April 2020

As I write there are two crises in the news. One seems to have passed its peak, namely the floods. The other one is the coronavirus threat which is looming large.

With regard to the floods, we have seen large areas under water on the floodplains along the Severn and other rivers which have burst their banks.

With the threat from coronavirus there is the question of how the NHS will be able to cope. By the time you read this that question will, we hope, have been answered in a positive way.

Let me now turn to the obvious topic for this April, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,  Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The first can be linked to the role of floodplains which absorb and contain vast quantities of water after the bursting of the banks. One way of understanding that death on the cross is that Jesus absorbed all that was hurled at him – the agony, the shame and humiliation, the injustice and mockery, and death. Christians go on to believe that the forces behind those things were sin and evil and death itself. The gospel accounts maintain that Jesus did not rage at his impotence and helplessness, so that our picture of absorbing all that he suffered makes sense.

When it comes to coronavirus, the whole point of the threat is that some people die as a result of catching it. Every effort is being made to contain the virus, to reduce the threat and to treat those infected, and great efforts are being made to find a vaccine.

As I write, we see the NHS as being on the front line – preparing to cope and preparing to overcome – through the dedication, skill, and sheer determination of staff at all levels of the service. In some sense, the NHS is preparing to absorb all that coronavirus throws at it, for everyone, rich or poor, old or young, regardless of race, religion or gender.

In the same way, Christians see Jesus as being on the front line, not just for those who trust in him, but for everyone, regardless of differences and divisions that some would see as dividing humanity.

One further thought: in films and stories, there is often that scene where the ‘baddy’ has the ‘goody’ at their mercy and laughs evilly at their intended victim (who then escapes to turn the tables).

In real life, we are inspired by stories of those who were willing to say in affect, “Kill me, then, if you must.”

One who said that was the Christian martyr Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on the 24th of March 1980. The military government of El Salvador was persecuting and oppressing those it saw as enemies of the state. In Romero’s radio broadcasts, he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, and the assassinations and torture that the government was carrying out. He did not heed the many warnings to keep quiet and suffered the consequences. 

Romero was a true witness to what was going on around him and to both the cross and the resurrection of his Lord. He had trust, which enabled him to keep speaking out, confident of “the resurrection to eternal life” which is an article of faith that comes from Easter Sunday and the aliveness of Jesus, marked by the wounds of suffering love.

I leave you with some words from the last book in the Bible.

Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, and I am the living one; for I was dead and now I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Death’s domain.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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March 2020

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

I wonder when you were last tempted to turn stones into bread?

A pretty easy question for us to answer! We don’t even have to think about it. What sort of temptations do we face then?

One might be the desire to “get even”, another might be to patronize someone so that we feel better about ourselves. Then there is the attraction of “giving up” on people or on things that require more effort than we wish to give.

As a general rule, our temptations are fairly trivial, mundane even. Is there an obvious temptation that you would add to my brief list?

My thoughts have turned to this topic because the Christian season of Lent started at the end of February with Pancake Day. I hope you enjoyed your pancakes whether homemade or shop-bought. Did you remember to buy the lemons in good time, or do you go for something else? Am I wasting words, hesitating before getting to the point which is that it is really Shrove Tuesday and is about being “shriven of our sins”?

At this point I am tempted to delete what I have written so far because I am in too deep. What is the link between sins and temptation? Can I explain it in a few words?

Let me come at this from a different angle.

Lent lasts 40 days because Christians remember that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Then Matthew’s gospel says, “he was tempted by Satan.”

Jesus resisted temptation; we tend to identify with Oscar Wilde’s claim that he was be able to resist everything “except temptation.”

How can we relate to that first temptation – stones into bread?

We are challenged to puzzle, to think it through. It is about material needs, about doing something good. We can also ponder on the way in which we can be dominated by desire, by “I must have.” That begins to show us the link that Christians see to “sin”- for example, if we are aware that our “great low price” comes at the expense of exploited labour in another land.

This month I haven’t aimed to give the answers so much as to try to provide a way of seeing why Lent can be used positively. Can we manage some sort of fast? Soup on Friday? Less screen time? Making a few phone calls, (we have been meaning to anyway)? Writing a letter? Reading one of the various Lent books?

Suppose we use our imagination. Is there something in our life that we find hard (a stone as it were)? Is there a way in which some good can come out of that? If so, then perhaps we could turn stones into bread after all.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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February 2020

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

This is the year that we should all be able to see clearly!

We speak about having 20/20 vision, but for many of us that is only achieved with the aid of glasses, spectacles or contact lenses. It might be that we are short-sighted, so that things in the distance are blurred or out of focus. Or we may discover as we grow older that our arms are no longer long enough and we cannot focus properly on things that are close to us.

Just as many of us who enjoy 20/20 vision only do so with some form of lens to help us, so we can extend this thought to how we see life.

Would it make sense to say that when it comes to how to live our lives, we are offered various “lenses” enabling us to “see” how to? At first these are offered by other people – parents, teachers etc. They instruct us, warn us, and tell us stories. They are first-hand “lenses.”

Then we learn to read and a world of second-hand “lenses” is opened up to us. In this comparison it is people first and books second.

Let’s try linking this idea to what we in the Christian church imagine we have to offer in 2020.

Suppose, for example, that we think we are offering the lens of faith. What is it that we think will become clearer? Here is one attempt at a very brief answer: that we are not alone, and that we are valued. This is also the challenge to those of us who worship regularly: to welcome anybody who joins us, to make visitors feel valued.

Is that all?

No, but it is a starting point, because most people who have faith in God start from their own experience of learning the basics from parents, friends and teachers, such as saying sorry, trusting others, realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that others matter as well. These skills can then become building blocks for a relationship with God. Mixed in with these basics is the story of Jesus, which first and foremost is a human story beginning in Bethlehem and ending in Jerusalem. Or, as Christians believe, beginning again on Easter Sunday.

Christians should be wary of claiming to have 20/20 vision when it comes to life, faith, God, and all the rest of it. A more realistic claim is that, if left to our own devices, our vision is imperfect, defective and limited, but we have accepted the “lenses” of faith and want to welcome others who wish to see more clearly.

As the prayer says,Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day.”

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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December 2019/January 2020

This is the time of year to be looking forward, counting down the days to Christmas, then looking forward to a fresh start in the New Year. This year we have another day to look forward to, Friday 13th December. That will be a good day for some politicians, a bad day for others. We surely hope it will turn out to be a good day for the country.

If we are on the electoral roll, we will have the opportunity to cast our vote. We will have a choice, firstly, whether to vote or not. If in that sort of doubt, remember Peterloo, where blood was shed. Remember the suffragettes. Remember those who gave their lives “for freedom from tyranny”’ in two world wars.

There is, of course, the view that Parliament has been discredited because the two 31sts have come and gone without our leaving the EU. You might, however, like to consider the opposite conclusion that it has done its job of holding the government to account. Either way, our democracy is at present a parliamentary one and every so often there is the opportunity to make our choice.

Christians believe that God makes choices. At harvest time, there is the celebration of God’s choice to create the heavens and the earth, and human beings “in his image.” As Advent and Christmas approach, Christians celebrate God’s coming among us in the person of his son Jesus Christ, a choice, and a risk (another Friday).

It is a great thing that people who are not usually churchgoers choose to attend carol services or the midnight celebration on Christmas Eve. It is a boost to the regulars, and we trust that something of God’s love will be sensed.

On this theme of choice, allow me to remind you of the words that are always read during this season from John’s Gospel:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…

In other words, being a Christian involves a choice, which is often seen as a response to an invitation. As a hymn puts it, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”

If you have a vote, use it, and every Christian Church depends on those who vote with their feet and join in worship.

At times like this, slogans abound. One more comes to mind: Carpenter seeks joiners.

We look forward to welcoming people to our Christmas services, especially to Christingle on the 15th and our carol service on the 22nd.

Wishing you every blessing,


Robert Draycott.

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November 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

It was twenty years ago. I was with a group from England attending the Kirchentag, a German church convention held every two years and which attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world. We were on a crowded railway platform heading for the conference centre. Some groups were singing and our party was asked to sing something. We had a quick conflab and came up with “Cwm Rhonnda”, that hymn beloved of Welsh rugby fans. None of us were Welsh, but we did our best and were applauded for our efforts.

We were all English, so why on earth didn’t we sing “Jerusalem”?

I have been reminded of this incident for two reasons.

Firstly, I discovered that “Jerusalem” has recently been voted “the nation’s favourite hymn.”

Secondly, I came across Anne Harrison’s recent letter to The Times. I quote:

“It (the stirring music) was created in 1916 for meetings of the “Fight for Right” movement, which aimed to raise morale in the Great War. The Poet Laureate sent Blake’s verses to the composer Sir Hubert Parry, whose setting rapidly became a success.”

The nation’s favourite hymn? That came as a surprise as I don’t think it even made the top ten a few years ago.

What does this tell us?

Perhaps it is a reminder of the decline in church attendance. Perhaps it is a reflection of recent political events and trends, a ‘sign of the times’ we live in.

How do you read it?

I was intrigued by a further comment from Anne Harrison’s letter:

“However, Parry grew wary of jingoism and in 1917 withdrew his composition from Fight for Right. It was then taken up by the women’s movement.”

We are coming up to Remembrance, and as I write we may or may not leave the EU on 31st October. “Jerusalem” has been voted the nation’s favourite hymn, yet Parry “grew wary of jingoism”.

What of Blake’s verses, with their opening questions and then that powerful image of “those dark satanic mills”?

Blake posed four questions in the first verse, preparing the way for the great challenge of his second verse, namely that of building “Jerusalem” in “England’s green and pleasant land.”

Is that a narrow jingoistic vision, or is it a far broader one?

I prefer the second option because of the following verses that we often hear at Remembrance:

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation nor ever again be trained for war.”

The lines are taken from Isaiah chapter 2 and Micah chapter 4 and both originally occur in the context of the nations going up to the city of Jerusalem.

Recently, social media had an infamous post that began with the statement, “We didn’t win two World Wars…”

That first part is correct. After all, no one wins a war. It is also worth remembering that both in 1914 (Belgium) and 1939 (Poland), war was declared because the United Kingdom resolved to honour the pledge which it had given to those nations.

Remembrance calls many things to mind: courage, service, sacrifice etc. It also calls to mind internationalism, alliances, and the common good, ideas which Blake expressed as “building Jerusalem”, starting in this “green and pleasant land.”

With Christian love,

Robert Draycott

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October 2019

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Autumn is here in all its glory and splendour. Churches are celebrating with their harvest festival services and giving thanks to God.

One aspect of these services is the Christian affirmation that God is faithful, that God is to be trusted. It is common to refer to a promise recorded in Genesis chapter 8, verse 22, which goes: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

Christians often then say, “God keeps his promises, just look around you for the evidence.”

This line comes at the end of the story of Noah and the flood, so beloved and well known. One important feature of the story is that Noah alone trusts God’s warning and builds the ark. Then there is also God’s motive: the general wickedness of humanity. A fresh start is called for. These darker aspects of the story are generally ignored – quite rightly, some may think.

Let us take some aspects of ‘Noah and the flood’ and use them to reflect on our present situation, on trust and truth, and on their flipsides, distrust and lies.

Why do people tell lies?

One clear reason is to escape punishment. Another is in the hope that people might think that they are telling the truth. A third reason is perhaps the most pernicious. The lie is justified because of what it could achieve, if it is believed.

Yet a harvest time question to consider is this: what happens if lies are sowed?

Some will be able to answer from personal experience. Others will reflect on a time when they felt that they had to stand up for truth. Those who are or have been parents will recall their efforts to cultivate truthfulness in their children.

When it comes to all the wrangling going on at present, a large number of people have simply given up. They say, “Just get it done, we’re completely fed up.” Or, “We couldn’t care less about these lies, you can’t trust any of them anyway.”

Some Christians look to God and his trustworthiness, effectively saying, “We’ll just leave it all to God.”

That sounds good, but it misses the point made by Noah actually building the boat. Just “leaving it to God” would have meant that everybody would have drowned.

So this is a plea: whatever your views, whether you think both sides have lied or only one, follow the ongoing debate so that the approaching opportunity to vote is one that we welcome, one that we have an informed opinion about.

Meanwhile we and the other churches in the area offer you a welcome Sunday by Sunday as we celebrate God’s love in Creation, His love in Jesus Christ, and His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Autumnal greetings,

Robert Draycott

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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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