FITZROY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

FITZROY IS NOT CLOSED!!! (Surmising Yesterday's Restrictions)

Sounds Good

Can I declare a few things. Fitzroy is not closed… Jesus ascension has not been rescinded… The Holy Spirit is where he always has been, creating over the void and dark depths.

The news yesterday that church buildings would be closed to gatherings for a fortnight created a reaction. I understand some of it. The vast  majority of churches have been working extremely hard on keeping to the safety guidelines on restrictions, social distancing, masks, no loud singing, no coffee after the service etc.

It has worked in most places but sadly not in all places. A few churches have made the news. I am aware of people having to isolate after someone at a service tested positive the day after and I know ministers who have had to isolate and indeed tested positive too. Even with the strictest of regimes this virus can impact.

So I understand the Executives decision. I am aware some colleagues might not and that is ok. We can disagree. I am aware that for other churches it is probably more essential to meet than it is for us in Fitzroy. We are blessed with a good team to do church on-line and a congregation able to access it. 

Whatever our initial reactions though I would call my brother and sisters in church leadership to move forward with a positive attitude. We come into a season when the most amazing story will be told Sunday after Sunday. We will hear of a God who sacrificed all his rights because a virus of the soul was killing the whole of humanity. Let us follow that God and see it is a privilege to sacrifice our rights as a witness to the baby born and laid in straw.

Let us also declare that the buildings might be closed but the Churches certainly are not. Fitzroy’s Zoom Prayer Meeting this week was one of the most inspirational prayer meetings that I have have ever been at. It is fake news to suggest that we cannot connect with each other and God in the virtual world. I am aware too of home groups flourishing on Zoom. Baby and Toddler, children and youth ministry and more continue even if we cannot meet.

Fitzroy’s on-line service has us reaching across the world with regular “attenders” in western Canada, mid west America, across the UK and Europe and all the way to Bangladesh and Australia. We have had hundreds more at our services online than regularly attend Fitzroy on a Sunday morning.

That on-line potential so excites me as a minister coming into Advent. Fitzroy are viewing this particular Christmas as a month of Mission. Has there ever been a Christmas where the world needs light and love and hope and peace more than in 2020? We are seeking out imaginative ways to reach into people’s lives as individual members. We are also imagining how we can use virtual resources to share the glorious story of Emmanuel right across the entire world. Emmanuel means God With Us and there is no better news for a world in isolation and socially distancing than to know that God has broken every distance to move in among us.

Oh no! Fitzroy is not closed. Jesus ascension has not been rescinded and the Holy Spirit really is creating above the seeming dark void.


PRAYERS FOR OUR CARE FOR CREATION - Rhea Marshall (Fitzroy 15.11.2020)

Care For Creation

These are the prayers from the Fitzroy Sunday Service (on-line) on November 15, 2020, by Rhea Marshall.

 

Our prayers today our focused on the environment.

Please join me in prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and intercession for climate justice.

We start with a moment of thankfulness

In these challenging months,  for the comfort, beauty and joy, so many of us experience in your creation. We thank you God

For our favourite outdoor places, for the beauty of Autumn and fun exploring outdoors. We thank you God.

For how the earth sustains us, providing all that we need: warmth, food and shelter. We thank you God.

Lord you have taught us that repentance is about changing, turning and acting in new ways.  

We can feel overwhelmed when faced with Climate Crisis: [grief at what has been lost, sorrow for the harm we cause, and fear for the future]1.  When we have chosen to run from our feelings: Forgive us Lord.

When we have failed to respond to global warming, species decline, plastic and pollution, climate inequality and poverty, Forgive us Lord.

When we have consumed more than we have put back; when we have been caught up in economic systems and lifestyles which cause destruction; when we have been blind to [privileges gained through the exploitation of others]2 and the Earth: Forgive us Lord

When we have forgotten that we are just a tiny part of creation, and that caring for creation is the same as caring for each other, and caring for ourselves, Forgive us Lord.

We pray for climate justice.

We ask for the courage to change: to be people who strive for [peace over profit, activity over complacency and a greater good over today’s convenience.]3  Lord help us.

We ask for guidance in how we, individually and as a faith community, can bring about climate justice.  In considering our time and resources, our prayers and interactions, and the impact of all our actions. Lord help us. 

We pray for the many conservationists, environmental groups and individuals who work to protect our world.  May we learn from their dedication and experience.  May we come alongside them and support their work where we can.  Lord help us.

We pray for Stormont, where the climate change bill is currently being considered. We pray for the Northern Ireland executive and civil servants.   Give them courage and stamina, to lead us through the monumental cultural and behavioural changes required.  We pray for wisdom in supporting and challenging our governments in tackling the climate emergency.  Lord help us.  

We ask that you unite us all, individuals, our church community, our wider community and our government, in fighting to reduce carbon emissions, consumption levels and inequality. Lord help us.

Lord, remind us of [our love for this beautiful planet that feeds nourishes and sustains us.  Strengthen our love for the whole of humanity in all corners of the world.

Strengthen our desire to protect all of this, for ourselves, for all living beings and for generations to come.]4 In Jesus’s name we pray.  Amen.

 

  1. Ref Melanie Nazareth, p 254 “Time to Act” A resource book by the Christians in Extinction Rebellion spck 2020
  2. Ref Melanie Nazareth, p 256 “Time to Act” 
  3. Ref Fran Pratt, p272 “Time to Act” 
  4. Ref Solemn Intention Statement, Extinction Rebellion.

REMEMBERING - FITZROY SUNDAY SERVICE 8.11.2020

Brent

Tomorrow in Fitzroy (going live at 11am) we will be remembering. It is Remembrance Sunday and in Fitzroy we will remember the youth of Fitzroy who left to fight in two World Wars but never came home. To do that we will be joined by our Fitzroy brother Chaplain Brent van Der Linde and Able Seaman Jack Shuttleworth from RNAS Yeovilton and Jonny Fitch will sing a song for all those in Fitzroy who fought in the wars. 

Our lectionary reading is about remembering too. I will preach on Joshua 24. Joshua remembers.

Those we remember are not ghosts that haunt us but ghosts that inspire us. They help us look to the future. What do we want that to look like? We end up with Joshua asking if the people will worship God. We will look at what that means in the light of 70 million people voting for Donald Trump this past week. 

We will also be gathering for a more mediative service at 5pm but you need to book... see website!


THE BEATITUDES - TOMORROW IN FITZROY 1.11.2020

Fitzroy Side

Tomorrow in Fitzroy (going live on-line at 11am) we will be unpacking The Beatitudes. Oh my goodness but what goodness there is in this poetic beginning to the Sermon On The Mount.

We will read them with an American accent just two days before the US Election ask what these words say to those who have feelings of entitlement. We will also look at the Beatitudes in these challenging days of Coronavirus and ask where the secret of deep souled contentment lies. 

There will also be announcing good November news for Fitzroy and hearing a new song based on an old one written by John Trinder, sung by Norman McKinlay and played like a Fitzroy Blues Band to lift our souls as we long for that sense of home of gathering together. 

You are welcome to watch whenever and wherever you can.


TOMORROW IN FITZROY AND ON-LINE - 25.10.2020

Fitzroy front

Tomorrow in Fitzroy's on-line service we will be taking a close look at Martin Luther's favourite Psalm. Psalm 46 is perhaps the section of Scripture that I have used most in my ministry but I have never preached on it.

I am thrilled to get a close look at it tomorrow in both the main on-line service (from 11am) and then the Reflective Gathering in Fitzroy at 5pm (only those who booked can get in). 

Outside help from Martin Luther but also a little bit of Richard Rohr and Bono "Be still and know that I am God" and "Get Out Of Your Own Way". 


TOMORROW IN FITZROY - 18.10.2020

Fitzroy TV

Tomorrow in Fitzroy we are ONLY meeting on-line. The service will go live on YouTube at 11am.

I am very excited about Philippians 2. I am thinking it might just have become my favourite chapter in all of the Scripture. Robust theology. Christology in poetic form. Applied in everyday relationships. A pastors heart shaping the choice of theology and the application. I  suggest that Covid 19 might be for our spiritual fitness what sand dunes are to preseason soccer players.

In a week where we all seem to be at Tether's End we will look to see how we can see this theology of Jesus as the help for us to see each other through and become better disciples. An original poem and song as sonic aids.


"10:10 2020" - TOMORROW IN FITZROY - 11.10.2020

Stocki in Ho's TV1

Tomorrow in Fitzroy - both the gathering and the on-line service - we will be asking how we find 10:10 2020 in Covid 19 Days. . We will try to learn from the Israelites who looked back and inward while Moses was up a mountain looking outward and upward. We will see the futility of our own understanding and trinkets and how John Lennon was on to something when he was trying to Imagine. God's ways, love, presence and future is available but we look back and inward.

Tomorrow will be last time Fitzroy's gathering will clash with the on line service. We have decided that for a while the on-line service will be the main one but we will also have bi-weekly 5pm Sunday gatherings, starting on October 15th. 


FITZROY TOMORROW - GATHERED AND ON-LINE - 4.10.2020

Fitzroy front

Tomorrow in Fitzroy we have two services! Our on-line Service will go live at 11 and at the same time for the first time in 7 months we will have a small gathering in Fitzroy (booked out). For my thoughts on that read my blog HERE

I was struggling this week to find traction for the Lectionary Readings in a Covid 19 time and then BINGO! Philippians 3, Covid 19 and U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

The gathering will be slightly more reflective, trying to be imaginative in the restrictions. 

If you want the commentary on the U2 song and how Bono and Paul are so much on the same page on spiritual formation then I think there will be more of that on our on-line service that will go live at 11am. Both services feature Caroline Orr and Peter Greer performing the U2 classic. 

In both the on-line and the gathering I will be setting a target for the next 6 months, asking us to see it as a particular space for some spiritual formation. The Oxford Diocese came up this week with their Rule of 6 and I will be suggesting a rule of 6 for Fitzroy. Asking us to run and climb and scale and crawl and press on towards the a couple of goals, one temporal and one eternal. 


AS WE RETURN TO CHURCH GATHERINGS - I SURMISE...

FITZROY EMPTY

Back in late May my friend Doug Gay sent me a song called I Missed You. It was about lockdown. It created the melancholic emotion of the title. 

Then… it broke into this joyous hope - “One day there will be such a gathering…” Fitzroy’s Peter Greer created a video for its use in our Sunday Service and for this “gathering” line he scanned a photograph of Fitzroy’s Sunday morning congregation in all its fulness. When I first saw it I burst into tears. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed those individual faces and that community of faith and fellowship.

Months later and I am still longing for that gathering. Tomorrow there will be “a gathering” again in Fitzroy, seven months after we last met BUT it will not be anything like that “gathering” that we have missed since March or that Doug’s song had me emotional about.

We had a trial run at the “gathering” last Sunday with elders and committee and I found it very anticlimactic and frustrating. 

The best bit was being back in my office. As someone who feels called to being a communicator (call it preaching or teacher if you wish) then that few feet of real estate at the front of Fitzroy has become my happy place. Maybe satisfying place would be a better description. At times of uncertainty, dodgy health and grief I have found real solace in that space, doing my thing. So it was good to be back.

Most of the rest of the experience was not so positive. As a communicator I was looking forward to interacting with real people rather than a lap top camera. That wasn’t the reality. Speaking to a congregation, scattered across empty pews with masks on was bizarre. 

The impact masks have on facial expressions was a shock. For me, the speaker, it was debilitating. It wasn’t that the masks neutralised the faces. Behind their masks everyone looked blank and bemused. They made me think that I was insane, that no one is getting this at all. This is detrimental to a speaker who energises off encouraging faces.

Then, as a pastor I was drawn to the empty pews and who should be there but cannot be there. We are able to get everyone in who has asked to come but three quarters of a normal Sunday congregation will not be there. Some are shielding for health or work reasons and others for family reasons. Some do not think that it is yet time to return. There will be a heaviness about that tomorrow. Surprisingly, and this needs unpacked later, there was an amazing sense of togetherness while watching in our own homes in lockdown. 

The challenge I have as the minister is what to do with the limitations. As a result of singing being curtailed to “quietly, behind the mask” we have gone for a reflective approach. We are gifted to have Chris Blake’s musical and spiritual gifts for such a time.

The different format and ambience allows us perhaps to do something that is not easy to do when everyone is there and we have all the bells and whistles. A short service with less in it allows for reflection, silence, stillness.

Then, the preacher’s big question - what to say? For me with only a limited number gathering my main weekly preach is on the online service. It is possible that 10 times more people will be watching that one. Until we all can meet, that is where energies will concentrate.

So, I need to either do something completely different for “the gathering” or tweak what I have already recorded on-line. Last week, with elders and committee, I got it wrong. I wanted to say things to the leadership in that context but attached it to the entire sermon form the on-line. Too long! Sorry everyone!

What is vital for me is that I give my spiritual best to what happens in “the gathering”. We are not gathering for the sake of it. I hope not anyway. The investment in health and safety and preparation for this “gathering” is massive. When I lead and speak I am doing that which God has put on me on earth to do. With imagination and graft I am committed to giving the very best that I can give.

So that is what goes through my mind as I prepare for tomorrow. The on-line service is in the can. For six months I have been able to relax after that build up of stress. Now, there is no time. Build the stress levels again. 

Until we are free from the threat of this virus the small Sunday gatherings will always be less. That is bound to leave me a little frustrated and disappointed. Yet, as I used to say to my former Clerk of Session Patricia, this is not so much a problem and an exciting challenge! 


WILDERNESS ROAD - TOMORROW IN FITZROY: 27.9.2020

Wilderness

In our Fitzroy Sunday service tomorrow (going live on FITZROY TV at 11am) we will be staying on the wilderness road that we found ourselves on last week. A couple of social media messages this past week focused my preparation. 

After I posted the photo at the top of this blog last Sunday morning my friend Clive Price posted:

For years I thought 'wilderness' meant a really bad place. 'Oh he's having a wilderness experience' used to be a common expression - and not a nice one. Then I read about the wilderness motif in the Bible and its true meaning. It is a place of encounter.

Then, with all the news about Covid-19 on Tuesday my friend Brendan Mulgrew Tweeted:

That is a day full of bad news. Where is the light?”

So, we will ponder such things as we continue to journey with the Israelite through the wilderness and the culture shock they are facing after 4 centuries as slaves in Egypt. This culture shock becomes a place of encounter with God.

With the help of Rich Mullins song Hard To Get performed by Belfast songwriter Andrew Patterson and the movie Shawshank Redemption we will exegete Exodus 17, apply it to the news of the week around us and ask "where is the light?"