Thursday, 26 February 2015

Singing TOGETHER

We arrived at 10am and performed it at 12.30pm.  That was the rehearsal schedule at the 'Come and Sing' Faure Requiem I attended at St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square on Saturday - and it was great fun!

I have to admit that these singing from scratch concerts give you all the buzz of belonging to a choir with less than half the work of being in one with a weekly rehearsal.  Usually you are surrounded by really competent singers - so if you are a bad 'pitcher' like me you just follow them!  The conductor knows there isn't much time for rehearsing so its a quick dash through to remind those who have sung it a hundred times before and some concentrated work on a few tricky passages.  The accompanist is always brilliant and able to make up for any deficiencies an ad hoc choir can make.  And the performance - usually free (because who would pay real money to listen to a group of singers who hadn't even met two and a half hours before!) is attended by family members who are just pleased to indulge you and offer a hearty round of applause at the end!

I loved Saturday - I love the sense of camaraderie you always find in a choir.  A group of people energised by a love of music who want to collectively give of their best so that the the beauty of it all can be heard again - wonderful!

Just before Christmas a group from AFC did another 'from scratch' concert - this time in The Royal Albert Hall.  It was Messiah and the choir consisted of about 3,000!  On that occasion there wasn't even a rehearsal - and the sound produced was magnificent.

Working together for a common goal is surely one of the most precious facets of our God given humanity.  Wherever we find it - in a soccer team, colleagues at work, in a choir - and pray God, in the church - we have discovered and experienced something very precious.

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Ashing

So Lent 2015 is underway.

To be truthful I'm not always too sure what to do with either of the penitential and preparatory seasons we call Lent and Advent.  I find it difficult, for example, to live in a sort of 'suspended' way anticipating the birth of Jesus at Christmas or his death and resurrection at Easter.  Of course I love reading the related gospel stories at these times of year but I know the endings! So I'm left wondering a bit - what am I to do with the next forty days?

I actually have a bit if a plan this year - and for me it is the addressing of an issue that's been bugging me for some time - and that is the question 'What was actually going on at the cross?'  I need, I think, to look at that again this Lent.  My understanding thus far has been along the lines that at the cross Jesus paid the price for my sins, took my place and in doing so 'appeased' the wrath of God towards sin.  New models of theology ask us to consider if this is actually a picture of God consistent with the rest of what we learn about him in the bible.  Is this the way a God of love would act?  Is the 'wrath of God' more a Pauline doctrinal construct than the picture Jesus gave of us of God during his three years of public ministry? So I'll be doing a lot of thinking and reading this year about Good Friday.  I'm not sure how far I will have got by April 3rd but I think it's the right journey for me this Lent.

If that's all about the end point - the starting point yesterday was a service of Ashing at St Michael's, our local Parish Church.  The clergy team there had graciously invited me to preside at the 8pm Eucharist last evening in The Lady Chapel.  I was thrilled to see folks from my own congregation joining in as well.  Before Communion I 'ashed' half the congregation and the Assistant Priest the other.  It was a poignant moment as we reminded ourselves that we 'are dust and to dust we shall return'  along with the injunction to 'turn from sin and turn to Christ'.

I'm glad that after all that rather stark and severe talk we could receive bread and wine - reminding ourselves that in our mortality and brokenness God draws alongside us with his forgiving and sustaining life offering us peace, hope and new beginnings.

Lent is here - and wherever it takes you this year - wherever it takes me - I'm sure God's love will not be far away from where we end up!

Best wishes,
Ian



Thursday, 12 February 2015

Celebrating Colleagues

I have a friend who tells me he really misses working with colleagues.  He's 'freelance' and rarely meets up and chats with other like-minded people.

Yesterday I bumped into different colleagues on no less than three separate occasions.  It began with a Bucks Baptist Ministers' Breakfast at Aston Clinton - we tucked into sausages and eggs (I can hear some of you saying 'he's always talking about food!) and caught up with each others' news.  I then attended my Baptist Order Cell in the afternoon - praying the Office with three other members of the Order and talking together about our experience of 'ministry'.  The day ended with a meeting of The Bucks Baptist Forum Network chaired by one of our Regional Ministers at which colleagues and lay members of the churches shared news of the congregations in our area.

So was yesterday 'just' all talk?!  Well in a way yes, but it was good and stimulating talk.  It was catching up on news, sharing experiences and simply having those empathetic conversations that can give us all a sense that we are not alone but we have fellow travellers on the journey with us.

I'm convinced that the best option for any newly ordained minister is to join a Team Ministry.  I had that rich privilege almost thirty years ago now!!  And I wouldn't have missed it for the world because working alongside an experienced colleague for my first five years was the best grounding I could ever have had.

And now it's my privilege to work alongside a URC colleague here at AFC.  This month Erna celebrated her tenth anniversary as our church's Associate Minister and we couldn't let that go by without some cake and flowers!

Having colleagues may not always be possible - but when it is I believe it can enhance life tremendously.

A fortnight ago as we thanked Erna for her ministry and friendship we prayed this prayer together:

Let us offer up to God our thanksgiving for Erna’s ten years of ministry amongst us as Associate Minister of Amersham Free Church.

With gratitude in our hearts we express our appreciation for Erna’s teaching ministry and her love of theology.
Thanks be to God.

With gratitude in our hearts we express our appreciation for Erna’s companionship with us in the journey of faith – sharing with us and standing alongside us in good times and bad.
Thanks be to God.

With gratitude in our hearts we express our appreciation for Erna as a colleague as we have shared in the privilege of ministry together recognising and valuing each other’s gifts.
Thanks be to God.
And so our prayer for you Erna is:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you
And give you peace today and always.


All good wishes,


Ian

Thursday, 5 February 2015

AFC's Worship Teams

Last Saturday, even though it snowed, we had a good turn out for our Worship Teams' Training Day at Amersham Free Church.

These teams have become part of the church's identity over the last fifteen years.  They comprise of about three in each team and they go to various churches in our locality leading services.  So each team normally has a preacher, worship leader and reader.  From what I can gather this ministry is much appreciated - especially in smaller congregations without access to stipendiary ministry.  We were told on Saturday that over these last fifteen years the AFC Worship Teams have preached in twenty six churches taking three hundred services!

Last weekend team members spent the Saturday in 'training'.  We looked at the language we use in a service, identifying it as probably either 'heart' or 'head' language.  We considered the different genres of music we might put into a service, tried to re-define some biblical words using contemporary language and then after considering the 'Jigsaw of Worship' we split into small groups with each one putting together a service for a specific context and occasion.  That was the fun bit!  After half an hour the three groups came up with some tremendously thoughtful and imaginative services.

It was a great day with a very positive spirit and as a church we are so grateful to members of these teams who serve the wider Church in this way.

Of course for those of us doing the training the scary bit came on Sunday when we quite literally had to put into practise all we had preached on Saturday!

All good 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...