Weekly Insight (3)

This week I have been thinking a lot about leadership, especially church leadership. This is in part because I was writing a blog post about faith, leadership and jazz (shameless link: https://boundbygrace.org/2021/01/18/disneys-soul-jazz-leadership-and-faith/) and also because Norbury Church took part in the 3rd session of lead academy churchNEXT.

For those who wonder what ChurchNEXT is it is a learning community of churches from around the U.K. who want to “embrace the gospel opportunities for the post COVID world.” It has been an amazing opportunity for several of the team from Norbury to gather with other churches and discuss the possibilities and challenges that have risen out of COVID. I may write a specific blog about the process (if there is interest). For now however, I want to dive into my weekly insights with the caveat that leadership has been on my mind A LOT.

Something I’ve read

This week I want to offer to offer insights from two books I read. Well, one I read and one I looked at for a second time.

The first book was by Helen Cameron, Living in the Gaze of God. This book is primarily about ministerial flourishing however there are lots of nuggets of wisdom in it. The book is structured around a need to be attentive to our own needs and expectations as we live in partnership with others. This is especially important for those who are called to supervise others well. Cameron writes:

Honesty to ourselves and others about our perceptions is vital if we are to be safe practitioners, safe containers of pain and suffering of others and if we are to reflect the glory of God at work in us and the world. (9)

I wonder when you were last honest with yourselves and reflected about what you bring to the relationships around you. I found it a challenging question to ponder as I talked to both our leadership team, friends and family this week.

The second book was Sam Wells, Improvisation. Structured around the themes of improvisation this would be good read for anyone interested in jazz, drama or theology. Wells, with his usual style, manages to blend together the art of improvisation and Christian ethics in a way which is poetic and challenging. Definitely one to read if you haven’t before.

Something I have listened too

This week I listened to a podcast by the wonderful author Brene Brown. In this particular episode of her podcast series Dared to Lead Brene interviews president Barak Obama after the launch of his recent book. In this honest, and telling, episode Obama describes the challenges he faced and the practices he put in place so as to help achieve a better world.

I have also spent a lot of time listening to the new playlist for Disney’s Soul. Those who have read my earlier podcast will know why! This was helped by Abbie asking for it every time I brushed here teeth in an evening. Her recommendation for the week would be the song It’s alright from the movie Soul so make sure you check that out!

An interesting idea I came across

One of the key aspects of improvisation, which I knew about before this week, is yes and. Yes and is about the ability to receive what the other offers and improve upon it. About taking the melody played on the piano and adding something to it with the Saxophone. It is about receiving the offer from the other actor and continuing the drama. The opposite of this is to block, to shut down the song or play by simply saying no.

I wonder what you are more prone to do. Are you the kind of person who loves the spontaneity of saying yes and. Or, are you more likely to say no and shut down the possibility? Why not ponder this week which kind of person you are and how you could say yes and to someone in your life this week. It maybe even that you need to say yes and to God.

Weekly Insights (2)

This week has mostly been holiday. It felt odd taking holiday Wednesday to Wednesday but who knows what normal looks like anymore? This weeks insights focus around the theme of “wellness”. January is the time that we create hopes and dreams of what we could be. Often, in the moment, we forget who we are and where we have come from as we idealise what could be.

All of my three insights this week focus on being the “best” you, you can be while also grounding us in the reality that, at times, life is hard.

Something I’ve read

I am going to be a little biased this week and say one of the best things I read came from my lovely wife. In her honest and open reflections Ash reflected upon the difficulties that we can sometimes face and the need for peace.

I will not spoil her wonderful words any more but simply offer a link to her blog post:

https://believinghealthy.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/not-hope-but-peace/

Something I’ve listened too

This week I listened to two things which I found helpful and I will offer both as a way for you to learn and reflect. The first was a conversation between Nicky Gumble and Timothy Keller, two influential Christian leaders.

The conversation brushed over many topics but at its heart were Timothy Keller’s grappling with faith, the resurrection and his cancer diagnosis. Keller offers poignant reflections about how faith can change and develop even when facing the darkest of moments and, as he spoke, I was drawn back to C.S. Lewis’ short book, A grief observed*. Lewis, facing a difficult loss, offers similar reflections on faith and doubt at moments of darkness but both point to the light of the resurrection and the peace that it can offer.

The second conversation I listened too was the Hypermobility podcast, a recommendation from a member of our parish who suffers from EDS. This podcast offers real, and practical, advice for those who suffer from Hypermobility Disorders on how to enable conversations around pain.

Early on in the conversation one of the hosts helpfully reframes how a person with EDS could speak about their pain in terms of EDS rather than simply in terms of pain and what others may see as unnecessary “complaining”. I offer this podcast both for those who suffer from, or know someone who suffer from, hyper mobility disorder but also for us all to help gain insight on what it is like to suffer from such pain and how we can better help those who do.

An interesting Idea

This week, as I prepared to preach, I reflected on our reading from the Old Testament. The story of Samuel’s call is one which sits close to my heart and in it there is a wonderful moment in which Samuel says to God “speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In the depths of night, when Samuel did not know what was going on, he trusted that God would speak to him and he was eager to listen.

As I have pondered what it means to face different challenges and find hope I was caught by the idea that God can offer us peace if only we listen.

So, this week, why not find a quiet space and pray “Speak Lord, you servant is listening,” and hopefully God will speak words of peace to you.

A prayer

A prayer for peace from the Book of Common Prayer

Lord God, all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works come from you. Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments. Defend us also from the fear of our enemies that we may live in peace and quietness, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen

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Weekly Insights (1)

I am going to attempt to blog more regularly in 2021 and therefore each Friday will be releasing a blog post. These scribblings will include something I have read, something I have listened too and an interesting idea. This is both an attempt to offer you, my lovely reader, some new ideas but also to keep me accountable. It is very easy to settle into a pattern of watching the latest TV and not striving to learn. Yet, the most important thing we can do is experience new ideas.

So, in an attempt to keep me learning please indulge me and maybe you too will learning, or uncover, something new too.

Something I have read

This week I have been reading atomic habits by James Clear. This is a great book for anyone who wants to achieve their goals and make sustainable changes in their life. I am only partway through as it is quite a slow read if you want to really address the issues discussed. This week I have been thinking about the habits that form my daily routine.

James Clear argues that one of the main challenges to changing habits is maintaining the awareness of what you are doing. Clear recommends making a list of your daily habits and putting a +, -, or = sign next to each one. The “+” recommends positive habits, i.e. taking a shower, the “-” equates to negative habits, i.e. checking your phone when you get up, and the “=” sign reflects neutral habits like getting up.

I definitely recommend atomic habits to anyone who wants to make a positive change to their life in 2021.

Something I have listened too

Every few months I like to change up the routine of my daily quiet time. Last year I was working through the Bible in a year and tended to read chunks of scripture in my quiet time. At the start of January I picked up the app “Lectio 365” which is a great prayer app that you can listen too where ever you are. It’s a great one for the commute, for the kitchen sink, or sat at your desk. The app tends to take a theme for the week, or a longer period, and the daily prayer time uses that “theme” as its structure.

The app is currently looking at the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 so each day you are offered a time to pause, a piece of scripture to reflect on and a time then to pray. Each “episode” is only about 10 minutes so it truly is a great way to start the day with God!

An interesting Idea

Those of you who know me well know that I have a real love of coffee, in fact I am drinking a coffee as a write this, so I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about caffeine this week and see what effects it has on the human body.

While reading some interesting articles I stumbled across a piece of research which suggests that caffeine can help improve Bee’s memory. Researcher’s found that caffeine, which in high doses, can be poisonous to all animals, is, in small amounts, helpful in improving the memories of bees. In fact, in one study, it was found that the reward is such that caffeine can pharmacologically manipulate the behaviour of pollinators and reward them by improving their memories of which plants to return too.

The study may not have impacted my consumption, but at least I learnt something new!

A prayer from the week

This week the Church has celebrated the Epiphany. It has remembered the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. In a week where authority figures have caused great chaos, and demanded to be worshiped, it is good to remember that it was not the Jewish leaders who first worshiped Jesus but foreign travellers. I wonder what that could teach us about our lives and worship.

O God,

who by the leading of a star

manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:

mercifully grant that we,

who know you now by faith,

may at last behold your glory face to face;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the Epiphany,

Church of England, Common Worship

Black Lives Matter – a challenge to respond written for Norbury Parish Church

In light of the appalling death of George Floyd I want to rededicate myself to become more educated about my own implicit racism. I want to learn how to speak out against racism and support those who suffer because of it. I want to be a minister and pastor who can say black lives matter because God loves all people. What follows may be clumsy. It does not fully articulate the pain and hurt I, or others, feel but it is a response to the current situation. It is a challenge to those who attend Norbury Parish Church to educate themselves and to rededicate themselves to help grow our church into a place which is truly welcoming to all. 

No matter how clunky, or clumsy, our voices may sound we need to speak out. We need to acknowledge the implicit role we all take when a black person dies because of race and we need to be move from silence to lament and out of our lament we need to respond. Our responses may be cautious, clumsy, and in some ways quiet, but if we do not respond the situation will never change.

In the past few weeks it has been hard not to think about racism. The appalling death of George Floyd has sparked a lot of passionate discussion about racism both in America but also here in the U.K. as well. As you read this I am sure you will have your own thoughts and opinions about race and racism in the U.K. but I want to challenge you, and us as a church, to think more deeply about racism. I want to challenge us as Norbury Parish Church to think about what it means to say we are “welcoming to all”, yet our church is monochrome. I want us to think about what we are saying without words, and I want us to become more educated and more compassionate towards those who do not want to come into our building. I want us to be able to respond to both explicit and implicit racism and truly become a community that values people for who they are. 

In 2016 I arrived at Duke University with very little understanding, or knowledge, of my own implicit racism. It was only through sitting through American History classes, and seeing horrific pictures of black people being lynched that I realised I was part of the problem. I had lived a fairly settled life and failed to educate myself on the struggles of others. I had been implicitly racist because I had benefited from a system that was set up for me. For that I can only apologise to those whom I have benefitted from. 

While at Duke, and ever since, I have chosen to educate myself about racism. I have read authors such as James Cone and Ronald Thurman. I attended a Racism Equity Training Course where I further came to terms with my “whiteness” and the role I have played in building a culture which benefits white males. I have listened to black feminist theologians and tried to disrupt the voice in my head that says everything is okay. I may have not protested but I have tried to become more educated. 

I want to urge you to become more educated. I want to urge you to read voices that are different to your own. Challenge yourself to move past the status quo and see things differently. Read Renni Eddo-Lodge’s book, “Why I am no longer talking to White people about race.” Continue to read it even when you feel uncomfortable. Watch videos and TV programs, read black and minority ethnic authors and try to change your perspectives. 

We all play a part in racism, and we as a church play a part in racism. When we gather as a church and feel comfortable we are implicitly being racist. When we say nothing we are implicitly being racist. When we fail to welcome the “stranger” because they do not look or sound like us we are being racist.

I want Norbury Parish Church to reflect the amazing diversity in the Kingdom of God. I want us to stand up and say Black Lives Matter, because they do. I want us to become more educated and I want us to respond out of the discomfort that will cause us. 

 The world is full of injustice and intolerance which we often choose to ignore but I want us to stand up and see it for what it is. I want us to acknowledge the implicit role we play in it and I want us to change. Our response will no doubt be clunky and clumsy. It may be quiet but I hope it is practical. I pray that we as a church we continue to be a community that stands against injustice and intolerance and I challenge you to respond. To listen to the marginalised voice. To acknowledge the implicit role we all take when we benefit from a white culture. And to change. I challenge you to grow in love and to use your voice however timid it maybe. However clumsy, or clunky it may sound, I want us to be a community  that speaks up for change. 

Norbury Parish Church COVID19 – Pastoral Letter 1.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

May I share with you a prayer for times such as these:

Keep us, good Lord, 

under the shadow of your mercy.
Sustain and support the anxious, 

be with those who care for the sick,

and lift up those who are brought low;

that we may find comfort 

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Amen. 

It is with a heavy heart that we are stopping corporate worship at Norbury Parish Church. As of Sunday the 22nd of March we will not be gathering for collective worship in our church. That does not mean we cease to pray. May I encourage you to pray earnestly for those who are in need; for Hazel Grove; for our world, for our leaders and for all those who suffer due to the COVID19. 

We are in constant conversation about how we may best serve our congregation in times like these. We shall share material through our Facebook Group and website, for those who have access to computers, so that we may continue to gather in some sense and worship together at 10.15 each Sunday; even if we may be separated in our own homes.

For those who cannot access computers; we will endeavour to produce a list of phone numbers for our ministry team to use to contact all parishioners to know how best to serve those who are vulnerable or isolated. If you wish to help us in doing this in any way please do contact me through my email; jcaskwith@gmail.com or via the Vicarage phone which is 0161 759 8531. 

We do not know what the weeks or months ahead will look like but a team of us from Norbury Parish Church will endeavour, where we can, to care for those who are in need. I ask you to keep a discipline of prayer and encourage you to stay safe and follow the national guidelines with regards to self-care. 

Every Blessing,

J.C.Askwith

Vicar of Norbury Parish Church.

Journey of Hope in Neston

Lent may be past us but in Muthuraj Swamy’s Reconciliation which was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2019 lent book, the author writes: ‘Reconciliation begins with God, because it is God who initiated – and continues in – relationship with the world.’ The word reconciliation can be scary for so many reasons. It requires us to be willing to offer ourselves, to acknowledge our mistakes and be willing to listen to the other. It is however, ultimately about relationship. 

Over the past five months I have journeyed with twenty other Christian leaders as we have explored the work of reconciliation and peace in the U.K. and Ireland. We have visited several sights of pilgrimage, we have been taught lessons by those who are further along the road than us and we have supported each other as we have quickly learnt what it means to invest deeply in relationships.  

This journey has been a real privilege, it has opened my eyes to the breadth and diversity of the wonderful work that the church is involved in: the supporting of prisoners, working with divided communities, walking alongside people who have been abandoned by those who swore to protect them and it is a journey which I hope to share with you. 

For those of you who have accepted the offer we will journey together over the next month, we will share stories together as we come to appreciate the work of God in each of us, and hopefully we will end the month more enthused to listen to what God is up to here in Neston. 

The call to reconciliation is for all of us however and I encourage you, whoever you are, to think about the part you play. I encourage you to think about the ways you can help to be a part of our community, and to that end I leave you with this reminder from Swamy: ‘In reality reconciliation is greater. . . it is a long process of building relationships.’ 

I pray then for your relationships, I pray that you may begin to find words of peace and hope this month and remember that we are called to the work of reconciliation by the one who formed us, loves us and is one-in-three, the beautiful dance that is, the Trinity.

Amen. 

Advent Journey #3.. An Advent Poem

John foretold long ago,

of a man who was to come, 

the Saviour of the world was He, 

the Hope of non and some. 

This man was Christ

who is our light,

our Hope, our Joy, our Peace.

For one and all, 

he shows the way, 

of justice, peace and love.

He challenges us to care and watch,

with friend, and stranger now. 

He came to love one and all, 

no matter what the cost.

He is our Hope, our Light, Our Peace.

His is our King,

our Friend.

He is our hope of Kingdom Come.

So come seek him out this day,

Find him meek and mild,

all wrapped in cloth

and in a manger lay.

Be filled with Hope and Love and Peace.

And yet in return,

be challenged to journey to the edge.

To love the friend and stranger

who has no hope,

no love,

no care.

Show love to all

walk close to Christ

and ever hope and dream,

Praying earnestly like John

For God’s kingdom to come.

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