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

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