Hi there!. My name is Rev Robert Hurley I am the Superintendent Minister of the Ilfracombe and Barnstaple Methodist Circuit and have been the minister here at Emmanuel, Ilfracombe since September 2015.

I arrived in the Circuit back in 2012 having spent the previous 5 years as a minister in the Saltash Circuit in Cornwall. There I had 5 churches to look after – one town church and 4 small rural Chapels. It was nice to continue with my love of rural ministry when I was stationed to this Circuit with 5 churches to look after. Because of various changes that has now grown to 7 – along with Emmanuel Ilfracombe, I have responsibility for Bishops Tawton, Newport, Fremington, Ebberly Lodge, High Bickington and Goodleigh (Methodist/Anglican LEP). Working with my two colleagues, Rev Robert Manning at Braunton and Rev Don Macalister in Barnstaple, we have altogether 15 churches of various shapes and sizes. We are quite a mixed bunch in this part of North Devon!!

Before joining the Methodist ministry, I worked as a consultant gas engineer for some 23 years. I started off working for West Midlands Gas Board when it was still a publicly owned utility and went through various changes due to privatisation until ending my gas career working for an independent consultant group in Birmingham managing the design, construction and maintenance of major gas projects, pipelines and installations across the UK.

Having been born and brought up in the Methodist Church (my earliest memory is sitting on the Sunday School platform at the age of about three!!), I spent my early life attending Sunday School, Youth Groups and finally training to become a Local Preacher and was accredited in 1983. Growing up in the heart of the Black Country was good grounding for a Methodist as the church there was strong and very varied. I was a ‘primitive’ Methodist coming as I did, from a Primitive Methodist Church in the Blackheath Circuit. Little was I to know that those early years were to stand me in good stead later on in my ministry.

The call to the ministry was never far away and after completing my training at The Queens Foundation in Birmingham in 2007, was sent as a Probationer presbyter to Saltash. My wife, Amanda, is a great support to my ministry and she is often seen around the churches helping out and just being there for folk herself. Together with our two dogs, Labrador retriever Jess and Goldie Wesley, we live in Barnstaple but with lots of travel getting around the churches of the Circuit.

It’s a great joy for me to be the minister at Emmanuel, Ilfracombe as I can see great potential for mission and outreach amongst the many groups in the area – the local community and those who we welcome into the town on holiday. It’s always a joy to meet people from all around the country who come to share with us whilst on holiday and we hope to send them away with the impression of a welcoming, vibrant and growing church.

We are mainly a church with an older congregation in age but far younger in outlook. You will always find a warm welcome and plenty of opportunities to share over a tea or coffee at our fortnightly Thursday morning coffee mornings. Our Wednesday evening summer concert programme provides a welcome opportunity for residents and visitors alike to listen to some local, national and international choirs and bands.

Our mission is to provide a church that opens its doors for all to come in and help them to find a truly warm welcome in the love of God.

So, if you’re in the area – a resident or just visiting - then why not drop in and see us. We would love to meet you.

Every blessing,

Robert.

Remembering

We have arrived at that time of year again when we spend some time in remembering. The month of November starts with ‘All Saints Day’ when we can think about those who have gone before us into glory – the saints of old as well as those who have been close to us in our earthly journey. It’s a time for remembering the memories we have of them and realising the part that they have paid in our lives.

We don’t get too far into the month when we arrive at Bonfire Night. This is a time for remembering the early act of rebellion when Guy Fawkes attempted to kill the king by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. Robert Catesby the instigator and planner of what has come to be known as the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ felt so disgruntled by the way that the country was going and what he saw as the persecution of the Catholic church, that his only recourse was to turn to violence to overthrow the ruling classes.

Then of course, we have the very important time of remembrance that centres around the 11th.

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Intimidation and Worth

No individual, group or nation likes being pushed around. We all like to arrive at our decisions without being intimidated into submissive agreement by a stronger party. Even if our decision turns out to be a blunder, we tend to prefer the freedom to make our own mistakes over being forced to do what others judge to be right. When someone stands at your door and makes you an offer, while his armoured tanks take up position at your gateway, it tends to concentrate your attention and it is usually understood that this is an offer you can't refuse! But some people do refuse. And depending on your point of view, they are either mad or martyrs.

The point is illustrated well in a story about Philip 11, who was king of Macedon around the middle of the fourth century B.C. Philip was a bit of a bully, the kind of leader who always got what he wanted - if he couldn’t get it through diplomacy, he would take it by force. He had managed to subdue all the major Greek city states, all of them that is, except one, the state of Sparta.

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Remembering to forgive

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was elected to office on an antislavery ticket, an election that precipitated the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln issued a proclamation freeing Southern slaves, and two years later masterminded the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery anywhere in the United States. Lincoln was opposed to all forms of slavery, not least people becoming slaves of their own anger and resentment.

Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, had some trouble with a major general who accused him, in abusive terms, of favouritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that he write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did so, and showed the strongly worded statement to the president, who applauded its powerful language. "What are you going to do with it?" he asked. Surprised at the question, Stanton said: "Send it, of course." Lincoln shook his head. "You don't want to send that letter," he said. "Put it in the stove. That's what I do when I've written a letter when I am angry. It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now, burn it and write another." 

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Difference is a blessing!

As I write this piece, I am seated on the train travelling to a meeting at Church House in London. As usual, the train was late getting into the station, over-running engineering works at Plymouth, but we’re now on our way and the weather is fine, I have a seat which is always a bonus, and so I can settle down to enjoy the journey.

I don’t know about you, but I like to look around at the people on the train and try to guess their story – people watching is a fascinating pastime! There are the businessmen in their dapper suits tapping away on their laptops, juggling the mobile phone and the cup of coffee. There’s the returning student, college now over for the year and looking forward to the long summer holidays. I look on at the flustered young mum trying to keep two very young children happy on a long and boring journey. The old couple – visiting grandchildren perhaps, or starting off on new travels to exotic faraway places. The list goes on, because everyone on this train is different, we all have different reasons for being here, different destinations to reach and different times by which we need to be there. Difference is a blessing, because if we were all the same what a boring world we would live in!!

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Hope in a hope-less world!

What does it mean to have hope?

As you read this piece, I hope that the world may seem a different place from what it is like as I write this article! As I sit here, the country is still bewildered about its future – a minority government voted in and trying to rally support from even smaller political parties; people in our society are still reeling from the terrible atrocities in Manchester and London for which we have little in the way of explanation or understanding; the Brexit talks are soon to get underway and what the result of those will be is anyone’s guess at this time. All in all, the world seems to be in a ‘hope-less’ state.

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Christian Tolerance

I’m sure that very few of us go through life without joining some kind of club or group. Some people take great pride in their membership of a whole range of different groups, from the local neighbourhood watch to an international charity. For some people, the more select a club or group is, the better they feel, as they believe that membership of such a club gives them a particular status in their society or group of friends and acquaintances.

The actor, Victor Mature, renowned for taking on acting roles that quite often saw him portrayed as a rather leaden romantic actor, applied for membership of one of the most prestigious clubs in America – the Los Angeles Country Club. His membership was turned down with the comment, ‘we do not accept actors’. Victor was quick to reply, ‘I’m no actor, and I have a string of 64 films to prove it!!’. He may have been right, but he still didn’t get in!

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Locked doors

The French writer Jean-Paul Sartre wanted to explore the agony of many human beings who feel trapped in the midst of life. He wrote a play about hell, and gave it a suitable title: ‘No Exit’. In this play three people arrive in hell, which consists of a large sitting-room with mirrors around the walls. There is no exit in the room, and no intermission in the action. The three characters are on stage all the time since they are condemned to spend eternity together without leaving the room.

They pass the time reflecting on what has happened in the past, but they cannot use that to change their lives now. As they remain locked within the room, the final line of the play is, "Let's go." But of course, they can go nowhere. For them hell is being tied to a past and a present that cannot be changed. They have no prospect of a future that is different from the present time. All they have is mirrors. And that is hell!

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The Everywhereness of God

This Lent, I have been reading a book entitled ‘God is Closer Than You Think’ which is written by an American author by the name of Jon Ortberg. In the book he writes about how, through his life experiences, he recognises the presence of God in the everyday things of life. He also suggests that God is everywhere where people are – that in many of the situations in life that we find ourselves, God is already there. He is aware of the things that we are facing, the hopes and fears that we meet in our everyday lives are already known to him. Such is the presence of God in our lives and in the world.

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Ashes to Eggs

As I write this piece, we have just celebrated St Valentine’s Day.  I’m sure that there are many mantelpieces adorned with cards to loved ones; waste baskets bursting with discarded chocolate boxes; vases straining under the weight of red roses.  We are bombarded each year by advertisers pushing the latest purchase for our loved ones. All this is just to show how much we love those around us.

As we move into the time we call Lent, we are reminded that this is a time of preparation – getting ourselves ready to celebrate Easter.  With all that unfolds at the Cross of Calvary, we find it hard to see where the love in the sacrifice of Jesus really lies.  But love is at the heart of the Easter story.

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Blessings!

Blessings!

Christmas and New Year are behind us. We have packed away all the decorations for another year. We are in the season of cold, dreary and even wintry weather. People walk around reflecting the dismal time of year that is February!! But, you know, it doesn’t have to be like that!!!

The other day, I had one of those days (rare as they seem to be!), when everything went right. The weather was cold but dry and clear. When I got to where I was going, I had the normal nagging feeling – just how long was I going to have to drive around before I could find somewhere to park but, amazingly, I drove into the car park to find a parking space just waiting for me. I went into the place for the meeting and there on the side was a lovely tray of fresh pastries and some great hot coffee. The day went well. Everything started and finished on time and the journey home was clear of traffic jams and roadworks. You could say it was almost a perfect day!

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Christmas Thoughts for 2016

I just can’t comprehend, sitting here at my desk, that I am writing a piece for yet another year’s newsletter! Where does time go to? You seem to blink and another day has flown by; days soon turn into weeks and before you know it, the year has come full circle!!

But what is time? Do we work in our time or God’s time?

As we approach Christmas again this year, to some it seems to be a time when they feel like saying, ‘oh no, here we go again, why does it come around so quickly?’ Or maybe some say ‘yet another time to spend money we don’t have on things no one needs, for people we don’t really like!’

How different this is from the very first Christmas that was celebrated in Bethlehem. I am sure that for God, the gift he chose to give to the world wasn’t given without much forethought. He had spent so long trying to ensure that the Jewish nation could have that special relationship with Him that He had hoped for when He had made them His chosen people. But it wasn’t to be and what happened on that first Christmas was something that can only be described as truly earth shattering. No wonder there were ‘choirs of angels’ singing from the heavens. God didn’t have the luxury of going down to the local superstore to browse the aisles to see what gift to give. He didn’t have the joy of internet shopping to take all the hassle out of the Christmas present buying blues. He had to make a choice that was going to cost Him far more than we could ever come to realise. His gift was to be His son, Jesus – a gift that the world was given freely and given with love.

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Choosing to love

Before people go for a job interview they usually spruce themselves up, dust themselves down, then check with their family or friends if they look all right. Minor adjustments are made, assurances of "not to worry" are urged. CVs and application forms have already been sent on ahead, advance notice of past accomplishments that are supported by important signatories. The gaps have been covered as well as could be truthfully managed. All these reports now lie on the table in the interview room. Dry throats are watered, moist palms are rubbed, nervousness is covered with a ready smile. The interview begins. The agenda is ‘themselves’.

People go through all this anxiety and strain in the hope that they will be selected for the job. The prospect of failure and rejection is real, but the strenuous hope of being chosen gives them courage to face the probing questions. To be chosen is to be picked out, opted for, preferred, taken on. All this makes the risk of refusal worthwhile.

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Showing Gratitude

As the story goes, the English writer Somerset Maughan had a problem. He had earned a good sum of money from his Spanish royalties on his novels, but the law forbade him to take any of the money out of the country. Maughan decided to use the money to pay for a luxury holiday. He chose one of the best hotels and dined extravagantly every evening. Nothing was too costly. When he felt satisfied that he had spent most of the money that was due to him, he told the manager that he would be leaving the following day. He asked for the bill.

Instead of going off to get the bill, the manager stood where he was and beamed at his distinguished guest. Maughan was confused. The manager said to him: "It has been an honour having you in our hotel. You have brought much publicity to us while you have been here. We would like to show our gratitude. Therefore, there is no bill."

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Vision of the future

The leader of a certain Indian tribe was dying. For many generations his people had been encamped at the base of a large mountain. The chief summoned his three sons and said: "I am dying; before my death I must choose one of you to succeed me as the head of our tribe. I have the same task for each of you. I want you to climb our holy mountain and bring me back something beautiful. The one whose gift is the most outstanding will be the one who will succeed me."

The following morning the sons set out on their search, each taking a different path to the top of the holy mountain. After several days the three sons returned. The first brought his father a flower which grew near the summit of the mountain; it was extremely rare and beautiful. The second son brought his father a valuable stone, round and colourful, which had been polished by rain and sandy winds. When the third son approached his father, everyone saw that his hands were empty.

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United under Christ

One Sunday an advertisement appears in the newspapers. It was headed by pictures of a doctor, a lawyer, a musician and an army officer. Underneath was written in bold:

"A vocation. What if you don't have one?"

The advert continued:

"It was the first time I felt envious about anything," a young man told us recently. "I looked around the dining hall and realised with some pain that there were two sorts of people here: those who had vocations, and the rest of us who did not. The first group knew exactly where they wanted to go and how to get there. Their lives, I naively imagined, would be unswerving and purposeful, rich with certainty and fulfilment. "By contrast I felt muddled and irresolute. I found myself mentally trying on different jobs but, like second-hand clothes, none seemed to fit."

The advertisement was for recruitment to the army and it tries to kill off the idea that a young man who is uncertain has no place in the army. Uncertainty, it argues, is not feeble mindedness. After all, how can you commit yourself to something you know nothing about? The army, so the argument goes, will give this unsure young man time to make up his mind about the future. He will have time to discover if he really has what the recruiting officer calls "a vocation for the Army."

When Matthew writes of the call of the first disciples, there is no suggestion of any hesitation on the part of the four fishermen. Matthew does not tell us why they follow Jesus. His story is simple: Jesus calls them and they follow him. There is no hint about where they are going; there is no detailing of what discipleship will involve. Nothing is promised; nothing is signed. Matthew is clearly not interested in these questions; he is more concerned to show that the disciples are called by Jesus and how their discipleship requires the leaving of everything that occupied them until that moment.

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Overlooking Sin

We all have our own images of God. Sometimes people imagine God as the great accountant who keeps exact records of everyone of our wrongdoings. This God preserves the details of our failings on computer – nothing escapes his attention, nothing is overlooked. Given what he sees, he regards the handiwork of his creation with some disapproval. He waits until the last day when he can confront us with the punishing record of our sin.

But this depiction of God is a world away from the image given in the book of Wisdom:

“You are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.
You love all that exists ... You spare all things
because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life”

 

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Measuring up!

Anyone who has been on a team building course may well recall that one of the exercises that always seems to be on the agenda is when the group is asked to stand on a suspended plank and organise themselves in order of height.  The tallest and shortest stand out straight away but its funny how everyone jostles for position and how someone always thinks of themselves as being taller than the next person!  Whether we like it or not, from a young age we care a lot about how we measure up.  That’s why we always take off our shoes before we get on the weighing scales, or always try to stretch our backs when our height is measured.  We seem to spend a lot of our time wishing we were taller, shorter, slimmer or broader.

 It’s also true that God is just as concerned on how we measure up - not our physical size and shape, but how we measure up spiritually.  To him, it’s not how we look but it’s about how we live our lives that’s important.

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Choices, choices!

Every day we face making choices.  Should we take the main road or go the pretty way through the lanes?  Should I go to the gym or the coffee shop?  Most of our decisions don’t require a lot of thought.  Even the important decisions do not seem permanent.  If we don’t like where we live, we move.  If we don’t like our job we can seek a new one.  But all too often it’s easy to forget that when we make choices there may be consequences.

We face a world of decisions every day.  Choice is built into the essence of our existence.  As much as we wish we could, we can’t have it all.  From the moment we are born it is clear that there is more to do than we can ever hope to achieve!

Every time we choose a path we miss countless others.  Every decision we take is the death of a myriad of alternatives.  It is difficult for us to admit that some directions we take are irreversible.  We find it hard to say to ourselves, “I will do this one thing”.  We so often stand at junctions where two roads diverge and try to go down both.  It’s so painful for us to decide to do “this” when we know that it means we will never be able to do “that”.  Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that in the end, all the different paths will converge into one, but this is not true of our experience.  Some decisions that are made build permanent fences that we can never hope to scale.

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Christmas Approaches!

As I write this piece for the churches, it is incredible to think that we are once again approaching Christmas.  The year seems to roll by at an unrelenting pace in today’s modern world.  Everything has to be done ‘now’ or so it appears.  Instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, Skype to all corners of the world are just some of the modern day technologies that have ensured that the world in which we live has somehow become smaller.  Although the physical distances between places and people haven’t changed, the ability to communicate with each other has been reduced quite dramatically.  On the one hand this is undoubtedly a good thing.  Parents and grandparents can now be involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren who may be on the other side of the world, whereas before, letters and phone calls just didn’t enable them to see how they were growing up as the years passed by.  But the problem with this new technology is that sometimes we respond to the e-mail or text without really thinking about it - sometimes causing hurt and distress to those receive them.  We are able to see the latest news stories unfolding before our eyes and this brings with it a new responsibility - we can no longer say ‘we didn’t know!!’

 

Christmas is a time when we all seek to be with family and friends, but we are reminded that the first Christmas saw Mary and Joseph miles from home in a strange place with very little in the way of comfort in which their baby was to be born.

 

How times have changed - but have they - really?  There will be many thousands of people displaced from homes and families this Christmas.  We see them on our TVs every day and we are told that the situation is not going to improve very much in the foreseeable future.  This places a real responsibility on us as we live out our lives where we are. 

 

Each Christmas we send cards to family and friends and very often the sentiment is all about ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all people’.  Are we really prepared to live up to that hope?

 

As Christmas moves into a New Year, let our resolution be to help do our bit to make the world a better place for all people.  No matter who we are, we can all do something if we really want to!!

 

Christmas is a busy time for all of us and our churches have a plethora of activities planned for over the Advent and Christmas period and you are all warmly invited to come and share with us.

 

Have a most wonderful Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

 

Every Blessing to you all,

 

Amanda & Robert.

 

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Waiting for Jesus

A woman stands at the end of a pier, her eyes scanning the horizon as she waits for her husband’s ship to come home to port.  A father climbs a hill to the lookout in the hope of catching a glimpse of his eldest son returning home.  Young parents-to-be wait with a growing sense of expectation for the birth of their new child.  An old man sits in a nursing home still waiting for the day when his family will come to visit him.  All of them wait, and their waiting tests the quality of their hope.  They are powerless to bring about what they hope for; all they can do is wait.

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