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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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.
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The Six Nations is here again and likely to attract thousands of spectators and viewers, as men and women battle it out to get to the top of the Table. It’s tag line is RUGBY’S GREATEST CHAMPIONSHIP. If you are a rugby player it is, I guess, a highlight of your career. As a member of a national team you play alongside other great players, in pursuit of greatness.
What is greatness?
Greatness can be defined as a quality that makes a person superior to others, or a natural ability that is better than others’. And when greatness comes through hard work it can be an admirable quality or ability.
As Christians we perceive greatness as a quality that is also attributed to God. The Bible describes God as great. The Bible also tells stories of great workers for God, such as Moses, in the Old Testament, and Paul, in the New Testament. Jesus was asked, by his disciples, who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God? Jesus brought a child to them and declared that those who come as children are the greatest in the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 18). To be great in God’s eyes is to be humble, expectant and obedient, like a child.
The sport of rugby is all about teamwork. In order to achieve any measure of greatness, individuals need to become team members, to use their talents alongside others to achieve the best for the whole team and for the country they represent. It can be awesome watching a great team at work. It encourages those of lesser ability or with fewer skills. And it celebrates a commitment to the sport.
The work of God’s church depends on teams too, teams of Christians with different talents, working humbly and expectantly together as they build the Kingdom of God. When we focus on the teams to which we belong, or in other words our churches, and not on ourselves as individuals, we are more likely to achieve greatness for God. And that can be awesome too.
The churches in our pastorate group, Broxbourne, Cheshunt and Hertford, also work together as a team. The three churches are encouraged to connect with each other in various ways – at formal meetings of representatives as well as at informal fellowship gatherings. Another important way of connecting with each other is when we join together to worship God.
This year there are two opportunities to join together in worship – May 3rd at Hertford and November 22nd at Broxbourne. On those Sundays there will be only one service in the pastorate group and the other two churches will close. Transport will be provided to enable everyone to get to the joint service. Do come along! It’s important for the work of God in our communities that we come together as a team. It’s uplifting and hugely encouraging. And we owe it to Christ, whom we represent, wherever we are, in church or in community.
See you there!
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God planned it – Pentecost that is.
Or to be exact, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
‘Wait’ Jesus said.
‘Whatever for’ wondered the disciples.
And so they waited. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
Amidst tongues of fire and the sound of a violent wind the church was born.
Everyone talked about it – each in their own language.
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cappadocians, those from Rome and Crete.
The whole known world.
They were all amazed.
God used God’s own language. To speak to all peoples.
And all peoples spoke back to God.
And so began a new work of the Spirit.
Active in the people of God, as a church.
Energetic and confident.
They were totally inspired.
Where is our energy? Where is our confidence?
Fill us Lord with your Spirit and inspire us too.
Inspire us to work in the Spirit today.
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Conflict and peace. In Hiroshima there is a peace park dedicated to promoting peace following the terrible aftermath of the A bomb devastation. One special memorial is the children’s monument which was built using money from a fund-raising campaign by Japanese school children, including classmates of Sadako Sasaki. She had an idea to create 1000 paper cranes. Japanese tradition says that if someone creates a thousand cranes, they are granted one wish. Sadako's wish was to have a world without nuclear weapons. She suffered from radiation poisoning and sadly died from leukaemia in 1955.
On top of the monument is a statue of Sadako. Inside the monument is a brass crane and a peace bell. On its base is a prayer.
"This is our cry, this is our prayer: for building peace in the world".
Today, people all around the world have the opportunity to donate cranes that they have folded in honour of Sadako. School children come and place paper cranes around the memorial, sing and pray. The paper crane is a symbol of peace. They are made in all sorts of colours and sizes, reminding everyone of the peace wish of one little girl. Nowadays the paper cranes are recycled into useful paper products which are sold in the museum shop.
In church are instructions for making a paper crane, to take away and have a go at home. If this sounds a bit daunting feel free to take a paper crane from the collection that has already been made. And then keep it within sight for the whole of this month as a reminder every day to pray for peace. Pray in your own way. You may like to use this prayer as well.
O God of peace,
Let there be true peace in our homes, our churches, and our world.
Make me a peacemaker wherever I go,
That every step I take, and every day I live,
Peace may be my gift to the world, as it was yours.
Susan Durber URC prayer handbook 2019
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Cheshunt Free Church is now a member of the Commitment for Life programme run by the URC. Cheshunt is linked to Zimbabwe and we shall receive regular updates as to how our prayers and gifts are helping to support particular projects there. Our most recent update tells about a project in Mutoko that helps to empower communities as people learn to advocate for themselves. People have learnt how to engage with the local council and influence developments in their community. Additionally the URC has made a grant of £200 to a Zimbabwean art group called ARTPEACE which helps to support both artists and farmers. This money was used to buy seeds to help combat food shortages. Here is the Commitment for Life prayer for May
We pray for our partners in the countries in which we work. We pray for them in the challenges they face, especially climate disruption, sustainability, security and well-being. We pray for the many lives that are being transformed through our acting, praying and giving. We pray especially for the work of Christian Aid and Global Justice Now as they work alongside and speak up for the world’s poorest people. Amen
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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
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