Great is your faith

Last year I spent time volunteering in a woman’s prison during my final year of my journalism degree. I went in with my tutor and we helped the women in there create their own magazine. The pieces of creative work that were produced were always surprising. Some would write lengthy detailed poems, others would write fiction, some would write open and honest accounts of their life. 

On one occasion I was interviewing a woman for her life story to go inside the magazine. I hadn’t gone in with a goal to talk about faith, however she saw my cross around my neck and began telling me about her journey to following Jesus inside the prison.

She had been approached by the chaplain on her first night inside, feeling upset and scared she told the chaplain exactly where he could put the bible that was offered to her, she then slumped down crying in her bed. 

After a while she thought about the bible she had been given and began to read it. Later on she called the chaplain back and they spoke at length about what had happened. She had stabbed her partner in an altercation, and even though it was in defence, she was facing a possible murder sentence, as she didn’t know if he was going to live.

After her conversation with the chaplain, she lay on her bed and confessed her sins to Jesus, she begged him for forgiveness and for the strength to accept her sentence if her partner died, she prayed for strength to take responsibility for her actions. The girl told me that at that point, she felt a physical weight lift from her and from that second day in the prison she began to follow Jesus.

I thought about the girl in the prison as I read the gospel today. Jesus says that the Canaanite woman has “great faith”, a call for us to open our eyes and see great faith in places that might surprise us, just like the woman I met in the prison.

Last week, if we remember, Jesus appeared on the water to his terrified disciples, peter walked towards Jesus on the water but doubted and began to sink, he cried out to Jesus to be saved. Jesus says to him, “you of little faith”.

The disciples, the people who would be the obvious choice to have great faith, in this case were not, and in the gospel today, it is the Canaanite oman begging for the healing of her daughter, going against the ill feelings between the Jews and the Canaanites , even tolerating Jesus’s hard questioning to why he should help her, who remains firm in her cries out to Jesus to help her daughter.

Jesus hears her cries, he crosses social boundaries, he shows that God’s love and provision is for all and heals her daughter and commends her great faith.

Was Jesus being deliberately challenging to the woman, to show the disciples that great faith can be seen in unexpected places? 
Most importantly, what does this story mean for us today?

This week we have seen terrible attacks in Barcelona and in other countries, we have also seen ugly marches from white supremacists in America. Jesus is showing us today, that great faith doesn’t come from those who wrap themselves in man made rules to limit who receives the love and forgiveness of God. Great faith comes from those who cry out with sincere hearts, those who repent, those who answer Jesus’s call to love thy neighbor regardless of their skin colour, their social background, and their life choices.

The disciples in the gospel today wanted the loud, pleading cries of the Canaanite woman to stop, they wanted her to go away because she wasn’t part of the group, she was an outsider, she wasn’t supposed to receive Jesus’s precious time, she was seen to be an annoyance in their eyes.

This is what Jesus is challenging us with today, that great faith can be seen, can be found in the less obvious places, in the outsider, in the poor, in the sinner, in the addict, in a prison cell.

During my time here in the Good Shepherd I have witnessed great faith in the not so obvious places. 

Seeing Zara and Mortessa remaining so strong in Jesus’s love when their asylum application was rejected, their strength and resilience was a show of great faith, one I’ll never forget.

When my friend Gemma from st James on Sunday afternoon turned her life around, she showed firm, immeasurable faith in gods call, she always knows that she can cry out to Jesus, she now starts university next month to study for her dream job. A show of great faith.

The congregation of St Peters on Tuesday afternoons, who showed me gentle love and encouragement, in such a simple and peaceful way, who had faith in me to lead them, who have supported all who have joined them. They too are another show of great faith and great cake.

As I move on from the Good Shepherd today, I thank all of you for your love and guidance, for your welcome and your prayers. 

I pray that you all will continue to hear the voice, the cries of God’s people who might not be the obvious people to have great faith. 

I pray for God’s blessing on you all, for Roger, Jules, and Ben on their continuing leadership here.

I will keep you in my prayers with great love and memories.

Out of the boat

Today’s gospel was pretty much a good description of how I’ve been feeling in this weird wandering space before I begin ordination training.  Currently I’ve been sat in the boat clinging on to the sides as the waves of life buffet and toss me around. I’ve cried, I’ve panicked, I’ve wondered if I can hold out to this storm, will I get through August in one piece!? 

The biggest thing that has caused the most waves, is our tax credit renewal. We have received a significant drop in payments, which combined with school summer holidays, new uniforms to buy, and trying to get my MA final project done, I’ve been clinging onto the boat with white knuckles. 

But during this week, like the disciples, I saw Jesus walking towards me in the chaos. Calmly and quietly he stretched out his hand and asked me to get out of the boat. I summoned all my strength and took a step out of the boat and in doing so wonderful things have happened. Gods wonderful provision has amazed and humbled me.

Standing on the water with wobbly knees is frightening, I’ve had doubts this week, and I slipped into  the water begging Jesus to save me. This is what I love about today’s gospel, Peter, himself walking towards Jesus and then panicking, was not afraid to ask Jesus for help. And I guess this is what is important about stepping out of the boat, that Jesus will be there whenever I feel like I’m sinking, whenever I begin to panic and doubt.

Today was my last service at my sending church. After communion (which was outside!) I sat alone in the church thinking about how I heard God calling to me from that building. I looked at the pulpit where I preached for the first time, at the rail where begged for forgiveness, the high altar where the sun passed by and my skin tingled all over, the altar where I watched my vicar preside and hearing God saying that I could do this too. 

In this stillness I experienced the quiet gentle love of God. I felt his warmth and care, and a sense that everything would be ok. 

I just need to keep remembering that when I step out of the boat, Jesus will save me again and again and again. 

All she had to give

Today the rain has been lashing down my windows all day and because it is the summer holidays, the children are a little couped up and testy. We don’t have a back garden because we live in a victorian terraced house not far from the centre of Ashton-Under-Lyne. We moved here 12 years ago when I was expecting my first daughter at the grand age of 19. My boyfriend, (the man who is now my husband) and I moved from the leafy semi-detached roads of Gatley, Cheshire to here. There were a few reasons we moved here, 1) we could not afford to buy a house in Cheadle or Gatley, 2) I knew the area from playing in various brass bands over the years, 3) it was comfortably far away from my parents.

My road is a bobbly unadopted cul-de-sac with one row of similar houses to mine. At the end of the road is a main road lined with terraced houses, with the green hills proudly standing in the background. If you took a photo of my area and made it black and white I bet it doesn’t look too different from the era it was built in. We live in a socially deprived area, or that is what is always put on the school’s ofsted reports. I’ve never really understood what that meant, but from my experience living here, it means people who have to work very hard to get by, and that includes me.

As a young working mum, who earned minimum wage doing shift work, married to a man who also worked minimum wage doing shift work, living was always tight. As our family grew, we worked harder. I’ve experienced times where all I have had is the pennies in my purse, where I’ve made decisions to either feed the children or myself.

12 years on and my life has been transformed by Jesus, but we still struggle to get by and the people around me struggle too. One of my neighbours came round to chat and told me she’d had a tin of soup for tea because that’s all she had. We shared stories of scrimping together and in those stories was a glimmer of hope, one that we had each other to lean on and another that things will and can get better.

That is what the good news of the gospel brings, hope when things look hopeless.

Today I read the talk delivered by +Phillip at the Christian festival New Wine, and this quote of his really stuck with me,

“Areas characterised by social deprivation desperately need a gospel of hope”

+Phillip is right. 

Hope is needed when people around us are fighting for survival. They are fighting to make ends meet. They are fighting to feed their families, to heat their homes. They are fighting against a rising cost of living where minimum wage and zero hours contracts are not bridging the gap. The church here in Ashton is needed to deliver that hope, but what can the church do when it is fighting for the same survival? Evangelism and Christian hospitality should be the currency that secures and funds a church’s future.

 Jesus chose imperfect people to be his disciples, working class, tradesmen, sinners etc. The people who were sent out to deliver the good news that Jesus has, came from challenging backgrounds, the Old Testiment shows God’s call on people who were not perfect. So, like +Phillip says in his talk, church leaders should come from and to these challenging areas, the socially deprived areas like I live in because there is treasure to be found in places such as Ashton. 

I believe that God’s call on my life includes and utilises all the things I’ve experienced in my challenging life. I hope that in my placement as I train towards ordination I can connect with the poor, listen to the bereft, sit with the lonely, and hold the forgotten, remembering my own experiences and showing them the hope that Jesus placed in my heart and how they can have that too. 

There have been times where I have put all the pennies that I had to give in the collection plate and now as I serve in Rochdale for my placement, I will give God’s people everything that I have to give, from eveything that I am.