “are also the best of Christian values.”
The British Church in 2021
The fourth edition of UK Church Statistics, No. 4, 2021 Edition, has now been published. Although this is a pre-Covid-19 assessment, the findings will still be of interest.
The book looks at the 228 denominations in the UK. Although 39% of the denominations (which are responsible for 82% of the total membership) are declining, still some 50% of all the denominations were showing some, if small, growth.
That so many groups of Christian churches are growing amidst general decline is significant. What is helping that growth? It was found to have been caused by the enormous numbers of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, students coming into the country. Some of these come from countries with Christian traditions or backgrounds. These ‘Diaspora churches’ include Iranian, Latvian, Romanian, Sri Lankan, Syrian and Turkish churches, made up of immigrants to the UK.
Dr Peter Brierley may be contacted on email@example.com.
The Worldwide Church –
The Persecuted Church
Death threats for China Christian Freedom campaigner
A leading campaigner for Christian freedom in China has received death threats and been hounded from his home in Texas.
Bob Fu is a former Tiananmen Square protester and partner of UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.
Fu and his family have been traumatised by bomb threats and protests that continued for weeks on his doorstep in Texas, but he insists his work at ChinaAid will continue.
Pastor Bob Fu says ChinaAid has been targeted for intimidation but will not be silenced. Instead, this taste of persecution on their doorstep is a wake-up call to the free world that will spur on the campaign for freedom of faith in China. The threats are part of a bizarre campaign to target Chinese exiles in several countries.
The mayor of Bob’s hometown in Texas told reporters: “There are people who want Bob Fu eliminated, who would like to see his life ended.”
Bob Fu says: “I have no doubt this is directly from Beijing. The goal is clear. It’s to silence my voice for freedom in China and to destroy the ministry of ChinaAid.” But he insists: “We cannot let them stop us – it’s business as usual.”
The threats have taken a toll on his family. Fu’s 15-yr-old daughter had to be taken out of school by armed police. ‘The atmosphere was so tense – that caused stress, mentally and physically.’ The family is now back in their home under police protection.
Bob Fu was speaking about persecution in China in Washington DC when news broke that protesters had gathered outside his home in Midland, Texas. Bomb threats were made against his family, who had to be taken into protective custody.
“The FBI deemed the threat very real and credible,” says Fu. “So, they quickly had to evacuate our whole family with fully armed protection.”
ChinaAid is a long-term partner of UK-based Release International, whose CEO, Paul Robinson says, “Bob Fu is an outspoken champion of freedom of faith in China. And China doesn’t like that. We must ask ourselves whose interests are served in trying to silence this courageous campaigner and by attacking other Chinese dissidents in the free world. Release International stands with Bob Fu.”
The Church, China and Hong Kong
The Archbishop-elect of Hong Kong, the Rt Revd Andrew Chan, has promised to work for reconciliation between China, “the motherland” and Hong Kong and Macao.
He said that under his leadership, the Anglican Church would hope to establish “a harmonious and coalescing relationship” between the two sides, “so all may flourish amidst mutual respect and understanding.”
He went on to say that Hong Kong was currently “experiencing fragmentation, hostility, mistrust and hatred among different factions” in both the Church and the wider community. But he hoped that the Church could become a ‘bridge and reconciler in our home town.”
Bishop Chan studied at Newcastle University and Salisbury and Wells Theological College. As Bishop of Western Kowloon, he has previously signed a joint letter criticising the government for refusing to listen to protestors, and the violence of protesters who stormed the Hong Kong parliament building last year.
Editor: Here is a sobering overview as 2021 gets underway. It is a long article but as we are still at the beginning of the New Year and understandably focussed on getting through the pandemic we still need to look beyond our own horizons.
Christian persecution in 2021 is set to rise in China and India
That is the forecast of Release International, which has recently published its annual Persecution Trends survey.
“Our partners tell us that attacks are on the rise under Communism in China, Islam in Iran and Malaysia, and under militant Hinduism in India,” says Release CEO Paul Robinson.
“Yet despite persecution and pandemic, we see clear evidence of the boldness, courage and trust in God of Christians under pressure around the world.”
Persecution is thriving in Communist China, which has bought the silence of the international community through increased dependence on trade, according to the report.
Release International’s partners warn: ‘The government of President Xi Jinping is increasing its ‘clean up’ of anything that does not advance the communist agenda. They appear to believe that they can achieve this by systematic opposition.”
Tough new laws controlling religion have been imposed. Non-registered churches have been raided and closed in 2020, and increasing numbers of registered churches have been made to install CCTV cameras and to put up posters proclaiming communist ideals and beliefs.
According to Release International’s partners, the Chinese authorities “have bought freedom from censure due to trade with China. Many countries now regard this trade as essential to their own economies.”
In common with a number of persecuting nations, China has been exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to tighten restrictions on underground believers.
“The Chinese Government is trying every way to take advantage of the virus by increasing the crackdown against Christian churches,” says Release partner Bob Fu, of ChinaAid. “It has accelerated particular campaigns, such as the forced removal of crosses.”
Bob Fu’s work has come under direct pressure as a result of a bizarre campaign targeting Chinese exiles in many countries. Even in the United States he has faced bomb threats and been forced to seek police protection, but he says the work of ChinaAid will not be stopped.
Covid has also been used as a cover for increasing persecution in Malaysia, report Release partners working in that country.
“The newly formed government is using the outbreak of Covid for their purposes. They have closed churches all over the country, where persecution is definitely increasing.”
Release International is petitioning the Malaysian authorities to release Pastor Raymond Koh, who was abducted off the street in a military-style operation.
Malaysian Christians from a Muslim background have experienced the sharpest persecution, which is likely to increase in 2021.
However, coronavirus has also presented opportunities for the underground church in nations hostile to the Christian faith.
In North Korea, one of the harshest environments in the world for Christians, believers have viewed the coronavirus as an act of God that opens new opportunities for them, states Release International’s partner.
“This has been the most creative year we have witnessed in the underground church to date.”
During 2020, despite the Covid restrictions, Release partners were able to double their distribution of Bibles to Christians in North Korea.
And in Iran, where the church is growing, increasing numbers of Christians were able to avoid government surveillance by meeting online.
“Persecution is on the increase in Iran because the authorities are aware of the growth in the number of converts and house churches. They are determined at all costs to stem this,” say Release International’s partners.
“There is no doubt that the government is concerned that disillusioned Muslims are becoming Christians.”
The pressure on Christians in Iran is likely to continue, leading to a further exodus of Christians from the country in 2021.
Another Islamic nation where persecution is a major concern for the coming year is Pakistan.
Release partners say the blasphemy laws continued to be widely misused against Christians and other minorities – often to settle personal scores. In addition, the Christian community is facing the abduction, rape, and enforced conversion and marriage of Christian girls.
This trend has also been noted in Egypt, home to the largest Christian population in the Arab world. Again, it is Christians from a Muslim background who bear the brunt of persecution.
Converts face expulsion from their families, divorce, estrangement from their children and loss of employment.
Other countries of concern to Release International for 2021 include Nigeria and India.
In Nigeria, where Christians have long been at risk from the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, they face a growing threat from heavily armed Fulani militants.
Release partners believe these attacks are increasingly taking on the characteristic of a jihad – to which the international community is turning a blind eye.
“We have seen well-planned, well-orchestrated, systematic attacks on Christian communities that have nothing to do with a fight for grazing lands,” said Release partner Rev Hassan John.
“These attacks are driven by an Islamist ideology, aimed at destroying ‘the infidels’ and, in many places, displacing them from their communities, while the government, by design or omission turns a blind eye to the carnage.’
Another Release partner in Nigeria, Mark Lipdo, adds: “The failure of governance has led to increased criminality with impunity.”
As a result, Christians have suffered increasing attacks, including robbery and kidnapping for ransom. Unless the authorities hold the perpetrators accountable and take measures to protect vulnerable communities, the violence against Christians is set to continue throughout 2021.
In India, Christians and other minorities fear religious intolerance will continue to grow during 2021, largely due to growing Hindu nationalism.
Hindu extremists attacked churches and individual believers throughout 2020.
According to India’s Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Christians
suffered 225 incidents of religiously motivated violence during the first
ten months of 2020 – compared to 218 incidents in the same period in 2019. Many of these attacks were by vigilante mobs.
In September 2020, Hindu extremists incited mobs of up to 3,000 people to attack Christians in three villages in Chhattisgarh state.
The growing intolerance towards Christianity has been marked since the coming to power of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in 2014. According to Release partners, there has been a significant rise in the number of attacks against Christians following the subsequent landslide victory of BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019.
The Persecution Trends survey is published in the latest of edition of Release International’s Voice magazine, available shortly.
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.
More at: www.releaseinternational.org
‘We pray for those who suffer in your name all over the world, our brothers and sisters, who share in that same great gift of salvation through your son, but who face injustice, oppression and even death because of their faith in you. We pray that you will grant them strength, courage, and protection from those who seek to harm them because they follow you; guidance and wisdom for when their path seems impossible to tread, and hope for a future where they have the freedom to worship you without fear. In the name of Jesus. Amen’
God in the Sciences
This is written by Dr Ruth M Bancewicz, who is Church Engagement Director at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge. Ruth writes on the positive relationship between Science and Christian faith.
Hope for 2021: Celebrating the now and future creation
I find that watching buds swelling on trees and plants during the winter months gives me a tremendous sense of hope. We may all need some
extra hope for 2021, after the events of 2020. By the time you read this a number of us may have been fortunate enough to receive a COVID vaccine, but all of us will probably still be under various kinds of restrictions. After creation’s winter shut-down, the sight of tiny flowers poking out of brown earth may be more important than ever.
Getting outdoors during daylight hours, enjoying green spaces and getting some fresh air and exercise are great ways to keep ourselves healthy at any time of year. A psychologist colleague wrote, “Attending to the details of nature can also inspire awe, which has been linked to positive mood and increased life satisfaction.” I expect it is this sense of awe that makes it easier for many of us to connect with God outdoors.
Helping ourselves and others to thrive is a good start to 2021, but it is also vital to have hope for the future. The COVID-19 pandemic was caused by an animal virus jumping into the human population. Diseases like this are not ‘natural disasters’, but are almost certainly caused by environmental destruction and poor farming practices – either from greed or the desperation born of poverty. Part of the answer to the current crisis is for us to care for all of Creation, both human and everything else, with God’s help.
Our ultimate hope is in God’s promise that He will bring about a new heavens and new earth. We can look forward to the day when Creation will be fully redeemed and liberated from evil. The Greek word used to describe the new creation is the same as that used to describe someone who becomes a Christian, whose humanity is restored and renewed. There will be continuity between the old and new earth as it is cleansed and purified, surpassing and perfecting what has gone before. There will also be some discontinuity, as there will be no more suffering or death.
So, one source of hope for 2021 is that we can enjoy both caring for and meeting God in Creation. But the parts of Creation that we find most beautiful, giving us a sense of awe and helping us to worship, are also a reminder that there is something much better to come.
By Ruth Bancewicz, Church Engagement Director, The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge