From our Minister
As I am sure you know, I have recently returned from sabbatical. The purpose of a sabbatical, for a minister anyway, is to rest, refresh, and restore your spiritual, physical, and emotional life: to allow a minister to step back from the process of ministry and remind oneself of its purpose: to proclaim the word of the Lord, to bring hope to the oppressed, to bring comfort to the despairing, to be a loving presence in the life of the community.
We know that that purpose is not without cost to the minister, because whilst bearing each other’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ, is incumbent upon all of us in the Christian community, the peculiar focus of fulltime ministry brings its own particular burden. I don’t know of any minister who doesn’t feel, daily, the vast weight of the responsibility of representing the Christian community bearing down on their shoulders.
That’s why a sabbatical is such a valued gift to the ordained by the Church. I know some ministers who refuse to take sabbaticals because they feel unable to accept a gift which is not available to all members of their congregation. I respect their right to an opinion, but it seems to me to about as logical as expecting my children to refuse chocolate because I am a Type 2 diabetic – I am not going to be able to eat the chocolate whether they do or not, so they may as well go ahead and enjoy it!
I spent a good deal of time thinking about the way forward for the Methodist Church, and for our churches in our Colchester Circuit in particular. As you know, I published a paper which was discussed and largely endorsed at the Circuit Meeting last year, a paper entitled “A Way Forward…..” My thinking on sabbatical has crystallised my belief that we do need to take radical, and sacrificial, decisions, soon. We need to ask hard questions of ourselves, and not shirk from the answers which present themselves to us.
“Why am I a Christian?” “What difference does my being a Christian make to the place where I live?” “Why am I a Methodist?” “Does my church have a future if it carries on as it is?” “What is God saying to us through our decline?”
These are all questions I have asked myself over the last fourteen weeks, especially as I walked St Cuthbert’s Way in the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. I have come to some conclusions, which I shall happily share over the next year with anyone who wants to listen, because I firmly believe that it is the next twelve months in particular which will shape the next twenty years of our journey with God (assuming that God wishes to continue speaking through the Methodist Church in the next twenty years at all!) and we need as many of you as possible to participate in that shaping. So be prepared to listen for, and respond to, God’s call to you – for I believe he is calling us all to hear his word for today.
No! I’m not a banker or even a treasurer, but for the last few years in mid-summer I’ve taken on the dubious task of counting the mission boxes. I try and count the small change slowly with care, but I have to offer up a prayer to keep me from the temptation of swearing every time I am faced with a cluster of five penny coins. You know the ones I mean. The ones that slip between the fingers. After all the individual totals have been counted and the total money added (excluding the U.S. Quarter dollar, the Austrian Schilling and an old sixpence), the final columns are added and technically should tally, though despite doing this now for some years, I’ve never once got it right first time.
As numbers in the church have dwindled and as those who collect are getting older with failing health, the total collected this year is down from last year, but I still think it is a fantastic effort and all contributors are to be congratulated in collecting the sum of £356-39.
O, by the way, just because I’ve been somewhat derogatory in regard to the humble yet illusive five pence coins, please don’t stop collecting them. Even the pennies help: remembering the widows mite given in love is much more effective than bankers with so called financial astuteness can possibly imagine.
Doubtless this will be read by many of you who don’t collect money in boxes, but please don’t get all flustered with acute embarrassment thinking I’m trying to convert you to this method of giving, but of course if any one would like a box to collect money for the Methodist World or Home Missions, I would be more than happy to give them one. As individuals, we all choose, I hope without being pressurised one way or the other, which charities we support; how much to give, which often will be related to affordability, and also the method of giving: all of which differs vastly from one person to another.
It is quite certain the Lord will use and bless all that is given, so people will be helped to have a better quality of life and hopefully come to a knowledge of God’s love. Just as when Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, the value of the original gift is multiplied in God’s hands. The other certainty is that the giver will always be rewarded with God’s blessings, even if, in the here and now, they do not appear to be obvious. Be assured that gifts given in love, without any thought of reward or gain, are really what counts.
The Hymn Writers
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest," is one of our best known gospel hymns. It was written by Horatius Bonar, who was born in Edinburgh in 1808. His public ministry began in 1837 in the town of Kelso on the Tweed. In 1853 he earned the Doctor of Divinity degree at the University of Aberdeen. Then in 1856 he visited Palestine following which he wrote "The Voice from Galilee."
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast!"
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He hath made me glad.
He wrote many other hymns, including “Blessing and Honour and Glory and Power”, and was also a highly popular author. He served as the editor for "The Quarterly journal of Prophecy" from 1848 to 1873 and for the "Christian Treasury" from 1859 to 1879. A selection of his hymns was published as ‘Hymns of Faith and Hope’. Dr Bonar also wrote poetry and his final volume was entitled ‘My Old Letters’.
Dr Bonar was the author of several biographies of ministers he had known, including "The Life of the Revd John Milne of Perth" in 1869, and in 1884 "The Life and Works of the Revd. G. T. Dodds", who had been married to his daughter but tragically died in 1882 while serving as a missionary in France.
Horatius Bonar died on 31 July 1889 at the age of 80.
Thank you to everyone for their contributions to this quarter’s newsletter.
Please let me have articles for the Winter 2015 edition by the end of November.
Christine Beesley – Editor