We’ve been back home from Portugal for nearly a week. Since then we’ve had a great weekend with Tara’s family celebrating her Dad’s 80th birthday and I’m now back where I started my sabbatical, on retreat on Holy Island.
Coming back from Portugal the Taize chant, ‘In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful‘ has been very much with me. I am so thankful to God for the time in Portugal, for the gift of somewhere to stay from my parents, for the time as a family, for plenty of sun and lots to do.
In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, In the Lord I’ll rejoice. Look to God, do not be afraid, Lift up your voices, the Lord is near; Lift up your voices the Lord is near.
In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful, Taize Community.
Rather than using lots of words on this blog about Portugal I thought I would share some of our many photos that we took. Through these I hope to share some of the things from this time that I am thankful to God for.
I’m thankful to God for a great place to stay at Rocha Brava:
I’m thankful to God for good food to share together!
I’m thankful to God for beautiful beaches to play on!
I’m thankful to God for time with my precious family:
I’m thankful to God for All Nations Church who welcomed us and enabled us to be part of their family for 6 weeks:
I’m thankful to God for time to visit wonderful places:
I’m thankful to God that for six weeks my phone only told me in was 20+ degrees and that my next appointment was a long time away! It was so nice not to have to look at my diary.
One of the blog posts I said I’d write was about how this time in Portugal has enabled my relationship with God to change and deepen. As well as reading about ways/rhythms of life on my sabbatical I wanted the chance to refresh my own patterns of prayer and discipleship. This began before we came away to Portugal but has deepened whilst we have been here.
One of the books I read many years ago, 15+ years ago, was Mike Yaconnelli’s Messy Spirituality. [Not with the cover in the picture, this is a 2015 edition updated by his family following his unexpected death in 2003]. Reading the book helped me to realise that not all Christian’s are the same (!), that each disciple will have a different pattern or prayer and that for most of us that will be ‘messy’, not the same everyday and that we will need to meet with God differently at different times and seasons of our lives.
I’ve always held onto the message of the book and since then at different times and different seasons I’ve prayed in different ways, different times of the day and with different frequencies. More recently my Spiritual Director has helped to remind me regularly that feeling guilty that I haven’t kept my current hoped-for pattern of prayer simply isn’t worth it, which has been really helpful.
Since becoming a Dad three years ago, my own prayer life has been through a season very different to any I’ve experience before, which is not surprising as I hadn’t been a Dad before!
My natural time to pray has always been a morning as I like to get up early. A baby however, means that lots of other things happen in a morning, you are trying to learn to balance home and work in a completely new way, a lack of sleep for both parents means that any moment one or the other of you can have to sleep is taken and your mind is filled with so many new experiences, questions, thoughts, anxieties which all make life ‘messy’ amongst all the amazingness of being a parent.
So over the last three years my own times or prayer have been more sporadic, on the move, noisy, less frequent and with very little routine. My reading of the Bible in a consistent way for my own devotion rather than to prepare worship or Bible studies for ministry has been virtually non-existent. This has been my season for the last few years and through this season I have continued to know God and to meet with God. I have felt God speak to me, to reassure me, to encourage me in ministry, to use me to speak to others, to give me words and pictures in pastoral situations which have been channels of God’s grace. I have cried out to God in despair, praised God for his goodness and thanked God for his presence through his spirit. I know God has been there and I’ve been present to God.
Whilst I want to say that my prayer life in these years hasn’t been good enough, hasn’t been what it could or should have been, hasn’t been made up of the ‘perfect’ quiet time each day, or what is ‘expected’ of a minister; I know deep down I don’t need to say those things, it has been what it is for this season, it has been ‘messy’, it may not have been as deep as I would have liked it to be, but it has been real, it has been honest and it has been holy.
I knew however coming into sabbatical that it was time for a new season and pattern of prayer for me, to renew my rhythm for the next season.
For 10 years plus at different times I have used the order for Morning Prayer from Celtic Daily Prayer, published by the Northumbria Community. I decided to go back to using this order each morning and alongside this to read a chapter each from the Old and New Testament. I have also journaled again each time I have prayed.
Setting this time aside has been a real blessing, I have felt much more grounded in my relationship with God and renewed in my Christian faith. It has also given me time each day to be still and to pray for others, particularly the Churches I minister with and those offering ministry during my time away. I felt led to read the books of 1 Samuel and Acts from the Bible and have continued with 2 Samuel and Romans. In these books the story of faith is really prominent, for Saul and Samuel the story of God’s people is central, they come back to it, they share it, it forms their decisions. In Acts the early Church is overcome with the Good News of Jesus Christ, of the power of the Holy Spirit and the transformation this brings to individuals, communities and the world. This Good News forms the basis for their lives, their faith, their Church, their mission and evangelism.
Through these prayers and scriptures, particularly the two opening prayers (from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer) I have felt God strip me back from all the complexities of ministry and life and remind me of the Christian faith which is at the core of who I am.
In particular I have been reminded of the overwhelming life-giving love God has for me and the deeply inclusive way that God’s love is for all people, for all the world. That the love God has for me is for all, that the joy of being part of the Church I share in is for all, that the blessings God pours into my life, my family, my ministry are for all.
One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.
Opening Prayer from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer, from Psalm 27:4.
To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.
Declaration of faith from Morning Prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer
Changing my pattern of prayer has undoubtedly renewed my relationship with God, grounded me in him each day and drawn me closer to God. It has given me a want to get up early to pray and left me feeling not ‘right’ on the days real life has meant I haven’t had the time to pray in a morning. Through it I feel completely rested both physically and in God. Through it I have heard God speak about different ideas, blessings, challenges.
As I go home from Portugal in the coming days I want to continue this pattern of prayer, to find time each morning to pray, to read the scriptures, to hold others before God, to listen to God in silence and stillness.
I also want to find time to bring more into the pattern of prayer, maybe to say compline each day, to find time to keep reading theology, to set aside a regular extended time to be with God to listen, read and write. Maybe I’ll even keep blogging! Whatever I chose to add into the pattern, I know it will be different from sabbatical as it will be a different season, it will undoubtedly continue to be ‘messy’.
I hope and pray though that it will build on the pattern I have found during sabbatical and continue to ground me with God and deepen my experience of and love for him.
It will be different because it won’t have a view like this!
When we knew we would be in Portugal for six weeks we knew it would be important to find somewhere to worship together, a Church we could feel part of even though we would only be there for a short period of time. Like anyone in a new place looking for a Church we looked online and discovered that in Carvoeiro (where we would be staying) was All Nations Community Church.
All Nations meets each Sunday at Carvoeiro Tennis Club and is led by Pastors Stephen and Elaine Richardson. The Church started about 10 years ago by a small group of families who felt God was calling them to begin something new. Since then the Church has been worshipping and reaching out into the local community.
In the month we have been here (so far) we have been made to feel so welcome and part of the All Nations Community. Within a week people knew our names, people sought us out to talk to us, to find out what had brought us to worship, to listen our stories of life and faith.
We have all found the worship, preaching and children’s work really enriching to our faith and to the sabbatical. We have been encouraged to share in worship and to take part, if we wanted, in the prayer meeting, house groups and a teaching weekend. In all these things no one has quizzed us or asked for qualifications, we have been welcomed and included because of our shared faith in Jesus – it is that which we have seen in each that has enabled us to be truly part of the All Nations family for this time.
This welcome has shown me how you can become part of a Church community so quickly and if you want to, to get involved. I often say to new faces at the churches I minister with that you don’t have to wait forever to get involved but we don’t want to ask you too quickly to commit or get involved. I wonder how we could make the invitation to get involved more obvious and easy, alongside good safer recruitment practices.
Alongside this wonderful welcome I have been really struck by a number of the charisms that makes All Nations the Church it is:
Being multilingual: the congregation each Sunday speaks many different languages. The service is led in both English and Portuguese with translation from the front (as you see in the picture above with Stephen and Sandra) and is also translated using headsets and simultaneous translation into German. This makes for a different worship experience but also one which reflects the diversity of the body of Christ.
Pattern of Worship: All Nations roots its worship in Acts 2:42 and its pattern of worship across a month gives a different focus each week to The Word, Communion and Prayer, [Sung] Worship and Hospitality (breakfast service). It hasn’t always been easy to see the distinction between the different weeks, but I think the pattern is good. I was particularly struck by how effective the breakfast service was last Sunday and wonder if this is something I could take back with me to Churches I minister with.
Sung Worship: the sung worship each week at All Nations is led by a very able group of musicians, who find their commonality in the music they sing rather than their mother tongue. We have been singing many songs which are familiar to us, which has helped us to feel at home, but it has been wonderful to hear them sung and attempt to sing them in Portuguese as well as English. I promise I won’t be singing any Portuguese solos when I return to leading worship!
Location: it’s been really good to worship in community building rather than a Church. When I’ve been to Churches that meet in community centres/schools before I’ve often struggled to focus or feel like the space is conducive to worship. This hasn’t been the case with All Nations, maybe because the space has been worshipped in for 10 years. It is also great to have after Church coffee round the swimming pool and to see the children and young people enjoying the swim! I’m not sure an outdoor pool would go down so well in Hexham!
As we’ve talked with members of All Nations and I’ve chatted with Stephen (pastor) it has been really interesting to hear that many of the challenges I’ve faced in ministry in England they/he have also faced here. This is not the place to share specifics, but to note that where God’s Church is seeking to serve, to share and build the Kingdom there is lots to rejoice in and to give thanks for, but it’s not always easy. To know that we all face challenges, often similar, as we seek to find ways to help one another walk with God is an encouragement and a blessing. Most of all to know that the Holy Spirit of God is alive and at work in those challenges is a reminder of the biggest support and blessing we have as followers of Jesus.
Thank you All Nations for your welcome, for your invitation to be part of the Church here, for your ministry and mission in this part of the Algarve and for all that you will bless us with over the next two weeks.
One of the great joys of being here in Portugal and of my whole sabbatical has been time to read. In an earlier post I shared some of the books I’d read and have mentioned some in other posts too. I thought I’d share some of the others I’ve read here, I’ve got something from all a lot from some and a little from others: