Sunday 18th September – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
This week our thoughts were with the late Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Family and King Charles, and in our Service we celebrated and gave thanks for the life of our Queen.
For our anthem we had an unexpected but welcome guest – Rod Chilcot – boosting our quintet to a sextet…….and perhaps we may hope?
David read us 1 Corinthians 13 with its message about love. His favourite passage is “Love does not keep a record of wrongs” – how much better the world would be if we all followed that!
And love is equally relevant for a Queen who devoted herself to her people in her vows and throughout her life, and of course to her family. This is not to forget her love for horses: even toward the end she was at the races with her trainer, happy and smiling because one of her horses came in first.
There were problems in the family and 1992 was a particularly tough year with media attacks and the fire at Windsor – an annus horribilis – but she kept going and became more outward. We saw her sense of humour with the James Bond piece at the opening of the 2012 Olympics and the tea with Paddington Bear at the time of her Jubilee (all the more so because she kept it secret from her family). She could have fun – and make fun of herself.
Despite serial problems within the family, she never flinched, and certainly never considered the easy way out of abdication. She was made of sterner stuff! She’s made up her mind to serve and her greatest joy (after family and horses) was in giving joy to people, especially the young and those with disabilities.
What she has done will form a basis for the strength of the country and for its future. And Charles, at times perhaps sometimes not going in quite the expected direction whilst Prince of Wales, has clearly been well trained and instilled with all the sense of duty, care and love that his mother has shown us. So today we do truly celebrate a life well lived.
I think with his focus on love and duty, David has missed another great asset – her wisdom.
From the start of her reign, she has understood the nature of the compact between the sovereign and her people that is a constitutional monarchy. She has repeatedly re-invented the way the Royal Family presents itself as the expectations of society have changed. She has used her non-political “soft power” to achieve reconciliations that no politician could have attempted (think dancing with President Nkrumah at the time of Ghana’s independence, or her statements and handshakes with Irish and IRA leaders). These actions stem from her wisdom, her strong Christian beliefs, and her vision of what she personally could achieve.
A tough act for King Charles to follow, but as David says, he’s been well trained and is thoughtful, diligent and committed.
Sunday 28th August – Family Service led by Pamela Llewellyn
We welcomed Pamela on her first visit to lead worship in our church. Pamela now lives in Potters Bar and is a member of the Potters Bar Baptist Church.
So that we could learn a little more about her, she told us about her own faith journey.
She’d been brought up in a Roman Catholic family but struggled to feel connected to God because of the rituals and a congregation socialising in closed friend and family groups. At 16 had left the church. She went to university and found that any time she found something hard to deal with, she would still “shoot it up in prayer” – to someone she wasn’t even sure was going to be there.
One morning she woke up with a longing to go to church (God said “It’s time!”) and as her mother had by this time moved to a Pentecostal Church, she went there and got involved. It was a big church and after a time she found it was easy to feel invisible, not part of a group. She blended into the background and one day walked out and did not return.
A few years later she was in a situation with which she was struggling, and a friend invited her to see her Minister and go to her church in Barnet (she lived in Chiswick). She got a lot of help and realised she needed to make a new commitment to God. So she went to that church every week for a year, found that this was the church she wanted to be part of, and moved to Barnet. She served in the church for many years, and grew and deepened her faith, before coming to Potters Bar.
Our faith journeys will be unique to each of us but Pamela felt it was important to reconnect with the start of our journeys, how we first came to know God, how it felt, the excitement when we first met with him. She is a questioning person, wanting proof which was not always possible, but what she learned was that she had to put her faith in God – and she’d been doing that ever since. It’s important to stay close and committed in our relationship with Jesus, that we might continue to walk with him, talk with him and hear from him, in order to serve him better (and there was a big smile as we sang “Just a closer walk with thee” together).
The reading from Exodus 3 has God calling Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. As Pamela told us, Moses had been hidden in the reeds by his mother as a baby, and saved from death and brought up by Pharoah’s daughter. For around 40 years, his life was that of a prince, well educated and well treated. He’d reacted with compassion to the mistreatment of his fellow Hebrews, culminating in killing an Egyptian. He’d been forced to flee and after helping women at a well trying to draw water had been taken into the family of one of the women and spent the next 40 years of his life as a shepherd in a wilderness area, gaining practical experience on how to survive under such conditions. It would have been a much simpler life, but he was content. Now he’s been met by God for what would the purpose of his life for the next 40 years. He’s been prepared from birth, shaped, moulded and prepared for what was to come as part of God’s plan.
Looking at us , Pamela supposed that we might also feel that we’ve had our time and now it’s time for others to step up and contribute. Possibly we might want to retreat from the inconsistencies and uncertainties of modern life and settle back to do the things we’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity or time to do. The Bible shows us that God does not discriminate on age or gender (think Sarah 90+, Abraham 100+ and Mary, the mother of Jesus, a teenager). Could we imagine even in our 90ies receiving a message from God today, “I want to lead people out of persecution, and you are just the person to do that. I want you to go to the Ukraine and help a community of people who are struggling”. We might imagine how Moses would have felt?
The meeting between Moses and God was pretty spectacular. Moses showed his reluctance, and we can understand that. Pamela wondered whether if Moses had not responded, God would have left him there and sought someone else. But he did respond, and God assured him that he’d not be alone.
There was no spectacular burning bush for Pamela, but she believes she was responding to a call from God when she woke up that morning. Now she finds herself with us on a Sunday morning – so he did have something in mind for her!
If we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. Pamela wonders if we are hearing from God. Are we open to hearing from him – even now – and are we ready to respond? Perhaps we are keen to serve God but don’t know how, or what we can offer him. If this is the case, we are to keep praying and listen out for God’s reply. It’s the quiet time we make to walk with God, to be with him and ask him to share a word with us. To speak to us in some way – through somebody, through the scriptures, through a song. And in those spaces wherever that is, that is our Holy Ground. And like with Moses, if he’s sending us somewhere, asking us to do something, he will be with us.
Pamela told us about her own difficulties to become pregnant and those of a church friend, still waiting after 11 years for a response to her asylum application. The two became prayer partners, with weekly prayer sessions where they prayed for each other. After just over a year, both prayers were answered. God had heard their prayer and answered.
In Trusting God by Jeremy Bridges, he talks of 3 essential truths about God:
God is completely sovereign,
Infinite in wisdom,
Perfect in Love.
God in his love will always will what is best for us. In his wisdom he knows what is best for us, and in his sovereignty has the power to bring it about.
What is God saying to us as individuals or as a church? Has he been preparing us to reach out and help, or are we perhaps in great need and calling out to God, but have not yet seen an answer to our prayers. Whatever it may be, Pamela urges us to put our trust in him. He sees all, knows all and is present in all situations. His love for us is vast and he will look after us if we hear him and follow what he says.
Sunday 21st August – Communion Service led by Revd. David Aplin
Perhaps it was the fact that David read the Old Testament reading himself that should have warned us that the Spirit had moved him to focus his address (unusually for him) on the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 1.
Yes, Luke 13 was also important: Jesus telling the temple Elders that it was alright to do God’s work on the Sabbath – thereby challenging what he felt was a temple hierarchy, mired in its own obsessive rule making, that had lost sight of God’s true purpose. It was a challenge to the temple Elders that set him off down the road to arrest, torture, trial and execution.
David had turned to the reading from Jeremiah because he could see how the words applied to him personally; words given to him by his experiences, beliefs, and readings from the bible, interpreted for him by the Spirit (meaning he could read the same passage multiple times and get completely different meanings). He feels directed by the Spirit when he preaches and also in pastoral situations – particularly when he’s messing up (the Spirit comes and helps him along).
So he had responded to a call to help a young 15-year old girl who had been in hospital for over 10 months with an eating disorder. The Lord had called David, and he’d visited the girl weekly to talk, finding her surprisingly spiritual and her closing prayers exceptional and moving. She was now home again in Bedford, with David now only needing to complete his railway guard training (with a heritage railway) to be able to fulfil his promise to take her in his guard’s van for a railway trip.
He told us that the passage from Jeremiah was not just for preachers and worship leaders. With our collection prayer, David had given thanks for the talents we’ve all been given and the strength, love and support we receive. We are to use those talents for God. David had been surprised how many people in our church had done good and valuable things in the past but seem to have given up. The number of non-serving Elders was so much higher than the serving Elders (perhaps not surprising, given how the role has changed, with so much focus on trustee responsibilities for governance, regulatory compliance, health & safety and safeguarding?). People were also standing down from serving on committees. Age and growing infirmity were factors, but he had observed that too often disputes had caused schisms.
He sees a church with a considerable reservoir of talent, lovely buildings, a lovely nursery school, money, and great traditions. We have so much, and yet we are in danger. He goes to other URC churches in our area and sees signs of growth. So we are not getting it right, and we have talent that has chosen to stand aside. We don’t want to be a church that dies.
There are ways: David sees other churches making full use of electronic media, paying youngsters to do things and giving the church an exciting face, making things happen, and changing the church to be fit for the modern age. How different is our church today compared to fifty years ago he asks?
David doesn’t want to re-make our church so that it makes us uncomfortable (though he has found resistance to change) but he does value keeping up to date. He’s seen things that work – building groups through social media, getting youngster in to do work. If we are not prepared to bring our time and talents to help, it won’t be like watching Rome burn but watching the last embers die out and only ash remain. We should ask ourselves “can I forgive that hurt or slight, or difference of opinion”? The demands of the Lord trumps all that stuff!
When the Lord asks PBURC “What do you see?”, if we can answer “We see a church working in harmony and love to bring more people to faith in Christ”, the Lord will say to us “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my will is fulfilled”.
So perhaps it was less a sermon to us and more a call to arms?
Later during the Service David talked about a newly formed Worship Committee, which will hold its first meeting in September. He needs people to get together who have thoughts and ideas to find new ways to reach out to God’s people.
(As a reviewer, I can say we’ve been here before many times and have not found that “magic bullet”. Perhaps it is because we have talked in concepts, not practical ideas, and have not seen how we as individuals can contribute making the concepts a reality. Sometimes we have gone along with ideas that we have felt were impractical for the sake of harmony. The ideas have remained ideas, because nobody has come forward to take them forward – and to keep on going for long enough to give them a chance to succeed. A real challenge for the members of the Worship Committee, but one perhaps we can rise to?)