view from my pew 5

Dear Internet

Welcome to another of the musings of Mr Grenville-Stubbs. (I don’t think we know each other well enough to be on first-name terms).

I have not written anything for a while because I have been trying to work out which way I will be voting on Thursday in the EU Referendum. I consider it to be more than my democratic right, it is my duty to vote. That is why I have not missed a Church Meeting for the past 37 years. I have witnessed many changes in our church over the years (and have opposed most of them).

Our Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker keeps telling us that a Church Meeting is not a business meeting, nor is it a democracy, but it is an attempt to discern God’s will together by listening to each other and seeking to see what is right. He says that we are not voting to see who is in the majority but as a way of working out how well we have discerned what God wants.

I think I know what he is saying, but I prefer the cut and thrust of debate, the clinical nature of points of order, and the complexity of proposals and counter-proposals. I vote to express my firmly held opinions and convictions, and no amount of discussion is going to change my mind.

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That is one of the things I have enjoyed in the count down to the EU Referendum in the UK. There has been a lot of heat generated by both sides. But it has also left me feeling a bit confused: one side will make an exaggerated, headline-grabbing claim and then the other side will refute that (but the headline has done its job). Then the other side will do the same.

I had a leaflet arrive through my letterbox this week from the ‘Leave’ campaign that was full of promises about how much better the country will be if we leave the EU, but those promises are surely empty because they are not from any particular party but a coalition of people from across the political landscape. I was completely turned off by some of the racist rhetoric that I have seen, so I will not be voting ‘Leave’ on that basis.

However, I had another leaflet through my letterbox from the ‘Remain’ campaign that was full of warnings about the danger to our economy from a vote to leave, and about how much better off we are at the moment. How can they predict the future like that? And the rhetoric I have heard against those who want to leave has been rather unpleasant too, so I will not be voting ‘Remain’ on that basis.

I told Revd PI-T that I did not know which way to vote and he suggested that I read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and see if that helped me. He said that this was Jesus’ manifesto of what the world could be like if we lived in the way that God intends. That did seem a bit heavy but I did as he suggested and it helped. I decided that I will not be basing my decision on the negativity and lies that have characterised both campaigns. I am going to see if I can find any traces of what Jesus was talking about and vote for whichever one offers us the best opportunity to be more like that.

When I told Revd Phil this he was speechless for the first time since I have known him. The look on his face was priceless!

Yours faithfully

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)

being vigilant

Last Thursday evening there was a superb prayer vigil at Chelmsford Cathedral organised by a team led by Hannah Bucke, the Churches Together in Essex and East London Ecumenical Officer (when she wears name badges they have to be extra long). It was a well-thought out, brilliantly delivered opportunity to reflect prayerfully on some of the key issues around the EU Referendum (which is on Thursday, in case you hadn’t realised).

Prayer stations were arranged around the Cathedral where we considered issues relating to:

Peace and International Relations,

Sovereignty,

Trade and the Single Market,

Borders,

Environment, and

Agriculture and Food.

In addition, given the shocking news of the murder of Jo Cox, MP, there was also a space for prayers for her family and the opportunity to light a candle.

I was so grateful to the team that put it all together, and for the thoughtful, non-partisan way in which the issues were presented and the helpful references to Bible passages that were relevant to the issues as well.

To give you an idea of the excellence of the event, and perhaps to help you in your praying about how to vote, this is the prayer card we were given:

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I have already voted (postally) as I am away on Thursday this week, but my thinking, praying and deciding was based on the values I wrote about back in April The Hokey Cokey Referendum

Be blessed, be a blessing

to vote or de-vote?

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This week I voted. It did not take long. It was not difficult. It was an election for my local Police and Crime Commissioner. The ‘campaign’ has been very low key around here – no leaflets, no phone calls, no posters. I had to look up the candidates for myself in order to make a decision about where to put my ‘x’. If I hadn’t had a polling card I would not have known there was an election at all.

It was tempting to think that my vote won’t make a difference: why should I put myself out by walking around the corner to the local school that was hosting the polling station – it’s only one vote, after all. That thought did cross my mind this morning, but then I dismissed it. Not just because if we all thought like that then nobody would get elected, or even the thought that there are countries where the people are denied that privilege, and when they are given it they vote enthusiastically. There was a bit more thought than that. I have written to my MP several times recently: about the clearing of part of the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, about the way that our Government could do more to help those fleeing persecution, and most recently about the ‘Dubs amendment’ to the Immigration Bill. But if I don’t participate in the democratic process as fully as possible (with whatever flaws I might think it has) then it’s much more difficult for me to voice my opinion with as much integrity as I would like. If my voice is to mean anything then I feel that I should vote.

Of course democracy is not really mentioned in the Bible. Nobody voted for Moses or Joshua, or the Judges, or the absolute monarchs of the Old Testament. In the New Testament nobody voted for Caesar, or any of the Herods, or even Pilate, Felix, Festus or King Agrippa. And the appointment of the early church leaders seemed to have more to do with whether they had known Jesus and the length of a straw (or whatever ‘casting lots’ meant) than democracy.

I believe that democracy has no place in the church (even though it’s the best (or least worst) political process). Don’t get too hot under the collar just yet, please read on because, as we all confess as good Baptists, I believe that if we vote in a Deacons’ or Church Meeting we are not voting democratically (although it looks similar) we are seeking to express what we are collectively discerning to be God’s will. Deacons’ and Church Meetings, at their best, are places where we can disagree agreeably, discuss graciously and then seek to discern wisely what God is saying to us.

In the book of Acts there are two contrasting approaches to discerning God’s will. The first is from the mouth of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin when they were working out what to do with Peter and the Apostles who had been arrested (Acts 5):

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’

I have often heard Gamaliel’s wisdom commended as a good example of how to deal with a tricky situation. But to me it seems like a cop-out. He did not commit himself to discerning God’s will, he hedged his bets: he uses ‘if’ twice in the last two verses. (As an aside I note that the Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged before they released them, just to make a point and the Apostles rejoiced because they had been considered worthy of suffering for the Gospel).

Then there’s Acts 15 – the Council of Jerusalem – where the Christians tried to work out how Jewish God wanted you to be to follow Jesus. People of opposing views shared their opinions and then they discerned together (we don’t know how) and decided:

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

I love the phrase “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” as that, to me, seems to capture the essence of how a Deacons’ or Church Meeting should come to a conclusion. Whether or not votes are cast in order to help us discern, at the end we should all affirm “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” and then work to put that into action – even if it’s not our own personal preference – because we believe we have collectively listened to God through each other and heard what he wants. And that’s where Gamaliel’s words, with a slight alteration, make more sense: “But because it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the x factor

Last Thursday I attended a wonderful prayer vigil at Chelmsford Cathedral (thanks to all who clearly worked so hard on it) where we were provided with opportunities to pray about a number of different issues related to the General Election (tomorrow, in case you didn’t know!)*.

Praying for housing and homelessness – the books in both scenarios are ‘Great Expectations’ – lovely touch!

We were also offered the following prayer, which I think sums up my aspirations when I take part in the ‘x factor’ and put my ‘x’ in the box and put my paper with the ‘x’ in the box in the box. How will you be voting?

Lord God,

You are sovereign over governments and nations, you care for each individual, for those who are powerless and for those on the margins.

You created us to live, not in isolation, but in society and in harmony with all creation. So we pray for wisdom and discernment as we prepare to vote. Help us to see the issues that confront us in the light of the values of your Kingdom.

May we vote not in our own interests but in the interests of others; those in our communities, in our nation, across the world and the whole created order.

We pray for all those standing for election, that they may speak and act with honesty and integrity, and we pray that those called upon to serve as MPs may do so in the spirit of servanthood and in the interest of the common good.

We ask that you will enable us to play our part in building a just and peaceful world in which all people and all living things may flourish.

We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I also had the opportunity to pray for the election on Radio Essex alongside our local Bishops!