Thursday, 28 June 2012

Racing through Acts

Last week our Theology Group at church finished a four week mini-series for this Pentecost season focusing on The Acts of The Apostles.  As we raced through these twenty eight chapters it was something of a whistle stop tour – and that became a feature we valued.  Instead of lingering over specific stories we saw how they fitted into the context of this early, and often turbulent period of church history.  A fortnight ago we even covered the entire three missionary journeys of St Paul in one session – some felt they needed to take the afternoon off afterwards!

Many things struck us as we travelled with the apostles through Acts.  It all begins with the starting gun of Pentecost and from Jerusalem the activity of The Spirit widens out further and further – finishing at the end with Paul ministering, under house arrest, in Imperial Rome.  Along the way we encounter theological debate and the setting of ‘rules’, characters who inspire us such as Barnabas and personality conflicts that sadden us – such as between Paul and Mark, preaching the gospel in synagogue and Roman living rooms, and countless snap shots of the embryonic church.

I was struck by the depth of ‘relationship’ Paul builds with local Christians.  The Ephesian Elders wave him off with hugs and tears as he boards ship and sails away – in some places he passes through whilst in others he puts down roots for up to three years - the Roman Christians come out en masse to meet him as he arrives in town under armed guard. 

It’s all about people, relationship, and the community The Spirit builds.  From day one until now the church has been a wonderfully diverse, difficult and thrilling body of Christ. 

I love the piece of artwork alongside this blog – reminding us that the Church is essentially a group of believers – people – gathered round Christ.

That sense of relationship came home to Rachel and me last Sunday when so many at South Street greeted us with generous good wishes upon hearing news of my appointment to Amersham.  It would be an understatement to say how much we appreciated the grace and love behind these words – contained in the conversations we had and emails we have unexpectedly received.  It has reminded us once again that it is a real privilege to belong to the Body of Christ.

With best wishes,


Ian 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Amersham


Amersham Free Church
It’s been quite a week in our house.  Last weekend we travelled up to Amersham where I ‘preached with a view’.  We were received with great kindness.  After I preached we joined the congregation for a light lunch before a Question and Answer session in the church hall.  Two days later, on Tuesday evening, I was telephoned with the news that the Church Meeting has invited me to become the next minister of Amersham Free Church (Baptist/URC) – an invitation I have gratefully accepted.

Of course a beginning in one place means a period of service in another is now coming to a close.  I was honoured to be ‘called’ by Yeovil in 2006, starting in March 2007, and it has remained an honour and privilege to be minister of South Street and Lockwood Court.  Perhaps these last years will be seen as something of a ‘transitional’ ministry – I hope, in time, that folk will look back on them as a moment when we wrote a new chapter in the long story of Yeovil Baptist Church.  My prayer is that a new pastor, with different gifts to me, will eventually be able to minister here in a way that brings God’s blessing.

Not that the decisions taken this week will come into force immediately.  I guess it won’t be until middle to late autumn until I take up my new post – until then my energies will be taken up here helping to get things in place for the Pastoral Vacancy.

Discerning God’s will and direction is no easier for ministers than anyone else.  We have stirrings in our hearts and conversations with trusted mentors and friends.  Bit by bit we inch forward and try doors.  The journey has led me from Yeovil towards Amersham – and I believe God has been in it step by step.

One of my favourite stories is of Lincoln saying goodbye to friends at his home town railway station as he made his way to Washington to take up office.  He said: The God who goes with me stays with you...  and I’m sure that will be the experience of friends at Yeovil Baptist Church as they begin a new chapter of their 357 year history this autumn.

With prayerful best wishes,

Ian


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Trinity Sunday 25 years ago...

It was Trinity Sunday on 14th June 1987 – why do I remember?  Well that evening in a small chapel in a Southampton suburb called Locks Heath I was ordained.  The day before I had left Spurgeon’s College, London – it had been Speech Day with lots of goodbyes.  The next day, Trinity Sunday, I was the first of my batch to take ordination vows – day one of being a Minister of Word and Sacrament. 

It was a sunny evening and before the service I remember we had strawberries and cream on the church lawn.  I was touched that so many family members – and college friends – attended the service.  I already knew I was going to Fuller Baptist Church, Kettering in the autumn and the Senior Minister from there, The Revd Donald MacKenzie, came down to Locks Heath for the service.  I just recall it as being a very special – I would even say ‘sacred’ moment – and one I’ve never forgotten or regretted.

Every church I have served since has been enriching and different – it’s been a privilege these twenty five years to be a minister – hard to convey how precious are those one to one encounters with folk or the joy of leading festival services such as Easter Morning.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – and it’s not over yet!

I’m very grateful to everyone at South Street who did so much to mark this anniversary last Sunday – it meant a great deal. The cake – pictured above - is now gone but was very delicious!

The words ‘minister’ or ‘deacon’ simply mean ‘servant’ – we are called to be servants of Christ and His Church. 

Yesterday, on a visit to the opticians, I was asked my occupation.  'Minister of Religion' I said . I never know what people will make of that answer!  However, I know what I make of it and to me it means a very great deal.

So 
I hope I never lose the sense of privilege this office holds – and I’m grateful to all those fellow pilgrims on 'The Way' with whom I’ve shared the journey so far.

With best wishes,
 
Ian

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stories

We have spent this grey, damp, soggy half-term holiday on the outskirts of London.  Our holiday destination was chosen deliberately to enable us to travel into the city and experience some of the Jubilee celebrations first hand.  So on Sunday, after attending morning service at Westminster Abbey, we stood next to Lambeth Bridge and cheered as the Royal Barge sailed passed.  On Tuesday we were less successful.  The Mall had been closed a full two hours before we turned up because the crowd was so large.  Consequently we saw nothing except the fly-past!  It was an ‘interesting’ experience to actually be there yet have to wait until we got home to see it on the telly!  We were, in a way, part of the story of the day because we made up part of that 1.2 million strong crowd – yet, in reality, we were barely spectators.

Later in the week we spent a fantastic afternoon at The Harry Potter Studio Tour.  Once again there were crowds yet this time our tickets guaranteed that we would see what was on offer.  So we walked through the Great Hall, peered into Hagrid’s Hut and drank Harry, Ron and Hermione’s favourite tipple of ‘butter-bear’!

In the final exhibit, a splendid scale model of Hogwarts, I overheard a teenager exclaim in wistful tones: ‘Ah, it brings back so many memories’.  This prompted some unspoken questions on my part.  Did they actually go to this school of witchcraft and wizardry and share a dorm with Harry Potter?  Of course not!  I think the misty-eyed teenager was simply recalling the time they saw the film or read the book.  They were re-living the story and it felt to them, I suspect, that they were part of it.  Perhaps that’s a true mark of success for any fiction writer – to draw you into the narrative so much that you actually believe you’ve been to a place called Narnia, Hogwarts or Casterbridge.

So this week has got me thinking about stories.  In the Jubilee we struggled to even get a view – in a way we didn’t quite make it into that story.  As for Harry Potter – as the tour finished and we stepped back into a damp June half-term we realised that we had to leave the story behind.  However inspirational and enjoyable we found it – it was after all nothing more than a wonder-filled work of fiction.

What then do we believe about another story – that of Jesus Christ?  Can his story become ours?  Can we get involved or do we feel excluded at the back unable to participate?  Is it simply a work of fiction or does it touch our every-day lives?

I believe that anyone can be part of the continuing story of The Church and that we can all have a personal faith-narrative.  And in this story we are never spectators but participants, eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

With best wishes,

Ian

Who is up there?!

We were in Lisbon over half term and enjoyed glorious sunny days throughout our visit. The city has many squares, almost all with statue...