New Year message from Rev Pete Phillips

In her song “Feeling Good”, Nina Simone declares: “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new life, and I feel
good.” For many of us approaching the new year this year, we may not feel as optimistic.
Our world is riven by wars and international stress. As I write this, the Israel/Gaza war
continues – a war most likely precipitated by Irano-Russian training/support for the terrorist
organisation controlling Gaza, Hamas, as a way to deflect the global community from the
longer and now entrenched war in Ukraine. The horrors inflicted on the people of Israel on
October 7th will stain humanity for ever. Indeed the stains of war will stain humanity – war in
Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Gaza, South Sudan, Somalia. The political tensions still in
Afghanistan, the South China Sea, now in South America too. We are at a difficult period in
the life of our modern civilisation. Difficult times, both on the world scene and at home with
homelessness, rough sleeping and waiting lists on the rise. Our own council faced with
massive debt as central government has sought to balance the books.

After all the pomp of Christmas, the angels, and shepherds, the wise men, Jesus and his
family found themselves on the road to Egypt, so Matthew’s Gospel tells us, fleeing the
wrath of the government. The saviour of the world seeking refuge in a foreign and
unfriendly place before returning north to Nazareth where he would grow up. Indeed, we
hear a good deal of Jesus walking the roads of Palestine, raising the dust, with his disciples
in train. It wasn’t a very settled life for him and eventually the Romans would kill him as a
rebel leader, a pretender from the North. Wars, refugees, rebellion. Part of the Christian
story and part of what Jesus came to bring to an end – the Prince of Peace.

There’s a poem by Minnie Haskins which lots of us will have read before – about putting our
hand into the hand of God to offer us a safe way into the future. God knows, we all need
some help and may God be there for all those who reach out to him in whatever
circumstances they find him this New Year.

A Christmas Message from High St Methodist Church

Last year my Christmas message began with asking what Christmas in Palestine, 0 AD might have been like. This year, I am wondering what Israel/Palestine in December 2023 AD will be like. The news has been full of war – the horrendous terrorist activity of Hamas and the brutality of the Israeli response. But, of course, Jesus was born into a similar kind of political situation. The Romans ruled Syria/Palestine as an occupying force fighting a terrorist-like opposition. One of the classic Roman arguments about Jesus and the disciples were that they were a bunch of thieves and murderers from up north in Galilee who deserved to die.

This clashes massively with the idea of Jesus, the baby born in a manger, as the one who brings peace. After all, it’s even part of the angels’ chorus – “Peace on earth and good will to all”. Jesus’ name means “one who saves’ rather than “one who blows things up” and we remember his life as a time of healing, helping the poor, providing for the needy. Indeed, even on the cross, we are told he gave comfort and wise advice to the people crucified on either side of him.

Jesus, a Jew born in what is now the West Bank. Jesus who travelled across borders to proclaim the good news of peace and liberty. Who made it absolutely clear that peacemaking was what brought blessing. Who seemed to know well that the doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth simply leads to a world of sightless, toothless idiots. So perhaps this Christmas we need to focus on the peace that Jesus brings. To offer peace to our neighbours, to those we meet through work or at school. To see peace as the greatest gift we can bring to the Christmas celebrations.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is the reason for the season! We would love to see you at any of our services over the holiday period – you’d be truly welcome.

God bless us all this Christmas

Pete Phillips, Methodist Minister

June 2023 – Church as a body

1 Corinthians 12:12-27

The Church is something which is communitarian – made up of many parts. It’s not a blob, not one mass; not a voice, but plural voices. Each part is special and has a part to play in the making up of the whole. Indeed, Paul goes to some lengths here to make the point that the less public parts are just as important as the more public parts. The role of the person who serves us tea is no less important than the preacher; the one who prepares the powerpoint, no less important than the one who broadcasts it; the one who sings their praises is a quiet voice at the back of the church hall, no less important than the one who is given a microphone.

But the point Paul is stressing in this passage, is that we need to own up to being part of the body and not going solo. He talks of an eye or an ear going off on their own and asking how would that one part survive without the rest. Crazy idea – eye sitting on the floor – it needs the rest of the body to be an eye. Isolationism doesn’t work – we can only be a body by all of our body working together to assist the other parts. A dissected body is a dead body.

But being together means that we share experiences. If one part suffers, we all suffer. If one part rejoices, we all rejoice. Being part of the body means we share the experiences of the other parts, we join in community with one another. Power of the Whatsapp Group, with fellowship groups, with prayer groups. An opportunity to share together in our joint experience of being a Christian community.

This feast reminds us that the body of Christ isn’t just an earthly thing – we join with all the saints, with the hosts of heaven, with the heavenly court. We join with the saints who have gone to glory and with those who praise God on the earth. We are part of a larger body. High St is just one organ in something much much larger and indeed universal. We believe that we join here with the saints who have gone before. We join here with the church around the world. We join here with those in freedom and those who are locked in jail for their faith. We are one with them as we share bread together. One with the worldwide body of Christ across all ages.

Pete

January 2023

A New Year is here… but with some of the same problems of 2022. We still have a cost of living crisis, soaring energy bills, continued Russian aggression in the Ukraine, and a rather persistent COVID pandemic which is also bringing with it lots of colds and flus which we’re no longer resistant to. Surprisingly, Theresa and I managed to come down with COVID on the week before Christmas, following a long day of four services. Since then, I’ve been testing regularly hoping to get back to work to take Christmas services, feeling rough and concerned about how Christmas would pan out. COVID isn’t a thing of the past, it is a present and real danger especially for those who are elderly and frail.

Every New Year I reflect on words written by Minnie Louise Haskins and used by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

It reminds me a bit of Dylan Thomas’ poem which begins “Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But Thomas’ lines are so tragic. A raging against the inevitable. A sense that darkness, death, evil cannot be conquered. A futility at the heart of our being. A raging at a darkness which overwhelms all things.

Haskins, on the other hand, turns to the man who stood at the gate of year and asks for light to tread out into the darkness – light rather than rage, something to dispel the darkness, something to show us the way. The man replies with the offer not of impersonal light, but the promise of putting our hand into the very hand of God. She follows his guidance and is led towards the light, towards the East, towards the breaking of the new day.

A New Year offers us so many choices, resolutions, commitments. Haskins poem reminds me that whatever the new year brings, I am always better going forward holding onto God than raging against the shapeless darkness. In stark contrast to such impotence, Christmas has reminded us that ‘God is With Us’, that Jesus has promised to be with us to the end of the age and into eternity. He is the Shepherd, the one who provides and offers healing. He is love in person.

At High Street, we want to live that love. To welcome all. To share God’s love with all who come through the doors. To represent the very best of human kindness in all we do. To share the love of God with Maidenhead in all we do in the church and in our online ministry (search for us on YouTube). That’s the commitment we’ll be making in our Covenant Service at the beginning of January and living out throughout the year.

You’d be welcome to come and join us. Whenever you want to, onsite or online. We’d love to share some of our understanding of the God who offers you his hand to lead you into the year that stands before us.

God bless,

Pete Phillips
Revd Dr Peter Phillips,
Minister, Thames Valley Circuit.

October 2022

Hello!

I can’t believe that I didn’t notice that the blogpost wasn’t updated since May. I mean, I am involved in promoting digital ministry. I am on social media quite a bit, read the church’s WhatsApp prayer each day. But I suppose I don’t go onto the website all that often at all. But it’s our front door to the digital world and so here I am.

My name is Pete Phillips and I am the new Methodist minister at High Street. Theresa, my wife, and I have lived in Maidenhead for a whole year now while renting the manse and preaching on the Circuit plan while Theresa continues her work for Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies and I was working at Premier Media and Spurgeon’s College and enjoying the warmth of the South East and being much closer to our children and especially our granddaughter born last autumn. But we were also caring for Theresa’s mum in Cornwall and she sadly died last February. A year of ups and downs…

But from 1 st September 2022, I became the minister with pastoral charge of High Street Methodist Church, alongside my academic work in Digital Theology, New Testament and Greek at Spurgeon’s College in South Norwood, London. Theresa continues with her work at Durham. The kids continue to thrive in what they do…life goes on.

Although I guess we are all embroiled in the cost of living crisis which means life goes on but it’s harder and harder to thrive. One of the big issues facing us as a church this winter will be our own fuel bills. Although the government has set a business rate which will cover charities, this still means a 400% increase on our fuel bills for the church, which means we need to be careful about heating (wear an extra layer when you come to church) but also offer more opportunities for people to come and keep warm while we have other meetings in the building. So, look out for our Warm Welcome Opportunities.

We’re into a strange version of harvest when we give thanks for all the provision God has given us and yet also worry about whether people in our own community have enough to live on. All our harvest produce collection went to Foodshare to help people ensure they have food on their table. But we’re also restarting our monthly Friday Lunches for those who’d like to join us alongside our monthly Friendship Club and Breakfast Church on the first Sunday of each month. We’re here for you!

High Street Methodist Church believes in God’s blessing for the community of Maidenhead. We are praying that we might be a place to plug into the blessing, to thrive as a Church but also to encourage our community, our high street, our town to thrive as well. We believe in a God who stands for the poor, the refugee, the widow and the orphan. We believe in a God who encourages love and compassion – a God who welcomes all.

Why not come along and join in some of services and see what we are doing. See how we are living out our pledge to “To act justly, to love loving, and to walk humbly with our God.”

You’ll always be welcome here.

Pete

Thought for the week – 22/05/22

Friends

After two years of lockdown and working from home where I tend to potter around in bare feet, I find that I am not enjoying wearing my high heels as much as I used to. My feet have lost the habit of it, and the fashion for white trainers with brightly coloured suits is one that I shall reluctantly embrace this summer. I see on the streets of London that others too have arrived at the same conclusion, but it reminds me of the importance of comfortable feet and here towards the end of the Easter season, that when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, it was more than an act of humility and service.

Jesus was doing something that was usually done by a servant, but it was usual to have it done, because tramping the dusty roads in open sandals left the feet dusty and irritated. Indeed, when Jesus’ feet are anointed by Mary at Bethany and people start to rebuke her, Jesus points out that the host has overlooked this simple foot-washing courtesy. In our time, what service can we perform that is normal and necessary but that might in fact be overlooked?

Jesus is reminding them that it is easier to tell someone else to do something than to do it ourselves, but that if we do not seek to serve, we can never hope to lead. Leadership within the Church is always servant leadership, and yet it is so difficult to get the help that we need in these days. Are you able to serve your fellow congregants by taking on some of the work of the day? Am I able to organise things to take on more, or support more?

Above all, Jesus calls us to think of the needs of those who are with us in the work before our own needs. We are not told whether he was weary or frightened as he set out to wash those long-ago disciples’ feet, but we know that by later in the evening he will ask God to remove the cup from his lips if it is possible to do so. He will have inevitably been wrestling with many thoughts and yet he is able to trust that these people who have been drawn to him and whom he has called will follow through – in spite of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. They will as a group announce the coming of the Son of God and of the Kingdom of God and their faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will be enough to change the world.

Whatever we are called to do for the church and for the community in the coming months, let us too be worthy of such trust.

God bless, Vicci

Thought for the week – 15/05/22

Friends

As we start to see the impact of the rising cost of living, we may be struggling to make ends meet, or have friends or relatives who we suspect are so struggling. Meanwhile, almost every day, I seem to get an offer in my email box for a credit card or bank loan and encouragement to solve our immediate problems by taking on longer term ones sometime in the future is endemic in the way consumer countries create finance in our current systems.

Throughout history, there has been criticism levelled at the Church because of what is perceived as a “pie in the sky when you die” approach. An approach that says: “We don’t need to worry about now, however awful, because eternity will be lovely”. Somehow, the people preaching this always seemed to be doing okay. More recently, an alternative has been offered – that of the prosperity Gospel theologians (if I can dignify them with such a name!) who believe that financial blessing and physical wellbeing are always the will of God for us and that faith, positive speech and donations to religious causes will increase our own wealth – although it often seems that only the leaders get wealthy.

Neither of these theological positions is true. Instead, Jesus came that we might have life in all its fullness, and that life is intended to be lived not on a multi-million pound yacht, but in community with others. We look to those around us and when we spot a problem that we can help with, we make the offer and when we can do nothing, we give moral support and do what we can. Our faith entitles us to God’s love (which belongs to all of humanity anyway) and forgiveness of sin (which we all need) and a promise that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” It most certainly does not entitle us to wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. These next few months are not going to be easy. The government hopes to get through it by increasing work opportunities and encouraging employers to pay more for skilled workers so that after a brief period of discomfort, the quality of life will go up for everyone. As is always the case, even if the plan works, there will be those who are left behind. As each of our churches questions its own calling in the aftermath of covid-induced losses, we should perhaps listen carefully to those who are brave enough to share what is going on for them in these difficult times. It may be that we will find within these stories the next steps we need to take as church and as community.

God bless. Vicci

Thought for the week – 17/04/22

Friends

Earlier this week I went to see “Dirty Dancing”. The musical based on the 1980’s film released in the summer I was 18. As school finished and we set off on our own adventures as young adults the film resonated in all sorts of ways. Certain moments have become iconic: the girl who, bowled over by the sheer attractiveness of the male lead can only think to say: “I carried a watermelon” and is then embarrassed all over again by the sheer banality of her words; the moment when Danny reappears at the end of the film and says: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” and then the wonderful, visual imagery of the great lift in the final dance of the show – the one they have practiced and failed at throughout the evening. We applauded enthusiastically as each remembered moment was faithfully reproduced on stage and as the soundtrack to our youth poured over us, I will not have been the only one who felt a little jolt of nostalgia and wistfulness for the exuberance and self-belief of our younger selves.

That’s what this time of year is supposed to be like. The great re-telling of the familiar story. The betrayal, the forgiveness, the washing of the feet, the “Do this in remembrance of me” and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and “Eloi, eloi, lammas sabaccthani” and “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” We should hear these words told in the old, old story and want to applaud, weep and hope, remembering once again the time when we first heard the story. And on Easter Sunday we should be bowled over by the sheer excitement and energy of the resurrection.
We have become so familiar with this most wonderful of stories, that we forget to be excited and enthused as each line comes along, as each act unfolds. Perhaps also, when faced with fears for the future of the church to which we have given so much, we forget that ours is a resurrection faith. It has been a terribly sad time for the Circuit, and particularly for the Windsor section, as Old Windsor and Eton Wick ceased to meet, and yet as the members of these beloved congregations move their membership to other churches in the circuit, they bring resurrection hope with them, strengthening and uplifting the fellowships which they join. Inevitably we fear that our numbers and our abilities to speak the Good News are dwindling. But we have a faithful God, we are a resurrection people, and the faith we profess and the love we share holds out hope for the years to come.

Happy Easter.

God bless,
Vicci

Thought for the week – 10/04/22

Friends

I wonder what you do with your palm crosses each year? In the church, traditionally, they are kept until the following Lent when they are burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Small children open them out to make swords, some people use them as book marks and I knew one lady who kept a large vase filled with them and added to a year at a time. They remind us of how quickly the “Glory, Hallelujahs” turned to “Crucify him”. They can perhaps also remind us of how much that is a part of human nature. How often have we seen an England football team go out to play in the world cup with opinion pieces on a particular player in all the papers. Such and such a one will change our luck and we will win the cup they trumpet. Then a penalty is missed, an over-zealous tackle is punished and suddenly we are told that the previously lauded player is actually a terrible person. No-one has anything good to say about them and they are pilloried in newspapers of all political persuasions. All too quickly it seems, we are ready to turn and rend our heroes of yesterday.

It is not unusual for people to acclaim and then destroy, particularly if the acclaimed one does not perform in the way they want. It is rare for people to die for someone else. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says this: “Very rarely will someone die for a righteous person, though for a good person, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

As we journey through this last week before the death and resurrection of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it is tempting to leap ahead. We are surrounded by shops wanting us to grab the hot cross buns, simnel cakes and chocolate eggs right now and then use Easter itself as an excuse to go back for seconds. But if we succumb to that temptation, we are making the mistake of jumping from Palm Sunday and it’s “Hosannah to the Son of David” straight to Easter Sunday. And without the pain of the crowd turning, of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, of Pilate’s handwashing, and the soldier’s whipping and the nails driving into flesh and bone and wood; without the washing of feet and the injunction to “love one another as I have loved you”; without the last supper and the requirement to “do this as often as you eat it in remembrance of me” then Easter Sunday is trivialised. Yes, we are an Easter people, but it is our recognition of what came before that makes the celebration all that it is.

God bless,
Vicci

Thought for the week – 03/04/22

Friends
As I write, the talk in the Davidson household is largely around Will Smith. Is it or is it not okay to hit someone for disrespecting your wife? Everyone on the news and on social media has an opinion, and my own family is no different.
For those of you who missed this riveting piece of scandal from the Oscars the salient points are as follows: Will Smith, who is a very well-known American actor, was at the Oscars, waiting to see if he had won the Oscar for which he had been nominated, when the compere made a joke at the expense of his wife who has alopecia. Will jumped onto the stage, slapped the man around the face and said, “Keep my wife’s name out of your mouth.” The compere has declined to press charges and the two have made up. Will Smith went on to win the Oscar and in his acceptance speech, whilst apologising to the audience for having caused the disruption, said that he felt he was put on this earth to protect the women around him.

And what would Jesus do?

That’s a difficult one if we look at his story. On the one hand “He gave his back to the smiters and his cheeks to them that plucked out the hair. He hid not himself from shame and spitting” and on the other hand, he over-turned the tables of the money changers in the temple and set about them with a whip saying: “It is written ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ but you have made it a den of robbers.’” Scholars tend to see his anger as being focused on the fact that the sellers of animals and the money changers were making it very difficult for people to actually get to God. Jesus it seems was meek and mild when it came to himself, but not so much when it came to others.
For me, the most interesting thing in the whole sorry incident was that fellow actor Denzel Washington told Will Smith: “At your highest moment be careful, that’s when the Devil comes for you.” For what it’s worth, my own belief is that physical violence is rarely the right answer. However, in our own lives where we are less likely to be thumped, but where people, accidentally or on purpose, can say quite hurtful things, it is worth our while to reflect that the Jesus response is both “turn the other cheek” and also, “do not be the one to get between God and another person.” As we seek to grow our own congregations it is worth wondering whether we are sometimes less encouraging than we could be, less kind than we should be.

God bless
Vicci