What is the purpose of the church?

This month we enter the season of Lent that leads up to Easter.  The 40 fasting days of Lent represent the 40 days we are told in the Gospels that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness; days that were really a time for him to explore his experience at his baptism and the direction he would take in life.


At the end of that time he went home to Nazareth and on the Sabbath went to the synagogue were he was asked to read the scripture and speak. You can read the story in Luke chapter 4.  I preached on this story in January and was asked to summarize my sermon for Look-In, so here goes.


At the heart of the story are the verses Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”    (Luke 4:18-19)

Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”


Most scholars agree that the way Luke tells the story suggests this is a pivotal moment in Jesus life; that the words he read in the synagogue are fundamental to his understanding of his mission, of God’s mission.  But to say this passage describes God’s mission still begs many questions.


Who are the poor and what is good news for them?  A report published by Oxfam in January this year highlights the global inequality of wealth.  According to the report, the richest 62 people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 50% (3.6 billion people) put together, and the richest 1% have more wealth than the remaining 99% (incidentally, anyone whose total assets are worth more than £533,000 is part of that 1%).  But is being poor just about not having money?  What about those who have lost everything, lost hope, lost home, lost family, lost their future, the outsider and the refugee?


In purely financial terms it might be that some kind of redistribution of wealth from the absurdly rich to the abject poor is part of God’s day of favour (or salvation as some versions put it).  But good news for the poor is not just about having more money, it is about having hope and home and future restored.  So, should showing and sharing hospitality to those who have no place to call home be part of that good news?


Who are the captives and what is release for them?  People in Wormwood Scrubs or Broadmoor?  Do we want them to be released before their time?  But what about those held captive in Belmarsh and Harmondsworth detention centres?  Could God’s will be that these people find release?  Then there are those imprisoned by grief, regret, anger, bitterness, etc.  What might release from captivity mean for them?  Surely part of it must be to know they are loved and valued.  Is Jesus saying that to show love is the mission of God and, when love is shown God’s day of salvation is fulfilled?


Who are the blind and what does it mean for them to recover sight?  Does this just refer to those who have some form of visual impairment?  Or does it include those who choose not to see, those whose hearts and minds are closed, those of fixed opinions, and those who have lost the ability to see the humanity of other people?  In which case, what does recovery of sight mean?  Maybe the day of the Lord is a day of challenge and shock to our preconceptions and prejudices, a day that moves us from our mental comfort zones and forces us to see the limitlessness of God’s love.


Who are the oppressed and what does it mean to be set free?  Did Jesus have in mind just those living under a foreign occupying power, as the Jewish people were at that time under Roman rule?  Perhaps we should also include those who live under oppressive ideologies, like that of the so-called Islamic State.  But then there are some pretty oppressive Christian ideologies that scare me, and some oppressive attitudes in wider society that lead some people to think it is acceptable to throw stones and eggs at the homes of asylum seekers, or do worse.  Is the freedom Jesus had in mind a freedom to practice one’s own faith and culture without fear of attack?  I believe God’s day of favour is a day when people live together showing acceptance and tolerance.


The passage Jesus read in the Synagogue challenges us about our understanding of God’s mission and what ‘the day of favour (or salvation)’ means; it reminds us that God’s salvation is not about having a place in heaven, but about having a place for God’s attitude in our minds and in our actions here on earth?


The root of this vision of God’s kingdom lies in the Old Testament laws.  In the book of Leviticus, in a passage headed ‘Laws of Holiness and Justice’, we find the command:

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt”    (Leviticus 19:33-34)

A simple instruction to treat strangers in our land as if they are our own people.


The Old Testament book of Ruth tells the story of a family who twice experienced being refugees.  I highly recommend reading this beautiful short book in one go.  In it we are told how a man called Boaz put the instruction in Leviticus into practice.  Then at the end of the story, when the descendants of Ruth are listed we discover the great King David was her grandson.  From this foreigner, this asylum seeker, came the man most Jews look to as the greatest leader in their history, the man who really made them a great nation.  The point being that by keeping the law to welcome the stranger the nation became stronger.


What is the purpose of the church?  Surely it is to continue the mission of Jesus. To work for freedom for the oppressed and to bring good news to the poor is to continue the mission of Jesus. The problems of the world sometimes seem too large for us to do much about.  But global issues always have a local aspect to them.  We cannot solve the crisis in Syria or do much about the reasons people leave their homes to make a new life in a new country.  But perhaps we can help in some small way by showing and sharing love and acceptance and hospitality and support to the strangers in our midst.

Nick Skelding

This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Feb 2016

40acts - do Lent generously

40acts – changing the world, one generous act at a time

Most people give up something for Lent but what would happen if you choose to give out instead of giving up?  To use Lent as a focus for giving to others, one small step at a time?  40acts is a Lent challenge that encourages you to do just that.  40 small acts of generosity – one for each day of Lent.  Each day, a different challenge – a different way of showing kindness and being generous to those around us.


This will be the third year I’ve taken part in the 40acts challenge and already I’m looking forward to that daily email arriving, bringing with the reflection for the day and a challenge to complete.  This year, once again, there is also a traffic light system for the acts – allowing several different options for completing the challenge depending on just how generous or challenged you would like to be!


Last year’s challenges included the following:

  • Picking up litter somewhere in your local area.
  • Taking time to thank someone for something they’ve done.
  • Making the effort to arrive somewhere on time.
  • Switching the phone off and going offline for a whole day.
  • Spending quality time with someone.
  • Trying to widen your social circle.
  • Being the first to volunteer to meet a need.
  • Putting someone else’s schedule first and doing what they wanted to do for a day.
  • Sharing your story.
  • A big anonymous act of generosity.


Some were fairly easy, some very hard and some took me outside of my comfort zone but the traffic light system helped take make the more challenging ones easier to complete.  Somehow I managed to complete all of the challenges.  It made me more mindful of the small things I could do every day to make a difference to those around me and helped me to become aware too of some bad habits that I needed to break.


You can find more about the 40acts challenge on their website where you can also sign up to receive their daily emails.  This year is the 6th year that 40 acts has been running – last year over 74,000 people signed up and contributed to 2.9 million small acts of generosity.  Hope you can join me and help change the world, one small act of generosity at a time!

Louise George

This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Feb 2016

A view from the pew!

One of the contrasts between our nonconformist worship and that in churches which follow a liturgy lies in the central role of the preacher. In many Anglican churches, for example, the liturgy is followed and punctuated by an ‘address’ which is often brief and insubstantial. In traditional Methodism and Congregationalism the service led up to the sermon and the centrality of the sermon was at its heart. Then the spotlight turned, even more strongly, on to the preacher – ministerial or lay. Would there be something memorable or something which caused hardly a ripple? I can still vividly recall my worshipping days at City Temple. When Leslie Weatherhead climbed to the pulpit there was an almost physical excitement across the congregation. He never disappointed!


Preachers come, as we all well know, in all ‘shapes and sizes’! Some are orators. others are low key. Some are theologians, or scholars, or teachers, or philosophers. or politicians who speak lines but allow us to read between those lines. Some conform rigidly to established norms and doctrine, others push at the boundaries. Some are traditionalists, others are innovators. Some challenge and provoke thought, others comfort and reassure. Some fill the pews, others thin them out. Some welcome comment afterwards, even disagreement, others are irritated by it. Some devise services of peerless beauty, others prefer to be almost homely and even self-deprecatory. All are predictable. See a name on the Plan and we know what to expect! Even those preachers who protest that the service is not ‘theirs’ then (quite rightly) stamp their own style and vision on every service they conduct!


To my mind (and as always I could be wrong) this is what makes our nonconformist worship exciting and meaningful. We gain from hearing men and women with different qualities and insights who can gather up our thoughts and feelings and lift us to the heights. There is no right or wrong way, only different ways.


Read, if you will, Hymns and Psalms 158. Samuel Greg’s verses perhaps say much. Therein lies a blueprint perhaps? So never let us forget the responsibility we rest on the shoulders of our preachers.  I once met a preacher who told me “when I step down from the pulpit, I am drained. I have poured my whole self into the service and my sermon. I am spent!”


As always I ask YOU a question! What do YOU expect from a preacher?

Howard Cooper

This article was first published in the January 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In – January 2016

What the artist saw

A certain artist in the nineteenth century chanced one day to look out of his window.  He saw the pathetic figure of a beggar limping past, clothed in rags and plodding mechanically along.  Something about the man made the artist dash out and invite him to sit for his portrait.


The beggar, sensing the chance of a little money, perhaps a meal, followed his host into the studio and slouched in a chair.  The artist looked critically at the tramp – a broken man, old before his time, all the light of life faded from his eyes.  Or nearly all, for suddenly – inspired by the face of his model – the artist set aside the canvas on which he had been working, took a new one, and with bold strokes began a new portrait.


The artist was unmindful of the time; the beggar inquired if he would ever be finished.  “My good man,” he murmured, “I’m sorry to have kept you so long, I’ll make amends.  The picture will take a lot of finishing but I think I have all the essentials now.  Would you care to look at what I’ve done?”  The beggar, tired and hungry, could only think of his pay and possible food and drink.  However he did take a look.  At first he could not make head or tail of what had been done – the portrait was not of a down-and-out but of a well-dressed, perfectly groomed, middle-aged man with a fine figure and a handsome face, character in every line of the strong, resolute features.


Slowly light dawned on the beggar.  The artist had painted not the man he saw but the man the beggar might have been or might become.  He kept starting at the picture, tears began to run down his cheeks.  “Sir,” said he, looking the artist in the face, “if that’s the sort of man you see in me, I reckon that’s the man I’m going to be.”  The story says that the artist gave the beggar his chance, and that the beggar took it, and made good.


The New Year is a time for resolution, especially for Christians.  Jesus could always see the best in people.  There was no such word as ‘hopeless’ within his vocabulary.  He had an optimistic regard for the ordinary people he met; he saw their inner potential as children of God.  That is how Jesus regards us.  Having Someone with that kind of faith in us, makes New Year resolutions easy to keep!

Graham Haslam

This article was originally published in the January 1973 issue of Look and has been reprinted in the January 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In – January 2016

If Uxbridge Were Bethlehem

If Uxbridge were Bethlehem, where would Jesus be born?

An interesting question.  Each year we re-tell the stories of the birth of Jesus.  The place names are familiar to us, and yet, unless you have had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land, they are strange foreign names.  We hear about the impact of government tax planning, forced movement of people, the plight of migrants that cannot find a place to stay and of a family that has to flee to a foreign country to escape persecution and death.  The stories are old but the experiences are as up-to-date as today’s newspaper.  Which begs the question, what does this story have to say about our world today?  And another question, if Jesus was born here today, where would he be born?

Where is the equivalent of the Bethlehem stable?  Is it under a canal bridge?  Or a winter night shelter?  Who would his mother be?  A single mum in an awkward relationship with an older man?  And who would be the ones that recognise his presence?  The foreigners who turn up wearing strange clothes?  The dirty smelly workers who do the jobs no one else wants to do?  The people who hear voices and see visions the rest of us don’t understand?

Christmas is a special time for families and a time for celebrating a story that reminds us how much God loves the world and loves us.  But it is also a difficult time for many: the lonely, families that don’t always experience harmony and, those who don’t have the resources to join in what most people think is the purpose of Christmas – spending money.

I do wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas, but I also pray that we will not forget or ignore the challenges that the Christmas story brings and that in simple ways we might all bring a bit of Christmas cheer to someone who finds Christmas difficult.

With Best wishes

Nick Skelding

This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Dec 2015

Tails wagging dogs?

“I always preach to the lectionary” a preacher told me recently. She added that if she did not want to preach to two of the lectionary passages then she ‘may as well’ preach to the third. I said nothing! However, as the service proceeded I wondered if we were hearing what she felt called to say or what she may as well’ say!


This reinforced my reservations about us following a lectionary. To many who preach it becomes an instruction and a self-imposed straightjacket rather than a suggestion. We nonconformists are not committed to a liturgy. We commit the leadership of worship to the preacher. He/she has been called to preach and is guided by God in constructing an act of worship. It is surely for the preacher to choose what Scripture we hear and not for a lectionary to  determine to what theme a service should adhere!


Many churches, including our own at Christ Church, have ‘pew bibles’. That implies that all Scripture should be read from just one version. Surely it is for the preacher to choose whatever version he/she believes most perfectly expresses what is right for any service! Many churches, again including our own, appoint members of the congregation to read. But even the most gifted of public readers can lay the emphasis in a completely different place from what the preacher would wish. What would be wrong in a preacher deciding to read him/herself?


I have had robust conversations with friends of mine who are organists in their churches. They expect to choose the hymns. I have asked them how they can choose them without knowing what the preacher’s mind is for the act of worship. They claim they can ‘tell’ from the lectionary! Even the tune for a hymn can be part of the mood music of a service and should be chosen by the preacher. Nick reminded us that he is asked why he chooses the hymns that he does. He chooses hymns that ‘belong’ with that act of worship. I once was caught by a minister looking through the hymns before a service. He said he knew I was trying to work out the likely content of his sermon. “You won’t”, he said, “I just chose the hymns I like or ones I’ve been asked for”! I said nothing but I thought plenty!!!!


To my mind, a service should have a unity. Every breath should be woven into a seamless fabric and should be uttered with total commitment. A preacher who ‘may as well’ follow the lectionary is more than likely to deliver something that is lacking in unity and devoid of passion. To those who preach I say it’s YOUR service. YOU have been called to the pulpit.  Can we imagine that Soper, Sangster, Weatherhead, Griffiths, Morris et al felt they should be governed by a lectionary or told what version of Scripture to use or what hymns to include? Then why should you? You are the dog, not the tail!

Howard Cooper

This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Nov 2015


As we head out of October into November we head into a month of transition, full of dates and events that remind us of change and flow.  The weather is the first thing that we notice change.  These days October is still generally pleasant, it can feel as much like late summer as early autumn, but November can be cold and wet and feels like the start of winter.


Then there are the special days that remind us of death and change: All Saints (1st), Bonfire Night (5th), Armistice/Remembrance (11th), and for those with an American connection there is Thanksgiving (26th).  These days all teach us to value life, to treasure memories of the past, and remind us of what is important to hold on to and fight for.


Toward the end of the month faith organisations in Hillingdon have another opportunity to value, treasure and consider what is important in their own tradition and that of other people during Hillingdon Inter Faith Week (23rd-29th November).  At Christ Church we are planning to invite members of other faith communities to our church over the weekend of Friday (27th) to Sunday (29th).  It would be good if we all help to welcome any visitors who come, whether it is to the exhibition that will be up on Friday and Saturday or to worship on the Sunday.  Please look out for more details nearer the time.


Sunday 29th is also the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday in which the cycle of the Church calendar restarts.  Advent is a season of anticipation and preparation for Christmas (oh dear, have I mentioned the ‘C’ word already?).  But what does Advent (and Christmas) mean for us?  To help us reflect on that question, this year our Advent theme will be “If Uxbridge were Bethlehem, where would Jesus be born?” As part of that we will be thinking about Jesus born a migrant, becoming a refugee and how we might respond to the current situation locally in Uxbridge and further away.


To get us started in our thinking there will be a film night on Wednesday 25th where you can watch the film ‘Whistle Down the Wind’; there will be opportunity to discuss the film the following Wednesday (2nd Dec).


And finally, as part of our Christmas preparation and church decoration this year we are holding a ‘Cardboard Christmas’.  You will be familiar with flower festivals and Christmas tree festivals where people prepare a floral decoration or decorate a Christmas tree on a particular theme.  Well, the idea of a Cardboard Christmas is similar.  Everyone is invited to take a cardboard box (any size large or small) and put in it item(s) that represent something of what the Christmas message means or says to you.  For example, you could build a nativity scene in the box, or put in it a picture of a Christmas dinner (please no actual perishable goods!), you could fill it with stars or straw (no cowpats, they would come under the banned perishable goods act).  These are just illustrations, please use your own imagination.  Completed boxes should be brought to the church by the weekend 4th-6th December so that they can be arranged in time for the parade service on 13th December.


Best wishes

Nick Skelding


This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Nov 2015


Was Jesus always right?

One of the things that frustrated me during the recent general election campaign was the simplistic viewpoints of the different parties and candidates, both in placing the blame for our economic and social problems and the solutions they offered.  It’s all the fault of Gordon Brown, the EU, Migrants, the bankers, the English, the Scots, etc.; all we have to do is increase public spending, decrease welfare spending, shut the doors to foreigners, come out of the EU, get rid of the English, get rid of the Scots, etc.


I would have been willing to vote for any candidate who had said, “Actually it’s very complicated.  There was no one cause for our problems and there is certainly no simple solution.”  But no candidate was ever going to stand up and say that.  Generally people do not like complicated.  We want simple solutions and certainties, even though we know they are a lie.


Back at the start of the so-called War on Terror, George W Bush had the very simple yardstick for judging people, “if you’re not with us you’re against us.”  Simple as this statement is it did not do justice to the complexities of international politics.  And look where his simplistic partitioning has got us today.  Things are never that clear cut.  The days of being able to judge whether a cowboy is a goodie or a baddie by the colour of his hat have long gone.  People are complex, like economics, and subtle complexities make life awkward.  No one is 100% wrong or 100% right.  Not even me!


Of course we do like to categorise people as Good or Bad.  The general consensus about Adolf Hitler is that he was bad, very BAD.  However, I have no doubt that he must have had some positive qualities.  Martin Luther King Jr is rightly regarded as one of the greatest ‘Good’ people of the 21 Century.  However, researching for my recent sermon on him I discovered that he cheated in writing his PhD thesis.  And, thinking of British politics, Margaret Thatcher is for some a saint who did no wrong but for others a villain who did no right.  The truth is she got some things right and some things wrong.  We are all sometimes right and sometimes wrong, sometimes good and sometimes bad.


This idea raises an awkward question.  Was Jesus always right?  If we accept that even the best of people are sometimes wrong and make mistakes, where does that leave our thinking about Jesus?  Underlying the way Christians read the Bible stories about Jesus and the way preachers preach about Jesus is the idea that he was always right.  But was he?  And is the idea that he was always right a sign of faith in Jesus or, a sign of our desire for over simplistic judgements about people?


Now, granted, the stories we have about Jesus were not written by him.  We have no direct record of what he said and thought, only the words of his followers, and it is most likely that Mark is the only Gospel writer who actually met Jesus the man, and he was just a small child at the time.  So, how accurate are the words and stories we have?  But even given that these writers wanted to show Jesus in the best possible light there are some striking problems in the words attributed to him.


There is a story about Jesus talking with his followers when his family came to visit (Matt.12:46-50).  Jesus dismisses them by saying those who do what he says are his true family.  Nice for those who try to do what he said but a bit harsh on his mother and brothers.   In another story he curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit (Mark 11:12-14).  It seems to me to be a bit out of proportion, especially when you realise the time of year this incident took place was not the season for figs.  When talking about the faith of children Jesus said “if someone causes a child to lose faith it would be better for that person to have a millstone tied round their neck and they be drowned in the sea” (Matt.18:6).  That seems a bit extreme by any standard.  And then there’s his statement about coming back in the clouds (Mark 13:24-27).  Has the world not got bad enough yet?  Is this simply a metaphor?  Or was Jesus just plain wrong?


It is comforting to live in a world of certainties and simplicities.  It is comforting to believe that Jesus was always right.  It is uncomfortable to accept that reality is complex.  For me one of the great challenges of being a follower of Jesus is to try and work out when the words of Jesus are good to follow and when they might be less than good advice.  This can be hard work, but a faith that accepts the complexities of life, and the inadequacies of simple solutions, even ones put into the mouth of Jesus, seems to me to be much more relevant in our complex world than a faith that says, ‘believe this and don’t think about it.’  What do you think?

Nick Skelding

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In June 2015

Life in Uxbridge 100 years ago – a free exhibition

On Friday 10th April 2015 and Saturday 11th April 2015, Christ Church will be hosting the “Life in Uxbridge 100 years ago” exhibition – a free exhibition showing the kind of place Uxbridge was a century ago through sound and vision.

Life in Uxbridge 100 years ago exhibition

There will be film, pictures, artefacts, demonstrations, music and much more.  You will be able to try for yourself the games, toys and crafts of the time.

Admission free.


Programme of events

Friday 10th April

2pm – Talk and demonstration on fashion (1914-1920) – Jean George
3pm – Craft afternoon – Christ Church craft group
4pm – Singing around the piano – Jean Main

Saturday 11th April

10am – Singing around the piano – Jean Main
11am – Uxbridge in 1915 – Ken Peace, local historian
2pm – Talk and demonstration on fashion (1914-1920) – Jean George
3pm – Craft afternoon – Christ Church craft group

There will be food available on both days including afternoon tea on Saturday.

Thank you to Uxbridge Library for all their help with providing photos and artefacts for the exhibition.

Another New Year

I want to begin the New Year by saying thank you to everyone for the good wishes I received for the New Year.  I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that last year passed very quickly, and not just the last year, how did it get to be 2015 already?

What will this New Year hold for you?  The Christmas letters and cards Sue and I received included news of special events some of our friends are looking forward to this year: family weddings; birth of grandchildren; significant birthdays, impending retirement, for some a second retirement; moving house; new jobs; holiday plans; and in some cases the prospect that this year might be someone’s last.  A New Year brings opportunities and challenges, and the possibility that some things will remain pretty much the same and some could change for ever.

The church year, like the calendar year, has a repeating cycle.  In the calendar year the cycle is of months and seasons; in the church year the cycle is of festivals and holy days.  In the calendar month of January the church cycle includes the feast of Epiphany when we remember the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, along with Herod’s horrific attempt to remove any threat to his own position and power by killing all the infant boys who might possibly be the child the prophets had spoken of who would be ‘King of the Jews’.  For those who are into such things January also includes the feasts of St Peter (18 January) and of the conversion of St Paul (26 January).  The time between these two feast days is now often celebrated as the Octave (usually called the week) of Prayer for Christian Unity.

As we go through the year other major and minor festivals and seasons give a rhythm to our church life – Lent and Easter; Pentecost; Harvest; Advent and Christmas.  And before we know it (scary thought) another year will have passed and we will be marking the start of 2016!

The cycle of church life helps to remind us of important aspects of our faith and reinforce their significance for our lives, and I value the rhythm the cycle provides, but I do sometimes wonder whether the cycle is counterproductive.  The rhythm reinforces repetition and in doing so implies that this year things will be pretty much the same as last year, and next year will be more or less the same as this.  There is something comforting in that rhythm.  Most people do not cope well with change; we want things to remain the same, but is that what Christian discipleship is about?

Christ invites us to follow him on a journey, a journey of faith as well as through life.  We are not invited to join him on a circular walking tour but to set out on an adventure travelling to unknown destinations.  The danger of the cycle of seasons is that we can end up in stagnation, going round in circles but never really going anywhere, never moving forward.

My prayer for myself and for you this new year is that we will resist the temptation to go round in circles; that no matter what treasures or pressures this year might bring we will have the courage to go through the cycle asking, ‘What new things might God be saying to me?’ and ‘How can I move forward with God this year rather than simply tread the same old ground again?’

I wish you all a very happy and occasionally challenging 2015.

Nick Skelding

This article was first published in the January 2015 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine.  To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Jan 2015