Thursday, 25 September 2014

Sausages don't grow on trees...

It's Harvest Festival season - well, we're having our Thanksgiving at AFC on Sunday at least - and a Harvest Social Evening the night before.

I got hooked on Thomas Hardy's novels when I was at school and had to study Far From The Madding Crowd for O Level English.  I love his description of rural Victorian life including characters like the obsessive Farmer Boldwood, disasters like a rain soaked harvest and comedic incidents such as the Gallery Choir sabotaging the new church harmonium!

Yet I suspect Hardy's Dorset is as much a myth as Walter Scott's tartanisation of life north of the border in the 1800's.  It's easy to paint a idealised picture of the countryside, a rural idyll when in fact life for the farm labourer was just hard, hard, hard.

Today's countryside issues revolve around the complexities of EU subsidies and GM food production as much as the Village Show or Farm Shop.

I have to admit that I'm a 'townie' at heart!  I love the countryside but always want to retreat back to well lit tarmac roads and shopping centres with everything located near a car park.  So I can fully understand the girl in one of my son's classes (years ago) who maintained sausages grew on trees.  I remember being shocked myself to discover, whilst visiting Australia, that pineapples actually grow on the ground.

So how do we approach Harvest Festivals - especially if you're a townie too?!

I think it's interesting to note they are a relatively 'new' church invention - just about a hundred and fifty years old.  We borrowed the idea from village 'Harvest Homes'.  When those celebration got a little rowdy we sanitised them by bringing the 'thanksgiving' into church - exchanging ale for hymns!

In our services this coming Sunday we have a split focus.  In the morning it's very much about 'thanksgiving' alongside opportunities to be generous through our offering to Operation Agri and our support through the giving of our harvest produce to the homelessness charity 'New Hope'.

Then in the evening we're asking one of our members, Dr Bob Bradnock to help us think about things 'ecological'.  All part of seeing the world as a whole - combining our faith and intellect.

Stewardship of the planet is never easy, but neither is it optional - so on Sunday we'll take both the opportunity to sing praise to God for creation and remind ourselves of our responsibility towards it.

With best wishes,

Ian


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Constant Transition

On Sunday we walked along the canal that runs by Regent's Park through to King's Cross.  It was a sparkling afternoon and people were just out enjoying themselves.

As we approached the King's Cross/St Pancras culmination of our walk we passed the newly restored gas holder located just by the canal.  Now disused it has been restored - at least its skeleton frame - the actual gas holding part is long gone.  The sign beside it said each section of the structure had been transported to Yorkshire to be sand blasted and restored to colour scheme twenty (apparently they discovered it had been repainted no less than twenty eight times!)  Now back in place it's an impressive structure - a landmark and a 'listed building' in its own right.  Beneath its lattice work a 'park' is evolving - a new life and function very different from its industrial past - a 'transformation'.

I think something similar is happening today with the Scottish vote.  When we wake up tomorrow we'll know the result - but in a way I think we already know that it will never be the same again.  This referendum has let some sort genie out of its bottle and a sort of transformation is now clearly focused and unstoppable.

The truth is that none of us stand still - we are all in the business of transformation.  Every experience and encounter moulds and changes us in some way.

This weekend I'm preaching at the Church Anniversary of a congregation where I used to be the minister.  In the years since I've left them they will have journeyed on and changed.  Part of me expects to find them as I left them! But that simply won't be the case.  They, like me, have been on a journey and for one service I join them to renew our friendship and wish them well for the next step.

Life, it seems, is about living in constant transition.

With best wishes,

Ian


Thursday, 11 September 2014

He who sings - prays twice

Organ and Choral Concert at AFC 6.9.14
Last Saturday we held an Organ and Choral concert at Amersham Free Church to celebrate the rebuild of our 1962 Willis Pipe Organ - it was a terrific evening.

We were celebrating the fact that over £42,000 has been raised to make this rebuild possible.  Churches and their projects are funded by incredibly generous people.

We were celebrating the technical skill of our organ builder and his team of tuners and voicers.  Part of our instrument now has the most up to date software which now drives it in place of miles of wires and cables.  It also has the addition of a trumpet stop in memory of my predecessor The Revd Andrew Busby.

We were most certainly celebrating the musicianship of all those who played or sang on Saturday.  Our in house and visiting organists put the instrument through its paces and the combined choirs just filled the church with such strong singing.

We were, I think, celebrating God.  And music seems such a natural medium through which we naturally seem to do this.

We were in many ways just celebrating life.  A life enhanced by rhythm, melody and sound.

I love music - be it in a concert hall, church or ipod!  And I fully understand that saying: 'He who sings - prays twice'! And I hope our newly rebuilt organ will help us continue to do that for another fifty years!

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Birthdays

Birthdays have been on my mind recently.

Earlier this year we celebrated a special one (that normally means one with a zero at the end!) with a big family party followed by a week in Rome.

Our sons' birthdays bookend the school summer holidays; one falling at the end of July, the other (celebrated just this week) at the beginning of September.

Then, on Sunday, we had lunch with a friend who was celebrating her 'name-day' - a tradition in some countries (often with a Roman Catholic tradition) which is as significant as one's birthday.

Of course we all know that The Queen has two birthdays - yet the UK isn't the only place where the birthdays of national leaders are celebrated.  In the US Washington's birthday is marked in February by the federal holiday called 'Presidents' Day' as is Martin Luther King's in January.  In India the anniversary of Gandhi's birthday is not only observed as a national holiday but all the liquor stores are closed out of respect for his tea total convictions.

The birthday we celebrated in our family this week was because one of our sons turned twenty (in Japan that would have meant he 'become of age').  Amid all the presents, singing of Happy Birthday, and a special meal in London I suppose his mum and I just marvelled that two decades have flown by since his arrival on a warm September day in 1994 - and I suspect it wasn't only his age that we were celebrating - we were also aware of our own advancing years too!

I'm always keen to celebrate birthdays because it seems to me they say something very special about our relationships.  There's nothing wrong, and much that's right, about marking a promotion at work or success in an exam.  These family celebrations value our achievements.  But that's not what birthdays are about.  They simply say: we are glad you were born and we feel privileged that you are sharing this journey of life alongside us.

So - whenever it's yours this year I hope you too either had or will have a Happy Birthday!

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...