Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Ask the Pastor on Periscope

Last autumn I started broadcasting on Periscope a couple of time a week, with the title "Ask the Pastor".

They were quite popular broadcasts with people from all over the world tuning in sharing greetings, prayer requests and posing a wide range of questions from matters of faith through politics, sports and general information about living in the UK.

A period of illness at the end of the year meant I stopped broadcasting and kinda got out of the habit.

I'm happy to say, in response to several requests, the broadcasts are back.

I'm aiming to broadcast weekly, and in the first instance it's most likely to be on Fridays at around 4pm UK time, that's 10am CST in the USA.

If you aren't able to join me live, then please feel free to leave questions in the comments here then watch the broadcasts later on this link to my periscope profile.

Or alternatively you can tweet questions to me on twitter where I am @baptistjon and I'll include them in the broadcast

If you do use periscope, please follow me there too and I'll follow back - I'd love to get a glimpse into your world!

Monday, July 04, 2016

Tab is Hiring!

Tab-Print-CMYK-logo-2092-x3029.jpgVacancy – Office Manager

Salary: £18-20k depending on experience

Term of contract: This is a permanent position

Hours of work: This is a full time (37.5 hrs per week) post, with 5.6 weeks annual leave.

Tabernacle Baptist Church Wolverhampton (often called Tab) is a busy, diverse multi-site church of some 250 people, with buildings in Whitmore Reans, the city centre and Ashmore Park.

We are seeking to recruit an outstanding individual to work at the heart of our church's organisation.

Supporting a large team of staff and volunteers, alongside handling enquiries from the public and managing a number of routine tasks means that each day is varied, and that the right individual will find this a stimulating and rewarding opportunity.

The postholder will need to be someone who has proven office management skills and be able to communicate effectively in person,  in writing and through the use of digital media. They will also be strongly internally-motivated with experience of office based administration and dealing with enquiries.

Because the individual will be called upon to represent the church, its interests and its mission, the postholder will need to be a dedicated disciple of Jesus with great communication skills, and able to support Baptist beliefs and practices.

Tabernacle Baptist Church Wolverhampton is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and adults at risk. All our staff and volunteers are expected to share this commitment, which is underpinned by robust systems that seek to continuously promote a culture of safeguarding. The successful applicant will be required to complete an enhanced DBS (formerly CRB) check which must be maintained throughout the period of employment, and undergo safeguarding training.

A more detailed job and person specification is available via email: tabvacancies@gmail.com

Applications can be made by sending a CV and covering letter to tabvacancies@gmail.com or via mail:

The Senior Minister
Tabernacle Baptist Church Wolverhampton
Dunstall Road

Closing date for applications is 5pm on Wednesday 20th July 2016, interviews will be held on Wednesday 27th July.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A word to exiles - respond with faith to the EU referendum

Today Great Britain has embarked on an uncertain journey, following the referendum on whether we should remain a part of the European Union.

Months of sharply divisive campaigning has revealed itself in a result that is far from resounding with 52% voting to leave, and 48% to remain. There are people in our neighbourhoods and churches who are struggling to make sense of the enormity of the decision, and as I write this our Prime Minister has just resigned, the Governor of the Bank of England has issued an emergency statement and our finance markets are in turmoil.

How should those of us who follow Jesus respond to these events? Is there anything for us to do other than pull up our drawbridges and try and ride out the coming storms? Whether we voted to remain or leave, is there some shared action or attitude that will help in this time of questioning and uncertainty?

I want to offer a few thoughts as someone who is first of all a pastor. My concern is to help church members navigate this different terrain we find ourselves in as faithful followers of Jesus.

I've used the idea of journey and shifting terrain, and I do that on purpose, as I think it's a really helpful way of understanding something important about our identity. The Apostle Peter, writing a letter that's included in the Bible, addresses his readers this way:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,  who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Part of what it meant then to be a follower of Jesus was to be an exile - a person who is not living in the place of their nationality, their own nation state. For Peter's first readers this was often because the persecution that had arisen because of their faith meant that had to flee from home. 

But in a deeper sense, all of us who follow Jesus are exiles in this world. Whereas before the time of Jesus, God's dealings with humanity had been done primarily with a particular nation-state - Israel -  after Jesus all of humanity is potentially the people of God, with no need to become part of a particular nation. So, in Jesus all who follow, from wherever they are in the world, are on a different journey, and have a different sense of belonging. Yes, legally we might have nationality in a place (GB for me), but we are also citizens of Heaven, a place we haven't got to yet, but a place where our real belonging is.

The writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews tells a number of stories of great heroes of faith, and then includes this reflection:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Exiles we are then, looking for a new home, travelling through this world trying to be faithful followers.

So, what word to exiles might encourage us, give us hope and direction right now, on this day when our nation faces an unsure future, and when deep divisions between old and young, poor and rich, native and foreigner have been so sharply revealed?

God's people have often been exiles, and in the Old Testament we see what happened on many occasions when they were divorced from the land they had called their own. So, what did they do? Did they sit and pray, or look longingly back to the place they remembered? Did God call them to resist the exile? 

The prophet Jeremiah wrote much that has become very familiar to us, including the passage in Jeremiah 29 where he speaks for God saying "I know the plans I have for you..." But earlier in that passage God gives instructions on what it means to stay faithful to Him in a time of exile:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

So, in that list of getting on with things, engaging with culture not withdrawing from it, we see an instruction to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where we exiles find ourselves, and to pray for it. 

Two things for us to be doing then. 

Prayer seems fairly straightforward for us, bringing to God our concerns for the place we are, listening to God for His guidance on how to pray and act. 

But more than praying, we're to seek peace and prosperity. We're to be those who look for the embers of peace and fan them into flame. We are called to find the people of peace and co-operate with them. It is for God's exiles to do what they can to see prosperity - which means dealing with issues that hold people in worklessness, and using our resources where we can to bless our locality. 

Right now, when there is a rise in far-right ideologies in our continent, and where an ugly strand of racism ran through parts of the referendum campaign, we need to be those who work for the peace and prosperity of those who are economically marginalised, or are strangers amongst us, as refugees and asylum seekers, or as those for whom immigration was a better or safer option of a bright future.

Again, in the Old Testament, Moses speaks to the people of God and reminds them:

He 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. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. (Deuteronomy 10:18-20)

At a time when there's a real temptation for our nation to close borders, and to concentrate on a narrow and self-interested agenda, we, the followers of Jesus, must be those who ensure that the new Britain that emerges should be a generous one, an outward-focussed one, playing our part in caring for the whole world, not merely our own bank balances.

So, it's a word to exiles, that's all of us who haven't reached heaven yet. It's a call to pray, but more than that a call to act, a call to seek, and a call to build a peace-filled and prosperous nation.

In the middle of all the questions that are to come, I encourage you to find your identity in Jesus, not in nation, and your purpose in service, not self-interest.

Grace and peace

A 10 minute video version of this is available here: https://www.facebook.com/jonathan.somerville1/videos/10154359810454390/

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pentecost Message from the Baptist World Alliance

A New Creation
This is Pentecost. God effects a new creation. The old is gone; the new has come. Through a massive invasion of grace, a valley of dry bones gets a new lease of life. A dispersed and confused people find a new togetherness and speak a new language.
People drenched with fear and savaged by disappointment now experience the miracle of renewal. The dead are raised to life again. Order replaces chaos; new community displaces wayward individualism.
They thought the day of their liberation had come, but it turned into a nightmare. Then, at Easter, it became clear that they had survived the night of gloom and had arrived at a new dawn with joy. Now, with the Son ascended, what were they to expect?
They waited in Jerusalem. Passover was to be followed by Pentecost. Easter joy was to be consolidated into a lifelong blessing as, through divine empowerment, God opened up for everyone the path to new life.
The signs of the new creation are clear. The mighty wind of the Spirit is blowing; tongues of fire descend, not to consume each and all, but to constitute a new community. The gift that is given is for everyone. This is nothing less than a community transformation. This is a new creation. There is resurrection on a vast scale. The church comes to full fruition.
Pentecost is not merely about God creating new individuals. It is, instead, about the formation of a new community -- the community of the Holy Spirit. If the Son has been withdrawn, God is still present, breathing new life, strengthening bonds of love, giving abundant energy for the execution of an exciting mission. The gift that God gives is eternal life, proclaimed in preaching and signified in baptism. The illumination and empowerment given constitute the community for its mission.
Yet, do we not long to see the unmistakable signs of this gifted and vibrant community at work again -- fashioning friendship, making disciples, inspiring selfless service? Where is the joy, the love, the peace that the life-giving Spirit gives? Where is the passion for engagement in the mission on which God sends this beloved community?
This Pentecost, may the God-formed, Spirit-shaped community rise up again, claiming its heritage in Christ, discerning its unity and grasping the gifts it has received to fulfill its mission.

Neville Callam
General Secretary
Baptist World Alliance
April  2016

The message in other languages can be read at www.bwanet.org 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why we gave away £10,000 to another church

(I wrote this in response to a number of people contacting me to ask why we had done this today. This is not meant to be a boast, but we pray it would challenge and inspire. If you feel it's boastful then please forgive me and leave a comment and I'll pull the article )

 This morning my colleagues and I dropped into the staff meeting at All Nations church to take a £10k gift from our church to theirs. Our church Meeting (we are Baptists remember...) had talked it through and felt that this was the level of gift we should give.

Are we awash with cash? No.

Are we planning our own rebuilding programme soon? Yes.

Would it have been easier to hold onto that cash as we build up our own reserves to rebuild? Undoubtedly, yes!

So, why did we do it?

Firstly, we are aware that as we enter our own programme of rebuilding there is a strong temptation to focus solely on our own need. In giving away first we remind ourselves that we serve a God who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Our rebuilding will not be done just because of our own abilities, but because God guides us and provides for us.

Simon Pearce, our Finance Manager,
hands a cheque to Pastor Steve Uppal
Secondly, we worship a God of incredible generosity. He held nothing back in coming to earth, living as a human, demonstrating how to live, how to love, how to serve, how to win the victory over sin and death. He gave everything for us, and continues to provide all we have, all we need. Our decision to give is a reflection of the generous nature of the one we follow.

Thirdly, we were very keen to express something of what it means to build God's Kingdom, rather than establishing our own empires. In giving this gift we want to demonstrate that competition has no place in the family Jesus is building, that the success of one congregation is a success for all churches in the city. 

Finally, we love the folks at All Nations, and we honour them for pursuing a big vision of what God can do in the city. There is simply no way that they will see the fulfilment of their vision without the Church across the whole city being blessed.

Today was a good day for them, but also a good day for us, and a very good day for the work of Jesus in the city of Wolverhampton.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reparations from Britain to Jamaica, justice, righteousness and responsibility

Today the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, arrives in Jamaica for a short visit, where he will hold talks about trade, and lay wreaths in honour of the war dead.

In 2013 the Jamaican government approved a motion to call for reparations from the British government following the affects of slavery, empire and massacres. There is some doubt that this will be part of the conversations he has on this visit. It's important that the issue is raised, and given proper time and discussion.

There will be many who say that the past is the past, that saying sorry is meaningless now, and that any reparations are really the Jamaican govt trying to extract some extra finance from what remains of the once great empire.

To think this way is to deny certain realities.

The legacy of slavery in the UK is seen in the industrial advantage that was won, and still to a large extent remains today. Slavery meant great wealth was then reinvested in other industries which in turn thrived, and continue to generate income and wealth today.

The legacy of slavery in the UK is seen today in the way our history books have largely avoided this evil part of our past, choosing to gloss over the realities of history, and instead focus on those we think ended slavery (we quite rightly know William Wilberforce's history, but how many heard at school about Nanny of the Maroons, or of the Rt Hon. Sam Sharpe, or Paul Bogle?)

The legacy of slavery in the UK is seen in rich port cities like Bristol and Liverpool, with their grand buildings and infrastructure built with the conspicuous wealth of those involved in the slavery-powered business of sugar and tobacco.

The legacy of slavery in the UK is seen in the way British influence around the world far exceeds the size and resources of our island. This was not some fluke, or some stroke of economic or military brilliance, this is a global reach that was established, fuelled and maintained by slavery.

And every single day the legacy of slavery is seen and felt in the UK and internationally as racist attitudes and actions doggedly continue to blight our communities. The only way that slavery can be justified in the oppressor's mind is through making the enslaved person "other" and less than human. Those attitudes and mindsets seem to persist, like a generational curse. I find myself asking if our nation's actions had been towards another European country whether we'd so quickly dismiss the notion of reparations, or indeed whether the global community would continue to turn a blind eye.

For generations wealth was extracted from Jamaica. Whilst other nations we reinvesting wealth and profit in infrastructure Jamaica saw hers getting taken to the UK and other parts of the empire. And when slavery finally ended, it was the slave-owners who were financially compensated for their loss, with no payments made to enslaved persons for the years and lives taken in gruelling labour in the cruellest of conditions.

The grand houses of Jamaica are those built by slave owners (some of which were built by slaves on their "sabbath" so they didn't have their daily work interrupted...), often these now crumbling reminders of a bitter history stand in the starkest of contrasts to the simple houses most Jamaicans call home.

The legacy of slavery in Jamaica then is a very present reality. How does a nation make up for centuries of wealth being extracted? How does it build and provide when those industries other nations have were never developed to be based in that nation and plough back profit into the nation?

And how can two nations walk in partnership, when one has so grievously abused the other, and the legacy of that abuse continues?

It's not a matter of "dredging up the past", but rather dealing with the present. For the UK, the stain of our past lingers, and we have dealt unjustly with Jamaica. It is the responsibility of the generation that is aware of the injustice to fix it. For us in the UK, it;s a matter of righteousness. We cannot lecture the world about how to govern their affairs when we ourselves have left unfinished the matter of once and for all dealing with slavery.

David Cameron must listen with an open heart and mind to the call for reparations, and have the courage to do what is right.