Wednesday, 28 May 2014

When in Rome...!

 
Rome is rather a crazy place to be!

We've been here since Monday, staying at the Guest House of a religious order of 'teaching' monks - a beautiful oasis of tranquility just a ten minute ride from the city centre by Metro.

If you think London is busy, frantic and full of tourists - try Rome!

The driving is a sort of 'sport' in itself - to a Brit like me it just looks like organised chaos with lots of horns being blown with scooters everywhere. 

Having visited the Colosseum and Roman Forum yesterday it was 'Pope' day today.  We travelled in early with a Canadian Catholic we've got to know back at the Guest House.  We joined the huge crowd in front of St Peter's and waited for the arrival of the 'Papa'.  When he appeared on screen, and then in the distance on his 'pope-mobile' everyone got on their chairs to take photos and cheer (so I joined in!).  There was just a wave of loving enthusiasm and respect that seem to ripple through the crowd - this was 'their pastor' and they were greeting him and he them.  The Pope seemed to relish this time moving through the vast crowd regularly stopping to kiss and bless babies - and that touched me really.  A world leader, technically a 'Sovereign', taking time to bless children - it seemed to me to be a deeply 'human' yet 'godly' act of love and compassion.

Once he'd been round the square a few times he ascended the podium with bishops on his left and lay guests on his right.  It was fascinating that this 'formal' time in the General Audience started with scripture as the reading for the day was delivered by five priests each in a different language.  The Pope then spoke for about 15mins reflecting on his recent visit to Israel and his longing for peace and reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians.  Once again I was touched that this world leader was speaking about such vital issues as these - regularly going 'off script' and becoming animated.

The event came to an end with the singing of the Lord's Prayer in Latin and the Pope's blessing.  Throughout all this a crowd, which had been in carnival mood at the beginning, sat in respectful silence as if in church.  There was such an obvious 'bond' between the thousands in St Peter's Square and this smiling Pontifex Maximus (Pope) on the podium.

As he spoke a pigeon landed in front of him - gloriously unaware of security and church ceremony.  I thought it a lovely picture - maybe of the Holy Spirit, often likened to a bird, coming and blessing this man's words as he blessed us with God's love.

I know why I'm not a Roman Catholic (and this isn't the Blog to discuss that!) - but today, in this truly international arena I think I saw a servant of God show and speak of nothing but love, compassion, reconciliation and peace - and that was something beautiful to have been part of.

With best wishes from sunny,crazy, inspirational Rome!,

Ian

Thursday, 22 May 2014

A Good Read

The AFC Book Group met on Tuesday to discuss Marcus Borg’s ‘Speaking Christian’.  Borg is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.  His clarity and insight make for a very stimulating read.

I have a friend who used to say whenever he read Shakespeare – ‘How did he know I felt like that’.  The idea being that somehow across the centuries the Stratford Bard ‘communicated’ in a timeless way that still touches the heart even in this age of ipads and YouTube! 

I feel the same about Borg.  In this book he takes words most of us in church have been using for years – like ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Heaven’, ‘Bible’ and ‘Eucharist’ and he explores them.  He does this by putting them in context and so brings to light many often neglected connotations around them.  In many ways Borg follows a long line of ‘liberal’ theologians in de-mythologising the bible – thus making it, in my view, something that is more relevant (not less) for today’s society.

Maybe you can tell I simply loved this book (as, I have to say did the rest of the group) – and it would certainly be one of the ones I’d take to my desert island!  Of everything I’ve read recently ‘Speaking Christian’ sums up for me best the place I currently occupy on the theological spectrum. 
This book uses clear language and is brilliantly written – why not borrow a copy from a member of the Book Group and give it a read!

With best wishes,

Ian


Thursday, 15 May 2014

A sad story about orange juice - and other things....

I had one of those days earlier this week when it felt like some invisible ‘techno’ forces had all conspired to focus on me for a few hours – and what fun they had!  The first inkling I had about this was at the weekend when it dawned on me that this message I received about three months ago telling me that my email account was being dropped by BT wasn’t a fake missive but the real McCoy!  However, it’s really advantageous having teenagers in the house at times because that problem was almost instantly solved by one of them setting up a new account for me and then transferring all my 34,000 (yes, that’s right 34,000!) archived emails from one account to the other. 

But then a ‘virus’ attacked and everyone on my address book was informed I was stranded in Italy or somewhere needing the bus fare home!  That evening we had about fifteen phone calls at the manse – some even offering to pay!

To cap it all the Tesco delivery man knocked on the door with a grin on his face saying here was our weekly order – just one carton of orange juice – yes, we had booked the delivery slot and held it open with the juice selection but then forgot to fill in all the other things we needed!!  It was kind of him to say he would try to get the delivery charge refunded – otherwise what we are drinking now is the most expensive box of orange juice in Christendom!

I then set off for an evening meeting and realised I’d left my diary in the vestry of the Crematorium Chapel where I’d been earlier in the day.  I ‘winged’ my way through the meeting not entirely in control of all we were deciding together – ‘what’s new’ I hear some of you say!

I expect we all get days like these!

Part of my understanding of faith is that it would be a mistake to only think we might experience and encounter God in the serene and peaceful moments of life.  I think I once held that view – but no longer.  Although I still believe that faith can bring a certain sense of ‘order’ out of chaos – making those all important ‘connections’ in our lives - I now recognise that it’s often in the crisis, struggle or confusion that we especially need faith and actually ‘find’ God.

Of course nothing I went through earlier this week was anything other than mildly irritating – but the fact that even these ‘minor’ things got my blood pressure up makes me realise just how much I need to be aware that God isn’t absent in the bigger challenges of life, instead he is waiting to meet me there.

I’m off now to complete next week’s Tesco order!

With best wishes,


Ian

Thursday, 8 May 2014

20 years on...

Last Saturday we took one of our ‘Walks around London’ books and spent the day wandering around Westminster, Pall Mall and St James’ – we love doing this, especially when the guide takes us off the touristy ‘beaten track’. 

One such moment happened last weekend when, just outside Westminster Abbey, our book told us to turn right through the archway into Dean’s Yard.  We found there an oasis of peace and calm in this quadrangle which borders the Abbey, Westminster School and Church House.

It was only when we got back to Amersham whilst browsing the BBC News website that I realised just hours before our visit, Dean’s Yard had been the starting point for the great procession of Anglican women priests marching from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s last Saturday to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first women ordained priest.  I love last Saturday’s photo of the Archbishop on the steps of St Paul’s surrounded by women actually ordained two decades ago – he looks both terrified and delighted all at once!

The Baptist Union ordained its first woman minister, Violet Hedger, in 1922 and just last year The Revd Lynn Green became the BU’s first woman General Secretary.  Yet it is interesting that the BU website says ’the proportion of women ministers remains disappointingly small in our denomination’. It’s also true that whilst many women have taken up part-time or non-stipendary appointments in the Anglican Church the current level of women ordinands is, in the words of a CofE commentator, a mere ‘trickle’ today.

The reluctance of some Baptist churches to appoint women and the fierce debate within the Anglican Church about women bishops is based on a view of ministry which maintains it should remain male.  That view is dependent on a reading of scripture that takes passages which I believe are ‘descriptive’ (outlining a tradition appropriate for a particular time) and makes them ‘prescriptive’ (insisting they outline a tradition for all time).

For me, over these last twenty seven years of ministry it simply hasn’t been an issue – in the sense that personally I rejoice in women’s ministry and feel the church has benefited enormously from it.  In fact Rachel noted just the other day that most of my ministerial friends are women!

I believe God calls both men and women to the ordained ministry – and although we missed them last Saturday – I’m glad that hundreds of people marched from Dean’s Yard to celebrate that inclusivity as a gift from God.

Best wishes,


Ian

Thursday, 1 May 2014

A May Day Breakfast

As the rain drizzled down this morning I made my way to Trinity Baptist Church in Chesham for the bi-monthly breakfast meeting of Bucks Baptist Ministers at 8am.  Today nine of us gathered around tables that encircled a solitary ‘pillar’ in one of Trinity’s rooms – it struck me that as it was May 1st this was our equivalent of dancing around a May Pole!

When I started going to these sorts of meetings they were inevitably called ‘Fraternals’ – nowadays with the growing, and welcome, presence of women ministers amongst us (today there was four) they are more commonly referred to as ‘Ministers’ Meetings’. 

We have always seemed to have had them.  I remember reading accounts of Seventeenth century Northamptonshire Baptist Ministers meeting up at Whitsun for this sort of gathering – interestingly at Inns, these being the days before Non-conformists embraced the Temperance Movement of the 19th century.

I think it was at my first such meeting in Portsmouth – I was then merely a ‘Pre-Collegiate’ ordinand – biting into a tomato and being horrified that some of its juice and a pip or two spurted across the room in true ballistic fashion and landed on the most senior minister in the room – a man who when he spoke, at least I thought, sounded like God – a tricky moment!

Today we were in calmer waters.  We ate cereals and toast together, Colin our host then read a prayer by Martin Luther King before leading us into a discussion about Nuclear Disarmament, we subsequently shared news of our churches – from the installation of new boilers, looking for new pastorates and attending Spring Harvest, before finally praying together and saying our goodbyes.

Such occasions always seem beneficial to me – just being together brings about that mutually supportive atmosphere which can bring encouragement for the journey.  I think here in Bucks we have been very fortunate to have Colin Pye as the minister who organises these gatherings and acts very much as a positive catalyst among us – he’ll be much missed as he moves on later this Spring.

Today such experiences are called ’networking’ – I prefer to think of them in that old fashion term of ‘fellowship’ – and I’m grateful for them.


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...