Saturday, July 06, 2024

Election Reflections

The post-election analysis is now well underway by people better informed than me, but here are a few thoughts from an amateur observer about what we have just been through.

Calling a snap election was a disastrous decision for the Tories
I don't have any inside information on this, but it seems clear from multiple news sources that Rishi Sunak's decision to go for an election on July 4 took nearly everyone by surprise - including many of his own party. The only rationale that makes any sense is that he thought things might be even worse in the autumn, and he might take his opponents unawares. Unfortunately for him, it appears to have wrong-footed his own party at least as much as anyone else. 

Labour won decisively.
I have seen some rather grudging posts online about the votes cast for Labour - especially comparing to their performance under Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, the overall turnout was lower this time around so absolute vote numbers are likely to be down, and tactical voting certainly seems to have played a part.  However, we cannot ignore the fact that this time Labour managed to gain and/or retain votes where they needed to win new seats, rather than consolidating their core vote in safe Labour territory. Winning seats in Wales, despite being the party in power in the Welsh Assembly, and big gains in Scotland also played an important role.

UK general elections are decided by seats won, and recovering from a substantial defeat to an outright win in under 5 years has to be acknowledged as an extraordinary result, whatever our political persuasions. 

Speaking of Scotland
A big story north of the border will be the collapse of the SNP vote. It looks like many Scots were more keen to get rid of the UK Conservative government by voting Labour than voting SNP. Support for independence still seems quite strong, but the SNP can no longer rely on that being decisive in the way people vote for the Westminster government. Recent scandals and the fact the SNP have been in power in Holyrood for a long time probably also played into this. That result looks like putting any further moves to another independence referendum on hold for the foreseeable future.

Canny campaigning
The demise of the Conservative vote was not just down to Labour. The Liberal Democrats were careful in their campaigning to focus most of their resources on winnable seats - the majority of which were where they were polling second to a Conservative candidate. A result of 71 (and probably later today 72) seats must have seemed beyond their wildest dreams at the start of the campaign. Ed Davey's combination of comedy moments and very serious engagement with health and social care certainly seems to have struck a chord. 

On a smaller scale the Green Party succeeded in capturing all 4 seats they regarded as winnable and came second in quite a lot more. Small parties can struggle to depict themselves as electable, so this may help the Greens to establish a more significant presence in parliament

which brings us on to...

Reform and Farage
I am usually reluctant to discuss Farage - after all I believe Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about. He certainly managed his public profile deftly - initially saying he wasn't standing, due to a more important election on the other side of the Atlantic, and then stepping in as candidate for Clacton and suddenly becoming leader of Reform. Presumably leadership elections aren't needed for Reform as a limited company. 

It is too simplistic to assume all Reform voters are ex-Tories (many seem to be white working class people who would have been expected to vote Labour at one time), but they clearly had an impact on the Conservative vote. 

Despite Reform candidates using racist and homophobic language and criticising Winston Churchill for fighting the Nazis, the campaign generated some momentum. There is a lot of heat in some part of the media that Reform only got 5 seats from their 4.1 million votes and came second in 98 seats. Will we now see the Daily Express suddenly acquiring an enthusiasm for a proportional voting system? 

It's probably worth noting that UKIP got 3.8 million votes, came second in 120 seats, and won 1 seat (ex-Tory Douglas Carswell in Clacton) in 2015. That would suggest that whilst there is a section of our society voting in that direction, the growth in the support is rather more limited than some headlines would imply. My own amateur hunch is that loss of trust in the system, and a feeling of being left behind or overlooked still motivates a lot of Reform votes.

With the majority they hold, I think Labour would be wise to get on with their agenda, trusting that if peoples lives improve their vote will consolidate. However, the Conservative Party might take a further lurch to the right in an attempt to woo Reform voters, which I suspect will simply deliver them into Farage's hands. That may not serve the long-term interest of democracy

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

What do we mean by stewardship?

I was going to write a new post on Christian stewardship, when I realised that a post I wrote about creation about 10 years ago covered some of the key points. You can read it here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Jesus on Money and Possessions

Jesus: Money and Possessions

I have always found it a little bit difficult to say exactly when I became a Christian. There is no atheist phase of my life to report, but I know there was a short period in my life when I moved from going along to things by default to actively choosing to follow Jesus. Christ Church, Chilwell, my home parish, was a large and lively church with a big children’s work, and I had gone along with friends since about the age of 7. It was around the age of 14 or 15 that it moved from something I just did to something more. For me faith came before very much actual churchgoing, and it was the person of Jesus that captured my attention.

For a lot of people, the compelling aspects of Jesus’ story are in the tragedy and triumph of his passion, or in the compassion he shows to those in need of forgiveness, healing or deliverance from evil. Of course, those weren’t (and aren’t) unimportant to me, but they weren’t the hook that caught me.

I was attracted by the way that Jesus had a radically different set of values. He rejected materialism and greed, and he undermined those who misused and abused power. He championed the poor and was a constant reminder to the ‘haves’ about their responsibilities for the ‘have nots’. I have, of course, consistently failed to live up to his teachings on all of these questions, and yet that aspect of Jesus’ teaching continues to excite me and challenge me. He questions my spending, my saving, my giving, my consuming, my possessing and my attitude to the environment and the world around me. This aspect of Jesus has also been where I have derived some of my political instincts from (although others might arrive at different conclusions!)

It has never felt like Jesus is finger-pointing and condemning me, but he is always asking me what it means to be a Christian living in a world that is based on a very different set of ideals. How do I live in a world that is based on getting, consuming and never being content with what you have.

I want to take a look at few parts of Jesus’ story that have provided that challenge.

It was a revelation to me when I found out that Jesus had a lot more to say about money, wealth and possessions than he ever did about sex. The Gospels are littered with sayings, parables and conversations which are either directly about money and possessions, or use financial or economic images and ideas. It’s been estimated that about 1/3 of the teaching in Luke’s Gospel could be regarded in that way.

So, let’s go on a little tour of Luke to see what he records:

Setting the Scene

Even before Jesus is born, Mary is singing about the rich: “he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he sent away empty.”  (Lk 1:53), which gives us a preview of what priorities and values are going to be the hallmark of this child’s life.

Once Jesus begins his ministry, he is challenged immediately in his temptation by the devil about his priorities (Luke 4:5-8) “if you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus rejects earthly power, wealth and status to be faithful to his calling. And when he gets to the synagogue, he makes it clear: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor..” (Luke 4:18) which is something he reiterates a little further on in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of  God.” (Luke 6:20). Jesus is already generating disapproval for what he is saying – he’s rejected in Nazareth, and when he calls a tax-collector to follow him, the Pharisees are grumbling (Luke 5:30).

So we can see that in Jesus’ early statements and actions, he is pointing to a new set of priorities.

Some examples of his teaching

1. The parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)

OK. So you do well in this world, pile up your possessions and feel proud of yourself. Then what? In this passage, God calls a rich man who builds bigger barns a fool, as his stockpile will be worth nothing to him when he dies.

Jesus goes on to say that we should not be anxious about our material needs (12:22-31), but store up treasure in heaven (Luke 12:32-34) - in other words sharing the Gospel and putting his teaching into practise. As he says in a verse that sums up much of what we find in the rest of Luke's gospel, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

2. Money is like a rival God. (Luke 16:13)

When people talk about idols, they sometimes mean statues in temples. More often in our own culture, people are being referred to – ‘pop idol’ and ‘fashion icon’ are both examples of a religious word being used to describe someone in the public eye.

Of course, in the world we live in, virtually everything seems to be decided by money and many people see the acquisition of money as their only purpose in life. Election promises are usually couched in how much better-off we will be - meaning financially, not well-being or contentment. 

In contrast, Jesus is clear that the idol we should really be concerned about is in our pocket. This is summed up in Luke 16:13, where Jesus says “You cannot serve God and money”. It’s worth noting that the word “money” in many English translations of the Bible is actually a translation of the word “mammon” in the original.  It is thought that this actually means material possessions and wealth. Jesus asks his followers to choose which will be their master (Lord, kyrios) – God or wealth.

3) Jesus Wants To Set People Free From Mammon

It may seem a contradiction, but in a world so sold out to money, many people wish they could escape. Some have a hankering to leave what used to be called the rat race and do something else; some wish they could just drop out, whilst others want to find a way of being content. The problem is that people who don't know God have nothing else to trust but material possessions, yet Mammon is not a kind master.

Luke shows us examples of how people respond to the choice Jesus presents us with - whether God or Mammon will be their master.

First, the rich young man (Luke 18:18-30). He obviously has a hunger for something else. “good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. He is clearly very devout and religious, even by the standards of his day – keeping the commandments. But when Jesus asks him to sell all he has, give it to the poor and follow him, he couldn't let go of his possessions. Although it offered treasure in heaven and the freedom of knowing Jesus, he turned away, sad. Mammon had too tight a grip.

We can contrast this with the encounter Jesus has with Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). He’s not just any old tax-collector, he’s a chief tax-collector. Tax collectors had a reputation for extortion. They took the money the Romans demanded, and also took a cut for themselves. John the Baptist hints at that back in chapter 3 when tax collectors come to be baptised. “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them “Collect no more than you are authorised to do.” (Luke 3:12-13). Here, Jesus breaks into Zacchaeus’ life by inviting himself round. He accepts his hospitality and takes him seriously. The greedy tax-collector sees a new chance in Jesus, and his attitude to money (mammon) is transformed.

Finally, the story of the poor widow's offering (Lk 21:1-4). It’s important to remember, this woman would almost certainly have already given her tithe. This is a freewill offering. But the point is that out of her devotion and commitment to God, she freely gives all she has. Jesus points to the value of that, over and above those who can comfortably give much bigger sums, without making the same personal sacrifice. He can see that she has not chosen Mammon.

Out of all the gospels, Luke particularly highlights these issues. Following Jesus is not just a theoretical exercise, or just about whether we turn up for certain religious rituals. It’s about a change of priorities. The Bible is clear that we are stewards, not owners of this world. We are accountable for how we use the resources at our disposal. We have received much from our generous God, and that comes to fruition when it inspires us to generosity too.


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Uniforms and Dressing Up

Anyone who knows me at all will be well aware that I have never been a great fan of dressing up. I never feel very comfortable wearing a suit, which may be due to me having to wear school uniform throughout my time at secondary school. Back then in the 70s, all my friends at the local school were free from such dress codes! That's why I have always found it rather ironic that I ended up with a calling and a role that required me to wear various ecclesiastical garments in order to officiate at public services of worship in the Church of England.

Since theological college days, I have frequently met people who got very excited about the designs of their stoles, cottas, chasubles and such like - terminology that I am sure mystifies anyone outside the church community (and many within it!) My own attitude has always been that the uniform comes with the role, and therefore being ordained in the C of E carries with it an expectation to wear it (there is some flexibility these days) In a previous role I visited a lot of churches, and it only seemed courteous to wear whatever they expected me to wear.

There is, however, one exception to this rule, and here it is:

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, when churches that use colours wear red. Each year since Debbie died, it has given me an opportunity to wear one her stoles that I kept. My first Sunday back after her funeral was Pentecost, and I chose to wear it then, and I have done on that day ever since. It was made for Debbie and given to her just before she was ordained deacon in 1990, and it became more significant when she wore it 30 years ago when she was in the first cohort of women to be ordained priest. We had moved from Southwell Diocese just after Easter that year, so she missed the big ordination of women candidates in April 94 in Coventry Cathedral. However, an extra service was arranged for her on June 11 at All Saints' Church, Leamington Spa, along with another colleague who had also missed out . Far from being a disappointment, I know Debs found it a very special moment. With the 30th anniversary of the first ordinations of women being marked this year, I was always going to wear it on Sunday.

Debbie in 1994 - with baby due in about 2 months!

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Howay The Lasses, Saturday 7 October at 7.30pm


Next up at St Nicholas' are Howay The Lasses on Saturday 7 October at 7.30pm. Telling and celebrating the achievements of amazing women of the North East of England in song, this talented group will give us a musical treat of an evening.

Tickets are £15 using the link below.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Parables Are Fiction

OK - I deliberately put it that way in a recent sermon to get people's attention. We have been looking at parables recently, which are often misunderstood - especially when the parable itself is expressed in a way that was designed to be provocative. So it is worthwhile reviewing what a parable actually is:

  1. They are fiction, or perhaps less provocatively, they are a construct. When Jesus tells a parable, he isn’t reporting an event; he is telling a story. The characters and situations he describes may well have rung very true with his listeners – as they do today. People may recognise the type of person he’s depicting, but the form of parable we have is a construct. 
  2. Jesus uses items and situations that are familiar to his audience – agriculture, keeping flocks, family disputes, a mugging. He features characters such as tax collectors, shepherds and farmers – to convey his point. He may well be drawing on actual events and encounters (what good author doesn't?), but the parable as delivered is not intended to be received as a report.
  3. We have little or no back story, and we don't find out what happened next. We are not told whether the jealous brother joined the party at the end of the Prodigal Son account, because the parable is designed to leave the hearer with questions to reflect on.
  4. Parables are not intended to be taking literally –  financial debt is used as a way of picturing forgiveness of sins, for example.
  5. They often have a sting in the tail designed to leave the audience with something to think about: The parable of the good Samaritan ends with a question as to which person showed the true qualities of a neighbour. Jesus asks this fully aware of the hostility and suspicion between Jews and Samaritans, which is reported elsewhere. It forces a reply “…the one who showed him kindness” which suggests that even saying "the Samaritan" was a bit too much for the respondent. Likewise in the Parable of the Talents, we want to be with the underdog, but it's the man with 1 talent who gets the hard time! It forces us to ask questions as to what is going on and what does it mean.
  6. Parables are reported as being delivered in a specific context (although Jesus probably reused material numerous times as he travelled around). There is sometimes a question that leads in, such as who is my neighbour? Sometimes Jesus has an audience in mind, such as the elite turning up their noses at him spending time with people seen as sinners and outcasts.
With all parables, Jesus is not directly reporting an actual event; he is inviting us to imagine a situation, be challenged by it, and let it evoke a response. It is a much more creative method of teaching than we sometimes appreciate, and parables are designed to leave us with more thinking and imagining to do. The real question is how does the telling and hearing of them change us - that is what they were designed for.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Rob Halligan. 29 Sep at 7-30pm, St Nicholas' Beverley.


We welcome back singer-songwriter Rob Halligan to St Nicholas', Beverley on Friday 29 September. Rob is touring again, playing a mix of new and established material, and sharing some of the stories that lie behind the songs. All that plus a warm St Nicholas' welcome, licensed bar, merch table and a great night out.

We'll be in for a great evening of music, which will no doubt include a lot of humour - as well as some serious and poignant moments. 

You can read more about Rob here Bio – Rob Halligan

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the season of Lent for Christians. At some point today, many Christians will be going to their churches to share in a service of Holy Communion and to receive a symbolic cross made with ash on their forehead.

What a lot of people might not realise is that there was no official form of words for such a service in the Church of England until 1986 when Lent, Holy Week, Easter Services and Prayers was published. Until then all we had for Ash Wednesday was a normal communion service with collects and readings for that day. Of course, there were churches borrowing material from elsewhere for their services.

The result of this was that a lot of faithful Anglicans had no experience of the "Imposition of Ashes" in their churches until this new book became established. When I started training for the ministry in 1987 I had never witnessed it, despite attending C of E churches since I was 7. Initially I must admit to being a bit reluctant to take part, but it has come to have significance, reminding me of my mortality, my shortcomings and my dependence on God.

However, there is one thing that has always bothered me about the Ash Wednesday service, and it is this. One of the set readings for today is a section from Matthew 6 (the Sermon on the Mount) including these words

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  (Mt 6:16-18 NRSV)

and I have always felt a discomfort about that. We walk out of the service with a very visible and obvious sign on our heads that we have just been there. Surely the text is suggesting we should be more discreet. I have quietly solved this dilemma by removing the cross quickly afterwards, but it doesn't quite seem in the spirit of things.

I was, therefore, very interested to come across this from Rev Bosco Peters, a priest in New Zealand, which echoed my own reservations. 

"There is an Ash Wednesday tradition quite different to the conspicuous cross of ash on the forehead – it is sprinkling ash on top of the head. Read more: "

Apparently it's good enough for Pope Francis, However, it will require a rethink. A lot of people mix oil with their ash to make a nice gloopy smear.

Whatever you decide to do today, I hope that you find space over the next few weeks of Lent to reflect on what you believe, your priorities, and perhaps to take some action or some steps to make a change you feel is needed in your life. You don't need ash to do that, although it can help to mark a boundary and a beginning.

Have a fruitful Lent.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Blair Dunlop in Concert

We are delighted to be welcoming talented singer-songwriter Blair Dunlop to St Nicholas', Beverley.

Blair Dunlop, award-winning British singer-songwriter and guitarist, has now released 5 albums 2 EPs and toured the globe. Though a celebrated singer and guitarist, what sets Blair apart from his peers is the lyrical and musical maturity with which he writes. 

His third album ‘Gilded’ was released in May 2016 on his own label – Gilded Wings – and was widely acclaimed, gaining BBC Radio 2 Playlist status for the two single releases (‘The Egoist’ and ‘356’). Prior to this came 2014’s ‘House of Jacks’ and 2012 debut ‘Blight & Blossom’ (the quality of which contributed to his winning the BBC Radio 2 Horizon Award). 

Blair has now cemented his place as one of Britain’s most exciting songwriters and performers. 2018 Blair saw the release of his 4th album ‘Notes From An Island’ on his own label to rave reviews. Blair has toured extensively in Europe and Australia, appearing at festivals such as Glastonbury, Cambridge Folk Festival in the UK, and Port Fairy and Woodford in Australia. In 2021 he released his first live record, ‘Trails: Queensland’ which chronicled his ’19/’20 tour of Australia.

For a full list of gigs at St Nicholas', head over to our Eventbrite page.


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Live music in Beverley

We have a great line-up of live music coming up at St Nicholas', Beverley. For prices and to book tickets, visit our Eventbrite page.

All gigs will be at 7-30pm in church, and feature our reasonably-priced licensed bar.