Thursday, 31 July 2014

Grateful for courage and still praying for peace

This and next week many nations are commemorating the outbreak of World War One.

If only it had been the 'war to end all wars' - instead it became the first act of a two part catastrophe.

Clergy at Washington Cathedral composed this litany to mark this one hundredth anniversary - I think it's worth reflecting on the words - challenging words.  This is a piece of liturgy they used in their morning service last week - at AFC we shall, this Sunday, be using something very similar, namely the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.

Here is the Washington piece:

Presider:  One hundred years ago, an assassin’s bullet plunges the nations of the world into violence unlike any the world has ever seen. Self-justification and self-righteousness divides your people; divides your
world into opposing alliances; into enemies and friends. Forgive us!

Cantor:  For you, O God, seek to unify your people. Your word goes forth, calling us beyond self-
centeredness and self-certainty into the ways of humility and understanding.

Presider:The war to end all wars enlists 70 million people. 8 and a half million soldiers dead; 20 million
soldiers severely wounded; 7 million civilians will also die; showing us the futility of our ways;
the arrogance of our thoughts. How dare we imagine that by killing the sons and daughters of our
enemies, we become friends! Forgive us!

All sing: Holy God, Holy and mighty; Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us

Cantor: 
For you, O God, create our hearts in love: hearts to love our neighbors; hearts to love our enemies; hearts to love ourselves. To share in your heart means to seek shalom, not swords: that your loving
kindness may prevail among the community of all your people.

All sing: Holy God, Holy and mighty; Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

Presider:  From the fields of Flanders to the forests of Verdun to the peninsula of Gallipoli, the dead cry out: life and love interrupted; hope and promise laid waste; war, war, and more war. Forgive us!

Cantor:  For you, O God, receive them into your presence. And raise them by your grace to life eternal, where sorrowing and sighing will be no more.

All sing:  Holy God, Holy and mighty; Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

Presider: Mounted cavalry meets withering machine gun fire; lye burns the skin; mustard gas causes the
afflicted to drown on dry land. Our weapons of death exceed our moral preparation; squandering
the gifts of your grace; careless with your creation, the work of your hands. Forgive us!

Cantor: For your life, loving God, pulses through the universe; creating, redeeming, sustaining life. Your life:
animating our very instinct for life; countering our tendency to choose death; quickening in us our
every impulse to live.

All sing: Holy God, Holy and mighty; Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

Presider : Trench rot, shellshock, battle fatigue: the consequences of war; cruel, prolonged, ill-conceived war. Our jealousies, our rivalries, our animosities prove costly. Your vision for us; a peaceable reign; grows
dim. Forgive us!

Cantor : For you, O God, desire shalom. We do not fool you when we cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace. You seek the day when all your people live whole and free; in hope and in safety.

All sing:  Holy God, Holy and mighty; Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

Presider:  A League of Nations arises. Political hope for a peaceful future; nations committed to negotiation, arbitration and disarmament. This nation resists. Forgive us!

Cantor: For you, O God, give counsel to the nations of the earth: courage and political will to risk the way of reconciliation and redemption. Your vision breaks through by your Spirit moving in our midst; your
new heaven; your new earth; your global community made new.

All sing:  Holy God, Holy and mighty; Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

Presider: Merciful God: You who breaks the bow and shatters the spear: we know what you require of us.
You lead us to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with you. Give us discerning wisdom to
choose the things that make for peace; the capacity to resist evil and support the common good;
that we may never again stray from the ways of peace; neither shall we practice war anymore. Amen.

As the poster we have prepared for display outside our church at this time says:  We are grateful for courage and still praying for peace.

All good wishes,

Ian
ps Blog 'holiday' for the next two weeks

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

On 'being sent to Coventry'...

Sunday was a special day for us as we joined a dear friend at Coventry Cathedral to celebrate her 80th birthday and what would have been her Golden Wedding.  It was in this - at the time - rather new Cathedral that she and her husband were married fifty years ago. Sunday's service brought together many guests, some had been at the wedding, and together we enjoyed the Morning Eucharist and then a meal, complete with speeches, in one of the anti-rooms.

I've never visited this Cathedral before and it was a real treat to see it and participate in its worship on Sunday.  The juxtaposition between the old and new building is profoundly moving because the message Coventry has sent out to the world since the war is one of forgiveness and reconciliation - that ethos seems to be in the very DNA of the Cathedral community.

Two moments went deep with me during our day of celebration.

The first came as I looked up at the huge tapestry of Christ in Glory by Graham Sutherland.  We were told it was the size of Wimbledon's Centre Court!  It has become an iconic piece of work but the thing that struck me on Sunday was the young face of Christ.  He looked just like any recent graduate from University today. Reminding me that the Jesus of the Gospels really was a young man - a radical - a disturber of the status-quo.  Something of the life and energy of his message, I think, comes through in that Coventry tapestry.

The other moment came during the wonderful speech given by our host.  She reflected on the huge support she and her husband found at Coventry fifty years ago from the Canon who prepared them for marriage.  At that time so much was going on in their lives yet this servant of God brought a sense of peace, perspective and support - all remembered with thanksgiving half a century later.

It made me realise once more that what we value most about those who have gone before us are things like 'encouragement', 'support' and 'understanding'.  Such people live long in our memories and even fifty years on remain a cause for thanksgiving.

It was good to be sent to Coventry last weekend!  And in doing so be challenged by a young Christ, inspired by the ethos of reconciliation found in that holy place and be reminded again that the best memories we can leave behind are ones of encouragement.

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 17 July 2014

At last!

This week's Church of England's General Synod vote on women bishops was a landmark decision for our Anglican friends.  It comes after such a lengthy, and at times painful process of debate and discussion.  There have been moments when it seemed impossible to see a way forward and at such times I guess many involved in the 'behind the scenes' engagement must have felt like giving up.  But the point is they didn't - and this week our Church of England colleagues took a big step 'together'.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said in conversation with Andrew Marr on the BBC this Sunday that the Church isn't to be thought of as a political party so much as a 'family'.

All families have quarrels from time to time - yet our deepest desire is that we work our way through these difficulties and stay together despite our differences.  That all takes time, patience and a willingness to see another person's point of view. We might say it takes love - but let's be clear what we are taking about here - it's 'tough' love rather than 'sentimental' affection.

Of course all analogies break down but I think there is value in thinking of the Church using this honest perception of 'family'- not least because of the enduring nature of it.  Whatever we do to our relationship we still remain a father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister.  And however much I might take a different view to someone in my church they still remain a fellow pilgrim.

I think such an understanding simply encourages us not to give up or walk away from the ongoing desire to live in peace with each other - a peace based on mutual understanding.  And none of this will be passive or sentimental - instead it means honest and sometimes painful debate held always in the context of a covenanted community seeking peace.  And that, I suspect, is what the debate about women bishops has been about - of how those, united by so much yet divided on particular points of interpretation, can walk together in a relationship of integrity.

It's not easy being family.  It's not easy being Church.  But no one said it would be - and whenever was 'easy' the same as thing as 'worthwhile'.

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 10 July 2014

'An Easy Relationship'

The COTHA ministers before the service
On Sunday the three churches on the hill at Amersham (COTHA) held one of their twice yearly services, which this time happened to be at our place, AFC.  Of course not everybody goes to these events (which always somewhat saddens me) but, that said, we had a fine congregation last weekend and there was, I think a good spirit among us as we worshipped together.

During the meal we shared after the service one of my clergy colleagues said of COTHA that we have an 'easy' relationship.  It's a phrase that says a very great deal and one I think worth pondering, if for no other reason than to ask 'why' the relationship seems so straightforward.

Well here's my take:
- MUTUAL RESPECT: we represent a joint Baptist/URC church along with Anglican and Methodist congrgeations - we are 'in covenant' with a willingness to worship in the host church's tradition whenever we gather together.
- A LIGHT PROGRAMME: we have deliberately recognised that our main focus has to be our local congregations so we don't over plan the activities we feel called to do together.
- CLERGY/MINISTER FRIENDSHIP: we occasionally meet up for lunch and this makes all the 'formal' stuff so much easier because we have had those times of open and honest conversation.
INTERACTION OF CONGREGATIONAL MEMBERS: I suppose we have to admit that Amersham is the sort of place where a lot of people know each other really quite well - so members of our churches often build on the relationship they have in other organisations not just bumping into each other on Sundays - all of this, I think, is the sign of a healthy community.
JOINT PROJECTS: The days of 'committee ecumenism' have surely long gone, if our partnership with each other is to grow it has to be through 'task centred  ecumenism' - for COTHA that has meant projects like 'Get in The Picture', The Iona Pilgrimage this summer, serving together at LunchBreak and our support for the Chiltern Food Bank.
JUST SURVIVING! I mean that very positively!  Because it's an achievement that COTHA has 'survived' the comings and goings of ministers (all with their different personalities and priorities).  There must have been certain 'flash points' in the past yet we are still around and committed to a broader vision for The Church.

I remember in my first church in Kettering, during a meal with new friends, being asked that leading question: Are you an Ecumaniac?  Well I can't actually remember how I answered or even if I really understood the question!

I think a much better question for me now would be: Can I see Jesus Christ in my fellow Anglican and Methodist friends?  And to that I would repond with an unequivocal and deeply thankful 'yes'!

With best wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

'Love means nothing'?!

On Sunday morning it was a great delight for us at AFC to host an All Age service with included Church Parade for our Guides, Brownies and Rainbows – a service enhanced by the participation of our musicians forming a much larger music group than normal.  It all seemed to go well and at one stage we even had a light hearted quiz based on the scoring found in tennis. 

At the end of the service I was nudged by at least two people who, with a smile on their faces, quoted back to me a line I’d said in the quiz whilst explaining the scoring – they wondered if it had any theological significance – ‘Love means nothing’!

Actually whenever I go ‘off script’ whilst leading a service something like this tends to happen!  They are the sort of ‘howlers’ you find in those church joke books – rather like the secretary’s one liner in the notices: ‘Next week’s preacher is hanging up in the vestibule’!

Well I’m not sure any Blog that mentions tennis this afternoon is all that appropriate after just learning that Andy Murray has been knocked out of The Championships.

This talk about ‘love’ and what it means came back to me today in a chat with my Spiritual Director.  I know that sounds a grand term – in practice such a person can be a great ‘gift’ as a ‘listener’ and someone who reflects back what you are saying.  One of the requirements about belonging to The Order of Baptist Ministry is that you have a Spiritual Director and I’m always pleased to spend an hour with mine every other month and this morning she asked me what was the ‘foundation’ on which I was seeking to build faith.  ‘The love of God’ I replied – it strikes me that only takes a second to say but a lifetime to experience.  At times it feels to me that almost everything else about faith is fluid and evolving – the one constant is God’s love – so ‘no’ I absolutely didn’t mean on Sunday that ‘Love means nothing at all!

Oh - by the way - this morning my Spiritual Director left me with a piece of writing by Mother Theresa – I’ve been thinking about it all day and believe it’s worth passing on – goes like this:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.”

I think that’s great!

Best wishes,


Ian

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