A message for us from the Royal Wedding

Did you love the Royal Wedding?

Lots of people love a wedding, and that includes people who choose not to be married themselves. There are also lots of people who love anything to do with the Royal Family. I am not surprised, then, that a Royal Wedding is a great occasion. Even if you are a republican who regards marriage as an outdated institution, I hope you can at least be pleased for all the people who got so much pleasure from Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Go on! Don’t be a misery!

Was it what you expected from a Royal Wedding?

It was not quite traditional, although there were many features in common with previous ones. It shows that the Royal Family are moving with the times, but at the core of it was an act of commitment by a man and a woman, in public and invoking God’s help.

Was it a proper traditional religious service?

This was a church service, held in St George’s Chapel, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury (with a little help from another Christian leader). It may have surprised some people, because it was different from the traditional version. I have seen lots of church services of all kinds and was surprised only that the Royal Family chose something like this.

A message for the Church from the Royal Wedding

If you think church services have to be of the traditional kind,  or if you think weddings have to follow a strict routine, think again. Perhaps your local church is too traditional for your taste? Shop around! I have been to church services that used lots of modern technology and spoke to young people in ways they relate to, but they had not changed the core message. Modernisation does not mean you sell out on traditional beliefs or abandon the essential elements:

  • prayer
  • the Bible
  • worship
  • fellowship

If you have a problem with the Church, try reading my book How to Cope with the Church. 

If you are a member of the Royal Family, you don’t need it: you are ahead of me.

What went up on Ascension Day? Prayer!

Remember what I wrote before Ascension Day?

I wrote recently about plans for prayer and walking in Warrington on Ascension Day. Here’s how it went.

What was all this prayer about?

On Thursday, 10th May, groups of Christians walked around West Warrington praying in the streets and in several churches. It was Ascension Day, the day Christians remember the time when they believe Jesus went back up to Heaven. This was also an international day of prayer: the start of ten days of prayer ending on Pentecost Sunday, the 20th of May. Events are taking place all over the country and in many others. It’s called Thy Kingdom Come.

For more, go to the website www.thykingdomcome.global/events

Here’s an extract.

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.

What was the purpose?

The website goes on to say: The hope is that:

  • people will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family – as a church, individually or as a family;

  • churches will hold prayer events, such as 24-7 prayer, prayer stations and prayer walks, across the UK and in other parts of the world;

  • people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
What was my impression of the day? And others?

I found it was a bit like a pilgrimage, only we were not going off somewhere. We were praying in our own area for our own area and for people around us.

Rev . Jeremy Tear, Pioneer Team Rector for the Church of England in West Warrington, said: “It was great to join with fellow Christians from across the area to begin these ten days of prayer. We look forward to seeing God at work in us and through us in the lives of those in our community in the days, weeks and years ahead.”

What did we do?

The day began at 9 am at St James’s Church, Great Sankey. People walked to St Philip’s, Westbrook, to St Joseph’s, Penketh and to St Mary’s, Great Sankey, where they held a short service. There was also a service at St Philip’s at 7.30 pm.

Some people took part in the whole day’s activities, but many chose to walk a particular section or just attend one or more of the prayer times in churches.

There were clergy and other representatives from Church of England, Roman Catholic and independent churches.

How did people pray? What sort of prayer?

They prayed in the streets and in the churches. Standing and sitting. Long prayers and short ones. Nobody knelt. Hardly anybody used set prayers and nobody said “Thou” or “Thee” or used any special language. They just talked to God. People prayed for people they knew, for the area, for the schools, for children starting and those leaving and they prayed for old people. They prayed for the prosperity of the town, and someone quoted Warrington’s motto “Deus dat incrementum” which means “God gives the increase”. There were times when people prayed silently, or rested in God’s peace.

They will keep praying until Pentecost, Sunday 20th – and beyond.

So what?

Someone asked, “Will this make any difference to our town?” We can only wait and see.

What are Christians doing on Thursday, 10th May?

What’s special about Thursday?

This Thursday is Ascension Day. It is the day Christians remember the time when we believe Jesus went back up to Heaven. It comes about halfway between Easter, when we believe he died and rose again, and Pentecost when we believe God sent the Holy Spirit to help the first Christians.

What’s happening on this Thursday?

It is an international day of prayer.  It is the start of  ten days of prayer ending on Pentecost Sunday, the 20th of May. Events are taking place all over the country and in many others. It’s called Thy Kingdom Come, after a line from The Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples.

For more, go to the website. Here’s an extract.

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer.

The hope is that:

  • people will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family – as a church, individually or as a family;

  • churches will hold prayer events, such as 24-7 prayer, prayer stations and prayer walks, across the UK and in other parts of the world;

  • people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
What am I doing on Thursday?

I am joining a prayer-walk in West Warrington. I will be walking only some of the way and taking part in some of the prayer times in some of the churches the participants will be visiting. It is not a march or a procession. People will be walking and praying. It’s a bit like a pilgrimage, only we are not going off somewhere. We are praying in our own area for our our own area and for people around us.

What is the plan for Thursday?

The day begins at 9 am at St Jame’s Church, Great Sankey. People will walk to St Philip’s, Westbrook, and they will move on at 11 o’clock to St Joseph’s, Penketh. There will be a rest for lunch and prayer at St Joseph’s from 12.30 to 2.00. Bring your own lunch, but someone is providing tea and coffee. At 2.00 they will set out to walk to St Mary’s, Great Sankey, where they will hold a short service at 3.30. There will also be a service at St Philip’s at 7.30 pm.

What are you doing on Thursday?

If you are a Christian living in or near West Warrington, please come to at least one  of the phases. Anyone who doesn’t fancy a long walk is welcome to just come to one of the stationary elements. If you are anywhere else in the World, go to the website and find an event near you. Pray Thy Kingdom Come.

Are Thursday’s events only for Christians?

If you are not a Christian, feel free to come and see what’s happening. Pray in whatever way you feel you can or ask us to pray for you. Bring your doubts. And your lunch.

Doubt and Faith. They are often closely linked.
Doubt and Faith. They are often closely linked.

If nothing else, at least you now know what this lot are doing, wandering the streets of West Warrington!

Does fake news matter and how can you spot it?

What is fake news?

Donald Trump seems to call fake news any reporting he finds inconvenient. Others have said they are worried that foreign governments and certain individuals have put false stories into the media to influence elections and our EU Referendum.  Outside of politics, some stories about celebrities have been found to be made up, probably maliciously.

Why does it matter if news is fake?

David Cameron (remember him?) has said he is worried this could undermine democracy, as voters need reliable information so they can make informed decisions. He is not alone in that opinion.

Can fake news affect you if you are not interested in politics and you’re not a celebrity?

We all need to make decisions in business and in everyday life and form our opinions of other people and of  businesses, countries, religions, charities and other organisations by what we hear about them. We could be making wrong decisions or we could be developing wrong attitudes, because we have believed fake news. This might not matter much or it might matter enormously, depending on the situation.

How can you spot fake news?

There are a number of things that can give you a clue. Then you can look a little further, or just take that story with a large pinch of salt. I will suggest a few more clues to look for in later blogs, but here are some to be going on with.

A detective with a magnifying glass, checking for fake news
A detective with a magnifying glass, checking for fake news
Clues for views of the news you choose.
The Source
  • Does it identify itself? If not, be wary.
  • Is there a link to a website? Does the site seem genuine?
  • Has it got a disclaimer? i.e. How confident are they of their facts?
  • Does it state the source of its information? How does someone in the UK know what’s going on in the Ukraine? What contacts have they got?
Are they having a laugh?
  • Does the site or publication intend you to take it seriously or is it just for laughs?
  • Is it satirical? Can you tell which bits they mean you to take literally, which they have exaggerated and which are ironic?
  • I find it easy to tell what’s what in Private Eye but not all mags or blogs make their distinctions as clear.
What’s in it for them?
  • Is the source biased? You can probably guess that Momentum will seldom promote stories favourable to the Tories and vice versa.
  • But will they be too quick to pass on unchecked stories about bad things the other side have done? (There are so many genuine ones, I can’t see why anyone would need to make any up, but you can’t satisfy some people!)
  • In a similar way, people in business, and lots of individuals who are not, have their agendas and grudges.  Can you see who has written the story? Can you find out more about them?
Don’t let statistics fool you either

Along with fake news, misleading statistics affect our opinions and even our decisions.

To protect yourself, have a look at my book,

How To Avoid Being Misled By Statistics by [Murray, John]

Don’t be fooled and don’t be a fake!

Think about these points. I will write about other clues to look for soon. PLEASE don’t add to the problem by creating fake news stories or by passing stuff on without checking it.

Was the new church building in Penketh ready for Easter?

You may remember this building project.

I have written before about our new community church building  at St Paul’s Penketh. Local people often ask what’s going on. The building looks ready from the outside, but noone seems to be using it. At Easter it looked people were using it, as this picture suggests, but that could have misled you.

A service at the new St Paul's building
A service at the new St Paul’s building
Are we using the building now?

Here’s the full story, part of which appeared in the Warrington Guardian on the 12th of April.

Members and friends of St Pauls Penketh who met outside the new community church base for a short service on Easter Sunday were excited to worship God in the open air on this pleasant Spring morning, although all are looking forward to using the new building, when the interior is finished. In the meantime, services continue in the Oaks Centre on Stocks Lane.

Kieran Layfield, of the church’s building group says, “In the last few months a lot of progress has been made. The builders, Harry Fairclough Ltd, have been dealing with some outstanding items, and various local contractors and volunteers have completed the electrical installations to the smaller rooms, the external lighting, security and fire alarms, as well as plastering and painting internal walls.”

Concerning the next stage, he adds, “We’re about to be working on the ceilings and lighting in the corridors and foyer, and on installing the toilets. The garden will also be looking very different soon.”

The large metal cross on the front wall was a gift from a family with connections to St Pauls. Many people were pleased it was in place in time for Easter.

Is the building only for churchgoers?

Team Vicar, Sarah Peppiatt, says, “We will welcome ideas from community groups for how the building can best meet their needs when it is finished. Churches have always served many functions, as part of their purpose in serving God in the World.”

What about the money?

The church treasurer, Denis Bamber, comments, “Although many people have given generously, we still a need a further £90,000 if this church is to be completed to the standard appropriate to the twenty first century.”

Donations can be made via this link  https://www.give.net/stpaulspenketh.

More information is available at http://www.stpaulspenketh.org.uk/index.php/pages/new_building/category/new_building/





Depression: what’s the best way to beat it? Can you just reject it?

I almost fell into a depression.

Recently, I have kept feeling I was heading into a depression. You might think it shouldn’t happen to me, since  I have written several articles about happiness. Here is a summary. I do try to follow my own advice most of the time, but I did say that we all have our ups and downs. Anyway, just as a doctor can be ill, anyone can get depressed.

What caused my depression?

It began when I had an attack of asthma, a few weeks ago. The weather has not helped. Even before this cold spell, I found some of the very dark days depressing. Then my computer packed in. I sent it away and got it back fixed, but they had set it as at Day One. In other words, I had lost all my data. No problem! I had taken a backup.  But I had also lost most of my software. I needed to reinstall everything.

That’s no reason to go into a depression!

That’s what I thought, but nothing went smoothly. I spent all day, every day, for a couple of weeks, phoning helpdesks, or trying to. Some companies are reluctant to give phone numbers. They expect you to be able sort everything via their online support set-up. Great when it works! Some phone helpdesks were more helpful than others. I got so fed up. I have still not got back to where I was before, but nearly.

Do computer problems lead to depression?

Not for everyone. Not always for me. I like using computers, but I am not an expert. I need to have instructions to follow. Above all, I want to spend my time writing, blogging or doing what I consider useful, instead of getting tied up in the process for ages. This went on so long. In the middle of all that, I lost my mobile phone. I got a replacement very quickly and was able to keep the same number. I thought it was OK. Then I found I could not activate the new simcard. It took several attempts and advice from a helpful local phone shop, before I got it sorted. I must say that one helpdesk that was very helpful was my phone supplier: the Utility Warehouse. You always get to speaking to a person, not a recorded message.

Did that add up to depression?

No one thing was causing my depression: everything seemed to conspire to get at me. I became so conscious of all the things that were going wrong that I began to not notice when anything went well. I kept feeling myself going down and I was worried at one time that I was heading for a clinical depression. Every time, I just managed to pull back from the edge.

How did I avoid depression?

The most important thing, I think, was that I saw it coming. When I could hear a voice in my head saying ‘I’m so unhappy’ or ‘I can’t tell you how bad I feel’, and noticed that I was getting negative about everything, what did I do? I made a conscious decision to stay out of depression and kept saying back to myself ‘it’s not that bad’ and ‘I’m making progress with this IT stuff’. In addition, I kept reminding myself Spring will be coming. I also kept saying that all my problems will pass.

Masks of happiness and depression: don't hide it - deal with it!
Masks of happiness and depression: don’t hide it – deal with it!
Did my faith help beat depression?

For me, that was a part of the answer. It gave me something positive to focus on. And I prayed, not only prayer for things to get better, but also for my attitude to stay positive. This is probably a help only if you have faith to start with. Probably. I don’t know. Try it and see. I have written before about the link between faith and happiness.

Faith and doubt: do they affect depression?
Faith and doubt: do they affect depression?
Have I got the magic bullet to beating depression?

No! I agree with a recent article in The Guardian which said there are lots of ways people fight depression, including counselling and medication. All work sometimes for some people. Don’t reject any, but don’t rely on any one method every time.


Stephen Hawking – a brief reaction to his life and death

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant man

Many people will rightly be reminding us of Stephen Hawking’s many achievements and of his great character. I hope we can all admire the way he made the most of his life in spite of, or possibly because of, his terrible illness. I will not go into a lot of detail here about the man or his achievements, as others will do it so much better than I could. However, I do want to comment on one aspect of his life. His atheism.

Stephen Hawking rejected the possibility  of there being any kind of Supreme Being

You might expect Christians to sigh with relief at his passing. Some may do so. I do not. I am glad someone set out the case against Christianity – and all religion – so well. His writings, notably The God Delusion, gave us a proper challenge. He forced us to think.

It was a pleasant change from the usual anti-Christian cliches:

  • I’ve never read the Bible because it’s a load of rubbish
  • I don’t believe in God because church services are boring
  • Christians are hypocrites: the vicar never visited me when I was sick
  • Evolution proves God didn’t create the universe
  • There are so many religions, they can’t all be right.

You probably know of a few more. Stephen Hawking delved far deeper.

Was that good? Yes. It is true that what does not kill you strengthens you. Faith needs testing. But so does its antithesis.

Doubt and Faith: a conflict Stephen Hawking did not seem to experience.
Doubt and Faith: a conflict Stephen Hawking never seemed to experience.
We Christians owe Stephen Hawking a great debt of gratitude.

By now, he has probably discovered whether he was right or wrong about God. Although he never seemed to give God the benefit of the doubt, let us hope God will be more generous.

A gift for you this Easter: How to Cope with the Church

What’s happening at Easter?

Easter is the time of year when many people will be thinking about their faith, or lack of. Perhaps you will be going to church. If not, there may be good reasons, some of which I have written about. Apart from deep theological questions, for some there are more practical concerns. Perhaps you’ve tried church and just couldn’t fit in, or perhaps there were things you didn’t understand and didn’t know who to ask.

How can I help you cope with Easter?

I tried to provide some help in my book How to Cope with the Church. It covers how to pray, how to read the Bible and what if you’re not free on Sundays, and looks at some misleading ideas about God.

An easy but thought-provoking read for Easter
An easy but thought-provoking read for Easter
What’s my Easter gift?

The e-book version will be free on Kindle from Monday 26th March to Friday 30th, which are the five days leading up to and including Good Friday. What better time to pause and think about your faith and/or your churchgoing?

Go to https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-cope-Church-John-Murray-ebook/dp/B01LZ53GBS


Am I too generous in my portrayal of the Police in ‘Accounting for Murder’?

How honest is my opinion about the Police?

I have written before about my attitude to the Police. As a writer of crime fiction, I have to portray the forces of Law and Order. You are entitled to ask whether the image in my books is the one in my head, or is it just something I have created for artistic purposes? The answer is that I try to be realistic, but make some allowance for the demands of the story. As I said before, if the constabulary did a wonderful job every time, why would we need an amateur detective like Frank Hill.

A detective looking for clues. Whether amateur or Police, let's hope he does a good job.
A detective looking for clues. Whether amateur or Police, let’s hope he does a good job.
Does my view of the Police matter?

I know that I have a certain responsibility, because what we read, even in fiction, affects our world-view, at least to some extent. You tend to believe something you hear often, even if it is a lie or half-truth. The image sticks. It becomes an assumption rather than a stated belief.

Has my opinion of the Police changed recently?

Yes! To some extent. As I said before, in any profession there are bound to be some people who do their jobs really well, others who do it satisfactorily and some who are in the wrong job. I did not suggest those who enforce the Law in the UK are generally corrupt or unjust. However, two recent legal cases have brought out some worrying facts.

  • In one, the Court dismissed rape charges against a man, when the Prosecution admitted that the Police had withheld from his defence team evidence that was in his favour .
  • In another case, the Court held the Police liable in negligence for repeatedly failing to act on allegations against a taxi driver who was a serial rapist.

One of the worrying aspects of both cases was the reluctance of the Police to admit their fault, even after the Court judgements.

  • In the first case, it seems they were more concerned about getting a conviction than obtaining justice.
  • In the second case, they appeared to be saying they had to prioritise resources. Was an allegation of rape not a sufficiently high priority?
How will this affect the portrayal of the Police in my writing?

That remains uncertain. In the second book in the series Accounting for Murder, which is subtitled Old Money, I show the Police as honest and reasonable. They just get it wrong and are quite hostile to Frank, at least at first. Perhaps you will see more serious failings in later books in the series. Old Money will be published later this year. Hopefully, in a few months. I hope the Police will have started to improve by the time you read my third book in the series.