(June, July, August 2018)
I am writing this a few days after the air strikes in Syria. On Tuesday of this week I took someone to hospital for an early morning appointment. My friend got in the car and said ‘Have you seen the news about Latvia?’. ‘No’ I replied, so he switched his phone onto the BBC news channel which said three things. Russian and British forces were firing on each other off the coast of Latvia and Finland. Russian thermonuclear bombs had been dropped on Brussels and Wiesbaden in Germany. And the royal family had been moved to a secure location away from central London.
None of this had been on the news on television before I left home so we came to the conclusion it was ‘fake’ news being broadcast over the internet. What would we have done if the only source of news we had been able to access was the internet? In the heightened tensions around Syria it would have been easy to accept this was Russian retaliation for the air strikes.
I leave it to your imagination to work out what might have happened if people had responded to this ‘fake’ news without checking things. This is a dramatic example but the risks of careless, ill-chosen words are the same in any situation. The speed with which words are broadcast or repeated just increases the risk and potentially the damage caused. On the same day J D Wetherspoon’s announced they were quitting social media and Sir Cliff was in court suing the BBC for broadcasting a raid on his home following allegations that were never pursued.
Where does all this take us? Perhaps it should remind us to speak carefully, to be sure of the truth of what we say and to never repeat things that we cannot be sure of. In a culture which has become careless with words and the broadcasting of them, perhaps our role as followers of Jesus ‘the word made flesh’ is to provide a more careful and nuanced way of speaking. A careful reading of the gospels will show us that Jesus knew the value of every word he spoke and used them either for positive purpose or to avoid misunderstanding.
Taking such care may be hard work, but it will be a blessing for us and for people around us and model a different use of words than our wider culture.
(March, April, May 2018)
If I use the word ‘oversight’ what do you think of? Something overlooked or forgotten? That would certainly be the common usage in our generation. Methodism has a history of taking words and giving them a very specific ‘Methodist’ mean and oversight is one of those words. It is often allied in Methodist speak with the phrase ‘watching over one another in love’.
At different times in our history it has had varied applications, and it is acquiring a particular application in our day as the church develops its safeguarding procedures and policies, and as it develops an associated set of procedures and policies for the supervision of ministers and Lay staff.
It is easy and tempting to see this as a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, but a brief look at almost any news bulletin will show an example of one sort or another of abuse or harassment. Such news items confirm the wisdom of the church having clear policies and procedures to protect everyone involved in our work.
In practice this means that people in leadership and working directly with children or vulnerable people will have been checked to ensure they have no convictions that prevent them working for us, will have been trained in how to work safely, and will know what to do should someone tell them about an incident. No system is perfect but the hope is that this creates the best protection for everyone that we can.
As a circuit we have trained all but a handful of the people we need to, and we will be looking to include them in the next round of training. We will also include people who are new to office and need to be trained as they begin.
As ministers a new system of six weekly supervision is being rolled out with the intention of deepening this protection and strengthening accountability.
In all these systems there will be a rolling programme of updates and refreshers. The ministerial system will shape itself and for lay office holders training will be updated every four years. The intention behind all this is to create a culture where safeguarding becomes second nature to all of us. Of course we are all part of this even if we do not hold some specific office that requires training.
As we begin the season of Lent we enter a time of reflection which usually focussed on shaping our discipleship. Discipleship includes bearing the burdens of others and ensuring their welfare so safeguarding finds its place within that.
Thank you for all you do in the Circuit and for working with us to create this safe space for people.
(Dec. 2017, Jan. & Feb. 2018)
In the middle of the 1980s Anglican priest James Woodward wrote a book. It was published at the height of the AIDS crisis when no-one knew what the future held and how that situation would work out. His book was a call for a serious and compassionate response to the crisis by the church. The book was called ‘Embracing the Chaos’.
Things have moved on. I no longer have a copy of the book and can’t quote it. The title however has stayed with me. As we approach Christmas and the season of celebrating Gods coming among us in Jesus and taking flesh I find the title a great summary of what Jesus is doing. Jesus comes into the midst of the chaos of human existence and embraces it. To embrace something means we willingly receive it, we go looking for it. It is not forced upon us. Jesus accepts the call of His father and is found at work in all the struggles and painful places. That sense of God in the midst of the struggle is one of the reasons I remain a follower of Jesus.
As followers of Jesus we are called to do the same things Jesus does. So, embracing the chaos will be part of our discipleship too. It will take many forms. The support we offer as individual believers to other individual people in need. The support we offer as church to all kinds of people in all kinds of need. You will see that support in many ways. Our support for Foodbank both as collection points and as distribution centres and our support for Nightshelter. You may have seen in the Sentinel the article and photo of James Adams. On the 11th December 2017 the builders will move into that building and the upper floor (where James was pictured) will become nightshelter’s new base and the ground floor will become a drop-in centre run by James and his team catering for people with all kinds of difficulties. The circuit is also looking at being part of a coalition of churches that runs a Christians Against Poverty debt centre in the city helping people manage their way out of serious debt. All of the people who need these pieces of help might be seen as living in chaos and as we help we are doing what Jesus did and embracing the chaos in order to bring hope and change.
Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement wrote that the coming of Jesus demolished the illusion of the deserving and undeserving poor by treating us all as equals. As Christmas comes and we give thanks that God in Jesus has embraced us in our chaos then part of our thanks will be to offer that embrace to others that they and we together, may find and live the life of the kingdom of God.