The Almeley bible chat group which meets fortnightly, met for the first time at Church House hosted by Guy and Tessa Wilkinson.

We all can find ourselves a bit suspicious of or even disliking people and communities who are different from us even when we don’t really know them personally and just pick up our ideas from gossip or the media. So our conversation centred around some of people and groups who were regarded with dislike and suspicion in Jesus’ time - some of whom still are.

We looked at the many stories of Jesus’ encounters with people from the north of Israel - Samaria, the Samaritans. They were much disliked but Jesus told positive stories about them, including the well known story of the Good Samaritan. We also touched on Jesus encounter with a non Jewish woman to whom he was very rude, calling her a dog and saying that he had no business with her. She gave as good as she got and Jesus’ attitude was changed. And lastly we looked at the group of religious leaders called Pharisees, some of whom Jesus called hypocrites - and the word Pharisee has come down to us today in that sense. Actually, as we discovered, they have been the victims of group stereotyping and are the ancestors of much of today’s Judaism.

We covered much other ground in our conversation, including how it is that the church, like other groups, can become fixed on particular ways of doing things as if they were the heart of the matter - mistaking the wrapping paper for the gift as it were. In good Church of England fashion we agreed that a bit of tradition mixed with thinking for ourselves, together with what the bible tells us about Jesus and his love for us, is about the right mix