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Getting (and giving) butterflies

I’ve just given this butterfly, which I’ve made out of recycled hardboard in my garage, as a leaving present to thank the members of the congregation who supported me in the four years that I have worked there.

This year has been Climate Year there and butterflies have played a large part. Butterflies are beautiful but fragile creatures and vulenerable to many of the effects of climate change. They are also an ancient Christian symbol of resurrection. The caterpillar “dies” but it is transformed within the tomb of the chrysalis to be reborn as something new and beautiful.

This particular model is based on the Large White which I regard as a symbol of hope.

Large Blue Butterfly

The species became extinct in the United Kingdom in 1979 largely due to intensive agriculture reducing the areas of unimproved grassland in which it thrived. Scientific studies revealed the exact nature of the problem and allowed conservationalists to plan for its reintroducition. Today the butterfly breeds at 33 sites across the South West of England. (The full story is actually more complex and wonderful and you can read about it at this link.) The hope in this story is clear, if we want to change things, are prepared to listen to what is required, and then act on that understanding, then we can.

Model Large Blue with 4m wingspan

Inspired by this I made a much larger model with a wingspan of nearly 4m to take up to the demonstration of public concern that was held on the middle Saturday of the recent CoP 26 meeting in Glasgow. Before that, it was suspended in the Church throughout our recent eco-festival as a symbol of the need for Christians to join with the rest of the world’s popualtion in holding our governments to account over what they are doing to our planet and its people and how they plan to change this.

Unfortunately I’d forgotten that it was likely to be windy in Glasgow in November and it was unsafe to unfurl our butterfly on the march in the midst of over 100,000 people. We did manage to give it a flutter at Glasgow Green at the end of the march where there was a little more space.

After we returned I preached a sermon about the Christian requirement to hold our government to account in this way and shared some pictures of the march. You can watch it on this video clip below if you’d like to. It’s based upon Micah 4:1-5:

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
    and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
    and no one shall make them afraid;
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk,
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    for ever and ever.

Equal marriage meeting

Report from the Circuit Open Meeting on Human Sexuality and Equal Marriage contributed to my local church magazine.

34 people from across the circuit met. After a brief act of worship David Walton, an ex-Vice President of Conference talked about the Same Sex Marriage Act, which the government passed last year, and its implications for the Methodist Church. The Act allows religious organisations to choose whether they will conduct same sex marriages or not. This means that Methodist Conference, our Church Council and the presiding Minister would all need to agree before such a marriage could take place on our premises.

At present Methodist Standing Orders state that ‘…marriage is the gift of God and it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman’. Our Church cannot, therefore, hold same-sex marriages unless it changes its Standing Orders first. The church responded to the government consultations on the Act from this position. At the last Conference, however, a working group was set  up to “to consider whether the Methodist Church’s position on marriage needs revising in light of changes in society, undertaking this consideration with reference to scripture, tradition, reason and experience”.

David also gave us a short history of how Christian attitudes to marriage have changed over time which I found particularly interesting. Did you know, for example, that it was only in the 1215 that the Church decreed that marriages had to be carried out in public in the presence of a priest? Before then many marriages were either informal (for the poor) or a form of legal contract (if money was involved).

We then broke into small groups for discussion of six questions that guided us through some of the issues that our church faces. Within my group were people with the widely different views which I’m sure characterise most congregations. The questions led us through these, however, in a way that allowed us to explore how we had all come to hold those different views. I got a real sense of a community joining the “pilgrimage of faith” that had been advocated by Conference when human sexuality was last discussed in 1993.

After that there was time for us to come together and reflect jointly on the conversations that had been held separately. Again there was honesty and openness in that sharing and a willingness to listen respectfully to people who had different opinions.

As we’d started in a short act of worship, so we ended in a short act of worship. For me, however, the whole morning had been a deeply moving act of worship. It was worship as I imagine the early church worshipping – sitting around in small groups, talking to each other of the things that deeply concerned them and, through that shared experience and in the presence of the Spirit, trying to discern how God wanted them to respond to a changing world.

Those of you who weren’t able to be there might like to draw into communion with those who were by reflecting on the words of the two hymns we sang: “Sacred the body that God has created (StF 618)” and “Let us build a house where love can dwell (StF 409)”. Think about how God speaks to you through the words first to affirm what you believe and then to challenge it. Then imagine a fellow Christian with different views to yours on human sexuality. How would God speak through these words to both affirm and challenge what they believe? Then pray for yourself and then for your imagined friend.