Friday, 28 December 2012

Please be seated...


In our 'posh' seats at The Royal Albert Hall!
I often use this phrase, ‘please be seated’, in services, especially ones at which we have visitors (as over Christmas) who are a little unfamiliar with our liturgy.  I prefer it to the alternative, ‘please take your seats’, because I instinctively want to shout out in response ‘where’?!

A week ago, on the Friday before Christmas, we attended a thrilling carol concert at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Concert Orchestra, London Chorus and Trinity Boys’ Choir.  It was a wonderful evening made even better because of the seats!  You see we had booked some fairly cheap ones high on the upper tier but when we arrived the usher presented us with complimentary tickets for upgraded, twice the price, seats (they even swivelled!) down in the stalls – an early and much appreciated Christmas present.

Being ‘given a seat’ is a way of making someone feel welcomed and included.  Those who want to be part of a decision making process sometimes say they long for a ‘seat at the table’, and when we entertain family and friends for lunch one way of making them feel at home is to walk into the dining room and say, ‘here’s your seat’.

As the carols begin to fade I’ve been reflecting again this Christmas week on the honoured place those shepherds hold in the nativity story – they were the first to kneel at the manger. 

The story of Bethlehem is so familiar yet I hope I never cease to be thrilled with the idea that when God visited our world ‘veiled in flesh’ he gave those hillside keepers of sheep ring-side seats at the Incarnation.

With best wishes,

 Ian

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Contrasts: Beautiful Creativity and Pointless Destruction


I’m writing this blog in the typical early dusk of a December evening – becoming earlier and earlier as we approach the winter solstice.  Today has been somewhat gloomy; yesterday it was a sparkling winter blue sky sort of day.  The theme of ‘contrast’ has come home to me over the recent week.

On the one hand whenever we meet creativity life is enhanced.  We currently have Sue Symonds’ beautiful Nativity Panels (care of Bible Society) on display at the Free Church here in Amersham.  Yesterday after LunchBreak folk gathered around them and enjoyed looking at the intricate artwork which has been used to put together a visual feast celebrating the Incarnation. 

Since arriving here in Buckinghamshire I’ve been so impressed in meetings dozens of folk who work hard at creating a real sense of community in the church and neighbourhood.  I think such dedication and creativity is a real mark of ‘The Kingdom of God’ among us. 

And then...amid the light and hope of Advent we heard of the modern day ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ in Connecticut and no words can express the sadness we feel at this utterly pointless destruction.  The contrast to building community couldn’t be greater – this barbaric act has cut into the community of Newtown with a hurt that will never go away.

On Monday I tuned in to the webcast of the previous day’s service at Washington’s National Cathedral.  We really enjoyed visited the cathedral there a couple of years ago and I love watching their services week by week.  Dean Hall, the spiritual leader of this cosmopolitan congregation, has only been in place a few months so I guess this was the first time he’s had to speak at the National Cathedral about a national event – it must be tough to know what to say. I guess he tore up his prepared sermon on Friday and wrote a new one whilst the news of Sandy Hook Elementary was still unfolding.  Dean Hall was brave on Sunday – from the pulpit he called for American gun laws to be re-defined and pledged the support of the Cathedral to tighter gun control.  Now I’ve been listening to sermons from that pulpit for over a year now and what happened next was new to me – spontaneously the congregation gave their Dean a round of applause – and when he finished and took his seat behind the altar they rose to their feet and applauded him a second time.  I confess to being deeply moved by their wonderful and heart-felt reaction and affirmation – it seemed to me like a moment to treasure – a moment when pastor and people knew they must speak out prophetically – speak out with love and courage – in the name of The Kingdom.

Such speaking out is tough. Wilberforce did it in his campaign for the abolition of slavery, Elizabeth Fry did it in her fight for prison reform, Martin Luther King did it in his dream speech longing for civil rights – and on Sunday morning Dean Hall did it in Washington’s National Cathedral in calling for greater gun control.

For such prophets and for the gentle creativity of those beautiful Advent panels in our church – ‘Thanks be to God’.

For ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ - ‘Lord have mercy’.

Best wishes,
 

Ian

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Shaking hands...


St Martin in The Fields, Trafalgar Square this morning
Well here’s a blog for the 12.12.12. (the century's last sequential date – apparently) - and a warning: I’m going to begin it with a shameful example of name dropping!  That’s because I shook hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury this morning.  I did it as I left St Martin in The Fields after attending a service there, at which he was the preacher, to celebrate 80 years of the BBC World Service.

I was pleased to be given a ticket to this celebration and I enjoyed it very much.  St Martin’s is always a joy to visit and this morning it was filled with tremendous music and fine words.  Perhaps some of the most moving were spoken by BBC World Service presenters.  Some came from countries such as Iraq and Iran and remembered growing up in war-torn days listening to the World Service and relying on it as a channel of truth.  Today they present programmes on BBC Persian.

And that seemed to be the central message of the service – that in a world of propaganda when governments are economical with the truth they tell their citizens – the BBC World Service has sought, through eight decades, to be an independent guardian of factual reporting that can be trusted. 


Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, spoke at this morning’s service and acknowledged that ‘trust’ in other parts of the BBC may have been dented this autumn – nevertheless, he believed, the World Service has been an exemplary channel of integrity and truth.

Well there was a lot to celebrate. In the nave I sat next to a man who, I think, was a member of the press for he scribbled in his notebook throughout. When it came to singing my neighbour certainly celebrated with a loud voice – just a shame he sang so lustily a semi-tone down from the rest of us.  (I know - as Hagred says in Harry Potter - 'I shouldn't have said that'!)

In some versions of the Parable of The Sower we are told the farmer ‘broadcast’ the seed.  That is he scattered it with broad strokes up and down the field. 

It got me thinking about the sort of message we will be ‘broadcasting’ this Christmas – what ‘seeds’ of hope and goodwill will we be planting.  At Amersham Free Church last Saturday the well attended Christingle Service we shared was surely an example of sowing a seed of loving witness to Jesus - The Light of The World.  The same is true of the Christmas window in the church hall.  As folk pass by it on Woodside Road they see a beautiful representation of the nativity shining out in the December night.  And then there are the marvellous local broadcasts in Amersham at the moment by Radio Christmas – staffed by many folk from the churches of our town. In various ways our hope and prayer is that we are ‘broadcasting’ to our community something of the spirit of Immanuel – God with us.

With best wishes,

Ian
p.s. -by the way, as I shook his hand I said ‘thank-you for all you’ve done’ to Dr Williams – and I meant it – Archbishops surely need our prayers!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

In This Is The Word Of The Lord...

I’ve just come home from the Amersham Town Council Carol Service, held this year at St Michael’s just opposite the Free Church.  It was an eclectic mix of the religious and civic – a real coming together of our life here in this part of Bucks and I’m glad I was there.

As I sat listening to a highly talented ladies’ A Cappella group I realised just how many gifted women took part in this evening’s service.  The church’s vicar, The Revd Diana Glover led the service with exemplary warmth that made us feel really welcomed.  One of the lessons was read by Her Honour Judge Johannah Cutts, QC and another by our mayor, Councillor Mimi Harker OBE. 

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the Anglican General Synod failed to get a strong enough majority to pass the Women Bishops Measure.  In my eyes – looking on as a respectful ‘neighbour’ – that was a deeply significant missed opportunity.

I hope there is no hubris in these observations because I’m acutely aware that even if there is still a glass ceiling preventing Anglican women clergy from serving in their episcopate the fact is the Church of England has a far greater proportion of women priests than, say, The Baptist Union has women ministers.

The argument against women bishops – often presented on TV a fortnight ago by lay women from Anglican parishes – rests, it seems to me, on some passages by Paul in which he talks of ‘headship’ within the family and Church as being the exclusive prerogative of men.  Normally these observations come after the preamble that ‘of course we are all equal’ – echoes of George Orwell’s ‘some are more equal than others’ spring to mind.

I’m  rather baffled by the notion that in our equal partnership of marriage I might have the ultimate ‘say’!  Let me tell you it’s never worked like that in our house – and I think its slightly dishonest to talk of equality in one breath and then claim ‘headship’ in another – I simply don’t think that is how mutually respectful relationships are formed.

That’s why I was helped enormously by a letter in last Friday’s Times written by Tom Wright, the former Bishop of Durham and now a professor at St Andrew’s University.  He made the point that passages like 1 Timothy 2.11-12 that talk of a woman being silent in worship are tremendously difficult to translate – both in the Greek used and the idiom and culture expressed.  Wright put it like this; ‘there are multiple interpretative options’.  Women being ‘silent’, for example, might be a way of saying they should study at home – and when Paul says: I do not permit; Wright argues it was probably just a temporary ‘ban’ whilst they became better trained and equipped.

When you look at scripture this way – that some utterances are ‘work in progress’ rather than a final and ‘for all time’ injunction – it makes quoting such verses a dodgy foundation when making big decisions. 

That’s why I like the response we use at The Free Church after the bible readings – we say: In this is the Word of The Lord.  In other words we have to use the minds that God has given us to tease out what he is saying to us in scripture.  Some verses are obviously culture specific and can never be viewed as commandments for all time – if that were the case slaves would still be obeying their masters, women would never wear pearls – and neither would they teach or speak in church.

We must be more intelligent in our reading of scripture – that, I believe, is the only way to honour the God who has given us minds, intelligence and discernment. 

I thank God for my women colleagues – and although my part of the Body of Christ doesn’t have bishops – I hope I live to see women play a full part in the episcopate of my neighbour’s church.

With best wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The New Chapter Poster


Yesterday as I arrived for Lunchbreak at Amersham Free Church I was struck by the poster next to the church entrance on Woodside Road.  It is beautifully produced, well-lit at night and invites the community to join the congregation in a ‘new chapter’ in our church’s life together.  I think it’s a great poster and I’m grateful to those who both thought it up and put it up!

Many ‘new’ things have come my way over the last month – something inevitable about that in any new ministry.  I chaired my first Church Meeting at AFC last night, I’m getting used to the liturgical framework of our services, I’m discovering the church’s Christmas schedule and adapting to the ‘joy’ of attending not one, but two local ministers’ meetings because our church is both URC and Baptist.

Yet the truth is that I’m also being brought up to speed with some ‘old’ issues too – and that’s something I’m also grateful for.  This week I’ve been reading a backlog of minutes, meeting with people organising a building project and listening to pastoral stories.  It sometimes feels to me as if I’m making something of an ecclesiastical jigsaw and slowly the pieces are coming together.

On Sunday those of us in church will enter another sort of new chapter – Advent.  The old Christian Year is behind us and a new one begins this week.  I know for many Advent is a special time of year – as the light fades we find great comfort and hope in the hymns, readings and prayers of this season.

So, as we turn the page – as we begin a new chapter (in more ways than one):  ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel...’

With best wishes,

Ian

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Photos Are Back!

Remember the days when you returned from a holiday and waited for the photographs to come back from the developers - well it felt a bit like that as I arrived at church this morning!  I was given a wonderful CD of images from last week's Induction - here are just a few!

Before the service



Going in as we sang all People That on Earth do Dwell

The service begins


Going out - skillfully taken so as to look as if we were coming in!

Participating ministers around The Communion Table


The Family!


Lots to talk about!



What a cake



With three Church Secretaries

After the crowds had gone - thanks to everyone at AFC who worked so hard to make the day happen

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Goings and Comings


So much has changed in the comings and goings of The Green family since last I blogged just over a month ago.

The ‘goings’ included a ‘final’ Sunday at South Street: Yeovil,  on which we were shown so much kindness and goodwill.  I will always treasure the beautiful green stole presented to me by the church family at morning service – alongside the book of photographs by Junior Church. 

The very next day Rachel and I hardly had time to catch our breath before driving up to Amersham where we spent the week settling into the Manse.  The house had been prepared for us from tip to toe and it was super to be greeted by both the church secretary and treasurer upon our arrival. 

The ‘comings’ over these last few weeks have been many and various.  We now know where to park when shopping in High Wycombe and Jonty and I can repeat by rote the order of the stations on the Tube between Amersham and Baker Street!

Two significant moments for us over the last month were being received into membership at Amersham Free Church on 28th October and my Induction as Minister last Saturday, the 17th.

The Induction service, for me, provided a unique blending of my past and present as folk from all of my previous four pastorates collided together (happily I hope!) that afternoon.  Sometimes I had to do a double take in trying to place them in churches 1, 2, 3 or 4!  It was an absolute delight to share this time together and the photograph accompanying this blog shows me with three church secretaries from some of those congregations (what do you call a collection of church secretaries? – answers on a postcard!!)

After waving off our Induction guests – and I’m grateful to friends like Ruth for preaching and Ivor for reading – what happens next?  Well in a sense it’s only then that the real work starts.  So it was a special joy to turn up to church on Sunday and see such a fine congregation and have the privilege of preaching my first sermon as Minister of Amersham Free Church.  For me Sunday was just as important as Saturday last weekend.

So – one of the biggest changes of our lives has taken place and step by step it’s felt as if God has been graciously walking beside us – making himself known, as he so often does, in the smile of friends, the support of family and the welcome offered by new companions on The Way.

With best wishes,

 
Ian

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

All our Ministries...


This is something of a swansong blog – at least in my capacity as 20th Minister of Yeovil Baptist Church.

I was sitting in the vestry last week looking at the pictures of some of my predecessors – the further back the fiercer they look!  It struck me how often churches, quite understandably, divide up their history into chapters of ministry.  We talk about how we enjoyed Rev Shortsermons ‘ ministry but how grateful we were when Rev Longsermon felt the call to Africa!  Even the word we used to use for a Pastoral Vacancy, ‘Interregnum’ literally means ‘in between reigns’!

The truth is, however, for almost six years this has not been about ‘my’ ministry but ‘ours’.  We have travelled this path together – and I’m so grateful for the privilege of working alongside many wonderful and committed people.  There is no way I could have done it by myself – that’s why God gives us the gift of each other.

I love working with teams – whether it’s alongside the Deacons, Holiday at Home team or Junior Church leaders  - by myself the problems seem larger and the solutions more elusive – yet when the task is shared with others so much more becomes possible.  I’m convinced God has made us that way – we simply need to do ‘ministry’ together.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a solitary path of leadership that every minister has to tread because at times our work is ‘one to one’ – yet even at these times to know the support of people praying for you makes the task more possible.

So my heartfelt thanks to so many of you for coming on board that Induction Day in March 2007 and staying the course as we’ve seen the challenges through together and shared the joys collectively.

As I prepare to pack up the sermons I have the deepest of convictions that what we have done together over these last few years has been utterly worthwhile – and I give thanks to God for the privilege of serving amongst you and alongside you – for this has been about all our ministries.

With my prayers for Yeovil Baptist Church – may the Lord bless you and keep you all in the days ahead – and thank you for our partnership in the gospel.

In Christ,

 Ian

(Friends I’m going into Blog hibernation until after my Induction at Amersham – and the link to this blog will not appear on the Yeovil website after Sunday – if you want to access it after then it can be found at  http://revdiangreen.blogspot.co.uk/ )


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Children In The Way


‘Children in The Way’ was the title of a church report, published a few years ago now, exploring the place of youngsters in the life of a worshipping community.  It was a classy title because it contained a pun within a serious point.  When the children misbehave in the liturgy their parents can be made to feel their off-spring are ‘in the way’ of other people’s devotions.  On the other hand, taking ‘The Way’ as an ancient title for the Body of Christ, there is no better place to find a child than soaking up the influence of a loving and inspiring Christian Community.

All of these thoughts have come into focus for me the last two Sundays at South Street.

A fortnight ago the Junior Church leaders requested I had a ‘farewell’ photo taken with some of the younger members of our Fellowship.  I think of all the images I shall take away with me this one will remain a firm favourite.

And then this last Sunday we took a look in the evening service at the gospel reading for the day, Mark 10, in which Jesus says: Let the children come to me, and then goes on to talk about entering the Kingdom like a child.  In the prayer-time following, as we lit small candles together, a number of folks lit their night light whilst speaking  out a prayer for the youth work of our church.

Earlier in the day, at Morning Service, our worship concluded with Communion and on this occasion the older groups from Junior Church returned to join us.  Some sat next to their parents and took the bread and wine, the majority, however, occupied the front couple of rows and received a blessing.  For me, as the presiding minister, it was also a blessing – a blessing to pray for these youngsters and a blessing to sense their appreciation in being prayed for.  Every Communion is special – yet when the children join us it feels more complete somehow – the whole ‘family’ at prayer as the ‘blessed’ become a blessing for us all.

With best wishes,
 
Ian

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Church and Soccer – in any way the same?


Last night I was treated to a night at Huish Park, along with our youngest son, to watch Yeovil v Portsmouth.

It struck me that Football has a liturgy all its own yet in some ways remarkably similar to what we do in church. 

Warming: what follows shouldn’t be taken too seriously as I ponder the question: How similar is going to a soccer- match and attending a service? 


Well, last night as we approached the stadium I saw a man giving out the notice sheets but unlike ours these were glossy affairs full of pictures, match results and advertisements.

Once seated it was obvious that we were surrounded by regular members of this particular congregation as none of them bothered speaking to us yet seemed to know everyone else.  Just before kick off the deacons came out of the tunnel wearing yellow florescent jackets followed by those who were going to participate in the service, the players. Everyone seemed very excited to see them and stood up and cheered even though they hadn’t done anything yet – very strange.  I approved of Yeovil for they wore green – which, sure enough, is indeed the liturgical colour for this particular time of year – but Portsmouth really let the side down because their strip was blue – and that doesn’t figure in the liturgical calendar at all.
A man at the centre – he must have been the bishop because he was wearing a red shirt and trying to keep order and no one seemed to be paying a blind bit of notice – blew a whistle and the action began.  To my surprise the congregation did not receive the offering of the players in respectful silence but seemed to have an opinion on everything they saw going on.  One man in front of me must have been a charismatic because he was constantly jumping up and down and lifting up his arms – on these occasions he didn’t seem particularly happy and constantly  invoked the name of the Almighty in his prayerful outbursts.

Then something most unexpected occurred in the thirteenth minute – Pompey scored a goal.  At their end of the stadium this seemed to encourage the lusty unison singing of a hymn that no one needed the words for.  However, at our end everyone seemed to enter a three minute period of instant silence and personal meditation.

The game continued and eventually the charismatic in front of me was once again on his feet at one point shouting out ‘look up, look up’ – thinking this was either an announcement that the rapture had begun or this was tonight’s new song from Spring Harvest being announced I did look up – but apparently it was merely an offering of ‘encouragement’ to a Yeovil defender.

Where did the time go – before I knew it everyone was getting out of their seats and discussing the service.  It was forty-five minutes long with five minutes tacked on the end – refreshments were being served, not just tea, coffee and digestives but hot dogs and pasties.  But here’s the crafty bit – the second service of the day wasn’t held six hours after the first but tacked on as a second half – very clever – and something I might consider at the new place, means you don’t have to get the car out twice.

Ten minutes into part two – which as far as I could see was in exactly the same format as the earlier service of the day (no worship with a difference here)  - Yeovil scored.  Well, it was like Christmas and Easter combined in our stand – grown men were on their feet – everyone was now a charismatic – hands in the air and shouting all sorts of things in strange tongues.  That said I did feel an excellent opportunity was missed at this point – namely the Passing of the Peace – as everyone was in such a good mood I feel it would have gone down extremely well.

Alas things didn’t stay that way – there was an injury the other side of the field and the deacons (in their florescent coats) came on with a stretcher, gathered round and seemed to be offering prayers for healing.  The chap in front of me had, by now, lost his voice and was displaying worrying Quaker tendencies by sitting in silence just shaking his head.  Others beside me were saying things like: ‘They’ve run out of ideas’ – it was all beginning to feel far too much like a deacons’ meeting after all.

In the eightieth minute Portsmouth slipped in a second goal and another three minute period of silent prayer broke out our end.  People, who must have gone to Football School many years ago and played in games like this one, were saying this was an unnecessary goal.  In fact it was clear that what was really needed at this point of the service was a departure from the old fashion idea of a 11man ministry – we needed greater congregational participation and with so many experts around me I’m sure they could have ‘gotten out of their seats’, come down to the front and spruced up the liturgy a great deal.

At this point a Pompey player was brushed by a Yeovil one and lay prostrate on the floor in seeming agony.  Our stand didn’t seem at all sympathetic to his plight, many saying it was just a wicked ploy to obtain a penalty – but they didn’t use the language of the Authorised Version to express their concerns.  And then a miracle occurred, this player rose up and walked – to the accompaniment of jeers from my part of the crowd.

As the ninetieth minute approached I observed that many in the crowd had decided not to stay for the last hymn and blessing and were clearing off early – shaking their heads as they went.  And then the bishop with his whistle signalled it was all over.

Members of the congregation around me shrugged their shoulders but reassured their neighbours  they’d be back on Saturday to do it all over again!

Well – it was a great evening – not, you’ll understand my natural environment!  But I  really do think  some of what I experienced was rather liturgical, for there are traditions , expectations and modes of behaviour that bind any group together,  giving us a sense of security and meaning.  All the ingredients were there at Huish Park last night. 

More than that I totally applaud the enthusiasm, friendship and commitment I witnessed last night– which makes me think there really are some significant similarities worth appreciating between attending a game on Saturday and a service on Sunday.

With best wishes,


Ian



Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Sharing our Baptism


On Sunday it was my joy and privilege to baptise three members of the congregation from South Street.  It was such a happy and inspiring occasion full of sincerity and hope.

Reflecting on the service since it’s once again dawned on me that watching someone else’s baptism often makes us recall our own.  Having a shared experience binds us together; my own baptism may have been thirty eight years ago but it somehow binds me together with the three friends whose baptism isn’t yet quite a week old!

Let me illustrate how these sharing of memories and experience went on Sunday.

*             No end of people told me that one of the hymns we sang, O Jesus I have promised,
               they had also sang at their baptism.
*             In the evening service we had a time of storytelling reflecting on our own baptism -
               someone baptised that morning said he felt this time of sharing was as meaningful
              for him as had been his own baptism earlier in the day –
               he was moved by the experiences of others.
*             One candidate told me he had received over twenty cards of greeting
               from the congregation,  another mentioned all the hugs and kisses! 
              
This was a moment cherished by so many people.
*             Over Church Lunch folks at one table after another  poured over
               the Baptismal Register looking for their own entry or that of a friend.

Well these are just some examples of how we SHARED the day together last week.  In no sense, it seems to me, were these baptisms purely private affairs – we really are baptised into the Body of Christ.  In some wonderful way I’ve concluded that sharing our baptism with others actually deepens the experience – in fact that’s probably true of all worship.  We enrich each other as we share in the sacraments. We inspire each other as we gather around the bible together at a House or Theology Group.  We encourage each other as we share in a prayer gathering.

Christianity simply isn’t a private faith – it’s something we do together for the glory of God – and Sunday’s baptisms were a perfect example of that.

With best wishes,

 

Ian

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Tale of Two Deans


For me it seems to have been a month for re-discovering old truths. That’s because many of the Lectionary readings in September have taken us to the Epistle of James; a letter all about putting our faith into practice.

I used one of these texts at the first evening service of the new session and it made such an impression on me that I reworked the material for the following week’s All Age service entitling it ‘Walk the Talk’.  A week later I listened to a sermon from James on the website of Washington Cathedral.  The preacher was Dr Francis Wade, the Cathedral’s Interim Dean, (he’s my first Dean!) whose sermons I have grown to appreciate more and more.  He made the point that sometimes we only really discover our faith as we put it into practice.  Now I have to confess it’s taken me about a fortnight to digest this sermon; it needed some thinking through.

I was brought up on the idea that ‘faith came by hearing’, and that conversion is essentially a personal turning to Christ – I still believe that.  Yet over the years I’ve realised, as Dr Wade suggested from the Canterbury Pulpit in Washington Cathedral, that it’s been in the ‘living out’ of this Christian life that I’ve discovered so much more about the depth and meaning of faith.  There has to be a time when all the talking about what we believe is simply put into practice.

It’s often said that politicians campaign in poetry yet govern in prose.  That is it’s one thing to make a promise in a manifesto and quite another to keep it in government.  It’s tough, in any walk of life, to incarnate our ideals.  Yet when we try I suspect experience changes and deepens those aspirations.  I think it’s the same with faith.

I might sit in a housegroup and discuss the command to ‘turn the other cheek’ but I’ll only know what I really believe about that as I live it out in the daily challenge of a relationship.  In that process my understanding of Christ’s injunction will almost certainly change and deepen.

Nowhere more has that been the case than in the Cathedral community at Coventry.  When St Michael’s Cathedral was bombed on 14th November 1940 Dean Howard’s first reaction towards those who had brought about such destruction was ‘Father Forgive’ (Dean Howard is my second Dean). Those words, uttered in the middle of a war, were initially neither popular nor understood.  Yet this was faith being put into practice, being deepened and even re-defined in the light of experience.  Today these words of Christ from the cross, uttered by the Dean the day after the Coventry Blitz are inscribed on the altar which stands as a permanent memorial to peace in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral.  What’s more ‘peace-making’ has been at the centre of the new St Michael’s life for the last sixty years.

So I’m grateful for James’ exhortation to put faith into practice – to live it out and discover more about it in the ‘doing’. 

For three friends at South Street this will be exactly the case this coming Sunday morning as they come for Christian Baptism.  We send to Les, Jacqui and Phil our prayerful best wishes as they prepare for the joy and challenge of this sacrament.

With best wishes,

 

ian

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Road Closed


The journey was going well and I was making good time whizzing through Hampshire on the A34 on Monday morning.  At this rate I would arrive at Abingdon Baptist Church with half an hour to spare, grab a cup of coffee in their Oke Street cafe and then chair the committee of The Baptist Union Retreat Group. 

And then...up came that ominous sign on the overhanging boards: ‘Road Closed’.  My heart sank as fast as the car slowed and I joined a long line of traffic forced to exit the A34 at Newbury with not the faintest idea of how to get to Abingdon.  Driving alone without a reliable passenger navigator meant I simply followed everyone else onto the M4 and then took the next turning off to Reading. 

Once on a quiet road I connected the Sat Nav – but we soon fell out with each other!  It constantly argued with me telling me to return to Newbury and however much I shouted back saying the road was closed it took no notice whatsoever!  After fifteen minutes I think it got the hump and just went silent as if refusing to co-operate anymore – you get the picture?!

By now I was down to just using my initiative whilst trying to remember some of the names on the map I had studied five minutes ago.  ‘Pangbourne’ came up and I seemed to remember that was on the way to Abingdon so headed off in that direction on a wing and a prayer (and Pangbourne is very nice – by the way!). During this unexpected detour (come to think of it can a detour be anything other than unexpected) I tried to keep calm and practice that ‘inner peace’ that we in the Retreat Movement talk about so often – I don’t think I was totally successful.

Eventually I arrived one hour late but thankfully just in time for lunch!

The metaphor of a ‘journey’ representing our life maybe one, that in your experience, is somewhat overused.  However, I confess I still find it helpful.

On Monday my road was closed and I had to find another way; it was annoying, challenging but eventually brought me fresh experiences as I passed through new places and it taught me that I needn’t be totally dependent on the Sat Nav after all – I can still read a map and actually get from a to b!

A few years ago I attended a funeral of a relatively young dad and we were all so moved by the words of his widow during the service.  She spoke, as it were, from the pulpit to her two daughters telling them that together they had come to an unexpected fork, or twist in the road.  From now on their journey wouldn’t be impossible but it would certainly be different – not the one they were expecting. Since then I’ve seen that family travel the road with exemplary courage and resourceful determination.

We all have moments when the road closes or diverts.  This autumn I’ll be taking a new road when I begin at Amersham Free Church as one of their ministers.  The church at Yeovil is already making plans for the next part of the journey on a new road.

The ‘God of The Journey’ is the ‘constant’ through all of this – He travels with the one who goes and stays alongside those who linger behind. 

New roads await us all in the pilgrimage of faith – God grant that we journey well.

With best wishes,

 
Ian

Thursday, 6 September 2012

In Private but not in Public?


The schools have returned for the autumn term and for the first time in many weeks our house is silent!  The weather, rather predictably, has also changed and now term has started the sun has come out and it’s a perfect late summer’s day.

The media has been full of it this week – the ruling made in Strasbourg failing to uphold an appeal brought by four Christians who claimed professional discrimination against them on the basis of their faith.  Two of them had been told they couldn’t wear a Christian cross, one ordered that she must officiate as a registrar at a same-sex marriage and the other told he should have offered  counselling to a homosexual partnership.

These folk believed (along with Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury) that many of their human rights had been denied them.  The European Court took a different view and concluded that such rights were applicable in their private but not professional lives.  That means registrars have to officiate at any ceremony sanctioned by the state whether or not they believe it to be morally appropriate and an employed counsellor is contracted to offer support to  those accepted by his firm regardless of his personal view of their situation.  It also means all employees have to abide by the uniform policy of their company  – interestingly British Airways has now relaxed its policy to allow small items of faith such as crosses to be worn.

Can we understand the ruling and or do we join the chorus of siren voices objecting to it?

It’s a tough one.  I more readily understand that a registrar has no option but to officiate for any couple legally entitled to a ceremony than I do to the rather pedantic position of companies raising objections against employees wearing ‘small’ crosses, or any other faith symbols for that matter; for our arguments need to be in support of religious freedom not just for Christianity but all faiths.

The law is often cumbersome and compromised by rather surprising interpretations – often at great expense.

Until the conversion of Constantine Christians nearly always found themselves on the wrong side of both the law and public opinion.  They met at sunrise on Sundays so they could worship before going off to work – the concept of two days off for the weekend was not yet invented!  They were also considered to be cannibals because the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ believed they literally ate Christ’s body and drank his blood at the special meal they called The Lord’s Supper.

It seems to me ( as one who regularly wears a religious symbol in the street, namely  my clerical collar, and when I do so youngsters often shout rather cheeky things from across the road!) that our ‘salt and light’ ministry is much more than the symbols we wear or what we ‘object’ to .  It’s about bringing our whole personality, character and convictions to both our professional and private lives.  I’ve no doubt that through the conversations we have folk around us will learn of our faith and look out for it being put into action.  For no law can stop anyone from being kind, patient, loving, faithful or reliable – can it?

With best wishes,

 Ian

Friday, 31 August 2012

Strengths and Weaknesses


With the jet-lag gradually fading perhaps I can manage to put some words in the correct order and make an attempt at a coherent blog.

It was great to be at Coffee Morning today and meet up with folks – many told me they were concerned about our homeward journey from The USA and its unfortunate coincidence with Hurricane Isaac.  Well the plane was half empty because folks simply couldn’t get to Miami airport for departure.  Fortunately, even though our flight from Tampa was delayed by over an hour, we made the connection at Miami with ten minutes to spare and took off on time.  Florida, as our taxi-driver to the airport said, has once again ‘dodged another bullet’, New Orleans suffered more but, I think, our prayers go out most of all to Haiti – a country still in the process of rebuilding which didn’t cope well with all that Isaac threw at it last weekend.

Like many I sat up and watched the opening ceremony of the Paralympics on Wednesday evening.  In the lead up programme on Channel Four I was so impressed by a survivor of the London 7th July bombings – a lady who had lost her legs – who was now part of the GB team for sitting down volleyball.  Her story, amongst thousands of others, was an inspiration.

During that rather long procession of athletes the Canadian commentator – a former paralympian himself – said something like: It’s our strengths and our WEAKNESSES that make us truly human.  I thought that was a worthy statement for such an occasion – indeed for any occasion.  Who couldn’t have failed to be moved by the touch-bearer serviceman, who had lost his legs on active duty, as he ‘flew’ into the stadium from the Orbit Tower showing such dignity, courage and resilience. 

The bible has a similar adage – it says God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.  So often in biblical narratives it wasn't the obvious gifts of people that God used but their faltering steps and uncertain actions. 

I sometimes use a prayer in worship that asks God to take the ‘strengths and weaknesses of our church’ and use them for his glory.  Praise God He does – and pray God He will continue to do so in the future.

With best wishes,

 

Ian

Monday, 27 August 2012

We survived!

We survived!

On Sunday afternoon Hurricane Isaac decided to turn left instead of right - it's now in the Gulf of Mexico - the bad news is it's heading for New Orleans and will probably land there on the anniversary date of Hurricane Katrina a few years ago.

As Pastor Carl Hansen said in church yesterday morning - someone's good news so often turn out to be bad news for someone else...so 'let us pray for them'.

The Greens are packed up and waiting for the taxi to the airport - Jonty wants to put the swimming pool in his suitcase!

Goodbye Florida and thank you for a wonderful three weeks!

Best wishes,

Ian

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Awaiting Hurricane Isaac


A sign which greeted us yesterday afternoon!
We have just one day left of this wonderful family holiday here in sun drenched Florida – or have we?As I write dawn is breaking here in North Port but just a few hundred miles south the Florida Keys is gearing up for the arrival of Hurricane Isaac later today – it then makes it way up the Gulf of Mexico and reaches us early tomorrow morning, the day we are meant to fly out of Tampa!

We have, as you can imagine, been watching the projected storm path of the hurricane since Wednesday. It looks as if Tampa – our nearest city and airport departure – will miss a 'head-on' encounter with Isaac but the rain, wind (even possible tornado) will characterise Monday's weather – so who knows if the plane will be able to leave or even if we'll be able to make it to the airport!

This afternoon a member of our exchange partner's family is due to come and put up the hurricane boards around the house – so we are beginning to have a new appreciation of the British climate!

Although this is hurricane season (a fact we obviously took on board when planning this trip) the truth is this is the first such storm here for five years – and we can't believe its arrival is timed so perfectly with the Green's departure!!

Well I never thought I'd be writing a blog about waiting for a hurricane but as we gather in church this morning I guess that will be on everyone's mind and in everyone's prayers. I suspect tomorrow will be a wild and windy day without fatalities – just the possible inconvenience of airport closures and rescheduled flights home.

There are days when we are called to be people who simply try to make the best of situations which develop around us – tomorrow looks like being such a day!

With best wishes,


Ian

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Shell seeking on Gasparilla Island

I'm writing this with the thunder and lightening of a sub-tropical downpour going on outside. It's been another scorcher of a day and to escape the humidity we drove over to Gasparilla Island – just half and hour away by car – and ended up on the glorious Boca Grande beach with its refreshing sea breezes for the afternoon. (Upon our return we read up on our location and discovered it means 'Big Mouth' in Spanish!)

Boca Grande was a magical place – made even more so by our unexpected sighting of a couple of dolphins swimming just a few metres in front of us. Bronzed Floridians were trying out the surf but our small family group ended up shell seeking. Each wave brought more and more highly coloured, exquisite shells onto the beach.

It struck me how wonderfully 'ordinary' it is to look for shells – whether here on the Gulf of Mexico or back home at West Bay on the coast of Dorset. Some of the best bits of life are the simplest – like looking for shells.

And all of that chimed in with a book I'm reading at the moment by Kevin Scully called Simple Gifts: Blessings in Disguise. I've been asked to review it for The Retreat Association so I tucked it into the suitcase as we left. The book is a real joy – not much in it is actually profound, but its message contains a profound truth: that simple gifts like 'hospitality' can bring some of the richest blessings in life – and offer us that 'wholeness' which is a feature of the Kingdom of God.

The simplest of activities can bring the deepest of joys – even spending an afternoon searching for shells.

With best wishes,

Ian

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Eucharist with Lutheran friends

With Pastor Carl Hanson after Morning Service
It's late Sunday afternoon here in Florida – the rains haven't come today, instead it's been a blue sky day with a temperature of 33 degrees and humidity at JUST 74%!

This morning we got in the car and drove off to Morning Service at Living Waters Lutheran Church here in North Port. I preached today and was gratified that the congregation laughed in the right places! It was super to be with them again and receive the warmth of their welcome and friendship. Matthew played the postlude at the end of the service and people were so encouraging to him.

After I preached we all went up as a family to receive communion. Pastor Carl was officiating in his usual gracious way. I couldn't help but sense all of this was very special. Here we are almost four thousand miles from home in a totally new environment (sub-tropical) with folks from a different tradition (Lutheran) – and yet...there was such a sense of togetherness as we ate bread and drank wine together – this was 'the family' at worship, bound together in the Lord Jesus Christ. I confess, with no shame, that my eyes were moist as I received the elements – there are times when it feels such a privilege to belong to the body of Christ and this morning was just such an occasion.

Thanks be to God!

Ian


Florida Keys and The Everglades

Rachel's alligator!
In the Wilderness Waterway on Chokoloskee Bay, The Everglades

This afternoon we returned home from a week long trip covering almost seven hundred miles (on near deserted roads) down to the Florida Keys and back via the Everglades – it's been the 'big trip' of our exchange and has been a real joy.

Perhaps the two highlights were the trips out from Key West to a coral reef where all four of us went snorkelling in the warmest possible sea – surrounded, I may say, by many jelly fish! - and the boat journey yesterday afternoon in the Everglades as we meandered along the Wilderness Waterway of Chokoloskee Bay. We saw manatees pushing their snouts above the waterline, ringed kingfishers darting from the mangroves whilst ospreys sat majestically on dead trees as kings of all they surveyed – and then there were two 'up close and personal' encounters with alligators by the water's edge – our twenty one year old pilot had the eternal optimism of youth on his side as he made us linger a little longer than I felt comfortable alongside these fine creatures! However, we made it back in one piece with all our limbs in tact – the only trophy we brought home was Rachel's photo of the alligator perched in the water.

It's just been fascinating to listen to so many rangers on these tours as they have talked to us about the fragile ecosystem of the Keys and Everglades. One thing we learnt was just how catastrophic has been the release of pet Burmese Pythons into the swamp areas. These snakes are not indigenous yet they have thrived in the Everglades so much that they now threaten even the alligators. As we sing All Things Bright and Beautiful this Harvest my mind will recall these rangers' talks and their appeal to us to try to understand our natural world a little better.

We have seen such a variety of life this week: there was a moment when we got lost on the outskirts of Miami and I could see the city sky scrapers ahead, the flat bottomed boat trip from Key Largo to a coral reef, the hour at the Turtle Rescue Centre, the bohemian atmosphere of Key West and listening to a soul singer at the end of the pier as we watched the sunset, the swim in the Gulf of Mexico and then looking an alligator in the eye!

It's good to be back at Dell and Diane's beautiful home – the fridge has been restocked after a visit to the wonderful Walmart store this afternoon – the boys are in the pool and I'm just about to go through the sermon I'm preaching at Living Waters Lutheran Church here in North Port tomorrow.
Good night from Florida!

With best wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A different kind of South Street

'South Street' signage in Key West , Florida - directly opposite our hotel
Walking back to our hotel this afternoon I realised it was located on South Street here in Key West – it's a very different road to the one the church is on back in Yeovil!

We are in our second week holidaying in the sun drenched State of Florida and this week we have driven 240 miles south to the Florida Keys ending up here in bohemian Key West – probably not at all the kind of place a Baptist Minister ought to take his family to!

Key West became the adopted home of Ernest Hemingway – we passed his house this morning. It has a huge Cuban population and that might explain why there is a cigar shop on every block and why every other voice we hear is speaking Spanish! This is a place surrounded by a coral sea, the southern most point of the United States and a mecca for holiday makers and street theatre performers – Jonty thinks it is wonderful and wouldn't mind doing a gap year here!

This year's trip to the United States couldn't feel more different to cosmopolitan Washington last year. Every day we have woken to sunshine and the temperature rarely falls below 28 degrees celsius even at night – I needn't have packed a sweater!

Watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics was fun because we saw it through American eyes – that said the NBC coverage was extremely positive about the success of us Brits and devoted a full segment of Sunday night to showing some of our successes and playing God Save The Queen!

One of the highlights so far was Sunday morning worship at Living Waters Lutheran Church. The liturgy was straightforward low church Anglican in style – all projected onto the wall which was really helpful. The interim pastor (who is leading the church during Dell's Sabbatical) is The Revd Dr Carl Hanson, and we had lunch with him and Betty, his wife, the day before. Carl led the service with such grace and preached with such integrity – I loved it and it was a real privilege to share fellowship with such a wonderfully friendly bunch of people.

So we're half-way through – the sun is out and the air-con is on – and even after travelling over three thousand miles – we're still in South Street!

With best wishes,

Ian



Thursday, 9 August 2012

Welcome to America - can I help you?

This is our second full day in the United States this summer and my mind is still sifting through those first impressions which make a fascinating assault upon your senses whenever we encounter somewhere new. We were here last year, further up, in Virginia just on the outskirts of Washington; yet Florida feels like an altogether different place.

We landed at Tampa airport in a thunder storm and the lightening (our taxi-driver said it was the worse he'd seen for sixteen years!) meant our bags stayed stubbornly on the plane for a further two hours and that meant our rendezvous with the taxi was considerably behind schedule . None of this seemed to trouble the driver who met us with the board saying 'Greens', instead his greeting was remarkably up-beat: 'great that you're here now – let's go!'

During the next hour and half I sat in the front seat (right hand side), and whilst those behind me fell asleep after the long flight, I was engaged in conversation! He told me that the forthcoming Presidential election in The Fall was too close to call – Obama, he said. campaigned last time on the theme of 'change' and there hadn't been any! He also told us that on the day we leave from Tampa the Republican Convention starts in the city – 'it will be packed' he said .

The next impression was arriving in the stunningly beautiful home of Dell and Diane, our exchange partners. I feel somewhat that we have swapped a cottage for a palace! My only hope is that the Shiell's will find both their accommodation and surroundings 'quaint'.

Initial impression number three: well that would be the fun of watching the Olympic Games on American telly – no Jess Ennis bias here! The other thing that's missing is the official (and in my opinion rather wacky) London logo on any of the programmes or newspapers here – instead every publication and TV station have made up their own.

I'm only too well aware that any initial impression needs constant revision as time goes by. However, I think my first one will linger a while. It occurred within seconds of us leaving the baggage pick-up area. In a flash we were through the doors and the huge, confusing concourse of the terminal building at Tampa airport was before us. We were already late for our taxi and tired from the journey. Then this little (and he looked passed retirement age) man stopped me – he had an official badge on his lapel – and said: 'Welcome to America – may I help you?' What a relief – what a joy! Hundred of signs were up – but none of them were as helpful and encouraging as this man. He knew exactly where the taxi would be waiting. Forty-five seconds after this encounter we were greeting our friendly driver.

In all walks of life, including the church, we can print as many notices as we like, pass on as many instruction leaflets or books as we have – yet nothing beats one human being speaking to another. In fact didn't someone once describe evangelism as 'one beggar telling another where to find bread'.

With best wishes from a sunny (perhaps I shouldn't have said that!) Florida.

Ian


Friday, 3 August 2012

On our way to the Olympics...!

Well it’s not every week that I can give the blog such a splendid title!  However, today I can because we’ve just returned from an exhausting, yet never to be forgotten, experience of attending the Olympics Games.  We entered the ballot and to our great surprise got tickets for the first morning of track and field in the stadium.  The sun shone, we got to our seats on time even though the Circle Line collapsed on us, and I cannot describe the sheer volume of noise that went round in support of Jessica Ennis – the crowd was completely partisan!

Two things struck me on the Tube as we made our way to Olympic Park.  The first was being offered a seat by a young man who obviously thought I looked old and frail!  The second was an advert by British Airways encouraging people not the fly – but stay home, sing the anthem and support Team GB.  I’ve never ever seen an advertisement discouraging customers from using a firm’s services before!

Both incidents spoke of a certain generosity of spirit.  I was touched to be offered a seat (amused that the same thing happened to Rachel on the way home – and she graciously refused!)  I was also impressed that BA is advocating the idea of ‘support’ so strongly.

Such altruism is a theme that is also regularly encountered in Christian Spirituality.  The essence of putting others first is central to the story we call The Good Samaritan.  Paul alludes to it with his appeal for us to ‘carry one another’s burdens’.  And the hymn writer surely had such selflessness in mind when he penned that line: I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear.

Our humanity and discipleship reach ‘gold’ when it can be said of us, as it was of Barnabas in The Early Church, that we are sons and daughters of encouragement.

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Jessie Owens and Luz Long

I guess like every minister I constantly find  that more people talk to me after the service about the ‘Children’s Talk’ than the sermon!  We sometimes hear God speaking to us in the simpler thing.

Well this week I’ve been preparing a number of talks for next week’s Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade Camp at Corfe Castle and inevitably they’ve had an Olympic theme.  One talk has got to me – so I hope it makes a similar impression on the youngsters as they hear it stood around the flagpole in a Dorset field next week! It isn’t exactly a simple story because it contains some of the most complex issues any society has to cope with – namely those connected with racism.

It’s about the remarkable friendship which grew between the black American athlete Jessie Owens and his long-jump competitor, the German Luz Long during the Berlin Games of 1936. 

Hitler wanted to prove Aryan supremacy but that didn’t stop Luz Long giving Jessie Owens a tip about starting his jump six inches back so he didn’t foul.  That one piece of advice probably cost Long the gold medal because even though he broke the Olympic record on his jump, Owens followed with the jump of his life at over 26 feet and beat Luz. 

The first to congratulate Owens was Luz Long – the friendship these two men had built up during the games went deep and to show just how deep the next thing Long did was stunning.  He took Owens by the hand and led him – the man who had just robbed him of the title – over to the German crowd and held up Owens’ arm in victory.  To Hitler’s intense annoyance the crowd, egged on by Luz Long, started chanting Owens, Owens, Owens!

It must rank as one of the greatest Olympic moments of all time – a testament to true friendship and respect at a time when the menace of Nazi prejudice was growing by the month

Tomorrow the 2012 Games start – and sometime over the weekend – in a field by the south coast - I’ll have the privilege of telling this story from 1936 – a story about values and ideals for any year and for every person.

Best wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Expressing our thanks


The sun came out last Sunday!  Physically it was a delight to see blue skies, at least by mid-afternoon, and enjoy a warm evening.  Spiritually there was a different sort of brightness being spread – in the form of the Junior Church ‘Promotion’ section of morning worship and the afternoon social gathering we shared at East Coker village hall.

I still have some, actually when I think about it I have most, of my Sunday School prize books on the study shelves!  Last Sunday we distributed this year’s crop of books to the young people of South Street.  During the service each group was called to the front and individuals received their goodies followed by a prayer for the whole ‘class’ offered by their specific leader.  There was just something very touching about this opportunity to say ‘well-done’ to the youngsters.  The essence of these prizes is that they are not really won as no exam has been passed, instead they are ‘given’ – with love and goodwill – a sort of ‘thank-you’ expressing our gratitude that these young people are part of our church community.

During that service we also showed our admiration for Karen and Pauline for all the effort they have put into Junior Church over the years – now they are stepping down from some of their responsibilities we wish them well.

The day continued as many of us travelled over to East Coker and spent the afternoon together – one of the very best church events of the year.  Games and barn-dancing were the order of the day before a shared tea and all of this was followed by Family Communion.  The Eucharist is another occasion of ‘thanksgiving’ – we express our gratitude for the grace of God expressed through Christ, and we also, I think, express our love for each other as fellow pilgrims – nothing seems to bind us together more than receiving bread and wine.  Perhaps that was even more evident last Sunday afternoon as we departed from our ‘normal’ administration routine and offered the elements from the front, alongside a blessing for children.

As the rest of us drove back home the members of our Solid Rock youth group and their leaders ended their day by walking back into Yeovil together – for another meal, this time of a Chinese flavour!

A great day of supportive fellowship with a real inter-generational mix.  A day when we expressed our thanks and offered our encouragement.  A day when it felt a real privilege and joy to belong to this body we call ‘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...