A word from the vicar

A picture of a tape measureHow do you measure up? (April 2024)

Technology has made many things very measurable today. My phone will count the steps that I’ve walked and the distance I’ve driven by car. Health apps and clear food labelling can tell us precisely how many calories we’ve consumed (and how many we’ve burned). And with the right equipment, we can now accurately measure things like our blood pressure and heart rate.

But what about our Christ-likeness? To emulate Jesus should be the goal of every Christian disciple, but how do we measure how well we’re doing in that regard? There’s definitely no app for that!!

Well, before I go on, let me say that there’s no such thing as a good or bad Christian and it’s unhealthy and unwise to compare ourselves with others either positively or negatively.  Each and every person who has truly repented of their sin and made Jesus the Lord of their life is saved; but not one of us is truly ‘good’ as Jesus points out in Mark 10.18.

Yet it is useful to reflect upon (if not exactly measure) just how much our walk with Jesus has transformed us.  We Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and, if we allow him to, he will be transforming us to become more like Christ each day.

The bit of scripture that I’ve found most useful to reflect on this is the passage from Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control….”
Gal. 5.22-23

We probably don’t notice ourselves changing to become more like Christ, but when I think back to what I was like in my twenties, I can see that I’m so much more patient, self-controlled, and peaceful now, than I was as a younger Christian.

In a very unscientific way I use this passage as a means of measuring my walk with Jesus. I don’t do it in a proud or conceited way, though.  In fact,  if anything, reading this passage usually serves to check the encroachment of any prideful thoughts.  There’s some ‘fruit’ that I still don’t exhibit nearly as well as I’d like to!

I mention the Fruit of the Spirit because our next Life Group material makes much reference of it. “Fruit on the Frontline” is a six-session course by the LICC that will help us to understand that all of us are evangelists or ‘salespeople of the gospel’ and we all have front-lines (at home, at work, at clubs, etc.) where we can battle to win new disciples for Jesus.

If you’re not in a Life Group yet, then speak to Simon, Margaret or Ruth and we’ll find you one at a time that works for you.                     Ian

A message from the Vicar

Most of you will probably know by now that I will be away from St Thomas’ for three months from the middle of April to the middle of July 2024 as I take my sabbatical.

Despite what Peter Coates has been saying (and I know he’s pulling my leg) a sabbatical is not a holiday! Rather, it’s something that every ten years or so the Church of England strongly advise their clergy to take in order to enrich their ministries and facilitate their future fruitfulness.

About a year ago now, the Diocese of Leeds asked me to explain how I intended to use my sabbatical and (take note Peter!) they wouldn’t have accepted an answer that involved three months on the beach with an iced Daquiri to hand!

That said, it is partly an opportunity for vicars to rest and recharge their batteries, in and amongst time set aside to read and reflect (something there’s little time for in parish ministry.) The Diocese are also keen for their clergy to experience ministry in a very different context; and it is with this in mind that I’ll be heading off to Nepal on 17 April to visit a church and charity that many at St Thomas’s support and pray for.

A view of a mountain in NepalI’ll be in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, for a whole three weeks and whilst there I’ve been asked to preach (via an interpreter) to their congregations, leadership team, and to their young people’s group. I’ve also been asked to teach at a discipleship course they are running and visit the many educational and welfare programmes they manage in the city. I might also get the opportunity to walk in the Himalayan foothills, something I’ve always dreamed of doing. 

I’m excited and nervous about this opportunity in equal measure. Anyone who knows me well will understand just how much I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone to do this. But I have a very strong sense that this trip is God-planned and I am at peace about the tasks I’ve been asked to do.

I’d love for you to pray for me both now and while I’m away; for my safety and good health, for my family left behind in the UK, and for God to bless and encourage the Nepali Christians through my visit, and me (and you) through them.

This is Milan, the pastor in the Church Ill be visiting. Im hoping above all else that they wont insist I wear the hatI don’t think I’ll be at Church much (or at all) during my three months of sabbatical as the guidance advises that I should temporarily leave the context in which I work. I think I’ll find it incredibly tough to avoid popping along to see you all - not being able to worship God in the place and with the people I most want to worship Him with will be tough.

I leave you in the very capable hands of our churchwardens Margaret and Jonathan (who should be your first port of call if you have any concerns and questions) and I know that with Simon, Terry, and the Lay Leadership Team you are left in capable hands when it comes to worship and pastoral care. In the event of something significant that you think I should be made aware of, please do speak to Margaret or Jonathan who will relay that message to me if they feel this is right.  I’ll also continue to pick up prayer requests via the prayer chain and I will, rest assured, be praying for you all each and every day.

Before I go, I’m planning to hold a special coffee morning at St Hilda’s Church on Saturday 6th June from 10 to 11.30. There’ll be cakes and things to buy and every penny of the proceeds from that day will go towards the discipleship course being run in Nepal whilst I’m there. The Church there are trying to raise £900 to cover the costs of accommodating the young Christians who’ll be coming from all over Nepal to attend this course.

God bless you all, Ian

Key dates and information:
My Sabbatical begins on 18th April and ends on 18th July 2024.
I’m travelling to Nepal on 18th April and return om 10th May.
The Coffee Morning to raise funds for the mission in Nepal is at St Hilda’s Church on Saturday 6th April, 10-11.30am.

Pray Without CeasingPrayer matters (March 2024)

For many years now, the members and friends of our Church have greatly valued our prayer chain. For those of you who don't use this yet, the prayer chain is an email network that enables prayer requests to be shared with many other members, friends, and former members, of our Church.

At one of our recent services we were privileged to hear just how much our prayers meant to James and his family. It might be that you only heard James' story when he spoke to us at the service but, in the background, many of us had been receiving regular requests and updates, sometimes at times of urgency such as when he was rushed into hospital.

We'd like to encourage those of you who don't use the prayer chain to think about doing so —should you need to. You can do this by sending a request to one of the email addresses at the end of this article.

If you'd like to be part of the prayer chain, receive prayer requests, and join our army of prayer warriors then send a message to that same address. It would be great to know that even more people were praying for one another in times of need or crisis.

We cannot say how often requests will come in. Sometimes we go weeks without one and then suddenly we'll get three in an hour!

We have two important rules with our prayer chain. Firstly, we only ask for prayer for ourselves or for those who have given us permission to share their request. Obviously some of the requests contain sensitive or personal information that a person might not want sharing with others, many of whom might be strangers to them. And secondly, we are committed to confidentiality.Prayer requests are not nuggets of information that we then pass on to others.

Now because we are planning to increase the number of pray-ers on our existing chain, we thought that it was important to introduce a second chain of prayers known to everyone. We're calling this our elders prayer chain. It will be made up of just 12 regular attendees at Church who are part of our wider leadership team, and a list of these elders will always be on one of our noticeboards. The elders' prayer chain is not 'higher-level' for 'more urgent prayers', it is simply so that those with particularly sensitive requests can know exactly who is receiving it.

As our Lent course makes clear, sometimes our prayers are not answered as we'd want them to be —even with many others praying with us and for us. But, as James attested, often it is just the knowledge that we are being prayed for and upheld by others that makes our prayer efforts worthwhile.          Ian & Ruth

To join the prayer chain or send a prayer request, email: prayerstthomas@gmail.com
And requests to reach our elders only: eldersprayers@outlook.com
 

.an image of a man either in prayer or meditatingLent Course - Unanswered Prayer (February 2024)

The Bible makes lots of claims about the power of prayer. James says that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5.16) and Jesus says that if we pray in faith, we could command a mountain to throw itself into the sea – and it would! Perhaps even more remarkably, in the very next verse he adds:  “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11.23-24).

Many people at our Church can describe occasions when these claims about prayer have proved marvellously true in their own lives. Supernatural healing and other miraculous happenings are not reserved only for the Bible. Prayer is undoubtedly powerful and it very much works today!

But much more frequently – it seems – our prayers are not answered the way we want them to be; and at times we might feel as though our desperate pleadings are falling on completely deaf ears.

How to we square the Bible’s promises about prayer with the times when our prayers are unanswered?

This is the big – and difficult – and sensitive – question that we’ll be addressing on our Lent Course this year. Using material from the second Prayer Course designed by the 24/7 Prayer team, we’ll be wrestling with the confusing and, at times, heartbreaking nature of unanswered prayer.

Some of our Life Groups will be meeting at their usual times and venues to do this course; but Simon and I will also be leading two weekly sessions for those who are not yet part of a Life Group, or for those who are, but would like to join with us instead. These will be on Monday evenings (7pm) at St Thomas’, and on Thursday afternoons (2pm) at St Hilda’s.

I’m not going to answer the question I’ve posed in bold above - that’s for our Lent Course to tackle. But I will just say one thing that I think is of paramount importance. It’s possible to read those two promises from James and from Jesus and reason that if our prayers aren’t answered we must be unrighteous and / or lacking in faith. We’ll discover that this is far too simplistic a conclusion to draw. There are some very faithful and godly people in the Bible whose prayers were unanswered. As we’ll see on the Lent Course, even Jesus didn’t always get what he asked for in prayer.

It is possible to do the Prayer Course 2 at home. The videos and discussion questions can be found easily by Googling “Prayer Course 2.” But it’s always better to do these things together if you can make it. I’d love as many of us as possible to do this course because there’s not one of us, I’d guess, for whom this is not a pressing question.    Ian

A group of peopleGet Sticky   (January 2024)

We’re beginning 2024 with a real focus on our children and young people. On 14th January, the YBs wil begin Youth Alpha during their Sunday morning meetings. Superstars will be beginning a new curriculum called “The Greatest Story” which will take them all the way through the Bible and include parts of scripture they wouldn’t normally be taught. Then, from 28th January, we’ll be beginning a short sermon series entitled Sticky Faith which will encourage each and every one of us to be an intentional Christian role-model for the children and young people in our families and at church.

Simon and I have been thinking about this for some time; but it was given more urgency following a diocesan-led workshop that many of us attended in November. At that meeting Bishop Smitha reported some desperate statistics about the number of children and young people attending church in the Huddersfield area. Bradley St Thomas, is one of only a handful of congregations that can count more than a few under eighteens within its numbers. This is, of course, something to celebrate, but at the same time we must lament the disheartening wider picture and also recognise that even within our own context, there are many families still to be reached.

I think that we’ve become really quite good at engaging with our school and local community. It’s a joy for Simon and I to speak the gospel to every child at St Thomas’ School on an almost weekly basis. It’s also been great to be part of some incredible community events where hundreds of non-regular churchgoers have joined us for fun, food and fellowship. But this hasn’t added greatly to our Superstars and YBs numbers; and we still face the enduring problem of losing our youngsters as they move towards adulthood. Look around, we’ve very few regulars in their twenties.
Now I can hardly be critical of this. I struggled to find a Church to call home when I went to university and ended up being de-churched for over three years.  But what brought me back (apart from God, of course) was the impact that older Christians had had upon me as a child and a teenager.  My mum’s faith was indelibly etched into me; as was that of many Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and other ‘ordinary’ worshippers at Church. Their ‘sticky faith’ was instrumental in my own faith journey, and I’d love for such a culture to be grown in our Church.

Sticky Faith, is about allowing our young people to see the positive difference Jesus makes in our lives so that they will be encouraged and inspired by how we behave, how we love, and how we worship.  This is something we all need to practice both at church and at home, and whether we live with young people or not. Please pray for these initiatives and if you’re not already – prepared to get sticky!         Ian

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