The Last Day

three-wise-men-hiWe’ve come to the last full day in Dubai as residents! What a year it has been! This morning driving to K9 Friends to give Bethany one last morning helping out there was a magical view of a line of lorries leaving the industrial area, silhouetted against the sky in the thin mist that was over everything. When I got to the Green Community Roundabout on the way home there in front of me was two tiers of lorries sillouetted against the same background – one on the roundabout, on on the left turn bridge above, the business of Dubai continuing on while people sleep (in the case of some of our family) or work (probably you, dear reader). I’m not working. I’m waiting for the men to come and pack our belongings up. They are just over four hours late so far but assure us that they will come. It’s why I’ve got time to write a last post on ‘Steve’s Blog’ on the Christ Church website, with the sound of birdsong in my ears, the balcony doors flung open this beautiful December afternoon :-) . The chaplain’s laptop, with email address and facebook is now behind me, handed on. When I log off this entry, the website too will not have me logging in again. I am so glad that Tim and Diane are coming here – they will be good for this place, of that I am sure. Do pray for them as they take January as a break between Holy Trinity and Christ Church – they sorely need it – although they are not leaving Dubai or the chaplaincy, they do need now to rest, let go, refocus and take up the new task ahead.

There are many uncertainties here. There are a number of people here who are being called on to exercise a trust in God that goes beyond normal everyday faith. May they find the peace which passes all understanding, and a focus in prayer that brings them close to God as they so sincerely pray for the different uncertainties to be settling where it will be good for the gospel.

Memories of that last party linger on. What a laugh! There is so much good about Dubai and the churches in this place. We are part of the fabric of what makes Dubai good – This has been my motto all my time here, and I pray that the colour of our skein may be visible and delightful in the finished cloth. Each person of each congregation working in so many different places in our city gives a little light to each person they come into contact with. We are together the body of Christ, but you who work out in town have a greater opportunity to show your faith to those who do not know what a devout Christian believes, and talk to those who ask you about it. You will often find you have much to learn from those around you, and common cause with those of other faiths who find increasing secularisation so distressing. I have been doing my part too to be part of the fabric of what makes this place good and to try to stir others to think about God and to turn their lives towards him – it has been my delight to have more services filled with non-church people than many an evangelist could dream of, in baptisms, weddings and funerals! Welcoming those who have requested Christian prayers, we welcome also their friends and family who often as not haven’t a clue as to what to do in church.It is a time to open their eyes to a peace that passes all understanding, and the repentance necessary for some to benefit from it.

To all of them, and to you, I say, come to church more often! Church going isn’t what saves you or what God particularly delights in, but it reminds you of what you want to be and teaches you how to do it. You, who were so beautiful that God created you, surely would want to be a delight to him as he looks down from heaven and watches you live, and love, and forgive. Come to church and find out how and see it modelled for you 😉

This next weekend we are celebrating Epiphany, the feast day celebrating the wise men who came to Jesus. Wise men still do of course, on Friday mornings 9.30am Jebel Ali, Saturday mornings 9.30am Academic City, and Sunday evenings 7.30pm Jebel Ali – directions are here 😉

I hope the packers have come by the time we leave. It’s now 5 hours late and we leave in 12 hours. I guess I should get off this wretched screen and give them another call.

See you in heaven if not before.

Steve

Christmas previews underway

Nativity manger with really baby (800x533)When it comes, the Dubai Christmas warm up comes in a rush. Over the last week 6 carols services with one more to enjoy tonight. Then it’s over! Funny how Dubai always does Christmas early in a desperate rush to fit it all in before so many people go away back home for the main event! Still, there’s lots that stay too, more and more each year as costs increase faster than salaries, and it will be good to see you all.

The chamber choir at the Mission to Seafarers Concert last Thursday started with an interesting version of a well known song (Es ist ein Ros) – listening to it on my computer it’s a bit boring but in the acoustic of our church it was absolutely magical as the chords meshed in an out of focus. Reminded me of when they did Lux Arumque (It’s about time they put some quality youtube clips out of their own performances as they are as good as the links I give 😉 ) On Friday of course we had our own Nativity and carols service pictured above with a real live baby Jesus. The children were of course wonderful but I think only the Friday school teachers will appreciate how much it takes to get such a bunch together! On Saturday we had a Christingle and carols service – at the DESC there are thick curtains so we could enjoy the candles in darkness with the lights off very well. That was followed by a Guides and Brownies Christingle in the same hall so we darkened it again for that and there had my second mince pie of the season.Guides Brownies Rainbow Christingle service at Academic City 2014 (800x450) I do find this time of year very moving, normally because of the memories of years past but this year it is the recent years past that are uppermost in my mind because we’re leaving Dubai. So many beautiful Nativity plays and Uniformed Organisations services we have done together! Memories of eleven Christmas concerts each from the Dubai Chamber Choir and Dubai Singers to add to the mix of feelings as I hear their wonderful harmonies fill our church – how much I long for their concerts, filled with words of Christian teaching and worship, to be sung to God rather than to the audience, and for the audience to become, with the choir, a congregation praising God! Of course many in their concerts ARE praising God and I encourage you not to let this warm up be the heart of your Christmas – come for the main event!

Christmas Midnight 11pm, and Christmas Day 9.30am. If you have family visiting who have missed it, or just want to sing some more carols and pray to God together, we have another Christingle service at Christ Church on the 28th at 6pm.

And of course, don’t forget we’re open every week for private prayer, and any Friday 9.30am, Saturday 9.30am (Academic City) and Sunday 7.30pm to join with others to sing carols galore until 12th night :) .

My dog is not Anglican!

praying with dogWe  foster dogs from K9 friends from time to time to give them a bit of training sometimes, but sometimes we foster simply to get to know and unknown dog so that people who may want to adopt can more accurately know what kind of dog they are. His name is Barclay and and can’t think why he hasn’t been adopted yet he so lovely – calm nature, good with kids, house trained. Under his details for the topic ‘Good with cats’ the answer is ‘will need training’, which is good British understatement describing his reaction on seeing them in our garden, but if there was a line for what religion he was, all I can say it that I don’t think he’s an Anglican.

My bag with my robes in was all ready for our church in Academic City this morning, and dear Barclay had decided to poke his nose in and of all the things he could have taken, he chose a letter I had from the bishop and was chewing it up excitedly before we could stop him! He’s never shown interest in any plain bit of A4 lying around before, and there are many in our house, but this one in a moment of playfulness was his focus for destruction. I printed another copy and all was fine at our church this morning. Just as we welcome people from all denomenations to our church services (Friday mornings, Sunday nights, and Saturdays in Academic City) so I will continue loving and welcoming Barclay while he stays with us. I wonder what church he would prefer – he hates being washed so he’s not a baptist, too quiet and peaceful to be Pentecostal, but he likes routine so would this make him Methodist or Roman Catholic?

Or perhaps he wasn’t trying to rip the letter apart but was trying to eat it, showing his affection to the bishop by his action, making him Anglican after all!

What denomenation is your pet?

At home in exile

Nativity service 2013

One of the facets of having an English language service in a foreign country is that we have people of many different nationalities attending our services. Like the Christians that Saint Peter wrote to in Asia Minor we are exiles and aliens (1Peter 1.1 and 2.11). A common term for Christian communities was paroikia, or ‘place of refuge or exile’. This word is where the English word ‘Parish’ comes from. The followers of this new faith gathered together in a desire to worship, but also in a desire to experience a certain solidarity in a world where they were a minority and scattered far and wide by occasional persecutions.

When we are in a foreign place we do the same – people tend to gather with those of like mindset: The Caledonian society enabling Scottish folk to gather and do…whatever Scottish people do, the Rugby 7s a time to get rugby fanatics together, the Christian church a place to get Christian fanatics together to do…whatever Christian folk gather and do. Our gathering at church for Christmas is an expression of our faith, but also it helps us experience a certain solidarity and encouragement in numbers where in some of our home countries they seem to be leaving God out entirely, and in this country we feel our daily life sometimes affected powerfully by Islam – we are not atheists after all, and we are not Muslim, we, well we are Christians. We gather to celebrate and identify with our Christian heritage, we have a common feeling, we can feel comfortable together that even from all different countries of the world, there is a common song in our hearts as regards the importance of Jesus Christ in our world.

In the English parish system the word parish has come to mean something solid, as unmoving as parish boundaries, and a symbol for establishment and old fashioned stability, a marking out of our own territory, a hangover from a world which now seems to find geographical boundaries increasingly irrelevant as we travel and communicate without any reference to such boundaries, local and even international. The origins of the word are almost the opposite of all this – yes it marks a place of refuge where Christians gather and feel safe, but the place was not of permanance but a place where Christians gathered as temporary residents in a country not their own, as exiles. They gathered as followers of a new king that the world was yet to recognise. They gathered not to mark out territory, but to celebrate the existence of a world that, ultimately, had no national boundaries, Jew or Gentile – one king, one people, a royal priesthood who would light the way to God.

All this is especially fine at Christmas time when record numbers of people traditionally come to church. We celebrate the new born king with fine music and food and presents and whatever else. We celebrate our own traditions at home as far as we can, usually with music and food that are traditional in our home countries, and we gather with our fellow countrymen to remind ourselves of home. The delight and testing of an English language service is that people come from many different nations, which makes it impossible for any hymn chooser to choose music from home from each home that we all come from! Brits may love seeing a favourite carol come up on the screen and take a deep breath ready for the first line, only to discover, Oh! it’s that American tune! Americans do the same but may discover it’s an African tune we’ve got today. Our parish, our place of exile is not home, and yet, it is our parish, the place where we belong for the present, because we DO have a common story and a common heritage and a home – we know Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem.

Let us share his story together again this Christmas, let us take refuge in him, let us find our identity in that babe in the manger, whose life was to become so important for us. We live as foreigners and aliens in a strange place, and yet here in this place we bear common witness to Emmanuel born in the manger, God’s Wisdom come close to us, the Lord of Might come to set us free, the Key of David to open the door to heaven, the Rod of Jesse to deliver us from our enemies, the Dawn from on high to break upon us who dwell in darkness with the light of that great new day,  we bear witness to the Desire of Nations, the King of Peace, who has come to his people and set them free.

These are all great titles for Jesus Christ and today we celebrate his birth and God coming to us. With God we are at home wherever we are because wherever we are we are in his kingdom, his principality, our home. Even in Exile we can carry the feeling of being at home here whether that exile be among work colleagues or family who are all of a different faith, or worse of no faith.

In all the extras of this Christmas season, I hope you will spend a little time on your own at the manger, finding yourself, your joy, and your home, in him.

Happy Christmas!

Christ is coming, get busy!

Steve reading KJVOver the last two weeks my bible readings have included Tobit and Judith. What adventures! There is one more to come in the Old Testament (Daniel) but all these are but a prelude to the great adventure: Today my bible readings begin their journey through Revelation and Isaiah which, every year, like a change in the wind, herald for me the run up to Christmas. In Nigeria, when the Harmattan wind came, we would smell it and know, Christmas is soon! In England the days get shorter and shorter, and there may be frost. Brrrr! But it’s one major thing I miss here – there’s not really a distinct or major change in the weather to herald the new season. But the whisper of God on the move bursts out from Revelation and Isaiah – Revelation will finish spectacularly after a week of Advent, Isaiah will lead me all the way to Christmas and Epiphany. (The app I use to follow my bible readings is Common Prayer)

Choirs of course are already practicing (come at 8.30am Fridays to join ours). Our Nativity play rehearsals no doubt will start soon (in Friday School and after Friday service). Having celebrated and lit candles for all those good people we remember who have died this last weekend we spend the month in our bible readings each weekend at church in readings reminding us of our own end, but also the end times: Job ‘I know my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth’, Malachi ‘the sun of righteiousness shall rise, with healing in its wings’, Jeremiah ‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch’ Luke ‘those who are considered worthy of a place in that age…cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection’, to the dying prisoner ‘today you will be with me in paradise’, and  2 Thessalonians – read the whole book, it won’t take long. Neither will the time between now and Christmas (Exclamation informal: expressing surprise, dismay, or despair). Having finished Halloween and Divali I guess the shops will soon start getting you on that materialistic journey again.

Isn’t it time you put God back into the season? Yes, yes, I know you pray at home, and some of you come to church as often as once in three weeks. But coming to church EVERY week is good for you. It helps your faith become part of your identity. If you didn’t come last week for All Saint’s I’m sorry, you missed a good one. This coming Sunday night we pause in our service to remember our frailty and those who have died in wars as a result. On the 29th we have the Jubilate Octet joining us again for Advent (They were very good last Friday :-)).

You all know that Christmas is coming, but how many live like they know that Christ is coming? Come and join in – Fridays 9.30am in Jebel Ali (we have Friday School for children aged 3 and up) Saturdays 9.30am in Dubai English Speaking College, Academic City (we have Saturday School), and Sundays 7.30pm in Jebel Ali (No Sunday School). If traffic is busy on the bridge there’s a quicker way – but I’m not telling you that here or they’ll ALL know and gum it up! Come late once and learn the quick way from the others 😉

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