Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Transgender - how should we respond?


I wonder what your reaction is when you hear the word 'transgender'? I know that for some the feeling that your biological sex doesn't align with your internal sense of gender identity will be something you personally identify with. Others may be living alongside children, other family members, friends or work colleagues for whom this is an issue. Still others may be involved in the worlds of education or health care where you are having to teach or give medical advice 
around transgender identity issues. Some of us will have very strong views, others will have no idea what to think. Given this range of reactions how should we as followers of Christ to engage with the conversation around transgender, or should we even engage with it at all?

My observation is that when we face issues like transgender (along with others like climate change, homosexuality or racism) there are three different ways Christians tend to respond:

  • Cocoon - the first response is to fail to engage with the issue at all, hoping that if we keep our heads down nobody will notice that we are absent from the conversation. This is understandable, given both the complexity of this issue and the heat it generates (just take a look at the criticism of JK Rowling when she challenged the current orthodoxy on certain transgender issues). However, cocooning leaves us looking like we and the Bible have nothing to say, and that Jesus is not good news for transgender people.  None of these are true - we have things to say and do which will make a positive difference in our world if we get them right. 
  • Confront - the second response is to act as culture warriors, becoming vocal and often belligerent advocates of a particular viewpoint without any real compassion for the people who are involved and without any real desire to engage with people who think differently to us. You will find these sorts of people all over YouTube and Twitter, often delighting in making those on the other side of the argument look ignorant or stupid. This may be a good way of gaining social media followers but it does little to help us be Christ to those for whom this is an issue. This isn't to say that there won't be times when we do need to confront, but the way we do this and the outcome we hope to achieve will look very different to the approach of the culture warriors. 
  • Conform - the third response is to simply conform to society, to go with whatever seems to be the prevailing view and take whichever approach is going to cause the minimum conflict or controversy. This may be done with a heart to be relevant, to be loving, or simply to have an easy life, but if conforming means that we miss out on declaring God's heart in either our words or our deeds then it is a mistake.
There may be times when it will be appropriate to cocoon, confront or conform, but if any of these becomes our primary response then we have almost certainly got it wrong. So how should we respond? I want to suggest three alternatives to the ones I have already mentioned, encouraging us to embrace all three. These are:
  • Be Kind - if you get into a conversation with someone around the issue of transgender then please be kind. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood; be a good listener; don't make assumptions; be gentle; don't feel like you have to have all the answers; set out to love the person you are speaking to. Remember that it is the kindness of God which leads us to repentance. God is kind and we need to reflect that kindness to others. 
  • Be Knowledgeable - the whole world of transgender can seem incredibly confusing but we need to be people who are well informed and thought through. Informed as to the felt experiences of people who are transgender. Informed as to what the Bible has to say about how we think Biblically about gender. Informed as to what science has to teach us. As a first step I want to encourage all of us to read Preston Sprinkle's book Embodied which is the most helpful resource I have found in this area. I would really appreciate hearing the reflections of those who have read it. It would be great in September if someone started a small group to do a group discussion of Preston's book. Please share any other useful resources you come across. 
  • Be Courageous - Once we are equipped with both kindness and knowledge we are in a position to tentatively seek to help others. Kindness without knowledge can make us nice but ultimately unhelpful or even dangerous. Knowledge without kindness can make us right but hard and judgemental. Kindness and knowledge can make us look a lot like Jesus. Once we have these two things we then need courage. Courage to challenge wrong thinking in both the church and the world. Courage to speak up for those who may feel they don't have a voice. Courage to follow promptings of the Holy Spirit. Courage to be willing to be unpopular or misunderstood. Courage to admit where we've got things wrong or don't have all the answers. 
So let's show up well church. Let's not cocoon, confront or conform as our primary response, but let us be Jesus to our world by being courageous channels of grace and truth. 

Simon

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Gift Days - Investing in People


On Sunday 25th July and 1st August we are having online gift days across all of our sites to help fund the redevelopment of our buildings in Windsor and Farnborough. The aim of this blog is to encourage you to be thinking and praying about what to give to each of the funds. 

We are looking to raise £350,000 for stage one of the redevelopment of the Farnborough building. This will be enough to get the building ready for us to meet in on a Sunday and midweek. In Windsor we are looking to raise £100,000 to allow us to install heating in the building, fit smart TVs in the children's rooms and remodel the entrance which currently feels more like a maze than a welcoming way into the building! We will publish a detailed breakdown of the costs for each building in the next few days.

As I encourage you to give I want to remind you that our vision is not for buildings, our vision is for lives being changed. For people across all of our sites to encounter Jesus through our declaration of the gospel and our practical demonstrations of the love of Jesus. And then having encountered Jesus for all of us to grow as his followers. A community growing to be more like Jesus, and learning what it means to be Jesus to our friends, neighbours and workmates. Buildings are simply a tool to help us achieve that vision for lives being changed. People are God's treasure, and by giving to help create the spaces where lives are changes we are investing our money in something which will have an eternal return.  

The amazing news is that even before we have these first gift days people have already given over £110,000 for the Farnborough redevelopment and over £35,000 for Windsor. I never cease to be amazed by the generosity of our community - thank you so much to everyone who has invested already. That means we are left looking at raising another £240,000 for Farnborough and another £65,000 for Windsor. 

We are also going to give away a tithe (10%) of whatever comes in for both funds. Half of the Farnborough tithe will be allocated through Heather our Farnborough site pastor to projects local to Farnborough. Similarly half of the Windsor tithe will be allocated through Leon in Windsor. The other half of both tithes will be available for allocation by Pelumi and Ben as the Bracknell and West Wight site pastors. As we do with all tithe funds any suggestions for giving will first go to our trustees for approval. If you have any thoughts on where money could go please contact your site pastor.  

So here are some thoughts based on how you might give depending on which Kerith site you call home:

Farnborough and Windsor - you are those who will directly see the impact of your giving. Not only will you see the buildings you meet in being transformed (which is always exciting) but more importantly you will get to meet at least some of the people whose lives are being changed in them. Please give generously to your sites fund (you can of course also give to the other sites fund too!). 

Bracknell - If you were part of our Bracknell site when the Kerith Centre and K2 were being built you already know the difference that investing in buildings can make to the lives of people. You have watched children, young people and adults gather together, receive physical food and spiritual food, do Alpha, find friends, find Christ, have powerful encounters with God, get baptised, break free from addictions, get physically and emotionally healed, celebrate births and weddings, mourn the loss of loved ones, make life changing decisions and much more in the buildings that you helped to pay for. This is an opportunity for you again to invest again and 'lay down treasure in heaven' by investing in lives being changed.  And for those of you who have joined since the buildings were completed then you are currently benefitting from the sacrificial giving of others. This is your opportunity to sow into God's kingdom as the generations before you have already done in Bracknell. 

West Wight - I suspect many on the island will be wondering why you are being encouraged to give to fund buildings on the mainland when Kerith West Wight doesn't yet have a permanent home. That's a good question! I could give many answers but the one I want to focus on is the biblical principle that you reap what you sow. This is a moment when our focus is on Farnborough and Windsor, but there will come a day when the focus will be on West Wight. I can't say when it will be, but our heart for all of our sites has always been that in time they would have a permanent home to do ministry from. The day will come that God leads us to a building or buildings on the island, and on that day the finances will flow from our other sites to you and you will reap many times over what you have sown. 

Online - There are a growing number of you who call Kerith home but who aren't near to one of our physical sites. We love having you as part of our community, joining us online on a Sunday and connecting with zoom based small groups. As part of our online community I want to encourage you too to have a Kingdom mentality and to be willing to invest in one of our physical sites. 

So please be thinking and praying about what to give. I do want to encourage all of us to think about what it might look like for us to give sacrificially. For some giving £10 would be sacrificial, for others it might mean giving £10,000. It isn't about the amount but the heart behind it and how that giving will impact us.  Perhaps add a zero (or two) to the figure you first think of! Sacrificial giving is part of our history as a community and needs to be part of our future as we look to see lives changed. 

You can give to the Farnborough fund here and the Windsor fund here. For both funds you can give a one off gift, pledge to give a regular amount, or do both. Thank you so much.

Finally a reminder that God loves a cheerful giver! I don't want anyone to feel under pressure over this. I know some of you would love to give but because of circumstances you aren't able to. Others may be inspired to invest in other ways into the Kingdom. Whatever we do let us resolve to live lives of generosity in response to God's overwhelming generosity to us in giving us his Son.

Simon 



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