Pete Cornford describes how he’s trying something new, and getting to know his community at the same time!
On Sunday Pete was talking about how we serve.
Japanese football supporters do it by clearing rubbish at the end of each match and see this as a way of honouring their hosts and being good guests.
My mum did it by being the trusted arbitrator in our street, bringing harmony to her neighbours and offering pots of tea as balm to hurt feelings.
My sisters and I do it by caring for my mum as she struggles with dementia, patiently reminding her who she is and taking the blows and harsh words with good grace.
My team mate at work does it at a local school, helping kids to improve their maths and reading skills, giving up her lunch hour to give something back.
It's part of our God-given human nature to reach out into our community and offer a helping hand, to give time to those who ache for an empathetic ear, to offer respite to those travelling through troubled times.
Jesus led by example and stated his position clearly - he said that he came to serve. And to hammer the point home he knelt down and washed each of his disciples' dirty feet despite their protests. Even the feet of Judas.
When Jesus taught he distinguished between those who follow him by how they serve, because by serving the weak and disadvantaged they are serving and loving him.
So, ask yourself: how do I serve?
WHEN YOU SERVE
"When you serve,
start with the feet.
And when you serve,
get down low
with a towel and a water bowl.
And when you serve,
find your honour not over,
So when you serve,
don't wait your turn,
but push your way
right to the back.
And there you'll find
nothing to prove,
nothing to hide
and nothing to loose
but your pride.
Yes, you heard,
when you serve
observe his example:
Undo a sandal
and start with the feet.
And there you will be blessed."
Life can appear to throw curve balls at times. Conflict can emerge from the most unlikely quarters. Life can be tough.
But here's what I've learned...
It's in your paths' twists and turns, in the unexpected, the unplanned, the inconvenient and in the downright pain in the backside, that you will find grace and direction. So embrace the God-shaped surprises that you stumble over; laugh with the angels as the next stepping stone seems to shift and stride out knowing that your Father has a plan.
It's at the edge of your comfort zone where God will meet you and where you'll see his hands at work. So don't hesitate to go there and meet him and marvel at his works.
And take his word as your guide: His written words will sometimes act as a sword to pierce, cutting through unnecessary distractions. Sometimes his written words will act as spears in the ground to set safe boundaries for you to find confidence as to how far you can go. But always his written word will provide light for your paths, giving you direction.
So walk on.
Everyone has a back story, an origin tale.
That new guy at the office, the single mum who moved in next door, the woman who just opened your newest local coffee shop: they each have a back story.
I went to see 'Solo' this weekend and we heard how Hans got his name, we saw Hans meet Chewy for the first time (mud and chains are involved) and we got to know Lando a little better (he has a lot of capes). Okay, it's not up there with The Force Awakens, but it's a very entertaining film and touches on key aspects of Hans' character, giving fans much to talk about. ( The question of 'did he draw first?' is revisited which got us talking to a complete stranger on the way out.)
I've got a back story too. I'm in my fifties and have a definite 3 act story line playing out. But I get to chose who I tell that story to, who I share my defining moments with.
One of the places I get to do this is at Redeemer, my local church in Ealing. Whilst it's still true that only my God knows the full story, I can say that I've found honest people with whom I get to reveal the cards held close to my chest, share my tears and disclose my scars.
It's my prayer that you too will find a community in which you can tell your story: the mud, the chains and those capes.
May God's grace be with you.
Sometimes you are well advised to stop, find a park bench and soak up God's creation in all its wonder.
I wrote this on a park bench in the Peak District.
Lord of life,
of colour and colour,
of breeze and light.
Lord of bluebell and butterfly,
of birdsong and birds' flight.
Lord of space to think,
of time to rest.
Lord of movement,
I sit here and I confess
my sunshine celebration
of this, your full spectrum,
this rainbow-wide gifted creation.
I sit and give thanks
for this sustained life,
of greens and blues in yellow light,
of this colour full to the brim life,
of fresh composed songscape,
this God given escape.
I thank you, Lord, for this gateway,
this fresh every morning,
gifted new day.
Ealing is a magnet for the world, with over 170 nationalities represented within its borders. From WWII Polish refugees to millennial Syrians. Each community has made a home here and has added its culture, its recipes, its colour, its recipes, languages, its recipes, its traditions and its recipes to the existing smorgasbord that is London.
The family of Redeemer London reflects some of this smorgasbord - it's one of the things I love most about getting together on Sunday mornings.
This Sunday (20 May) we'll be celebrating this multi-national nature of our church with many sporting their national dress. You'll be most welcome to add to the colour. Meanwhile, here's my personal manifesto for an international church.
"I believe in one international church. I believe in an inter-racial and unbiased church of many nations. I believe in one church of many traditions. I believe in one church not hemmed in by history or by man-made borders. I believe in a God for whom his pallet of skin colours reflects his love of diversity. I believe in God-given racial differences. I believe in one creator God who made all mankind equal. I believe in a church that reflects her maker's love of difference.
"I do not believe in uniformity.
"I believe in the common language of love for one another, for neighbours and for enemies that transcends local dialects. I believe in one sundry collection of priests who are called to serve one God together, saved by one sacrifice once and for all time. I believe in the promise of a resurrected church drawn from all generations to meet her bridegroom. I believe in one eternal wedding feast which features everything from the finest vegetable samosas to the richest steam puddings. I believe in one extravagant Father who has built one massive mansion with many rooms so all his people can come and dwell together.
"I believe in God's - Kingdom - come. "
I am moved by the words of Millicent Fawcett - not so much by the words themselves, but their context.
Millicent Fawcett was a suffragist. She campaigned for equal rights for women, but shunned violence as a way of achieving it. In particular she advocated higher education for girls and women as well as arguing for women's enfranchisement. She wanted to ensure women were equipped to wield the power of the vote and to represent themselves and their wants.
But it's her words in response to the death of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson, at the Epsom Derby in June 2013, that have been chosen to be incorporated into her statue in Parliament Square:
"Courage calls to courage everywhere, and its voice cannot be denied."
Emily Davidson was a teacher and a passionate Christian and socialist. And she believed that violence was justified to further the campaign for women's suffrage, which led to multiple arrests and detention. (One of her fellow suffragettes described her as reckless in her militancy.)
In contrast Millicent Fawcett, widow to a Liberal MP and herself a political campaigner for women's right to vote since before Emily was born, did not support violent protest: "I can never feel that setting fire to houses and churches and litter boxes and destroying valuable pictures really helps to convince people that women ought to be enfranchised," she said.
So, two women campaigning for the same end from two very different points of view and using very different methods. Emily the passionate militant. Millicent the political activist. One fighting from outside the political establishment and one working from within.
And it's their differences that make Millicent's response to Emily's death all the more striking. Millicent recognised a resonance with the courage shown by Emily and the power of her sacrifice.
Historians will debate the strength of the impact of their respective positions and activities. Millicent's view was simple - Emily's courage could not be denied. And I have no doubt that Millicent was emboldened to persevere for the first (albeit limited) suffrage of women in 1918, the same year in which (some) women were permitted to stand for parliament.
As a country we have much to thank the suffragettes and the suffragists for. They saw an injustice and sacrificed years of their lives campaigning to overturn it.
IT'S A CHALLENGE FOR US ISN'T IT.
What are you passionate about? What do you pour your time and energy into? What stirs your courage? Where will you speak out and not be denied a voice? Where will you make a difference?
I pray that you find your courage and that you hear the call of others with the same courage and passion and that you take strength from them.
A lot of work places are considering how they can nurture a more diverse work force. How can they attract people who don't neccessarily fit the established mould?
Coupled with diversity is a tougher challenge for employers: INCLUSION.
How can an employer better ensure that once the mould has been broken, all their employees have equal access and opportunities?
How can they best identify and reduce discrimination and intolerance?
What are the barriers to inclusion and how can they be effectively broken down?
One helpful mantra I've heard in discussion in the work place is the need to ensure staff can bring their 'whole self' to work.
That means, for example, being able to be open about hidden disabilities or medical needs.
Being honest about carer responsibilities.
Having your cultural heritage valued.
Having your gender valued.
It means being confident that a discussion with your line manager about religious observance, a request that you be able to come in a bit later after a school run, a sought for accomodation for dyslexia or even a coffee break chat about past bouts of depression - that none of these things will create a barrier to inclusion or to opportunities.
I realise that many of you will have experienced prejudice and discrimination for simply being you. This will have caused deep hurt and created disadvantage. It's not something that's easy to shake off and move on from and it can trigger defences that themselves create unintended barriers.
Often the best efforts by an employer can be undone by one colleague or manager. That's when you need strong relationships with peers or an informed staff representative to stand with you to put things right. I know some who have chosen (based on a wish for self preservation) to walk away rather than face the painful process of instigating change. Others of you will have fought back and suffered for it.
Here's some good news: whatever your circumstances, whatever you have experienced, you can bring your whole self to God.
He will not reject you. He will not turn you away or categorise you and rank you according to your abilities, your race, your gender or your achievements.
Here's some better news: he will equip you, strengthen you, give you new purpose, place you in a family of believers - he will break down barriers and stand with you as your champion.
But beware: by coming to Jesus you may also give others more reason to discriminate against you, to exclude you.
I'm not talking about an easy life here. However, I am talking about a life in which your whole self and your whole life circumstance do not have to be left at the door. I am talking about the ULTIMATE INCLUSION - being reunited with the one who created you and with the one who out of his all-inclusive love reduced himself to a life in a back water, to one who was dispised and rejected and abandoned.
I'm talking about a God who brought his whole self to you.
Will you bring your whole self to him?
Last month we celebrated a significant birthday for Pete Cornford, the founding pastor of Redeemer London. We had a party - obviously. We told embarrassing stories - obviously. And we thanked God for Pete - obviously.
This poem seeks to capture a little of Pete and we thought those of you who know him would appreciate it. Those of you who don't know Pete, you're welcome to come along on a Sunday morning to Ealing Town Hall - if you can't see him (he's not that tall), just follow the laughter.
We meet to celebrate Jesus each week, not just on his birthday - obviously.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
It won’t be a surprise, you know what I'm saying?
I - just - love –Ealing, whether working or playing.
I've been on my travels, I've been here, I've been there
I've followed my Jesus, ‘til He led me here.
And now I can't help it, I love every street
and as I turn 50, people ask, 'Pete,
why are you stirred to serve this old city
with Isaac and Josh, with Lois and Nicky?'
'Oh, golly', I say, 'Isn't it clear?
It's the call of Jesus each day that I hear.'
But, hand - on - my – heart, it's a challenge - isn't it?
How do I serve, when I'm five foot six?
Now I love a good quote. I know you don’t judge,
but some people say I love them too much.
I love a great movie, but sit at the rear
so people around me won't notice my tears.
I love a good read, I've got books wall to wall
and I love the Arsenal when they're on the ball.
I was in the Olympics, did I tell you that?
If you look real closely you might see my cap.
I love Redeemer, the believers who gather,
how they will turn up to worship no matter.
I love just how creative some of them are,
the wannabe poets, the guys on guitar.
Now I mustn't embarrass anyone here,
but I love my dear wife, just so that's clear.
I love my three kids in no special order;
as they keep on growing I’ll cheer ever louder.
And each day I go walking, I might even run,
cos by living with passion I might serve the Son.
I - just - love – Ealing. Do I hear an Amen?
Let's stride out together! Redeemer-London!
Well, the sun is here.*
(*Based on 3 days at the end of April. Sunshine is not a guarantee of sustained hot weather. Temperatures can go down as well as up. Other weather conditions may be experienced.)
Whatever the weather, it's a perfect time to be launching our Summer Meetups at Redeemer Church London - you can sign up today at redeemerlondon.org/meetups. Don't miss out!
We're excited about these groups - partly because of the calibre of leader and quality of topics on offer - but also because getting together with real people in real life makes for powerful encounters.
Acquaintances become friends.
Questions become answers.
Curiosity becomes passion.
Meeting up brings people together to create thriving communities.
But don't listen to me, listen to the folk at Redeemer London:
"We had people who had been in the church since the start, people who were totally new... Sharing hobbies such as running is a great way not only to improve in it but also to connect and do life with others."
"I was blown over by people's honesty and openness. From the first night it was really encouraging."
"I really appreciated the pearls of wisdom from a conversation in a pub. It was a real eye opener."
"It has certainly made me more mindful of allowing yourself time to ‘be’ and not always having to ‘do’."
So there you have it - go to http://redeemerlondon.org/meetups/
and select one of the 14 on offer.
We hope to see you soon, whatever the weather.
Some things take a little more time...
There's no app for job satisfaction.
No app for deeper self-realisation.
No app for joy and love of life.
No app to avoid struggle or strife.
No app for meaningful inter-relation,
for self-esteem or bond formation
These each take time, with patient dedication,
a repeated test of your true determination.
These take quiet contemplation
and longer considered conversation.
A real-time flesh interaction,
with authentic, humble co-operation.
I'm meaning a dangerously high contagion
with the risk of personal dissatisfaction.
These take sustained concentration,
a firm hand on the neck of your current situation.
These take more than a one day binge;
you'll need to commit to more than a fling.
More than a lazy swipe to your right,
more than a stand for just one night.
These take guts and sweat and tears,
you might even find that some take years.
But this is life beyond the screen, this is how it's always been.
So lift your head and take a breath,
we'll stand right here and lend our strength.
All I can promise are tears and laughter
and friends who'll stand closer thereafter.
If you want to take some time away from the screen, come along on a Sunday morning to Redeemer at Ealing Town Hall. You can keep your phone on if you'd like.
I for one am looking forward to the movie 'Mary Magdalene'. Good cast including Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor and a great director, Garth Davis. And just in time for Easter.
And I'm happy to see the resurrected debates (see what I did there?) about Mary's position in the early church. It's good to have a reminder that women were there amongst Jesus' disciples, amongst the Apostles (i.e. those who witnesses the resurrected Christ) and were prominent in the churches early years - Priscilla, Phoebe, Monica of Hippo, Catherine of Alexandria, - please go look them up.
But back to Mary M. Not a prostitute (despite what you may have read elsewhere) and not the wife of Jesus (I know it makes great gossip - but it's not in the eyewitness accounts), but a disciple: one who followed Jesus the rabbi, the miracle worker, the resurrected Saviour.
And women of God still play a key role in the present day church. Kathy Frost, missionary and Boys Brigade officer who taught me the Lords Prayer, the late Ailish Eves, who inspired me as a young boy with tales of her life in Indonesia and later taught at my bible school, Bev Clarke whose visions of angels in the office inspired me to think more imaginatively about God in the work place, Janine Jackson my friend who pointed me to Redeemer-London, Anna Hamilton whose gifted teaching challenges me every time, Abi Sibuns whose worship leading ushers us into the presence of God...They are disciples and instrumental in church growth.
An aside: I was reminded this week that God made man and woman in His image because one gender wouldn't do Him justice - He needed both male and female to reflect who He is.
So look out for the Marys and the Abis in the church and you'll see God reflected in who they are.
I do hope the movie is a good one.
I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for being so lovely, so kind, so full of the joy of Jesus. Pursue that intimate, raw and vulnerable relationship with your best friend; Holy Spirit. Walk closely with each other as you do, share the blessings and share the struggles, hug each other and feed each other. Shine like Jesus shines.