Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Women elders at Kerith


For a number of years Kerith has been on a journey with regard to the role of women in our church. When my wife Catrina and I first joined Kerith in 1989, our leadership was almost entirely male. All of the elders, trustees, preachers, worship leaders, meeting hosts and other significant leaders were men. The only opportunities for women to preach or lead were within our children’s ministry and in ministry to other women (and on occasions when they travelled overseas).

In 2002 a group of leaders (of which I wasn't a part) gathered to consider what our position on women in leadership should be. They concluded that women should be free to preach, lead worship and hold any leadership position in the life of the church, other than being an elder. In the years since we have seen that position become our practice. Women in Kerith now lead sites, preach, lead worship, act as trustees and are represented at every level of leadership other than our eldership.

Two years ago I felt it was time to revisit the question of whether eldership should be male only. This was partly because I had never properly thought through what my own position was, and partly because having seen how much our church had been blessed by women stepping into every other area of leadership felt our eldership might be the poorer for not having women serving there too. I spent a couple of years reading as much as I could on the subject from all sides of the argument and then wrote a paper outlining my position based on that research. My conclusion was that the Bible affirms women serving as elders. I then took all of this to our elders for them to consider. After over a year of discussion they came to the same conclusion. Over the last few months we have been sharing this with our leadership teams and then with the whole church at our vision night on the 13th June. This blog is in order to share this with anyone who missed the vision night, as well as for those outside Kerith who might be interested. 

I realise that this news will cause all sorts of different reactions. Some will be delighted that we have come to the conclusion that women can serve as elders. Others will strongly disagree with our decision. Still others will be happy to trust me and the elders to have come to the right conclusion. Whatever your reaction I want to remind us all that this is a secondary issue, and that what unites us as believers in Christ is far greater than issues like this which we may disagree on. If you do want to talk about it then I would encourage you to first read the paper I have written and then for us to have a discussion based on that. I have included my email address in the paper - please feel free to use it to email me if you would like to talk further.

The next step for us as a church is to think and pray about who we should add to our existing team of elders. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our eldership in a way that will serve all four of our sites in the years to come. We will be looking for people based primarily on their character  and standing within our community, with a secondary goal to have diversity not only in terms of gender but also ethnicity and background. We won't be rushing into any decisions but will take our time as we make what will be key appointments for our future as a community. Please be praying for wisdom and discernment in that process.

Blessings,

Simon

ps I couldn't work out what image to use to head up this blog. In the end I went for a Greek Orthodox image of Junia, who the Apostle Paul introduces to in Romans 16:7. She is one of the women you will meet in my paper and although she isn't central to my argument, the debate through the ages about both her gender and her role form a fascinating backdrop to the wider discussion.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Kerith is Hong Kong ready

 


Earlier this year I was contacted by our good friend Krish Kandiah to ask whether Kerith would get involved in welcoming some of the 300,000 people who it is estimated may move from Hong Kong to the UK over the next few years. Because of the undermining of human rights in Hong Kong by the Chinese government, the UK government has offered up to 5.4 million Hong Kong residents the opportunity to relocate to the UK. Krish's heart was that the UK church would play its unique part in making sure that all who come here receive a warm welcome, alongside practical advice on how life works in the UK and an open invitation to be part of our church communities.

God is incredibly clear about how he expects us to treat foreigners. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses expresses God's heart when he declares:

He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19

God loves the foreigners in our midst, and he expects us to do the same. It couldn't be any clearer. 

Sadly this hasn't always been modelled well by the church in our nation. In one of my conversations last year with Shari Barrett (who oversees all of our worship in Kerith) about her experiences of race and racism we also spoke about her grandparents and parents experience of coming to the UK from the Caribbean as part of the Windrush generation. When her grandparents and their peers attended 'white' churches in the UK it was made very clear to them that they and their children weren't welcome, and that they should look to join a 'black' church. This they did, proving to be a huge blessing to the church they joined and in turn producing people of the quality of Shari who are such a blessing to us. But what a tragedy for Shari's grandparents that they experienced hostility rather than love. And what a disaster for those 'white' churches that they robbed themselves of the richness which Shari's grandparents could have brought as well as failing to express God's heart for the foreigner. That breaks my heart, makes me angry and sows in me a resolve that we have to do better. Not only for those coming from Hong Kong but for those who are genuinely seeking refuge in the UK from anywhere in the world.

So in response to Krish's challenge we signed up as a church to be 'Hong Kong ready'. That means that all four of our sites are registered on the website Krish has set up so that anyone moving from Hong Kong to be close to one of our sites can let us know they are coming and ask any questions they have. Already two family groups have got in touch, received help and are being integrated into the life of our church - hopefully some of you will get to meet them as we start to meet again physically. Let's be praying that many more come, not only from Hong Kong but from all around the world to enrich our community. If other churches would like to get involved then they can begin the sign up process here

This is a great reminder that showing hospitality, particularly towards those who are different to us, who are new, who are outsiders, who are marginalised or who are being discriminated against, is one of the primary callings on each of our lives as followers of Jesus. Whether it is on a Sunday, at the school gate, at work, in the supermarket or in any other setting where we meet others we are to represent God's heart of love and inclusion. 

It is also a reminder of how much we need the prophetic voices of people like Krish. People who will speak God's heart to the church, who will call out our prejudices and blind spots and who will challenge us to play our rightful part in the world. Let us be grateful for, pray for, listen to and respond to Krish and his like. 

Blessings,

Simon

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Emerging from Lockdown

Over the past months, the team at Kerith have been working on what the next season is going to look like. We’re so grateful to everyone who took time to tell us what they’ve learned, appreciated and missed most during these lockdown months through our online survey and focus groups. We’ve also listened to leaders from other churches around the world and spent time in prayer as we’ve sought to hear what God is saying to us. It won’t surprise you that physically we’ve most missed gathering together to encounter Jesus and be in community. That goes for adults and for kids and youth, who have deeply missed gathering in their own age and friendship groups. We also learned there was a lot about the digital experience of church gathering across all of our sites that we really appreciated – and that in the future, people who can’t access us physically for any reason would really benefit from a digital way to stay connected, as would those who want to check church out online first before heading into a physical building. One of those clear messages we felt God saying was that he was going to surprise us with NEW things. The buildings in Windsor and now Farnborough that He has opened up to us 24/7 are an example of that – who knew that would be the case just a few weeks ago?! Not us!

So with all this change and newness and our own differing feelings of re-connecting too, we’re continuing to work through how we can resource both physical and digital expressions of church happen. Physically, we can't wait to get back to seeing faces again in 3D but we anticipate it will feel more like a NEW start up than just coming back to church as it was in early March 2020. People will have very different feelings about gathering as we re-emerge into physical community again. We want to do this right and keep each other safe.

And no matter what looks or feels different externally as we step our way back into a new ‘normal’ for Kerith, we know the core hasn't changed: Helping people find their way back to God through communities growing in their love for God and love for people.

As we’re considering our roadmap out of lockdown, let me encourage you to consider 3 things to prepare your hearts and minds for what God is inviting us to next:

1.      What feelings do you notice you have about gathering with others physically again?

2.      Despite (or perhaps because of) the challenges, what have you learned or appreciated about this last year?

3.      What lessons or helpful habits would you like to bring with you into what God has for us next?

 

The graphics below give you our gradual plan for coming back physically. It follows the key dates on the government roadmap, and so is subject to those restrictions lifting as planned. If you have any questions then please ask.


Blessings,


Simon









Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Winter 2021 Prayer and Fasting



I recently got sent a prophetic word from my friend Alain Emerson who leads a network of churches in Northern Ireland. The whole of his word resonated with me (I have included it at the end of this blog so you can read it and spend time meditating over it and weighing it - I would love to hear your reflections). 

The central part of what Alain sensed God saying is that just as we are in winter physically we are also in winter spiritually. Spring is coming but we need to allow winter to run its course. In his words we need to 'conserve divine energy for the spring ahead' and recognise that winter has 'its own beauty and purpose'. One phrase particularly stuck with me:

make the place of hibernation in this season the place of My habitation

I so sense this is the season we are in. This isn't the moment to be making big plans for the future and thinking how we scale everything we do. It is the time to be pressing into God, deepening our roots, doing the unseen work of abiding in Christ, all in order to be ready for spring which will surely come. It is for this reason I think our current Wellbeing Journey is so well timed. We are getting ourselves ready to re-emerge into the new normal. 

All of this impacts the coming week of prayer and fasting which start on Monday 1st. I feel a pressure (almost all of which is internally generated) to have a week full of activity. Fast for the whole week. Have a week of 24/7 prayer and push to fill every slot. Try to impress God with our energy and activity. There will be a time for all of that (well not the last part), but in this moment I think we need a week to abide. To be with Jesus. To ask God what spring is going to hold. To prepare ourselves for all that Jesus is about to do in us and through us.

These are the ways we are going to abide in the coming week:

  • Join us for our Kingdom Come hour of prayer on Monday at 8pm. We are going to hear from our site leaders, have communion together and spend time praying for one another. I am so looking forward to us being together. 
  • Every weekday evening at 9.30pm on our Kerith Instagram feed we are going to have an evening Examen. Slowing down at the end of the day to reflect, to rejoice and to finish our days with Christ.
  • I encourage everyone to fast for one meal during the week and spend an hour alone in prayer. If that fills you with dread I encourage you to use the brilliant guided hour of prayer we produced a last year ago.
  • Join me and the prayercast team every weekday, either live at 6.45am or later in the day for  15 minutes of prayer and reflection. 

None of this is about doing stuff. All of it is about slowing down to be with Jesus. 

Winter is here but spring is coming. Let us make sure we are ready for it.

Simon

------------------

I have sensed the Lord say to me over past few weeks, that while this is 'winter' (in more ways than one for many people - lockdown life etc ) there is a hope that Spring is on the way.  In our part of the world the nights are already on the turn, the light of the day is lengthening already, the nights are getting shorter ever so slightly and we should prepare/reposition for Spring. But part of that preparation I sense is to allow winter to run its course. I keep thinking of the animal kingdom this winter and the process of 'hibernation'. The point is of this is to conserve energy for the Spring ahead. I think we are being afforded an opportunity to hunker into the womb of God in this season (not passive as we get on with ‘loving our neighbours’ and doing what we can do) but a posture of relinquishment and making God our ‘hiding place’). I keep getting this phrase "make the place of hibernation in this season the place of My habitation", conserve divine energy for the spring ahead...

While it appears God is ‘revealing’ and exposing ‘hidden (dark) things’ in his church and around the earth in this cultural moment there is also a sense in which God is calling us to seek out new insight / revelation in the ‘hidden place’ of HIS presence. The verse comes to mind, ‘The secret things belong to the Lord’ (Deut 29:29), hidden not always from us but FOR us. Remember also ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a matter but kings to seek it out.’ (Proverbs 25:2). The ‘hibernation’ of WINTER continues to be an opportunity to receive and conserve the divine energy we will need for the SPRING days ahead. This is a moment to ‘seek out’ the secret things of the Lord as we rest in his glory of His presence, this place contains the wisdom/insight He wants to display through us in the days ahead in order that we might lead our cities/nation into His life in the midst of all the talk of lack and an impending economic disaster. What if the antidote to this is a Joseph-like anointing for a time of ‘famine’ approaching? What if the Lord wants to release supernatural insight/wisdom mined from intimacy with Him but this is wisdom proven through the winter (a pit and a jail for Joesph) which when, in His timing, will make kings and queens look to the church for solutions again? 

We cannot control the seasons - rather we submit to the unrivalled beauty each season has and winter, while we don't always like it, has it's own beauty and purpose. So we SURRENDER to SOVEREIGNTY. God is doing it!! God does what God does in winter, and we say ‘YES’ to that. And SPRING will have it’s day soon and it will be glorious.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Join us on our Wellbeing Journey

 


This coming Sunday we start a new series called 'The Wellbeing Journey'. Over 50 days we are going to examine six dimensions of wellbeing, asking where we are in each of them and exploring what we can do to see an improvement in any where we are struggling. 

We are encouraging everyone to go on this journey in community. To make that possible we have over 50 small groups which are going to be working their way through the course material. Some of these are already full but many others still have space to join. If you haven't already signed up then you can find all of the groups listed here. One of the benefits of everything being online is that you don't need to join a group which is geographically close to you - you can be a part of a group from anywhere in the world so please feel free to sign up, wherever you are and even if you aren't a part of Kerith. We would love to have you join us. 

I also realise that for some people doing the course with a friend or as a couple may work better than joining a group. This is absolutely fine - my heart is just that none of us would be doing this course alone. 

There is a book which goes with the course which gives 50 days of reflections on the material. We are attempting to get a copy of the book to everyone who joins a small group. This is being done via small group leaders. As you can imagine this is proving quite a challenge at the moment and so we may struggle to get books to everyone by Sunday. If you want to you can buy the book yourself, as either a physical book or an e-book, from CWR, Eden or Amazon

Our children and youth will also be doing their own version of the course. It is really exciting that we are all going to be aligned this way. My prayer is that this course will help us to hit the ground running as we begin to return to a new normal.

I have the privilege of speaking as we start our journey this coming Sunday. Hope to see you there!

Simon


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Helping us to Dream the New Normal


It might seem impossible to imagine right now, but assuming the vaccine rollout goes as we all hope we will get back to meeting again physically in 2021! W
e will be able to gather again, worship together, be mask free, hug, have kids work and youth work, go in one another's homes, go out for meals and do all the other things we've so missed in this season. 

With all the change that we’ve been through, not just in our gatherings moving online but also deeply personal changes in our walk with Jesus, we’re aware we won’t re-build in exactly the same way we knew before Covid. The church is people. If we as the people have changed then so will the events, ministries & groups that we are part of.

 

To consider these potential changes we are taking January and February to pray, dream and plan what our ministries and activities will look like when they restart. Although we still don’t know exactly when we will get to this new normal, we want to start thinking and praying now as to what God might be inviting us to re-build, and what he might be asking us to leave behind. As part of that process we want to hear from as many people as possible by asking you to fill in this survey


Please prayerfully consider what God might be saying to us as you walk through these questions. Thank you so much for your help!


Simon

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Kerith Physical Gatherings in Lockdown 3


Since the beginning of the first lockdown last March one of the questions facing churches and church leaders has been how much should they continue to meet physically. Different churches have made different choices, based I would guess on a whole range of factors including their size, their demographic, their ability to move their gatherings online, their local infection rates, the personality types of their senior leaders and much more. We took a decision very early on that we would move our Sunday gatherings online and put all of our resources into making that experience as rich as possible with no physical gatherings. I know that some people have found this hard but I think that it was the right thing to do, choosing to love one another by minimising the spread of the virus and realising that although our buildings might be closed the church as the people of God is very much still alive.

One of the things I have learnt leading through this pandemic has been that although we don't have certainty we can lead with clarity. We can make clear decisions which, even if not everyone agrees with them, mean that people know what we are doing and why. This allows people to make their own plans and not be constantly in a place of uncertainty as to what we are doing as a church.  

With this in mind we have taken the decision that we won't have any physical gatherings while we are in this current national lockdown. Given the rapidly rising number of infections and the resulting danger of our hospitals being overwhelmed I personally think this is the only responsible course of action for us, even though under the government rules we are still allowed to meet. Based on the choices we have made to this point I don't think this decision will be a surprise, but I wanted to let people know for certain rather than having to guess what we might be doing. We will of course review this as things develop.

The good news is that with the vaccine now being rolled out there is a route to a 'new normal' where we will be able to gather physically, worship together, be mask free, hug, have kids work and youth work and do all the other things we've so missed in this season. We are starting to dream about what the new normal will look like and next week I will be inviting all of us to take part in a survey to hear thoughts on how we might do things differently in the future. 

In the meantime I have a few suggestions of how we can not only survive but thrive in this season:
  • Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We may be in a storm but he is in the boat with us and is going to bring us safe to the other side. Let us be honest and real about how we are doing but also let us be fully focussed on the one our hope is in. Listen to worship music - I recommend Maverick City Music if you haven't discovered them already. 
  • Keep pressing into God through meditating on scripture and prayer. Some great tools are Nicky Gumbel's Bible in a year, Lectio 365 and my prayercast
  • If you aren't already in one then join a small group. We are going to be starting a new series on Wellbeing on Sunday 17th January with a lots of small groups being launched starting from Monday 18th. I am going to be running a group which runs on Wednesday evenings and you'd be really welcome to join me, but there are lots of others available on various days and at different times of day. You might even consider signing up to lead a small group
  • Prioritise joining with us on Sunday mornings, engaging with the online chat and using the prayer chat rooms which are now available on our website. If you can't watch live then find a time later in the day or week to catch up.
  • Use your daily opportunity for exercise to go for a walk with somebody where you can be honest about how you are doing and encourage and pray for one another. Make use of WhatsApp, zoom, text and even writing a letter or sending a card to encourage and keep in touch with others.
  • If you need help of any sort then please reach out to ask for it. We will get through this together, and we will all have times when we need to be vulnerable and admit our need to others. 
I hope that helps. I keep praying for you that in the midst of all that is happening you would know Jesus more clearly and strongly. Our hope is in him.

Simon