Friday, 21 July 2017

As the Summer Holidays begin a pictorial review of some of the events that have filled the first half of 2017.
Blog holiday now until September!


8th January 2017: Street Kids Direct cheque presentation


22nd January 2017: COTHA United Service at St Michael's


21st January 2017: Leading Intercessions Training Evening


1st February 2017: Baptist Union Retreat Group Committee at Sarum College, Salisbury


14th February 2017: Venice


19th February 2017: Evening Service at All Souls, London


12th March 2017: Junior Church


26th March 2017: Mothering Sunday


26th March 2017: Mothering Sunday


13th April 2017: Maundy Thursday


19th April 2017: Lunch with the Ministers of our Link Church in Harlesden, North London


21st April 2017: Visiting Matthew in his office at The London School of Theology


5th May 2017: Preaching at a friend's Induction in Somerset


21st May 2017: Circle The City for Christian Aid


29th May 2017: The Greens visit their former church in Malvern


11th June 2017: 30th Anniversary of Ian's Ordination


25th June 2017: Toilet Twinning Afternoon


30th June 2017: Elders Social at The Manse


15th July 2017: Garden Party at Whitegates


17th July 2017: LunchBreak with Tom Torley

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Grab a Pew!

Our Breakfast Furniture!!
Last weekend we spent a night in Chichester.

We loved walking around the Bishop's Garden and spent Saturday morning sitting in the Cathedral listening to the organist practice for the next day's service.

We stayed overnight in a local pub and I couldn't help but notice the breakfast furniture!

The room was full of old pews and chapel chairs - the sort with hymn book holders on their back.

I thought it just a touch ironic (especially as I sat for ten years on The Baptist Union's Listed Buildings Advisory Committee) that the very furniture we often throw out - because it's not modern or comfortable enough and doesn't attract 'non-churchy' people, eventually finds its way into a pub, exactly the place where such people love to spend an evening with friends as they sit on 'our' pews!!!

It's an odd world at times!!

It made me ponder what it really means to be a 'welcoming Church'?  No doubt it may have something to do with the comfort of new chairs but I suspect it has far more to do with offering folk a warm-hearted, sincere and genuine greeting. It's integrity that makes the difference.

We often seem to tinker at the periphery and miss what's really important at the centre.

Ian



Thursday, 6 July 2017

Lord, I believe...

‘Belief’ is obviously very important when it comes to faith.  We even use it as a sort of code for whether a person sits comfortably in our church communities saying he or she is ‘a person of belief’.  Yet I suspect if you analysed an average congregation you’d find a multitude of ‘beliefs’.

Some ecclesiastical traditions ask us to affirm our beliefs weekly by bundling them into the creeds which nearly always begin with the phrase. ‘I believe…’.

This week I’ve been struck by Sir John Chilcot’s ‘revelation’ that he considers Mr Blair based much of his decision making leading up to the invasion of Iraq more on a deeply personal ‘belief’ that this was right rather than a conviction backed up by hard evidence.  Intense ‘feelings’ that such actions were right have since been proved inadequate for neither did Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction and nor was all out war the last resort option open to the West.  Chilcot makes for uncomfortable reading as it ultimately concludes that just because you passionately believe something is right – if there is insufficient evidence to back up your ‘feelings', however intense – your decisions, based on such subjectivity, are almost certainly wrong.

Andrew Marr, in his Monday morning radio show also considered this question of belief.  One of his guests was the scientist Richard Dawkins – not the best loved of academics in the eyes of The Church!  Dawkins made the very reasonable point that Darwinism and Natural Selection is a beautiful theory and pretty much the very best explanation we have for how life has developed on earth.  Of course, it cuts across Creationism and that is a problem for some Christians and some in other faiths, including Islam. 

So how does a modern-day disciple view Genesis 1 and 2 today?  Well, many of us have never really seen it as a scientific account but a poetic one.  It doesn’t intend to tell us how life began in a ‘matter of fact’ way, rather it celebrates the gift of life using images and painting word pictures.  It’s a song rather than a thesis!

Of course there are so many different kinds of belief.  We Christians hold on to a sort of tension when it comes to belief.  Many of us value ‘reason’ and want to read our scriptures with our minds as well as our hearts.  That means we want to put the words of The Bible in their historic context and understand the type, or genre of literature they represent.

Personally I can no longer really agree with the Reformation dictum ‘Sola Scripture’ – if by that we mean that our faith is entirely influenced and defined by scripture alone.

For me I have to put ‘experience’ into the frame as well.  It’s through countless ‘experiences’ in life that my faith is honed, tested and constantly redefined.  Of course, the bible remains a vital guide, but alongside that I believe in the ‘continuous revelation’ that comes through reason, discussion, and the hard knocks of life.

Yet, I willingly acknowledge that ‘belief’ is also about holding on to mystery, beauty and hope.  Maybe some will think I’m contradicting myself, but I want to hold a creative and, at times uncomfortable, tension between the mind and the heart.

For me that means I still ‘feel’ deeply moved by that verse etched into the walls of a concentration camp over seventy years ago:

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining.
And I believe in love,
even when there's no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when he is silent.

The words of a character from a gospel bible story still ring true in my ears - I hear them in the King James version we used in Sunday School!

'Lord, I do believe, help thou my unbelief.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?

Our Training Evening on Tuesday!
On Tuesday evening members of our Worship Teams, who lead services locally, gathered at AFC for a training evening.  We took as our topic: hymns!

Now it has to be said that our church is somewhat going against the current trends in worship in that we remain in our liturgical style basically ‘hymnic’ rather than ‘song’ based.

I love the accusation made against Luther as he wrote hymn words to chorale melodies; his ‘enemies said he was ‘singing the people into Protestantism’.


Or how about Elizabeth I’s pithy dig at the emerging hymnody of her day which she dismissed as ‘Geneva Gigs’!!

The truth is that for many of us hymns have been wonderful companions in our pilgrimage of faith thus far.  We have delighted in their poetry, been inspired by their melodies and instructed through their theologies.

On Tuesday we reminded ourselves of the prolific output of hymn writers such as Charles Wesley.  Although only about thirty-five of his hymns are in our current book it is astonishing to realise that in all he composed around 7000!

As our evening drew to a close those assembled divided into three groups and selected hymns for either a Morning Communion Service, an All Age Service or one held at a Residential Home.  The groups, working collaboratively, came up with some great suggestions – which I may pocket and use at some forthcoming events!

I love hymns and I’m delighted that new ones continue to appear.  I think one of Fred Pratt Green’s, the Lancashire Methodist Minister, sums up how I feel:

When in our music God is glorified
and adoration leaves no room for pride
it is as though the whole creation cried
Alleluia!

or as the founder of the Salvation Army, General Booth once put it:

Why should the Devil have all the good tunes!


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Parable of The Loving Father

A ‘Father’s Day’ Monologue I composed and used in church last week:

Dairy entry: 18th June
Place: Capernaum by the shore of Lake Galilee

Yesterday will go down as one of the happiest days of my life.

I’m the father of two boys and, to be honest, one of them, the youngest, broke my heart six months ago.  He left home after one of those bright ideas of his.  He’s always been headstrong; well that’s what I call it, but his older brother dismisses him as arrogant!

But leaving our farm, where he had a solid future, wasn’t really the worst of it.  He came up with the idea of an early inheritance to fund this trip of a lifetime.  After I gave him the money my wife cried herself to sleep that night saying Reuben was treating us as if we were dead.

But I felt he needed his freedom and if I said ‘no’ he would have felt a prisoner here.

The morning I left I told him I loved him and asked him to stay in touch – but he never did.

We missed him at every meal.  Esther, my wife, even laid a place for him at table a couple of times.

Jacob, our eldest, isn’t much of a talker.  Reuben was the conversationalist, so mealtimes were now very quiet.

Reuben wanted to travel to Syria and we dealt with merchants there – they came and visited the farm about once a month.  They watched out for him.

The first few months we heard good reports, but recently it’s only ever been bad news.  I sent him messages, telling him we thought of him every day and he’d always be welcome back – but I never got a response.

Last month was the worst.  The Syrian corn merchant told us Reuben had obviously run out of money because he was working for a pig farmer.  He’d sunk as low as he could and his dream trip had turned into a nightmare.

I’ve developed a daily routine after supper.  I leave Ester and Jacob in the house and I go and sit on the rooftop watching the sunset – longing for my boy.

And then yesterday it happened!

As the sun was finally dipping behind the olive grove a mile away, sending out its mellow, warm, golden rays.  I made out a figure in silhouette, limping down the lane.

I couldn’t take my eyes off this approaching stranger, walking head down, clutching a stick, limping, slowly and painfully along the path that led nowhere but to the gates of our farm.

As he approached I felt I knew the gait of his walk.  I thought, I hardly dare thought, could it be, could this really be Reuben?

My heart began to beat faster as the figure before me grew larger – until at last he lifted his face and looked for a brief moment at the house.  It was my son!!! And I burst into tears.

I got myself in check and went downstairs.  I told Esther and Jacob I’d seen Reuben heading down the lane.  Jacob froze, Esther, like me seconds earlier, wept with joy.

I left the house with the biggest smile that has ever visited my face.  I walked at first, but ended up running – well, with my age that’s more like jogging, down the road.

Reuben seemed rooted to the spot.  I could see the sorrow, confusion and apprehension on his face.

I ran up to him with open arms and hugged him. ‘My son, my son’ I said, and we both wept as we hugged each other.

My son, my lively, irrepressible, headstrong son had come home.  Esther and I welcomed him with a party – Jacob was not so happy.

Dear Diary – I wonder where this sort of love comes from?  Perhaps it’s but a reflection of the way God loves us.  A Loving Father, a Generous Parent.  All I know is – it’s real, it’s beautiful and it’s the most import thing in life.

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Made in the Image of God?

It's the season of Pentecost in which we rejoice that God’s love and compassion can be ministered by ordinary people.

We’ve seen that this week in North Kensington,  as, indeed, we saw it on the evenings of both the London Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks.

However, someone asked me this week:  'Are we really made in the image of God?'  I understood where they were coming from. 

Yet even after so much sadness during these early summer days I still want to say ‘yes’.

I say ‘yes’ as I hear stories of taxi drivers going back to the attack site to see if they can help.

I say ‘yes’ when I read of people around Southwalk opening up their homes and taking frightened strangers in for the night.

I say ‘yes’ as I hear the public of Kensington dropping off food and clothing at church and community halls as their way of standing alongside bereaved and homeless fellow citizens.

I say ‘yes’ when I hear of doctors and nurses saving lives and emergency personnel alongside policemen and women risking their lives because deep down we know the value of a human life. 

These are ordinary people who have blessed our communities in extra-ordinary ways and by living with such courage, decency and compassion I believe they have have shown us what it really means to live in the image of God.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Free Church Liberals?

The Revd Dr John Clifford of Paddington
‘And so the conclusion is irresistible that, in this conflict, all the hopes of the Free Churches and, we believe, of the nation as a whole, are bound up with the triumphant return to power of the Liberal Party.’

So wrote the editor of the Baptist Times in his newspaper on the occasion of the second election held in 1910.  It is, perhaps, unthinkable, a hundred and seven years later, that a denominational publication would offer up such partisan instructions today!

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is fond of saying that ‘whoever thinks politics and faith don’t mix has never read the bible’.  That’s a sentiment that The Revd Dr John Clifford, minister of the Baptist congregation in Paddington in 1910 certainly believed. He considered that something of the essence of the Kingdom of God, its compassion and equality, was actively being advanced by the reforming legislation of Asquith’s Liberal government in the form of: Old Age Pensions, National Insurance and the fight against privilege being waged with The House of Lords.

On Election Day 2017 I like to cast a nod back through history to John Clifford and his belief in democracy – along with his view that all Free Church people should vote Liberal!!!

Yet I also wonder if, at this current time, we don’t put too heavy a burden of expectation on our politicians.

I spoke to our local Member of Parliament as she was ‘out and about’, on the streets of Amersham, a few weeks ago.  I enjoyed our encounter.  She listened respectfully as I raised a few issues.  I know too that she is a woman of principle, even resigning her Cabinet position because of a local issue upon which she felt she needed to make a stand.

Yet no one who walks through No.10 tomorrow, no Cabinet sitting around that famous table and no Parliament gathering together at Westminster has all the answers, and indeed none have claimed a magic wand in their manifestos.

That’s why I am sometimes frustrated by the somewhat self-righteous tone of many political commentators and interviewers, giving the impression that our politicians have missed the comfortable and obvious answers to the problems of our age, because surely there simply are no easy answers.

I think we need to put ourselves back in the picture.  WE THE PEOPLE, to coin a phrase from a well-known political document across The Pond, can be part of the answer.

The communities we build in our families, localities, workplaces and churches can be part of the solution to our world’s problems too.

Surely it’s not just down to the politicians, for although we expect a great deal from them, they can often only ‘manage’ events rather than generate all-encompassing solutions.

As we approach Trinity Sunday this weekend we are reminded that at the heart of God is the idea of ‘community’, within the Godhead mysteriously expressed as Father, Son and Spirit.

Politicians, families, businesses, churches, schools and individuals all have a part to play in community and WE THE PEOPLE, individually and together, have the gifts, talents and insights to make a positive difference, and we might start by talking a little less about ‘them’ and more about ‘us’!

Happy Election Day!  Anyone staying up all night?!

As the Summer Holidays begin a pictorial review of some of the events that have filled the first half of 2017. Blog holiday now until Septe...