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In the Amber of the Moment - by Peter Bangs

Posted on 5th February, 2018


Sometimes we can be surrounded by beauty and become so used to it that we fail to appreciate it. I grew up in a small village surrounded by farms and woodlands. My childhood home backed onto a pig farm and it was never more than a ten minute walk to escape people and houses. I did not appreciate what I had. Looking back now my early life was like watching Springwatch. Most days I would see some combination of deer, badgers, foxes, hares, sand martins, swallows, bats and more in hedgerows, fields and woodlands but I never really looked at it. It was so much background noise. Like many of us I longed for what I didn’t have, big cities, fancy shops, cinemas and, later on, noisy bars.


It wasn’t until I had children and had to answer their questions of “daddy, what bird is that?” that I began to look at the natural world around me and really see what had seemed commonplace. It made me sit up and take notice and learn things I hadn’t known before. I could tell one gull from another and identify with reasonable accuracy the waders we saw at the shore. These things took on a new importance.


Three years ago, on my 50th birthday I went for a three hour walk around a small woodland near where I live, Telegraph Wood. I walked intentionally with my eyes wide open. I saw wrens for the first time in 30 years, noticed puffball fungi under a small stand of holly, crossed paths with a pair of fallow deer after following their tracks and found bristly badger hair on the fence following the far border.  This reminded me that, as I looked for peace in the middle of an incredibly uncertain period, whatever we may like to think, we don’t really own this land, at best we are stewards and as stewards there is a responsibility on us to ensure that this incredibly resilient countryside is given every help to continue. This doesn’t mean preserving it in amber though. The British countryside is different to what it was 50 years ago and 500 years ago and a 1000 years ago. What it does mean is finding a balance between the needs of people and the health of the countryside. What does this balance look like? I think it is different for each of us. For some of us it’s feeding hedgehogs and birds, planting bee and butterfly friendly plants in our gardens, for farmers it might be leaving wild borders around fields planted with crops or reinstating varied hedgerows.


According to the Book of Genesis in the Bible humanity was given stewardship over the earth. This doesn’t mean the right to exploit it but the responsibility to look after it while living on it. For centuries we did this successfully and I’m pleased to say that we seem to be heading back to being good stewards again.


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir.



December 2017 : Naming

Posted on 21st November, 2017


Having named our two boys a good few years ago, we again find ourselves in the arena of naming children, well rather we are observing our sons and their wives naming their children.  I understand that as a grandparent I have no view, and even if I have I must keep it to myself.  Much to my shame I suspect I am not as disciplined at this as I should be. 


However, this is good advice for grandparents.  In Fiji it is the grandparents who name the children not the parents, but it doesn’t count here. 


I can still recall the views of an elderly lady in the Shetland Islands, where I was a minister, over the name we had chosen for our newly born wonderful baby, ‘Timothy’.  She said ‘we prefer biblical names here’. We remained quiet in our own knowledge that the name ‘Timothy’ was a bible name and really felt a little indignant as one might as new parents. 


Just in case you are wondering what our grandchildren are called, their names are ‘Elijah’, ‘Isaac’ and ‘Sophie’, all great names.


The website has much to say about naming children: Choosing your child's name is a big decision--after all, they’ll be walking around with it for the rest of their lives!”  According to Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, when a child is born, the name reflects more on you than the child. "The name doesn't belong to you--you're making the decision because your child can't do it for themselves--but what you choose does say a lot about your personality." 


This observation I think is very insightful.  The story of the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel tells us about Joseph being betrothed to Mary.  Being betrothed was like a really strong engagement which was very hard to break.  Joseph finds Mary is pregnant and he is told in a dream by God that the Holy Spirit is the father and that Joseph should still marry her.  Then before the days of scans, Joseph is told that Mary will give birth to a son and that he has to name him Jesus.  It was a name foretelling what God was intending to do through this tiny baby.  A new birth with such potential, not just for himself, but the whole population for ever. 


Matthew makes it clear: ‘you will name him Jesus - because he will save his people from their sins’.  The idea behind this is that ‘sin’ or wrong is bad for the health of our souls, the people we are at the depth of our being and God loves us and wants to make us better.  More than this, not only does he want to make a difference, but he has done something to enable it. 


The English Poet Christina Rossetti’s poem/carol ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’ explains:


‘Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain,

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty —Jesus Christ.


She suggests a suitable response:


‘What can I give Him, poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, — Give my heart.’


In the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have the medicine for our souls when by faith we give ourselves to Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. 

I am not sure it quite counts as ‘a guilty pleasure’, but the reality TV series ‘Can’t pay? We’ll take it away!’ is strangely pleasing.  If you haven’t been watching it, then let me outline briefly how the programme progresses.  It is based around bad debt which has got out of hand, finally arriving at the High Court and following the decision of the court, the High Court Enforcement Officers go about to reclaiming the debt.  Basically, with the powers of the court, they visit debtors and try and recoup the value of the debt from the debtors on behalf of the creditors, either through money or by confiscating goods from the home to the value of the debt.  It is a consequence of today’s consumer society.


One of the main reasons the series is popular is that reveals personal stories.  Sometimes the debtors are basically rogues, people trying to work the system and aiming to make a dishonest living, but others are people with genuine experiences of hardship.  What I find most heartening is that these officers show a care and consideration as they apply the decisions of the court.  The officers often display genuine humanity for the people with authentic hardship, and show integrity.


The Methodist movement’s founder Revd John Wesley in the 18th Century experienced poverty and debt through his father Revd Samuel Wesley, who was a Church of England Rector in Lincolnshire and surprisingly spent time in ‘debtors prison’.  John Wesley was influenced by this childhood experience and did a lot of thinking about money.  He wrote a now famous sermon which had the points:  Gain all you can; Save all you can; Give all you can.  When John Wesley died all he actually owned was a pair of silver spoons!   However, he taught those who found a relationship with Christ to be careful and responsible with cash.   Still today we encourage people to live within their means.


We speak about debt because it is a reality amongst followers of Jesus and those who are yet to follow him.  Jesus had much to say about money: ‘No one can be a slave of two masters; he will hate one and love the other; he will be loyal to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money’ (Matthew 6:24).  It is interesting Jesus uses the language of slavery and ownership.   As the church we are keen to help people struggling with debt learn how to overcome it. When I have had anyone come to me for advice I have found the best charity I know in this area is Christians Against Poverty.  They provide advice and guidance for people who find themselves in debt and wish to escape it.  Their website is: I can strongly recommend them as a way forward to make life better.

AUGUST 2017 : Buy Ballots Law

Posted on 4th September, 2017


We were standing with our backs to the wind at the Wickham Festival in early August.  Already the weather had brought us; wind, rain and serious mud, I mean serious mud!  I was talking with one of our team for the Elemental Tent, trying to explain Buy Ballots Law: ‘With the wind on our backs, we put our arms out to the sides.  To our left (low pressure) is the poor weather we are going to get soon and it should be with us in 20 minutes’ time’.  I said it with great confidence, however it began to rain heavily straight away!  Soon the Elemental Tent was full of people sheltering from the rain.  It should also be said that Buy Ballots Law, with low pressure on the left and high pressure on the right is true in the Northern Hemisphere and it is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.  However, this is not the only thing that is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.


‘In 1893, 80% of Christians in the world lived in Europe and North America.  Now almost 60% of Christians throughout the world live in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific.’ (Tom Stuckey, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land).  The church in the north and Europe is in decline, but this is not the case worldwide. E.g. China under Communism tried to stamp out Christian faith, but the 1980s saw the Chinese Church grow in rural areas, spreading to the cities.   The growth has been so rapid that there are now more Christians there than members of the Communist Party (87 million).


None of this growth is to do with imperial power, unlike in previous times.  These people discovering the love of God and friendship with Christ, are largely poor.  The churches are lay led; hold to traditional Biblical faith; expect their congregations to live sacrificially; relate to local culture and importantly have a spiritually vibrant belief in prayer and God’s Spirit. 


The Elemental Tent, Faith al Fresco and other events offering open spirituality has demonstrated to us that lots of people have an interest in spiritual life and practice.  Not everybody turns up for Church Worship on a Sunday, after all I am writing from the Northern Hemisphere, but many people are searching, seeking and find themselves on a journey.  One practice we offer people, is the possibility of walking the Labyrinth, a 5,000-year-old practice, but one which many who wish to walk with Jesus find inspirational.  When we have offered this experience in the open air, with a Cross of tea lights in the centre, people have often found they have experienced Jesus in their journey. For others it has been an opportunity to reflect on life, love and God.


















As I write, the current BBC series of Poldark tells the story of the Methodist movement’s growth in 18th Century Cornwall.  At this time John Wesley is travelling on preaching tours of Cornwall and planting 18th Century fresh expressions of church ‘Societies’.  So far, we have seen Methodists banned from the local Anglican parish church, due to the snobbery of George Warleggan (patron and new squire of the parish and sworn enemy of Ross Poldark) assuming Anglican privilege.  The local Methodist leaders are the brothers of Demelza Poldark, Ross’s wife.  Having been banned from Parish Communion they try to use the dissenters’ chapel previously provided by the Poldarks, but now on Warleggan land and this is also closed to them.   So, whilst Ross Poldark is away, Demelza gives the Methodists permission to convert the old barn on the Poldark farmstead into a Methodist Chapel.  In the last episode, these imperfect labourers are feeding the poor alongside Ross and Demelza.   


Knowing Methodist history, I know this portrayal of early Methodist Anglican relationships reflects what happened.  Revd. John Wesley was an Anglican clergyman, his itinerant preachers, were a mixture of Anglican, Methodist and non-conformist lay and ordained, but united in ‘connexion with Mr. Wesley’ the evangelist.  The societies they founded sometimes found a welcome in the local parish church, but very often many found rejection and persecution.  The Methodists’ one driving force was the desire to save souls. 


Recently, people have asked me ‘Are we about to join with the Anglican Church?’  This follows reports from this Summer’s Methodist Conference.  Well, it is important to say that things today are not as they were in the 18th Century, but the short answer to the question is ‘no’.   Following the 2003 Anglican-Methodist Covenant there are moves towards fuller visible unity, but the place of bishops has proven difficult.  At Conference, District and Circuit level we will be invited to consult on mission, ministry and bishops. 


What we call ‘ministers’ and Anglicans call ‘priests’ are biblically known as ‘presbyters’, people ordained to Word and Sacrament.  For Anglicans to accept Methodist ordination in the past it was suggested that all Methodist presbyter ministers be re-ordained, something many consider inappropriate and unnecessary.  So, we are discussing whether we can accommodate ordination by bishops (‘episcopal ordination’) another way. The proposal from Methodist Conference is that the role of President of Conference be adapted, to the office of a President-bishop.  This would express, in a personal form, the Conference's ministry of oversight.  Initially the President-bishops would be consecrated by both Methodist Presbyters and Anglican bishops.  Then all future ordinations of Methodist Presbyters would be recognised by the Anglican Church and Minister Presbyters ordained before this time, would be treated as if they were recognised.  As the Church Times comments: The plans involve challenges for each Church: the adoption of episcopal ordination by the Methodists, and the temporary acceptance of non-episcopally ordained presbyters by the Anglicans.’  Personally, I believe that the hall mark of healthy ecumenical relationships is that we treat each other as equals, with no one assuming privilege!  It is hoped that these discussions may allow a decision to be made in 2020.


2017 is the 25th Anniversary of my Ordination as a Presbyter, however, earlier that day I was ‘Received into Full Connexion’, so becoming one of Mr. Wesley’s itinerant preachers and part of the ‘Apostolic Succession’, this I find deeply significant.  Regarding the future of Methodism, I commend Revd. Tom Stuckey’s new book: ‘Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land – The Future of the Church in Britain, A Methodist Perspective’ (£10, I have copies for sale).  About ecumenism in the past, Tom observes: ‘Some advocates of ecumenism believed that renewal would come when the traditional churches accepted each other and pooled their resources.  This has proved to be a fantasy.’  His book contains much wisdom.  Wesley emphasised, we have ‘nothing to do, but to save souls’, so as long as we share the Gospel in the Meon Valley Circuit, people will be converted, lives changed and the church renewed.  In the midst of our various ecumenical discussions we must keep the main thing, as the main thing!

JUNE 2017 : The Shack

Posted on 15th June, 2017













I don’t know whether you have ever read the book The Shack by Wm Paul Young?  It has been a best selling novel in recent years and is both influential and controversial; which for a book of fiction isn’t bad!  The book has now been made into a film which is on general release.  So, without giving away the plot, let me quote the blurb on the book cover:


‘Mackenzie Allen Philip’s youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness.  Four years later, in the midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him to that shack for a weekend.  Against his better judgement he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare.  What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.’


When I read the book I was moved by the story, and found some of the imagery used challenging, as it made me think about how I see God ; the pain of bereavement in tragic circumstances ; and I finished the book feeling inspired.  It is a good read and the film should be really good. 


Here is the internet link should you wish to follow it:



MAY / JUNE : Where is God?

Posted on 3rd May, 2017


Famously the Soviets published a cartoon in the Newspaper Pravda at the time of initial space exploration showing a space ship and commenting, God is not here.  Both atheist and faithful believer discover the challenge of finding God a real issue. 


In the resurrection stories of the Gospels we have the delightful story of a disciple, Thomas, who misses out on meeting the Risen Jesus (Jesus being bodily alive after death by Crucifixion) because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Thomas is told the story from the other disciples, he is incredulous and famously replies ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the nail-marks, and my hand into his side – I’m not going to believe!’  Then a week later, the disciples are all together and this time Thomas is there.  The doors are shut.  Jesus came and stood in the middle of them.  He greets them with a peace and then says to Thomas, ‘bring your finger here and inspect my hand.  Bring your hand here and put it in my side.  Don’t be faithless! Just believe!’ Thomas replies: ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus comments, maybe wryly, ‘God’s blessing on people who don’t see and yet believe’.  It is easy to hear this story and think that God is only really found in the miraculous, and those who ‘locate’ (not a good word, but the best for the moment) God in the miraculous often find difficulty when the miraculous doesn’t happen.  Miracles are by definition rare and the resurrection is by any definition ‘miraculous’.  However, the story of Jesus and Thomas tells us that God is to be found in the midst of genuine doubt.  It is all right, God’s got it covered!


Recently at Waltham Chase Methodist Church we held a concert for mental health, for the  Mind and Soul Foundation , a Christian mental health charity.  Various local artists came and performed and the audience enjoyed tea and cake.  It was a wonderful evening and many of the performers spoke of their journey with mental health and how faith has helped.  A number spoke of the pain, the difficulty, but also of finding Jesus in the midst of their journey.

I can remember when our children were young, we would take them into Nanna’s garden on Easter Sunday, then armed with small baskets they would go on an Easter Egg hunt, discovering as they travelled small eggs that the ‘Easter Bunny’ had left.  Sometimes, a symbol becomes stronger than the reality it is there to explain.  It can be difficult for parents and grandparents, with the story of the bunny and chocolate, to explain that the real reason for Easter Sunday is the resurrection of Jesus.  Someone recently explained to me that many British children think that Easter Sunday is the celebration of the Easter Bunny’s birthday. 


I have been trying to work out if this actually counts as ‘fake news’?  President Trump has been popularising the idea in his Tweets, objecting to the work of journalists; then UK politicians have been catching on, using the label to describe something they don’t agree with.  However, on Face Book and other internet sites, it seems so easy to fall for fake news.  There are all sorts of fake news stories out there, covering everything from politicians to the Pope!


Fake news can be: false information deliberately circulated ignoring truth, but with the hope of pushing extreme political causes.  Or, it can be information that journalists spread unknowingly.  It may also be, an unintended error which moves into the popular mind.  Do you remember the headline ‘Freddy Star ate my hamster’?  That never happened!  The important thing about any story is whether it can be verified or not.  This can only really be accomplished by our checking the evidence in a number of places and taking time in doing so. 


Now, when Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross and rose from the dead, which is the basis of what Christian believers call ‘Good News’; there were some, who were keen to promote a different story, 1st Century fake news, as it were.  There were soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus and when the resurrection happened they fainted with fear, but afterwards the soldiers told another story.  ‘Some of the soldiers guarding the tomb went back to the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.  The chief priests met with the elders and made their plan; they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘you are to say that the disciples came during the night and stole his body while you were asleep.  And if the Governor should hear of this, we will convince him that you are innocent, and that you will have nothing to worry about.’  The guards took the money and did what they were told.  And so that is the report spread round … to this very day.’   Why not read the account and decide for yourself whether this is good news or fake news?  It is found in Matthews Gospel Chapter 28.  Happy Easter!  Christ is risen!

JANUARY 2017 : A new President

Posted on 11th April, 2017

In January 2009 I found myself speaking to a congregation largely made up of African-Americans.  There was an anticipation that a new era was emerging as President Obama was taking office.  The first Black American in the highest office.  I had assumed that all those who in Worship were Democratic supporters, but I was wrong.  Obama was considered as a good choice by many, but not all of them. I must admit that I was then and am today, confused over how American politics actually works.  Republican and Democrat don’t seem to match our options of Conservative and Labour (with various other hues in between).  So, I, like many in Britain are now anticipating the term of President Trump with interest, to say the least! 


President Elect Trump (as he is at the time of writing) ran an election programme like none other.  Bold, colourful, objectionable, with personal insults, his speeches were lauded by some as ‘freedom of speech’, but resulted in stirring up anger and fear.  The ‘Reality TV personality’ and businessman uses a rhetorical style promising utopia (an imaginary perfect life) to those disregarded by previous political movements.  However, he is really promising the impossible.  So, we speculate on how, what and which promises will actually be kept.  It is early days, but we are seeing an approach to public office which is post truth.  Many statements just weren’t true, but they sounded ‘right’ for his local audiences.  Already he has been drawing back from some, but not all, of his pronouncements.  If America had no international influence, I would be happier, but it does and the fact that the President of the United States can make decisions which are earth shattering is troubling.  Trump uses Social Media, especially Twitter.  Social Media (Face Book, Twitter etc.) is described by some as an ‘Echo Chamber’, the place where we hear what we want to hear.  Truth, truths, ‘my truth’, ‘your truth’ and ‘untruth’ all get posted to bring comfort and affirmation to personal views.


‘A leader is a dealer in hope’ so said Napoleon Bonaparte; my comments on Donald Trump are offered not so much in criticism, although you may spot I am not a supporter, but as an observation about cultural change, on both sides of the Atlantic.  I know a leader who ‘although he had equal status with God, didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.  Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever.’  This leader, this person, is Jesus, the one whose influence far surpasses any leader and who, exemplifies leadership as servanthood. 



Who would like to spend 40 days away from friends, family and food?  Now, all extreme introverts may say ‘yes’ and extreme extroverts may respond ‘no way’.  I’m not even commenting on the issue of food and fasting.  Yet, this is what Jesus did, Lent finds it’s genesis in the life of Jesus.  The story in the Gospels tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil for 6 weeks and most importantly, that Jesus came out of this desert experience renewed and focused on doing God’s will (Matthew 4 v1-11).  If you want to see the story you can go to YouTube and see The Miracle Maker cartoon ‘Jesus temptation’ (


Taking time out to reflect on our life and purpose is important.  Most of us can’t manage 6 weeks, although the idea of reflecting on life and purpose is attractive for many in postmodern society.  So, when believers today observe Lent we are mirroring what Jesus did.  People often give up stuff: food, alcohol, chocolate etc.  Yet, the idea is really about spiritual values and discovering God in the difficult and hard areas of life.  I remember working in Bosnia and meeting the local Orthodox Priest.  He wanted to offer me a feast, but told me he couldn’t because we were meeting during Lent.  Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, fish and alcohol during Lent and I remember feeling a slight embarrassment, because I’d not actually given up anything like that, food on established military operations can be very good indeed, and so my observance of Lent was meagre in comparison, despite time away from family, friends and home comforts for 6 months due to God’s calling me to serve in the British Army.


Lent, those 40 days before Easter, is when we can can choose to change the pace of life, the monotony and the sameness of each day and week.  Yes, we can give up things, such as alcohol (something I am doing this year, my intention is that each time I fancy a glass of wine, I’ll chat to God), but the important thing is to cultivate those times in the day when we can just stop, be in silence, read the Gospel stories in the Bible and talk to God.  It may be that you could choose to drop a meal, or a coffee and cake time, and instead pray and read.  My suggestion is that by doing this, we will be enriched, like Jesus was, having developed spiritually and know God, who is closer to us than our very breath.