Letter from Mike Excell, elder at Hertford URC
Most mornings, before breakfast, I take a 20 minute stroll which embraces part of what’s often referred to as ‘the Bengeo Field’. I’m not alone in discovering that steady walking, on a regular route, is a powerful and compatible accompaniment to daily prayer and meditation. My path often crosses that of other humans (plus accompanying canines, nonplussed as they look for my non-existent dog); and one autumn morning in 2020 I encountered a local farmer who told me he was checking out the field before planting his barley. When harvested the crop would be sent to a maltings in Kent - and ultimately find its way into something nice to drink. Beer and folk music are close companions; many traditional songs reflect rural life, the passage of the seasons and the life of the agricultural worker. One such begins ‘come it’s now September’ and refers to ‘the ripe and bearded barley, smiling on the scythe’. This year the barley in ‘our’ field had had the smile wiped from its face - by combine harvester - by late July. Similarly most of this year’s bumper crop of our garden blackberries had been eaten, frozen or given away by early August, leaving slim pickings for September. It’s easy to conclude that the seasons we have known seem to be shifting slightly.
However, some things can’t change fundamentally, at least not within a time frame that the human brain can contemplate ; the geometry and physics which govern the earth’s relationship to the sun (one of creation’s miracles) and thereby the seasons, see to that. But there’s no doubt that on a more parochial level, the time-honoured reliability of ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’ has been undermined by mankind’s failure to acknowledge the duty of care we have concerning the planet and its climate – all in the name of progress and often the desire to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. So hedgerows may disappear, and roads and buildings replace pastures where sheep once safely grazed. And the route of my early morning prayer walk might have needed some serious adjustment had plans to turn our field into a quarry the size of 50 football pitches come to pass. But I’m lucky; we were able to mount a strong local knowledge-based campaign to resist the diggers, the fields and byways I walk survived.
There have been many changes of course, but these long-established paths have felt the tread of many generations, who I like to think saw and heard the ancestors of the skylarks that accompany my daily pilgrimage. So I walk, and at the same spot each day I pause, listen for the silence behind the sounds, lift my eyes to the horizon and thank God, the unchanging presence in all our lives.
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It’s Creation Time
Here is a Bible Study from ‘Roots’
Genesis 1.1 - 2.3
According to this ancient creation story, over six days God created the earth, beginning with the day and night, and continuing with water and dry land; populating the land with vegetation; creating the sun, moon and stars; filling the waters, the skies and the land with animals; and finally creating man and woman, tasking them with the care of everything which had been made. Content with creation, God rests on the seventh day. Look at all the parts of our world that are described here, and how they interlink with one another. There couldn’t be:
a day without night;
dry land without the sea;
fruits and seeds without dry land to grow on;
fish without the sea for them to live in;
birds without the sky;
and finally, humans, who can’t exist without everything else – the water to drink, the land to live on, the plants to eat.
Take out just one of those elements because we have destroyed it with our actions, and the rest will begin to become unbalanced and flounder. For example, it is said that without bees, mankind will die out within four years. How we treat God’s creation really matters. This story of creation shows us what an incredible, complicated and beautiful place the earth is. We are asked to care for it, to make sure that natural balance is maintained, but climate change is a result of our failure to do this: affecting the make-up of our atmosphere, the temperature of our waters, the ecosystems and demand for certain foods putting pressure on the natural world. We need to nurture this fragile balance, rather than upset its equilibrium with the way we live our lives. Science has shown us that there is now an urgent need to respond to the crisis created through climate change. The COP26 Conference is an important moment in this as world leaders meet to make progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
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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.
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Getting Creative with Scripture
St Paul in one of his letters in the New Testament writes to Timothy
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ 2 Timothy 3 : 16
We should be connecting with scripture every day. When we do it’s most likely going to be through reading it or hearing it. Daily readers and reflections are helpful, either on-screen, in a book or via a podcast. They help us to think about scripture from different angles, to maybe realise a ‘truth’ that we hadn’t considered before.
Seeing and hearing are useful ways to learn but what about ‘doing’ scripture. Learning more through our hands. Have you ever tried Bible journaling? That is the ‘in’ name for getting creative with scripture. It can give you a whole new outlook on the Bible.
Here are a few ideas. Choose a verse or passage of scripture that you would like to spend a little time with, then consider which words really stand out for you. What might God be saying to you through those words? Be creative with the words you have chosen, using any type of tools that suit you. It can be pens, crayons, pastels, paints, sticky paper.
Use your imagination to explore different styles for writing the words, different ways of colouring or decorating them. Add a picture that visualises the message for you. Then leave it and come back to it as you think of additions or changes. Save your final scripture picture to reflect on at another time. It may become a useful memory verse. You can share your pictures with others too.
I should perhaps add that some people decorate their Bibles in this way, although many create word pictures on paper or in a scrapbook, finding that through art they discover a new way to worship God. You might like to give it a go! It’s yet another way to help grow your faith, another way of spending time with God - and hopefully coming away with new learning and encouragement.
If you wish you can actually buy a colouring Bible that already has illustrations in it for you to colour. You can add other notes, words and pictures too. It’s worth, when you look at words of scripture in this way, to take note of the different translations too. A passage from the King James Bible, for example, may be very different from the same passage in the Good News Bible or the Message. But that only adds interest to your exploration.
An extension of this idea, that I find useful, is to create small designs on cards which fit into pockets or handbags. They can be surprisingly uplifting when you find them in your bag or pocket when you are out and about. They are useful too for giving to another person or even leaving in a café or hotel. But then we’re getting into growing the kingdom as well as our faith!
Let me know if you do any Bible journaling. It would be good to share.
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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 😊
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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
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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.
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