The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

Rev Eve preached this sermon to members of our Sunday 9.30am Informal Worship on Sunday 29th January. We remembered the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple recorded in Luke's gospel, which is known by many as the festival of 'Candlemas'. What does it mean to be a light in the world for a Christian? Rev Eve thought about the themes of 'Watching and Waiting', 'Comfort and Challenge', and 'Potential and Priorities'. 

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'Challenging Christmas Traditions'

This is a short sermon that Rev Eve preached at Hull Collegiate School Carol Service on 14th December 2016 Rev Matt tweeted that it was 'stimulating but controversial'... See what you think!

Picture the Christmas card scene... Mary, dressed in blue, pale skinned and wide eyed, smiles down at her new baby boy, who is asleep in the manger - not hungry, gassy, or grumpy in any way. Joseph looks on in pride at his illegitimate son, not worried at all about the implications of having a new child in a town where they will soon have to flee for fear of Herod trying to eradicate any threat to his rule from babies being referred to as 'King'. Shepherds gaze respectfully on surrounded by well behaved sheep, while wise men in spectacular dress offer amazing gifts, looking immaculate even though they have just journeyed for months. And all in an isolated stable, with the lights of the town in the distance, no friends or family to be seen. Calm, serene...and unrealistic?

 We might feel like our Christmas scene at home doesn't reflect those picture postcard Christmas Cards that we spend so long writing and posting at this time. My family get on well with one another, enjoying a Christmas at home with the normal festivities, and yet there will still be arguments over the thickness of the gravy, about who controls the remote, and who does the washing up. Families, friendships and teams are complicated, even at the best of times, and sometimes hearing cheery Christmas songs on the radio for the umpteenth time, or realising you've forgotten that one present for someone you won't see again for ages can bring us to wonder what this Christmas stuff is all about. 

 I have recently been reading about Christmas traditions that we inherit, through traditions, artistic impressions of the nativity scenes, various ways of reading Old Testament texts into the first Christmas story - and I've been struck by what I've found. One of the main traditions that is has challenged for me (and there are a few to choose from...) is Jesus being born in a stable, and as is often depicted on our Christmas cards, Mary and Joseph being isolated and removed from the hustle and bustle of family life, amid a huge census in the town.

 Part of this comes from how we have read 2 verses in Luke's account of the first Christmas - 'While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.' We imagine the children's nativity play, with Mary and Joseph knocking on various 'inns' or hotels, being turned away until one helpful yet long-sufferinginn keeper's wife sneaks the desperate couple around the back to the stable, where the animals are kept, as a last resort.

 But the word translated as 'inn' here could just as easily be translated as 'spare room' or 'guest room' (and is in some Bible translations!), and is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe a room in someone's house (Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11) - not quite the same as our western idea of an 'inn', or a B&B. Put this together with the context of the story, that Joseph was travelling back to his home town where loads of his family would be and no-one in that culture would turn away a family member in need, and it's very likely that Mary and Joseph turned up to the family home, and other relatives were already in the spare room or on the flat roof, so they ended up crashing slap bang in the middle of the living room of the family house, contractions and all! But what about the animals? Well at that time, the lower compartment of the living area of the single-room home would be used to shelter the animals, with hollows in the ground containing straw - the feeding trough, or manger for the animals.

Does this change how you think about the first Christmas? Jesus has still come, Word made Flesh, and 'moved into the neighbourhood' as the Message paraphrase puts John 1:14. The lowly shepherds are still the first to meet the Messiah. Mary and Joseph still had to flee from the threat of Herod. But Jesus is born as one of us, into the midst of real, human life.

 So imagine you've got the whole family for Christmas, your spare rooms are full, the cooking is underway, the family dogs are eating their Christmas treats,  and there's a knock on the door. It's your new sister-in-law with your brother Joe who you're weren't quite expecting, but who you couldn't possibly turn away, because, well, she'sheavily pregnant and where else would they go, you're family! So you open the sofa bed in the living room, and before you can hand her some mulled wine she's gone into labour! Luckily friend down the road is a midwife, and before you know it a Christmas miracle has occurred right in the midst of family life, chaotic, messy, yet beautiful and awesome. The newborn is placed gently into a clean dog bed because there is no crib.

 This version of the nativity may not be the one we see on Christmas cards, but it might just be more authentic and maybe even more reassuring to us this Christmas time.

One writer notes : 'In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the stable, needing our sympathy. He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention.'[1]

Jesus is born into the centre of real, family life, he is not distant, but relates to every part of our lives. And he also wants to be a part of it - not to remain at a distance, safely tucked away in a stable until next year - but walk with us, alongside us, bring comfort, joy and guidance.

 While thinking about the first Christmas like this may challenge our traditions, it needn't deter us from singing our carols, supporting our loved ones in nativity plays, and buying beautiful Christmas Cards - that's part of the fun of the season! But we can be assured that Jesus is in the midst of life, messy and beautiful, bringing light and life right in the middle of the living room of our lives. Will we welcome him into the mess and beauty of our lives, or will we try and take him back to the stable, out of the way? Will we rearrange the furniture of our lives to make room for new life and light?

I pray that this Christmas you will be able to welcome Jesus in, in the midst of real, messy, beautiful family life.

[1] Ian Paul [Accessed 13/12/16].

Becoming Reverend: the dad's view.

As a non-churchgoer, former Daily Mail and Yorkshire Post journalist John Woodcock was baffled and angry when his son Matt revealed he was leaving his successful career as a newspaper reporter to work for the church. This was John's perspective.    

At some point in his mid to late teens, and without much hope of a positive response, I suggested to Matthew that as a possible career he might consider following me into journalism. My pessimism was well founded. He didn’t disappoint. “What, and become as messed-up as you,” was the gist of his reply. The stress of meeting deadlines, the disruption to family life in response to breaking news, the over-indulging with like-minded colleagues which became an excuse for dealing with the pressures….yes, I could see his point.

Several years later, and after the experience of drifting in and out of humdrum jobs following university, Matthew saw the light. Being a newspaperman might not be so bad after all. He joined a journalism course in Sheffield and I well remember our Saturday mornings in a café in York discussing what he’d learned during the week. Invariably we argued because within a week or two he was rejecting my advice and telling me how best to write notional articles based on information supplied by his tutors.

I like to think that some of what I suggested took root because he completed the course successfully and on the strength of it got a job, initially for a trial period, on the evening paper in his home town. I will be forever grateful to the woman editor and her female news editor who gave him that chance, though my joy was muted by doubts that he had the temperament for the demands of the job. At that time he was a complicated mixture of naivety, communication skills, excessive enthusiasm, anxiety and good sense. As it turned out, becoming a reporter was the making of him. He was helped considerably by being sent to a branch office serving an earthy town where, without the emotional input of father, he learned much from a no-nonsense but generous hack of the old school.

Once he’d grasped the basics I saw Matt’s self-confidence flower as he confronted and coped with a range of situations few people experience in the course of their working week. For example: thinking fast on how best to handle a roomful of bereaved relatives, stepping through the legal minefield involved in covering a court case, interviewing the German ambassador, and being summoned by the city’s most influential company boss who arrived in his chauffeured car to give the favoured young upstart with a dodgy shorthand note yet another exclusive article.

It wasn’t just about news-gathering. A newspaper office is a diverse collection of individuals from all backgrounds. In those days, certainly, it was the richest of workplaces, not in terms of financial rewards, but in providing an almost unique form of social democracy. The public school and Oxbridge-educated covered the latest dramas alongside those from comprehensives. If you could get the facts and write them, background counted for nothing. Matt also discovered the value of local contacts. He recruited and encouraged many of his friends as unofficial correspondents. They became his eyes and ears on their streets, producing an endless stream of stories for the paper, many of which made it into the national media. As he continued to flourish, eventually he was given a weekly column. Imagine a young man having the freedom to write about almost anything that takes his fancy, subject to the laws of libel, and knowing that thousands will read it and sometimes react accordingly.  

It seemed to me that Matt could go as far as he wanted in journalism, which is why I was mortified when he announced that his ambition was taking a wholly different direction. His Christianity had never been a secret and when he told me he was abandoning a career that was giving him so much in earthly terms to work on behalf of God, I felt it almost as a slap in the face. My face. To sacrifice so much potential for the sake of what sounded to me like an obscure role in his local church was to me a grotesque backward step. An abandonment of real life. How could he discard such promise in the wider world for something so ill-defined and limiting?  And, if I’m honest, I was hurt that he was turning his back on a job that had brought me great benefits too. In a way I saw his decision as a kind of rejection of my own values. It wasn’t my finest moment. I was so upset I refused to attend his leaving party at the paper, regarding it as anything but a celebration.

As things have turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. He’s used the skills and gifts which found an outlet in his journalism to promote his faith in many positive ways – not least in helping to establish an annual beer festival in Hull’s principal Anglican church. A perfect example, perhaps, of how a one-time reporter and God can work together in – almost – perfect harmony.

I don’t begin to understand the depth of Matt’s spirituality. All I know is that his story and the journey he’s taken is a kind of personal parable: the son who teaches the father.

Becoming Reverend: A diary is out now priced £9.99. To buy a copy log-on to Follow Matt on Twitter @revmattwoodcock


Hearing God’s call

My journey into ordained ministry feels like a slow, steady, and looking back, natural journey punctuated by distinct and clear moments with God. I had grown up going to church, surrounded by a supportive church community, and had found my own faith at aged 17 at the youth festival Soul Survivor.Although I don’t have a particularly ‘dramatic’ story of coming to faith, it does feel to me like life before that summer was in black and white, or at least grey, and afterwards everything was in vibrant colour. It was there, and in the church youth group I attended thereafter, that I found huge encouragement as a young person to invest in my relationship with God, and seek his call on my life. I took a year out before university to serve in Christian ministry abroad, and happily entered into the life of my church at university, grateful to find groups and activities to contribute to and receive from.

After university I was keen to ‘give back’ to a church student ministry, having received so much. After an initial set back I was offered a role in York, so journeyed ‘up north’ for what I thought would be a year of student ministry before moving onto the next thing, although I didn’t really know what that would be. Over the summer I worked in the bookshop that served all of the summer festivals in Shepton Mallet – it was somewhat of a Christian bubble, but very refreshing and restorative.  My disinct and unexpected call to ordained ministry came in a huge tent full of people at the summer conference New Wine. The speaker had encouraged the older generations to pray for and commission the younger generation, and I had gone forward to prayer with a friend. The person praying for me was in fact quite distracting, but once they’d left me to it, I heard God say in my mind’s ear ‘You’re going to be a vicar.’

Excuse me, What? It felt like something I would never imagine, or make up, so I asked again, and the sense was the same. I stood up a while later (I’d been on the floor) and told my friend, who was far too over-excited and started to plan my next five years. I stopped him, and left it with God, to remind me later…maybe it was just me! At a later festival, Momentum, surrounded by peers and friends, in vulnerability I responded to a call to serve the Church in another ministry time, and found myself being prayed for by university friends I hadn’t even realised had been close by.

I went to York with a different sense of purpose, albeit incredibly vulnerable and unsure. After a few weeks of working in the church, I confessed to my colleague (who gratefully was a good friend) my feeling of vocation, and he was very gracious and brought great clarity. It was a blessing that I got to witness in York the kind of chuch leadership and ministry that I felt a real affinity with, and was modelled a type of ‘vicar’ that I could just about imagine being. I went through the discernment process in a couple of years, but then delayed training to begin with a new contextual training pathway called St. Barnabas Theological Centre, which shared my desire to integrate academic study with everyday ministry.

I was placed in a new church for training, which brought both its challenges, as I felt disorientated and de-skilled, but also huge blessings as I learnt more about relating to others and how to discern what God is doing and saying in new and unknown places. I’m so pleased that God led me to train in that way, as I feel much more equipped now for my curacy and next chapter of ministry. My new bishop recently spoke of the transition into ordained ministry not as an end or a beginning, which they could well be described as, but as a ‘continuation’. I really resonated with that, as I know that with God, we are ‘called’ from baptism and no experience is wasted, and that whether collared or not we are all ‘in ministry’. I am well aware that ordained ministry will hold new challenges and feel different from before, but I am confident that the God who has led me before will continue to guide me, and that his strength is perfected in my weakness. Significant verses for me have been 1 Timothy 1:12, and 2 Timothy 1:7 – I remember that in my relative ‘youth’, especially in the Church of England, God has given me the Holy Spirit for boldness, and that I can offer an honest example of a life given over to God that will hopefully encourage others to get to know Jesus for themselves.

Engaging with Hull - UK City of Culture 2017. Learning fROM Liverpool

This last summer I have had the privilege of study leave. I spent a couple of weeks of it in Liverpool, meeting many different people and finding out what difference that city had experienced in and since 2008 when Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture. It became obvious that it has had a major impact, and this gives me hope for Hull in 2017. I especially wanted to find out how churches had engaged and used their Capital of Culture to bless their communities and share something of the love of God, and the richness of the creative gifts that he gives to us.

I went with four questions:

(i)            What did you do in 2008 as part of Liverpool’s year of culture?

(ii)          Did 2008 Capital of Culture impact the outer estates or was it mainly confined to the city-centre?

(iii)         What, with hindsight, do you wish you had done in 2008?

(iv)         What legacy has been left?

I have produced a more detailed report if you are interested in reading more deeply, which is available as a download from our website.CLICK HERE I offer it as an encouragement to us as churches in Hull and region to think creatively about how we might engage with Hull UK City of Culture 2017. In doing so, I recognise that many churches are already active in this area. But perhaps there is scope for building on that in 2017? I see 2017 not as an end in itself, but an opportunity to do something positive around it which will have a legacy well beyond 2017.

There are some similarities between Hull and Liverpool, most notable in their maritime heritage. Although Liverpool is a younger port than Hull, its expansion especially in the 19th century, was meteoric. It grew rich, firstly on the slave trade, and then as the key port of the British Empire and transatlantic trade. However, as that trade diminished, the docks in Liverpool fell largely into disuse and dereliction.

Years of industrial unrest followed, plus mass unemployment. The notorious Toxteth riots of the early 1980’s signalled a nadir for the city and put it on the front pages of the newspapers for all the wrong reasons. But the regeneration of Albert Dock and the 1984 Garden Festival helped to kickstart regeneration even before the city was awarded European Capital of Culture 2008.

2008 has left a rich legacy to Liverpool. In only a couple of weeks, it was obvious that here was a place which was vibrant and emerging. Some of that is due to inward investment, most evident in the many construction projects all over the city (almost one in every street in the city centre it seems!), but also in the huge engagement with culture of all kinds. Often this seems to go hand in hand with eating out! Perhaps there is a lesson there: food and culture!

Talking to a variety of people, both church leaders and ‘gossiping’ to folk who I happened to meet on the bus, train, in museums, cafes etc, it seems that a lot of what happened in 2008 was based in the city centre. That said, the City Council did recognise that, in order to enable people on limited incomes to access the programmes, they needed to organise concessionary fares for public transport. I did not find out exactly how the mechanics of that worked, but I would certainly encourage our Council and 2017 team to look into that, as I am sure that they are doing. However, the churches were able to bring cultural activities out of the centre and into local communities; this was a really positive feature of their contribution. They were also able to engage many people in ‘culture’ who are often pushed to the margins or overlooked.

Looking at Liverpool seven years on from 2008, what was most exciting to me was to see the number of people who are out and about in the city. I walked around on quite a number of weekday evenings and there will still many people around, with eateries doing brisk trade. That is a striking contrast to the centre of Hull, where 7.00pm on a Wednesday evening sees the place practically empty! People told me that this is definitely a legacy of 2008. It is now part of the culture for people to turn out, rather than scurry back to their homes. As well as the regular cultural activities, there seemed to be a festival of some kind every week. One of the highlights in the Liverpool calendar are the ‘Light Nights’ when, across the city, many different buildings and venues join in with the theme of light, interpreting it in their various creative ways. Liverpool certainly has an ‘Open Culture’.

Then there were the ‘Superlambananas’ across the city! But I think I prefer our toads!

All this may seem a bit daunting for us in Hull, but I found it encouraging. Liverpool’s vibrancy has not always been there, but has grown over the years. Speaking to local people, they remember how it was and, consequently, give thanks that, over time and with vision and planning, the city has come alive and found its confidence. I met a man who had been a Curate in one of the churches forty years ago. He had just returned to the city to visit friends. He was staggered by the transformation and described Liverpool as a ‘city of resurrection’. This gives me great hope for Hull!


Kenyan Mothers and Babies Project

Recently Holy Trinity raised £950 for this project. Below is a report on a talk about the project.:



Rodney Kaleke, a male nurse and midwife, the coordinator of the project in Narok County, was in the north of England in early March. He was able to visit Hull, and in talking to a group at Cottingham on 6th March, and later at the Volunteers’ Day in Leeds, we heard the good news of how mothers’ and babies’ lives are being saved.

Narok County, like much of Kenya, is a poor rural area. About one million Masai people live there, mainly in very small villages. There is no running clean water, and  no electricity. It is usual in most Kenyan rural areas for women to give birth in their homes, which are very simple, often mud huts.’ Giving birth in rural Kenya is a dangerous experience’. Tragically it is not surprising that the national poverty statistics for Kenya include

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Welcoming at Holy Trinity

By John Lawson of Holy Trinity Welcoming Team

Last September I became a ‘Welcomer’ at Holy Trinity Church. Of all the jobs I’ve had it has the easiest job title to understand. I stand at the main door of the church and ‘welcome’ people who visit us.

All the welcomers are volunteers and everyday (except Mondays) between eleven and three o’clock there are welcomers at the door. Three people for each two hour slot; two on the door and one person at the counter of the church shop. Each three is a small team and I’m sure each team thinks that they do the best job of welcoming at Holy Trinity Church. Is there still the sin of pride? Well, I think the welcomers would admit to it; we are proud to welcome people in and show them the amazing place that Holy Trinity is.

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New Times For The Old Town

By Rev Canon Dr Neal Barnes, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church

 I am truly delighted to learn of the news that the Old Town of Hull is to receive a grant of £3 million to help breathe new life into its economy, including exciting plans to revive Trinity Indoor Market. It is so heartening to know that others believe in the Old Town, as we do. Which is why the announcement complements so well our own plans for the transformation of Trinity Square and Holy Trinity.

 When I arrived at Holy Trinity in 2010, the mood was very different in the Old Town. Some key businesses had moved out of Whitefriargate. Pubs, bars and cafes were closing down. The indoor market was a rather drab affair with footfall a fraction of what it had been a decade before. Holy Trinity was not the most ebullient place either!

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Keeping The Faith In Power To Change Life

By Revd Matt Woodcock, Holy Trinity Church, Hull

IF Hull’s recent freedom festival was anything to go by, its new-found status as the UK City of Culture for 2017 is fully justified. 

Record crowds of more than 115,000 poured into the historic former fruit market and impressive marina area for a dazzling potpourri of music, dance, art and theatre.

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