Each week during the epidemic, Neil sends out a message in our weekly Newsletter which is sent by email. Here are the most recent messages. We started this in Mid-March 2020
Service for St Lawrence’s Day 9th August
Happy St. Lawrence Day! (for Monday 10th)
I’m sorry we can’t have a better celebration of it this year, but there’s a St. Lawrence theme for our service on the Bradwell website this week and on the document version sent round with this bulletin, so I hope we can join in the prayers of hope and gratitude over these days.
But why bother with this at all? Often saints are shared between different places and groups of people, but few people realise it and assume total ownership. I have lost count of the number of stunned faces I have seen at St. George’s Day services down the years when I have said that St. George was born in Syria, where the assumption was that he was born and bred in our green and pleasant land and never went anywhere else.
I think for me, the root of having patron saints is that we have a natural desire to link ourselves to the big story, the story of the Gospel and the Church down the years. Of course, it’s not necessary to choose saints, yet I think we all have our heroes don’t we, whether it’s a saint, or a character from the Bible, a preacher from a special service, or someone who was instrumental in our journey to faith. We know that our true hope and example is found only in Jesus, and a saint should never be more important to us than Jesus; yet Jesus used parables to give us memorable ways to hold onto truths, and connection with other faithful people can serve the same function. As we remember St. Lawrence and his reminder of what are the ‘treasures of the church’ may we see more of the promise and hope Jesus brings.
Eighth Sunday after Trinity 2nd August
Over the last few weeks, there seem to be new fault-lines appearing in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Tensions have always been visible in places, but new ones have emerged as case levels, opinions and priorities have continued to change. Often these surround ideas of whether measures should be mandatory or advisory, and whether the priority should be on public health or safeguarding the economy. Even as individuals we can find our head and our gut reaction being very different and, of course, we shouldn’t just be focussing on ourselves, but others, especially the poor and marginalised.
I’ve been very interested to read the recent ideas from the Together campaign (which helped to organise the Birthday Clap for the NHS) who are looking at how the sense of togetherness which developed during the lockdown might be encouraged in the future. They are introducing a consultation (together.org.uk) which they hope will help the whole country find our way through what is expected to be a significant recession. In particular, the Bishop of Leeds wrote this for them, which really struck me “We are entering a period of deep economic uncertainty, one that will heighten existing inequalities and strain our society further still.
“We must start to disagree better: Recognising and respecting our differences while remembering our common humanity and citizenship, with all the mutual obligations these demand of us.”
As a church and as society, listening to each other, especially those with whom we disagree and those that we have previously not listened to well enough, such as the Black and Minority ethnic community, and finding a way forward together is not always easy, but it is possible if we have the will.
May God guide us as we play our part.
God bless, Neil
12th July and 19th July Neil on a well earned Holiday
26th July not a message but a S.E.P update
Fourth Sunday after Trinity 5th July
I’d like to say another big thank you to those who sent responses to the survey that was sent out for the last couple of weeks. It was really good to get an idea of people’s thoughts and I very much appreciate the many comments which have obviously been the product of much consideration and prayer.
We have decided that we will not be opening the building for services at present. The services we could offer would be so very different from what we are used to, and we cannot do most of what people were looking forward to. We will review this again next month. At present, none of the other Partnership churches will be starting services, though some have set dates for later this month.
I realise that this will be a disappointment to a few of you. Bradwell Church will still be open for private prayer this week – Tuesday 10-12 and Friday 3-5 – so please do come to pray if you wish. We will of course be maintaining printed and online services and resources as we have been .
There is a sense that we should be looking to develop and improve our online services, and our web presence, and I would love other people to contribute to and lead more in these. If you would like to help, or think someone else would be good at this, or on the tech side, please could you let Rod know
Keep praying please!
God bless, Neil
Third Sunday after Trinity 28th June
I’d like to thank everyone who has responded to the survey we sent last week. I really appreciate the thought you have put into them. Please do this – the answers you give will affect what we decide, so the more we receive the better the decisions will be. You don’t have to write an essay, just say what matters to you.
Last Tuesday, Bradwell church was again open for prayer! I’m very grateful to everyone who helped to prepare things or volunteered to be stewards, and to Rod for bringing it all together. That same day, the government announced that church buildings can have services from July 4th, under certain conditions. Currently, we still await detailed guidelines from our denominations, which we also have to consider before we decide when and how we restart services in the building.
It won’t be business as usual straight away, and we will continue to be online and provide paper services. But I do want to take this opportunity of acknowledging those who have worked, and still are working, so hard during this time. In particular, Alan has spent countless hours on the weekly mailings and working wonders with the website too, Paul has spent a huge amount of time and energy continually trying to make the Zoom services work better as well as maintaining the SEP website, and Tracey and June have worked really hard to bring creativity without chaos to Zoom. I would also like to thank all the various group leaders who have kept fellowship and discipleship going, those who have prayed and contacted people in different ways, along with those who have battled new technology, in the groups or recording for the web. Some of this is seen, but so much is unseen and I am very grateful.
God bless, Neil
Second Sunday after Trinity 21st June
We’re getting used to hearing the changes in coronavirus guidelines as the restrictions are relaxed. Churches can now be open for private prayer under certain conditions. We are working on how to do this safely, and hope to have details out to you very soon.
The changes don’t yet allow us to have public worship, though that won’t be long, we hope.
Yet, we won’t be going straight back to things exactly as they were. Bishop Steven put it like this ‘life is not going to be a quick return to the old normal, but rather a new living with the virus, certainly for the rest of this year and through next year.’ Not everyone will be able to be back in the building from the beginning. We will keep going with online church and the resources we’ve been sending out each week. In the building it will feel strange, numbers will have to be restricted and we will have to be socially-distanced from people we don’t live with. There won’t be singing, or coffee afterwards standing round having a good chat with all our friends.
Whether we’re at home reading something or interacting via a screen, or whether we are in the building, we are all part of God’s church; loved, accepted and forgiven by him. We have learnt a lot from this time of lockdown and I want to make sure we use that well.
I would be really grateful if you would answer the survey I’ve included in the material this week. You can send it to me by email or post (contact detail are in this bulletin). Please answer honestly, rather than what you think I’d like you to say! Your responses will really help us as we manage being able to use the building again.
God bless, Neil
First Sunday after Trinity 14th June 2020
As you may know, I was born and grew up in Bristol. Usually, Bristol doesn’t feature particularly highly on the national and international stage, but events last Sunday have changed that for a while.
When I was a child, the docks were working and the warehouses were busy, and industries like tobacco manufacture were still significant. The signs of the city’s history were visible, but not mentioned. At least, not in the areas of the city with a predominantly white population. Looking back, I am ashamed at some of the attitudes and language that were commonplace. As the city and industries have changed, there has rightly remained a sense of injustice and lack of recognition, in the black community and more widely, as campaigns to change the things which laud the ‘successes’ of the past have been ignored. This sense, fused with the sense of outrage at the events in Minneapolis, is what led to the statue of Colston being torn down by protesters. In the aftermath, the reaction of the Mayor of Bristol speaks volumes ‘What I cannot do as an elected politician is to support criminal damage or social disorder like this, but I would never pretend that a statue of a slave owner in the middle of Bristol – the city in which I grew up and someone who may well have owned one of my ancestors – was anything other than a personal affront to me.’
We are blessed here in Milton Keynes to have such a diverse population and a tradition of welcome. One of the new pillars in the MK Rose has the inscription ‘People from around the world have helped build this city. Milton Keynes welcomes refugees’. However, we cannot pretend that things are perfect here. They aren’t, and injustice and inequality are real. We must not rest on our laurels thinking ‘we’re better than they are in …’ but continue to listen, act and strive to bring injustice and inequality to an end. If you have experience that would help us to take practical steps here, I’d love to hear from you.
God bless, Neil
Trinity Sunday 7th June 2020
Over the last week or so, there have been a lot of changes to the advice and guidelines around coronavirus, and the restrictions we have been living with are being relaxed. So far, these changes haven’t been ones which address public worship, though that will come soon we hope. Yet it is clear that those changes will be gradual and we won’t all be able to be back in church that very first week as though everything’s back to normal.
As we begin to make plans for how this transition might happen, I’d be really interested to hear your views on how we might ensure that those who still need to avoid contact with others can be supported and have access to places and occasions that connect them with God, and how we can be available for all the community here to reflect on their experience and find peace and hope.
However, there has been a new story in the news this week, or rather a new chapter in an old story. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has rightly caused outrage all across the world. Christianity Today has an article about George and about the great work he had done in the neighbourhood in Houston where he spent many years. But it also contained a tweet from the local pastor which I thought was particularly important ‘The fact that you have to build a narrative for a man to be loved and given justice is repulsive to me. Even if he was a capital criminal he deserved to be treated as someone created in his image. I’m done coddling Christians that can only love ppl they deem to be lovable.’
It is easy to dismiss this as something that happens in America, but we need to listen to the voices and lived experiences of our black and minority ethnic brothers and sisters in this community and our church, and to have the humility to hear and change in response to uncomfortable truth.
God bless, Neil
Pentecost 31st May 2020
All the talk this week has been about guidelines and rules, about when we can and should use our judgement, and who makes the choice. It has struck me as very relevant in the week that we celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit to God’s people and the birthday of the church.
When Jesus physically left the earth at the Ascension, he said that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, who would be with us for ever. There are various words that have been used for the Holy Spirit – Advocate, who speaks on our behalf against an accusation; Comforter, who stands by us in our hour of need and makes sure we do not face the future alone; and Helper, the supporter for the journey, either physically, emotionally or with practical instructions. The power of the Holy Spirit can transform people and situations and we should always be eager to listen and to follow the Spirit’s promptings. Yet the Holy Spirit isn’t a resource for us to use to find out how to get what we want, the Holy Spirit is with us to help us discern what it is that God wants, for us and for the world as a whole.
As the restrictions begin to be eased, and the patterns which have become established over the past few months begin to change again, we need the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit to be with us as we go. Unfortunately it isn’t always that simple. The Holy Spirit doesn’t usually write us a note in bold pen and block capitals that we can all read at the same time. It’s so easy just to look for the Spirit to confirm our perspectives. The discernment of the wisdom and guidance of the Spirit is something that requires care, and requires all of us. We all can, and should, be part of it. We need to be on that journey of discovery together.
God bless, Neil
For the Sunday after Ascension 24th May
As I write this, the reports are beginning to come in of the devastation Cyclone Amphan is wreaking as it tracks through India and Bangladesh, and on towards Bhutan. It’s a reminder that coronavirus has not made everything else on the planet stop. Though a great deal of the world is living under some kind of lockdown, the weather carries on regardless – and storms, droughts, floods, fires, volcanoes and earthquakes will not pause and wait until COVID-19 has been brought under control. And the need for millions of evacuated people in these areas to try to maintain social distancing as they have to rely on emergency temporary accommodation only makes things more difficult.
Some of these events appear to be completely beyond our control, yet others are being affected by the changing climate and human activities such as deforestation. I’m sure you have seen the astonishing pictures of the reduction in pollution visible across parts of the world, or seen the graphs of the reduction in CO2 emissions during this time. Can we use this time of enforced watching and waiting to see and understand and be able to shape a new and better reality for the future?
In the Christian calendar, we find ourselves in a similar place – living in a time of watching and waiting, between Ascension and Pentecost, experiencing the loss of Jesus’ physical presence yet looking forward to the promise of a future of new possibilities with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples used their time well, they devoted themselves to prayer, and were ready to move and live in the power of the Spirit and be part of a whole new world. I pray that we too would use this time well, perhaps by using some of the Thy Kingdom Come resources I mentioned last week and joining us for the Partnership Prayer morning on Saturday 30th, and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us, the church and the world to follow God’s path.
Sixth Sunday of Easter 17th May 2020
On Thursday it’s Ascension Day when we mark the end of Jesus’ physical presence on Earth and look forward to a new chapter, empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For the past few years, this period between Ascension and Pentecost has been the focus of a global, ecumenical effort to promote prayer and the sharing of our faith, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ echoing the words of the Lord’s Prayer. This year things are a bit different, obviously. The particular focus is on ‘Prayer and Care’ – Care for those you are praying for, pray for those you are caring for – so often we can separate these things and pray for people or care for people, but not do both.
There are loads of resources available to help and I’d like to encourage families, house groups, groups of friends, to gather on the web, or on the phone and pray and care for each other and for our community, city and the world There’s an app coming out which you can use day by day to help and you can find out more about it all at https://www.thykingdomcome.global/. If you can’t get hold of things on the web, you can order a special prayer booklet, which you can use each year. They are £2 post-free and can be ordered on 01603 785925.
I pray that this will be a time where we see God’s Kingdom coming, in many different ways and in many different lives. Our world may look different at the moment, yet the Spirit of God is still active and powerful.
Fifth Sunday of Easter 10th May 2020
This was a weekend when many plans had been made for celebrations to mark VE Day, and sadly things have turned out very differently and we have had to remember in alternative ways. VE Day was a great day for many, many people, but not everyone – because it was not the end of the war. Many people were still fighting further afield and many more casualties were coming.
As I write, there are the reports that next week might see the easing of some of the lockdown restrictions, and I’m sure many of us will rejoice at some of the new-found freedoms. Of course, this isn’t the moment of total victory either, but a marker post on the way, and there is still much that needs to be done to combat the danger of the coronavirus – and even when we have reached the end of the journey in this country, there are other places where the battle will not yet be won.
Which brings me neatly to Christian Aid Week, which starts on Sunday. The coronavirus has the potential to be even more devastating to those countries where healthcare provision is already difficult and where people live in so much need. As well as the direct health effects, the slowdown in richer economies has also had a massive effect on some of the poorest people too. For example, the fashion industry has cancelled orders made, with no compensation for those who make the garments and are paid so little for doing so (see https://traidcraftexchange.org/fast-fashion-crisis).
Christian Aid’s work is more important than ever at the moment, so please help if you can, especially as the usual fundraising can’t happen. You can donate online at caweek.org/payin.
Fourth Sunday of Easter 3rd May 2020
I’m writing this on the day when we’re hearing the wonderful events on the 100th birthday of ‘Captain Tom’. His story has been an inspiration to so many people and a bright light amongst the difficult news that we’ve been hearing in recent weeks. There have been so many tributes and honours from so many places, and it’s so brilliant to see how something that started in a small way, aiming to make a bit of a difference and making an effort to do what we can, can capture the imagination of everyone. In a world where there are so many people who are seeking the limelight and are doing and saying things to get recognition, it has been so refreshing to see how a genuine small voice can achieve so much.
This Sunday’s gospel reading reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know him and they know and trust his voice. They don’t listen to someone who says they are the great shepherd if they’ve never heard of them. They don’t listen to someone whose words don’t match their actions. They listen for, and listen to, the voice that they recognise and they have a genuine relationship. I pray that even in the time that we’re currently living in, we can keep on listening for and to the voice of Jesus and trust and follow him.
Third Sunday of Easter April 26th 2020
So, as was expected, the social distancing regulations have been extended and that things will be carrying on the way they have been. I don’t know if it’s just me, but looking back to how things were: when we could meet in church, when we could go where we wanted, when we wanted, feels like going back much longer in history. When there is great change or uncertainty, time can do strange things, it appears.
I wonder if the disciples felt a bit like this just after the first Easter Day? Was it only a couple of Sundays ago, that we came into Jerusalem and everyone was cheering Jesus? Was it before or after he said that he would be betrayed and would die that he said ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’? Which day did you see him last week, before or after Thomas? It wasn’t easy for them to get their head around things and they had to be patient and wait for when Jesus chose to appear and listen to what he wanted to say at that point. And as they were patient, and listened, the new path became clearer; as Jesus ascended and the day of Pentecost came, the church was born in a new way.
We are trying to frame a new reality on a timescale we can’t control. We can’t decide what the new ‘normal’ will look like and how close it will resemble what’s gone before. Yet we can still influence what is built, and we know who is walking the journey with us. If we are alert to the Holy Spirit as we go, we might still feel anxious or confused, we might still want things to move faster, or slower, yet we will be able to recognise, and grow, God’s kingdom in the world as it will be.
Second Sunday of Easter April 19th 2020
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
It was brilliant to be able to share those words with so many of you last weekend. And the sentiment is true, however we feel about the situation at the moment. For the world out there, Easter is over – the eggs etc. would be gone from the shops, except perhaps for a few sad ones on the reduced shelf, and we would have moved on to the next occasion, perhaps looking forward to the summer holiday season. In church though, Easter is a season, it is for a longer period of time, and I’m glad of that, even more so this year. In this season we hear of the disciples meeting the risen Christ and we hear of them trying to work out what faith in Jesus means now and working out how live and worship in this new reality.
As we work out how we are to be in these very different days, I believe that we can learn much from these episodes, from the way in which the disciples new pathways and new patterns. They took what they knew from before and what they were experiencing now and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, created a new community of faith. May we ask the Spirit to be with us as we seek to live out our faith in this time, and on into the future.
Sunday 12th April 2020 Easter Day
Hello again. This was not the Easter we expected, is it? Things are strange. And though in some ways we are getting used to the new ways of being, in others things are beginning to fray around the edges a bit, which is perfectly natural but doesn’t always feel very nice.
Usually I’m writing as if it were Sunday, and celebrating the resurrection. This year it’s going to be going out to each of us earlier, when we’re still experiencing Good Friday. And maybe that’s helpful, actually. Because this year we are all in a difficult place. The women of Jerusalem are weeping. Many of us are in isolation, without our family and friends, alone and frightened. This is a path Jesus has walked before us. Some of us are facing hard times and it feels like the disciples have scattered. Some of us are in a place of danger, at the foot of the cross with Mary and the women who cared for Jesus. Go back to the story. Read it slowly. Find yourself there. And know that God who holds the world in being has walked this path before, is walking it with us, and holds us in his arms. And know that Friday is not the end of the story. Know that Saturday, with Jesus in the grave and hope smashed, is not the end. Sunday is coming. Death cannot hold him, or us. The temple curtain will be torn in two, and NOTHING can separate us from the love of God
Sunday 5th April 2020
Hello, again! It was lovely to be able to see lots of you last Sunday at our service on Zoom, it was quite overwhelming to have contact with so many people all at the same time again. Thank you for your comments and we will continue to build on what we do and learn from experience. I know that not everyone is able to join in with all the web-based things, but we are trying to make sure we use lots of different ways to allow you to join in. Please do keep a look-out for what’s happening!
As we enter this Holy Week together and journey towards Easter, we can’t join together in the ways we’ve been used to, but we can still join with God and encourage each other. You might like to start the day by reading the Bible, I’ve put suggestions later on. There is also a great set of resources for different ways of exploring the journey done by Chelmsford Diocese, called ‘Holy Week at Home’, which you can find here: https://www.chelmsford.anglican.org/holyweekathome
Through all this, we will find bits that we really miss from the usual pattern, but there will be new things we discover. I pray that you will see something afresh this Holy Week as we walk this path together and with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sunday 29th March 2020
Looking back, it’s astounding to see how much the UK (and the rest of the
world) has changed in a few short days. As I write, it’s only been a couple of
days of the newest restrictions and I don’t think I’ve properly taken in how
things will be over the next three weeks at least. Church is now closed, for
everything. Not even the slimline weddings, baptisms or funerals are
permitted – though minimal funerals can go ahead at the crematorium or
I hope you were able to use the service material we sent out last week. This
week, the Bradwell Church website (see below) will include a service for you to follow yourself, with clips to click on for music, readings etc. as you go through. Documents to print out are also also sent out with this bulletin.
Some of us have been able to meet across the web, and we’re looking to
extend that. Please keep in touch with your contacts, on the web, on the
phone, even by letter if your daily walk passes a postbox! We need to keep ourselves and our community safe, yet we also need to help each other wherever we can do it safely. We also, most of all, need to remember that God is with us this week, just as every week, and there are so many ways we can be helped to keep close to God even if we can’t be close to each other in space. If you’re struggling to find something suitable, please do give me a call.