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Rev Robert Barthram's Monthly Letter

Welcome to the Rev. Robert Barthram's monthly letter


Here Robert will expore what is happening in the world and his life and how it affects his belief and his ministory.

By Rev Robert Barthram, May 22 2019 07:13AM

Dear Friends,

At the beginning of the week I led a Parade Service at Tilehurst. The Christian Aid material I used suggested running an unfair quiz, which I did. I had great fun preparing two sets of questions one so simple and one so impossible. It was also fun leading the quiz the look of annoyance on some of the children’s faces was a sight to behold. Then when I asked why such an unfair quiz, one of the losing team gave such a comprehensive answer sighting the unfairness of the world in which we live that I gave them extra marks and they won!

Quiz’s seem a theme for the week. I am currently sharing the leading of a series of Bible studies on the requested subject of the Old Testament and I’m starting each one with a quiz. The idea of beginning with a quiz started two years ago with a series of studies to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Few of us know much about the history of the Church so we began each session with what I called the Reformation Game. This week I have been preparing my second quiz on the Old Testament but in doing so got rather hooked and have virtually prepared all six!

As I gave Viv a lift in the car, I was explaining that because of spending so much time on these quizzes on the Old Testament this letter which I felt should be on the subject of Pentecost had still not been written. She pointed out a possible connection. At Pentecost or as it used to be called Whitsun, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. The Church has a past, at Pentecost there was the immediate past of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and then the past of the centuries of God’s dealings with his people as recorded for us in the Old Testament. We know of the significance of this because of the numerous refences in the New Testament to the Old, it is there from the cave of Bethlehem to the cross of Golgotha, on the day of Pentecost itself and then in the letters of the early Church. There is good reason to know and study the first and longest part of our Bible.

All this led me to think of a recent momentous event in my life, the birth of our third grandchild. To slightly alter some words from a song in Mission Praise, ‘How sweet to hold a new-born baby, and feel the pride and joy she gives’ (MP 52). A few weeks later my daughter commented to her Mum how she thinks the baby, ‘has Dad’s eyes.’ With any birth there is a past good or bad, I certainly think she can inherit better looks than mine!

With a birth there is the importance of the past but more than that of the future and the present. With holding a new born there are thoughts of what will be her future but the present is the most important. She lets you know when she is hungry and something needs to be done about it; there can be that damp feeling telling you something else needs to be done. The present is the most immediate, its demands and actions.

A celebration of the birth of the Church is similar. There is the importance of the past, we would not be here without it or who we are. There are thought of the future but the present is the most immediate with its demands and needs for action. One of the demands are the various responses to the challenges of our modern world. Last year for my sabbatical I looked at one of these challenges, ‘What should be the Christian response to Islam?’ I have been asked to share some of my thoughts so as mentioned previously on Saturday 22nd of June you are invited to the hall at Tilehurst from 10.30am so together we may look at one of the challenges for the Church today. Someone has offered to provide a light lunch to conclude the morning so a sign-up sheet will be on a notice board but if you forget come along anyway. It is a question I believe that is both relevant and connected to much else but I promise this time no impossible quiz!

Yours in Christ,


By Rev Robert Barthram, May 12 2016 12:22PM

Dear Friends,

In my letter for the March Grange News I began by quoting someone who had said in a conversation, ‘The most important thing is Jesus’ death and resurrection everything else follows on from that.’ I went onto say briefly why it is, ‘the most important thing.’ I’m sure a very natural and expected subject to read about in a church newsletter in a month that included both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Going back a few months to Christmas I recall how we often read the opening of John’s Gospel at our carol services. Yesterday I happened to be reading about those opening words where Jesus is described as the Word. In what I read it said of Jesus, ‘He alone is God come to us. No other can stand alongside him or take his place. The revelation in Jesus Christ is the final revelation.’ Again surely what one would expect to read in a church newsletter.

These are things I believe and have preached now quite a few years but increasingly I now find they set me apart from many in the society in which I live. Several times recently the thought has occurred to me, ‘I don’t fit in with today’s Britain, I am not comfortable here.’ A thought I know some of you have had as well, which you have expressed in conversations with me.

Recently there was a glaring example of why I feel a stranger in the country of my birth. It was reported on the national news how a Christian NHS worker had lost her appeal against suspension. From the Christian broadcaster Premier Radio I found out more details.

They reported how Victoria Wasteney was found guilty by her NHS employer in 2014 of ‘harassing and bullying’ a work friend by giving her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity, praying with her and asking her to church. She was suspended for nine months and given a written warning, even though the woman had been happy to discuss faith with her and never gave evidence about her allegations to the NHS. Ms Wasteney, a senior occupational therapist, challenged the decision by East London NHS Foundation Trust at an employment tribunal last year, but it ruled that her employer had not discriminated against her. Now she has lost an appeal against that decision after a judge dismissed the suggestion the original ruling had not applied the European Convention on Human Rights’ strong protection of freedom of religion and expression.

Following the decision, Ms Wasteney, from Epping, Essex, said: “What the court clearly failed to do was to say how, in today’s politically correct world, any Christian can even enter into a conversation with a fellow employee on the subject of religion and not, potentially, later end up in an employment tribunal.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Ms Wasteney, said:

“Week by week Christians are marginalised, threatened, sidelined, sacked and disciplined simply for holding normal conversations about their faith which is held dear to them.

The United Kingdom has a strong foundation rooted in Christianity which has brought us freedom and flourishing. The NHS and our Education System were started by Christians - motivated by their faith. Our legal system was founded on Christian values and yet we now see that it is one of the most liberal and anti-Christian legal systems in the Western world.

This is ironic given that it is Christianity that has given our society freedom, tolerance and hospitality.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that what is natural and expected in a church newsletter may be alien in today’s world as it was in the first century and can even meet hostility. For did not the apostle Peter in his letter describe us as, ‘strangers and refugees in the world’ (1 Peter 2:11). Yet he also reminds us we have, ‘a living hope’ (1:3) because of the resurrection and how we should whatever the circumstances give an:

“account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (3:15).

With best wishes,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Mar 11 2016 07:59AM

Dear Friends,

‘The most important thing is Jesus’ death and resurrection everything else follows on from that.’ Words spoken a few days ago in a small group that I was part of: words spoken to help an individual and to say the essentials without too many words. Words that neatly sum up so much and appropriate for this letter with both Good Friday and Easter Sunday falling in March but as all of April is in the season of Easter that can be written about next time. So what should I say first?

To answer that question my thoughts go to news I heard also a few days ago about the death of a URC minister, Professor Alan Sell, a man I was privileged to know one of the greatest intellects in our denomination, which was matched only by his humility and good humour.

At the beginning of this new millennium he wrote about an early 20th century theologian, P.T. Forsyth and I am reminded of some of the things he wrote.

Professor Sell quotes the words of Forsyth for those who reduce Jesus’ death to just an example of God’s love:

“Christ came not to say something but to do something. His revelation was action more than instruction. He revealed by redeeming. The thing He did was not simply to make us aware of God’s disposition in an impressive way. It was not to declare forgiveness. It was certainly no to explain forgiveness. And it was not even to bestow forgiveness. It was to effect forgiveness, and to set up the revelation of forgiveness both in God and man.”

He then writes following that quote of how he believes, ‘that the Cross is more than a visual aid concerning God’s character and demeanour. It is the place where atonement is made and the once-for-all victory is wrought.’

You may wonder how this can be. Is our sin not really that bad or can God just be overlooking it? How can we be forgiven and there be such a complete victory?

The answer is neither that ‘we are actually not that bad’ nor that ‘God just forgives and forgets.’ In God there is both love and holiness and our sin affronts God’s holy love but he takes the initiative and it is God in Christ who renders satisfaction and makes reconciliation to himself possible, ‘the atoning sacrifice is made possible by God and received by him.’

He quotes from P.T. Forsyth’s well named book, The Cruciality of the Cross:

“The one thing God could not do was simply to wipe the slate and write off the loss. He must either inflict punishment or assume it.”

As two modern hymns say:

“for every sin on Him was laid;

here in the death of Christ I live.”

“This the power of the cross:

Son of God slain for us.

What a love! What a cost!

We stand forgiven at the cross.”

In His Name,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Dec 5 2015 04:43PM

Dear Friends,

A month ago I wrote about our changing world and said, ‘if there is one constant it is change: that change is constant.’ I went on to say how there is one other constant other than change that we may rely on for we have faith in a God who is unchanging and may be trusted.

Now Christmas is approaching a time when much is familiar and seems unchanging but it is certainly not always the same. As I look back to last Christmas I remember a very different occasion. Our grandson was born 12 days before Christmas and then spent over a month in neo-natal units.

Ironically Viv and I awoke Christmas morning in a stranger’s home. Our host’s cultural background meant for them Christmas Eve was the big day so for them Christmas had already happened while ours was yet to come. We drove to our daughter’s before leaving for the hospital (a journey usually only done on public transport but this day by car through deserted streets and with no parking restrictions in central London) not worship as is our normal habit on Christmas Day.

When our daughter and son-in-law arrived at the hospital they found a Christmas card waiting for them, prepared by Friends of the hospital with a photo in it of their son and written to mum and dad, a card they treasure. The atmosphere in the unit was its usual efficiency and care but with something special that day. Lunchtime arrived and it was down to the canteen with a fine choice of sandwiches to choose from. There was however the traditional Christmas lunch with all the trimmings but that was for the staff and for which there was a long queue. I was glad they were being treated well and so grateful they were there and sacrificing time with family and loved ones.

Eventually we left and returned to our daughter’s and there were some of the trappings of a traditional Christmas Day but they all seemed a bit strange and subdued.

For most of us it was the first time we had not been at worship on Christmas Day. We commented on how strange it was to not be singing our praises and thanks that day for the birth at Bethlehem. It was still Christmas, we had been in a place full of very unwell babies and the day was marked even there. We were given a stark reminder that birth is precarious even today with all our modern hospitals so how much more would it have been so in ancient times and how much more is it in some places and situations in our world today without sanitation and medical assistance!

The amazing truth of Christmas, the creator of all became a human being with the risks of childbirth and the vulnerabilities of a baby. Our nativity plays can make it appear very cute and cuddly but this was a birth away from home without normal family support with accommodation in an area of a house normally used by animals, an animal feeding trough is certainly not ideal as a cradle. It is as we sing in one of our carols:

“Lo, within a manger lies

He who built the starry skies”

Let us never cease to be amazed at the risks our Saviour God took for us.

Wishing you joy and peace at Christmas,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Jul 21 2015 08:38AM

Dear Friends,

In my letter last month I welcomed you on board a journey through the month of May. When you read this hopefully you will have arrived safely at the end of your journey but I write this with several of the stops on the journey to come. One of them is the festival of Pentecost, the third great festival of the Christian Year.

There is no real acknowledgement of this festival in the wider world and so there is the danger that for us too it can be seen as, ‘just another Sunday’ but it is certainly not. At Pentecost we celebrate the gift of God the Spirit just as at Christmas we celebrate the gift of God the Son. With the work of the Son complete there is the promise of, ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), the promise is kept and that power came and remains with his followers. The Church and its mission began and because of that we are part of a worldwide Church all these years later. Truly a cause for celebration.

On the St. Andrew’s building you can still see the banner that was put up when we welcomed the Olympic Torch to Reading. It still has relevance as a welcoming statement. It reminds me of some words from a book written by Bernard Thorogood a former General Secretary of the United Reformed Church and I share them with you as you journey through the Pentecost season.

Wind and Fire

“The fire of the Spirit was not a general flame,

not bushfire, contagious, engulfing all.

But a flame on each one.

So we never claim to carry the flame

from place to place,

as though the Spirit is our private box of matches

or little incense pot.

But the fire is there, already, now.

It shines in the eyes of the eager,

joyful, trusting children of God.

It is there in the hands of the healers

and servers and bearers of heavy loads.

It is local. A flame on each one.

There is also the wind, and the wind travels;

across oceans and mountains, always in movement.

May God let us be the breezes of the Spirit,

which fan the flames and fill the house

and let the smoking flax burst into a glory of fire.

Wind and fire, life of the Spirit,

universal and local, be our energy;

wind and fire, elements of Pentecost,

power for the kingdom, be power for our city.”

With best wishes,


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