At the start of a new year it's worth remembering that, while God often surprises us by doing a new thing, there are some things that never change.
When things feel like more of a struggle, we can find ourselves asking the question: where is God in all of this? Has he abandoned us? So it’s important to remember that God’s face is always turned towards us in love: "‘I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise" (Isaiah 43.20-21).
He may be doing new things because this is a new season – in fact, I’m certain that he is – but he is still working to a plan that has been in place since the beginning of the world: "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will" (Ephesians 1.4-5).
We are still called to be Jesus’ ambassadors in the places where we live, in our families, in our friendship groups, in our workplaces, in our social interactions and in the things we do together as God’s people: "We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5.20).
Do you remember who I am, says God? I’m the one who “made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters" (Isaiah 43.16). Well now I'm doing a new thing: same God, same power, same authority, but doing something new. And my power is at work in you and through you.
As Jesus’ followers, we are called to put the kingdom first and to consistently pursue a kingdom lifestyle, no matter where the journey takes us or what changes around us. That means having a laser-sharp focus on the things that really matter and being intentional about working them into the patterns of our lives (Matthew 6.33).
Jesus' power to save
God says again and again: Israel, my people whom I love, you have let me down, you have got things wrong, you have wandered off on to your own paths, but I will not let you down, I will do the right thing for you, I will gently lead you back to the paths of righteousness, because that is who I am, that is what I do. Regardless of your past I am writing a new future for you.
Dr Jillyan Beadle is a member of the Melton Vineyard Preaching and Young Vineyard teams and also works as an NHS GP. We asked her to share her personal thoughts and opinions from the perspective of a healthcare professional and to give us an informed understanding of the issues involved in vaccination.
The advice given here is generic: please consult your own medical practitioner re your particular situation.
On the frontline
In recent weeks there has been some really exciting news about the success of vaccines in preventing Covid-19 as initial trial data has been analysed. But there has also been a lot of information, particularly on social media, speaking out against vaccines. There has been a particular focus on the possible ethical implications of some of the vaccine manufacturing methods being used and the anti-vaccine information has been targeted at Christian groups encouraging them to object to vaccination on moral or ethical grounds.
Much of this information is presented in ways which can be upsetting or anxiety-provoking and it is hard to know sometimes what is fact and what is partial truth, distortion or just plain wrong. Here are some thoughts about this issue from my perspective as a GP and as a Christian.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the whole world over the last year. As I write this the global number of confirmed cases stands at more than 60 million with over 1.4 milion global deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
We have all been impacted by the effects of local and national lockdowns and restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Some of us may have experienced the effects of the virus itself whether we had mild or more severe symptoms or have even been affected by a bereavement. Many businesses and livelihoods have been affected and as a country we are likely to feel the economic impact for years to come.
In the NHS we have seen waiting lists soar as operations and procedures have been cancelled to prevent services from being overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases and to protect the most vulnerable from being infected in hospital. In General Practice we have had to completely change the way we practice medicine using telephone triage models and getting used to video consultations, using photos to identify rashes and donning and doffing PPE for face to face consultations!
It has honestly been an exhausting and difficult time for many of us but I have learned to dig deep and rely on my faith and I have felt God transform my anxiety and give me a sense of his peace and a real hope for the future in this time.
One of the areas which I’m sure many of us, and I know I personally, have been praying for is a breakthrough in the development of an effective vaccine. All of the measures we have put in place so far can only limit the spread of the virus and are unlikely to eradicate it, which is where a vaccine comes in. Vaccination exposes us to inactivated or weakened virus material in order to prime our immune systems to recognise it and respond to it when it next comes across it.
We have seen vaccines transform lives across the world as diseases have been managed, and in some cases totally eradicated. The success of the MMR vaccine in eliminating measles has meant that in my 17 years as a doctor I’ve only ever encountered one case of it! Unfortunately, we know from the experience with MMR that misinformation can have a profound effect on public confidence in vaccines which can reduce uptake significantly and sadly we have seen a resurgence in cases as a result.
In order to effectively eradicate a disease, we need to see a high take up of effective vaccines, around 70-80% of the population. The problem is that some of the people who may be particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 may not be able to have the vaccination themselves if their own immune systems are not functioning; for example, if they are having chemotherapy for cancer.
In this situation they are reliant on high levels of ‘herd immunity’ in the rest of the population to be protected from the virus. Sadly, significant numbers of people are either unsure about being vaccinated or have decided against having it which will threaten the achievement of herd immunity, protecting the most vulnerable in society and our ability to return to normal life.
So, what are the objections which people are giving as reasons why they may not take up the vaccine?
Are the vaccines safe?
It is certainly true that the speed of development of the vaccines for Covid-19 has been extraordinary and the global nature of this pandemic and multiple teams working across the world putting resources into development has resulted in very rapid breakthroughs. Some of the teams have used well known techniques which have been used in previous vaccines (such as the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine) and others have taken a totally novel approach (Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna) but the overall process of testing these vaccines remains the same.
What has been different this time in order the speed up the process has been that some steps in the trials have been run back to back or overlapped, cutting out the normal delays between stages. By the end of the testing and evaluating stage all the data will be available in the same way but will have been arrived at much more quickly than usual because time is of the essence! Clearly funding has also helped overcome some of the delays that might normally face researchers, which is where involvement of pharmaceutical companies has been vital.
The other factor in the speed of the vaccine production was vaccine developers’ preparedness for this particular scenario. Since previous outbreaks such as SARS, MERS and Ebola there has been a push to prepare for a global pandemic with a ‘plug and play’ vaccine which could be adapted depending on the threat we faced. The team at Oxford, for example, already had the first stage ready to use and had tried it out on similar coronaviruses so they were several steps into the development process straight away.
Regardless of the time pressure, all of the vaccines still have to demonstrate safety and efficacy before they will be approved for use in the UK by the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) who have also been involved in evaluating the vaccines in a rolling way through the development process.
Pharmaceutical companies and profit
Pharmaceutical companies clearly have a motive of making profit in the development of their products but it wouldn’t serve their shareholders well if they produced a product which turned out to be either ineffective or unsafe. Pharmaceutical companies have not always behaved ethically in the past and quite rightly they have been under a great deal of scrutiny in recent years, but I believe the safeguards put in place in terms of the approval process, peer review and ethical approval do protect the interests of consumers as well as people involved in trials.
As we have seen the results of initial trial data coming out, we have certainly seen high levels of scrutiny of the results and the methods used and the pharmaceutical companies will have to robustly show their vaccines are both safe and effective before they are granted approval for use. In the UK this will be done by the MHRA whose main concern is patient safety.
On social media there has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories related to vaccines and the Covid-19 vaccines in development in particular. I have been really concerned about the way these have spread often unchallenged and the tactics used have often been inflammatory and anxiety-provoking, playing on people’s genuine concerns. Most of the videos and articles I have seen appear to have been produced by people who don’t seem to understand the science they are talking about; at best they confuse, and at worse they deliberately mislead people.
The theories about microchips in vaccines and so on are just plain false, there is no evidence to back them up. The fears about modifying DNA are based on half-truths and distortions that arise when people take scientific processes they don’t understand and misinterpret them. For example, one video I saw highlighted the use of the word ‘recombinant’ on vaccine labelling and looked up this word on Wikipedia found it meant taking fragments of DNA and putting them together and assumed this meant the vaccine producers were seeking to change human DNA.
What ‘recombinant’ references in the context of vaccine development is actually with regard to virus genetic material; taking a part of the virus we are trying to vaccinate against and linking it to another type of virus which may be not harmful to people to act as a transport for the harmful virus. In this way our immune systems can respond to the harmful virus and prepare a defence against it without making us ill.
If you come across theories like this on social media, I would encourage you to look at the source of the material and consider how trustworthy it is; ask yourself, can I find other evidence to refute or confirm it? I would also consider the tone of the piece; if it is hectoring and inflammatory or encourages you to ‘Share! Share! Share!’ I would think very carefully about the motivation of the person making it and whether it is right to share it.
The final area I want to address is about the ethical concerns we as Christians might want to consider. John Wyatt, Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London, has produced a very detailed and thoughtful piece which you might find helpful and I’ll include the link below if you’d like to read it.
The material I have seen shared online highlights one particular ethical issue which is regarding use of foetal tissue obtained from abortion in vaccine production. The way this is presented implies that the vaccine itself contains foetal tissue obtained from abortion and should therefore be rejected by Christians who oppose abortion. What they are referencing is so-called ’immortal’ cell lines which are used to produce the vaccine.
Viruses have to replicate inside living cells so large quantities of cells are required in which to grow the vaccine. Some vaccines use cells from chicken eggs and other types of cell, while others do use immortal cell lines derived from foetal tissue obtained from abortion. The cell lines in use now have been replicated in labs over 30-50 years depending on the specific one in question and are obviously not the original foetal tissue.
The cells do not make up part of the vaccine and therefore will not be administered to anyone taking the vaccine. The cells were originally obtained from an abortion which was carried out legally and consensually, but for some people this may present an ethical barrier to them taking the vaccine which those cells have helped produce.
Whilst this does raise an ethical question for us to consider, the context of the original abortion was not for the purpose of obtaining cells which would later be involved in the production of a vaccine. We as consumers can therefore have very little responsibility, on an ethical level, for the original procedure by taking a vaccine produced in this way from the resultant cell lines 30-50 years later.
The ethical responsibilities of scientists involved in the work and clinicians carrying out abortions will obviously be quite different and it is important to have a debate around ethical implications of the source of cell lines. Whilst some of the vaccines coming out for Covid-19 will not have been produced using foetal cell lines it is unlikely we will have a choice in which vaccine we take, as it will depend on what is approved in our country and what has been procured by the NHS. It is therefore unlikely to be possible to request a particular vaccine on ethical grounds and so the choice is more likely to be take the vaccine or opt out and not be vaccinated at all.
In this situation I would encourage you to consider the ethical implications of not being vaccinated versus taking a vaccine produced using foetal cell lines. I feel the biblical principle of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ is very relevant here as taking the vaccine may be more for the benefit others than for ourselves. I am a fit and healthy 40-year-old Caucasian woman so the risk of catching Covid-19 is not as serious for me as it might be for many others, but in my line of work I come into contact with many others who are vulnerable to its most serious effects, so I am ethically obliged to take the vaccine in order to protect them.
If we do not achieve herd immunity by widespread vaccination then many vulnerable elderly people, people whose immune systems are non-functioning or who have underling conditions will remain at risk of contracting and potentially dying from Covid-19. If we opt out of vaccination on the ethical grounds of the sanctity of human life, I fear we are at risk of ‘straining out the gnat whilst swallowing the camel’ (Matthew 23.24).
I hope this has helped to clarify the debate a little. These are, of course, my personal views from my experience as a doctor and as a Christian working on the frontline in this pandemic. I have also put some links below which you might find helpful for further reading.
Further sources of information
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The push for a COVID-19 vaccine (who.int)
Oxford vaccine: How did they make it so quickly? - BBC News- this was a fascinating read on the process of developing the vaccine by the Oxford team, explaining why they have made such rapid progress
Article: Coronavirus vaccines and Christian ethics - John Wyatt- a very detailed and interesting discussion from the perspective of Christian ethics around the sanctity of life from highly regarded Professor John Wyatt, chair of the Christian Medical Fellowship. He also discusses the ethical issues of equitable distribution of a vaccine which I haven’t touched on.
Why Christians need to say 'Yes!' to a Covid vaccine – a blogpost written by Jocelyn Downey, an immunologist and ordained minister in the Church of England, published by Premier Christianity.
This week Hurricane Eta (category 4) has been travelling from Nicaragua through Honduras. It is the most severe hurricane to hit the country in decades. During Tuesday and Wednesday it was moving at 5mph, with winds gusting up to 145mph and rainfall estimated to be 25-35 inches. Rivers have become raging torrents, overflowing their banks, washing away bridges leaving some cities inaccessible.
There is widespread flooding, with some areas needing to be evacuated as water was several feet deep. In some places water was up to roof level. Housing in many areas is flooded, ruining family possessions as most properties of the poor are single storey.
Some areas of La Ceiba have needed to be evacuated, including the local prison with water up to chest level. Added to the flooding there have been landslides caused by the volume of water, particularly in the area where Pastor Hector lives, leading to severe damage/partial demolition of his house. His family evacuated the house shortly before this occurred and sustained no physical injury, but his wife and children were traumatised seeing it happen. All their possessions were lost, including work tools; they have only the clothes they were wearing.
Many thousands of families are affected, and were already struggling because of Covid quarantine leaving them with no income or food. Due to communication difficulties the full extent of the damage is not yet known. There is no electricity, no tap water, no TV for info; only intermittent mobile and internet signals.
Mary and the boys at Los Niños are safe. Pastor Fredy and his family are safe. Pastor Héctor and family have taken refuge with his younger brother on higher ground. So far they have been unable to communicate with the church plants in nearby towns, so their situation is unknown.
Finances will be needed to help the people recover, particularly for those whose houses have been damaged or demolished, but also for food and replacing personal possessions.
It will be a prolonged period of recovery from the effects of the hurricane for the country, with infrastructure needing replacement.
Please continue to pray.
If you would like to contribute to the gift that Melton Vineyard will be sending in support, please follow the link below to the Honduras giving fund. You can add Gift Aid to increase the value of your gift and all monies donated will be used to help relieve the situation.
For many of us, encountering God’s presence daily and growing in our life with him is a real and deep desire. However, very few of us have ever been shown clear models for exactly how we might build a life lived in the presence of God. We may have been taught the importance of things like prayer and Bible reading, but weren’t given any tools or training in how to do them well. We may have spent years trying to do our best, but it has often felt like homework that we should do rather than being able to spend life-giving and life-changing time in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
THIS BOOKLET is designed to help with that. It is a step by step guide to building a life of encounter with God one day at a time. This brings change and transformation to our inner life and also allows us to see the presence of God beginning to soak through and influence every situation and place we find ourselves in each day.
This week in our Sunday service we looked at the concept of Sabbath; a whole day to stop, rest, delight and worship. Hopefully, you were challenged to think about how you might practice the Sabbath in your life so if you’d like so ideas to help you get started we’ve collated some resources here that you might find useful and inspiring.
Check out Pastor and Author John Mark Comer’s website which has a really practical digital workbook you can download for free which gives you four weekly step by step guides to help you build up your practice of Sabbath: HOW TO UNHURRY
We’d also really recommend his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry which has a whole chapter on practising the Sabbath.
If you’d like to explore the Jewish perspective on the rich tradition of Sabbath check out this classic work by Rabbi Abraham Heschel.
If you’re interested in exploring Sabbath as an act of resistance to our modern culture then you might like to read Theologian Walter Brueggemann’s book:
If you’re wondering how to get started with Sabbath with children at home, have a listen to this brief and helpful advice from Children’s Pastor and Writer Rachel Turner:
CHILDREN & SABBATH
We’d love to hear if you’ve been inspired to give Sabbath a try and what you’ve found helpful so do get in touch!
As a church family, it's really important that we know what we're about and what we're for. Over time we've refined our mission statement in various ways to try to communicate this as effectively as possible and we've got it down to just three words: Bless, Serve, Pray!
Our mision is to:
BLESS others as we share the unconditional love of Jesus
SERVE each other and the wider community
PRAY in order to do all this in the power of the Holy Spirit
So next time someone asks you what Melton Vineyard is all about, just
remember the three little words: BLESS, SERVE, PRAY.
Ok, I'm just going to come right out and say it: I believe that the moon landings of 1969 were for real. And yet 21% of 24–35 year olds are convinced that the whole thing was staged for the camera. "It's obvious", they say. "There are no stars in the pictures. There's no blast crater under the lunar module. The shadows are all wrong."
As Richard Godwin pointed out in an article for the Guardian newspaper, "It took 400,000 Nasa employees and contractors to put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969 – but only one man to spread the idea that it was all a hoax."
My personal take on that particular conspiracy theory is a very simple one: as an ex-actor, I know how many people it takes to make a film (actually, you don't even need to be an actor – just read the list of credits at the end of any major film or TV programme). If the whole thing was manufactured in a film studio, are we really saying that not one of those hundreds of people would have come forward in the last 50 years and said, "Actually, you're right. We faked the whole thing"?
In a similar way, I'm sceptical about claims that the current Covid-19 crisis is one huge conspiracy. Since governments of all stripes around the world appear incapable of reaching agreement about anything, it's quite a stretch to believe that they have all agreed to treat a "trivial" disease as a major threat.
In a recent podcast, Jay Pathak reminded us of the biblical injunction from Isaiah 8.12: "Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it."
As Christians, we are called to trust God and to love our neighbour as ourself. For me that means taking appropriate steps to safeguard ourselves and others, even as we share the good news that Jesus has conquered death and there is no longer anything to be afraid of in this life.
We've been really impressed by this app from 24-7 Prayer that "turns one of our biggest distractions – our mobile phones – into a portable prayer tool". It's really simple to use and will encourage you to become more faithful and regular in praying for your needs and the needs of others. Follow the link below to check it out.
Have been re-reading Jack Moraine's excellent book, Healing Ministry, in preparation for this week's podcast. It's so good. It says everything you need to know about healing without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. It's clear, concise and practical. I recommend it highly!