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Friday, 31 March 2017

Mealbank (part 2) by Carol Purves

In the autumn of 2016 the Association of Christian Writers (ACW) ran a competition for up to 1000 words on the subject of a Good Samaritan. The winning story was published in the Winter 2016 edition of Christian Writer, the magazine of ACW, which members receive through the post. The judges' comments on the top three stories appeared alongside the winning entry. Carol Purves’ entry came second. As Mealbank is a little long for a blog post, it is appearing here in two instalments.

Names have been changed to protect identity.

Continued from the previous post.

The work of Mealbank is not finished. Many, many people still cannot return to their homes. Their houses have not dried out sufficiently and the builders are busy and hard-pressed.


It is known that these church workers are Christian but there is no emphasis on this. They are here to help everyone and different groups are helping them. In the early days a group of Muslims from Manchester came to help as well as people from the Polish community and local supermarkets are still contributing food.

Over the months friends have been made. The people who share meals with this dedicated band have worked their way into their hearts. There is Anita, who has had a serious cancer operation, but is a very heavy chain smoker. The team have tried to support her, but they fear she will not survive. There is Robert who has no job or prospect of one, but spends his days picking up rubbish just to help the community. Carole, an older lady, has become loved by all. She is a compulsive buyer of ‘antiques’ from charity shops and can hardly move in her house because of her possessions.

Susie comes to us for meals but does not want to talk or communicate at all. She is the original loner. Lucy was expecting a baby when she first came and now has a healthy, lively youngster. Dave and Steve only want to be able to talk to the men helpers and sometimes the talk takes a religious turn. Julie now has a home or her own and job in Burger King but still wants to see people and enjoys the meals.

It is a policy to only serve the best food, with attractively laid tables, flowers and tablecloths. All are welcome, so long as they obey our rules. There must be no verbal abuse (difficult sometimes when they are so stressed), no smoking on the premises (a building yard adjacent to our cafe is well used each week. The team join them and chat with them and sometimes freeze with them.)
Needy families are referred by the local council and schools and clinics. There is no time limit on the work. While there is a need, help will continue to be given. Everything will be done to help them. It is something that can be done for others. They have the facilities and the manpower. As they bless, they are blessed in return.

Jesus said ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.’ Matthew 25:42



Carol Purves 
Carol Purves is a freelance writer, former teacher, secretary and member and former committee member of the Association of Christian Writers. She is also a member of Fellowship of Scottish Christian Writers and the Society of Authors. She hosts a local group of Christian writers.

She has written a number of biographies:

Gladys Aylward, A Life for China, From Prussia with Love (the life of George Muller), Travel with Frances Ridley Havergal (the hymnwriter) and Jute to Jungle (the life of Mary Slessor).

Her website is http://www.carolpurves.co.uk/

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Mealbank (part1) by Carol Purves

In the autumn of 2016 the Association of Christian Writers (ACW) ran a competition for up to 1000 words on the subject of a Good Samaritan. The winning story was published in the Winter 2016 edition of Christian Writer, the magazine of ACW, which members receive through the post. The judges' comments on the top three stories appeared alongside the winning entry. Carol Purves’ entry came second. As Mealbank is a little long for a blog post, it is appearing here in two instalments.

It started with a flood. A real flood, not a trickle of water. A flood that in places reached 16ft and made over 800 homes uninhabitable. The December 2015 floods, caused by Hurricane Desmond, were widely reported, but what is not always realised is the devastation to each and every family involved.

The catastrophic deluge of rain occurred on the Saturday night. On the Sunday morning members of our church in Carlisle set to work to help. The formal church services became unimportant as the ladies as well as the men gathered together basic food, hot drinks, blankets and anything they could lay their hands on which could be of help.

Although no church member was ever in danger they did suffer physically. A drinks station was set up even before the police had erected theirs, meaning that some of the police were able to receive drinks from church members. The helpers waded into the water to help, often ankle deep and in a few cases knee deep. Those who had found time to don wellies and jeans were better off than those who were still dressed for Sunday!

The day was long and cold, the recipients frightened and homeless. People cried as they were handed drinks and hot sandwiches. Comments were made: ‘This is a piece of heaven in a hell.’ 
‘I’ve never drunk such a welcome drink in all my life.’ 

Often it was just a friendly face that was needed. The homeless cried and the helpers cried with them. They found it difficult to realise everything was given to them as a gift. A gift and nothing to pay.

Back at church a free cafe was set up and many came in out of the cold for warmth and refreshment. This help continued for a number of weeks until the worst of the devastation was dealt with.

There had already been a weekly free meal, known as Mealbank, given to women in a local hostel, but this work was increased and continued. Regulars still come in each week, not just the flooded, also the homeless, the hostel women, the lonely and the vulnerable. A monthly cooking class was given at the hostel and contacts made which are proving to be long lasting.

One of the many places flooded was the men’s hostel. 200 days later this has not yet been rebuilt. Many men are sleeping in shop doorways, on the cathedral steps and under covered areas of supermarkets. All are welcome to the Mealbank. Mostly all they need is a listening ear. This is given to them.

No professional help is available but people are directed to the right authorities. There they receive any kind of help they most need.

To be continued in the next post.





Carol Purves 
Carol Purves is a freelance writer, former teacher, secretary and member and former committee member of the Association of Christian Writers. She is also a member of Fellowship of Scottish Christian Writers and the Society of Authors. She hosts a local group of Christian writers.

She has written a number of biographies:

Gladys Aylward, A Life for China, From Prussia with Love (the life of George Muller), Travel with Frances Ridley Havergal (the hymnwriter) and Jute to Jungle (the life of Mary Slessor).

Her website is http://www.carolpurves.co.uk/

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Telling It How It Is - The Psalms - Allison Symes

 Image Credit:  All images via Pixabay

The Bible tells it how it is.  There is no covering up of what we are like, which is one reason why it will always be a controversial book.  How many want to cover up what we are like as a species?  How many want to cover up individual failings?  I have felt that way - and will inevitably do so countless times in the future.  It is part of being human, the part we don’t usually admit to feeling.


The Bible, as seen in many churches
One of my favourite books in the Bible is the Psalms. Every emotion is in there from joy to anger and despair.  I like that.  It is difficult at times when life is tough to be “happy” and count our blessings. 

Sheridan Voysey’s speech about memoir at the recent ACW Writers’ Day in Birmingham touched on that. We can all think of those we know who are having a tough time of it.  I never quite know whether in those circumstances those Christians are under spiritual attack or whether it is just the way life can be.  All I know is how important prayer is here and we need to be there for them with as much support as possible.

To read Psalms which are frank with God is reassuring.  The secret thoughts I don’t like to admit to, the doubts that creep in and so on, are all in the Psalms.  It is good to know others felt the same and wrote it down!

Probably the best known Psalm of them all
Writing can be healing and I hope the Psalm writers found that.  Was that the main reason for writing as they did?  How did people react when the blunter Psalms were read out?  Were they taken aback someone could be that honest?  But doesn’t that reveal so much about the writers? They are in a relationship with God.  All relationships have their ups and downs and the Psalms reflect that.

My favourite Psalms are what I like to think of as the “cheerful ones”, especially those which speak of the wonders of creation.

The Heavens declare the glory of God (and thanks to science, we can see more of them!)
“The heavens declare the glory of God”.  They do indeed.


Space Telescope
Colliding spiral galaxies
I also like the way several Psalms remember creation on land, in the air and in the seas and call on us to praise and to sing.

One lady in my church is currently reading the Psalms and making a note of how often they call on us to sing.  To date she had reached over 70 references and was I believe just under half way through.  I suspect her numbers will increase significantly given so many of what I call the cheerful Psalms are towards the end of the book!

The Psalms then are the Bible’s hymn and poetry book.  Like all good poetry, they conjure up unforgettable images.

Tarantula Nebula
Their honesty is why I think they resonate over time and with people from all backgrounds and always will.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Rosemary For Remembrance - NEW POSSIBILITIES FOR AUTHORS by Trevor Thorn.

As I write, I am pondering the detail of a new contract with a publisher so they can publish some of my work in small-scale downloads. I suppose the pre-internet equivalent would be for the publication of pamphlets for which the economic decisions for a publisher would be complicated. How large should the print-run be? How can you retail pamphlets in amongst the huge volume of books available on most topics? Who would be prepared to sell such a necessarily low-cost publication with the obvious implication of only tiny profits (if any at all)? How would a pamphlet be advertised? A question which begs a further inevitable question of how much added cost this would involve.

But these questions diminish substantially in respect of a download. The print-run is not a question, and provided sales cover the editing and modest production costs of the publisher, they can take much more of a risk than they could with a pamphlet. Additionally, all author-publisher communications can be done over the internet,

So here I am poised on the threshold of my first download publication for a publisher who sends out a weekly list of resources, in this case, suitable for the season of the year. (Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community).

If you can see some possibilities of a parallel with your writings, I would feel reasonably certain that Wild Goose are not the only publisher pursuing this route, so it may be worth looking at lists which reflect the themes you write to, and seeing if they have a similar method of publishing short material. Here is the ‘cover’ of the publication that has sparked this blog entry.


If this sounds of interest, you could have a look at the way in which WGP handle such publishing on their website and even make a purchase of this, my new and short collection, titled ‘Rosemary for Remembrance’ which became available yesterday. If you are interested, the small collection will cost just £2-20 + VAT and it may be of interest to some readers that the collection includes a very attractive and tested children’s/ congregational activity for Easter Day which culminates with all the congregation being given a sprig of Rosemary, representing the spices which the moment took with them to the tomb. Details and the opportunity to purchase can be found at http://www.ionabooks.com/rosemary-for-remembrance-pdf-download.html


Trevor Thorn.
Other material written by me can be found HERE on my blog entitled ‘The Cross and The Cosmos'

Monday, 27 March 2017

Writing to remember, by Lucy Mills

This post originally appeared in the winter 2013 edition of Christian Writer, as a 'Finding Inspiration' column. 

Our memories are powerful. They summon old emotions and revive previous discoveries; they help us understand who and where we are in the world.

The troubled writer of Psalm 77 directs his attention to God in memory: ‘I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old’ (v11, NRSV). The biblical writers often called on their memories in difficult times. They retold old stories of their saving God. Memories gave them hope – hope that God would once again deliver. Hope that today was not forever. Hope for something bigger, better, far more solid than the ground on which they stood.

They also called on their memories in the good times, celebrating past events and allowing them to spill over into present reality.

There is an echo of memory in everything we write. Our experiences inform our worldviews. As an exercise, try using memory more consciously. Describe one of your most powerful memories. Use all the senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. Allow this description to trigger other pieces, such as a poem or short story based on an emotion you felt at the time.

Let the memory direct your stream of consciousness – stumbling over other memories, other moments, on the way. Then try focusing on a memory of God at work in your life (if you haven’t done so already!). Allow God to speak to you through this again, in the present. Write about it in your journal or as a stand-alone piece.  Keep that piece of writing not just for ‘material’ but as a reminder – this happened. This is part of my faith journey. I will remember.

We talk a lot about writing ‘goals’, but writing is also a tool – a tool we can use to explore our faith and remember what it means to us. 

***

Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ will be coming in October 2017. Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine. www.lucy-mills.com

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page




More than Writer posts in 2017:

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Gladstone's Library, by Eve Lockett

And there was silence in heaven for half an hour…
I think they must have been on the library tour at that point. And I know what the library looks like, because I am in the earthly version of it – Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. I am seated in a balcony alcove at an old wooden desk with angle-poise lamp, facing a central space surrounded by carved railings and open to the floor below. I have just finished reading the Spring 2017 version of Christian Writer – (brilliant poem, A Messy Business by Alexine Crawford. More please!) – and I’m now thinking about next week’s blog.
In fact, I’m thinking about a lot of things. We have been visiting friends locally and extended our stay to one night in the library. Not, as my husband keeps telling people, sleeping on a bookshelf – giving rise to jokes like ‘did you have to book?’ – but in a pleasant room of almost monastic simplicity, with a view of the adjacent churchyard. Books and graves, so peaceful.
Strict silence is maintained in the main part of the library – it is so quiet that the click of someone’s computer keys in the opposite alcove seems unnecessarily brash.  Footsteps up the creaking spiral staircase ought to irritate, but instead I find them slightly intriguing, the discreet comings and goings of other bibliobabes. 
What is it about the serried spines of leather-bound books that gives such a sense of timelessness, of continuity, of comfort and security? Firstly, I suppose, because the care and expense that has gone into their printing could only happen in peaceful times, and because they have survived through troubled times. Secondly, they present an image of order and etiquette. The books here are well mannered, their covers giving no more than an initial discreet cough to invite conversation.
One book is displayed to view, the copy of an original created for St John’s Benedictine Abbey, Minnesota: a handwritten and illustrated version of the Bible, lovingly worked in the historical tradition of craft, creativity, patient labour and beauty. It is the work of calligrapher Donald Jackson, who says: ‘The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God.’
So, is this a library just for intellectuals, for people who live entirely in the cognitive part of their brains and who deal only in dead knowledge? I don’t think so; the ambience is utterly romantic, and the imagination could wallow here in all the possibilities of Victorian melodrama, crime fiction, poetry or modern love story – and all before turning a single page.
Not surprisingly, the place attracts writers as well as researchers, and there is an official writer-in-residence who is invited to stay a month and give talks, seminars, and contribute to a blog as well as produce their own work. If anyone out there is interested, then why not look up their website and contact them? www.gladstoneslibrary.org

Oh, and there is a café, Food for Thought, which feeds more than the soul!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A Balanced Diet? by Fiona Lloyd


            For the past 15 months, I’ve been on a healthy eating plan. I’d got to the stage where everything in my wardrobe was too tight, so – being too parsimonious to splash out on a load of new clothes – I decided I needed to lose the odd stone or three.

I can't find this in my diet book...
            My understanding of a balanced diet is a glass of wine in one hand, and a bar of chocolate in the other…but for some reason, this was frowned on at the slimming group I joined. With a heavy heart, I hid the wine bottles at the back of a cupboard, gave away the remainder of our Christmas choccies, and purchased a bumper-pack of Granny Smiths. This was not going to be fun.

            But d’you know what? Turns out this healthy eating lark actually works. Having more fruit and vegetables – and less of the fatty, sugary stuff – on a regular basis means I can now find several things in my wardrobe that fit me properly, rather than threatening to cause an embarrassing incident every time I bend down to tie my shoelaces. I can walk to the end of our street without getting out of breath, and a brisk stroll round the park no longer sounds like a form of mediaeval torture.

            Last year, I also kept a record of my reading diet. I’d set myself the challenge of reading 52 books over the course of 12 months. By December 31st, I’d read a total of 56, as well as umpteen magazines and online articles. Some of the books I’d read before; some were new discoveries. I re-read all the Dorothy L Sayers novels (for the first time in about 30 years), and found that some stood the test of time better than others. Some things were recommended by friends, and some I read because they were free – or at least, massively reduced – on Kindle. (Told you I was tight…)

So many books, so little time...
            Analysing my reading habits in this way proved enlightening. I’ve always preferred to read fiction, but I hadn’t realised how much this informed my choices. Most of the non-fiction stuff I read was in the form of articles, and these were often things I came across at random, usually via Twitter or Facebook.

            Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a preference for fiction (or non-fiction), but it does make me wonder if I’m missing out. I read to be entertained, but I also like to think and to learn, particularly in the context of my faith. There are challenges here for me around what, when and how I read. I can easily devour a novel in one sitting, but some of the other books waiting on my shelf require me to slow down and contemplate the truth behind the words. And yet I can see that when I pay attention to what I’m reading, my soul is more peaceful, and my faith more secure. My goal this year is to balance my literary diet, too.



Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Writing Grace

I’m starting this blog on Ash Wednesday. Today we went to the Dominican Priory in central Oxford for the service of ashing. I’m still trying to figure out why it was such a meaningful service. I came away feeling I had been fed. I don’t think it was just the brief sermon, though that was helpful. Ashes in Scripture, said the celebrant, stand to some extent for penitence, but much more for mourning. What do mourning and penitence have in common? They both direct us to what really matters in life. ‘You are dust, and to dust you will return.’ It was grounding, but not depressing, to think during that service about being mortal.



Last night I met with two very different people for a time of lectio divina and contemplative prayer. We read Romans chapter 11, verses 1 to 6, together, each taking a verse and sharing what it said to us. What struck me was how easy it is for even a gifted prophet, as Elijah was, to become bitter, self-righteous, and perhaps even a bit paranoid, in times of national and international conflict. How like us! The Lord gently tells him that there are lots of people with their hearts in the right place. You are not alone (so don’t be so harsh and judgemental); you are not alone (so don’t be so fearful and anxious). The prophet’s mood contrasts sharply with the unchangeable gentleness of God: there’s a remnant chosen by grace. I did like that: it could have said ‘chosen by God’, which would have been correct, but somehow less easy to warm to. Grace, which of course is only God under another guise, does the choosing and calling, but it’s largely hidden and secret, known just to God.


I wrote in my last blog about the dangers of secretiveness in the church. But there is of course a good kind of secrecy. We had it today in the Ash Wednesday Gospel. ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret’ (or, as some wit once said ‘so that your arms may be in secret’). ‘When you fast, wash your face.’ ‘So that your father who sees in secret may reward you.’ This is the same gentle Father who spoke to Elijah about Grace. The church hasn’t always learnt this lesson. Even while it covers up its shortcomings, it often goes in for the sensational, or at least yearns for publicity and enlists PR people to promote its image. Don’t we all long for spectacular salvation stories that will convert many? But ‘if they don’t listen to Moses, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead.’ A very good Lenten discipline would be to give up our desire for grand Christian publicity and resist the temptation to seek impressive religious PR. And, on the positive side, to bank much more on the workings of Grace.


What has this to do with writing? Two things, I think. One is that we should try never to write the way Elijah might have at his moment of crisis, in a critical, captious, harsh, or even self-righteous spirit. Our audience, and our created characters, should be handled with gentleness and grace, even when they are actors in contexts of evil. The other point is that there is a good way as well as a bad way to ‘hide’ the gospel in our writing. Most people agree that to sneak it in and preach covertly is not good. But it can justly be hidden there in the same way that our good deeds are done in secret, the way that the kingdom is hidden in the world—the way that the leaven is hidden in the dough, invisible in itself, yet suffusing the whole. Which is to say much the same as the first point: grace must lie at the heart of it all.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Psalm (of Helen) : A mission statement

Gentle readers, may I beg your indulgence with this post; I set out to write a psalm, without first making much of a study on how the psalms were written, and I know that there are scholars among you who know and understand things like structure, metre, the little couplety thing that many of the psalms have and so on.  This will clearly fall far short.

My offering below is probably neither a psalm nor a poem, but a kind of outpouring from the heart in the rough style of the psalmists at their most raw and un-poetic. I don't think God is offended by the awkward and unskilled, and this felt important to me. It just wanted to be said.

As a writer who has - and is - struggling to understand what I am called to do, to find a niche, so stop speak, this seems the very bottom line in why I keep opening my laptop and stringing words together even when frequently I feel like giving up for good. I have tried so many different things, nothing seems to fit, and I come back time and again to this one truth: I want to write about Jesus.

I promise I won't often try to do it in verse.

This is what happened when I splurged it all out. I wanted to share it with you.


I was afraid and alone and longing to be found
But I didn't even know I was lost.
I wept and you held out your arms
You came to find me and caught me as I fell
I cried out to you and you took my hand.
You drew me back to yourself.
I reached for you and you held me tightly
You took me in your arms and comforted me
You wiped away my tears.

I lifted up my heart to you for you to make it clean
I emptied out my life and laid it in front of you
Dirty and miserable
Pain and sin and selfishness
Naked I stood before you, full of shame
But you did not turn away.
I had nothing left to hide behind and still you loved me
I was ashamed at the state of my heart
But you washed it clean with your blood
And declared me your beloved child.
You forgave me.

(pause - to blow nose)

You took away my guilt and you gave me unending love
You took away the hurt and replaced it with belonging
My only offerings were fear and bitterness
And yet you blessed me more than I can say.
You said that I could start again.
You healed my wounds and lifted my head
You set me on my feet and steadied me
You played your music and taught me how to dance.


My Lord and my God.
When I wander away, you follow me
Wait at a distance until I am ready to return
You never let me out of your sight.
You carry on loving me.
When all is dark and I can't feel your presence
Still I will trust you, for I know that you are faithful.

I will praise you until I have no breath left in me
Because you are the Lord; there is only you.
You are the Holy One and yet you love me
You are the only God and yet you are my Friend
I am your child and you are my Father.
I am safe and I am loved
I can never repay you for what you have done for me
You have set me free.
I was poor and came to you with nothing
You gave me a beautiful gown and a crown for my head
And called me a royal princess.

You turned the page in the story of my life
And gave me words for a new chapter
You whispered your wonders into my ear 
And I have glimpsed your beauty.
I will speak of your mercy to all who can hear.
I will listen for your voice, for I know it well
I will write down all that you say to me
I will tell of your glory and the wonder of your love.

I will say, 'Here He is, my Saviour and my Friend,'
And people will come and be healed.