Saturday 23rd May 2020
Lovely to hear from you again. Interesting you should be writing on this particular date! I’ve been looking back at your previous letter, as well as this week’s. You mentioned the hymn ‘In Christ alone’. It’s a powerful one, that’s for sure. I don’t know if you caught Songs of Praise last week, but this hymn was featured, admittedly from a few years back. It came from St Patrick’s Dungannon. I realise there are time restraints, but it frustrates me a little when they drop some of the verses of hymns in these programmes. Yet they seem prepared to spend an age over someone, like Maria from the Sound of Music, walking slowly but meaningfully over hill and dale singing what has clearly been recorded in some studio or indoor setting.
I certainly share your thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer. A sung version featured on my ‘Desert Island Hymns’ that I chose for one of our churches. As the name suggests it was like an episode of ‘Desert Island Discs’, but with hymns! I particularly remember singing it in my youth at evening worship in High Street Chapel, Penzance. Some of our churches still sing it on occasions, but not very often. Singing each word and phrase does make you think more deeply, rather than just rattling it off as quick as can be. I always remember Jim in one of the first churches I was privileged to serve as a minister, saying how it upset him greatly when the minister or preacher would rush through the Lord’s Prayer. I keep Jim’s comments in my mind when I lead corporate prayer.
I don’t know how often you would travel in and out of Truro via Shortlanesend and Allet, along the B3284? It’s a route I’ve got to know well since arriving in Truro. Just before you join the A30 there is a part of a field that often lies very wet. At the moment there is an absolute blaze of buttercups. The intense yellow is almost painfully bright. So much deeper in colour than the drilled acres of oilseed rape. I wonder if our farmers have been encouraged to drill more food crops this year, assuming additional labour can be secured if required for the harvest. It would certainly make sense to increase food security and reduce the carbon miles used in producing the oils, pulses, cereals, root and tuber crops we need. You might have heard, but we are looking forward to seeing the crop of sunflowers that has been drilled near Trispen. I remember seeing commercial crops of sunflowers in the Netherlands and France in years gone by. There was such an expanse of vibrant yellow, though of course not to the height of the single giants we might try and grow in our gardens.
In commenting on the frustrations of edited hymns and hurried prayers, I can feel for you on trying to decipher the captcha tests we are presented with. It exasperates me; whether it’s to book or purchase something online or yet again to fill in forms that seek to elicit proof of existence, that for some reason, no doubt known to its creators, there is often a time limit imposed. What is the rush? Why is it, I have to feel I’m in a competition with others or to beat of my own personal best time? What would happen if I took longer than 15 minutes? Would a message appear along the lines of: ‘Oh dear, you haven’t done very well have you? Please try again later and put some effort in. We cannot abide tardiness and sloth. Oh, yes, and your call and potential business is important to us.’ As Worzel Gummidge might have said ‘I’ve got my grumpy head on.’ Maybe having these time limits gives a little boost to our sense of wellbeing when we complete our task. A ‘mental sweetie’ for having been a good boy, perhaps?
Too much or too little time can feel like the bane of our lives. It seems to me God has made plenty of time. It’s how we use it that matters. You’ll know the passage from Ecclesiastes 3, beginning ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.’ The writer was definitely not picturing captcha tests or time limits for online activities in writing this part of God’s word, but what a passage of Scripture for our present times! Who knew the Bible would recognise the need for social distancing: ‘A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.’ We certainly feel it now.
I liked your alternative title of ‘serving minister’. For me, service to God and for God has always been one of the key tenets for my time in ministry. It’s actually helpful in countering the potential danger you’ve read about in terms of passport applications: ‘Head too big’ needs to be avoided at all costs.
I take your point too, in the distinction between solitude and loneliness. Perhaps it comes from how intentional we are in achieving either. We may choose times of solitude, but I imagine for most people there would be the opportunity to be in the company of others again. Taking time away in solitude may be viewed as a positive, as we see Jesus doing on occasions, to focus on something or Someone else. However loneliness is altogether a negative experience. Made more acute, no doubt, by the fact we may have no choice in the matter at all.
If this doesn’t sound like too much of a contradiction, you may have seen on the Truro Circuit website the hour of prayer I have suggested people share in on a Friday evening, particularly if they are not online or geared up with all the wonderful technologies at our disposal (thumbs up emoji). We close each Friday evening hour of prayer by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Yesterday evening before praying, I read a passage at the start of the book of Ezra. What caught my attention was the statement ‘the Lord stirred up the spirit’ and a little later ‘everyone whose spirit God had stirred’. I repeated these phrases for myself and indeed for the church families and communities I am privileged to serve alongside.
We’ve written before on the legacies that will come from these days (weeks, months) in lockdown. I’m looking forward to what God will lead us into, that we can know, what the Spirit is saying to the churches, as was revealed to John, but individually too. What is the Lord stirring up my spirit to do for Him? I’ll try to claim some moments of solitude before God and as you put it to ‘don’t just do something. Stand there!”
With love in Christ,