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Testimony Thursday: Turned Soil

Turned Soil: Where has God been in your week?

Many in my churches will know that this year is a ‘Year of Testimony’ across the Methodist Connexion and we’ve been sharing stories of God at work among us in recent weeks.

I want to encourage us to continue to see and speak about where God is speaking and working among us now, during this time of distance and isolation, because even though we may be distant from each other, God is not distant from us.

Many in my churches will know that a sermon illustration from my garden is often not far away, and on Sunday afternoon, I took the plunge to dig the veggie patch. It was covered in weeds and very much not ready to do any planting! But I turned it, fork by fork, pulled the weeds out, moved any stones I found, and broken down the chunks of soil so that it is now ready for me to start some planting.

For me – God spoke to me through that process, about how church and ministry might look now.

For me, much that was familiar and growing has sadly gone, almost all the weekly routine I took for granted has been turned on it’s head. Yet I’ve had a really strong feeling that God has been saying there’s now potential for new ground to be tilled, new planting to be done and new growth to be seen.

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19

This week God has been saying to me, reminding me, that while life and ministry feels like it has been turned on it’s head, while I miss seeing people and already long to be able to communicate without using phone, email or other technology, God has not turned on his head.

God is still as present as ever, and even in the chaos and uncertainty, is able to do new things, and will do new things in me, and I pray, in us as we journey through this together.

God is with us, and will make a way through the wilderness – do you perceive it?

Where has God been in your week? Comment below and share your stories of God with us, in us and among us.

LiGHt SHines ON

It is hard to find the words to describe the last few days… emotional… tiring… stressful…. overwhelming… anxious… uncertain… it has felt like grappling through the dark as I, with others, consult, discuss, plan and make decisions which impact on the lives of our churches and communities.

It was a really painful to come to the decision yesterday morning that we needed to suspend all church activity. It’s a conversation I never in a million years expected I would be part of. Formational training never covered ministry during global pandemic crisis. Speaking with colleagues from various churches and denominations over the last 24 hours, all local church leaders are feeling the sense of unknown as we journey together in these unchartered waters.

Over the last couple days one verse of scripture in particular has been in my mind, it is what I have been clinging to, and is bringing me a sense of hope and assurance.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

John 1:5

These are uncertain times. Anxious times. Dark times. But the truth of our faith, as Kingdom people, is that we trust, know and experience for ourselves Jesus Christ, our friend and Saviour and light to the world. And no darkness can ever overcome that light.

I hope and pray each one of you will be able know yourselves held and loved by God in the days and weeks to come. I pray you know the light and hope that Jesus promises us. I pray you know the presence of God’s Spirit wherever you are.

For Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate Methodist Churches, I’m really grateful to those who as I speak are sorting people into groups who will work to keep in touch in the coming days. We’re also looking at what worship resources we can send to people.

Because the reality, of course, is that church is not over. Worship is not over. Relatioship is not over. We just have to do it differently, and in doing it differently, we refuse to allow darkness to overcome.

I’m also in conversation with other local church leaders about how we can support one another and work together to support and care for the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities.

If you need support reach out to friends, family, neighbours, or if you don’t know where to go, please get in touch.

Finally, In the Spirit of unity, I want to commend the Salvation Army’s #handstogether call to prayer.

At 12 noon each day, as the hands of the clock come together, let us all pray for the world, the anxious, the medics, scientists and community leaders who are doing their utmost to save lives and support the weak. And each other as we too respond to those in need.

As we continue to journey through these unchartered waters together, may you each know the hope and love of Christ .

Rev Dan

Loving God,
In the midst of uncertainty and anxiety,
let us work together,
trust in the strength of God,
and know God’s love and care for us.

Let us not be dominated by panic and fear,
but with hope and trust in our God who is with us,
and love and compassion for one another
.

John 4: Barriers overcome by hope

Based on a Sermon first preached at Westergate Methodist Church on Sunday 15th March.

We find ourselves in unprecedented, anxious and unexpected times. It is almost impossible to escape the unending media updates on the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, and at times it is hard to work out what is truth, and what is media spin, fiction and scaremongering.

It is likely that within the next few weeks we will find new barriers and boundaries placed upon us to seek to protect the vulnerable and control the spread of the virus; social-distancing, self-isolation, hand-washing, cancelling of events and closing of buildings among them. People are understandably anxious about what the next few weeks will hold, including whether we will have enough food and supplies.

But barriers are not new. Good or bad, they have always been part of human life, from the segregation of the feudal system and the slave trade to stories throughout scripture where we find kingdoms and walls and wars where people are divided and boundaried. And many boundaries we know today are human made, from walls and fences, to the meaning we human beings have place on rivers, forests, cliffs and mountain ranges.

As we come to John 4, we meet Jesus who ignores social, cultural and geographical boundaries for the sake of his mission.

Things had got a bit difficult, Chinese whispers spreading and anxiety growing, for rumour had it that Jesus was baptising more people than John. And while the truth was that Jesus wasn’t baptising anyone (4:2), at the time it was the rumours that help weight – not the truth.

So what does Jesus do?
He leaves Judea, and to do so he heads through Samaria – outsider land, a place that Jews didn’t typically go, to a people that Jews didn’t typically mix or socialise with. But Jesus is either ambivalent to the boundaries or intentially walks through them. It seems that boundaries were not so important to Jesus…

As the day goes on, Jesus is tired so as they reach Sychar, the disciples head for food while Jesus rests by the well; tired, hungry, thirsty, alone. Perhaps he’d been there a while when along comes the Samaritan woman, in the heat of the day. And ignoring social and cultural boundaries, Jesus speaks to this Samaritan, this woman, and not just speaks, but asks her for a drink too.

And as the conversation goes on (and there’s much more that could be said!), Jesus offers hope of living water, that will spring up into eternal life. The idea of a fresh, abundant, flowing spring of life excites the woman, gives her hope and she says to this Jewish bloke, give me some! (4:15).

This woman, in her conversation with Jesus, finds a sense of hope, life, freedom, self worth – as Jesus sees her as the human she is, without the barriers of social and cultural conformity. She declares ‘you are a prophet’ (4:19), and Jesus then declares that mountain and Jerusalem will one day not matter at all, because true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in truth (4:21-23). Not worship that conforms to human barriers and boundaries, but worship that is personal, individual, true, in spirit.

In her encounter with Jesus, this woman is set free, through Jesus simply speaking words of truth and compassion, and ignoring barriers of culture and society. She becomes an evangelist in telling the rest of the city of her encounter, and many also believe.
All because Jesus didn’t have a bucket, and didn’t care for cultural, geographical and social boundaries.

Jesus comes to meet each of us at the well, just as he met the woman at the well. He meets us as human beings, fearfully and wonderfully made. Filled with possibility and potential, love and compassion, mercy and grace, creativity and gifts and skills.
Each of us brings to the table of the work of God something no-one else can be. Being someone no-one else can be.

So where is our well? Where can we experience the transformation of Jesus presence?

Over the coming weeks, we don’t know what barriers and boundaries are going to be placed upon us, in an effort to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the nation, especially those who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

But whatever boundaries may be put in place (which we need to respect and follow), Jesus doesn’t follow them.

Jesus doesn’t conform to human boundaries, Jesus meets us at the well, even if we’re isolated and alone, and says mountain or Jerusalem, church building or community centre, that doesn’t matter, what matters is worship in Spirit and in truth.

Gathering in a community of believers is helpful, encouragement, supportive, and we know that to belong to Jesus, to worship in Spirit and truth, is to be part of a communtiy of believers.

But we can be community without being sat next to each other, for a time. We have phones, some have email and social media, we overcome barriers and boundaries in different ways. Wherever we find ourselves over the coming weeks, in these days of anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus ignores the barriers and offers living water to all, that springs up into eternal life.

Jesus offers hope.
Hope that this too will pass.
Confidence that Jesus will overcome any barriers or boundaries that may come our way.
Assurance that he is always with us, no matter what.

Jesus does and will meet with us wherever we are, no matter what is going on in the world around us.


COVENANT: Living without the full picture

Adapted from a sermon preached at Covenant Services in January 2020 at Westergate, Bognor Regis and Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex.

During the 2020 Christmas break we took our first ever family trip to the cinema to see Frozen 2. If you want to watch a movie that includes songs that will undoubtedly get stuck in your brain forever… that’s the film to go and see…

We sat in the cinema, waiting for 12:30 to arrive… and when it did, the sound came on…be we had no picture. At first we thought the film must be starting off with some radio adverts, but after a while of listening and hearing some adverts that made no sense without pictures, and I was convinced I’d seen on the telly in recent days we began to think something might not be quite right.

Continue reading COVENANT: Living without the full picture

God of all: Unity in difference

Adapted from the transcript & notes of a Sermon first preached by Rev Dan Balsdon at Bognor Regis Methodist Church on 20th October 2019.
The Readings were Jeremiah 31:27-34 & Luke 18:1-8

Please forgive any typo’s I missed!


As a probationer presbyter, the Church requires me to undertake ongoing study.
At the moment, I’m preparing for a study week with fellow probationers in November which will centre around reflecting on our first year of ministry and thinking about what the Christian gospel looks and feels like in the places I serve.

Continue reading God of all: Unity in difference

To leave and remain…Part 2

The Sun rose.
The world awoke.
Another day.
The past week’s event almost forgotten.
Not for his followers.

The women gathered early.
Jesus might have left, but his body remained.
So they headed out to the tomb.

When they got there, the stone had moved and the body was gone.
All that remained were the burial clothes.
Now nothing remained. All had been taken.

And then, as Mary sat weeping,
Jesus appeared.
Alive.
He didn’t leave.
Somehow he remained.

Mary ran to the others, told them Jesus lived.
They struggled to believe.

And then, then Jesus appeared.
I am alive, he declared.

“Now I must leave, I can’t be with you in person any longer.
But my Spirit will remain with you always.”

To this day, by his Spirit, Jesus remains.
Transforming lives and communities through his unconditional love,
and longing for us to remain in him and experience his love.

If you want to know more, come and explore at Felpham Methodist Church, or send us a message.

First published by Felpham Methodist Church, April 2019

To leave and remain… Part 1

The sky turned black.
The world watched…. and waited.
Jesus’ time seemed to be up.

He’d gathered with his friends, shared their final meal together.
“I will soon have to leave you” he said.
He’d gone to pray in the garden,
“Father, let this suffering leave me” he prayed.
Then he was betrayed.
handed over, put on trial.
His disciples scattered, leaving Jesus alone.

‘Crucify Him’ the crowd shouted.
So he was. Stripped. Flogged.
Marched up the hill.
And there, there he was killed.  
Hung from a cross and left to die.

Jesus had left.
His followers lost.
What to do now that Jesus no longer remained with them?

First published by Felpham Methodist Church, April 2019

Tackling the tough stuff…

Soon after I arrived in Circuit, one of the churches under my care asked if we could start a bible study/fellowship group, because it was something they longed for but hadn’t had for some time.

I willingly obliged, encouraged by their enthusiasm for study and fellowship and I confess slightly indulgently – because I always enjoy conversation about faith, scripture and God.

Continue reading Tackling the tough stuff…

Seeing what’s in front of me

I’ve recently been reading a book called ‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’, by Eugene Peterson. Using the book of Jonah as a foundation, he explores how we understand the vocation of a pastor in a world where vocation too often becomes a career, spirituality becomes religiosity and being a pastor revolves around either being a manager or being a messiah. He makes many points, but at it’s crux is the suggestion that above all being a pastor requires us to speak of God, and point to God.

While the book was written over 25 years ago, and comes from an American context, I’ve still found it a really helpful read, as someone who is about to begin full time ministry and can echo with some of Eugene’s own vocational journey.

Over the last few days, one line has particularly stuck with me, where Peterson suggests we need to:

“develop a reverence for what is actually there instead of a contempt for what is not, inadequacies that seduce me into a covetousness for someplace else.” [1]

All too often, I find myself hearing what others are saying, seeing what others are doing, and wishing I could be doing that, that I was like that. The result is that I fail to recognise, appreciate and revere what is in front of me.

There have been a few times in the past week where I’ve found myself caught up short, realising the seduction and distraction that has drawn my attention away from what is in front of me.

One such moment was on Sunday morning. My family and I were attending my link church for the last time before we move to Bognor Regis. I’ve spent the last 2 years linked to the church as part of my training, where I have worshipped with them, lead some services and bible study’s, attended some meetings and been generally present and supporting the church and their minister. It’s a group of people I’ve come to love for their generosity, welcome and hospitality, and deep desire to worship God in the face of adversity. They welcomed Louise and the girls as heartily as they welcomed me, they even created a creche space in a side room for the girls to be able to play during services, and were never frustrated by the noise or the distraction two toddlers regularly created!

But my link church was very different to churches I’d been to before. It’s multi-cultural identity and inner city location were both a step outside of anything I’d been used to in Cornwall. I needed to get used to fact that my being white sometimes meant I was the minority in the congregation, I had to get used to the congregation numbers doubling, or even trebling in the time between the start and finish of the service. The church had very different ways of doing things that I might have had.

Neither have I been immune from field-gazing. Hearing other’s talk about their link church experiences and wishing I’d had the opportunities they’d had.

This weekend, as they said goodbye to us, not only did they surprise us with cake and nibbles after the service, they gave all of us gifts of thanks, and gathered around us and prayed for us all. They shared how much they’d been touched, encouraged and nurtured through our presence and ministry with them. The irony is that it wasn’t until I was leaving that I came to realise just what was in front of me. I’ve never felt I’ve really done much at my link church, yet now I see how much my simply being with them has impacted them.

One member said to me afterwards “you’ll never fully know the impact you’ve made on us”. That was a heart stopping moment. All I could say, was “I guess I won’t”, and in that moment that was ok. It was ok not to know, because in truth it doesn’t matter, not to me, what matters is what God is doing, what matters is that God has, is and continues to work in those amazing folk through their hospitality and love.

Me, I’ve been reminded once again to revere what’s in front of me and know that it’s not all about me and what I do, it’s about what God is doing. I hope and pray I never lose sight of that.

——————–

[1] Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson, (Eerdmans, 1992) p.133.