Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Archbishop views a decade

This week, in a newspaper article, the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on the changes he felt had taken place in Britain since the last Jubilee in 2002.  His tone, as always, was measured and thoughtful.  His conclusion, which we may or may not share, is that we have become a more anxious and confrontational people since the economic downturn. 

Rowan Williams is a man usually given to writing in long sentences!  Yet his prayer for us as a nation was summed up in one word in the article: that we might become more ‘generous’ in the way we treat each other. 

Well it rang a bell with me.  Generosity of spirit improves, and can even redeem, any relationship.  In family, community and church life it’s great to encounter generous people who give willingly of themselves, act as encouragers, believe the best and think of the whole rather than simply protect their vested interest. 

So I think the Archbishop made a perceptive and timely critique – I know I could do with being a more generous person at times.  Indeed I have a sneaky suspicion that when I have deliberately adopted such a frame of mind good things have unexpectedly happened – the Spirit at work I think.

Well this coming weekend is an opportunity for us to be generous in our appreciation of The Queen – so perhaps a good way of ending this blog is to print the special prayer commissioned by St Paul’s Cathedral to mark this truly significant moment in our country’s life:

God of time and eternity,
whose Son reigns as servant, not master;
we give you thanks and praise
that you have blessed this Nation, the Realms and Territories
with Elizabeth
our beloved and glorious Queen.
In this year of Jubilee,
grant her your gifts of love and joy and peace
as she continues in faithful obedience to you, her Lord and God
and in devoted service to her lands and peoples,
and those of the Commonwealth,
now and all the days of her life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

With best wishes,

Ian
ps – On Thursday we have an important Church Members Meeting to discuss a way forward with the Constitution and then on Sunday The Revd Elsie Howell will be leading morning worship.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Go-Between God

The other day I was reading a book on the train – as you do – and got so enthralled and inspired by its contents that I almost got to the point of shouting out ‘hallelujah’!  However, I kept myself under control and internalised this unexpected enthusiasm.  Perhaps that was a mistake – it would have been interesting to see how my fellow passengers coped with a shout of ‘hallelujah’ on the 8.20 just past Salisbury!

The book I got so excited about is a theological classic from the seventies, written by a former Bishop of Winchester, John V. Taylor all about the ministry of The Holy Spirit called ‘The Go-Between God’.  It was given to me by a retired friend, colleague and mentor; and it was a delight to find a Home Mission promotional bookmark (dated 1972 – the year of the book’s publication) tucked between its pages.

Bishop Taylor’s view is that every encounter and conversation, if touched by the Holy Spirit, can become a sacred moment.  It’s as if there’s me and you and this gap, this space between us, and if the gap is filled by the ‘Go-Between’ God, the Holy Spirit, then our meeting is utterly transformed from just a mundane encounter and becomes, instead, a precious moment touched by God.

He puts it like this: Every time I am given this unexpected awareness towards some other creature and feel this current of communication between us, I am touched and activated by something that comes from the fiery heart of divine love...The Holy Spirit is the invisible third party who stands between me and the other, making us mutually aware.

The Bishop goes on to say that it is significant that in the words of The Grace we don’t say the ‘power’ of The Holy Spirit as might be expected but the ‘fellowship’.  In other words God’s Spirit comes amongst us to create community – potentially filling the gaps between us with divine love.

So as we come to Whit Sunday this weekend how do we ground all this theology?

Well I do it by just thinking back over the last fortnight and remembering some of my own encounters in which I really do believe the Holy Spirit has been the ‘third-party’. 

There was last Sunday evening when a group of us went over to Montacute Baptist Church to help with their 188th Church Anniversary.  What do I remember?  Acoustically it is a super church in which to sing.  And then there was that lovely moment when the offering was announced and the steward simply couldn’t find the offering bag wherever he looked!  Yet most of all I remember the conversations with the Montacute pastor and church members, their love and appreciation, the warmth of their fellowship and instant sense of being ‘family’ together.  The Go-Between God had blessed us.

Or how about those Listening Groups at last week’s Retreat Association Conference.  Once a day about we were put into a group of about ten to reflect on our time together.  Scary stuff off-loading to complete strangers.  Yet by day four we had shared some precious moments – gone ‘deep’ you might say – and strangers had become friends.  The Go-Between God had blessed us.

And then there is the regular Friday Coffee morning at church that I often pop into.  It all looks so ordinary.  Yet as I look closer – especially as I see some of our helpers deliberately sit at tables with a solitary coffee drinker and offer friendly conversation and a listening ear – I begin to see something different.  Space is being made and in that ‘gap’ the Holy Spirit is at work making that casual encounter one where the love and presence of Christ is experienced.  It’s exciting, isn’t it, how gentle and ‘ordinary’ Christian mission can be – just making space for the Holy Spirit’s touch of love. It’s the Go-Between God blessing us.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost on Sunday I, for one, will say with added conviction:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The love of God and
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all evermore.

With best wishes,



Ian

Friday, 18 May 2012

Back from Derbyshire


Welcome to my 200th blog!

Yesterday I returned home from Derbyshire after a four day stay at The Hayes in Swanwick for the four yearly Retreat Association Conference.

It was a great time, shared by no less than three hundred and fifty of us. It was also possibly the best expression of ecumenical community that I’ve ever experienced.  Our badges simply stated our names and not whether we were from the Baptist, Anglican, URC, Methodist or Catholic retreat groups which make up The Retreat Association.  No denominational drums were being beaten; instead there was an almost tangible atmosphere of mutual respect and companionable journeying.

Over these last four days we listened to the main session speaker, none more thought provoking than Graham Sparkes on what God can teach us during ‘desert times’ in our walk with God.  We were led in worship by the irrepressible Graham Maule from The Iona Community and we attended a huge variety of small and stimulating workshops.  Yet maybe the best part was the meal table conversations – I had so many!  It was a pure delight to talk with third order Franciscans, Diocesan Spirituality Advisors, Brother Christopher from Ampleforth Abbey, Retreat House wardens and many folk from the Baptist Union Retreat Group.  I loved all these exchanges – however, breakfast was a little hard going on Wednesday sitting next to a retired high-church Anglican complaining about the changes to the prayer book – there’s only so much of church politics I can take over the cornflakes at 8.30am!

I came home last night grateful to have shared these last few days with such sincere people.  It all felt so different to the many ministerial conferences I’ve attended when a certain game of ‘one up-man-ship’ has been played out with questions like: how big is your church and how many baptisms did you have last year being asked over the coffee cups.  There was nothing like that this week.  Instead I sensed the gentle presence of God’s Spirit among us – a real pleasure in meeting new people and immediately feeling you were spending time with sisters and brothers in Christ.

So I thank God for The Retreat Association and the small part the Baptist Union Retreat Group plays in its life – and I thank God for meeting so many fellow pilgrims in Derbyshire this week.

With best wishes,


Ian

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Facilitating Queues!


Oh dear – I feel I’m turning into something of a ‘Victor Meldrew’ at times!  One occasion was last week whilst doing the drying up in the kitchen.  I was tuned in to the Radio 4 news and heard a report about the ‘test-drive’ held that day at the Olympic Park.  Apparently the public had been ‘let in’ and the big story to emerge was that, on average, it took about twenty minutes to queue for each event.  Much earnest discussion about this ‘dire’ situation took place on the radio until the interviewer asked the lady from the Olympic Authority for a final word and her big parting shot was: rest assured we will do all we can to ‘facilitate’ these queues.  At which point, in true Meldrew fashion, I cried out ‘I don’t believe it’!

What, I wonder, does it actually mean to ‘facilitate’ a queue? Answers on a postcard....

Using language sensitively, even correctly, is a constant challenge – partly because it is always evolving.  ‘Wicked’ now means ‘good’ and ‘cool’ means ‘hot’! 

We have a language of faith which, I guess, is sometimes difficult to understand if you haven’t been around a church ‘culture’ most of your life.  At other times we think everyone should understand what we say, only to discover what we’ve said isn't the same as what's been heard (ask any preacher!). 

So here are some words that I think we need to be clear about:

Church – a community of faith rather than a ‘club’.
Congregation – that’s all my local church brothers and sisters, not just the ones I would naturally and easily call my friends.
Service – a joyful offering of my time and talents to God – not a duty to be done just because my name is on the rota this week.
Worship – a way of life lived in thankfulness to a loving Saviour – much more than just an hour a week on a Sunday morning.
Diaconate – a group of servants rather than a management committee.
Church Meeting – a time to gather and discern the mind of Christ not just a moment to ‘have my say’.

I know words are sometimes open to all sorts of definition and usage – language is never easy.  We discovered that at the evening service last week as we discussed those last two characteristics of The Fruit of The Spirit: gentleness and self-control. Yet, our use of words is important because it goes a long way in defining our identity and communicating our core values.

So, in August as the Green family queues up at the Olympic Stadium for the first morning of the athletics, I look forward to being ‘facilitated’!

With best wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What did the Queen say to the Mayor....?

Sounds a bit like the opening line of a joke!  Actually the two have come together in my mind because of the events of these last twenty-four hours.

Yesterday evening I attended our town’s Mayor Making – held in The Sanctuary of our own church at South Street.  This prestigious event followed on from the Town Council AGM – this was a good meeting but I have to confess I smiled somewhat as we received the report from The Bus Shelter Sub-Committee (miss one meeting and then three come along at once!)

I shouldn’t jest because every report delivered last night had its rightful place in our community’s life and every committee has striven to enhance the life of our town.  I was proud that our church played ‘host’ to yesterday evening’s proceedings.


It’s easy to be cynical about ‘committee’ work – in churches I’ve known people avoid them like the plague!  Yet...it’s often when we come together as a group, as we discuss and tackle issues as a group, that we gain a much clearer and deeper perspective than when we approach these issues simply by ourselves.  That’s the genius of the principle of ‘Congregational Government’ in a church like ours – based on New Testament passages describing the disciples coming together as a group and only then making decisions under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – even the godly go-ahead maverick St Paul needed to consult with the Council of Jerusalem before embarking on his missionary journeys.

For me the high point of yesterday evening was the farewell to the outgoing mayor, Phil Chandler – a man for whom I have great respect (and who selected four of our GB and BB members to be his cadets – they gave back their sashes last evening!) – and then the installation of Clive Davis as our new mayor.  Clive’s wife, Sally, is well-known to many of us because she is a member of our Monday afternoon Women’s Group, and Clive himself attends our coffee mornings on most Fridays.  Let’s pray for Clive and Sally that they will have a terrific year as Mayor and Mayoress.

And then there was the Queen!  What a thing for Clive to be made mayor on Tuesday and welcome the Queen to town on Wednesday – I hope he doesn’t feel it’s all downhill from now on.

Along with Prince Philip the Queen visited the Diamond Jubilee Fayre at Nine Springs Country Park today – just down the road from our church.  The rain held off, school children lined the roads waving their flags and inside the Royal Enclosure members of our Boys’ Brigade helped make up the Guard of Honour – some are just visible behind Her Majesty in the above photograph. Well – I think many people will remember today for a very long time and it’s great that our BB played their part – so ‘well done’ lads for looking so smart and well turned out!

So – what did the Queen say to the Mayor?  Well – perhaps that’s between Clive and the monarch!  May God bless them both in their service – the Queen in her sixtieth year and Clive in his first.

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...