At first I wasn’t sure why I was a bit upset, even cross. Poppy and I found a guy lying on the ground, totally stoned out of his head from whatever tab he had taken. We wanted to make sure he was ok and that he didn’t get robbed. I quickly spotted his Northern Ireland accent, and he told me his first name and where he was from. Sadly he wasn’t too up for us helping him, in fact he was quite rude and maybe even a little abusive. We got him up off the ground and offered to get him back to his hotel… but he wasn’t really interested, he just swore a lot. We let him walk off towards where he said his hotel was and we let him go, we headed up a different street but at one of the cross over streets we could see him lying down again in the other street and we went to see if we could get him up… same reaction.. and we just had to let him wander off. There was something about this encounter that got under my skin… I suppose he was socially and educationally from the same background as me… he was a type of young northern Irish guy I know.. thought he knew it all, maybe even a bit arrogant… and the influence of whatever he took didn’t help. Later when we were back in the prayer room we prayed for him… and it really got to me… we have been singing this song ‘hosanna’ this week that has the line directed to God as a prayer: ‘break my heart for what breaks yours’, and I truly had the sense that God’s heart was breaking for this guy… just so far away.
Next morning Leanne led our team devotions and she read from Bill Hybels book “Holy Discontent”. I think his words really summed up my feelings:
“If you expose yourself to all that´s broken in our world but neglect to view the brokenness from heaven´s perspective (which promises that everything is in the process of being restored), then you´ll get into an impossible, downward spiral of aggravation and anger….. Once that frustation and anger is understood as being your holy discontent, though – your spiritual connection to the God who´s working to fix everything – it´s as if an enourmous wave of positive energy gets released inside you…. this energy causes you to act on the dissatisfaction that´s been brewing deep within your soul and compels you to say yes to joining forces with God so that the darkness and depravity around you gets pushed back…. your perspective shifts from that which your eyes can see to that which God tells you is true. And it is in this reality that what is enslaved can still be set free, what is broken can still be mended, what is diseased can still be restored, what is hated can still be loved, what is dirty can still be made clean, and what is wrong can still be made right.”
We have also been praying a lot for the “prodigals” this week. The story in Luke 15 of the prodigal son and grace filled Father has been really on our minds. Here are a couple of stories about encounters the team have had on the streets that have resonated with this:
Here is one of Ben´s stories:
“So Jud and I were walking down by the town beach when she spotted a couple of guys sitting on a bench, one of whom was looking a bit worse for wear. We walked over to him and asked him if he needed help with anything while his mate was chatting to some spanish guys about football. He said he had drunk a few too many and would quite like to go back to his hotel to sleep. Normally we do not separate friends on a night out but he was quite emphatic that he did not want to go to Cream and his mate was very keen to go on as they had forked out 45 quid each for their tickets. After a bit of chat his mate went on to the club and he asked us if we could give him a hand getting back to his hotel which was only 10 minutes away. So he put an arm round each of our shoulders and we started to walk down the beach boulevard. He was from Norfolk and we just had the usual chat to begin with about jobs and what stuff he’s into but he wouldn’t tell us what he did for a living so we played the guessing game. Straight away Jud said ‘policeman’ and he said no so we carried on guessing for a while. Then we asked what age he was and he asked us to guess so I said ’33?’. With a degree of surprise in his voice he asked us if we had stolen his id card or something as it turns out that he is in fact a 33 year old policeman! I don’t know if it was a spot of cold reading on our part or if God spoke something about his life there, I like to think it was God. Whatever happened he completely opened up to us in an attitude of shame and apology for his condition. To be honest we have seen far, far worse in our 4 nights in Ibiza. He told us about how his girlfriend back home is a methodist, (we all laughed a good bit when we told him we were methodists too!) and that they recently found out that she is pregnant. The day we were talking to him was the day he found out that his child and gf were both healthy and that the pregnancy was going well for both of them. We shared in his joy at becoming a father and starting his own family. He spoke about his beliefs a bit too which were tied up in the idea of fatherhood. His own father died when he was 4 and he has always believed that he is in heaven and watching over his life. When we arrived at his hotel he was crying with joy at the thought of his child, in his own words he was ‘totally made up’ with the idea of becoming a father. We offered to prayer with him and he readily accepted. We prayed for his new family, the health of his gf and unborn child and that he would be prepared for the responsibility of his new role as a dad. After that we shared a hug that lasted for a long time, so long that my tshirt was stained with his tears, a stain that I was very glad to have. We also left him with a copy of the message and a 24-7 card. Writing this story doesn’t do it justice at all, it was a conversation full of hope, joy and love. Being there was such a privilege as we shared in the worries and concerns of an amazing person, a man who was completely genuine and sincere, completely in love with his girlfriend and child. It’s my prayer that he would know something of God’s fatherhood and love.”
In 2004 the Conference of the British Methodist Church decided to appoint a ‘Music Resource Group’ (MRG) to look at publishing a supplement for Hymns and Psalms. By 2007 the MRG / Conference and Methodist Publishing House decided that a supplement was not practical and that a completely new resource should be published with a rolling update resource online. Historically the Methodist Church in Ireland has been invited by the British Church to send a representative to join the particular group planning for such worship resources, not that the Methodist Church in Ireland will necessarily adopt the resource, that is up to the Conference to decide. The invitation came following the British Conference of 2008 and I was appointed by the Irish Faith and Order Committee in the Autumn of 2008. During my Sabbatical I have begun to attend the MRG meetings. This has been a real privilege, not to mention a real eye opener! The group are pretty far through their work, but there is lots of work and numerous issues/hurdles still to be overcome. It has been great to meet a group of people who, though, they may have different perspectives are 100% committed to producing the best possible resource for the worshipping church. I suppose the big challenge is the amount of ‘flak’ that seems to fly round in all directions whenever you open up a debate on the issue of worship and music…. after all everyone has their favourite, hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. The MRG in its wisdom had decided to publish a list of songs for the resource and ask for feedback and has received numerous responses, some positive, others negative. The focus now is on ‘finishing the job’ and no doubt when we get there many may not be happy… but hey.. that’s church. We are trying to produce a practical, publishable, usable resource, which reflects Methodist doctrine and the best of modern hymns and contemporary songs that are already in use in many of our churches. No easy task, prayer needed!
One of my personal objectives during my Sabbatical was to reflect on my impending appointment as Methodist Chaplain to Queen’s University Belfast. I have been involved in various conversations since last September regarding future co-operation with the Anglican chaplaincy and there were a couple meetings in relation to this during these three months. However my sabbatical also gave me the opportunity to meet some chaplains from different universities in England from a number of different denominational backgrounds. I met up with the co-ordinator for Higher Chaplaincy in the Methodist Church in Britain and he put into context for me the kind of circumstances many Chaplains are working in today, in a multicultural and multi-faith environment. I attended a Churches Higher Education Liaison Group (CHELG) day conference in King’s College London with Pete Ward (of ‘Liquid Church’ fame) as the main speaker reflecting on Discipleship in a University context. It was a real privilege to hear Pete share his wisdom and I really enjoyed meeting the guys working in various settings across England. The issue that I found very challenging about the day centered on whether chaplains were in a position to share the name of Jesus directly with students. Many students are exploring spirituality, it’s high on the agenda, but there seemed to be a fair division of opinion on whether it was right to ‘name’ Jesus in relation to those spiritual experiences. To name Jesus might be seen as being in some way exclusive. Now, I want to be the kind of person who respects other people and am very willing to respect the fact that they might not share my particular views, and indeed to respect their spirituality… but Jesus called me to follow him, to serve him and to speak of him when ever I can and wherever I am.
I also had the opportunity to meet a couple of guys working as ‘student co-ordinator’s’ in large inner city churches. It was very interesting to compare what they were trying to do in terms of gathering students and student discipleship with the approach of some of the chaplains I met. Plenty of food for thought!
Still in one piece, after four days on the slopes. Managed a blue run today with my instructor and a couple of others in our class. Really have enjoyed the whole experience… learning a skill, proving to yourself that it is possible to do something new and succeed. I have to admit that prior to leaving and at the start of the week I was really was not that sure if this was a good idea… but it has been fabulous.
I have been reading Bill Hybels book ‘Axiom’ which is series of seventy six short chapters, each with a very specific point about leadership… they are ‘leadership proverbs’. Would definitely recommend this to anyone with any degree of leadership responsibility. Very readable and easily applicable. Similar to the skiing, taking on board and learning more about just some of the points Bill makes could make a tremendous difference to your leadership skills and more importantly make life easier for those that you are supposed to be leading.