December 2017

Dear Friends,

It interests me how people “market” Christmas. What do shops and businesses say, to pull in customers? I find the extent of secularisation shocking, but it seems unfair to judge those who earn their living by the business they have in this season. And it is unreasonable to expect everyone in our society to understand that Jesus is the reason for the season. There is widespread ignorance, and some downright misinformation, about what Christians believe. We are better to see this as an opportunity, than to point a finger of blame.

A major high street chain selling cosmetic products has the slogan across its windows, “Spread good vibes this Christmas”. And down in a far corner the word “Peace” and a CND symbol. They are to be commended for trying to be ethical (as with their products), but where do “good vibes” come from? How do we generate them, let alone spread them? Christians can spread “good news” of Jesus, God born among us. Of course the angels take a lot of explaining. Shepherds and wise men are often not part of our everyday experience. We can all be humbled, though, by God’s generous love, and we need never lose our sense of wonder at God’s concern for us.

At the centre of the first Christmas story are ordinary human beings, whose lives are never going to be the same again, once they have met with the living God. That can be as true for us, as it was for Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Simeon, Anna and a host of unnamed visitors to the manger and the cradle. Surely that produces a good vibe? And it should herald a message of Peace in our hearts, our homes and in the world.

Happy Christmas,

Helen Caine

May 2017

Dear Friends,

I am burning the midnight oil, as I write this letter, having procrastinated and been preoccupied with seemingly more pressing matters.

I have become increasingly aware of the amount of time that so many other people are giving to Church life. While we may tend to see the same people out the front on a Sunday, or taking a lead in our midweek activities, much Church work is done quietly out of the limelight. Most of it is done during the week, in preparation for Sunday, or long after the main service is over. So often there are deadlines to meet.  St Andrew’s people are extremely generous with their time, as well as with their skills and with giving money. Thank you to everyone who is part of a team, or serves on a rota – tending the noticeboards, counting the collection, keeping the kitchen in good condition.  And thank you to those who hold offices in the Church such as Local Preacher, or a Treasurer or one of the various Stewards.  I am not even beginning to count those who live out their Christian calling outside the Church, as school governors and serving in charity shops or similar voluntary positions. I cannot count many people who have served the Church well – inside and out – when they were somewhat younger, and are now forced by age or infirmity to take a quieter role. And who is there, besides God, who can count the prayers that people offer for St Andrew’s day by day?

Currently we are blessed to be in the position where most people in the Church are heavily committed. While the congregations may be smaller, a very high proportion of those people serve the Church very actively. As we come to that season in the year when we can appoint Church Stewards, and members of Church Council, it may be appropriate to ask whether there are any people who, far from being overworked, feel as though their gifts and abilities are not being fully used. I am not asking for wholesale resignations!  I am asking you whether there is a role within the Church that you would consider taking on, if only you were not preoccupied with the job that you are doing. What is God calling you to do next?  How might we arrange our Church life, to encourage more people to grow, through their Christian service?

Over the summer The Development Group is consulting people in the community, and in the various parts of our Church life, about what the priorities should be for our mission and ministry. As the politicians say, “there is no hidden agenda”.  What we need to do is to hear from lots of different people, their vision for where our Church should be headed in the next three years. This consultation will be brought together, to the Church (on Sunday 10th September) and the Church Council in the Autumn.

“Christ has many services to be done:….Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ who strengthens us.”   (The Methodist Covenant Service.)

Helen Caine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2017

Dear Friends,

Since the beginning of this year I seem to have spent a lot of time away from Worcester. I had a few days recently with one of my sisters, but most of my visits have been for work. I have met with people from all over our District on the retreat, and people from all over the Connexion on two different training and preparation courses.  I spent one day in London, with three ministerial colleagues, my long-term support group.

In all these contacts I have heard exciting stories about churches which are growing. New people and younger people are coming into contact with the church, and generally because they have been loved, or their children have been loved, these people have been challenged by the new commandments of Jesus, to love God and to love our neighbours.

There are some good news stories in SW Worcestershire Circuit. Some of the churches are growing, and this has meant they have been able to contemplate increasing their assessment – their giving to the ministry and mission of the whole Circuit. This has allowed other churches to reduce their assessment, due to changed circumstances.

There is good news that we have three local preachers in training and another is applying to become a minister. There is good news that St Andrew’s has people who want to be part of house-groups, and has so many pastoral visitors. There is good news that Welcome Wednesdays has a willing team of volunteers and no shortage of ideas. There is good news that St Andrew’s could have a real laugh together at the Church Party – “oh, no we didn’t!”

There is good news that Norton is now likely to have a better relationship with local Anglicans. There is good news that St Nicholas congregation has started “Kingdom Kids” – a craft group for parents and young children, with a clear Bible basis.

Of course this good news comes alongside continuing concern about ageing congregations, and particular individuals we have known and loved a long time, who just aren’t coping. There aren’t always the leaders to do things as we used to do them. There has been a lot of misfortune over the St Andrew’s building, in recent months. It certainly doesn’t get any cheaper to maintain and there seem to be so few people with the knowledge and experience to act as property stewards.

When a minister is worshipping week by week in the same church or few churches it is easy to become bogged down in the immediate problems. There doesn’t seem enough time to devote to prayer and reflection, and seeking God’s will. Going away, out of the Circuit, as I have been doing, has helped me to have some perspective. Although I have been very busy in the in-between times, and I feel quite neglectful of some people and situations, I do thank God, that my recent meetings with others have left me hopeful and joyful.

As I write this letter we are entering the busy season of Lent, which also seems to coincide this year with a great many meetings in church and circuit.  My prayer for all readers of this Newsletter, as well as for myself, is that we have enough opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a Christian disciple, and that we know ourselves held in the love of God, whatever storms may be going on in our lives. “I am convinced…. that (nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (See Romans 8: 37 -39 – words of St Paul often quoted in a funeral service.)

Helen Caine

December 2016

THE WAY OF PEACE

Dear Friends,

One of the titles offered to Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Although the world has changed so much since the birth of Jesus, we all still need peace. Words fail to describe the scenes we have glimpsed of children clinging to life in war zones in Syria and Afghanistan, as their parents cling on to their hopes that life will somehow be different when there is liberation. As a post-war child I remember the shock I felt as a young teenager when I first saw news footage of tanks rolling across a desert plain and realised this was for real, not an all-action film with heroes and victors. Those scenes were being lived out a whole continent away, not in the next street.

For the sake of all those suffering people, I pray that during these next weeks, in spite of all the gloom and uncertainty, we shall witness a breakthrough in international diplomacy, and that we shall see signs of peace. As has often been said, the presence of a baby in the household doesn’t bring peace in the usual sense, yet the child in the manger at Bethlehem offers to the world hope and peace. In humble love and service for the brightest and the best and for those who have the least or wait the longest, God is with us.

Since Jesus brings peace, it is ironic that we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus, by becoming so busy with commercial activities, family obligations and with the whole range of church life. May we find some peace over Christmas, and find an opportunity to share the resulting sense of well-being.  In the New Year may we find hope, even in the midst of sadness and bewilderment and fear.  Matthew’s gospel tells us the story of the wise men who journey to find Jesus, worship him, and return to their own country by another road. (Matthew 2: 12)  Encountering Jesus opens up another road on which to travel in peace, with hope and even joy.

I wish you a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year,  Helen Caine

April 2016

Dear Friends,

The context in which we celebrate Easter is changing. I still find it strange that the Good Friday Walk of Witness picks its way between market stalls and just as many shoppers as a typical Saturday morning. The scene must have been more like Jerusalem on the day Jesus died that it was like Britain on Good Friday in the late twentieth century.

It was stranger still to see the city centre shops closed on Sunday and to remember that this day is one of two in the year on which it is illegal for large stores to trade. However, the recent attempt to deregulate Sunday trading every week was turned down by Parliament because of concern about shop workers and for political expediency rather than because we are “a Christian country”.

Most people shopping in Worcester on Friday or prevented from shopping on Sunday have little appreciation of the origin of Easter. Even some of the associated traditions have been hijacked for commercial purposes. Hot cross buns are no longer seasonal and there is little to link them with the cross of Jesus, or the spices for his burial. (Apparently Mary Berry was educating a generation in this tradition, as well as inspiring them to bake.)

Although this is partly the spread of secularisation, there are some shoppers and would-be shoppers who are adherents of other faiths and have no particular reason to keep this weekend as special. How can we live together in a diverse society, where there is fear of difference, fear of the stranger and fear of change?

Before I came to Worcester I was asked to be part of the Interfaith Forum. I have become increasingly interested in this, but it is a dilemma for any faith leader, how to make this more than a personal engagement. The Forum could become a meeting for concerned individuals. How do our congregations participate fully?

A recent meeting at the end of St Andrew’s Lent Groups expressed a desire to know more about our neighbours from other faith communities, and we will be trying to take this forward in a practical way. Forty years ago we would have been pleased when Lent Groups had been truly ecumenical, so there really is change within the Church, as well as all around it.

It is important to live out our Christian witness in changing times. The alternatives are too dangerous and too sad to contemplate.

Please pray for the family of Asad Shah, the Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow who was apparently murdered by a Muslim for expressing Easter greetings to his customers. Thank God that people of all faiths and none are standing together in condemnation of this act of violence.

Pray too for the victims relaxing in a park in Lahore, Pakistan, who were killed by a gunman because this was a Christian area, and this was Easter Day. His young victims turned out to come from different faith communities. This is similar to what happened in London in the terror attacks in 2005.

All over the weekend (largely unreported because it was a holiday) leaky boats chartered by gangsters still carried refugees from war zones. Met with official chaos, these people have continued to be greeted by volunteers with warm hearts and practical compassion. These aid workers and those who support them all across Europe, including Worcester, come from many different faith backgrounds and hold a range of humanitarian motives.

It may well be that we regret that Easter is no longer respected as it used to be. We should beware, though, of restricting our celebrations to what we do in Church on this one weekend – helpful, assuring, uplifting and challenging though the Church services were this year.  “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as in all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 22)

We need to think big, and share our Easter joy without reservation.

Helen Caine

October 2015

Dear Friends,
I was recently in London to meet three ministerial colleagues in a group which has been an important part of my support network for about ten years. Although we have all been stationed more than once by the Church, in that time, we still find London the easiest and the cheapest place to which to travel by train. Over the years I have come in via Kings Cross, Waterloo and now Paddington to our meeting room at Hinde Street Methodist Church.
For some reason, learning the route to walk from Paddington to Hinde Street has been a real challenge for me. (My excuse is that the first time I became so lost that every junction I pass now seems familiar.)
As I walked back this time, with a colleague, who gave me careful instruction – again – we started talking about the differences in how people find their way. Some have an inner compass. Some can glance at a map and internalise the route. Other people always have phone signal and the confidence to orienteer through the streets by Google maps, tablet computer held aloft. I use the half-remembered instructions method, and often only resort to my phone (with or without signal or battery) when it is apparent I am lost. This is not to be recommended.
Our conversation, as we walked, followed a session in which we had shared ideas about Churches being praying congregations. Churches together looking to God for guidance in decision-making and everyday living. People of faith walk through life in different ways, finding God’s way for them at different times and places. We shared experiences of encouraging a wide variety of opportunities for prayer. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone…” (1Timothy 2: 1)
It is quite normal to feel apprehensive about praying with other people, as though others know the way and we don’t. It is quite alright to use maps (such as books of prayers – the Methodist Prayer Handbook is still available at St Andrew’s.) It is quite alright to meet for prayer and say very little out loud. (Prayer Fellowship on 1st Tuesday of the month would love to be bigger, and Prayers at 10.00am each Sunday, as would the Prayer Groups at Norton). And when words fail us all in prayer, travelling together is preferable to struggling along on your own. (Prayer Vigils in public places – see elsewhere in this Newsletter – have become a feature of the Churches’ response to the refugee crisis.) Whatever you do, I do not recommend that you rely on half-remembered instruction in prayer.
On the station concourse my friend and I realised that as well as sharing a valuable day together in the formal sessions, we each had a subject for our Church Newsletter – with deadlines fast approaching!
May God bless you, wherever you have to travel, near and far, during this month.
Helen Caine

September 2015

Dear Friends,
I asked for the Letter from Church Leaders to be included in this Newsletter, as it is something that has been preoccupying my thoughts over the summer. I know that I am not alone.
I want to ask you, whether, having read about the St Andrew’s Church in Malta, you think we might do something to support their efforts on the frontline. A quick look at their church website will show you that they are already receiving financial support from the Church of Scotland for their ministry to migrants. There might be something practical we could do. I say this, because most of us feel so completely helpless.
If you question the wisdom of this, or ask whether it would be just a drop in the ocean, I would ask you whether we can learn from the story of the abolition of the slave trade. Most of us know about William Wilberforce and his life-long campaign for abolition. We might therefore be looking for one person (one man?) to take a lead. We might be wishing we had leaders with the faith and the evangelical zeal that Wilberforce and his friends had.
But then we might be missing the significant role of thousands of other unnamed people. This is said to be the first mass movement for political change. There were medallions, logo merchandising (for the first time), pamphlets, banners and all the paraphernalia that we associate with a modern campaign. Having seen pictures of sinking boats in the Mediterranean, and hearing of people drowning because they were locked in the holds, I was reminded that an iconic image of a slave ship “The Brookes” – a drawing showing how people were being stowed as cargo – was pivotal in swinging public support towards the anti-slave trade campaign.
As a Methodist, it is heartening to remember that John Wesley’s last public letter at the end of his life, was to the young Wilberforce encouraging him in what was to become his life’s work. It is salutary to remember, though, that the vast majority of Christians were opposed to abolition, when the campaign first started. Slavery was mentioned in the Bible, and not condemned, so what was all the commotion about? Two hundred or more years afterwards, we all know which side we are on, but it wasn’t so easy at the time.
And it isn’t easy for any of us today. The pressures of human migration, and the causes of it, are huge subjects. There is still human trafficking. There is criminal activity, as well as human fear and human aspiration. There are pregnant women and little children with nothing in the world to call their own. It is difficult to know what to do or what to think. But can we do nothing? The slogan for the campaign to abolish the slave trade was, “Am I not a man and a brother?” Do we hear echoes of that cry from migrants today? “We are not animals! We are human!”
In the midst of all this horror, one thing that we can do is to show respect for those we do know and love. In that way we can avoid generalities about people. As the popular hymn says, “Neighbours are nearby AND far away.” So it is good to report that the pastoral tea was a great success – thank you to all who arranged it. And the ministry of prayer on a Tuesday morning, once a month, continues. The numbers attending have been a bit low recently, but this is a faithful witness, and an act of loving care, which is much appreciated.
I write a letter on this topic because I want to keep the conversation flowing. What does it mean for us to be Christians, whose “citizenship is in heaven”? (St Paul to the Philippian Church, Chapter 3 verse 20)
Helen Caine

July 2015

Dear Friends

I write this in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Tunisia. The targets were people relaxing on holiday. In the last weeks there have been attacks on people at prayer, people in the market place, people travelling to and from work. Terrorism strikes violence unexpectedly into ordinary life.

In Tunisia people have suffered life-changing injuries to mind and body. The world becomes a very small place. One week someone is studying in Worcester. The next week gunned down on a North African beach. My heart goes out to anyone reading this who has been personally affected by this tragedy.

There are no easy answers to terrorism, or they would have been given.

As an ordinary person I struggle to understand how other ordinary people (as terrorists begin life) can be turned into valuing the destruction of life, beyond all else. I feel I don’t know enough about the politics, the economics or the religious sects which seem to provide a context. As an ordinary person I don’t know enough about the resources put into counter-terrorism, prevention and diplomacy. Like everyone else I long for a world in which people can grow and flourish. Like everyone else, I long for peace.

I can understand anyone despairing because the issues are so complex, but as a Christian I don’t think it is right to ignore this matter altogether or to leave it to the so-called experts.

Like many other people, for some years now, I have been watching the television news as a form of spiritual discipline. It helps to inform our prayers. It is an attempt to wrestle with the world’s problems. We read the Bible and try to engage with that too. In the Gospels we read of a God who makes the choice to be present rather than absent. (“God loved the world so that he gave his only Son… ” John 3 :16) God chooses to be involved rather than above and beyond the fray, to suffer with us rather than remain at a safe distance, and to engage actively with us, promoting life in all its fullness. If we follow Jesus, we have to deal with problems, engage and seek solutions on the political as well as the personal level.

We could follow Pilate the Roman Governor, who faced with a violent controversy over Jesus, washed his hands of the whole affair. If we are trying to follow Jesus, though, we have to do much more. Confronted by the evening news and the God made known in Jesus, Christians should continue to watch, pray and struggle for God’s new world. We do this in the company of all who cry to be delivered from evil.

Helen Caine

June 2015

Dear All,

In the summer, church magazines often seem to feature articles about the weather. It may have been too cold, too windy, too wet, but shortly we shall be complaining about the heat or the unreliability of weather forecasts! It is what British people do, isn’t it? We talk about the weather.

 

I suppose it makes a change from talking about politics. I won’t add to the acres of news coverage following the election, except to repeat what I firmly believe, that Christians have a duty of constructive engagement with the political process. I realise that peoples’ circumstances differ, but we ought to do more , if we can, than put a cross on the ballot paper. Between elections we should make our views known to our representatives, on the matters that concern us. I hope that means more than the things which are hitting us and our families hardest. We need to continue to work for those causes that we were able to raise at the hustings. Assuming I can find the time between two family weddings and a family funeral, all in June, I hope to take part in the Christian Aid Lobby of Parliament on 17th June. This was planned long before the result of the election, in order that whoever was in power, was made aware of the significant concern there is in this country about the impact climate change is already having on the world’s poorest people.

 

Those in leadership will continue to need our prayers. Although it is a roll they have sought, someone must lead the country and make difficult decisions. These men and women have chosen a demanding path. Don’t let’s forget to pray for our political leaders and all who hold office and responsibility in the public eye.

 

Back to the weather. It is great to have so many visitors in the city. On the sunny days when we have time to walk around the streets, and to not have to run for cover from the wind or rain, it is good to hear and see tourists’ obvious pleasure at the lovely surroundings. Wherever I have been stationed by the Methodist Church, I have often been blessed to be out and about among other people relaxing. This is the other side of the coin to working most weekends. We have so much to be thankful for, in this area. I trust that you will have the opportunity to enjoy the summer. And I trust that you will know Who to thank. What do atheists and agnostics do, with their feelings of well being?

 

In the context of his teaching about the use of possessions and prioritising time and attention, Jesus says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required, and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” ( Luke 12 :48) It is a text I have been coming back to time and again lately.

 

May God bless you, rain or shine, in riches or in poverty, and in the intervals between.

 

Helen Caine

 

 

 

 

May 2014

Dear All,

 

It doesn’t seem two minutes ago that I wrote the last one of these letters but I write this early as I am away for a few days. And Easter is now over – well actually that is not correct. Easter is never over for the Risen Christ is with us day by day. The challenge to us is to live as Easter people.

Jesus said,” I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” What does it mean to live an abundant life? Certainly there are still difficulties in life, illness, challenges of no work or too much work, disappointments, and general frustrations. In the hurly burly, in the chaos, in the challenges how do you live an abundant life? What does it mean to us that we are invited to a feast and not a hunger lunch? Jesus offers us the way.

For it means that your life is centred on God. Jesus life was spent living the first commandment, he had a close relationship with God the Father. He lived that close life with God in the time he drew away from the crowds for prayer, in his obedience to the Father and in his compassion for others, which was an extension of loving God.

Just before Easter our grandson, Paul, came to visit and he was described as “full of life”. His eye ever on the closed door just in case it was open and he could escape to explore kitchen and study as well as the intriguing stairs, taking on the challenge of going over the coffee table instead of going round it or waking up at an early hour to confront the new day, these were all ways in which he showed himself “full of life”. His mother says, “he has no fear” and that seemed true as he engaged in these activities. In a similar way, as we live the abundant life that God offers to us, should not we keep our eyes on the open doors that lead to new experiences of faith and explorations of life, should not we tackle the obstacles in our way rather seek an easier way and should not we be willing to launch into the new leaving the old, which had been good and useful once, behind to tackle the fresh. God’s words to his people from the beginning of time have been, and still are, “Do not be afraid”. For just as we watched over Paul, guided his choices and steered him from danger so the God we know in Jesus watches over us.

That does not mean that we will necessarily have an easy time – Jesus didn’t – but as we know that God is with us and that He would never let us face more than we can bear then we can work through the difficulties. Of course, ultimately, as Jesus gave himself for the love of those he came to serve, Jesus faced the Cross and there may be times when we too feel abandoned by God. It is then that we really need to keep strong in faith.

In her book “Bread in our Hands” Julie Hulme describes “more life” or abundant life as, “ satisfaction, fruitfulness, contentment peace” and then continues,” There are qualities which make us feel more alive, that give us our personal vitality and determine our quality of life. They shape our energy into the particular form most appropriate to the task in hand: love, understanding, strength, joy, ideas, peace discernment wisdom, patience, flexibility, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, grace, hope, faithfulness, justice, gentleness, courage or self-control. These qualities are not “optional extras”. They are “food for the journey”; they make it possible for us to travel in faith, hope and love.”

Some of the above qualities are gifts, others we have to work to cultivate and develop but all are possible as we receive life and strength from God who gives to us abundantly through the work of the Holy Spirit… but that is a subject for next month.

 

Do not be afraid, live life and the God we know in Jesus is with us.

 

God bless you and keep you always,