Tuesday, 17 July 2012

St Martin's Newsletter Article: Sunday 15th July 2012

During the last fifty two years, St Martin’s has witnessed a lot of changes. 

St Martin’s was originally a daughter church to St Matthew’s, and its first ministers were curates from St Matthews.  In 1975 St Martin’s was granted its own incumbent, and in September 1977 St Martin’s became a district church, responsible for its own affairs, with a resident minister living in St Martin’s House. 

Another important milestone in the life of St Martin’s took place on the 13 December 1987 when a Team Ministry was inaugurated, consisting of St Matthew’s, St Martin’s and St Luke’s, with a Team Rector and two Team Vicars.  The team ministry was eventually disbanded in January 2011, and the new parish of Walsall St Martin was created.  In this morning’s service we are celebrating and marking this special event (albeit eighteen months late!), as the Archdeacon of Walsall, the Venerable Chris Sims installs me as Vicar of St Martin’s, and licences Phill as Associate Minister following the completion of his curacy. 

The installation and licensing that takes place in this service, reminds us that as Christians we are ALL called to ministry.   Through our baptism we have been called to serve God.  1 Peter 2:9 reads, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 

We have been chosen by God as His very Own, and we have been called to represent Him to others, we are each called to play our part in the Body of Christ. So today lets all rededicate ourselves to the service of God and one another. 
Lord God, take my mind and think through it;
take my lips and speak through them;
take my heart and set it on fire with love
for you and for your people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

God bless

In defence of bishops in the House of Lords

In February the Queen gave a speech at a multi faith reception in London, in which she said "The concept of our established church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated.” This is particular true regarding the role of bishops in the House of Lords. 

The House of Lords has 825 members, of which twenty six are Anglican bishops (3.15% of the total membership of the Upper Chamber).  They are there by virtue of the fact that we have an established church.   

The bishops are not affiliated to any political party, and therefore provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House.  Bishops are often one of the few voices to be heard in Parliament speaking up for the poor, and speaking on issues of social justice – issues that affect us all.  Bishops in the House of Lords have been heavily involved in debates surrounding proposed changes to health and social care, legal aid and welfare reform, challenging many of the proposals which would disproportionately affect the poorest in society.  For example the bishops in the House of Lords recently helped defeat the Governments plans to introduce a cap on benefits. 

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, Bishop Angaelos recently defended the role of Anglican bishops in the Upper Chamber, praising them for their faithful representation of groups and peoples who suffer persecution and marginalisation.  He said of the bishops in the House of Lords, “They are a moral and ethical compass within the parliamentary centre of the political life of these lands.”

In a time of great political and economic upheaval, we need to recognise and value the important role Bishops play in bringing moral, ethical and spiritual leadership to the heart of our parliamentary system.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Finishing the Race

Walsall Advertiser Living Faith Article: August 2nd 2012

For the athletes participating in the Olympic Games in London, years of training will have been spent preparing for this event.  During the games some athletes will achieve their lifetime’s ambition of winning a gold medal, but for others their Olympic dreams will end in bitter disappointment.  As Paul writes in the New Testament ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?’

Disappointment and failure is something that we all face in life at some point.  The challenge for the athlete and for each one of us in times such as this is how do we respond to such setbacks?   

Derek Redmond and his father Jim at the Barcelona Olympic Games 1992

One of the most memorable Olympic moments was at the Barcelona games in 1992.  Derek Redmond, who held the British record for the 400 metres sprint, and won gold medals in the 4x400 metres relay at the World Championships, European Championships and Commonwealth Games, was competing in the semi finals of the 400 metres, when he tore his hamstring.  He knew instantly that his Olympic dream was over, but he was also determined to finish the race.

To the amazement of the crowd, Derek Redmond slowly started hobbling down the track to the finishing line.  His father Jim, who had been watching from the stands, ran onto the track and put his arm around his son’s waist, and together they finished the race arm in arm to a standing ovation.  Jim Redmond told the press afterwards. “I’m the proudest father alive. I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal.”

Twenty years after that race, not many people remember who won that semi-final race or who even won the final, but Derek Redmond is still remembered.  Because despite the pain, despite the heartache, despite the disappointment, with the help of his loving dad he finished the race.  He kept going till he reached the finishing line. 

In the race of life, we have a loving Heavenly Father, who can help us to face setbacks and disappointments.  He is an ever present help, He will never leave or forsake us. He will hold us close, welcoming us home as we cross our final finish line. 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Monday, 2 July 2012

Do Not Be Afraid - Article by the Bishop of Dover

This article by the Rt Revd Trevor Willmot, Bishop of Dover, was published in the Church Times in June

DO NOT be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (Acts 18.9).

Dr Richard Scott

A number of recent judgments that question the right or appro­priate­ness of Christians’ giving pub­lic voice to their faith bring Jesus’s words to Paul into sharp focus. The ruling last week of the General Medical Council (GMC) against Richard Scott, a Christian GP, might lead us to conclude that Christians should be afraid, and must indeed be silent about their faith.

Dr Scott, a doctor for 28 years and a GP in Margate, Kent, was last week served with an official warning from the GMC for inappropriately discus­sing his Christian faith during a consultation with a patient. The GP, who is a former medical missionary, has practised in Margate for nearly ten years. He has an unblemished record, and was praised by the GMC for the great esteem in which he is held for the “dedicated care” that he offers to patients.

Dr Scott is one of six partners at the Bethesda Medical Centre, an “expressly” Christian practice, which clearly advises patients on its official NHS website that all the partners are practising Christians who feel that the offer of talking to patients about faith “is of great benefit”. The centre’s website explains that patients can choose not to discuss matters of faith, and that this will in no way affect the quality of their medical care.

EVIDENCE given at the four-day hearing suggests that Dr Scott spent about 20 minutes with Patient A, a suicidal 24-year-old man, in August 2010. It was only at the end of the consultation, Dr Scott says, that he asked the patient whether he could discuss his Christian faith, as he felt “it had something to offer him which would cure him.” After the patient agreed, Dr Scott maintains that he sensitively discussed faith, and ceased when the patient asked him to stop.
The quality of the care provided by Dr Scott is not in question. Orthodox medical treat­ment was not withheld; the GMC notes that Dr Scott had previously referred Patient A to the local psychiatric service, “and therefore a further referral was not required”.

The GMC committee does, how­ever, find that there was “a direct conflict in recollection” between doc­tor and patient about “any medical help or tests or advice” that might have been offered. It observes that “there is no mention in the notes” of medical treatment, and “considers that Patient A’s account is more probable”.

Dr Scott did not spend the entire 20-minute consultation proselytis­ing. Instead of regarding the patient as a biological specimen, he treated the patient as a whole person who had spiritual and emotional as well as physical needs. The GP shared his heartfelt conviction that faith in Jesus could contribute to the patient’s recovery.

Interestingly, there is no blanket ban in GMC rules on doctors’ ex­pressing personal beliefs, as long as it is done sensitively and appro­priately. It is noted in the GMC statement on Dr Scott that matters of faith can be relevant to clinical care: “There are circumstances in which spiritual assistance is valuable,” it reads.

The GMC notes two witnesses who spoke of the help received after discussions about faith; they were people who found their lives trans­formed when they committed them­selves to Christ.

The question in this case, there­fore, was whether or not Dr Scott’s offer of spiritual insight to this troubled young man was appropri­ate, and in his best interests. Al­though recollections of the content of the conversation between Patient A and Dr Scott differ substantially, the GMC finds that Dr Scott’s ac­tions were “inappropriate and clin­ically not in Patient A’s best interest”.
It has ruled that Dr Scott “went beyond the limit of such spiritual guidance as would have been appropriate . . . which caused distress to Patient A”.
THE existing GMC “Fitness to Prac­tice Rules” allow for an expression of religious beliefs, and I believe the GMC has acted with disproportion­ate force in applying these rules to Dr Scott.

In the absence of any specific criteria about the appropriateness or other­wise of matters of faith and its relevance to clinical care, the GMC now appears to be saying that all but the meekest faith discussions must be banned from the consulting room. This re­striction of religious expression is surely a concern to society and in­dividuals who have spiritual, as well as physical, needs.
In an age when society is increas­ingly seeking answers to difficult questions, it is disappointing that a highly regarded Christian doctor is being punished for offering spiritual and pastoral insight that could help a patient. If we treat people as bio­logical organisms without spiritual needs, society and individuals will be the poorer.

I am anxious about the expecta­tions in some parts of our society that Christians should seek to compartmentalise their faith. It seems that we are somehow expected to turn off our faith when we step through the door of our workplace. Will it soon be the case that society actively disqualifies Christians from the caring and educational profes­sions? These are professions that, over several centuries, have grown from Christian communities in this country.
This denial of the Christian ex­pres­sion of faith, in a country where our Christian heritage is central to our history and values, is worrying. It is, of course, distressing for us as Christians who feel called to live out our discipleship 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Yet it is even more dis­turbing for society: restricting the expression of Christian faith could foster a society that is even more fragmented — one where the common good is relin­quished in favour of indi­viduals’ rights; and where the fear of up­setting individuals, and the fear of disciplinary action in the work­place mean that Chris­tians will cease to challenge society to change and improve.
While this is a risk, I shall not be silent, and I shall not be afraid to go on speaking.

The Rt Revd Trevor Willmott is the Bishop of Dover.


I cannot claim any originality for this sermon - most of this talk is taken word for word from an article by Greg Downes in the June 2012 edition of Christianity Magazine, entitled 'The Guidance Maze'.  The two Bible verses referred to in this talk are Jeremiah 1:1-8 & Matthew 4:18-22

Are you called by God?

How would you answer that question?  Do you feel as though God has called you?
I suspect many people see being called by God as something that happens to a special select group of people.  For example, people like Jeremiah, who was called to be a prophet, or Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John, who Jesus called to leave their fishing nets and follow Jesus.  In other words people who were being called to a specific role, and to enter into what we would call full time Christian ministry, people such as church leaders, or missionaries. 

But the danger of this is that it damages the cause of Christ by making the ministry of the professional people more important than that of the average Christian – because we see and describe them as the ones who are called, and not ourselves. 

But if you read the scriptures you realize that we are ALL called.  If you remember only one thing from the talk today, remember this: If you are a follower of Christ, you have been CALLED by God to be a minister in Christ’s name. 

Through baptism we are called by God, called to follow him, and to serve him. That is why in the baptism service we say: “Faith is the gift of God to his people.  In baptism the Lord is adding to our number those whom he is calling.”
 Primarily that calling is a calling to faithfulness, and obedience to Christ.  One day a US Senator visited Mother Teresa in Calcultta, and went to the so called ‘House of Dying’, where sick children are cared for in their last days, and where poor people line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention.  Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, the Senator was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. "How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?" he asked. Mother Teresa replied, "My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful."
 As a baptized Christian, you have been called by God to faithful Christian ministry in the name of Christ.

And as Phill pointed out in his sermon two weeks ago being a Christian is a seven day a week job “whether at a factory, an office, at school, at home, with our neighbours, on the bus, in the car, at the shops, indeed anywhere!”  It is to bear witness to Jesus through our words and actions to those around us.

In the New Testament where there was no distinction between clergy and laity, the Holy Spirit empowered all believers for the work of ministry. 

Through the waters of baptism we belong to Jesus Christ, and are called to follow in Jesus’ ministry. 

In the case of Jeremiah, and the disciples whom Jesus called, their calling seemed to be very clear and specific.  This leads on to an important question, does God have a perfect plan for our lives, and if so, how do you work out what it is? 

My own sense of calling to the ordained ministry came when I was about 14. It didn’t come as a great revelation as if a giant hand came out of the sky and pointed at me saying ‘It is you!’  For me it was a growing sense that this is what I felt God wanted me to do, and I tested this sense of calling, by talking to others, and trying different doors to see if they opened for me.  But because I’m a Vicar now, doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll continue to be one in the future.  I am open to the possibility that God may have other plans for my life, but what that may be, I do not know.

So how does God guide us? 

There are several different schools of thought.

A Circus Tightrope Walker

Kate, a young teacher who went on a week-long Christian ski trip in the Swiss Alps.  As well as being captivated by the stunning scenery, she was also captivated by a ski instructor named Dan.  Dan invited Kate to dinner most nights in his log cabin, and they talked long into the night.
At the end of the week much to Kate’s surprise, Dan asked her to marry him.  She declared that she needed time to think and pray about such a big decision.  The next day when Kate was flying home, she was praying for guidance as to what to do.  On the flight she went to the toilet.  At that moment there was some unexpected turbulence, and a sign flashed on the cubicle: RETURN TO THE CABIN IMMEDIATELY.  Much to Dan’s delight she did. 

One school of thought is that God has mapped out a plan for us, in which his purposes are singular and specific concerning every little detail – it is like walking a tightrope, we need to take care we don’t fall off.

As we see from Scripture, God sometimes does very explicitly call people in a very certain way, like Jeremiah, who was told “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. ” (Jeremiah 1:5) 

But we have to be careful of believing God has already preordained every aspect of our lives, and the big question is what happens when we get it wrong.  For example, one man believed that God had told him who to marry, and told the girl in question.  The trouble was she was of the opinion that if this was indeed the case, God should let her know too. They ended up marrying different people.

The idea that God has everything intricately planned out for us does not do justice to the fact that God has given us free will, and wisdom to make judgement calls in many and varied situations.

A guest in a national trust property

As you walk around a national trust property, certain areas are cordoned off with red rope to protect the most valuable objects, if you stray over that line it sets off an alarm.

Some Christians argue that guidance operates a little bit like this.  We have a huge freedom to do what we want, a bit like rambling round a National Trust property; the only conditions are to avoid those areas that are off limits.  The way that this translates to guidance is that it is argued that Christians make their own decisions, assisted by God given wisdom, and avoid those things that are explicitly prohibited in the Bible. 

The difficulty with this view is that it is in danger of excluding God from daily discipleship.  In effect it says that there is only general and not specific guidance that God gives to deal with personal decisions.  It marks a departure from the classical understanding of what the Bible teaches, which is expressed in the words of John Stott who said, ‘the general will of God is revealed in the Bible but the particular will of God is revealed on a person’s knees.’

A taxi driver

Another view of the way God guides and leads us is of a taxi driver.  The driver has complete liberty to travel anywhere within the parameters of the city, and makes decisions at will based on prior learning, wisdom and experience, and yet is continually open to external guidance (in the case of a taxi driver, over the radio), that could come at any time from another that has possession of the big picture. 

This view seems to do most justice with what the Bible teaches.  For example we find examples that seem to resonate more with liberty, such as God’s directive to Abraham in Genesis (13:17) to “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”  But there are other examples where God seems to communicate very explicitly his sovereign will, such as the instruction to Paul in Acts (18:10) to remain in Corinth when he thought of fleeing due to persecution.

From my own experience I have found that God’s guidance has come through wisdom (mine or others), or circumstances, and times when I have prayed and it’s almost as if God has been saying, ‘You choose.’  There have been other occasions where God has sovereignly seemed to communicate his will, even when I wasn’t very receptive.

Oswald Chambers said, ‘we should be so one with God that we don’t need to ask continually for guidance,’ and in the Gospel of John (10:4) it says of Jesus, ‘his sheep follow him because they know his voice’. 

Responding to God’s call, and knowing what that call is, is all about relationship.  What is most important is recognising that God is more concerned with who we are than where we are.  Authentic guidance, knowing what God calling us to be and do, is a by product of intimacy with the true Shepherd, which will happen increasingly naturally as we seek the fullness of his presence in each and every area of our whole lives, and that is what authentic discipleship is all about. 

Walsall Society For The Blind

Walsall Society for the Blind is being supported by St. Martin’s Mission Giving for 2012, in this article, written for our newsletter, Ruth Gibbons writes about the work of Walsall Society for the Blind. 

In today’s society 90 % of people say that their sight is the one sense they fear losing the most. Too few people understand  the importance of eye health care and do not have regular eye check up’s at opticians.  Most people only have eye sight tests as their vision deteriorates and for some eye conditions that is too late.  In this country 50 % of sight loss is avoidable.

Too many people struggle every day with the emotional impact of sight loss.  Most people go through a process of grieving when they lose their sight but not me.  I have never had a sight test, never seen light or dark and never experienced colour, it’s all just one shade of what I imagine is the colour black.  I do not grieve something I never had and have learned to adapt and develop coping skills and strategies so that I am independent within my own home and even with all this independence I rely on support from others.

Too many blind and partially sighted people are living in a world  that limits their potential.  Just the simple things in life become a challenge..  It is not anybody that you want to read your bank statement or other private mail.  Although most blind people can operate a cash point it can become a problem if a message appears on screen as simple as would you like 10 or 20 pound notes? As I cannot read the screen I could stand there for hours.  I cannot vote alone as I cannot see the box in which to mark a cross and if mom helps me out in the kitchen and moves the tinned food, trust me, even with years of practice it’s hard to tell the difference between baked beans and tinned peaches just by shaking them!

At Walsall Society for the Blind from the initial onset of sight loss, we are there to support individuals, their families and carers’ needs.  We give reliable access and relevant information on eye conditions, eye care, sight loss services support networks and legal entitlements, in a wide range of formats. We also signpost to specialist services.  We enable people to understand their options, select services and make informed decisions.  Because we are a charity we benefit from being an independent service being able to support all people in the borough experiencing sight loss.  We are non judgemental and do not have to complete financial assessments.  We are here to support all individuals from all walks of life, the only common factor is sight loss. We are the major sight loss provider in Walsall and rely on the generosity of people, who continue to support us through volunteering, fundraising, donations and legacies. If you can help please contact us.  Ruth Gibbons, Walsall Society for the Blind.