A reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday Easter IV 21st April 2024

Good Shepherd Sunday 2024

125/135th Anniversaries of the Congregation 

“I was glad when I heard them say; 

“Let us go into the house of God.”     Psalm 122

I remember the first time I walked into the Church of the Good Shepherd. Immediately, I was aware that this was a holy place. That it was a building loved and cared for and more importantly one that was steeped in decades of prayer and worship. I have always believed that prayer oozes out of bricks and mortar and I still feel that today about this place. Those words from Psalm 122 are I believe very apt in relation to this church. This truly is the ‘House of God’.

It is often said that building do not make a church and that’s correct. The church is actually the gathering of the people in worship but I have long believe that buildings do have a strong role to play in making the church visible and attractive. The journalist Canon Angela Tilby writing in the Church Times of 16th February 2024 wrote:

“It has become a widely held view that church buildings are an obstacle to the mission of the Church … For years, (she goes on to say) I have felt assaulted by the oft repeated little chant; “The Church is the people, not the building.” It is true that the NewTestament says nothing about church buildings, but it has quite a lot to say about people as a building, a temple, built on Christ.”

She is right in what she says but a much loved building whose foundations are deeply rooted in prayer does have something very special to offer the the community in which it is placed. 

Tilby goes on to say:

“Churches are signs of the holiness of God manifested in particular places, histories, memories. … There are good reasons that church buildings should be loved and preserved. After all, it is the building that bears witness to those who have lived and died in a particular place, and also signals continuity to those who have not yet been born.”

Again, her word echo my own thoughts and feelings. After the Covid19 lockdown I was overwhelmed by the number of local residents who thanked me that we kept the church garden and porch chapel open in those difficult times. Their words were also reflected in the numerous prayer request and comments left on the prayer board on the door. Words such as refuge, sanctuary, place of hope and calm were commonly used. I realised then how much this wee church building means to so many in the local environment. They may not choose to worship here but they certainly feel an ownership of the place and value the stability it offers in a changing world. It is a point of reference for more people than we could ever imagine. 

There will be those people locally, who look out to see that we are open on Sundays and Wednesdays for worship. Neighbours who watch you come to worship and who feel that you are representing them as well and who may say something to you if they don’t see you leave for church. We all worship not just for ourselves but for unseen or even unknown others who appreciate the fact that we do so, even if they are unable to do the same. 

Tilby continues:

“ A church building is the Gospel in wood, glass and stone. It witnesses to the risk of the incarnation: that God chose to dwell with us in a real time and a real place.”

This church building designed by Robert Lorimer to be a ‘country church in the city’  is certainly that but it is also so much more. It is the place God’s people can gather not only to worship but to enjoy each others company, to love and support each other. It is a place to laugh and cry in, a place to be silent and a place to raise a glass of fizz in celebration and in a spirit of fellowship and partying. 

For me this building is my much loved spiritual home. The place where I have laughed and wept, the place where I have comforted and been comforted, the place where I have listened to others and been listened to myself. This building, this congregation is part of my DNA and I suspect from what I know of you, that many of you feel the same. There are those times when, to be frank, you may have no idea why you are here or what it all means but still you are drawn in; and there will be those times when you are bowled over by the presence of God that you simply cannot speak. This for me is what a church building is all about. It is the place where we can be with God in a determined and specific way. Yes, God is always round us, in the wonderful Creation which have been given and share in but a building such as ours which is held together by prayer and love really is a holy place of God. 

Tilby concludes her article:

“People and place matter. Christianity is not just a religion of the Spirit. … a church is the memory of Christian presence. This does not mean that there are not times when there is no alternative, when it comes to mission, however, church buildings, far from being seen as an obstacle, should be celebrated for what they are: the threshold of faith.”

Those entering a church building for the first time will be aware of how much the place is, as I said before, prayed in and loved and it might just attract them to return and get to know it better and to explore what faith is all about as well. 

Those who dreamed of having a church in this bit of the city dreamed big and their dream became a reality. It is an unfinished dream both spiritually and physically. The dream of faith will never cease and we always have more to discover about God and our place in God’s love. This building was never completed, the money ran out and the tower and north aisle never appeared (and I say ‘Thanks be to God’ that, that was the case) but the gathering space that we have is perfect as it is, and I like the fact that it’s unfinished. For it speaks to me of the provisionality of life and faith There is always more to discover, create and do. 

Nothing should ever be set in stone or assumed to be the last word and a good building needs to grow and adapt organically if it is to survive as a place of worship and sanctuary in a community. Over the years the Good Shepherd has seen changes and not lest our recent decision to use the back of our church as our social gathering space and our plans for new cupboards to facilitate that gathering. Not only for our own use but for others from our local community who also love and value this place too.

The ‘church’ may not be the building but a good building can and does enhance everything a congregation may wish to do and as I believe, it can be an excellent tool for mission and witnessing to Christ in the bit of the kingdom it the congregation finds itself in. 

Let us be glad as we say; ‘this truly is the house of God’

Stone and brick,

mortar and wood,

glass and gathering space

symbols of:

prayer, commitment 

love and faith.

Vision and hope,

care and toil,

chat and comfort

all build 

the Kingdom of God

in this place.


A reflection for Low Sunday by Judy Wedderspoon Lay Reader

John 20: 19-31                                        Low Sunday

Jesus said to Thomas: “Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas has come down through Christian history as the disciple who was unwilling to believe in the resurrection of Jesus until he had visible and tangible proof. 

There is more to Thomas than that.

We do not know where he came from, although it is likely that he came from Galilee. Nor do we know how he came to be a follower of Jesus. Nor do we know what he did before becoming a disciple. But all three synoptic evangelists, Mark, Matthew and Luke, include him in their lists of the disciples who, early in Jesus’ ministry, were commissioned by him as apostles and sent out to spread the word in Galilee. Luke also includes him in the list of disciples who after Jesus’ resurrection, before Pentecost, were assembled at prayer, awaiting further instructions.

There are many legends associated with Thomas. Because he is described as “Didymus”, meaning “the Twin”, some early Christians believed that he was the twin brother of Jesus. That is not a belief which I can share!

Another legend says that after Pentecost Thomas travelled East to spread the Gospel, and finally ended up in India, where eventually he was martyred. There does not seem to be any concrete evidence of this, but the Internet tells me that in parts of India he is still regarded as their patron saint.

Finally, there is the Gospel of Thomas, one of a number of Gospels which were in circulation in the early church. (Other such Gospels include for instance the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of James.) None of these was eventually included in what we know as the New Testament. They were lost to Christianity until old manuscripts were discovered in the last century. But they were very influential in their time. The short Gospel of Thomas is a collection of so-called “secret writings” which sometimes repeat and sometimes purport to amplify the teachings of Jesus as they have come down to us. Just to give you a flavour: when recounting Jesus’ saying that no man can serve two masters, the Gospel of Thomas prefaces Jesus’ words by adding: “It is impossible for a man to mount two horses or to stretch two bows.” Both analogies are very unlike the type of analogies normally used by Jesus. So one has to ask, did these sayings really come from Jesus? Or, indeed, did they really come from Thomas? We will probably never know.

That’s a lot of negatives! Why do I think Thomas matters? What have we to learn from him?

I like Thomas. I do think that we can learn from him. He appears three times in St John’s gospel. Each time he has something important to tell us.

In John chapter 11, Jesus has left Jerusalem, having angered the Pharisees and the elders of the Jewish community by the cleansing of the Temple and by his teaching and healing in defiance of their dictates. With his disciples Jesus has continued to heal and teach beyond the river Jordan. Then the news comes to him that his dear friend Lazarus has died. Jesus at first delays, but then makes clear his intention to return to Judaea, to Bethany. The other disciples fuss around him. They do not want to go so near to Jerusalem. They are afraid for him, because the Jews have been trying to stone him. It is also rather obvious that they are afraid for themselves. Will they be stoned by the Jews? And what will happen to them if they lose their beloved leader? 

Thomas simply cuts through the cackle. He says: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [Jn 11: 16] That apparently ends the matter. Thomas is ready to follow the Master to whom he has given his allegiance, no matter what the cost, even unto death. Doubting Thomas must also be recognised and honoured as loyal and courageous Thomas. It is not easy at times to cut through the cackle and tell your fellow disciples where duty lies.

John then again brings Thomas to our attention in his account of Jesus’ discourse in the Upper Room after the Last Supper:  

 From John chapter 14: Jesus said to his disciples “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Thomas was honest. He was prepared, as I mostly am, to admit ignorance and to ask for an explanation when he didn’t understand. I’ve often wondered how he felt about Jesus’ reply: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Theological experts in the succeeding centuries have written volumes about those words. I suspect that Thomas may still have been puzzled, but he didn’t press the point. But when he was puzzled, he admitted it and asked. I believe that to be an example for all of us. We can admit that we don’t understand, and ask – even though we may find the reply beyond our understanding.

And lastly, in chapter 20 of John’s gospel, Thomas appears in the familiar reading which we have just heard. He could not accept without question the excited report of the disciples to whom Jesus had appeared earlier in the Upper Room. Nor could he accept Mary Magdalene’s account of our Lord’s appearance to her in the garden at the empty tomb, nor the account of the two disciples who had returned from Emmaus. All those accounts seemed to be tainted with emotional hysteria, understandable but unsatisfactory as far as Thomas was concerned. So he stood firm. “I’ve got to see for myself.”

And he did. Jesus appeared again to his disciples. Jesus understood Thomas. He understood Thomas’ need to really know. He showed Thomas his terrible wounds. So Thomas then uttered the words which have come down to be a beacon for us and for all believers. “My Lord and my God.” Thomas was the first to recognise unequivocally the divinity of Jesus not only for himself, but for all of us, for us who have not seen and yet have believed.

So let us thank God for Thomas, and for John the evangelist who has brought his memories and insights to us. Doubting Thomas, yes, but also loyal and courageous Thomas, and honest Thomas. Thank God for such as him.

A reflection for Easter Sunday 31st March 2024 by Canon Dean Fostekew

“There will be no miracles here.” and “Everything will be alright.” 

You’ll probably know these two sayings from the sculptures in the grounds of the Modern One and Modern Two galleries. They are by Nathan Coley and Martin Creed. For me they have a resonance with today’s glorious feast. You might wonder quite how? But think on. How did those woman who went early in the morning to Jesus’ tomb really feel on discovering the body gone and a strange young man telling them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen? 

“7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:7-8 

There is a bit of a problem with these last two verses from the Gospel read this morning. The young man (or angel) in the tomb tells the two Marys and Salome to go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is no longer in the tomb but that he has in fact risen from the dead and is on his way to Galilee. This is all well and good, and you might expect the women to go and do just what they have been told to do. But! As we are told in verse 8, the women were so terrified of the angel and his message that they decide not to say anything to anyone. (There will be no miracles here!) Verse 8 really does not make much sense because if they were so terrified as to do nothing, how then did the news of Jesus’ resurrection spread? 

Personally, I believe that the women were made of sterner stuff and once over their initial shock they did as they were commanded and spread the good news. (Everything will be alright.) The seeming paradox of the women being too terrified to say anything and the news of the resurrection spreading is simply, poetic licence. Mark uses the language he does to emphasise how utterly amazed and terrified the three women were - in the FIRST instance. I can’t believe that once they were over their initial shock that they chose not to say anything to the disciples and Peter. It is human nature to want to talk about what one has seen once the shock has passed - it is in fact one of the ways that we come to term with our experiences. We humans need to talk about our traumas in order to process and understand them and to comprehend the effects that they might have upon us from there on in. If we bottle it all up we are usually heading for difficult times ahead. A bit like that 17th century french Bishop of Modseine trying to make light of the unexplained miracles that kept happening in that city when he said; ‘There will be no miracles here’. Forgetting that we humans can’t control what God does. 

The three women, I suspect, would have talked among themselves about the empty tomb and the ‘young man’s’ words to them. I also think that they would have been too in awe of the ‘angel’ not to have done as he asked and that they would have sought the disciples and Peter out. So, although, Mark says they said; ‘nothing to anyone’; I think they must have or how else did the news of his rising from the dead spread? We also have to remember that Mark’s account is just one of the resurrection accounts in the New Testament. In Matthew 28 we are told that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary after encountering Jesus in the garden did run and tell the disciples what they had seen, with great joy and excitement, not fear. So, although, in Mark’s account the women seem to be dumb struck, in Matthew’s account it is actually Mary Magdalene who becomes the first evangelist of the risen Christ. The truth of the women’s reactions is probably somewhere in between. They realised a miracle had happened and that perhaps 'everything would be alright’ even after their grief had overwhelmed them on Good Friday. 

On that first Easter morning the women in their grief and despair at Jesus’ death, want to ‘lay him out’ properly as women have done for centuries before and after. They want to give him a good and decent burial and this would have been in the forefront of their minds and actions. When they encounter the empty tomb; fear, anger and distress would have overwhelmed them. So much so that they were rendered speechless but once over their initial shock and surprise they would have course sought out Jesus’s closest followers and friends to tell them what they had seen and experienced in all its weirdness. They well may have been convinced that a miracle had happened. I think those three women in this Gospel account became evangelists just as Mary Magdalene does in Matthew’s account. Can you imagine, however, what Peter and the disciples first made of what the women had to tell them? 

In fact how would you have responded if told that Jesus was risen from the dead? Might your first response had been along the lines of that 17th century bishop with his no miracles statement? How do the words; ‘Alleluia! He is risen!’ really make you feel? Do they give you hope, that things will be alright? Now translate that back some 2000 odd years to those who first heard those words - ‘He is risen!’ These words contain a power of liberation and hope beyond our actual comprehension. For these few words release us from our slavery to sin and guide us into the shining light and power of Jesus’ resurrection. Once the words; ‘He is risen!’ have been spoken life can or is never the same. 

Human life has not been the same since that first Easter morning. Christ’s resurrection changed human history for his resurrection was proof of our forgiveness and liberation from our sins. It was proof beyond measure that God loves us as he loves his Son, so much in fact, that we humans can be forgiven eternally because of the selfless actions of Jesus on the cross. How amazing is that? What a miracle that is and how wonderful it is to know that things are and will be alright, eventually. I hope that you find it amazing when you hear the words we use a lot today; ‘He is risen!’ because there are no other words quite as powerful apart from; ‘I love you’ and when you think of it; ‘He is risen!’ could quite as easily be translated as God saying; ‘I love you’. This is what today is all about, the power of love, God’s love, Jesus’ love, human love to change our lives and the lives of others too and to ultimately change the world. Perhaps the phrase today is; ‘He is risen!’ but translated as; ‘I love you’. 

In this amazing love of God we are risen into new life day after day after day. But, however, it is NO USE in Christ being risen if we don’t then do something about it. The best thing we can do is to tell another human being about Christ’s resurrection and the great love that God has for each of us. We need to try never to be too frightened, as the women may have been, to tell others about Jesus and we need to remember that miracles can and do happen and that things will be alright, if we have hope. For hope is love and love is the proof of the resurrection. May your lives always be filled with hope and love and may we always shout throughout eternity: 

Alleluia! He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Palm Sunday 24th March 2024

The Palm Gospel Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


A refection for Lent V Passion Sunday 17th March 2024 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Here is a young man, who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He was raised in another village. He worked in his adoptive father’s carpenter’s shop until he was 30, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held any public office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to university. He never set foot inside a big city. He only travelled 2000 miles from where he was born. He never did any of the things that we might associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. 

 While he was a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was given over to his enemies. He went though the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on Earth, his coat. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.     Anon.

When one looks at Jesus’ life in those stark terms it could appear that he didn’t do very much. His life was pretty unremarkable until his trial and death. One traumatic week out of 33 years of life. Not much really, and he would have been forgotten had he not risen from the dead!

You can read back into the Old Testament prophesies about the hoped for Messiah to gain something more glorious about Jesus’ life but you can only do this with the knowledge of hindsight. And, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews can only write as they do well after the resurrection of Jesus and many years of pondering on what that event actually meant. Jesus never saw himself as a High Priest, all he sought to do was the will of God. 

Yet, Jesus achieved and did remarkable things even if at first sight they seem pretty small. There were other preachers and agitators who probably achieved more before their deaths than Jesus did; but it was his death and resurrection that sets him well apart from anyone else in history. When we look back on Jesus’ life though the lens of the resurrection we can begin to see, I think, how he was given the strength to do the things he did and how we too might be given strength to do things we did not think were possible as well.

Today’s Gospel reading from John 12 gives us a few clues. Jesus knows full well that he cannot be saved from his fate and he tells his disciples so:

“… what shall I say: Father save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.”       John 12:27b

We know also from the other Gospel accounts that Jesus did wonder if he had the strength to do what was asked by God of him. Think of his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; ‘How can I do this?’; Is this really what I must do?’ Until as St.Luke tells us he says; “Let your will be done, not mine.” (Luke 27)

All of us at some time in our lives come to a point when we have to say to God; “Let your will be done.” It can be a difficult and painful journey to that point and an upsetting place to be in but it can also be liberating. For once we can truly say and really mean what we say in the words; “Let your will be done” we leave behind our old selfish natures and fully open ourselves to the will of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. 

Perhaps it is Jesus’ imagery of the grain of wheat becoming a crop of corn which holds the key to our understanding of what surrendering to God truly means:

“ … unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  John 20:24

The ancient understanding of the process of germination may to our ears today seem a bit confused, the seed does not die it changes. By ‘dying’ or germination one single gain of wheat becomes an ear of corn with many grains, these in their turn form part of a larger harvest - from the one comes the many. By dying to self-will we open ourselves to the possibility of God achieving much more in us than we might do on our own. Remember Jesus submitted himself to his Father’s will and literally changed the world. An anonymous writer wrote:

“… centuries have passed, and today he (Christ) is the central figure of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark, when I say that all the armies that have ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that have ever sat, and all the kings that have ever resigned, put together, have not affected the life upon this Earth as has that one solitary life.”

When we can say ‘Yes’ to God and submit to his will; we stop being solitary beings and are transformed from being like single grains of wheat into part of a much larger crop and harvest. Our efforts unite with each other, and God, to achieve more than we could ever achieve on our own and in doing so we build the Kingdom of God here on Earth - TOGETHER. 

The life of one man, Jesus changed the world for the better. His passion to try and do his Father’s will was transformative and the effects of that passion still reverberate throughout Creation today and will do so for all time. But, it is not just his passion and energy that continues to change things today and tomorrow but ours as well when we join with him in seeking to do the will of our God and Creator.