Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Hope in the dark: a (political) Advent carol service 2019

Image result for hope in the dark

Our Carol Service in Hodge Hill this year was on Sunday 15th December - just a couple of days after the result of the UK General Election was announced. Our community here in Hodge Hill reflects many of the divisions that have come to visibility in our national life, but for many folk here who are committed to building relationships of trust across our divisions, living in solidarity those at the most vulnerable edges of our society, and tackling the entrenched and deepening inequality in the UK, our response to the result was one of grief, frustration and fear for the future. I've already shared some collected thoughts about practical 'next steps' from here. But here's a liturgical response - in Scripture, reflections and song.

Isaiah 40:1-5

 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

1  O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appear.

  Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

2  O come, thou rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell
thy people save,
and give them
o’er the grave.

  Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

3  O come, thou dayspring, come and cheer our spirits
by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows
  put to flight.

  Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

4  O come, thou key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home;
make safe the way
  that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

  Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

5  O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes
  on Sinai’s height
in ancient times
  didst give the Law,
in cloud and majesty and awe.

  Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel!

Isaiah 10 Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
    who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
    and that you may make the orphans your prey!

33 Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts,
    will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the tallest trees will be cut down,
    and the lofty will be brought low.
34 He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an axe,
    and Lebanon with its majestic trees[a] will fall.

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
(Rebecca Solnit)

 The universe was waiting  
in dark chaotic night,  
until the word was spoken:  
‘Let there be glorious light!’  
From darkness and from chaos   
were light and order born;   
the God of new beginnings   
rejoiced to see their dawn

And as in that beginning,

in every age the same, 
creation’s Re-creator 
is keeping hope aflame.
From Eden to the desert, 
the manger to the tomb, 
each fall becomes arising, 
and every grave a womb.

Wherever people languish
in darkness or despair, 
the God of new beginnings 
is pierced, and rises there.
We join with him to listen, 
to care and to protest, 
to see the mighty humbled 
and all the humble blessed.

We join with our Creator 
to keep the vision bright: 
in places of oppression 
we call for freedom’s light: 
a glorious new beginning, 
a universe at peace, 
where justice flows like fountains 
and praises never cease.

Luke 1:26-38

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

  Long ago, prophets knew
Christ would come, born a Jew,
come to make all things new;
bear his people's burden,
freely love and pardon.

  Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
When he comes,
when he comes,
who will make him welcome?

   God in time, God in man,
this is God's timeless plan:
He will come, as a man,
born himself of woman,
God divinely human:

   Mary hail! Though afraid,
she believed, she obeyed.
In her womb, God is laid:
till the time expected,
nurtured and protected.

   Journey ends! Where afar
Bethl’em shines, like a star,
stable door stands ajar.
unborn Son of Mary,
Saviour, do not tarry!

Angel (1) (Rachel Mann)

She was so young.

Too young.

But it’s not my job to have opinions. It’s my job to deliver news.

I thought she would run when I walked into her home. It would have been the reasonable thing to do.

I’ve got used to odd reactions to my presence. But she was cool. So composed that at first I thought she was stupid. She looked at me without blinking.

But I saw it was her courage. Men four times her age rarely have her self-possession. She was nobody’s fool.

I also saw the knife. The whole time she spoke to me – in even, carefully controlled tones – she held a knife in her hand.

It was just a knife from her kitchen duties, but it was capable of real damage.

She gripped it tight, ready to strike. I don’t think she’d have hesitated to use it.

I asked her my question – ‘Will you say yes?’ Told her she was chosen and blessed.

She didn’t seem very impressed. She kept me standing there as she sat down.

She laid the knife out on the table and studied it. She sighed like a woman twice her age. Who already knew what it would cost.

Something within me hoped she would say ‘no’.

I felt a tear fall down my cheek.

She looked at the knife for a long time. Then she said ‘yes’.

    Not the powerful,
  not the privileged,
     not the famous in the land,
     but the no-ones and the needy
     were the first to hold God’s hand.

  Not a well-established family
  with an heirloom christening shawl,
  but a homeless, wandering couple
  parented the Lord of All.

  Not, at first, to little children,
  nor to those whose faith
  burned bright;
  but to adults, stalled in darkness,
  angels brought God’s love and light.

  God, determined to be different
  from the standards we think best,
  in his choice of friends and family,
  lets forgotten folk be blessed.

John L. Bell

© 1982 Wild Goose Resource Group, Glasgow G51 3UU

Luke 1:39-55

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46 And Mary[b] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


When out of poverty is born
  a dream that will not die,
  and landless, weary folk
       find strength
  to stand with heads held high,

it’s then we learn
     from those who wait
to greet the promised day,
‘The Lord is coming;
don’t lose heart.
Be blest; prepare the way!’

2    When people wander
  far from God,
  forget to share their bread,
  they find their wealth
       an empty thing,
  their spirits are not fed.
For only just and tender love
the hungry soul will stay.
And so God’s prophets echo still
‘Be blest; prepare the way!’

3    When God took flesh
       and came to earth,
  the world turned upside-down,
  and in the strength
       of woman’s faith
  the Word of Life was born.
She knew that God
     would raise the low,
it pleased her to obey.
Rejoice with Mary in the call,
‘Be blest; prepare the way!’

This is the kind of remembering Mary does as she sings the song we have come to know as the Magnificat. in singing of the transformation of the world as though that transformation has already happened, Mary is remembering forward. This is what hope looks like. it needs to be said that hope can be a tricky thing. given how intimately it intertwines with our longings and desires, hope has the ability to slide into delusion or obsession, when we are so focused on a particular outcome that it distorts our perceptions. or hope can dissipate into wishful thinking, in which we want something to happen but are idly waiting for someone else to set it in motion. True hope beckons us to do more than wish or want or wait for someone to take action. it asks us to be the one who acts. it calls us to discern what lives beneath our wishes, to discover the longings beneath our longings, to dig down to the place where our deepest yearning and god’s deepest yearning are the same. when we find that, when we uncover those deepest desires, hope invites and impels us to participate in bringing about those things for which we most keenly long. Mary knew this. as she sings her Magnificat, she carries within herself the meeting place of her longing and god’s yearning. her yes to god, to bearing the Christ who takes flesh within her, becomes a microcosm of what god was doing in the world. what god had accomplished within Mary, god was accomplishing within the world. had accomplished. would accomplish. This kind of hope bends our understanding of time and tenses. This hope challenges the linear, forward-moving way in which we usually live. But the tense in which Mary sings is precisely the tense we are called to inhabit. This is the tense god invites us to enact in this world as we, like Mary, remember how god has transformed the world even as we work with god to bring this transformation into being.

(Jan Richardson)

Once in Royal David's city...

1-2 The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.

The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.

3-5 Everything was created through him;
nothing — not one thing! — came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life, he brings into Light.

He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice.

He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.

But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed, and would do what he said,

He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

14The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,

Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.


Advent Calendar (Rowan Williams)

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

We bring our stars up, as we sing:

  The love of God comes close
  Where stands an open door
  To let the stranger in,
  To mingle rich and poor:
  The love of God is here to stay
  Embracing those who walk his way. 

  The peace of God comes close 
  To those caught in a storm,
  Forgoing lives of ease
  To ease the lives forlorn:
  The peace of God is here to stay
  Embracing those who walk his way.

  The joy of God comes close
  Where faith encounters fears,
  Where heights and depths of life
  Are found through smiles and tears:
  The joy of God is here to stay
  Embracing those who walk his way.

  The grace of God comes close
  To those whose grace is spent,
  When hearts are tired and sore
  And hope is bruised and bent:
  The grace of God is here to stay
  Embracing those who walk his way.

  The Son of God comes close
to those who wait tonight.
To those who sit in darkness,
He comes to shine his light.
The Son of God is here to stay
embracing those who walk his way.
© 1988, 1997 Wild Goose Resource Group,
Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland

[Prayers... to 'the God of the dark earth, the God of the dark sky, the God of the dark corners, the God of the dark shadows...']

O little town of Bethlehem...

Blessing (Jan Richardson)

hope nonetheless.
hope despite.
hope regardless.
hope still.

hope where we had ceased to hope.
hope amid what threatens hope.
hope with those who feed our hope.
hope beyond what we had hoped.

hope that draws us past our limits.
hope that defies expectations.
hope that questions what we have known.
hope that makes a way where there is none.

hope that takes us past our fear.
hope that calls us into life.
hope that holds us beyond death.
hope that blesses those to come.

[and the blessing of God…]

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Our new community house: could this be your next move?

Our Story

There are two ways to describe Firs and Bromford, within the Parish of Hodge Hill. The first is how others would describe us, as an outer estate, statistically deprived in a number of ways, forgotten and neglected by many, tarnished with a reputation of crime, drugs, scroungers, unemployed, and low levels of aspiration. Now there is truth in there! And it is important to recognise these barriers and issues, and the real-life experiences people have living in a low-income neighbourhood like ours.

But there is another story! Our way is to understand a community filled with promise, with gifts, skills, talents and passion, with care, love and hope. A place where people feel connected to each other and long for a community where all flourish.

Over the past few years the mission of Hodge Hill Church has focused on unearthing the treasure within our communities. This, alongside intentional community building, has unearthed a whole bunch of wonderful people getting on with being good loving neighbours. We have found people with gifts, skills and passion they're longing to share within community, people willing and open to welcoming the stranger, and ensuring the welcome is warm and open, and people who long for a flourishing neighbourhood for all. We are witnessing a community growing in their connections, in their confidence and in their shared passion.

Through this journey we feel we are beginning to seek and find where the Kingdom of God is present, is active, and people are experiencing something of God's Kingdom. There are also people beginning to explore faith and asking about the Christ we follow, love, and serve. This is all through deep trusting relationships and friendships that are continuing to grow. This has led to the emergence of FAB (Firs and Bromford) Church which is a community of people who are sharing a meal, exploring the Bible together, sharing life, and doing children's activities in school holidays sharing the Bible stories.

Through our journey the value of shared community space has grown. Spaces like The Hub (a converted shop front into a community run space), the Old Rectory (Community House), and open public space where street parties are hosted are crucial to the nurturing of community. They provide the opportunity to deepen relationships, do things together, and an opportunity for people to welcome the stranger, and to contribute their gifts, skills and passions.

All this together leads us to our vision for 'Church House'. The house on Ayala Croft began life as a vicarage when the estate was built in the 1960s. The ministry was far reaching with people to this day telling stories of Church House as a place of community, of relationships and love. In recent years the house has been one of two Community Houses of the Common Ground Community, and for the past 3 years the vicarage for the current curate of Hodge Hill Church. From the September 2020 we have an exciting opportunity to re-establish Church House, with a vision of a home that is a place for hospitality, community and spirituality. We are seeking residents to come and live in Church House, and help us write the next chapter of our story.

3 core elements of Church House

Sharing Meals Together:
A safe space
Sitting around a table together
Building connections between people
A place of welcome: The kettle is on & people are welcome
Growing Food:
Creating a link to the earth
Understanding the cycle of food
Skills Sharing:
Jam making
Bread making
Cooking classes
Cooking food together:
Providing an opportunity for a range of people to host, share hospitality skills, create rhythms around cooking e.g. bread making spirituality

Creating belonging:
Being a homely space, bringing all together, inter-generational, all faiths and none
Building connections and friendships:
Beyond current horizons
Deeper conversations
All people contributing and all can contribute:
Serving each other
People having roles & opportunities to share
Sharing life together:
Through the ups and downs
Honesty and openness
Sharing hurts
Caring for each other
Being a different smaller space for groups – women’s group, cooking, small gatherings, family club, Flavours of Hodge Hill

Being a sign, glimpse & experience of
The Kingdom of God…..
equality, belonging, happiness, being welcome, celebration, banquets, feasts, LOVE, energy, being together, not being judged, Freedom, participation, being yourself, & hope
A hub of prayer: Providing a range of opportunities for people to pray & experience prayer, and opportunities for people to request prayer
A space to explore Jesus: Discipleship, study, and discussion.
Growing FAB Church – a more regular pattern of Bible Study, prayer & Children’s activities
Inter-Faith space:
Creating opportunities for sharing faith with each other
Prayer space for people of all faiths and none

The resident hosts - who are we looking for

Approach / Values
A deeply rooted Christian Faith
A conviction that the Kingdom of God is nurtured by people of all faiths and none
Passionate about building community
A longing to be grounded and rooted in community and in a neighbourhood
Open to connecting people and building community
Open to the gifts and skills of all
Open to learning and journeying with others
A commitment to a church community inclusive of all, regardless of age, class, dis/ability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality

Ability to host a space – good hospitality skills
Pastoral and relational – has the skills to build trusting long-lasting relationships with people of differing ages, backgrounds, cultures, and faiths
An ability to discover the gifts of others, and nurture people to share their gifts in community life
Social, emotional and spiritual resilience – an ability to reflect, to share, to be open to challenge, and understand the need for rest
A keenness to develop your own spirituality and that of others

We are seeking at least one person, family, or couple willing to commit to Church House for the long-term. We are believe Church House is an opportunity for people with a shorter-term focus e.g. looking to explore mission, exploring ordination, student placement, gap-year.
We are conscious we are asking a lot! We do though believe the house will be a community. A community of many gifts, skills and passions of the residents as well as the wider ‘Common Ground’ community.
The house could have a mix of residents who have paid work outside the neighbourhood (to contribute money to the place) and residents who have more time to be present in the neighbourhood.

The Logistics

The House

There is space in Church House for up to 5 people to live (4 bedrooms + large living room upstairs), with a lockable door between downstairs and upstairs.
Downstairs there is a space for hosting (big open plan kitchen + meal/dining space, big common/living room, downstairs toilet, small garden, small outdoor space, and next to small green open space).


Resident contributions: residents live rent-free, and the church pays the basic utility bills (for simplicity and continuity). To cover the running costs of the house (c. £500 pcm), we ask residents to make a financial contribution, based on their income and their level of community involvement (i.e. those who are in full-time paid work would be invited to contribute more than those who are unwaged and giving high levels of time locally).

Activity charges / donations: some activities & events hosted at the house will be charged a minimal amount to cover costs; other meals, activities and events will be run on a pay-as-you-feel donation basis

Wider donors / supporters: we will be inviting a wider circle of donors / supporters to consider contributing regularly to help cover the building’s running costs, activity costs, and help financially sustain the residents to enable them to be as active as possible in community life

Grant funding: there is a possibility of applying for grants for some of the activities based in the house

Common Ground Community and Hodge Hill Church

Church House is one of two Community Houses in Parish of Hodge Hill. The other is the ‘Old Rectory’ situated on Hodge Hill Common. When creating these two houses Hodge Hill Church established the Common Ground Community as an intentional, missional community, with ‘resident members’ living in the two Community Houses, and ‘local members’ dispersed across the wider neighbourhood.

Common Ground Community is part of the ‘extended family’ of Hodge Hill Church (an Anglican-URC ecumenical partnership, and a registered Inclusive Church). Common Ground has been crucial in nurturing what we call ‘homely’ expressions of church locally (as well as larger, more familiar Sunday services), and in developing a new missional expression of church (‘FABChurch’) in the Firs & Bromford (where Church House is situated).

Together we are seeking to learn and live out rhythms of life shaped by ‘shalom’ (peace, justice, & wholeness), and expressed in sharing activity, food and friendship with our neighbours, and reflecting, learning and praying together as a community. Common Ground Community is also about being active! We’re involved in community building, community caf├ęs and multi-cultural women’s groups, street parties and forest spaces, community gardening and climate change protests. We learn together, from our neighbours, and from a wider network of travelling companions across the UK and the wider world.


We are hopeful that new residents will begin moving in from September 2020.

This first round of ‘recruitment’ will work to roughly this timeline:
Informal exploration & visits: January – March 2020
Deadline for applications: early April 2020
‘Interview day’ (semi-formal ‘interviews’ & group exercises): April/May 2020

Discernment process

Living in residential community, as part of a wider local community-building journey, has the potential for many joys, but is also a vocation that is serious, and can at times have a spiritual and emotional cost. We now have six years of experience of ‘recruiting’ to our Community Houses, and our discernment processes have evolved through that experience:

Early exploration… Come and visit us! We encourage potential residents to do one or two ‘taster’ visits, coming to walk around our neighbourhood, see some of our church and community activities, have a look at Church House, and stay for a night or two at our ‘sister house’, the Old Rectory. If you then want to explore further, we will invite you to:

• Fill in an application form & supply at least two references
• Spend an hour with a psychotherapist, exploring together the areas of community living that you might find more challenging
• Come and have a couple of semi-formal ‘interviews’ – and (if there are several potential candidates) some group-work to test out the ‘chemistry’ between potential residents

To start the conversation, contact: Revd Al Barrett
(hodgehillvicar@hotmail.co.uk / 07738119210)