Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Tuesday Church


LunchBreak in June at AFC
I love Tuesdays at Amersham Free Church because it is such a busy yet vibrant day in our community’s life – and yesterday was no different.

Around mid-day people start to gather for LunchBreak.  Every week we welcome up to ninety people to the church hall for a snack lunch.  Recently our gatherings have been enhanced by groups from local homes for mentally handicapped people attending.  We demand nothing of our guests at LunchBreak – they sign up to no creedal statement!  Tuesday lunchtime is just the way our church seeks to offer a ministry of hospitality and welcome.  Then at 1.10pm every week the second and optional part of LunchBreak is a talk or recital held in the Sanctuary of AFC. Later in the afternoon a different team then takes over the kitchen and sets out a delicious array of home- made cakes for ‘Tea at Three’.  So it’s possible to spend almost all of Tuesday at church eating – and I frequently do!

Yesterday, however, also saw two additional events and in a way they couldn’t have been more different – and yet both are vital to our life together. Let me explain:

In the afternoon we held our bi-monthly Book Reading Circle.  A small group of us discussed Bishop John Robinson’s ‘classic’ tome Honest to God. Fifty years ago the publication of this small book caused an ecclesiastical storm.  Many believed Robinson was undermining the essential orthodoxy of Christianity.  Yesterday’s group was far more sympathetic to the book and appreciated its honesty in asking questions about God, religion, faith and language which seemed to us to be as relevant today as in 1963.  Indeed we concluded that there needs to be space in every church for seekers after truth to have the un-pressurised opportunity to explore with others what faith In God might look like. My former church in Somerset tried to do this at a weekly Thursday lunchtime Theology Group and yesterday’s Reading Circle is a similar event here in Amersham.

The day concluded yesterday with yet another expression of our life together – our Church Meeting – what a busy day!  It was so encouraging to have the church hall full, even on such a hot and humid evening, as we came together and made important decisions about the next stage of our premises ‘upgrade’ and organ ‘refurbishment’.  I came away thrilled to be part of a church which could debate such issues with generous hearted courtesy and be served so well by people behind the scenes who had prepared  excellent briefing papers upon which we could base our discussions.

Yesterday was a good day!  Of course in our weekly rhythm of worship and work Sunday is a special, perhaps unique, day – but I reckon ‘Tuesday Church’ comes a close second!

With best wishes,

 
Ian

Thursday, 18 July 2013

House to Home



Moving out of the Yeovil manse
This week, amid sweltering summer temperatures more common to Florida than the London Home Counties, the Green family (minus one son on holiday in Crete!) finally moved into the Amersham Free Church Manse.

I’ve been in the house, ‘commuting’ from Somerset to Buckinghamshire, for nine months.  During that time I occupied just a couple of rooms – now it’s all changed!!  Even amid the welcome chaos of this move already the house has started to feel more like home and I no longer feel I’m just ‘staying’ but ‘living’ here.  I suppose the extra furniture has made a difference but, of course, the greatest transformation is just the fact that as a family we are back together again.  It seems to me that the best bits of family life are: the mid-morning cup of coffee together, telling each other what we’ll be up to this afternoon and pulling one another’s leg around the dinner table in the evening. 

Perhaps the last nine months has made me see my own family’s life differently – it has become something I’ve valued more.  I am acutely aware, however, that through bereavement, separation, or simply the way life works out not everyone can become ‘reunited’ in this way.  The way we ‘look out’ for each other in our church communities, the support we offer and interest we show, is a vitally important expression of our Christian faith.

Jesus never advocated in any way that fulfilment in life can only and exclusively be found with a partner and 2.4 children.  Yet I think almost everything he did advocate was about the value of ‘community’ in all its many guises and expressions.  It seems he found such a sense of deep belonging in the companionship of his disciple friends, the intriguing hospitality of Mary, Martha and Lazarus at Bethany and the constant encouragement of his mother Mary. 

Moving into the Amersham manse
So today, as the sun beats down and I brace myself for unpacking yet a few more boxes, I give thanks for the communities that enrich my life: my family, the church at South Street, Yeovil who said ‘farewell’ to Rachel and the boys on Sunday in such an encouraging way, the church here in Amersham who have showered us this week with cards, casseroles, flowers and even champagne!

For the gift of ‘community’ – thanks be to God.

 

Ian

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

When good news is no news


Well yesterday the Church of England Synod did something very significant – they passed that Measure, which they so spectacularly failed to do last November, enabling further steps to be taken now which will eventually see the consecration of women as bishops.  Good for them – actually I believe, good for all of us!

Yet I just observe this – back in November when this felt like really bad news the BBC led every bulletin with it; yesterday when it became transformed into a good news story it was relegated to the tenth item on the BBC news website!  What is that all about?

It reflects a conversation which the Today Programme’s guest editor, the Birmingham poet Benjamin Zephaniah, had with John Humphreys last year.  For one day Zephaniah wanted a more balanced programme in which good news was broadcast alongside the bad.  He dared to ask the question of why that isn’t official policy - only to be told by Humphreys that the public wouldn’t tolerate it! Well I would!

Of course I’m not suggesting we ought to return to the days of the Pathe newsreel when even the most disastrous events were accompanied by upbeat marching music.  But, I suggest, we have lost a sense of proportion – even reality – in the way we represent the world on news programmes.  In truth the world is not as habitually bad or as continually in crisis as the news makes out.  Yet good news stories are deliberately buried or cynically ignored by news editors in favour of a bleaker view of the world.  Hence the relegation of yesterday’s Synod vote to item number ten.

Monday’s newspapers quite rightly threw everything at Andy Murray’s brilliant Wimbledon victory.  I called into our local corner shop and smiled as I saw his picture on every front page – hugging that trophy as if he never ever wanted to put it down!  But why limit a good news story on the front page exclusively to a sporting victory – and probably later this week a royal birth?  There’s so much more in our society that is equally worth celebrating.

St Paul put it this way, ‘Whatever is true, honourable and of good report – think on these things’.

With best wishes,

 Ian

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Promises! Promises!


Last week Girl Guiding caused something of a storm with news that their updated promise has left God out and instead inserted such phrases as to be ‘true to myself’ and ‘to develop my beliefs’.

Now all of this coincided, somewhat ironically, with my first Parade Service at Amersham Free Church last Sunday at which we welcomed ‘our’ Rainbows, Brownies and Guides!

The stuff of vows, promises or mottos can go deep.  I still remember my school one of ‘Only my best will do’.  It’s as if it’s chiselled upon my heart!

Actually my heart goes out to organisations like the Guides.  It’s tough keeping up with youth culture and knowing how to work with it, alongside it or, at times, deliberately yet constructively against it. And language is part of that problem.  You don’t need a degree in anthropology to realise that the majority of people in Britain, let alone young people, simply do not sign up for an understanding of ‘God’ we in the church are used to.  There’s a debate to be had there – and perhaps a new language needs to be learnt on both sides.

Angela Tilby, one of my favourite contributors to The Church Times, seemed quite miffed with the Guides in her column last week.  She went as far as saying, ‘Being true to myself is the kind of mindless aspiration that we expect to hear on Britain’s Got Talent...’  I fear the Oxford Canon has just alienated herself from two quite important sections of modern society in that one statement!

Another troubled Vicar sent a letter into last week’s paper suggesting that now the Guides no longer make a promise to serve God they ought to be evicted from church halls across the country.

Well I’m not sure.  I know from experience that even Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade Companies – who are far more explicit about their Christian foundations – find it hard to commission leaders who can role-model a vibrant faith.  So, in some ways, I feel this new Girl Guiding promise is at least an honest statement of where they are.  It’s not where I would like them to be – but that’s another matter.

My response – and I hope we did this on Sunday – is to endeavour to make the Guides, Brownies and Rainbows as welcome in our church community as we can.  We value their time spent worshipping with us at Parade Services and will continue to pray that what they gain from their meetings week by week will enhance their lives.  And knowing some of their leaders I’m convinced that the essence of Christianity will continue to trickle down and be a positive influence.

As to the virtue of Britain’s Got Talent – perhaps a theme for another Blog (written by someone else!)

Best wishes,

 
Ian

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