Thursday, 3 September 2015

Refugees

I just signed a few petitions and sent a letter to our MP regarding the mounting crisis facing people attempting to escape war, persecution and poverty in their own countries, by travelling to Europe. What if every church in the UK and Ireland took in just one family?

Here's the letter:
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Dear Mr Shannon,

My name is Ross Harte, I'm the minister of Ballynahinch Methodist Church. I've just signed a petition on the Parliament website urging the government to allow more asylum seekers into the UK, and to better provide for the refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa.

When I was on holiday with my family this Summer we travelled twice through Calais. At the time, I was grateful for the fences separating our car and caravan from desperate people camped in the vicinity of the port - I didn't want my children to be scared or my property damaged. I can understand why many people fear an influx of strangers into the UK.

However, this fear of the unknown cannot allow us as a nation to shut down our compassion,  stirred all too briefly by the sort of images currently circulating the Internet, of drowned children and hopeless parents.

Of course, there are root causes to this current predicament, and our country while wielding well-trained, effective armed forces cannot force a change of heart in those determined to follow the cause of IS or despots or insurgents. But a transfer of funding within the UK government, for instance from nuclear weaponry to further intelligent compassionate foreign aid, might help.

At a local level, as people who follow Jesus Christ, whose family were also refugees during his early years, we hear the affirmation that, 'God is love' and 'perfect love casts out fear'. I will do my best to encourage the Methodist people in Ballynahinch to embrace the strangers amongst us; we will be ready to welcome and accept any people fleeing from war, persecution and poverty, to our small town.

Please do all you can to ensure the government hears the voice of ordinary people in this constituency, who are horrified at what is happening at Calais, in the Mediterranean Sea, and on the ground in Syria and many other countries. We are ready to play our part in sharing the burden of this human tragedy.


Yours sincerely,


Rev. Ross Harte

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A Discipline Disaster


I had a birthday recently - not a particularly significant one but it's been well celebrated and I've appreciated the warm wishes coming from friends and family that we've connected with over the years. I have a facebook policy where I don't tend to post birthday greetings on other folks' walls because I'd only miss people out and don't want to appear unthoughtful. But that makes it all the nicer (my P7 teacher would shudder at the use of that word) that people have taken the time to write on my wall, knowing it won't be reciprocated!

It takes a certain discipline to look every day at your facebook birthdays page and then to greet the birthday boys and girls in your circle of influence. It's a discipline I don't have - I have enough difficulty remembering to buy a Valentine's card for the lovely Kathryn! - but this birthday has prompted me to think about the disciplines I do practice or would like to, perhaps even for the rest of my life.

Twenty years ago I was a member of the Methodist Team On Mission for what was perhaps the most formative year of my life - maybe it's because the balance between worship, witness and wholeness was better than at any other point, or maybe because I was part of a close-knit group of four people on mission together, or perhaps even because people around the island were praying for us. But that year was one where prayer was particularly vital, grace was evident in difficult relationships, and joy overflowed.

Ten years ago I was preparing to go to Edgehill College to train as a minister. The disciplines of study and prayer, eating together as a community, and taking breaks to play table tennis meant my body, mind and soul were being renewed and enlivened. I was filled with hope for the church to whom Kathryn and I have been called, and delighted in our son who was born during that time.

And now another ten years have passed, a birthday with a zero approaches: we're living in our second circuit appointment, we have three kids full of energy, and I find some of my former disciplines have slipped. I look at some retired colleagues and friends and hope that when I'm at their stage I'll have the same love for people, passion for Jesus and delight in their grandchildren as they do now. But equally I see people who have been worn down by life, their hope has waned and perhaps even their faith has grown cold. That could happen to me. Maybe it already has.

So during Lent, that season of self-denial and soul-preparation for the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I started to compile a list of habits and practices that I think might help me to be/become the person in Christ that I want to be. I'm putting the list here on my blog so you can keep me accountable - if you've taken the trouble to read this, either on facebook or the blog website, you have my permission to ask me about these things. At appropriate times of course - not during a sermon, for instance (as one son in particular tends to do!)...

  1. Devotion - because a closer walk with God empowers any other activity and gives God his place:
    • one trap for a preacher is to read the Bible only in preparation for the next study or sermon. To help me continue reading it daily for my own edification and guidance, I'll tweet a verse every day as an image using the YouVersion Bible App and the hashtag #toknowthislove (that comes from Ephesians 3:14-21). And I'll attempt to use a journal morning and evening to follow a pattern of bible reading and note significant insights.
    • I intend to follow the Wesleyan Pattern for Prayer and Fasting (more about that here).
    • plan a day every seven weeks for prayer and reflection
  2. Worship - Kathryn and I love to sing in worship, but it can be a bit weird when we do that on our own at home. So we're going to open our house to anyone who'd like to join in, usually on the last Sunday evening of the month (check first in case you hit a holiday!).
  3. Justice - I won't ignore e-mails and mailings from agencies calling for action to help them in their advocacy for the poor, the oppressed, those in slavery or tragedy. I'll sign the petition, post the card, e-mail my political representatives. In particular, I'll support JMA's Children in Cambodia project for 2015.
  4. Compassion - I'm going to downgrade for mosquito nets. Instead of getting a large latte, a normal-sized filter coffee will do. When it comes to 'upgrading' my phone - I won't if the current one still works. And I'll take any other opportunity to stamp on the lure of 'more' and 'better'. Any money I save will go to buy mosquito nets for people whose lives can be ruined by one little bite. Read more and donate if you like, at www.bit.ly/40nets.
  5. Family - I'm going to pray with Kathryn more, and give her a 20-second hug every day. And I'm going to stop yelling at my children. Those of you with perfect family lives may find it hard to believe, but we find raising kids is tough work. They can wind us up something shocking, and do things that could hurt or annoy themselves and others, but we love them with an undying, unquenchable love. So I'm going to pray for patience and grace, and stop yelling. I'm inspired by The Orange Rhino (look it up!).
  6. Health - my job involves a lot of sitting: sitting on people's sofas, sitting in committees, sitting in the car, sitting in the study. So I need to exercise more and lose a little bit of weight. I'll walk where possible to meetings, and exercise in some way every day - I'd like to get to the middle of my normal BMI by next year. I'll turn off screens by eleven every night to ensure good sleep. I'll read a book every month.

The title of this post is 'A Discipline Disaster' - and for good reason. There's no way I'm going to manage all of these things! I accept failure now. And I won't feel guilty about that. But I want to try. Success won't be a chart full of ticks for tasks completed, but a warmer relationship with Jesus, a calmer response to children being children, some kids in Africa saved from malaria, and a life lived with more purpose, hope and health - a blessing to others and bringing glory to God.

[If you've read this on facebook, you won't see the links to different resources on this post - just click through to the blog to get them if you're interested]

Monday, 2 March 2015

Every Little Thing's Gonna Be Alright

Allow me to let you into a secret - I'm shy. I know in the past I've found an outlet for humour, creativity and energy through drama and kids' action songs on a conference stage, but those days are a fair bit into the past now. I enjoy preaching and leading worship and pastoral calls, but those activities seen by many as the main 'work' of a minister drain me and I need space afterwards to be renewed. It takes me a while to make friends, and to be honest I tend to be overawed by any 'famous' people who happen to be in the same room as me. Getting an autograph (or these days, a selfie) isn't particularly on my agenda at festivals, concerts or cafes when I'm in their presence.

Which is why you're getting this picture instead of one with Martin Smith and me looking like bosom buddies:
He was playing in Belfast at the weekend, singing solo with a great team of musicians who aren't Delirious?. The venue was intimate, not at all like the large-scale performances of the past at the King's Hall or Belfast Waterfront Hall. The musicianship was fantastic. And as the night continued I enjoyed listening to Smith's new material as well as singing along with old favourites. At the end of the evening he hopped down off the stage and chatted with folks who had gathered to greet him. Not including me of course - I'm shy!

But I also tend to linger at the end of things, whether church services, movies or in this case, concerts. And as I chatted with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in a long time, I became more aware that it might be possible to also have a quick word with Mr. Smith. It struck me that the Cutting Edge, Delirious?, CompassionArt and now Smith's solo works had all affected me positively for a long time.

For instance, rewind a good few years to a summer day in Belfast, Kathryn and I are in town doing some shopping only to return to our car to find a window smashed in and our digital camera (which in the early noughties were fairly expensive items) stolen out of the glove box. The sense of loss and violation, combined with the hassle of contacting police and driving home with a bin bag taped over the glass (not a pleasant experience in the rain!) would have justified a nice quiet night at home. But we had tickets to see Delirious? at the Summer Madness festival so we halfheartedly headed back to the city. My wife was understandably upset but gently encouraged as the band started singing, 'Every little thing's gonna be alright... There is someone who can carry you'. It was like a shot in the arm, though, when in a repeat chorus, Martin Smith sang, "Every little thing's gonna be alright, KATHRYN..." What a wonderful combination of circumstance and listening to the Spirit, for a simple song to communicate God's loving presence with his children. Yes, we had lost some photos and it was awkward dealing with insurance to restore the car and the camera. But we left that place knowing God cared for us and was with us in the little things.

So last Saturday night I pushed back on my introversion and shook hands with Mr. Smith, and told him how I felt (other introverts will recognise that I had spent a few minutes rehearsing in my head the exact words I would say!) - "I just wanted to say Thank You. Your songs have nourished my soul for twenty years."

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Here's a version of that song (not from Belfast!), and you can find the lyrics here: