Akwaba Everyone, Akwaba Humhum Kronkron! Onyame Humhum konkron Akwaba! Osoro Agya Susum Kronkron Akwaba!

 I have a friend, whom I adore. I have a friend who loves me so much.  The love that he has for me is immeasurable.  The love that my friend has demonstrated during this earthly life that I have lived is incomparable. My friend has been there for me in times of decision making - times when a decision that could save my daughter’s life had to be made in an instant. When my answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to her medical team could go either way. My friend has been there for me in times of walking the path that is righteous – guiding me through thick and thin to do the right thing. I will not say that my friend is always there or will always answer my questions straight away. Sometimes I have to wait.  I have to call on Him several times.  I have to beg or scream out, ‘Where are you?’ but still I trust and obey Him. When He calls me, I answer.   When He sends me, I go.  And when He leads me, I follow. We all need a friend we can call on or hold on to, whether it is a family member - husband, wife, dad, mum; a church family; a pet, or a teddy.   I could go on and on.  I cling onto my friend and welcome Him always.

Many families have a secret recipe, a special way of cooking a dish that makes it especially savoury. For my family it was fufu (made of cassava) and goat soup.  My dad used to prepare it fresh every Easter holiday or at family reunion dinners.  We would tell ourselves, ‘We should really learn how to prepare this meal’, but we never got around to asking my dad.  Now he is no longer with us, and his secret recipe is gone with him.  I miss my dad and it’s sad to lose his recipe.  But it would be far more tragic if we were to fail to preserve the legacy of Faith entrusted to us by our Heavenly Father.  God intends that every generation share with the next generation the story of His mighty acts.  Each generation commends God’s works to another.  He designed us to enjoy family and community and to benefit from each other.             

The thing that encourages me to hold on to my precious friend, the friend that we all know as the Holy Spirit, is that at Easter He died on the cross and rose up in three days.  He is risen, YES He is risen and has joined His Father.  He promises us in John chapter 14, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another helper who will be with you forever.  That helper is the Spirit of Truth.  The world cannot accept him because it doesn’t see or know him.  You know him because He lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you all alone. I will come back to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  You will live because I live.” Where can I find The Holy Spirit?  He cannot be seen, but He can be felt.  You too can hold on to that friend who has been so good to me and is the Holy Spirit.  For those who don’t know the CHI language the first line above means:

 Welcome Holy Spirit! God Holy Spirit welcome! Heavenly Father Holy Spirit welcome!

As our churches begin to open again, and together we serve and worship the Christ who is risen, I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit guides and encourages you, that you too may know fellowship with the Holy Spirit as your true and constant friend.  I pray and thank God for the unique way He has gifted us.

Bless you all                     Natasha Appiah    Elder, Broxbourne URC

    In the centre of Hoddesdon is a disused Quaker meeting house, now a listed building in a very attractive historical setting. I once attended a service there and felt, I must admit, quite fidgety during an hour of ‘silence’. Just next door, and connected to it, is the original warden’s cottage – Peace Cottage - and its large garden. A Quaker group from Welwyn Garden City has been trying over the years to decide what use the buildings could be put to but arrived at no workable solution - until just recently, following the Broxbourne Winter Night Shelter making use of the building in 2020 as a drop in day facility.

    Now interest in the building has broadened dramatically. Local churches and residents are getting involved and finance is being sought. We have had an initial ‘meeting of minds’. People from different walks of life are coming together to work for the common good, the result being, hopefully, a community centre and garden where all sorts of activities take place, benefiting all sorts of people. Plans include a community café, arts groups, theatre performances, advice hubs for unemployed and homeless people, support for people with mental health issues, outdoor learning opportunities for children.

    Working for the common good is a Biblical concept. The 4th century preacher John Chrysostom wrote ‘this is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good’. In the book of Acts, chapter 2, we read that ‘all who believed …. had all things in common’. People came together to share. Sharing hopes and ideas is the essence of the common good. It becomes a witness to God’s work in the world. It helps to make God known.

    Many churches are involved in practical work in their neighbourhoods. One benefit of this is that it brings church communities together. Jesus, in John chapter 17, prays that the church may be ‘one’, that it might be united in itself and in its outreach. In working for the common good, Christians come together, often with people of other faiths or none, resulting in bonds that are strengthened and visions that are realised. People take risks and find that God is in every venture.

    Collaborative work for God reminds us too that we are all one family. In Peter’s 2nd letter, chapter 2, he tells us that we are all ‘holy …. God’s own people’. Holiness involves seeking peace and justice in society. Holiness reflects the values of God’s kingdom. Holy people show, in working for the common good, what a just and peaceful society actually looks like. Through their work they glorify God.

    There is a need now to rebuild communities, communities of church and society. We have opportunities to work better together. How can we do that? Can we watch out for opportunities amongst our churches, and in our separate locations, to come together to work in new ways for the common good? Pray for God to give us the enthusiasm to get involved wherever we can, to be God’s witness in the world.                  

Jill

Peace flows through the garden, its bright colours a spring palette of reds and yellows, purples and blues.

Glossy white tulips stand tall, while feathery yellows bow, showing off their striking black centres.

Birds, happily engrossed in the tasks of the day, sing and squabble, flitting between tree and hedge.

Cautiously they visit the feeders, perch on the bird bath or jump in for a quick splash.

In sunny spots butterflies hold out their new wings to dry and hoverflies hover in the middle of nowhere, maybe mulling over where to go next.

Spiders swing down on long strands of webbing and scatter back up when caught unawares.

In bare earth seedlings sprout slowly, uncurling their new leaves with a promise of food to come.

Buds on trees break forth, filling the sky with fresh greenery and shining back at the sun on high.

A path of flat stones leads to dry gravel patches, piles of logs – who knows what busyness teems there.

Hidden away out of sight, revealing perhaps one day an outpouring of life unseen for some time.

Like the life that sprang forth from an empty tomb, blessing a garden, its colours and sounds, causing joy to ensue.

God at work in the garden, creator of miracles, bringer of blessings, renewer of life in front of our eyes.

Halleluiah.

    Taking tea together is a way of meeting up with friends that has been around for a long time now. Tea came to Europe from China in the early 1600’s, although it has been drunk in China for well over 4000 years, but grown as a commercial crop for less than half that time. It is now grown in many countries, including India and Japan. It comes as black tea or green tea. You can drink it hot or cold, with milk or without, added sugar or none. It is suited to your taste, which makes it very popular. Many people now drink herbal tea as well, though it is not really a tea but a tisane made from herbs and spices, nevertheless it is becoming very popular too.

    Most importantly, a pot of tea can be shared with others. As we share tea, we share conversation – the latest news, or gossip, our future plans, maybe our hopes. In Jesus’ time people met up for conversation, probably not over a cup of tea, but they enjoyed exchanging news and making plans too. Jesus also liked to meet with others. He mixed with people indoors and outdoors. All sorts of people.

     The lectionary gospel for this year is Mark’s gospel. Mark tells us that Jesus gathered with people in all sorts of places – at the lakeside, in houses, on mountainsides, in boats, at the temple. Mark tells us that it was Jesus’ custom to teach, whenever and wherever he met with others. For Mark, the place where Jesus taught is very important. Outdoors Jesus preached the kingdom of God, he told parables and taught people about his Father, whereas indoors he explained his parables and gave special instructions to an ‘inner circle’ of followers.

    We have an astonishing account of Jesus’ mother and brothers being left outside a house while he taught a group of followers inside. He explained that he not only had a ‘biological family’, he also had a family of believers. Many of these people had possibly left their own families to become followers of Jesus. We are reminded that discipleship is not easy, it is costly. We are reminded too, however, that discipleship conveys on each follower a belonging to the family of God.

    Jesus sent his disciples out to do the same as he did, to meet with people, to talk with them and to teach about God. We too are disciples, sent out to meet with people, to talk and, if we can, to teach about God. In a new year of new beginnings, whether we can meet up indoors or outdoors, let us take the opportunity to talk about our faith, spread news about what is happening in our churches, offer people hope. Above all we can enjoy the opportunity for a chat. Maybe over a cuppa.

     If it does involve taking tea together, put out a spare cup too. You never know when you might be joined by a visiting angel, or even by Christ himself.

Happy New Year

Jill

Have you got a garden? Do you enjoy gardening? Perhaps you are having a go at it now because, in the present situation, you actually have extra time on your hands?

Being out in green spaces is good for our well-being but I actually like to think it’s good for God as well. Gardening can be on a large scale of course. There are many beautiful gardens that open to visitors and they can be inspirational as well as filling us with awe. In a garden I visited in Yorkshire recently I discovered that the incredible patterns and colours of the flower arrangements depend on the replanting, twice a year, of 8000 bulbs and 24000 young plants!

Our gardens are probably a lot less demanding but can be just as beautiful. Whatever their size, they are a part of God’s creation and we need to care for them just as much as we care for natural environments anywhere. I recently purchased a ‘garden quiz book’ which is full of facts about gardens and plants – lots to learn if you can’t answer the questions! But we don’t need to know a lot about gardens and plants in order to take care of our own patch. Caring for a garden tends to come naturally. After all we, too, are a part of God’s creation.

Gardens feature a lot in the Bible. There are the well known gardens, such as Eden and Gethsemane, but there are many smaller less well-known gardens too. In particular there are many references to gardens in the Old Testament, possibly because people cultivated small areas of land for fruit and vegetables. Sometimes they grew flowers as well. Significantly in that country they needed a supply of water. And often they needed a keeper, someone to watch over the produce at harvest times. Gardens were also used for family events, much as they are today, and for relaxation.

Gardens are mentioned in the New Testament too. Often these gardens are linked to the life of Jesus. In Jerusalem it is possible to visit a special garden - the Garden Tomb. It is a pretty garden, located near to the city walls. It contains an ancient tomb, thought by some to be the tomb used for the body of Jesus after his crucifixion and also the place of his resurrection. Many visitors find in the garden a sense of holiness and some, having heard the story of Jesus, find the living Christ.

The Quiet Garden Movement, a Christian initiative, encourages people to open up green spaces for contemplation and relaxation. Sometimes these are attached to churches, but also schools, homes and hospitals. Visitors enjoy somewhere quiet where they can rest in nature. They can be people of any faith or none – their common quest is to experience a little part of God’s creation. If you are able, visit the website. It not only lists the gardens but also has resources to promote well-being, such as meditative exercises, photographs and prayers.

How then do you come close to God in a garden? Perhaps in all ways – working in it, sitting in it, watching and listening to the wildlife in it. Someone said recently ‘I’ve actually seen things grow this spring!’. With extra time on our hands we can observe God’s creativity in action in our gardens. As we spend time tending our gardens and observing what is happening in our gardens we can quite easily come close to God. And God can come close to us too.

Jill Nugent

When did you last chew on a piece of rock at the seaside? I’ve always been intrigued by the sticks of rock in shop windows, the vivid colours, stripes and letters, each stick bearing a little photo of the local seaside. As a kid I knew to avoid the pink minty sticks when making my choice! Rock making is very skilful, especially when it comes to putting in the letters - letters that are still there at every bite. Apparently sweet makers could train for 10 years to do that properly. Apart from flavourings, and colour, the only ingredient in rock is sugar – no wonder it’s so popular. What better than to sit on a rock at the seaside chewing on a stick of rock.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock on which the church will be built. The name Peter links to Petra, Greek for rock. A rock of course provides a solid foundation for a building. Jesus tells elsewhere of the wise man who built his house on a rock and the foolish man who built his house on sand, the strongest building being the one on the rock. Although Peter was likened to a rock, Peter was a person. The foundation for Christ’s church was a person, albeit an apostle. Peter was to be a strong foundation for the church. The church is not a building. It is a body of faithful people, following in the footsteps of Peter and all the apostles.

If we are to grow a church that is worthy of being called God’s church we can look to Peter as an example of discipleship, for we are all disciples. Peter loved the Lord, he tried hard to understand Jesus’ teaching, he made mistakes but he worked at it. Over time he became a strong witness to the faith and a wonderful encourager in the faith. It does take time, like the time needed to learn to put letters into a stick of seaside rock. Those sticks are often six feet or more in length when the letters are inserted. They are then chopped up to make the small sticks that are sent out for sale.

I wonder if that would be a good illustration of the church. Over time as church people we become more skilled at discipleship and eventually confident to ‘send out’ our faith. The message I think is that we must keep learning about our faith, keep grappling with the issues, keep talking about it. We all have our faults, as did Peter, but we can do no better than to walk in his way. And the way of all the apostles.

If you get to the seaside this summer do bring back a stick of rock to share 😊

Jill

 On our recent trip to Japan I was reminded again and again that we can rely on God wherever we are. There were three of us and we soon discovered that our phones wouldn’t work. We had no means of contacting each other. We had to use the ‘old fashioned’ way of choosing meeting places and times. It was a little risky, especially in crowded cities, and occasionally one of us ran into difficulties. Occasionally too we found ourselves with other problems – a hotel that let us down at 8 o’clock one evening, a bus that wouldn’t let us on because we didn’t have the correct change, museums that closed unexpectedly. Yet God is totally reliable. While the other two did their best to sort out the situation, I prayed, and together we always worked it out.

   We enjoyed mixing with the Japanese people, on trains, in shops, at rugby games or just walking around the hot cities trying to follow a map. Everyone we met was very gracious, eager to interact or help and always with a smile. The volunteers helping out at the rugby world cup were amazing, carefully directing us in their best English. And it seems all Japanese are hardworking! The primary religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism. We visited many temples and shrines along with hundreds of other tourists. In the temples are statues of Buddha, to whom devout people address their prayers. The shrines also attract pray-ers, who offer a coin, clap their hands and quietly say a prayer. To me it initially seemed ritualistic but on watching for a while I realised that each person has a strong faith, whatever their religion. My actions in church may seem ritualistic to an onlooker and my faith not obvious. I learnt again to respect people of any faith. Could it be that all faiths encourage people to love others and we should be thankful for that?

   Food is abundant in Japan, seemingly. There are snack shops and bakeries at the stations, restaurants in the cities and mini-supermarkets every few blocks. It’s a mixture of Eastern and Western food and we were always offered a fork and spoon as well as chopsticks. However the presentation of food is most important. It is set out artistically, wrapped with care and always given in a plastic bag – one thing we struggled to say no to! It made me think about how we present ourselves as a church. Are we always well ordered, approaching everyone with a smile and totally respectful of people as individuals?       Jill