Whats happening to us...?

Thursday, 15 October 2020

What is happening to us...?

Psychologists talk about Surge Capacity. We get a surge of energy in response to a crisis, like Covid. We find ways to cope and adapt. The trouble is, this crisis is going on a long time. With no end in sight. Adrenaline has run out, creative response run dry. We have no more surge. No more capacity. We feel depleted.

Add to this, what psychologists call, Ambigous Loss. We are experiencing loss - loss of meeting friends, family, hugs, loss of routine, loss of doing things we did, loss of holidays, loss of income, loss of security, loss of freedom, loss of sport, loss of church, loss of a loved one... Some of our loss is ambiguous - there are no solutions. It's ambiguous. We feel sad.

Add to this Indefinite Anxiety. Anxiety about the virus, anxiety about the future, anxiety about your job, anxiety about winter, anxiety about your mum...it goes on...We feel anxious.

This is a potent cocktail of emotions. No wonder many of us are feeling low, depressed, unmotivated, exhausted. We are struggling. We feel sad. 

And it is normal during periods of prolonged stress.

So what now? Is there hope? How do we recover? How do we develop resilience? That comes next...

(With help from Ann Maston, Tara Haelle & Pauline Boss)

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Shepherd's through the looking glass....

Here's the thing...shepherds love sheep. They love being with sheep. They watch over them, they look for them, they think about them, they care for them. They love sheep. They love talking to sheep. When one goes missing they feel it. When one chooses to wander off, they feel it. When a sheep is sick, they feel it. When one is lost, the shepherd frets. When one dies, they mourn. Shepherds have a unique relationship with their sheep. 

Take the sheep away and the shepherd feels lost. Or put the sheep behind glass...

Pastors are shepherds. The term pastor means shepherd - one who works in the pasture caring for sheep. As with many in the church, pastors feel keenly not being able to meet together. The pastor feels lost. Most pastors are working very hard to connect with their sheep remotely and visit a few. But it is not the same as gathering your fold, having every one together. Looking at them all together.

There are other pastoral professions - social workers, teachers, lecturers, caring professions, all struggling with this sense of loss - the loss of not being able to see people, to be with people. To do what you were made to do...

These days will pass. 

In the meantime, let's all make the most of what we can do - gather a few sheep. Visit the one. Check up on the sick, search for the lost one, encourage the struggling one...

Thursday, 17 September 2020

 Lockdown in History Part 2: Gulag by Ann Applebaum

This a tough read. One of the toughest reads ever. Tough because it is true. It really happened. The author is meticulous in her research of the Gulags of the Soviet Union. She has read documents and letters, visited the places, interviewed survivors. There were thousands of camps in the 20th century. Millions died in utterly terrible conditions, mostly of cold, starvation and disease. The plight of women and children in the camps is particularly hard to read. Christians were tortured and killed. It is bleak. 

I lie down at night grateful for clean sheets, a warm comfy bed, hot and cold water, food to eat and clothes to wear. Covid Lockdown is nothing...

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Lockdowns in History Part 1...

What are the Lockdowns from history? As we remember 75 years since the end of World War II do we think of the Nazi Concentration camps? The Gulags of Russia? The ghetto of Warsaw? Japanese POW camps? Present day refugee internment facilities? Slavery?

Our Pandemic Lockdowns seem soft in comparison…

What about individuals in The Bible who experienced Lockdowns? How did they cope? What can we learn?

Noah locked in the Ark? Daniel locked in the lion’s Den? Joseph the dreamer thrown down a well? Esther locked in the harem? Samson, Jeremiah, the apostle Paul all locked in prison. John the apostle’s Lockdown on a remote island? Jonah locked inside the belly of a big fish for 3 days. Different kinds of Lockdown.

What about Jesus – the ultimate Lockdown? Dead. Buried. 3 days in a tomb. A stone rolled across. Then…the Resurrection. Coming alive. Bursting out of the tomb. The ultimate triumph over Lockdown. The Lockdown of death. The opening up of Life.

What do all these individual stories have in common? They went through difficulty. Pain. Suffering. Sorrow. Periods of waiting and wondering...and for The Bible characters trusting God in their Lockdown. Waiting for Him.

Let’s learn the lessons of Bible Lockdowns – Be patient. Be thankful. Trust God.

(This article appears in Newbury Weekly News this week)

Friday, 28 August 2020

Book Review : Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

If you like visceral, immersive, historical novels, you might like this. 1781, a body hangs upon a hook in Deptford dock. This sets the scene for a macabre whodunnit. More importantly however is the real subject matter - slavery and the part Britain played in the trade. There are gut wrenching moments when 300 slaves, men, women and children are thrown overboard (based on a true story) to the more subtle, "I could not bring myself to have sugar in my tea". The body count is high, the abuse of slaves real and the menace towards any who choose to confront the evils of the trade palpable. An important if unsettling book.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Bible characters in Lockdown: Samson

 Samson is an epic story found in the Old Testament book of Judges. Samson is very strong. He is a bit like Hercules. He performs amazing feats of strength, provided he does not cut his hair. Unfortunately, Samson had a weakness - women. He was not good at choosing the right partner. 3 times this was his undoing. The tragedy is he tells Delilah the secret of his strength - his hair. She betrays him to his arch enemies the Philistines who blind him and put him in prison. Samson is in serious Lockdown. The lesson for us? Be careful who you choose as your partner. This is the biggest decision of your life. Make sure it is more than a physical attraction; do you share vision, values and trust?

The end of the story is spectacular. Find it in Judges 16...

Bible characters in Lockdown - Esther

Esther is a beautiful story found in the Old Testament in the book of...well, Esther. It is the true story of a young woman who found herself in Lockdown in the king's palace where she was taken because of her beauty. First she had to endure\enjoy (?) 12 months of beauty treatments: 6 months oils. 6 months perfumes and cosmetics. Spa Lockdown! Even after this she remained in the Palace. During this time she patiently waited..."for such a time as this". She became queen and ended up saving a nation. Let's learn the lesson of Esther in Lockdown - wait patiently...then, when the time is right be bold to act.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Bible characters in Lockdown - Joseph

This is Joseph in the Old Testament, not Mary and Joseph in the New Testament. This is the Joseph of the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. He was put in prison for refusing the advances of Potiphar's wife. 2 years in prison for doing no wrong. Serious Lockdown. The story can be found in Genesis 39 and here we are encouraged to discover that "Even in prison the Lord was with him". Lockdown may be hard. You might feel imprisoned, restricted, far from family and friends, but you can also find that God is with you...

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Book Review: Garden - City by John Mark Cromer

This is a good book if you have a job. This is a good book if you are thinking about changing your job. What would you really like to do? What is your calling? What brings you life? How do you rest? What is the Sabbath? These questions and more are considered by the author who himself made radical decisions and changes after being unhappy in his previous role. The description of his own burn out and emotional breakdown are disarmingly honest. He is paid less, does less, but is much happier.
The book has a distinct millenial, US culture feel (inevitable, having been written by a US millenial). The sabbath challenge will resonate with most readers. Slow down and rest...

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Book review: White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

Some books make you think; some books get under your skin; some books educate you; some books stay with you; some books annoy you; some books slap you around the face. White Fragility is all of those. And more. If you are white.
Robin Di Angelo can speak and write out of experience - she is an educator, university professor and diversity trainer in the US. She is very clever. And a bit cross.
The book has an academic American feel, but still speaks powerfully to a European context.
This is one of the books I wanted to read in my exploration of the complex issues of race. I knew it would do me good and teach me things. What I was not prepared for, was how uncomfortable I would feel reading it - as a white person. I admit that whilst reading, I kept thinking..."Oh my goodness...I had no idea...I think she's right."
I now want to say sorry, a lot. And learn more.
The author has a lot of good advice on the subject of racism including:
  • Build authentic cross-racial relationships
  • Take the initiative and find out on your own
I am still feeling a bit fragile...

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Covid, Bridge Church and 4th July...

I want to bring you up to date with developments both in the government Covid guidelines and our response as a church family.
Many of you will be aware of the new guidelines for worship in churches from 4th July: 
 In brief:
  • Maximum of 30 people
  • No standing
  • No singing
  • No refreshments
  • No touching, no hugging
  • Quarantine items touched
  • Leave promptly
  • Avoid large gatherings
  • Continue to stream
…Not really Bridge Church!
 I have been in touch with Trinity school – they remain closed for hiring.
With this in mind, there are no plans for us to meet physically all together soon on Sundays or as small groups, prayer groups, bible studies etc.
We will however continue to have lots of opportunities to meet online.
To help with this, I am pleased to announce that Elliott Goggins has been appointed the new Bridge Church Digital Online Editor.
This is a part-time staff appointment to help Pete in the production of Bridge Online.
I am missing us all being together, but am glad for some lifting of Lockdown restrictions enabling us to see friends and family. We can meet with one other household inside and up to 6 people outside.
Let’s safely build the Bridge Church community...

Friday, 12 June 2020

BLACK LIVES MATTER & CTNA                                                         JUNE 2020

An Open Statement of Christians Together in the Newbury Area (CTNA)
  • As Christians Together in the Newbury Area we affirm our belief that every individual is made in the image of God and has equal standing in His eyes.
  • We affirm the dignity of every human being.
  • We affirm Jesus’ commandment to “Love our Neighbour” which includes ALL, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, disability, creed, cultural background, colour or political view.
  • We celebrate the diversity of different ethnic groups in West Berkshire.
  • We acknowledge that many carry deep wounds from past injustices.
  • We confess, and are sorry, that the Church as an institution has, at times, failed to live out the love of Christ.
  • We acknowledge the need to listen to those who have grievances and to have the humility to recognise that we can unconsciously cause distress or pain to others through our attitudes and behaviours.
  • Our calling as Christians is to share the love of God with our friends and neighbours in West Berkshire and to share the Gospel of Christ which makes possible a break with the past and a new start through repentance and forgiveness.
  • We want to contribute wherever we can to building a better, more loving, more respectful, more understanding diverse community in West Berkshire.
  • Please contact us if you think there is any way in which we can help. 
Mark Landreth-Smith, chair of CTNA
Will-Hunter-Smart, vice chair

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Racism in my town...?

As a result of recent terrible events, I wanted to learn more about what it is like living in my town as a person of colour. Is their racism in my town? Have any of the people I know been victims of racism where I live? This was also partly born out of TD Jakes' comments on the weekend: "Silence is the worst enemy". I was challenged by that.
These are some of the comments from residents of colour in my town this week:
  • Racism is everywhere
  • You know it is there
  • It is woven into the fabric of British society
  • I have been subjected to racism at the station and at the petrol station
  • We experienced racism from the neighbours. That is partly why we moved
  • I have been called ...... numerous times
  • Young people make fun of my accent
  • My boss is racist
  • It is subtle here
  • We expect it
  • There is still the colonial attitude - the white man knows best, the black man has nothing to offer.
  • There is systemic inequality
  • I feel it all around me
  • Racism is embedded in the system
  • It is unconscious, with no ill-will
Those I spoke to also said they knew many lovely, warm, friendly white people in my town.

Jesus said: "Love thy neighbour".

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Resilient Leadership Through Crisis

Many of us are leaders - in the home, in the workplace, in church, in the community, in school, in local government. There are a number of unique leadership challenges at the moment.

Phase 1 - Shock. This has happened to all of us. The shock of the C-19 pandemic. Then Lockdown. As leaders, we have been stripped of almost everything in terms of how we used to lead. For some there is a sense of loss - loss of how you used to lead, how you used to gather, loss of meetings, loss of how you used to communicate, loss of being with people.
Phase 2 - Change. After the shock, we have learnt to change. Fast. How to lead differently. Zoom\Webex. Lots of time on screen, rather than physical meetings. We have worked hard to adapt and to meet the expectations of others.
Phase 4 - Family. In addition to dealing with your own loss of pattern and frames of reference, we may be dealing with an emotionally charged home - partner working from home, home schooling the children, managing elderly parents from afar...even going shopping has changed!
Phase 4 - Loss. 45,000 people have died of C-19 in the UK. 45,000 families are grieving. A lot of people are loosing their jobs. The economic impact has come. Some experts say charities and churches will see a 30% loss in income. We feel the impact of what is happening around us. As leaders, we feel the sense of national grief.
Phase 5 - Restart. As we come out of this crisis a new set of challenges are before us - how to lead now and into the future? How to lead differently, to innovate, sustain, communicate and grow. We are trying to work it all out...

All 5 stages of change and challenge require large amounts of emotional energy. We are wise to not minimise the compound impact above.

So what is the anitidote? What does Resilient Leadership look like at this time?
1. Look after yourself. Read your emotional gauges. Listen to what your body is telling you. Make adjustments.
2. Watch your diet (food, drink, TV and Netflix!). Consume what is good for you.
3. Exercise. Everyday. Walk. Enjoy the outdoors. Get those endorphins going.
4. Invest in nourishing relationships - family and friends who do you good.
5. Rest. This season is exhausting. Sleep well.
6. Holiday. Even though you might have had to cancel the destination, take 2 weeks off to recover for the next big push.
7. Pray. This is bigger than you. God is bigger than you. He can help. Ask Him.

Finally, if you are struggling, please speak to someone, or to your GP.
You may want to read my blog series below: "Avoiding Burnout"... 

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Pasties, Cup Cakes and Covid

We have a pasties team and a cup cake team now. All trained. Cup cakes to care home staff, pasties to NHS staff, with more to come. We are looking out for the vulnerable, lonely and shielded. We have provided resources to a school, a hospital, the poor in India and individuals. The hungry are being fed. A bit. The CAP Debt Centre is seeing a growing number of clients. We are hooking up with West Berks Council and other agencies.
We have got into something of a rhythm as a church: Youtube streaming of Sundays with more people attending online than come through the doors. Interesting. Small Groups meet each week on zoom and webex. We are getting the hang of virtual meetings and keeping our sense of humour. Not closed. Definitely open. Praying lots.