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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October 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

“If they ask us, we won’t tell.”

I came across this phrase recently as something said by soldiers who survived the horrors of the First World War. Their intention was surely to protect people who had not experienced the horrors of the trenches. They also wanted to protect themselves as far as was possible from their traumatic memories of friends they had lost, things they had seen, and sounds that threatened to haunt them.

“If they ask us, we won’t tell.”

That phrase rang a bell because that was the gist of the answer my grandfather gave when asked about the war.

“Boy, you don’t want to know.”

That was about 50 years after the war had ended, but he still felt the desire to protect, and the need to leave memories unstirred.

Yet there were those who did tell, because they felt they had to. Letters home from the front were censored, because the truth would have been unbearable. But there was poetry, somehow less direct, and yet so powerful both in helping soldiers unburden themselves (at least in part) and in conveying something of what war meant. Novels came to be written, and plays, some of which were turned into films.

Some wrote accounts of their experiences and, eventually, in old age, some of the dwindling numbers of survivors began to speak directly at last, “Lest we forget.”

They spoke with emotion, remembering their fallen comrades, yet they still protected their hearers from the worst of what they had seen and heard. Protection of home and loved ones, that was one of the motives that kept those in the front line going, it was their duty.

As we approach this centenary, most of us feel that we have a duty to “Remember them.”

If we ask “Why?”, we can be grateful for that motive of protecting home and loved ones from the threat posed by the enemy. If we ask “How?”, then we can grasp the obvious (but easily overlooked) fact that men were fighting for peace.

One of the Beatitudes is apposite. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

WW1 was meant to be the “war that ended all war.” Sadly, it wasn’t, but it is no contradiction, nor a dishonouring of those who served in both world wars, to remind ourselves of that motive of protection and the overall desire for peace.

I have been impressed by the thought and imaginative planning that has gone into the marking of this centenary in King’s Stanley. Do take the opportunity to be part of what has been organised. We are the beneficiaries of those who risked and gave their lives in past conflicts, so it behoves us to remember with gratitude.

(To be continued next month).

Meanwhile, as always, a warm welcome awaits you at our Sunday services in the village hall.

Yours,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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September 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

A gardener was leaning on a fence, having a breather.

A passer-by paused and admired the beautiful garden in all its glory. Almost lost for words, she said, “Isn’t it wonderful what you and God have achieved together?”

The gardener gave a snort and replied, “But you shouldha’ seen it when ‘e ‘ad it to ‘isself.”

The passer-by could be said to be dealing in certainty. What then do we make of the gardener’s reply?

With September we move into autumn with its glorious colours and the opportunity to celebrate another year’s harvest. We tend to think that, if we went back 200 years or so, it was all simple and obvious; thanksgiving was offered to ‘God in his heaven’ and to the local farmers and their labourers who had worked the land. Everybody agreed on what harvest meant and where appreciation should be directed.

Nowadays it is surely very different. Produce is shipped in from all over the world and we are no longer limited to what happens to be in season wherever we live. We are also much more aware of the other world religions than people were 200 years ago. The concept of harvest thanksgiving appears more problematic, especially if we are people who want to live with certainty.

What do we make of the gardener’s reply? Is it dismissive of God altogether? Possibly so, or simply pointing out that co-operation is a key idea of harvest time. Modern life, with foods transported from all round the globe, with so many people involved in the supply chain, means that on the human level co-operation is something to be celebrated. We are indebted to people whom we will never meet and whom we can never thank for our daily food. That is a certainty that can be generally agreed upon.

The other point we could take from the opening scenario is that God welcomes and invites co-operation from human beings. Nothing is simply handed on a plate to people whether they seek to follow God or not. There is always an element of mystery involved, and of hard work. Harvest is something obvious which is universally appreciated. It is also an invitation to consider afresh the mystery that is God, and to do our bit towards making the world a better place.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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August 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

Last month I risked writing about the World Cup and about “putting my faith in the team, despite past failures.” Well, we now know “they did us proud” and Gareth Southgate, the England manager, has been widely praised for his ability to instil confidence and give clarity and direction.

Among various things that stood out during the competition, one really caught my attention. It was something that Gareth Southgate said, the man who missed a penalty in Euro 96.

I’ve learnt a million things from that day and the years that have followed it. The biggest thing being that when something goes wrong in your life, it doesn’t finish you.

Failure, defeat, losing, making mistakes, getting it wrong, messing things up – these are experiences every single human being has. Sometimes it is “our fault.” More often, it’s “six of one and half a dozen of the other,” and at other times sheer bad luck. Things go wrong. The secret is not to let whatever it is finish you. Believe in yourself, allow others to help you, and remember there are the rich resources of faith at hand. Some have prayed in desperation and have found strength from God. Others have opened a bible and found a verse that seems to speak to their need. Others have gone to a church and been drawn in by the welcome and sense of peace.

Belief, confidence, clarity, and direction. Belief instilled into a football team; belief offered to each one of us. Confidence because every human being is of immense worth as a creature of God. Clarity in that we try to live as Jesus wants us to. Direction because we follow Jesus, believing that he has “prepared a place” for his followers.

Once more we extend a welcome to all to our services, to join with a group in the adventure of taking the risk of faith.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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July 2018

Originally published in the King’s Stanley Magazine.

It was a beautiful day: blue skies and a hot sun.

I had just refuelled the car and, having paid, I was just about to drive off when the attendant tied a green and gold streamer on the aerial. I had the sense to wait until I got home before replacing it with a red and white streamer. That evening I was delighted to watch Gary Lineker’s hat trick against Poland.

A week or so later we drove into Rio de Janeiro for the first time. It was a Saturday afternoon but there was hardly any traffic. Everybody was watching Brazil play France.

That was in 1986. We were living in Brazil, and experiencing how a country can really come to a stop when its team is playing, and how the mood turns from anticipation to palpable gloom as it did that night in Rio after Brazil lost.

(Never mind, England.We’re still in!)

We didn’t watch the game on the Sunday as we went up Corcovado to see the Christ statue, but I’ve seen that infamous ‘hand of God’ clip many a time since.

I am writing this before England have even departed for Russia and I note, with some alarm, that if things go badly wrong they will be home before this magazine is delivered. So I am taking a risk. I am putting my faith in the team, despite past failures. I am being patriotic, just as I was when our car sported the red and white amid the sea of green and gold. That is what being a Christian has meant over the years: taking a risk, putting my faith in the team (of the Church) despite failures. I am also being patriotic in the deeper sense of supporting God’s kingdom.

What, then, of ‘the hand of God’? In terms of football, is it worth winning if you have cheated? Can we get away with cheating in life? Would Maradona’s subsequent life have been different if he had ‘come clean’? Was he unloading the blame onto God? Evading his own responsibility?

Various puzzles and conundrums.

I do not have the answers, but often in life knowing the questions and facing up to the challenges they present is how life needs to be lived. This is our approach to our Sunday services which also aim to bring us into the presence of God and his ‘hands of blessing’.

Every blessing,

Robert Draycott (Rev)

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