Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thanksgiving

It’s the fourth Thursday in November so, according to a proclamation issued by President Lincoln in 1863 during the Civil War, it’s a Day of Thanksgiving for our American friends.  A day when their nation owns a collective ‘memory’ of the 1621 feast held at The Plymouth Plantation to celebrate the first successful growing season by the European settlers in their ‘New World’.  I’m told it’s one of the major holidays of the year in the States and it’s been fun today sending off a few emails to friends we made there during August and receiving their replies wishing us Brits a good ‘Thanksgiving’ as well!

All of this connects with a conversation I had over coffee with a ministerial colleague yesterday.  We were discussing ‘spirituality’ and the constant searching which goes on after an authentic one.  He looked at me and said: If I had to define spirituality, my spirituality, it’s just about being ‘thankful’.  He made a great point.

You don’t have to be American to make this day one of Thanksgiving.  I too can be thankful – for family, friends, health, church and community.  I too could be grateful for a cup half full rather than half empty.  The bible says it plainly enough...Give thanks!

This weekend we have music...on Sunday morning The Park School Choir will be helping us in our Advent worship and in the evening, at St John’s, Hymneo take part in the Light Up a Life Service.

With best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 18 November 2011

Hello Dear Boy


‘Hello Dear Boy’...these were the words my uncle often used whenever I met him; and they were much in my mind yesterday as I attended his funeral in Suffolk.

I’ve done a few funerals in my time and each has been a huge privilege.  But there’s a world of difference from leading a funeral to simply being there as a member of the wider family. 

At the service in St John’s, Elmswell, near Bury St Edmunds there must have been around two hundred folks present and I sat up the front alongside my five girl cousins and their families.  In many ways I was representing my Father – my uncle’s brother - who died six years ago and always called him ‘Spud’. 

The Anglican vicar led, the Methodist Minister gave the address and I took part with a short tribute and reading – so we were certainly ecumenical.  My uncle was the treasurer of the Methodist Church and never missed – his funeral was simply at the Anglican church because the Methodist chapel wouldn’t have been big enough.

Yesterday was about so many things and one of the most important, for me, was that shared sense of history being told and held.  Sitting in church I heard the names of my grandparents being read out: Les and Daisy, of their children: Tony, Peter and Valerie and of the places where they grew up: Rickmansworth and Chorleywood in Hertfordshire.  After the service I swapped stories I’d heard from my own father (he used to love telling them after Sunday lunch on a weekly basis!) of his time as a boy, along with ‘Spud’ in those immediate post-war years in the Home Counties.

None of us completely invents him or herself!  We are the product of our past and yesterday it felt good to hear some of the stories that came from my father’s side of the family – a sense of ‘connectedness’ – it’s probably why I wore my grandfather’s cufflinks to the service – it ‘meant’ something doing that as I stood beside his son’s, my uncle’s coffin.

So – today I’m in a reflective mood – perhaps because it’s November, maybe because of the quiet dignity I saw in my cousins yesterday as they bade farewell to their dad.  And forgive me for being just a touch sentimental but I had this thought - that maybe as my uncle entered God’s nearer presence perhaps God said to him: Hello Dear Boy...Welcome – my good and faithful servant. 

With best wishes,

Ian

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Diary Planning

It’s the Junior Church Teachers’ Meeting ‘that done it’! 

Our Church Meeting date has been altered and we’ll now gather on an evening that had been set aside for the Junior Church staff.  Our Co-ordinators accommodated this request with exemplary grace.  And then began the quest for the ‘holy grail’ – another date!  To my horror (if you exclude Friday and Saturday evenings when no one would really want to meet) I couldn’t make any other evening between now and Christmas.  That’s just ridiculous – my diary planning has gone down the pan and it’s prompted me to ask myself a few questions.

Now I know it’s difficult to understand why a person who ‘only works one day a week’ should have difficulty with his diary!  Well, I think it has something to do with your home being your office and the weekends containing that ‘one day a week’ when you work!  Alongside that there are the various committees and commitments one pencils in alongside all the routine stuff – and these are meetings and encounters that I value very much indeed and genuinely want to be part of. So you can imagine that when Rachel sat down the other evening and offered to highlight in red all the things I should stop attending – we had a robust discussion!

I, maybe like you, need to read ‘the signs’ of my own ‘busy-ness’ better.  I need to hear myself groan inwardly when someone suggests an extra gathering and I need to stop ‘fitting things in’ to an already overcrowded diary.

In all of this I’m very conscious of the words of the Bishop of Bath and Wells – some of you may remember his visit to us at the united service in St John’s last year. He began his sermon by talking about the delusion we can have that we are the ‘victims’ of a busy life.  He said that we are all as busy ‘as we want to be’.  Now ‘discuss’ that I thought! 

Of course there are many moments when it all runs away from us and we simply have to get through it.  Yet it can never be right to come to the end of a service, encounter or event with the idea that we can simply tick it off the list and move on.  Whatever happened to lingering in the glow of that moment or pondering the significance of our conversation together?  A friend of mine put to me like this the other day – I want to ‘capture’ more of these moments.

I’m a great fan of a now defunct TV series from the USA called The West Wing.  It chronicled, through seven wonderful series, the fictitious goings on at The White House under President Jed Bartlett.  And to give the impression of the immense pressure of this office the script writers gave Bartlett a saying, used at the end of every meeting or encounter throughout the day – he would say ‘What’s next?’

Such inevitable and exhausting momentum is not good, I believe, for the soul.  It means our minds rarely have the time to catch up with our bodies.

There is a blessing in a less crowded routine – and there can be precious God given surprises on a day when nothing much was in the diary.  All of this is medicine I need to start taking instead of advice on the prescription I give out to others.

Well – this blog has been something of a confessional – I’ve written it simply because I don’t believe I’m the only one who wants to keep a few more of the pages in next year’s diary clear.  And perhaps I can start, as we come to the last Sunday of the Church Year this week, by making upcoming Advent a time when I consciously take onboard the wisdom filled words of the Psalmist when he said: ‘Be still..........and know that I am God.

Last weekend was such a moving occasion as we shared worship together on Remembrance Sunday – probably our biggest congregation of the year– for fire precaution purposes we actually counted and 186 folks attended.  This weekend the Deacons gather to consider the wording of a possible Church Constitution – and on Sunday evening a group of 45 of us will be attending the ACM Gospel Concert at the Octagon Theatre.
With best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 11 November 2011

Tabletalk

A tale of two tables!

The first was the one I was privileged to sit behind last Sunday during Communion at our 356th Church Anniversary.  The deacons were distributing bread and wine and it had been a wonderfully full and diverse service with a great atmosphere of celebration and thanksgiving.  This was a moment of stillness and reflection.  As I waited my eyes fell on the basket of food under the Communion table.  Food, given by the congregation that morning and presented in the offering, for the Lord’s Larder – Yeovil Churches’ Food Bank.  I was struck by the basket’s presence there, under the table on which we had placed bread and wine.  The words of an Iona hymn came to mind, all about the ministry of Christ which described him as the one who ‘fed their mouths as well as preaching’.  Body and soul are important and the breaking in of God’s Kingdom is not only about the prospect of an eternity in heaven with Christ but also the striving for peace and wholeness – a freedom from war and a freedom from hunger – here and now on the earth below.  So I was grateful for the basket of food – just as I was grateful for the bread and wine – reminding me that the Church’s mission encompasses body, mind and spirit.

And the second table?  It was a round one at Sherborne Baptist Church that I sat at on Wednesday evening with representatives from the other churches in our local Baptist Cluster.  To be honest I had no enthusiasm as I drove to this meeting on a dark wet night – this week I’ve been to far too many meetings!  Yet I came away glad to have spent that time together because around the table I learnt how encouraged our friends at Montacute are with a steadily growing relationship with their Parish Church, how thrilled the people were at Sherborne with a recent baptism and how delighted the congregation at Crewkerne is with their newly refurbished building.  I too expressed my delight at how things have gone at South Street this autumn with good congregations and the inspiration of Kath’s baptism and our recent Church Anniversary.  Around that table I think we all sensed the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit in all our churches, giving us life and hope.

Table talk...table fellowship...meeting God and one another...around a table.
This weekend I’m looking forward to speaking at our Men’s Breakfast about Martin Luther King and then on Sunday we welcome our BB and GB to church for our Remembrance Service in the morning – and another table in the evening - Quiet Prayer and Communion.
With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Happy Birthday South Street

Fuller Baptist Church in Kettering, where I was once the Assistant Minister and at which Rachel and I got married, sent me an invitation this week to the 315th Anniversary; for them, I sense, it feels like a special one worthy of celebration.  Although I cannot join them I sent my best wishes with the rather smug rider that this Sunday South Street is marking its 356th Anniversary – how about that for ecclesiastical one-upmanship!

Anglican congregations have Patronal Festivals – celebrating the life of their church on the Saints Day after which their church is named; Baptists have Church Anniversaries.  Some churches mark such occasions with festive balloons or visiting preachers of the well known type – we do it on a Sunday close to All Saints Day with Holy Communion and music from our Junior Church and Hymneo – along with some fascinating archive material from Tony Overd.

356 years is a staggeringly long time for a Baptist Church.  It means South Street was born in the Civil War years with Oliver Cromwell ruling as Lord Protector; it makes us one of the oldest Baptist Churches not only in Great Britain but in the world! At this time of year I love looking at the list of the nineteen ministers who have preceded me here (some of them have had exceedingly long pastorates!) and thinking again about the first, Thomas Miller who was personally offered an Anglican living by the new king, William III and turned it down in favour of remaining a Baptist Minister – good for him!

Of course, unlike our Anglican friends, nothing of our building dates back to the year of our foundation, 1655.  Some of The Sanctuary, such as the ceiling, probably dates from 1828 and the impressive portico and pillars on South Street from 1868 – the rest, we know, was wonderfully redeveloped in 2003 and provides us with such a usable and inviting space for the 21st century.

Today I’ve been putting a power-point display together which, photographically, records some of our work since last year’s Anniversary – if you’re with us on Sunday you’ll see it during the morning service. Pictures of: a Christmas barn dance, Easter Monday walk, children music group, reception of new members, baptism, weddings, GB leadership transfer, Burkina Faso Christian Aid fundraising, regular worship services, pulpit exchanges, the start of The Theology Group.  Now I know that being busy isn’t the same as being productive – yet I do rejoice in the rich and diverse activities in which we share and pray that God is being honoured by all of this sincere and faithful effort.

Yet my mind wanders back to 1655...to turbulent times when men and women dreamed of greater religious freedom and tolerance...a king had been beheaded in Whitehall and no one knew how our island’s future would develop, not even Cromwell.  In such days, and for such a time, a group of committed Christians, convinced of the value of Believer’s Baptism and Congregational Church Government covenanted together to form Yeovil Baptist Church.  Such a coming together took courage and conviction. 

One of my prayerful longings for South Street is that we might continue on that journey, into year 357, with a real sense of identity; that we too might have beliefs which are expressed with courage and conviction.  Courage to continue this tradition of faith and conviction to see it through in a way that honours Christ. 

Thinking through our identity wouldn’t be a bad way to celebrate Church Anniversary – it’s an important issue to prayerfully think about: why am I a Baptist, why do I go to South Street, what do I value in our Fellowship, what can I contribute, what do I long for in our shared life, how do I meet Jesus in my sisters and brothers?  When we’re addressing these questions we move a long way from simply being a ‘club’ to becoming a ‘church’.

With best wishes,

Ian

Speaking of Sin

Tomorrow I’m attending a Ministers’ Book Discussion Group in Luton. We meet up three or four times a year over a packed lunch to discuss a...