September 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Picture a seesaw. It reminds us of balance, ups and downs, fun and enjoyment, and also the nursery rhyme.

But recently someone had the idea of putting some seesaws through the border fence between Mexico and the USA. It was meant as a protest about the poor treatment of children who are would-be immigrants from Mexico. The photo I saw on the Internet featured two children on opposite ends of the seesaw and therefore on opposite sides of the border.

The architect and anti-border-wall campaigner Ronald Rael had installed three pink seesaws on the US-Mexico border to allow families on each side to “meaningfully connect” with each other and to highlight the bond between the two countries. Rael says the seesaws have turned the wall into a “literal fulcrum for US-Mexico relations.”

I then looked at the comments people had made about the photograph and found that whilst most of them were positive, others mocked the idea of this being worthwhile.

This reminded me firstly that this is a divisive issue about which people have strong feelings. Secondly, that we continually interpret events, happenings, and words, both spoken and written. And, thirdly, that we have our own extremely divisive political issue here in the UK that has been dragging on for over three years: Brexit.

The nation is divided over this issue as if on a seesaw, almost balanced, but both sides are frustrated by not being able to “touch down” with the other side in the air.  

For various reasons, I am unable to comment more directly on this. After all, many believe religion and politics do not mix.

Obliquely, however, I might point out that we have recently had the 80th Anniversary of the Kindertransport rescue programme which, between November 1938 and September 1939, saved approximately 10,000 mostly Jewish children by bringing them from Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to Britain.

Think of all the good things that those immigrants have contributed to their adopted country.

The 3rd of September will also see the 80th Anniversary of the start of World War 2. We have largely forgotten that our country was by no means united about the way forward in the early months of that war. A good number thought Britain should try to reach a peace settlement with Germany but Churchill eventually managed to unite the country against a common enemy.

The present crisis calls for a balanced way forward and an effort from both sides not to see those who hold a different opinion as “the enemy.” Meanwhile we can but “watch and pray,” seek to do the best for the children, and continue to interpret political events.

Inevitably, this is a weak ending to this letter, as our national crisis continues to divide and the “see” continues to “saw.”

Every Blessing.

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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August 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

How often we say things like, “Oh, I see now!” or “I finally saw through him.”

Clearly, we are using the verb “to see” in a metaphorical way. In the first case we are referring to understanding something. In the second case to understanding more about a person.

I have a vague memory of a Johnny Nash song that began, “I can see clearly now…” I can recall how he sang those words but what came next? (Having looked it up, I can tell you that the answer is: “…the rain has gone.”)

None of us has the slightest difficulty in understanding the meaning and the message of this pop song. We interpret it as a way of saying something like, “I’ve come through a difficult time and now I want to encourage others who are going through tough times.”

If we move over to the bible, the same should apply. When we read, “The Lord’s my shepherd,” we do not thereby think we are sheep, and when we read “I’ll not want,” we again understand that the psalmist is expressing an overall trust in God rather than detailed expectations about material provision.

We could go on with many other examples of the foolishness of people telling us that the only way to interpret the bible is to take everything literally. We now use the title ‘bible exploration’ rather than ‘bible study’ for our sessions at King’s Stanley Baptist Church as, if you really think about it, no Christian thinks that knowing the bible is an end in itself. Exploration implies that there is something to be discovered, and that the journey itself is engaging and important.

With this in mind, let me give an example. In John’s gospel, the first recorded words of Jesus are a question: “What are you looking for?” Taken literally, all that means is that that happens to be a record of what Jesus actually said. Taken metaphorically, that question is one we might consider worth pondering today.

Let’s start our answer with a little bit of honesty: we as a church are looking for people to join with us. In other words, we need you. Especially if you are driving to a larger church where you are part of the crowd. Come and strengthen a small group of fellow Christians who are seeking to serve God in the place where they live. We don’t have all the answers, but we are interested in taking the questions of life and faith seriously.

The second recorded words of Jesus in John’s gospel are an invitation: “Come and see.” Again, they are much more than a simple record of merely historical interest of what was said there and then. If, as Christians claim, Jesus was “raised to life on the third day,” then that invitation is still open to each one of us.

“See what?” we might ask, though perhaps that might be better rephrased as, “See whom?” for if we were to read on then we might come across those words we often hear read at funeral services, “I am the way the truth and the life.”

“What are you looking for?” Then comes the invitation, “Come and see.”

Enjoy this summer. May you be blessed in your journey through life and find, and be found by, the God who loves each one of us.

(Stop press: “We” won the Cricket World Cup!)

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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July 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Once upon a time it was very simple: the World Cup came around every four years and, in our nation’s folk memory, “we” won it once. Now it is more complicated. As I write this in mid-June, two other “World Cups” are underway, whilst Rugby fans are anticipating theirs later on this year.

My thoughts have turned in this direction because I have just seen the Cricket World Cup trophy in Bristol. It was quite impressive, yet I only noticed it by chance. I almost missed the prize that the top  cricketers from 10 nations are striving to hold aloft in celebration.

One of the teams who were due to play that day in Bristol was Sri Lanka, a team that has more reason than the other nine teams in the competition to get winning and losing in perspective. They were in Christchurch, New Zealand, back in March. It was a Friday and they were very close to a mosque when they heard gunfire and came across some of the victims fleeing from the scene. They had a narrow escape.

A sense of perspective is a real asset in life. So what if “X” is more talented or is better-looking etc. etc? Envy achieves nothing (apart from turning us green). We’ve messed up, but “It’s not the end of the world.” (I’m sure you can add other clichés of your own, as long as you remember that clichés are useful statements of the obvious!) Winning isn’t everything. Losing doesn’t make someone a bad person.

If we think about it, many of us will have had a narrow escape in one form or another. We were almost run over. The doctors operated successfully. That car almost hit ours, and so on. Our reaction is to be grateful, thankful, and determined to make the most of life. We might think that we have no trophy to aim for, but what about being the best “you” you can be?

The terrorist attack in Christchurch is a reminder of the reality of evil and hatred. The various World Cups remind us of the essential oneness of humanity, of all that we share with people who speak different languages, dress differently and look different, yet who are fellow creatures, “made in the image of God.”

That claim that we are all created in God’s image is made in the opening chapter of the bible, as both a statement of faith and a guiding truth to live by. The penultimate chapter of the bible is a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth”. Christians can have a narrow idea that this will be limited and exclusive, yet within that chapter is an all-embracing claim concerning the city at the heart of this new creation, the New Jerusalem,“The nations will walk by its light………. People will bring into it the glory and honour of the nations.”

At their best, World Cups celebrate humanity’s oneness and point forward to that promised “healing of the nations” in the New Jerusalem.  Enjoy this sporting summer, and enjoy aiming to be the best “you” you can be.  

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott (Rev) 

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June 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

There it was. After years of hearing about it on news reports of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, I was looking over towards the Bogside.

It was my first visit to Ireland in 2004 and I was in Derry/Londonderry. So ignorant had I been that I had previously supposed that the Bogside was in Belfast. What on earth makes me think that I can make a connection between that visit and our situation today?

By the time you read this, the uncertainty over whether the country will leave the EU and on what terms may well have been resolved. Whatever has, or has not, happened, however, it has been a shame to see such a cavalier attitude to the Irish border question evident on this side of the Irish sea. Many have simply been impatient over what appears to them as a minor issue. Yet over there it is a matter of life and death, with the impending threat of a return to sectarian murder and mayhem.

Why was there such conflict in Northern Ireland?

One factor was that of identity. People were either Protestant or Catholic, schools were segregated and, in the larger towns and cities, the two communities lived separately. The emphasis was on difference. It was a “them” and “us” situation. Another factor was that many on both sides of the divide felt that to be true to their group they had to be “hardliners”. Taken to the extreme, “hardliners” were prepared to kill both the enemy, and any on their own side whom they saw as traitors.

Which brings me to the “Chuckle brothers”, otherwise known as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley. They ended up in the power-sharing government at Stormont, former sworn enemies, and I would say former “hardliners”. Somehow or other, both of them had seen the virtues of talking and listening to “the enemy” and of turning away from enmity and hatred.

A sculptor has depicted this in Derry/Londonderry. There is a hollowed-out statue which people can stand behind so as to look through the eyes of the life-sized figure. Seeing through another person’s eyes (think also of Burns’ poem To a Louse – “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!”), that requires imagination and empathy. It also requires rethinking and reassessing “hardline” views.

Paisley and McGuinness challenge us when our convictions contribute to strife (or troubles) within our families and communities. Perhaps changing our minds on certain contentious issues could be a sign of strength, rather than a sign of weakness. Who do we see as “them”?

We at King’s Stanley Baptist Church are a small group of Christians who seek to be welcoming and inclusive, because we believe Jesus Christ was and is like that. Wen we say, “All are welcome,” we mean it. We look forward to welcoming you to the 1940s garden party on Sunday 9th June and to any of our Sunday services.

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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May 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Most people will never have heard of Candice Payne, but she featured in news reports back in February because she rented 30 hotel rooms for homeless people to stay in during this winter’s icy snap in Chicago. Others joined in and over 100 people were helped.

Kylian Mbappe, who is a famous footballer, donated £27,000 to the appeal to help recover the body of the pilot whose plane had crashed into the sea with fellow soccer star Emiliano Sala on board. Once again, others joined in and over £150,000 was raised.

These are two examples of kindness which are reminders of how people generally recognise our common humanity and are willing to help others in their time of need. A similar example that impressed me was hearing of how a young couple who could not afford IVF treatment were given the funding by a group of mums who had heard of their situation.

The list could go on and on, reminding us of good news stories, of goodness and kindness.

What do those who help have in common?

If we were to single out one quality above all others, imagination would surely be up at the top of the list. Candice Payne imagined what it would be like to freeze to death and she did something to prevent that happening to others. Kylian Mbappe imagined how the missing pilot’s family must be feeling and made his donation. Those mums imagined how they would feel if they were in the same position as the childless couple.

One powerful story that Christians remember from Holy Week is the foot-washing. It appeals to the imagination, telling how Jesus poured some water into a bowl and washed his disciples’ feet. That was what a servant would do. Jesus then explained that he had been setting an example. “You, then, should wash one another’s feet.” There are sometimes symbolic re-enactments of this story on Maundy Thursday, but we can see a link from this example to those imaginative acts of care and compassion that we began with.

Looking ahead, Christian Aid Week runs from 12th-18th May. In its own way it is about “foot-washing,” about using our imagination and being compassionate through whatever donation we feel able to give. It will offer a chance to help those who are our neighbours in poorer parts of the world. Meanwhile, may we be blessed when we offer love and compassion to those in need in our locality.

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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April 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Easter is late this year, almost as late as it can be, but “Better late than never!” as they say.

Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if Easter had never happened. Perhaps it is not that hard because, after all, most people carry on much as normal on Good Friday. It is still a bank holiday, but it is a puzzling day with that apparently strange claim that one crucifixion out of the many thousands carried out under Roman rule was different. It might almost appear as if the crucifixion never happened.              

When it comes to Easter Sunday, however, we could say, “Well, we wouldn’t have Easter eggs for a start.” But if we think about it, we wouldn’t have any churches either, nor would we have any Christians. Would they be missed? I think we certainly would miss the buildings, and hopefully also the Christians we know.

In some ways, Easter is like a coin which has two sides: the crucifixion on the Friday and the resurrection on the Sunday. The point of this analogy is that the cross and the resurrection go together; they are inseparable, they take their meaning from each other.

Take, for example, the Christian claim, “I believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.”

That is claiming that a past event conveys something in the present, today, now. We think that what is being claimed starts from the past (Good Friday). If we really think about it though, surely it is the other way around? An experience in the present (of having received forgiveness from the risen Christ) is understood by referring back to Jesus dying on the cross (for us).

In the same way, Christians believe in the resurrection not primarily because they have read about it in the four gospels, but because they have had some sort of experience of the aliveness of Jesus.

This brings us back to churches and Christians. Both often sport or display crosses. They are inanimate, man-made, of wood or metal. Those crosses are essentially dead. Appropriately so, we might add. Jesus really did suffer and die. His body was then sealed in the tomb, dead and gone. Crosses serve as reminders.

Where and how can churches and Christians sport or display the resurrection? How to convey the essential aliveness of Jesus?

One idea is to think of being transparent. Christian worship is meant to be a window through which people catch glimpses of God. Christians need to aim to be people who are “seen through.” Yes, we are seen to be fallible, “sinners,” seen through in that sense but, even so, still a misty window through which people catch sight of the risen Lord Jesus.

So, when it comes to Easter, “Better late than never!” and when people “see through’” those of us who seek to follow Jesus, may they ‘“see through’” us in the second sense to the risen Lord who suffered and died for all.

Easter blessings to all,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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March 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.


Charles Dickens was once asked what the best short story was. His reply, apparently, was, “The Prodigal Son.”

Today we may or may not agree with his opinion, but we will certainly know the story he was referring to. It is possible that we would disagree, along the lines of, “For me it’s the Good Samaritan.” Both stories have passed into the popular consciousness and have an appeal across cultures, and across the centuries. Jesus told both stories yet, surprisingly, they can be found in only one of the four gospels. (More about which one below.)

The Christian season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which falls on the 6th of March this year. No doubt some of us have decided what we might “give up” this year, and there are no prizes for guessing what might top that list. There is also the idea of “taking up” something or other. If we take a cue from the returning prodigal, we might decide to take on more regular contact with someone in the family. More challengingly, we might attempt to do what we can to repair a broken relationship, if that is at all possible.

If our cue is from “the Good Samaritan,” we might seek for ways to offer practical help to someone in need. If we are unable to do that ourselves (and we have the means), then we could consider a special donation to a good cause. Taking up a volunteering opportunity is also something to consider.

My final suggestion is to take up the challenge of reading through Luke’s gospel during Lent. If this appeals, a different approach would be to start with chapter 15. That is about the “lost and found”: the sheep, the coin, and the younger son. Then read chapters 3 and 4, then chapter 10, which contains the other famous story told in response to the question “And who is my neighbour?” Then read chapters 5 and 6, followed by chapter 14, then chapters 7-9, then chapter 1, then chapters 11-13, then chapter 2, and then, finally, chapters 16-24. This order could help us see this gospel in a fresh light.

All good stories have a punch line: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Lots for us to ponder on in those words, and in the Lenten season.

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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February 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

What is it that we have lots of, but never enough of?

One answer would be time.

Sometimes we think, “I’ve all the time in the world.” We feel that we can relax and enjoy ourselves, only to discover that “time is running out!”

We also know that some things that we “spend” time on are seen by others as “a waste of time,” and vice-versa. We also attempt to “save time,” as if we could.

Christians spend or waste (depending on your point of view) some of their time in worship. As it happens, I have not been able to go to church for the last two weeks before “finding the time” to start writing this. What, if anything, did I miss?

Firstly, the people – meeting friends, exchanging news and pleasantries.

Next, being challenged in some way or other and reminded of the world beyond my own narrow horizons. I would have hoped to have thought, “I enjoyed that!” as I departed.

The modern word “worship” in English is derived from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to acknowledge someone’s “worth”. “Worship” and “worth” are related, and it certainly seems worthwhile to me “spend” time giving thanks and praise to the one we believe is our Creator.

I am reminded at this point that years ago someone said that worship is a transaction, that something is supposed to happen. “The simplest analysis of the worship transaction is to say that humans worship God and God blesses humans.”

Sitting here on a Monday morning writing this it seems a tremendous cheek to advocate an activity such as Christian worship when you know full well that only about 10% of the population “go to church.” Yet it has been said that everyone worships somehow or other anyway. The question then becomes, “Is it worth it? Is it time well spent?”

The invitation in one of the psalms is to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34 v8)

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May my sign-off of “God  bless” take on a fresh meaning in your life as you venture further into 2019.

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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December 2018 – January 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

I wonder what you are afraid of? What do we fear?

When we were young we might have been afraid of the dark. A common fear as we grow up is the fear of failure. Then, as we grow older it could be the fear of losing our independence…

We all have fears and anxieties as we go through life.

It is wise to be afraid of some things and some situations, such as, for example, coming face to face with a rattlesnake, or being thrown into a den of lions.

Some religious people think that we should be afraid of God – just think of that threat, “I’ll put the fear of God into them!” – but we generally steer well clear of that which threatens, including God!

The Christmas story has, at its heart, the birth of a baby. Think of the first time you held a baby, how careful you were, how protective you felt. If you were still a child yourself, think of how proud you were because this “scrap of life” had been entrusted, however briefly, into your care. It is almost certain that on first holding a baby we are indeed afraid – not of the baby itself, but of dropping her or him.

Here is one way of looking afresh at the familiar story: God entrusts his son into the care of an ordinary couple, Mary and Joseph. “He was little, weak and helpless, tears and smiles like us he knew.” Simple yet not simplistic, because they were the couple who protected Jesus by taking him to Egypt, the parents who nurtured Jesus and anxiously searched for him when he was 12 years old.

One of the great messages of Christmas is, “Do not be afraid,” a message passed on by angels from God to every human being. That includes not being afraid of God who enters into human life as a baby.

This newsletter covers January as well as December, so “Happy New Year!” in advance. The coming year, 2019, will offer opportunities. Do not be scared to follow them up. There will be challenges to face, too, but do not be afraid. Remember to carry the Christmas message forward: “Fear not,” for God is among us and for us.

It was great to see such a good turnout for the Remembrance service, and it will have been great to have welcomed people to the Christmas services. You are all warmly invited to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service at 10.30 am on Sunday 20th January in St George’s.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott

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November 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

Pip, Squeak & Wilfred strip cartoon

I was showing these venerable strip cartoon characters to the congregation as part of my talk on Remembrance Sunday in 2014. Afterwards, a lady who had been born in 1918 told me that was the popular name for the three basic medals given to those who had served in the war. As I write this I am looking at them in their small frame.

WW1 Medals

The central one is the war medal, with the head of King George V on the front. To the right is a gold medal inscribed, “The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919”.

The final one on the left is the poignant one. It is star-shaped, with 1914-15 on the front. On the back is the name of my great uncle, who “died of wounds” in Gallipoli.

These three medals were given to his parents after the war. I wonder how they felt? How long did they keep them on display? I imagine they were given to my father because he was named after his uncle. Now I ponder over them 103 years after this unknown relative’s death.

Three medals…

Better than nothing? A constant reminder? Pride in a son’s sacrifice? A badge of honour for the family – “We lost someone as well”?

Three medals on the mantelpiece…

Questions with no answers.

What intrigues me now, however, is that someone, sometime, placed a red tissue poppy leaf in the display case. The poppy for remembrance, perhaps a more powerful and enduring symbol than “Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.”

In many ways Christianity took a hammering in WW1. Two self- styled Christian nations both with clerics claiming that God was on their side!

Yet there were Christians who could make a connection between the mud and the blood and three crosses on a hill outside Jerusalem around 1900 years previously. Three medals with the poppy leaf for remembrance, medals commemorating sacrifice and death. Three crosses ‘outside a city wall’ with a dying thief’s words imagined by Sydney Carter as, “It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me, I said to the carpenter hanging on the tree.”

Remembrance of sacrifice – with thanksgiving and gratitude.

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott

 

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