AN EASTER MESSAGE

April 5th, 2017

I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to plant a sunflower seed and to grow a sunflower – it’s the kind of thing that’s often done in primary schools where children have a competition to see who has grown the tallest flower and bring photographs in of the evidence to show to their teacher and class-mates.

Well if you have ever planted a sunflower seed you will know that the best way is to plant the seed into a small pot; and that when the sunflower seed is first put into the pot, it is pretty small and vulnerable. You cover it over with soil and when you look at it, there is, at first, nothing to see at all – just a pot with some soil in it. It looks, to all intents and purposes, as if it is dead – as if there is no life at all.

However, of course, those scientists among you will know that although the pot looks pretty life-less to begin with; underneath, at the bottom of the soil, there is a lot going on. The seed is not dead – it is actually be very much alive – changing and growing – slowly, gradually, almost invisibly – life is coming forth; and, eventually, a tiny stem emerges – still small, still fragile, still vulnerable – but new life nonetheless.

As the seed continues to grow; so the stem grows taller and stronger; and eventually the seed and its shoots are moved from the pot and planted into the ground; and after some considerable amount of time, the seed and the stem eventually become a sunflower – a flower that can become so big that, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the tallest sunflower ever grown reached 9.17 metres – grown in 2014 by Hans-Peter Schiffer in Germany!

So, from the small pot – a pot appearing to contain nothing more than soil; a pot where everything seems barren and dead; new life, new hope emerges.

Once the seed has become a sunflower; it contains in its centre, lots of new seeds which often are blown to the ground, or carried and then dropped by birds, or are planted by us, and these seeds grow yet more sunflowers.  Thus begins the cycle of death and re-birth – death and re-birth – again and again and again; and of course, this cycle isn’t limited to sunflowers alone – it is to be found with all plants, flowers and trees…

Now in some parts of the Christian Church, when people speak about Jesus’ cross – the cross on which he was crucified, they call it The Tree of Life; and they do this because in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection – the story of Good Friday and Easter Day – Christians believe that the pattern of death and re-birth is being played out on a huge, incredible, cosmic level…

Jesus’ pain and suffering and death on the cross, reveal for Christians, a God who enters into human pain and suffering and death; and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, reveals a God who can bring new life and new joy – even from beyond the grave. What this means for Christians is that there is always hope; hope, that no matter how horrible and painful and tragic life can be at times, pain, and sickness, and suffering and even death are not the end – they will never, ever, have the final say. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus, Christians believe that we see a God who is right there with us – right there in the suffering and the pain; but also a God who can raise us up out of that suffering; raise us up out of the pain; and can bring us new life, new hope, a new future…

 

The God who raised Jesus from the dead, is for me, personally as a Christian, the same God who is at work in my life, in the lives of the people I love, in the lives of you all, in the life of the world – and the resurrection and new life which God can bring is, I believe, offered to each one of us as a hope for the future and the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.

So whatever you do this holiday, may I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Holy Week and Easter; and may Christ, who out of defeat brings new hope and a new future, fill you with his new life.

Revd. Helen Duckett

Springtime and Lent

February 17th, 2017

As I write this blog, the first signs of Spring seem to be tentatively approaching despite the lingering cold and frost – the mornings are gradually getting brighter and the day-light hours longer. On the days when I work at The King’s School, I am now leaving my house in the light and returning in the light. The snowdrops have appeared in our front garden; and one of our trees already has buds – waiting to burst into glorious blossom.

It is at this time of year, that we begin to leave all thoughts of Winter behind with its festivals of Christmas and Epiphany and focus our attention forward. Ash Wednesday this year is on 1st March and it marks, of course, the beginning of Lent and forty days of reflection, self-examination and repentance as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the most profound and significant time in the Church’s year – Holy Week and Easter.

For many people, Lent is a time for ‘giving something up’ – a second chance to attempt once more all those New Year’s resolutions which we so eagerly made on 1st January and which we have so readily abandoned by 31st January! I know a lot of folk who mark Lent in this way and most of them would not necessarily identify themselves as Christians.  However, whilst abstinence and self-denial can be extremely beneficial for our physical and mental health, and is undoubtedly a part of Christian spirituality and practice; for those of us who do follow Christ, Lent is also about more than ‘giving something up’. Because for Christians, Lent is about entering with Jesus into the wilderness, spending time in prayer, setting aside moments for study and contemplation – confronting with Christ the trials and temptations that beset us both within and without; coming face to face with God and with ourselves; seeing, and not flinching from, the reality of both good and evil in our own lives and in the wider world; repenting of our own failures short-comings, of those instances when we have sinned both individually and corporately; and receiving God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace and love.

Lent is a time for our spirituality to develop; an opportunity for us to grow more fully into the likeness and fullness of Christ; a season for ‘taking on’ extra faith commitments as well as for ‘giving something up’. That is why at Furzebank, we will be holding a special Ash Wednesday service at 7.30pm to prepare ourselves spiritually as we enter into the season. We will also be holding our Lent Study Group as usual – working through a course written by Hilary Brand entitled The Mystery of Everything.  It focuses upon the ways in which the mysteries and complexities of life, and the acceptance that there are no easy answers, can help to enable and grow our faith, and can lead us on in our spiritual journies. The course will be held in the Worship Centre on Tuesday evenings at 7.30pm and will begin on 7th March. However this year, the Course will also be taking place at other days and times throughout the Benefice. Groups will be held at Emmanuel on Tuesday evenings at 6.30pm and on Thursday afternoons at 1.30pm; and at Holy Trinity on Tuesday afternoons at 2.00pm. Folk are welcome to move across the churches and to meet new people; and if you miss a session, you can hopefully catch-up elsewhere!

If Study Groups are not your thing and you wish to develop your faith in a more practical and ‘hands-on’ way, you may find the on-line material produced by the group 40acts to be particularly helpful. 40acts is a national Christian movement and their aim is to encourage Christians to live lives of generosity – by seeking ways to do good for others, giving back to the world with small acts of kindness, and sharing God’s love and grace. Throughout Lent, they provide daily challenges which you can undertake on your own, as a family, at church, at work or at school. I have used their resources with students and staff at The King’s, and also in my personal discipleship, and I would highly recommend them. Their web-site is to be found at: www.40acts.org.uk – why not check it out!

However we choose to spend Lent, may it be for us all a season of growth, of spiritual refreshment and renewal, of setting time aside to reflect on what really matters in faith and in life, and of committing ourselves, once more, to following Christ on his journey to the cross and to the resurrection glory of Easter Day.

 

February 2017

Revd. Helen Duckett writes…

December 28th, 2016

Hello Everyone! This is my first blog as the new Vicar at Furzebank.  I was licensed on 28th November and I am very grateful for the warm welcome which my family and I have received from you all. (Some of you, of course, know Keith, my husband from when he was the Curate here.) The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirl-wind with all the Christmas services and events taking place; and I must admit that I am looking forward to January and to settling into a bit more of a routine.

The Vicar’s post at Furzebank is now a part-time role (0.5) and I will be combining it with another part-time job which I already have – working as the Chaplain at The King’s Church of England School in Wolverhampton. It may take a little while to get into a regular working-pattern so please bear with me; but one aim of mine is to try and make Wednesdays a day when I will be based in the Worship Centre; so if you ever do need to find me, feel free to pop by. You can also telephone or email me at other times – my details are in the contacts section of the website.

As we enter into 2017 and all the joys and challenges that the next twelve months will bring, many people, I think, will be glad to see an end to 2016. The past year seems to have been a particularly tumultuous one. There have been the hard, difficult, news stories such as the on-going conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with no seeming end in sight, which is still leading to the migration of hundreds and thousands of refugees. Then there have been the shock election results of ‘Brexit’ and of Donald Trump – whatever your opinion is on these events, there is no denying that the results were unexpected and many people have been left uncertain and anxious as to what they might mean for our own country and for the wider world. There have also been the deaths of many celebrities – famous and influential people like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Victoria Wood, Terry Wogan, Caroline Ahern, Alan Rickman; and just in the last few days, George Michael and Carrie Fisher.  However, in this topsy-turvy year, there have also been some good news stories as well – the success of Team GB at the Olympic and Paralympic Games was inspirational; as was Leicester City winning the Premier League; Andy Murray winning Wimbledon again and becoming World Number One; and Ore Oduba winning Strictly Come Dancing !

It is into a tumultuous, topsy-turvy world like this that Jesus Christ was born just over 2000 years ago. Jesus’ country, Israel, was being occupied by a foreign power – the Roman Empire, brutal and ruthless, who had no qualms about executing and torturing anyone who opposed them; and Jesus and his fellow Jews would also have had severe restrictions placed on their religious and social practices.  Jesus was born into this world; and for Christians, this fact says something incredibly significant and profound about God and about us. For Christians, Jesus is not just a great religious leader, or a spiritual guru, or a wise teacher. Rather, Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God with us’ – the one who shows us what God is like. In Jesus, God becomes human and enters into our world, and takes on all the joy and the pain, the happiness and the sorrow, the laughter and the tears that life can bring. Christians believe that in Jesus, we see a God who is not removed from us or from our lives but a God who gets stuck in; a God who is right in the middle of all that is going on; a God offering us peace, strength, courage, forgiveness, love – wherever we are and whatever situations we may find ourselves in.

It is this wonder and this mystery of the Incarnation that we have just been celebrating over Christmas. However, the belief that Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’ is not limited to 25th December. Rather, the message of Christmas is a message that is intended to be with us every day, every week, every month – throughout the whole of 2017 and beyond! God is with us – wherever we are, whatever situation we find ourselves in, whatever life throws at us; and it is perhaps by trusting in this message that we can find faith, hope and peace as we enter into the New Year.

For me, nowhere is this belief encapsulated more than in the words of the poem “The Gate of the Year” written by Minnie Lousie Haskins (1875-1957) and quoted by King George VI in his Christmas broadcast of 1939:

 

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

 

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

 

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

 

As we all enter into 2017, we pray for God’s peace and presence to rest upon us, upon our loved ones, and upon our tumultuous and topsy-turvy world.

Christmas is coming …

November 12th, 2016

After the school nativity plays have finished, the candles have been blown out at church carol services, gifts and cards have been exchanged and the shepherds and Kings have been welcomed to the stable, there is an often neglected part to the Christmas story. The escape to Egypt.

The story is of Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus escaping persecution by travelling to Egypt, a journey of many hundreds of miles. They did this because Herod, the ‘King’ of Judea had vowed to find the baby and kill him. Joseph had received a warning from an angel in a dream that Herod was looking for Jesus.

Their journey must have been miserable. It was winter and desert nights are cold. The family wouldn’t be able to take much with them in the way of provisions, they were on a donkey. Mary had recently delivered her baby, no health visitors and post-natal care in those days!

The journey through a strange land would have brought challenges and blessings. They would have been challenged by the different language, customs and food. Perhaps some were hostile to these ‘refugees’, maybe they found many blessings in hospitality from people who having little themselves. On arrival Joseph would have needed to find work to provide food and shelter for his family.

We are experiencing the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced from their home environment because of persecution or war. At the October United Praise service we reflected on the plight of refugees. They face many dangers on the journey and on arrival often face persecution.

The Christmas story is often portrayed as ‘otherworldly’, the stuff of Christmas biscuit tin artwork, but the exile of the Holy Family is a stark reminder that some people face a very different Christmas and winter to ourselves, sometimes the Bible speaks with such a loud voice into our society….

The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

Isaiah. 9. 2, 6,7

 

Christmas blessings to you.

Rev John Deakin 2016

Give thanks for the new mercies we see each day

May 5th, 2016

I write this looking out of the window across the green leafy fields of north Derbyshire, against a backdrop of an almost cloudless blue sky, thinking what a fabulous day to be in the hills and I am at a clergy conference!

When I walk into the hills and reach the top a range of emotions come to me. First I wonder why on earth I am doing this, muscles and joints that I have forgotten about ache and I still have to get down! Next I am amazed by the contrast of the views. Take Snowdon, from the summit you can see the sweep of Cardigan bay, the castle of Harlech and ornate Portmerion. You can also see the rugged and unforgiving terrain of the Snowdon Massif a mountain that was once a volcano, a simple trip or stumble and you may not survive.

The contrast of people and nature.

The mountains have been there for hundreds of millions of years and yet in a short time human kind has made a large impact on the environment. We hear so many accounts of how human activity is affecting our planet and that the poorest nations of the world are the worst affected.

Throughout the Bible the created world isn’t just about people, it is the whole of the created world. The mountains and the seas, the pandas and the spiders, the creative abilities of people and the amazing nest of the weaver bird. The created world isn’t human kind or nature, it is human kind and nature, it is a community of creation.

The famous old hymn ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ written in 1923 by Thomas Chisolm neatly binds us together with the created world as being a part of God’s creation community. ‘…morning by morning new mercies  I see, all that I have thy hand has provided…’, runs the chorus.

As spring unfolds before us give thanks for the new mercies we see each day. Give thanks for the gifts and talents we receive through God’s blessing. Celebrate the creativity of human kind that will help us to resolve some of the issues facing our communities today. It is through God’s faithfulness that we can look for answers.

Intent

January 20th, 2015

In the 14th century a book was written called ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’. The author is unknown, but it was thought to be written by a priest to encourage a new novice in his contemplation of the mystery of God. He says we need a ‘naked intent’. He unwraps this as an uncluttered desire to reach out to God, to have a relationship with God.

In the news recently were two achievements demonstrating intention, the climbing of El Capitan in the United States and the discovery of Beagle2. Two intrepid climbers, Kevin Jorgesen and Tommy Caldwell, completed a nineteen day climb of the almost vertical face of ‘The Dawn Wall’ on El Capitan rock in Yosemite valley California. The climb is 914 metres of almost vertical granite, with very tiny holds for hands and feet. It is a terrific achievement, it was the result of many years of planning. Beagle 2 was launched in 2003, the probe was intended to land on Mars and begin tests and exploration to ascertain if there could have been life on Mars. But when it landed contact was lost. Many years of planning were lost as it was thought the probe had been destroyed. However it has now been discovered on Mars.

Both of these projects are the result of many years of hard work for adventurers and scientists, they began with the intention to complete the project, though with different results. in our faith life we often expect a quick answer to problems and forget the intention is to further our relationship with God. The Bible doesn’t help us here. It tells us that a person or a group of people prayed and things happened, what the Bible doesn’t tell us is how long they called upon God to help them. As Christians we must reflect upon God and wait upon God for his time to be right, we need that ‘naked intent’ that God will be a part of our life.

I have been reflecting for a considerable time on how appropriate it would be for me to apply for the post of Rector in the Benefice of Bentley and Short Heath. After an interview and much prayerful reflection I have been appointed as Rector. This appointment leaves us with a vacancy at Furzebank, again we must pray for the right person to come along to work with that church and the community it serves.

All churches face challenges of some kind and Short Heath is no different. Remember that our churches have accomplished great things in the past and continue to do so, as Bishop Clive of Wolverhampton recently pointed out in an article in the Express and Star.

As a Christian community we must pray intending for the will of God to work among us in our churches, in our Parish and in the Benefice. We need faith in our faith in God, remembering that he has plans for us as Christians and as churches and that we can still celebrate the gift of the Christ child in our world, in our community and in our homes.

Christmas 2014

November 26th, 2014

I apologise in Advance of you reading this, for planting in your minds those Christmas tunes from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s!
In the film ‘About a boy’ Hugh Grant plays a man who is very wealthy and leads a selfish life. He meets a boy who changes his life by forcing him to consider those around him. Hugh Grant’s character receives money from the royalties of a Christmas song written by his father. The film shows him walking around the supermarket with dread each Christmas time as he hears the song, even though each time it is played he receives a little more money. Christmas appears to creep upon us earlier each year, though it doesn’t really and we have the inevitable Christmas songs, ‘White Christmas’ from Bing Crosby,’ Merry Christmas Everybody’ from Slade, ‘I wish it could be Christmas everyday’ from Roy Wood and the list goes on.
But one of my favourites is the song from Chris Rea, ‘Driving Home for Christmas’. It is a little more realistic in its description of the busyness and business of Christmas. He is stuck in a traffic jam and reflects on his fellow travellers all wanting to be home too.
The Christmas television adverts will be selling us lots of goodies from the shelves, using very simple and idealistic views of Christmas. Why does it always have sufficient snow to look pretty without the mayhem of traffic problems and public transport disruption? People will often say that Christmas is commercialised and too busy, unlike those television adverts. It is more like ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ than the chocolate box depiction we see on the telly. Some people look forward to this season, others face it with dread.
Through the business and complication of life at Christmas there is a continuous thread or theme, the love of God for us all. That love was shown not through a mighty conquering army but through a vulnerable child born in a draughty, smelly stable.
As those Christmas tunes come into our world each year, we will sing along, we will be tired of hearing them by the second week of December and we will complain that Christmas began too early. But the reason we sing them is to celebrate Christmas. The reality of Christmas is the greatest gift of all, God’s love for each and every one of us. Those who enjoy this season can celebrate this truth and we can pray with those who find this season challenging that they too may find comfort in the knowledge of the presence of God.
Emmanuel God is with us.
John Deakin
…Driving home for Christmas, pom, pom, pom… I did warn you!

Music

October 7th, 2014

Nearly 30 years ago we went camping in the Lake District, at Grisedale forest. Our daughter was too young to be in school so we had the luxury of being able to take a holiday in July. It was a peaceful holiday with very long days. In the Forestry Centre there was to be a performance of a Beethoven piano concerto, the pianist was John Lill. Sadly we couldn’t afford to go and one of us would need to stay with our daughter. The evening of the performance was warm and so we ate outside the tent, whilst our daughter slept inside. As we ate and chatted outside the tent, soaking up the last warmth of the evening sun, the sound of John Lill’s playing filtered through the trees, so we got to hear the performance after all in a very special way.

Music is so important to society. we use music to help us remember, recall the hymns and music at the Royal Festival of Remembrance, we use music to celebrate as we did for the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen in 2012. When we lead funerals or weddings in church the family or couple will sometimes ask for a favourite piece of music to be played. Music is a gift to produce and something that can stimulate all sorts of ideas and emotions in us. The BBC programme ‘Songs of Praise’ has very high viewing figures.

The Psalm writer celebrates the contribution that music makes in our worship to honour God. Churches have a long tradition of being places where music is encouraged and nurtured. Many modern singers began in church choirs. In our services hymns and songs are so powerful. The combination of words and music often resonate in our heads long after the service has ended, many of our hymns and songs use language taken straight from the scriptures. We are urged to read our Bible regularly and to pray earnestly the hymns and songs that stay with us are a form of devotion too. So celebrate our music and all that it brings to mind and give thanks for the gift of music in our churches and in our world.

John

Christmas 2013 – ‘Tis the season to be jolly

December 9th, 2013

‘Tis the season to be jolly….’ goes the song. In the vicarage we look forward to the annual crop of Christmas adverts. These vary from the sentimental to the funny. The advert using the Rod Stewart track ‘Forever young’ is guaranteed to make someone reach for the tissues.
I suppose these adverts help us to recall Christmas seasons gone by, through rose tinted spectacles too. They give a little warmth at this cold time of the year. As I travel around the Parish I see houses lit up with all manner of things from nativity scenes and railway trains to Santa in a balloon.
Cards are sent and received, gifts are chosen and puzzled over because great aunty something still thinks you are 13!
Christmas is too commercialised is the cry. But it is all about celebrating God amongst us as a defenceless child. God chose to be among his people not as a mighty warrior coming into our world surrounded by a powerful army, but as a baby. In our society child birth and the first few months of life are surrounded by a vast organisation of support specialists from doctors and mid-wives to social support structures. In Jesus day child birth was a very different matter, with high mortality for mother and baby. If God can choose to be with us and make himself so vulnerable, then let us celebrate a God that loves us so much he took the risks for us.
Christmas blessings
John
p.s. we always look out for the Coca-Cola ads too!

Easter

April 18th, 2013

So it is Easter time, time for chocolate, bunnies and daffodils. Or even chocolate bunnies and daffodils! There is more than one place to put the comma in that statement!
You may think it is a little late, Easter was 31st March, but Easter doesn’t end when the last chocolate bunny has been unwrapped and eaten. For Christians Easter is about Jesus Christ rising from the grave, so Easter is a time of new beginnings and hope.
After the crucifixion the disciples were demoralised and miserable. Their teacher, healer and prophet had been killed, there were rumours of his rising from the grave. They were living in fear that the authorities would be after them next. When they learned of the truth of Jesus coming back to them they went out to share the gospel with as many as they could. From those shaky and nervous beginnings the church began.
The disciples new beginning brought hope to their world and the church grew dramatically. The nervous new beginning of the disciples continues to bring hope to people today. Through their work in sharing and spreading the gospel the church grew. The work of the church continues to change the lives of people and communities today, sometimes even the church doesn’t realise how powerful it can be. Through the teachings of Jesus Christ the church can help people and communities, great things have happened through the work of people of faith. The weak can be strengthened, those without a voice can be heard, communities can be healed.
So when you have finished the chocolate bunnies and daffodils, pray for a new beginning of hope in a challenging world.

Happy Easter
John