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Minister's Letter


From Rev Andrew Brazier
May 2020

Dear all,
“A letter of understanding”
I am mildly amused by the term that many of you will recognize from the ministerial stationing system. Even if you know nothing of the Methodist internal machinations, “letters of understanding” are commonly used in business too. They are a sort of catch all document covering the verbally agreed start to your new employment. What they rarely talk about is anything vaguely recognizable as a pastoral understanding of anyone. These are not empathic documents!

In the current scenario, and with our heads gummed up with endless government pronouncements and statistics, I always try to have something positive to say. I suspect some people think though, that I have lost the plot. All this talk of positive futures and a better world to come, must be utterly maddening.

Whatever else, I do genuinely believe that we are entering a brave new world, but this is not on the basis of some delusional misunderstanding of the situation. Nor is it because I am ignoring the darker truths of this life. In the hope that you might better hear my sense of God’s deep and unending love, and in the certainty of hope for tomorrow, I thought I had better share some of my internal machinations – my “letter of understanding” as it were.

I have a friend who couldn’t find an optimistic thought with a torch and another one who analyses every statistic, then sends them to me. I love them dearly, but their method of getting through all this would drive me nuts. The point is though, that it works for them. So, let’s begin our letter by saying be kind to yourself. I don’t survive all the rubbish the same way you do, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong, or I am right. We all do strange things to get by, and now of all times, we need to be generous to ourselves and say – I need that, I need to filter the world through my own kind of crazy – it’s my crazy and I love it.

Secondly, let’s be kind to one another. “I understand.” Some days the people around us won’t function the way we expect them too. Sometimes they might do nothing at all, or suddenly rush round and try and do two hundred things before breakfast. They may not even know why they are doing it, nor will you have a clue that you are doing it too. Some will shout, and some will be silent – and that is ok.

Finally, be true to yourself. If you are afraid, if you are not bothered by it all, if the whole thing is challenging your faith, then that is an acceptable thing to feel – don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you should be feeling.
Ascension Sunday is coming, and we will rise with the Saviour to a better life in this world and the next, and I say that because I understand. In this role, and a number of previous ones, I have seen the worst that the world has to throw at us. I have experienced it, heard the stories, and sat with the victims. This job is an honour, but it comes with a cost.

I do not believe in the beauty of the world because I can’t see the darkness, but because I walk with it. In owning my own darkness what I see is that the world rises again and again. People overcome, transcend, and bring about the greatest of wonders. The finest poetry is born out of the deepest despair, the greatest love is shown in the darkest times, and I know there will be a wonderful tomorrow, because it has happened over and over again. In the love of Christ, we will ascend and be free – because we always do.

Be kind to yourself, be kind to one another, and be true to your feelings.

God bless,
Rev Andrew.

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Easter 2020
Dear All,
I am not sure when you will be reading this, but I am going to make a prediction. In a few weeks from now I imagine that the worst of this crisis will be over. Thereafter there will be a steady loosening up of the movement restrictions. I am no expert, but we all know how these things go. Of course, way down the line, this will be the thing of legend - the hero NHS, the surreal events and the wonderful people who kept us going. We will tell tales of our wondrous survival - and the brave new world that came after.

It’s easier for those of us that saw the Cold War, or who were there when those awful AIDS warnings went out on TV. It’s harder when you are young I think. If you've been there before you recognize the hyperbole, and the realities. But for our youth and children this is a face of the world they do not know - nor have they realised their own strength yet. One of the great victims of this will be mental health - and that may take longer to fix than a virus.
I was inspired to write this by Beckie, who posted a video on Facebook - an ode to our current scenario. If you haven't listened to it, you should. It inspired me to remember the virtue of hope - and of the need for honesty and openness about our feelings and fears. In fact all our cherubs here in the house have inspired me by their creative approach. If the future is in their hands, things are going to be just fine - oh, and our minds will be much healthier too.
It encouraged me to think about our role as a church, and our future. To start with, we need to stop people saying stupid things. We need to stop the talk of the apocalypse and how no one’s lives will be the same. Us previous survivors need to be speaking truth: the truth that actually, mostly, our lives will return to normal, that if anything, things should be better because of what we learned. We need to be there to support those who emotionally got battered by all this.

We also need to be the voice of experience - the voice that says that human rights and freedoms must be returned, for we all know how that game plays out.

Most of all we need to be there as the reminder of the source of all hope, the source of love and the antidote to fear. For all things shall be well. We shall be well.

God bless,
Rev Andrew.

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17 March 2020

Dear all

 

Currently there is so much information flying about in connection with this virus, that it must seem like the whole world has gone mad. Inevitably as your minister, I have yet another update on the ongoing situation! I know that this is all very frustrating – and in many cases quite scary but be reassured. All this chaos is about prevention. It is still very rare to catch this disease, and even if you do catch it, most people only experience very mild symptoms. I am told that for most people it is less horrible than flu.

 

It is important, though, that for the small number who might get the serious version, or who are more vulnerable, that we make our churches as safe as possible. In this particular moment – and for the next few weeks – it means we won’t be having formal gatherings or worship in the church. This is partly to make sure the NHS has time to prepare for any problems. During the coming weeks I and pastoral visitors will be phoning round to make sure you are ok – and to see if there is anything you need. I’ll also be asking if anyone is free to help shop etc. for those who are self-isolating.

 

Please also note that the church does not have the same definition of ‘old’ that the government do. We will not be asking your age when we discuss how we ‘do’ church in these strange times. The issue is not whether you are over 70, but whether you believe that you would be at particular risk – i.e. be sensible if you have an ongoing health concern.

 

Listed below is the advice that we are being given.

UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE:

  1. NO CHURCH SERVICES. We are encouraged to have the church open for personal prayer at times when we would normally have services but there will be no official gathering. This is so people will not feel like they are missing something or feel obligated to attend.
  2. NO GROUPS (no lent groups, house groups or coffee mornings)
  3. BOOKINGS can continue. The church is not responsible for external groups, and since the government is yet to close schools etc. then the various organisations that use our churches can continue to do so. The groups are asked to make sure that they clean properly after they finish including wiping door handles etc.

WE ARE BEING ENCOURAGED TO:

I)                    Check regularly with members of the church by phone

II)                  To make worship available online, in recordings and in materials to circulate.

III)                 That children’s groups and messy church circulate materials where possible to help with families stuck at home with children

 

If there are any problems with any of this, please please feel free to contact me and discuss. I will be meeting with Jenny Harris tomorrow (Instead of there being a lent group at HHMC) to discuss online church. As soon as we have met, there will be information circulated as to how you can access these things.

 

Although I may ask for your help in doing so, it is my responsibility to circulate worship materials. Please help me compile a list of those not able to receive emails or see the blogs and online information. If there are local preachers, worship leaders or other creative souls, also willing to circulate worship materials this would be wonderful. The more the merrier. I am sure that people would happily receive two sets of prayers rather than none! This way we can make sure they receive prayers and personal devotional materials during the weeks ahead.

 

In the end all this will pass. I hope that in a matter of a few weeks we will look back on this with wry smile. In the meantime, I recommend a sense of humour and making the most of any free time we find ourselves with. This is the time to start that book, write that poem, or finish that project. God is with us in our endeavours and we know the Holy Spirit is with us.

Love and God bless

  **********


Andrew

March 2020

Dear all

This time of year – especially as we say farewell to storms Dennis and Ciara – I find myself, like Noah, watching the skies for signs of a new age. The winter feels like it should have ended by now, and the budding snowdrops seem to be acting in defiance rather than prophecy.

 

Maybe there isn’t an exciting thing to write about in this grey time? I always find it hard to decide what to put in newsletters anyway, or even what is pressing enough for a mention on social media. I know some people can post what they had for lunch and make it gripping - but I always feel like I need a decent excuse - and some editing. Shall we cancel February due to lack of interest then? NO – for this month is full of heroic tales. Even for myself I got to review the newspapers on BBC Three Counties Radio with Nana Akua, had to stand in a storm and reconstruct a bunny hutch that had lost its roof, and experienced a lady in a residential home telling me the two of the best jokes I'd ever heard.


If I was looking for a profound message, I might suggest there was something about finding God in the unexpected - but all of this pales into insignificance next to the funeral of one David Brider that I had the privilege to take. David was a Dr Who fan, a prodigious communicator on Facebook and had a wonderful sense of humour. In life he often encouraged people to be themselves - including me - and I knew taking his funeral I'd be in danger of that ministerial trap, theme related incidences happening on the way to the pulpit.


What I did not expect was my trousers catching fire. As I tried to flatten my clothes for David's funeral, an overheated iron ignited the plasticky polyesters. A flash of flame blew a hole through the fabric, and little tattered shards floated across the kitchen. Interestingly the smoke detectors that pass judgement on each piece of toast I make, did not think this was a problem.


Maybe not everything is a sign or  a message, but I am certain that David would have appreciated the gag. And maybe this time of year we just need something to cheer us up.

God bless
Rev Andrew

                                                                                      **********


January/February 2020
Dear All,
Happy New Year - well, and possibly, maybe, depending on your perspective - the start of a new decade. (I know some are waiting for 2021!)

A time of hope? Change? To some extent we know that every new start comes both optimism and fear. In another sense, the New Year is just a meaningless line in the sand. It isn't so much a religious festival anymore and, if you were working, the clock probably ticked over with little more than a greeting to colleague, and a tea break.

In my first sermons this year I am talking about what I am calling the ‘new puritanism’ and our history as non-conformists. That sounds a lot heavier than it is in reality. What I will be encouraging us to think about, as we disciple our way through the 20s, is what happens after. There is always an after, and it is usually the result of a very large before. There was an election - now there is after.

There will be a Brexit and then there will be after. There was a building project, now there is after. There was Christmas, there was a year full of events - and if nothing else the arbitrary line says, "Hey folks, it’s time for after."

So as you face the heap of recycling, hoover up after the last guest has gone, or hide the empty wine bottles at the bottom of the bin, it is natural to start saying what shall we do next? As we get older the temptation is always to think that
that next maybe not so exciting or hopeful. The best could all be in the past. In our house we are learning about a future in which the children have moved out. What does that mean to us in the new year?

Whatever happened previously our faith tells us we need to stand up for certain things. In following Christ we are by definition trouble makers, reputational risks, and what my Aunt Win would have called 'occer'd cusses.' As disciples we
know that the establishment, whoever they are, must be reminded of the equality of humanity under God, the beautiful nature of His creation - and that we are all spiritual beings imbued with love. There is a lovely word/phrase for
this. We must as a church remain counter-cultural.

What I am trying to say at the start of this new year is that we need to remember that there is constantly a new start in Christ. The world tries to teach us to be cynical, to fear life, and to think ourselves beyond hope. Christ’s consistent message was that at every stage of a voyage we should be ready to kick the dust off of our heels and move forward. Our lives are not bound by human limits. There is always tomorrow, and we know that in this world or the next that tomorrow has hope, joy and wonder. In conclusion then I remind myself and you all, that we are to enter the Kingdom of God like a child - with open hearts, minds and doors. What might that look like? Well Greta Thunberg sat outside a school ......

Looking forward to many adventures with you all.
God bless
Rev Andrew

                                                                                     **********
December 2019
Dear All
So the truth is out. Something important is going to happen in December. Sadly it turns out that from the national news, it isn't Christmas. At the time of writing the election for the 12th had just been announced. Probably by the time of reading they'll have moved it to the 25th - after all nobody works then - well apart from ministers of course. 

It's worth remembering that Jesus was born into a similar time of political chaos. A Jewish nation under foreign rule, an imposed census and plenty of trouble between religious and political leaders. Jesus birth represented then the idea of stability under a powerful Messiah. Instead they got a baby who caused even more issues. 

We now know what wonders Jesus represented - but we know it in hindsight. This year let us make a pledge to pray for all the people who find themselves affected by the instability of nations and leaders. Jesus taught us through his life to ignore the division and speak of love and light. He taught us that good words and acts of kindness can change the world for the better. 

I think that is what Paul meant when he said Christians are above the law. Not that we are lawless, but that we must always hold up the message of Christmas, hope, in the face of those who only have the law. I have no idea what the situation will be by Christmas - or whether we will all be living on the moon - but I do know that our leader is strong and stable. Also thankfully he isn't up for re-election.

God bless
Rev Andrew
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October 2019

Dear All

 Ah yes, October. Must be time to start worrying about Christmas. We have a passing dig at the commercial word for bringing out the Christmas tat just after Halloween, but the Methodist church is worse. Our dates for the preaching plan have to be in by September. I don't know about you, but I am still working out what happens this week – let alone what happens early next year. Oh I know that planning is good, and that the Spirit can work through the organised and the spontaneous, but there is a risk in our way of doing church.

Whilst we are always grateful to those willing to assemble rotas and be on them, the truth is that constant conversations about the next thing sometimes preclude us being ‘in the moment'. The Martha and Mary debate, as it were. Part of being God's creation is to experience the nature of God in the world. You know what I mean; that buzz, that tingle, that joy in being loved and in love. The Bible assures us that we shouldn't worry. That our lives are in his hands. Sometimes we need to take time to enjoy what we have right here, right now.

Last month I asked you to think about your contradictions. This month I am adding the question, ‘are you a planner or a blagger?’ I think it’s really important to both leave space for others who are different to ourselves, and to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

To sum up here is an example. Imagine that you are – as you may well be, or have been – a young parent. Your child is at an age when feeding routines and nappies dictate the parameters of your life. You'd like to be involved in church life, but don't know until the day what time is available. How, as a church, do we plan so that there is space for those who can't plan?

God bless 

Andrew

 

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September 2019

Dear All

As I sat in the traffic Jam on the M25 I pondered what I could write to you, by means of an introduction. Facts? Age 54, married (to Ruth) and with two 'growed' up children; Ben and Beckie (21 and 18 - yes, it has been an expensive year.) I am not sure if the facts help. I could tell you stories. At school I was asked to write an essay describing myself. I put, 'I am seven feet tall, bright green and have a vivid imagination.' Whilst I am shorter and less green now, I still have a vivid imagination.

The best description I ever heard of me was during the candidating process. My then mentor said, 'Andrew is a bundle of contradictions.' It was meant as a criticism, but I think it was brilliant. If nothing else I think it is a good description of all of us. Give me a person who is entirely consistent and I'll show you a robot. As Christians we often find ourselves wearing a multitude of hats, and dealing with a variety of situations. Each one of which may bring out something contradictory in us.

We are in good company. The disciples were living examples of how to be in a muddle. The Bible itself contains some wonderful contradictions. I've heard it argued many times that the Bible isn't the truth because of the anomalies. For me it is exactly the opposite. One of the reasons I can refute the conspiracy theories and defend the Bible as the word of God, is that no human built organisation would leave the anomalies in. The Bible is not a corporate document. It challenges us to wrestle with it and to seek the truth. My anomalies are God given - as are yours.

For myself, I am a creative writer who can't spell or punctuate, an actor who eschews being on stage, and a Methodist minister who likes to robe and wear pretty scarves. My fun challenge in this welcome letter is to ask the same of you! When we meet I'd like to hear about your contradictions. Try scribbling down a few statements in that format - I am “an X” who does “Y”, I am “a this” who does “that”. To know ourselves, and each other better, is to know God better.

I am looking forward to getting started properly here. Ruth and I love the manse, and even the rabbits are looking less confused. See you soon.

Love and God bless
Rev Andrew



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