Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ!
So what’s the story? The President of Methodist Conference, the Revd Dr Barbara Glasson writes…
“Miss Clark was about four foot high, I think she would have been taller except she was completely doubled over with arthritis. Miss Clark taught us the memory passage for the Scripture exams; she taught us that ‘neither things present nor things to come could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’. When Miss Clark opened the door to us Sunday School kids she peered upwards through her spectacles because she couldn’t straighten up. Every year at Harvest time we took Miss Clark the biggest marrow, the size of a barrage balloon, and every year Miss Clark peered upwards and smiled thankfully.
Fifty years later, I am in awe of that diminutive old lady and the grace with which she received that obese courgette. After all, a marrow is a serious commitment for a family of twelve with some imaginative ideas on soup: on its own it is almost nutrition- and flavour- free; and for an eighty year old spinster …. Our act of loving kindness might not have been as generous and kind as all that!
Our theme for this year is a question, ‘So what’s the story…?’
Behind our question are a lot more questions: who is in the story, who have we left out, where is God in the story, what does the Bible have to say …? These questions are of course the bread and butter of what it means to be Christian, how the story of God and the stories about God, the stories of life and the stories about life, make sense of who we are as humans, created and loved in a world full of perplexity and delight.
And to the Church, she notes ‘We will need to commit ourselves to not only making the church inclusive, but allowing those who we might think ‘on the edge’ to challenge and transform us. We are an organisation with a unique mandate for unconditional love and this means we are one of the few organisations in our society that doesn’t work with ‘clients’ but with anyone, with people in all their magnificent complexity. We are simply offering grace and love – simple and costly. With proper attention to safeguarding, we can offer intergenerational conversation, a place for children to be heard and accepted, a place where the story of the elderly can be honoured and held. We can – when we stop being so anxious about our buildings, statistics and rotas – be places of peace and restoration. We are people of a multitude of wise, troubling, hilarious, faithful human stories – so let’s tell them, and surprise ourselves once again with the way of Jesus. And let’s find new confidence in the story of God, not as a mallet to knock in stakes of certainty, but with hearts strangely warmed with the assurance that the world can be changed through unconditional love.
….. I have half-remembered a story I heard in Ireland about a little church whose membership had got down to single figures. This church had an emergency meeting and began to talk about closure. They decided that they would have one last push at keeping going. They didn’t feel that in the circumstances there was much point writing a huge mission plan, but they made a resolution that they would be ‘welcoming and kind’. The next Sunday, when they arrived for church they found a tent in the graveyard. It was clear that a homeless person had decided to pitch up there and spend the night. Hmmph, thought the Church Steward, this had to be stopped: but before he asked the man to up sticks and move on, he remembered that he was supposed to be welcoming and kind …. so he invited him into the church for a cup of tea.
The very next Sunday was communion, and the small congregation was in the middle of the service, when a strange woman arrived accompanied by her dog. When bread and wine were shared, she came forward for the elements, and so did the dog. This was clearly rather odd and unconventional, but before they took offense they remembered they were supposed to be ‘welcoming and kind’. Over the next few weeks the homeless man and the woman and the dog all attended worship, to be honest they were a bit of a nuisance and a bit smelly and disruptive. But in time, the church people got to know them and to find out about the hostel that was just across the way …… and last I heard, some of those church people were popping across the road and getting to know some of the other residents and things were beginning to change. I’m not sure whether that little church kept going, it’s not really the point of the story. The point is that the world changes, lives change when we get back to the simple, costly mandate of faith to love our neighbours and our enemies with the open arms of unconditional love.
This little church and Miss Clark, live the Jesus story and so can we, we who are Methodist and Methodish, we who are marinaded in faith big wigs and small fry, gay or straight or trans or undefined, broken, diffident or downright scared, all of us, each of us is called to this simple, costly way, living out our stories within the eternal, challenging, costly, glorious stories of God – because
nothing in all creation can separate us from it – not even marrows!”
‘So what’s the story…?’
The President’s story reminds that, “behind our question are a lot more questions: who is in the story, who have we left out, where is God in the story, what does the Bible have to say …? These questions are of course the bread and butter of what it means to be Christian, how the story of God and the stories about God, the stories of life and the stories about life, make sense of who we are as humans, created and loved in a world full of perplexity and delight.
Of course, here at Anerley, we are grateful to Valerie for telling the church’s story, through her books, latest edition quite impressive! But what is your own story, of God’s love? I hope that we will be encouraged to share our Christian stories, too, with the President and Vice President in the exciting year ahead and beyond.
On 4th September, I joined ’Wednesday Club’, where after losing so miserably in the games, I felt I was recompensed with a ‘courgette or marrow’! Thank you for your gift, Valerie, which although I wasn’t the only one to receive it, it nonetheless spurred me on share the President story and the little things which enables us to live the Jesus story of love, in all its simplicity! It is my prayer that we will all be inspired by the message and stories of the presidential year, to tell our own stories of old and new.
The Old, Old Story
A[rabella] Katherine (“Kate”) Hankey(1834-1911)
Revd Abe Konadu-Yiadom