CRANHILL PARISH CHURCH
Special Cranhill celebration
On Sunday 17th December 2017 Cranhill Parish Church celebrated the baptism of three young people and the confirmation of three others. This followed a six week ‘Discipleship Lab’ with the young people exploring Luke’s gospel. Diary of a Disciple: Luke’s Story by Emma Randall and Gemma Willis (S.U) was a useful resource as the cartoons and quirky style helped those who are new to English engage with the text. Most have read it at their own pace. The young people asked questions, discussed, played a board game designed to help them place the events and people of Holy Week, and thought about baptism as a beginning not an end. We also shared a meal together each week. As part of their preparation, each young person prepared an introduction for themselves, telling us about hobbies and interests but also about their desire to be ‘a child of God’ and to ‘live a new life’. This was shared with the congregation a part of the service.
Working with the young people, we hope to start a weekly youth group to enjoy getting to know one another and explore faith. The themes and ideas in the pack prepared by the Mission and Discipleship Council to celebrate the Year of Young People in 2018 will be a great help.
Destiny, Wisdom and Lucy were confirmed and Priscila, Miracle and Terry were baptised on Sunday 17th December 2017. Pictured here with family members and Rev Muriel Pearson with Sonia Blakesley, minister in training.
Sing a new song!
It’s great to sing, and today we are enjoying singing some old favourites. It’s a ‘sacrifice of praise’ as one of the old hymns puts it. And I want to suggest, using Paul’s words to the Romans as our Bible text, that our song of praise is something we offer not only with our lips, but with our lives:
My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation:
I catch the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
We are all Daniel Blake
Last Friday, with sponsorship from the union Unite, Cranhill Development Trust (CDT) showed Ken Loach’s film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at our monthly community meal. The food was delicious, and the company was good. Some folk hadn’t been along to the meal or anything else at CDT before.
After the film folk shared their own experiences of not being listened to, of sanctions, and, from the point of view of a DWP staff member, the pressure workers are under to reduce the numbers of those claiming benefits. The film is painfully funny at moments, as well as infuriating and very sad. Every incident in it is based on someone’s real experience. While the degradation and erosion of individual self-esteem is painful to watch, on reflection I think it is the privatisation of poverty that makes me most angry. The film character Daniel Blake is proud man, he asks for help and passers-by and a sympathetic DWP worker offer a little assistance. But it’s not joined up. There is no recognition of collective struggle. There is little sense that we are all Daniel Blake, with many people just a pay check away from the same red top bills and disconnections as Daniel was.
Through the employability services run by CDT we recognise the frustration of those whose literacy or computer skills or lack of credit for the phone make jumping through the hoops very difficult. We try to treat folk as partners, not as clients or customers. We start where folks are and help them make what choices they have, and advocate for them if necessary. Ours is a tiny project. Our target for 2016/17 was engagement with 400 people and 75 into employment. By the end of February 2017 we had worked with 395 folk and 74 had found employment. Each one of these statistics matters, however. Every individual is a human being, like Daniel Blake, to be treated with respect.
But we are tackling the symptoms and not the root causes of poverty. Many have found the solutions offered by mainstream political parties wanting. Many in the church use their energy in other causes, but as citizens of God’s kingdom what more can we do to tackle the roots of poverty?
The story of the Nativity is so well known. When I asked ‘Who has been in a Nativity Play?’ at our recent Christmas Assembly at the local High School, fully 90% of the young people put up their hands. How can this story be more than a cosy memory of childhood Christmas? How do we explore it differently?
In her book ‘Hope was heard singing’ Sally Foster-Fulton quotes a Native American storyteller ‘I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but I know this story to be true.’ One of the ways to explore the truth in the Christmas story is to place the characters in a contemporary setting.
In December 2012 I was in Bethlehem at the beginning of December. I was attending a conference, but there was some limited time off: a chance to wander the town. There are Santas and nativity scenes in Bethlehem all year round, but the Separation Barrier and fear of trouble means tourism is at rock bottom. Yet, somehow, the olive wood carvers are still in business.
In one small dusty shop near the hotel I met a man called Joseph. He told me he was recently married and that his wife had just had a new baby boy. This cause for celebration had a tragic element, however.
Joseph’s wife was a citizen of East Jerusalem, and he a citizen of Bethlehem. He needed a permit to visit her and she was clinging on to the family home despite pressure from the Authorities and enforced clearances. He had seen his baby once.
The enterprising olive carvers have for some time been producing nativity sets complete with a model of the 3m barrier, making the point that Mary and Joseph would not have been able to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
The Wise Men, too, because of war in Syria and tension in Lebanon and Iraq might have been forced to stay home. Not able to travel through Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon along the traditional trade routes.
Possible journey of the Wise Men
The social and political turmoil of the Middle East today finds an echo in the turmoil of the Holy Land of Jesus’ day. The hope of a different future, a future of God’s promised presence ‘Immanuel: God is with us’ enabled Mary and Joseph and the Wise men to overcome barriers and to listen for angel messages and dreams. This is the hope that helps us continue to believe that ‘Nothing is impossible for God’ as we try to open ourselves and our communities to the indwelling of Immanuel.
This Advent and Christmas season
May the story ring anew
May worship become a manger
And the church a stable
And the rumour become a reality
That Christ has come among us.
And all for Love’s sake.
I’ve been thinking about angels today. I am preparing for an Advent Assembly at the primary school and thinking about how we receive messages, and then focussing on Gabriel’s message to Mary. I love this image from Nigeria called Annunciation, by Paul Woelfel.
I love that both the angel and Mary are ordinary Nigerians, though the suggestion of the halo over Mary’s head and the dove fluttering between Gabriel and Mary suggest God’s Spirit is already at work. In the image Mary is both questioning and accepting her role as the mother of God’s son. Her finger pointing at herself seems to be saying, ‘Who me?’ and her raised hand signifies acceptance: ‘God’s will be done.’
I love that the messenger has taken off his shoes, for he is on holy ground, and that the message itself is so holy that he presents it on a stick so as not to sully it.
Traditional Annunciation pictures often have lilies in them, symbolising purity and death. In the foreground of Woelfel’s picture there are indications of what is to come in the stylised flowers. The cross is not so far away.
There will be all sorts of messages coming to us over these next few days and weeks up to Christmas: ‘Buy me!’, ‘Make Christmas magical!’, ‘It’s really for the children’. If we listen very hard we might hear other messages, of desperate need in the world, of cruelty and violence, of loneliness, of stress and worry.
When Gabriel came to Mary, even though his news would turn her world upside down, he brought a word of comfort too: ‘Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!’
I’m wondering what angels we might meet over these days, and whether we ourselves might be bringers of God’s peace into our here and now.