South Shields & Hebburn URC
I was surprised – and pleased – to find out that the Shoebox Appeal is still going ahead this year – see more details on this in the St Margaret’s News section.
There is always a lot to think about in this autumn season; Halloween and All Saints Day, Guy Fawkes Night, St Andrew’s Day and Advent. At St Paul & St John’s we dedicate toys for the Salvation Army to distribute locally, at the beginning of December and we can do that at St Margaret’s this year. In these strange times, it’s good to have things to look forward to and to celebrate. They can act like little points of light, giving us a different focus for a while. When we can’t get out and about or meet family and friends as usual, we may have the time to look at some of these special days again.
Halloween may have become something very different in recent years, but it is essentially a Christian celebration – All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day. Christmas has a month of preparation, in Advent, but All Saints Day must have been regarded as important to have this preparation day. It is a time of remembrance and this year, we may think about all those who have died over the past year, some of whom may have suffered with the coronavirus. While we acknowledge our sorrows and grief, we thank God that death is not the end and that God’s love for us never ends.
Several religions have festivals of light to cheer us in the long dark winter nights. Maybe a bit of sparkle is something we need. We light advent candles and Christmas trees and enjoy the firework displays which have mostly moved from Guy Fawkes’ Night to New Year nowadays. It’s all about light in the darkness, which we long for. May Christ, the Light of the World, shine in our hearts and lives. Our giving is one of the ways we bring light and cheer to others, but it may warm our hearts as well. Thank you for all you do to show the love of God in your life.
May God bless you always. With love in Christ,
God of Light and Life,
We thank you for your disciples and other saints whose lives often speak of faith in hard times. May the stories of their lives encourage us. Help us to know that you are always with us and will see us through. Thank you for everyone who has gone out of their way to help others during the pandemic. Be with all those who have had long periods of isolation or whose lives have been badly affected, through school closure, business failure, mental health difficulties or other circumstances.
May the light of your love shine brightly and may we know and share your peace. Amen.
Joint Pastorate Church Services
The Elders of St Margaret’s met on 13th October to discuss the current pandemic situation and have taken the decision that St Margaret’s church services will take a ‘circuit break’ from Sunday 25th October until Sunday 6th December when it is hoped that services will resume. The Elders will meet again in November to review the situation. Therefore, the service on Sunday 18th October will be the last one to take place until further notice. I can assure you that the decision was not taken lightly and we know that our congregation will miss seeing each other and worshipping together. As soon as a decision is made we will inform the congregations of our Joint Pastorate.
The Elders of St Paul & St John’s and St Andrew’s will decide whether to re-open for Sunday services and review the situation whenever they meet. At St Andrew’s we are a user group in the Independent Methodist Church building, and subject to their decisions. St Paul & St John’s has a very small group who are still able to be active in the life of the church, but we do what we can. If there are any changes in the services, or use of the church buildings, we’ll let you know – through our weekly email, notices or by post. If you have email but have been receiving the weekly worship / newsletter by post do let me know your email address, if you’d be happy to receive it that way. It’s certainly quicker and will save the church some money. Thank you. Thank you to those who share copies with family, friends and neighbours. It all helps!
Meditation on lament by Carla Grosch-Miller
This morning as I dutifully engaged in my daily exercise, I walked past a train speeding from Morpeth towards London. I noticed, as I have for the last six weeks, that it was virtually empty. Coach after coach of empty seats, a shadow (a person?) in one. I nearly burst into tears. And I realised that I was holding a deep reservoir of feeling that I did not want to tap into.
My head had been telling me that I was struggling to write this reflection because brains that are searching for safety and predictability, brains that hum with a fear barely discernible to the naked ear, have a hard time engaging all their cognitive function. But the answer was in my heart. The reason that lament felt unavailable to me at this point in the pandemic is that I am not ready to go there. It’s not (just) an intellectual thing; it’s an emotional one.
Lament is the ravaged heart’s cry to the source of her being, the inconsolable ranting that reaches out to demand an end to suffering, the fierce force of living in the face of death that turns towards God in irresolute hope.
In the Bible God is spoken of as the One who hears our cries (Exodus 3:7). The first and only person to name God, Hagar, names God El-roi – God who sees or God of seeing (Genesis 16:13). If only God will hear and see us, surely God will respond. Surely.
The ancient prayer book that is the Book of Psalms contains nearly all the emotions known to humankind. Over one third of the psalms are psalms of lament, personal or communal. God is raged at, castigated, blamed, entreated, begged. Complaints are lodged in detail: God has failed to act or acted too harshly or allowed the wicked to prosper. Revenge is courted. Blood is willing to be spilt. Look now at the Revised Common Lectionary; few of these psalms are included. In the comfort of our Western churches, we are embarrassed about the emotion, find the rawer parts of our nature distasteful, think that Christians shouldn’t have or admit to such feelings. Yet there they are, in black and white and red.
Lamentation is an expression of pain, an articulation of what’s happening now. It is a part of a healing journey which in time, a long time, integrates the experience into our life story.
In our secular world, we find it easier to complain about the government: its response was too slow, the most vulnerable have been ignored, what’s the exit strategy…we can think of and gripe about one hundred and one things that have not been done right with 20/20 hindsight. I wonder if this is a displacement activity. A way of trying to manage the deep anxiety and fear that is thrumming through our bodies. The means of keeping uncontrollable feelings under wraps, in the pretence that we are coping, really we are.
What would happen if we used the age old Judeo-Christian practice of lament (if we are ready, only then)? If we lanced the boil and put the whole mess in God’s hands, God who created this world and gave us the insane freedom to muck it up in the first place?
If you are ready to lament, here is a structure adapted from John Swinton in Raging with Compassion(Eerdmans, 2007, p. 128). The structure is derived from the structure of the psalms of lament.
- Address God using any names or titles that speak to you or express qualities of God that you want to call upon. You can use many names.
- Make your complaints and be detailed. (Consider how detailed the book Lamentations is.) What has happened? Who is hurting and why? Whose fault, if anyone’s, is it? Give God the full blast of your anger, hurt and fear.
- Express trust in or relationship with God. This can be one sentence. See, e.g., Lamentations 3:24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in God.’
- Make an appeal or petitions…a request for God’s intervention and why it is needed.
- Optional: Vow your praise. Terrible things have happened, and yet I will praise You.
This last step is optional because the lament must be true to where you are in the moment. Many of the psalms of lament include a vow of praise. There is a scholarly debate about why that is. Some consider the vows to be later additions. Others consider the psychology of lament – how expression of pain moves us along and enables us, in time, to praise. The important thing is that lamentation be authentic. If you are not ready to praise, you are not ready.
No doubt there are people who are ready to lament now, who can face God with the full force of their pain. God bless you if you are such a one; God bless and sustain you. And then there will be people like me, who can’t yet count the losses that are mounting up or face into the abyss of fear. God bless and sustain us too. God bless and sustain us all.
Carla A. Grosch-Miller
From: Ian Hardie, Treasurer of the United Reformed Church
and John Piper, Deputy Treasurer August 2020
To: The members and friends of all our 1,400 URC congregations
‘THANK YOU’ for your unique and vital contribution to the life of the United Reformed Church, and for the work of the kingdom which we are able to do together in God’s name
We are living through an extraordinary and challenging time – a very anxious time for everyone; a difficult time for many; and a time of suffering and loss for some. Yet, the main purpose of this letter is to say ‘thank you’ to each of you for all that you have done for the Church in the past; for all that you continue to do even in these difficult times; and for what you will do in the future.
As we are treasurers, you will not be surprised that the focus of this letter is on finance. But we recognise that finance is only a means to the end which is our doing of God’s work together.
‘Thank you’ for your giving to your local church. Financially, this giving is the lifeblood of your own church and of the whole United Reformed Church across England, Scotland and Wales. It is this personal giving that enables your local church treasurer to pay your church’s bills. Typically, the largest of those ‘bills’ is the contribution your local church pays to the URC Ministry and Mission Fund. This Fund meets the central costs of the United Reformed Church. The total budget is around £20 million and is approved each year by Mission Council. Over 80% of this money is spent on ministers and church related community workers – their training, stipends and pensions. But the other 20% also achieves an enormous amount on behalf of us all. General Assembly 2020 was severely constrained because of the Covid-19 lockdown, but the reports written for General Assembly are available on the URC website, and they paint pictures of all the work that has been done in our name over the last two years and much of that work is ongoing.
‘Thank you’ for your giving and the giving of your local church last year. In 2019, over £19.4 million was given by local churches and synods to the Ministry and Mission Fund. The total contributions from local churches reduced very slightly but the average giving per member has, once again and remarkably, gone up by more than inflation.
‘Thank you’ for your continued giving this year. We fully understand that circumstances this year are difficult. Most local churches have been unable to meet for over five months. We have not had the usual opportunities to make our offerings for the work of the Church. But most of the costs of the local church and of the denomination have not reduced and some have increased as a consequence of the pandemic. We are also aware that some have lost income or work this year and are therefore in great financial difficulty. But there are others on fixed incomes who are actually better off than they might otherwise have been. So, please continue to give what you can in whatever way you can – or save it up until you can hand it over.
Any giving of ours is a response to the amazing generosity and love of God which we see in Jesus. Nevertheless, it is important for us to say ‘thank you’ to each and all of you.
If you have any questions or comments arising from this letter then please speak to your church treasurer, who has been provided with more detailed information. If they are not able to help directly then they can get in touch with the finance team at Church House.
Yours in Christ,
Ian and John
ST ANDREW’S NEWS
First of all, the congregation of St Andrew’s would like to send our very best wishes to the congregations of St Margaret’s and St Paul and St John’s. Our congregation all continue to keep in touch with each other regularly by telephone during these difficult times.
The Elders met with Helen for a ‘socially distanced’ Elders’ meeting on Monday 17th August, it was good to see each other face to face!
The Independent Methodist Church have taken the opportunity during lockdown to have a new kitchen installed in the church, after which a full deep clean took place in preparation for reopening when appropriate guidelines are met. IMC have not decided when they expect to re-open. In view of this, and considering the conditions in the Risk Assessment form, it was agreed by Helen and the Elders that St Andrew’s would remain closed until after the New Year. The planned joint Harvest service, to be conducted by Helen, which was due to be held on Sunday 20th September, would also be cancelled.
Our Ecumenical SALT (Sing ALong Together) Choir meet together every Monday evening on Zoom, it is a great social event and has been invaluable to everyone, especially those who live alone. The choir had two successful, sunny picnics in the park, one of which included an auction which raised the fantastic sum of £250 for the Beirut Disaster Fund. Everyone agreed it was a great way of meeting up and, although while social distancing, enjoying each other’s company while having our food and drink.
We are all grateful to Helen for her support and providing her weekly words of inspiration and encouragement during these difficult times. I am sure we all find solace and comfort in her words, hymns and bible readings. Hopefully, we will all be able to meet together again soon.
Take care everyone and stay safe,
ST PAUL & ST JOHN’S NEWS
I hope this finds you well! I for one have missed our Church family and all the events that we usually have but look forward to being together when we are able. I am grateful to those who continue worship and especially to our minister Helen for the weekly worship words and updates. Ian has also kept us updated and I thank you.
Thank you to all who have looked after our buildings by regular checks to maintain the fabric of the buildings, especially Carol and David and Denise and of course other church members from your congregations.
As all churches have had to change and adapt, St Paul and St John’s has also. We worship in our church centre and you will be aware the Church building is up for sale. Personally, I was sad to see the sign outside of Church as I, like you, have some happy memories.
At our last Elders’ meeting we decided to postpone worship until after Christmas because of a potential 2nd spike of Covid. We welcome the opportunity to share worship at St Margaret’s.
Blessings to you all.
News from the NHS
I have always wanted to be a nurse and find it a privilege to take care of people and work as part of a team. I want to share a few of the things that you may not know from the news.
As the hospital managed the pandemic in our area lots of wards were changed and staff were moved to areas and teams they were unsure of. As you can imagine this caused some distress but we learned to adapt and learn new skills. Some of us had to shield while others worked and some were afraid especially at the thought of passing anything to family members. I myself missed weeks without contact with children or grandchildren as some of you would also have.
We welcomed video calls so that relatives could keep in touch, but we couldn’t hug patients – a nurse’s natural instinct.
We have laughed and cried and are grateful for the support of the community and the clapping on Thursdays and all who have raised money to help, including Captain Tom and many others. So, thank you for your thoughts and prayers.
I wish you all peace and health. May we all stay strong and support each other.
ST MARGARET’S NEWS
Some of the items of news over the last 6 months that we have missed sharing together:
It was so good to welcome and meet some of you back on 13th September at 10am for the restart of our weekly worship and especially at our Harvest service on 4th October and at our first post-lockdown Communion on 11th October..
A total of £171 was raised for Christian Aid at our Harvest service and, as usual, folk were very generous bringing in lots of tins and packets of food. Around twelve bags have been delivered to South Tyneside Key 2 Life Foodbank, c/o The Library, Boldon Lane, South Shields. Thank you all so much. Just a reminder that our Red Box is back in use during church services.
A big ‘Thank you’ for all your Free Will Offering (FWO) cheques and money, catching up on all the missing weeks. If anyone would like to take out a standing order for their FWO please contact Penny for the church’s account details. God bless you all.
ST MARGARET’S CAFÉ
Although the café is a ‘not for profit’ organisation we are delighted to let you know that £100 has been given to the Key 2 Life Food Bank from donations received.
Carol Asker and Adrienne Thompson
OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD
Leaflets for the shoeboxes are now available and I would be grateful if completed shoeboxes could be brought to my home by the beginning of November. If you need a leaflet please get in touch with me.
The following two lovely poems were composed by a member of St Margaret’s URC, Mrs Hazel Singleton
The Human Touch
A social butterfly, I’ve lost my wings
Behind closed doors or on garden swing
Lockdown gives me pause to ponder
Again into the biscuit tin the hand wanders.
Must do more exercise, the weight’s piling on
Or to the Charity Shop my clothes will be gone
Miss meeting people and going for a walk
But the phone never stops and Oh! how we talk.
Never in the house, always out
I’ve discovered things I’d forgotten about
Time to learn something new
Do things I always meant to do.
Baking cakes and sorting craft
Everything labelled and neatly stacked
Sort the photos into bags of five
To give to the kids while I’m still alive.
Memories come flooding back, I’ll sort them when I’m able
Five weeks into isolation, photos still on the table
Sometimes the days go fast, other days go slow
But I have friends who care, they keep me on the go.
Shopping and meals brought to my door
Family showing they care once more
Grandchildren at the window they think it funny
Grandma won’t come out to play, no sweets for their tummy.
My blessings I counted when the virus began
I’ve many more now, thanks to my fellow man
Whoever you are, we all miss so much
That warm endearing human touch.