Newsletter 13th June 2021

Next week Rev John will be leading us in our Covenant Service (Of course, normal covid restrictions, masks, distancing etc continue for now).

Message from our Minister

This week I watched an amazing video taken by Keith, one of our stewards at Newport. It was of a bug slowly turning into a dragonfly. He recorded this in his garden by the pond. It is truly spectacular. The transformation from the old to the new was stunning. Paul speaks of the transformation available to each one of us in Christ. He says in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” The good news is that this wonderful transforming work of God is available to all who follow Jesus and open their lives to the Holy Spirit. My hope and prayer is that you will know this for yourselves.

God’s richest blessing to you all,
Rev John Izzard

Tuesday Fellowship on Zoom

This week we discussed Martin’s and Ellie’s talks from the last fortnight (both available on the website) and in particular Isaiah 40 verses 3 and 4, asking how should we prepare at Gunville? It was agreed that a part of this would be continuing to pray and reach out to our friends and neighbours. A time of prayer followed.

A ‘Simon Joke’!

I tried to take a picture of myself in the shower but it kept getting misted up.

I think I have selfi steam issues.

The Bright Field

In the “Inspiring Women” daily Bible-reading notes, the writer spoke of struggling during lock-down and of trying to find things to be thankful for each day, and of living in every moment God gives us – not a bad project for all of us.  She referred to RS Thomas’ poem “The Bright Field”, and with Thomas being one of Martin’s favourite poets, and with Martin being a bit of a nerd, the poem was brought out and read.  Here’s a bit of it:

Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past.  It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
 of the lit bush…                                                                                                       

Lesley & Martin

OOPS!

Shot At

I was on the top landing sitting at my desk talking to an inmate. Suddenly the window to the right of where I was sitting, exploded and the shattered glass shot past my eyes, across the landing and out through the open window. My specs stopped the glass from going into my eyes. I had been shot at!

Later investigations seemed to show the weapon used was a home-made zip gun. Examination of the area showed that the missile was a large bolt and when it hit the glass it dropped and was later found on the ground.  It was late August and the air was stifling. Every window on the landing was open to let in some cool breeze – except the one nearest to my head. Had it been open, the bullet would have hit me on the side of my temple. 

Had I not been wearing specs my eyes would have been filled with fragments of glass. Two big Ifs!!

Was it coincidence that the only closed window was near to my head? Or was it God keeping me safe? I know what I believe. What do you think? Answers on a post card.

Many months later the weapon was found. Not a zip gun – but a catapult. A search had revealed it stuffed inside a hollow bed frame.

A little irony here. Apparently, I was not the intended target. It was another officer, who from a distance, looked a bit like me. A mistake! So that’s alright then!   Bafflin’ Brian

Lilibet 

While the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have named their daughter after her great-grandmother, their new baby’s name has strong religious roots.

Lilibet means “God’s promise” and is also related to the Hebrew name Elizabeth which means “God is my oath.” Elizabeth was also the mother of John the Baptist in the bible.

Lilibet is the Queen’s family nickname and was first used by Queen Elizabeth when she was unable to pronounce her name correctly as a toddler while her late husband, Prince Philip, often referred to the Queen as Lilibet. 

As an adult the Queen also used the nickname herself ending a note to her grandmother Queen Mary, with ‘Love from Lilibet.’

Lilibet “Lili” Diana was born at 11.40am on Friday June 4 at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California weighing in at 7lb 11oz. She is sister to two-year-old Archie, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s first child.

In a message of thanks on their Archewell website, Harry and Meghan said: “On June 4, we were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, Lili.

“She is more than we could have ever imagined, and we remain grateful for the love and prayers we’ve felt from across the globe.
“Thank you for your continued kindness and support during this very special time for our family.”

The Sussex’s press secretary confirmed the baby had been named Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.
She added: “Both mother and child are healthy and well and settling in at home.

“Lili is named after her great-grandmother, Her Majesty the Queen, whose family nickname is Lilibet.
“Her middle name, Diana, was chosen to honour her beloved late grandmother, the Princess of Wales.”
Harry had long been expected to honour his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash when he was 12.

The couple’s spokeswoman added: “The duke and duchess thank you for your warm wishes and prayers as they enjoy this special time as a family.”

New-born Lilibet is the Queen’s 11th great-grandchild and is eighth in line to the throne.

Heavenly Father,
We give thanks for the safe delivery of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new baby daughter Lilibet. 
We pray that she may grow to know you Lord, as her Saviour and Deliverer.
In Jesus’ name.             Amen.

From Premier Christianity
Opinion – Are Christians in the UK persecuted?

In recent years there have been a string of high-profile religious freedom cases in the news. But is it really true that Christians in the UK are experiencing persecution? Tim Wyatt speaks to those on both sides of the debate

For Dominic Muir, 22 April 2020 began just like many other days. The father-of-two felt a “leading of the Spirit” to preach and so, as he had done hundreds of times before, he drove his truck to the town centre of Blandford Forum, not far from his home in Somerset. 
As shoppers ambled by, the affable 44-year-old sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and began preaching from John 3:16. But as he shared his testimony, a police officer approached and told him to “move on”. Although the evangelist insisted he was entitled to be there, he agreed to wrap up his message. But a few minutes later, the officer returned, climbing onto the back of the truck and grabbing Muir by the arm, forcing him to stop. “It was painful, intimidating, humiliating,” he says. 
On returning home, he rang Christian Concern. A letter to the chief constable of Dorset Police threatening to sue the force quickly produced a settlement: £50 to Muir and £1,200 to the Christian Legal Centre for costs. Dorset Police said their officer had believed the preaching broke Covid lockdown rules and made no admission of wrongdoing, despite settling the claim.

Reflecting on the experience, Muir says he is not surprised by the opposition: “You can’t avoid it. Any group of Christians who are doing the will of God will suffer persecution.” 

Andrea Williams, the head of Christian Concern, agrees. She says the common thread in the cases that her team work on is that the victims are ordinary Christians, prepared to “stand up” for Jesus. “And that’s why they are persecuted,” she says. 

In recent years, there have been a steady stream of cases involving Christians claiming persecution. Many have made national headlines: nurses disciplined for praying with patients, council workers sacked for refusing to marry gay couples, employees forced to cover up their cross necklaces. 

But some argue that describing the situation in the UK as persecution cheapens the term and is wildly over the top. Still more go further and question the tactics – and even the motives – of those groups, including Christian Concern, who promote claims of persecution. 

Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the Christian Institute, claims that it is wrong to speak of persecution in Britain: “We have to be very careful about using the word ‘persecution’ here in the United Kingdom. We enjoy freedoms and religious liberties of a kind which most Christians in most of the world, for most of human history, could only have dreamt of,” he says. The Christian Institute have taken on legal cases to defend Christians, including the famous Ashers Bakery “gay cake” row in Northern Ireland, but Calvert says this does not amount to persecution. “When we say persecution, we think of people losing their lives, their liberty or their livelihood for the sake of their faith, and it being state-sanctioned. Thankfully, that is not happening in the United Kingdom.”
The American academic of evangelicalism Andrea Hatcher agrees, explaining that the word ‘persecution’ means much more than mockery – or even discrimination – but entails “dire physical threats… leading to the ultimate point of martyrdom”. It is a view shared by Peter Ould, an Anglican priest and commentator. He says persecution conjures up images of martyrdom and brutal repression in the early Church, things which clearly do not happen in Britain today.

Persecution, even in the early Church, has taken many forms. As historian Diarmaid MacCulloch has written, even during the worst bouts of repression by the Roman Empire only a small number of Christians were actually martyred. The majority were not thrown to the lions or crucified, but instead faced bureaucratic demands that they sacrifice to Roman gods, or suffered hostility from their neighbours because of their faith.

Nobody, including Williams, would claim the UK Church is suffering like believers in the early Church, or those in North Korea or Iran today. But is it reasonable to argue that as long as people like Muir are not being thrown to the lions, there is no persecution taking place?

When the state pressures you to act in a way that goes against your faith, that may feel like persecution, even if it does not result in death or imprisonment. When your peers are so hostile to Christianity that they harass you in the street or ostracise your business, most would agree that this, too, is persecution, even if it is not done at the point of a sword. 

Muir himself believes we should conceive of a “sliding scale”, with authoritarian regimes executing pastors at one end, but beginning with “being cursed at, hated, rejected, sacked” at the other. 

Williams agrees. What begins with name-calling, misrepresentation and being maligned could grow and spread; denying it the title of persecution does nobody any favours, she says.

If persecution can be less than physical violence or imprisonment, the question remains: is it the best framework to understand what is happening in Britain today? 

A key point remains that Britons can believe whatever they want. Ould notes that when you read the judgements from legal cases fought by Christian Concern and others, judges are very clear: the individual’s beliefs – whether opposition to gay marriage or a commitment to telling others that Jesus is the only way to God – are entirely legal and protected. It is a point emphasised in the Evangelical Alliance’s booklet Speak Up!, published in association with the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, and designed to “inspire Christians with confidence and knowledge of the current legal freedoms we have to share our faith”.

Cases of Christians losing their jobs over biblically conservative views, or after sharing their faith in the workplace are rare – and have tended to be quickly overturned by the courts. But there are other, more complex cases, in which the believer may claim to have been targeted for their beliefs, which often result in employment tribunals ruling they were fairly disciplined or suspended for their actions, not their thoughts.

It is this kind of conflict which generates the bulk of the persecution narrative, Hatcher believes: “You are still free to hold traditional orthodox Christian views, but that does not change the public policy that a democratic society have chosen to enact,” she explains. “Is that persecution or is it the inevitable result of a pluralistic society where there are competing values which have to coexist in the public square?” 

Famous cases, such as Lillian Ladele, a registrar for the London Borough of Islington who was disciplined for refusing to officiate at civil partnerships when they were legalised in 2005, would fall into this category. She took the council to court, claiming discrimination on the grounds of her religious beliefs, but a topsy-turvy legal battle ended with both the Court of Appeal and the European Court of Human Rights concluding Islington had acted fairly. 

As the UK moves further away from Christian beliefs, it seems inevitable that the minority who continue to hold to orthodox teaching will find public life less hospitable. In a society which has democratically decided to offer marriage to same-sex couples, a Christian may find it impossible to act as a registrar. But is this persecution, or just the result of two competing worldviews? 

Our pro-gay marriage society does not insist Christians abandon their personal beliefs. Therefore, can it be fairly accused of persecution if it expects everyone, regardless of faith, to uphold the law of the land? If this means some jobs are unsuitable for Christians, is this just the price to be paid for living as exiles and strangers in a world still waiting for its redemption by Christ?   

By Tim Wyatt, a freelance journalist  Part of an article from Premier Christianity.         

 Please send any contributions that might be published by next Tuesday morning to:   andy