Is it hard labour?

This morning Lesley and I listened to Pray as You Go; it was about the labourers in the vineyard.  Afterwards when we talked about it we both took issue with it!

Now, we know that parables only carry one message – and that traditionally this is interpreted as a message about acceptance into God’s Kingdom regardless of the time we have been committed; but the behaviour of those who are there early really struck us – why would they be complaining?  Surely living in the Kingdom now is about life in all its fulness?

I recall a bishop once saying if it isn’t fun why not give up and do something else?

Perhaps not fun, but if faith isn’t fulfilling why continue?  If you are miserable about your faith now, do you really want the reward of living that way for all eternity?

Lesley Shatwell’s Inclusive Church Sermon

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there was a church.  A nice, pretty church, St Exaltus The Great in the nice pretty village of Higher Exclusive.  Look, the parishioners are gathering for their Sunday morning service.  The surrounding lanes are chock-a-block as every neat and nice family wants to show off their expensive car on a Sunday morning.

But what’s this?  How unpleasant!  What a dreadful sight!  They have to walk past a beggar (with his dirty dog on an old piece of string) who is sitting in the church gateway.  How dare he, the cheek of it.  “Don’t worry,” reassures Mr We’ll-have-none-of-that, the churchwarden, “I’ve called the police – they will move him along.”

Inside St Exaltus The Great, everyone is singing sweetly, “All things bright and beautiful … The rich man in his castle the poor man at the gate, God made them high and lowly, each one to their estate …”

But what’s this commotion at the door?  Who’s that trying to get in?  She’s upsetting Mrs Keep-that-child-quiet and Mrs Don’t-sit-there of the Welcoming Committee – well there’s a turn up for the books!  A big black woman trying to get into St Exaltus The Great!  Here in Higher Exclusive!  We don’t see those sort of people in this village.  Some of the stronger men step forward, we can’t have her disrupting our service, she’s got rainbow coloured hair, for goodness sake!

“Let me in!  I know I am a sinner but I want to praise God for making me as I am, I want to come to God, I am a child of God!”

“She’s as mad as a hatter!  Got no business upsetting The Welcoming Committee.  Look at her in that shoddy, flimsy dress – she looks like a street-walker.”

“Wait a minute …” Mrs Nosey-parker is looking more carefully at the woman, “ … I know that one.  You’d never guess that her real name is STANLEY!  Yes, she was a boy when she was born.”

That’s too much for Gloria as she is now, not Stanley any more.  She runs from the church in tears.

“Now vicar, where were we … oh I know, let’s share the peace.”


The next week, all the lanes are blocked with the posh cars, there’s no beggar in the gate and no sign of the dog, just a uniformed local bobby greeting the parishioners as they arrive.  All seems well.  But there is a stranger in church.  A smartly dressed, elderly woman sitting quietly praying near the back of the church.  Mrs Get-everyone-on-the-rota has already spotted her:  she looks like she might be good at flower arranging.  The choir sings and the vicar walks in, “Good morning and welcome one and all!”

“There was no welcome for my son last week was there.”  What’s this?  The smartly dressed old lady is walking down the aisle toward the vicar.  She turns at the chancel step to face the congregation.  “Yes, my son who was sitting with his dog at the church gate.  You all pushed past him.”

“Come on, sit down now, don’t cause a scene, we want to get on with the service, we’ll talk about it afterwards …”

But the old lady was having none of it.  “What about my daughter Gloria?  You were very cruel to her.  How do you think she felt?”

The people looked at the little old lady, clean, neat and white – how could she be the mother of the tramp at the gate and the woman who was born a man and black?  Mrs Don’t -sit-there was already regretting that she had given the woman a hymn book.  The vicar stepped forward, he knew his scripture, “’Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?’  Jeremiah 7:9-10”


The woman smiled, “Who are the ones needing our Lord’s forgiveness and mercy?  Do you remember in our reading today when the woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter and she will not take no for the final answer?  I have come to your church today to remind you that all are welcome in God’s house … even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.  And we are all human beings: ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’  Just because these people are not like you, they think differently, they dress differently, they have less money than you, they may do outrageous things and scare you … are they any less the children of our same heavenly father?”


Let’s close the window onto St Exaltus The Great and come back to St Mark’s here today.


I would be ashamed to call myself Christian if I went to a church like St Exaltus The Great.  This is God’s house and we are only passing through.  Everyone is passing through and everyone is equally as entitled to be here as we are.  We are the current custodians of our church in this community and we have the God-given task to extend God’s welcome to all.

I love St Mark’s precisely because we don’t have The Welcoming Committee of Mrs Don’t-sit-there and Mrs Keep-that-child-quiet.


Finally, let me remind you of the words we speak at each baptism:  “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism: by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.  We welcome you into the fellowship of faith; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you.”

And let us pray that all find welcome in our church today and always.

Do you live on the extremes?

Last night Lesley and I played bridge again.  These days (it is rather a long time since I last played) the results and lots of analysis are available online almost immediately.  One of the things that we noticed was that we had quite a lot of hands where we did very well, but also quite a lot where we did very badly.

This set me thinking, is it better to do that, or to do middlingly?

This of course translates into life.  I am fairly phlegmatic, and as a student one of my friends pitied me because unlike him I would not experience the highs and lows in the same way.

Then there is the question of how this converts into ones faith life.

Well, what else would you expect me to say other than we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made“, and we need to live our life the way God has made us.

As for the bridge…. the jury is out – but we are investigating more!

Letter to the Romans

A Study Group is offered by John Innes on the Letter of Paul to the Romans. No prior knowledge is assumed; but some of you may have heard sections of the letter read on Sundays. The suggestion is to have a series of three, then a gap and if another topic is welcomed than another series of three. If anyone is interested, please let me know which dates would be possible. Ring John on 01252-734597. Possible dates: Sept 5, 12, 19 or 6,13, 20 or 7, 14, 21.

John Innes

Continue reading Letter to the Romans


Most people will be aware of the safeguarding problems that the national church has had.  To help address this, and to help ensure that children and vulnerable adults are kept safe the national church has created new safeguarding procedures, which the Diocese and the Parish have adopted.  The Parish is now in the process of implementing these new procedures.

As a result of this we will be:

  • Drawing up a list of all church activities, together with leaders and assistants.
  • Circulating a “know your safeguarding role” to all people working with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Asking all people working with children or vulnerable adults to sign the new confidential declaration form.
  • Implementing the “Safe Recruitment” procedures for people taking on new roles.
  • Creating risk assessments for all church activities.
  • Working with regular hall bookers to ensure that they have adequate safeguarding procedures and public liability insurance.

It will take us some time to do this, but we have no choice, both because this is best practice, and because we wish to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults using our services (in the wider sense) or our buildings.

Alan Crawley

How do we know what God is calling us to?

Have you ever felt certain that God was calling you to do something, so you do it, even though you cannot see why you should do it, but it doesn’t lead to the outcome that you expected?

Looking back can you then see why God called you to do it?

There are plenty of people in the Bible who were called to do things for which they could see no reason, or which they didn’t want to do – particularly the latter – but who with hindsight we can see needed to do what they did.  Jonah, Jeremiah, Amos.

I suspect that the picture above is meant to be interpreted as joy at being picked, but I think it can also be interpreted as anger!


What is our reaction when we feel that God is calling us to something?  And if we don’t think it is the right thing to do, can we trust God enough to do it without concerning ourselves with what we think the consequences might be?

What is transferable?

Last night I was speaking with someone who has just changed their job, and they were talking about their new role, and the things that they were learning.  Much as with yesterdays post, where I learnt from a new experience, it struck me that when we do something new, in any sphere of life, it can at the very least illuminate something about our faith journey and service.

Looking back over my life I find it amazing how many of the things that I learnt in industry are applicable (perhaps with adaptation) in the church.

I was once told a story of how someone was introduced to the Bishop as “our head sidesman (sic)”, when in his day job he was CEO of a reasonable sized company.

God does not just work with us in church, but in the whole of our lives.  We can take things that we learn outside the church and use them to the benefit of the church and vice versa.  (We can also take the church into work – but that is a different post).

What skills have you developed outside the church that you can bring in?  And what have you learnt inside the church that you can take out?

Welcome – for who?

Lesley and I have decided to start playing bridge and have been to a couple of local clubs to see about joining.  You may wonder why I am writing about this, but it is because of our different experience of welcome in the two clubs – and the insights that that has given us about welcome in church.

To be fair to the two clubs I suspect that they have a different emphasis – one is focused on the playing of bridge, and the other is more social.  I am not saying that one is right and one is wrong – rather questioning who it is for.  If you know how to play bridge, what to do when you get there and your main concern is to turn up, play your bridge, focusing on the game, and go home then one club is better for you; if you want to chat a little as well as play bridge then perhaps the other.

That translates quite well to church – there are churches for the afficionados; places where those in the know can go and focus on what they want to focus on, but where newcomers can feel a bit lost.  Then there are churches where perhaps the service is a little more flexible, but where newcomers can feel more included.

There is a place for both, and indeed I believe that Willow Creek hold mid week services for the leadership, with Sunday services being focused on newcomers.

The challenge is what kind of church are we, and what kind of church are you?

All are welcome in this place

As has been written about elsewhere on this site we are looking at becoming members of Inclusive Church, and during August are preaching on this.  Yesterday I spoke on an inclusiveness which isn’t one of the six areas that IC is focusing on, but which is close to my heart, and that is the inclusiveness of different beliefs.

I said that I wanted a big tent Christianity, where all are welcome.  I was heckled with “what about devil worshippers”, and agreed that they might be an exception, but afterwards I was challenged on this.  I was also challenged on whether the church has a role in enforcing behaviour.  To take the last first; the parable of the weeds and the wheat says don’t tear up the weeds for fear of tearing up the wheat – let God judge (I paraphrase), and Jesus says:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

The Church has been wrong in the past, is no doubt wrong at times now, and will no doubt be wrong in the future.  How can we be sure that we are judging with God’s eyes?  And given the quotes above, why would we even try?

The first question leads on from this – if we do not judge, then why would we exclude others?  This does of course lead to the classic permissive dilemma, what do I do with people who wish to judge others?

It perhaps comes down to what you think church is – is it a place for the elect, the saved (a form of Calvinism), or is it a place for pilgrims on a journey?

If you believe the former, then what I am saying makes no sense; if the latter then it hangs together.

As for the problem of those who disagree with me, whilst I may invite them into my big tent, most will decide that it isn’t the place for them.  However, this is not to say that I want a (wider) church without them – but that is a different issue!

Where I was curate we often sang this hymn: All are Welcome in this place.  Amen.

Your church needs you(r money)

It would be nice to think that the practice of religion could be conducted without having to worry about such secular items as paying bills and general self-sufficiency. However, unless you’re going to go out in the desert, climb up a pole and generally shun society to conduct your devotions, this is unlikely to be the case.
Basically any church, regardless of denomination requires the congregation to contribute to its upkeep. The Church of England, even though it is the established church with the monarch as its head, is no different in this regard. We get no contribution from the diocese, from central government or the extensive royal estates.
The parish budget is divided roughly into two areas: the general fund, which deals with the day to day running expenses, including salaries; and the restricted funds which are reserved for specific purposes, e.g. building repairs or outreach. It all comes ultimately from the contributions of parishioners.

You may have heard people talking about “the Parish Share”. This is the major outgoing part of the general fund (about 65%). It goes to the diocese. Most of it comes back in the form of salaries of clergy and their housing. A smaller part is associated with such things as training and diocese administration. The ability to pay the parish share is regarded as an indication of the viability of the parish. We’ve managed for the last three years. It’s going to be a challenge this year.

This year, the budget predictions indicate a general fund expenditure of £104,000 and an income of £84,000, a shortfall of £20,000. We also have a problem with the special funds, particularly the part associated with building maintenance. We’re almost out of money here, after carrying out necessary repairs and modifications to each church.

On a personal note, when I was studying the figures in order to give a presentation on this problem to the churches recently, I looked at my own monetary contribution. I thought it was quite substantial. However, I then figured out how much I spent per week on coffee in various establishments and car parking charges in Farnham and Guildford etc. The amount I give to the church is comparable, or possibly slightly less, than these numbers. I think the parish is arguably more deserving, and certainly has a greater need of my money, than Starbucks!

You will be able to make similar comparisons based on your own lifestyles.

The most effective way to give is via the parish giving scheme. This is a direct debit system. If you are a taxpayer you have the option of donating gift aid. You can also choose to index link your contribution. If you don’t pay tax, we can claim tax relief on the amount collected in the collection plates, so you may want to consider this option. We would prefer to phase out the old collection envelope scheme, as it costs a lot in both time and money to administer, and technology has moved on since this was regarded as the clever way to contribute.

So, come on everybody. If we look at the numbers attending the church, we are a growing parish. However, the income isn’t reflecting this. I’m afraid the days of putting loose change in the collection plate are long past. I’m significantly increasing my direct debit, or, as Alan Crawley neatly, and delightfully ambiguously, summarised when I gave my presentation to St Mark’s,

“I’m upping mine, up yours (!)”

Bob Shatwell