Guest blogger Naomi shares about belonging to church small groups

When I look back on my journey as a Christian, something that really strikes me is how essential being part of a church small group has been for my own development. Yes, of course, there’s the growing I did in my own individual prayer life, my Bible study and my faith. There’s the teaching I received and the activities I was part of as part of a big church. But central to both of those aspects, and critical for me, was the part I played in a small group.

 

A small group usually meets midweek. It is usually has 5-15 members, who commit to studying the Bible and praying together. Almost all churches have them, and I highly recommend getting involved in one.

 

My first small group was a mixed group of us in our early twenties. We were all in a similar position: starting out in our careers, navigating that difficult path of working out who our ‘adult’ selves were. Most of us were looking for ‘the one’ (although no marriages actually resulted from that group!), and all of us were looking to grow in our faith.

 

For many of us – myself included – it was the first time that we’d led a Bible study session, or actually gone out to serve others. Having very few commitments, our attendance was good. We had our highs and our lows, but there were some really strong friendships formed.

 

After a few years, our small groups in our big church were shuffled around. I found myself co-leading an all-girls group. Again, this was an amazing time of growth and deepening for me in my faith. We explored the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I was amazed by the wisdom and maturity of women my own age. Once again, really close friendships were formed, and some of these women are my closest friends today.

 

When Tim and I got engaged, we started attending a small group together. This was a different group altogether – several couples and some single people, ranging in age from early twenties to early eighties. This group was really lovely, and supported us hugely as we stepped into married life together.

 

Again, after a few years, we were shuffled around. We joined – and eventually came to lead – another small group. This was another mixed group, some single, some married, some dating, and again, these people became some of our closest friends. They supported us through Ben’s birth and the transition into parenthood – and didn’t complain too much when he threw up all over them.

 

When we moved away from our city, I felt the loss of our small group keenly. Even more so than the wider church – perhaps because our church was so big – they were my community. As a Southerner up North, they were my family. They were the ones I could pray with, laugh with, hang out with and learn with. That’s where I grew the most.

 

We have a brilliant small group now. It’s taken a while to settle in. It always does. You have to be vulnerable and open with people, and that’s hard. We’re learning and growing together. That’s the way it should be.

 

If you’re looking to get the most out of a small group, here are my recommendations:

 

Commit. Be consistent with your attendance. Reply to emails. Show up.

 

Offer to lead. Even if it’s scary, have a go. You will get so much out of it.

 

Offer to host. People feel they know you better once they’ve seen you in your home.

 

If you can, ‘shop’ around. Try a few different groups and find out what works for you.

 

Be open and honest as soon as you feel able.

 

Connect in between group meetings – a group What’sApp is great for this.

 

Remember, you get out what you put in. If you put the effort in, God will show up.

To find out more about Christian Blogger Naomi visit http://lifebynaomi.com

 

Pumpkins and eschatology

My homework today has been to read up on christian theology about the afterlife, at the same I’ve been scraping out pumpkins ready for Halloween. This seems like an unholy coincidence, however I think there is a blog in this! Firstly I’ve been trick or treating with my kids, as a guilty pleasure for a few years now. It’s probably not a very christian thing to do, but it’s the one of the only times I meet up with neighbours and quite a few families on our street make a big effort to decorate their houses, and welcome in children. We don’t visit houses beyond our couple of streets, and we are usually out for less than an hour. We don’t knock on doors unless the owners have signalled in some way they are up for being disturbed. This varies from lots of decorations, to a simple pumpkin. Some people put a bowl out of sweets to avoid being disturbed. If there was a decent alternative for christian families locally I think we’d support that, for example our youngest is at a light party with her Rainbows group tomorrow.

So secondly, why are Christians not keen on the concept of Halloween? Well it actually comes from the Eve of All Hallows day (All Saints Day) on the 1st November known in some catholic countries as the day of the dead. The pumpkins and lights are said to ward off evil spirits the night before. The fundamental issue with this, is that Christians (this is new to me too) don’t actually believe that when we die there is a spirit that lives on. We don’t distinguish between someone’s body, mind or soul and see them as one being. We hope for resurrection of all three, in the same way we believe Jesus came back from the dead in an actual body rather than as a ghost. Thomas put his hand in the wound before he believed it really was Jesus.

Thirdly today I was at the church where I became a christian and I became really conscious that “Saints” or those who used to worship at the church were around. I had a sense that two ladies in particular who have recently died of cancer, were really pleased to see me there. It wasn’t in a sense of them being ghosts or haunting the church, just that in the universe their presence was part of God’s glory. As a charismatic christian I often sense the Holy Spirit visiting a group of Christians in prayer this is the only spirit we do actually believe in. It’s like a presence or warm feeling, and often makes me want to cry. It’s part of who God is and can be a real blessing. Today I received a picture of some stars that joined to form a string of beautiful glowing pearls that then formed part of God’s crown. This represented to us the people we’d lost to cancer, now being part of God’s glory.

Every time we go to church we pray the Lord’s prayer and we ask that “his kingdom comes”, this is to say we want heaven on earth, we want an end to poverty and suffering and we want to see our loved ones restored in full resurrection. We also say “for yours is the power”, and this is key to Halloween, all the ghosts, demons and imaginary spooks in the world are not as powerful as God, but dabbling in the dark side can be dangerous, if you get into things like the paranormal, you may be inviting in the demons that will surely want to keep you from knowing God as fully as you might otherwise like to do. There is of course sadly bad to every good in the world but  how much power we give to the dark depends on how brightly our own lights shine out.

So tomorrow as I visit my neighbours I will be praying for them and thanking god for the community we live in, and probably binning like last year a great quantity of sweets which get really sticky and gooey in a plastic tub! I might even hand out some prayers with the sweets at home..

Here’s a couple of prayers that you may like to use yourself…

Father,
All-Powerful and Ever-Living God,
Today we rejoice in the holy men and women
of every time and place
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

AMEN

 

 

Living on the edge

So life in the UK is currently fairly bonkers. Our esteemed politicians are fortunately not in charge of anything major right now; we have a fantastic civil service to do that for us! That leaves them free to worry exclusively about what other people think of them and how current events might make them look in the long term. 

When I say all our politicians, I’m being unfair as I’m sure there are some like the late Jo Cox and indeed Yorks Rachael Maskill who seem able to remember why they are paid by the British people; that is to serve us not their own political purpose. 

I think the lesson for me as a Christian is that old joke “if you want to make God laugh -tell him your plans!”

I’m really struggling with this myself right now – I had imagined once the church agreed to take me on as a trainee priest that a clear way forward would emerge. Over two months later I’m still waiting for some answers.

Waiting with God has been a key part of my journey and I’ve found it really tricky – I think what I’ve learnt though is doing the right thing for the right reasons is not only hard but basically essential for survival in this world. Why? Well otherwise you can be blown around like a leaf in the wind. 

Communicating what you think God has in store for you and others around you,  isn’t arrogant, it also helps others do the same.

Putting down foundations whether in a marriage, career or as a parent takes time, energy, commitment, sometimes standing up for yourself and often completing lots of boring tasks!

I’m optimistic that God can guide us as a country but I think we need to do the work too – refusing to tolerate racism, working for unity and accepting different perspectives, and putting the things that matter first. We need politicians who will show up for us and inspire us, especially when we are divided and the stakes are so high 

As the apostles had to when building the early church we need to challenge tradition as “We believe we are all saved the same way” Acts 15 v11

Monsters Inc.

Like most people I hate hearing about domestic violence, the story running on the Archers turns my stomach. I really dread it coming on TV in and amongst a drama series I was previously really enjoying. I think it’s the shock value of someone trusted, loved and in your home, suddenly turning into a monster that is so scary; like a child in Monsters Inc. previously peacefully sleeping!

I was in an abusive relationship whilst a student and it wasn’t a long-term commitment and I managed to leave pretty quickly without a great deal of physical harm. I felt so blunderingly stupid for letting some kind of monster into my life, when in many ways I’m a clever woman.

I’ve analysed why it happened and I’m probably none the wiser, but the legacy it left me is in some ways more damaging than the shock of someone trying to control and hurt me at the time. This and other experiences of being bullied, have affected my confidence at work, created problems in my marriage, my confidence in being a parent, church life, everything.

I think that’s because an abuser will cast a seed of doubt in your mind and then see where that flourishes, and enjoy watching your confidence shrink, your independence get smaller and your need for them in your life seemingly increase. When the situation ends, that doubt can still linger. It happened to me a while ago, so I’m able to think more rationally about it now, but it’s been something that has haunted me, making me question myself and my relationship choices over and over again and almost overcompensating and putting shields up that stop me enjoying life.

One in four women are likely to experience some kind of domestic violence, and people going through a rough time financially, or with an addictions are much more likely to be at risk. For more information this is a really helpful website: 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline 0808 2000  247

http://www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk/

As a bystander it can be really difficult to know what to do to help. It’s best not to intervene though if the person (normally a woman) hasn’t asked you to, as this could put her at more risk of abuse instead. Actually physically leaving a situation can seem virtually impossible, due to not having any money, a car or childcare to make this possible. Leaving someone is the most risky time for abuse to happen. When I left my boyfriend that was when he turned violent. The best thing of course is to try and talk, but mainly listen and take seriously what the person is saying, if you witness violence you can ring the police, as it is a criminal offence.

In my faith journey, I initially thought that God would be the kind of God that sits on a cloud and judges you for picking someone  so awful in the first place, rather than the one I know now, who hates to see any one of his children be abused, attacked, humiliated, feel scared, hurt or frightened. At the time, I looked at the bible and couldn’t find anything that spoke to me about leaving a hurtful relationship, only how to be loyal and faithful as a wife.

The passage below from Corinthians, where Paul was writing to new Christians and coaching them about how to behave in this new world, shows the difference between respect that is demanded as a “right” and love that sets people free;

1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV) v1-13

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

 

 

Happy Sibling Day!

I read today that this is national sibling day in the US! I don’t know if it’s official yet, but someone who like me, lost a sib in her early life, has come up with the idea, and I think it’s a good one. I like to think, that because I lost my sister when I was little, I really understood the value of having sibs growing up, although they may disagree! Especially my brother who I used to tickle mercilessly at times.

While my friends, husband and children all know me really well, it’s my brother and sister who know me “no holds barred”;  my foul moods, my tantrums, my bossiness, my doubts, my fears and my paranoia. They get to see me unfiltered, when mum and dad aren’t around, so we can swap stories about the crazy things we’ve been up to without frightening anyone. We’ve covered for each other, and had each other’s backs when things were difficult too.  I hope this will always be the case! As kids you are stuck together, and inevitable comparisons get made, but as adults we really enjoy catching up, and sharing what’s going on.

While siblings in real life are one thing, I think the main perk of being part of a church community is the additional ones you gain. Sometimes that’s a real pain, I mean you don’t get to choose who they are right!! However, I don’t think life would be as easy for me in the real world without my church family around, to encourage, support, and steer me in the right direction. Sometimes one person will receive a word from God, and someone else will interpret it, and it will be for me and my family. Other times I’ll have a picture I can share, for someone else. Often friends from church will help out with practical tasks, and invite us round as friends, when others can’t.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus appointed 12 disciples. Not 1 vice-chair, 4 directors and 7 general managers as we would have in the public sector, but 12 who shared the leadership of his ministry and all it’s demands equally. In those days, I suspect the average number of children people had wasn’t 2.4, but probably more like the TV show “Brothers and Sisters” with at least 5 anyway.

As you know, I’ve been considering ordination for ministry in the Church of England, and this journey is hopefully coming a conclusion, one way or the another in June this year. I think I’ve been seriously considering it for over 2 years and mulling it over for up to 10 years to be honest. So I think I’ve bored everyone to tears in the process who knows me well, and my brother and sister are no exception. So this blog is an apology for how long it’s taken me to get this,  to all those people who have listened, encouraged and supported. Many have said “I’ve never met a vicar before”, some have said “it’s not the most daft idea in the world”, others ” I can see you doing that”, and without naming any names “at least your not a paedo!”

I really hope I get to be ordained. If I don’t get through then I will deal with it then, and won’t be the same person anyway. It’s been a long, winding road , so no doubt there will be more twists and turns to come. I know if I am accepted I will be giving up plenty of quality time with my friends and family that i have grown up with, and that’s a real sadness for me. Weekends won’t be the same again, and Christmas and Easter, no longer nice lazy bank holiday breaks! I won’t be earning alot of money, and I’ll be on call much more than I am now. I won’t be able to hide behind a desk-job, I’ll be a visible leader.

The reason I’m going forward though is simple, that I love sharing my faith, and seeing others grow through christian fellowship. Also I think if someone turns to Christ its a more permanent and joyful ( and less bureaucratic!) way of helping them get the life they want, than supporting their health and social care needs as I’ve been doing over the last 17 years. I’m not sure the two are mutually exclusive though.I know I will be infinitely better off in many ways;

Mark 10 v29-31: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Bad things happen to good people

Hi, this week has been a washout in our house – lots of different viral infections joined us at my daughters birthday party. Coincided with some great stuff happening at work and our daughter turning five. We haven’t left the house much and I’m practicing my nursing skills and trying not to be too grumpy!

I don’t know about you but I always feel it’s unfair when we get ill. It’s just one of those things but I always look for a reason.

As a child I didn’t understand why things aren’t fair in life, and probably  still struggle with that. I’m no different to anyone else – I’m no saint -but it seems sometimes that some people get an easier uride.

I’ve learnt not to worry about that so much now as I have so many blessings such as my family and friends and I’ve had lots of amazing adventures over the years! I’ve decided it’s  not worth investing energy in relationships that don’t grow and change however much you’d like to;better to notice the good stuff

Easter for us Christians is gods way of saying that bad things happen to good people.

There wasn’t anything Jesus could do to avoid the cross – even though his disciples begged him – that has always been a mystery to me , despite the message that he died for me – it still seems unfair.

What I do know though is that there isn’t a situation going on for anyone that God doesn’t care about and Jesus’ death was like a deep wound that helped God understand how broken down and miserable we all feel at times as well as the joy and happy times. He gets it;

“O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Feedback

I’m in the process of discernment to find out if I will be accepted as a candidate for ordained ministry in the Church of England. This involves a considerable amount of feedback from people about my personality, style, and sense of God, mission, leadership. It’s intense, and challenging and I think I’ll come out of the process a different person even if they do eventually turn me down!

My writing has been for me a key way to express and develop my own spirituality, and share the bible with others. I would therefore really appreciate it if you have at any point read this blog,  and gained any encouragement in your faith or otherwise just enjoyed reading it, if you could share your thoughts with me.

I will share this with the people who are assessing me and it will also help me describe why I write to other people… I’m better at writing than I am at talking in interviews it has to be said!

It’s a long process, discerning God’s call in your life, at least it has been for me. I think it will be a lifetime one as well. I struggle at times to keep focused, with so many distractions around to occupy me, and so many blessings to enjoy in my life. This Lent as well as giving up Candy Crush, I’m trying to fit in Daily prayer, through the book of Common Prayer. I think the simple act of praying (even thought it’s still slightly ad-hoc for me!) already has a really beneficial effect on freeing up further conversation with God. It’s like starting a conversation without saying hello, how do you do, and how’s the weather.. we need the simple pleasantries to set the context. Certainly this Sunday when preparing to pray in church, I found my own prayers at home really helped me stay focused on the task in hand. If anyone has found a daily prayer routine they find useful I’d really like to hear about it too.

This is part of the daily morning prayer for Lent I’ve discovered…

The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
Amen.

 

http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/embed/product/43042