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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, Apr 2 2015 07:44PM

Dear Friends,

Recently on a Sunday evening the BBC began a new drama series Poldark based on late 18th century Cornwall. There were various publicity efforts for the new TV series including some still photos, everything appeared to be right in the photo for the period then someone spotted a burglar alarm box on a house wall. A bit similar to a publicity photo for Downton Abbey last year when on the mantelpiece was a plastic water bottle. Despite the probable hours spent on production the mistakes had been made and missed.

The photos illustrate how mistakes can be made and often very soon spotted and pointed out for everyone to see. I read some words recently that made me think of how easy it is to miss glaring mistakes.

I read, ‘Wherever you are, whatever you are like, whatever you believe, you are going to find a welcome,’ words referring to one persons view of heaven. They struck me as a bit odd, for is not the bible full of calls to repent and believe? Is not the Christian message summed up in John’s Gospel saying, ‘whosoever believes?’ Did not Jesus tell only one robber he was today to be with him in Paradise?

It was a strange thing to read in a Christian book. It did not take long to find the reason for such an idea for on the next page it said, ‘when Christ became man, God brought all men in as his children, not just the ones who made a profession of faith.’ One mistake leads to another. The bible states, ‘all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.’ God becoming human, the incarnation means we can enter into a new relationship with God, not that we have automatically done so; we are still free to reject God. He does not force us into His family.

The error made is actually a common one. Christmas is seen as more important than Easter, the incarnation and not the death of Christ is mistakenly seen as the crucial thing. As Christians we must always remember the cross and not the cradle is the heart of our faith. The death of Christ is the very heart of Christianity. Jesus died because there is something wrong with us all, keeping us from God. His death was for us. By faith it can be our death to the old life. Christ risen tells us He won a victory and if you believe in Him you share that victory. This is good news rather than the wishful thinking and the easy words of earlier.

It is good to spot mistakes, which is false teaching. We must refute that which undermines our faith. For in this sick and sorry world the honest if uncomfortable truth is better for all and means we do not vaguely hope we will go to Heaven but know that in Christ we do.

Wishing you a joyous Easter,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Jan 31 2015 11:49AM

Dear Friends,

Over the last few days I have been filling in my diary for 2015 with all the dates, times and venues of events and meetings until Christmas. It is I expect what many of you have done recently planning and preparation for the future. Viv and I had done a lot of that towards the end of last year. There was for me all the usual preparation as a minister for Advent and Christmas, some of which was done earlier than normal as we knew a baby was due in early December so we would be disappearing for a few days. There was also extra preparation as many of our family would be here for Christmas and so much food etc. had been bought and the freezer was rather full.

As most of you will know our Christmas preparations came to an abrupt halt for our Grandson Harry was born on the 13th December.

His birth did not go to plan and as a result he has suffered irreparable brain damage. For three weeks over the Christmas period we were in hospitals or travelling between various hospitals and homes. Our freezer is still full. It was I think the first time since 1980 that I had not led worship on Christmas Day and at lunchtime that day it was a sandwich from the hospital canteen. We did manage to have the traditional fare later on but it was a very different occasion than had been envisaged and planned for. Harry has left hospital now much later than planned and is safely tucked up in his own cot under the loving watching care of his parents.

I am not implying that planning is a waste of time but rather that sometimes one just has to respond relying on God’s strength and guidance. An elderly man once told me years ago quoting someone else, ‘fail to plan and you plan to fail.’ but I was also told a minister’s life is, ‘dealing with interruptions.’ I’m sure this is true for others also. We don’t know what tomorrow holds but we make plans and then deal with what actually happens.

One of the reasons Viv and I were able to get through the last month was because of so many of you. Thank you from us both for your prayers and thoughts, your messages and of course those who stepped in to do things, some at very short notice. Some have said to me they wanted to write but couldn’t find the words. As there really are no words no one should feel bad about that. I would like however to quote from one email I received:

“The church family today comes in for many criticisms’ however it is that same church family and extended church family that are around you now, praying with all our love.”

We over the last weeks have truly felt the love and support that is the Church at its best.

I wish to share one final thought. Many hours were spent waiting in hospital rooms and corridors and I must have read all the notices and one in particular struck me. It was about the importance of parents comforting their baby with all the beneficial effect of this and the possible adverse effects of not doing so. I was reminded of words from the prophet Isaiah who often speaks of comfort from God and has such words as:

“You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child. When you see this happen you will be glad; it will make you strong and healthy” (66: 12-14).

The people were told their God would comfort them as does a mother, ‘can a woman forget her sucking child? I will not forget you’ (49: 15). The same God does not forget us and comforts us and often by using one another.

Yours in Christ,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Nov 9 2014 07:14PM

Dear Friends,

In March I shared some excerpts from letters written in 1914 for Broad Street Church’s newsletter. The letters had come to light as part of Radio Berkshire’s broadcasts on the First World War and were written immediately after the outbreak of war. I’d been impressed by the minister’s words, which showed his horror of war whilst advocating a response based on faith, prayer and action. As we approach Remembrance Sunday 2014 I thought I’d revisit these letters sharing excerpts from the October and November issues to see what we can learn from these words of a 100 years ago which were written during what he described as, ‘this calamitous war’ and through which faith shines through.

Realising how fortunate he and others were here in England the Rev. W Morton Rawlings writes:

“And surely we have much to be thankful for even at a time when our nation is engaged in war. We have sufficient cause for gratitude in the fact that our lot is cast in England and not in poor distracted Belgium, and that we are the happy possessors of a great and glorious gospel . . .

The very issues now at stake as we see them – those of the sacredness of human rights as such, even when they stand in the way of a great nation’s worldly policy – seem to us to enforce the lesson that only the Gospel of God in Christ is sufficient safeguard for what is right between man and man. The Cross or self are the final alternatives. Further, the way in which Englishmen have been ready for any self-sacrifice for the defence of their country in a good cause, should be a challenge to us as Christians and Churches to be ready this winter for some real sacrifices for the Kingdom of God.”

It would be hard to sum up thing better than his word, ‘the cross or self are the final alternatives.’ There also must be practical action as is very evident in all the efforts to raise money to help Belgium refugees and in this excerpt:

“In the early days of the recruiting for Lord Kitchener’s Army there was such a tremendous inrush of men that the authorities were quite unable to provide for their comfort, and we hear strange tales of the lack of food, sleeping out in the open without even a blanket for covering and other discomforts. Under the circumstances it seemed imperative that something should be done to relieve the situation, and so our schools were thrown open for the use of our soldier friends from 5.30 to 10 p.m. each evening. Arrangements were made for a “wash and brush up”, for shaving, writing, reading, games (including billiards, bagatelle, etc.), a smoke and sing-song – all free of expense – and for the provision of refreshments at a moderate charge.

That the provision made had met a felt need was quickly demonstrated by the numbers who came to partake of our hospitality. The rooms were crowded almost from the first, and they continue so. . . . The men are at a loose end in the evening. They have nowhere to go and nothing to do. We are trying, therefore, to give them an opportunity for social intercourse, and to provide a counter attraction to the public house and other undesirable places, and the fact that we have so largely succeeded has greatly cheered those who are responsible for the arrangements”.

Some of the phrases are not what we use today but the meaning is clear, as are the modern equivalent of drink and drugs and our response of street pastors. A final excerpt:

“If you are weighed down with anxiety for those in peril, or with sorrow for those who have fallen, there is a great comfort at the Cross. Christ can bear the sorrows, as He bears the sins, of those who come to Him.”

In His Name,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Oct 5 2014 08:40PM

We celebrate many special occasions throughout our lives such as births and weddings and like to commemorate them annually. One such commemoration falls later this month when here at Grange we celebrate 60 years as a church. Coincidently my 30th year since ordination has just passed. A friend who celebrates the same anniversary as this has had his ordination picture posted on Facebook which has spawned various comments about missing hair, which I’m afraid, could be also directed at me. If folk looked at pictures of the Grange of 60 years ago I’m sure they could point out many changes.

With any anniversary one can’t help but look back and I’ve been rereading the short history written at our 50th anniversary. It is an inspiring story of: putting up a notice in a garden, ‘Anyone interested in a Free Church in Southcote, please come in;’ of meeting at first in a farm’s former milking shed; of calling a minister with 13 members, no building and no manse! (It is certainly good that the Rev Roger Hall is due to be with us this month.) The following years are no less inspiring with all their worship and service, good news being shared and lives changed.

Yes, it’s natural to look back as well as forward but probably more important is to look to the present, to our worship and witness now. 60 years is a diamond anniversary and a diamond is distinctive in the way it sparkles, as it reflects the light. It does so in a way that nothing else does in the natural world and as Christians we should reflect the light of God’s glory in a way that nothing else does and so that it cannot be missed.

A diamond is also distinctive in the cutting edge that it has, again quite like little else in the natural world. We too need deeds and words that make a difference that have an edge to them. Sometimes Christians can appear to be just nice people who will never upset anyone, which was certainly not the case with Jesus and his first followers.

As I write the paint is quite literally drying on some of the new things that we are doing now. Along with the other Christians in Southcote our Café Alive is certainly, to use a Council officer’s phrase, ‘a community hub.’ There is much to be excited about now and to challenge us to cope with the demands of all the good things that are happening.

We look forward to welcoming the Moderator of General Assembly to lead our worship on the 19th October and meeting together with old and new friends over the lunch to follow. Enjoy our anniversary and remember it is a diamond one, as a church we need to reflect God’s glory and have that cutting edge.

Yours in Christ,


By Rev Robert Barthram, Sep 6 2014 10:30AM

Dear Friends,

I’ve just started writing to the accompaniment of the sound of torrential rain. It is quite apt as my thoughts turn to next month and our harvest celebrations. One of our harvest hymns refers to, ‘soft refreshing rain,’ I may have escaped this shower but was not so fortunate earlier today when I was, ‘watered by God’s almighty hand!’

When we gather for our harvest it is primarily for thanksgiving. We give thanks to God for the material things that sustain our lives and the wonderful world that he has given us that provide these things. Another hymn begins, ‘I sing the almighty power of God that made the mountains rise.’ Viv and I have recently had a reminder of that, having been able to have a holiday in the west of Canada and travel through the Rocky Mountains, with their snow-capped peaks, glaciers, forests and lakes. The word I have used again and again to describe what we saw is ‘spectacular’ and that is what God’s creation is so to quote the same hymn again we should at harvest, ‘sing the goodness of the Lord.’

Our harvest celebrations then are about thanksgiving but over the years I have again and again at harvest services used the word share, for if our thanksgiving is genuine that is what we will do. Again what I have seen recently comes to mind. Not this time at first hand but on my television screen.

Twelve years ago I was fortunate to have a sabbatical that was spent on the edge of Bethlehem. My primary aim was to refresh my knowledge of the bible by being in the lands of the bible and seeing it at first hand with expert teachers and guides. That was achieved but I gained two other things I did not expect: one was an understanding of the injustices suffered by Palestinians over the last century and the other a new appreciation of the Christian Churches of the Middle East. On returning home I joined two organisations one Palestinian Christian but with an international membership and the other promoting contacts between Christian communities in Britain and the Holy Land.

What we have seen on our television screens over recent weeks relates to both aspects. There is Gaza, which is little more than an open air prison where hundreds of children have been killed. There are parts of northern Iraq, which have been Christian since the early centuries where thousands have fled or been killed. We live in a world where the good things are shared so unequally, where sin and evil are at times so rampant.

If at our harvest celebrations our thanksgiving is genuine we will want to share what we enjoy. We can do this locally and indeed should but we must not forget the world where majestic mountains rise and the innocent are slaughtered. If the good things of God’s creation are to be shared there has to be peace and justice and that we must strive for.

Yours in Christ,


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