Saturday, 27 June 2015

Learning from each other

URC Ministers' Em2 Summer School at Westminster College, Cambridge
This time last week I was at Westminster College, Cambridge helping to lead, alongside my colleague from AFC, a weekend of reflection for ministers of The United Reformed Church who have just completed either two or three years of service since their ordination.

You might have thought this was a weekend of 'giving out' - of Erna and I sharing something of our experience of ministry with those who have not served quite as long as us in their pastorates.  Well if there was a bit of that it was also a weekend of us 'receiving'.  For these 'young' ministers gave us so much!

We had planned one session for them to review a current pastoral issue with the group.  These presentations went deep and drew out some wonderful and deeply thoughtful responses from their peers.  So much so that we had to rejig the programme and allow a second such session.

We arrived in Cambridge last Friday not knowing any of the ministers with whom we would spend this weekend conference - we left after lunch on Sunday feeling as if we were saying farewell to long established friends - such had been the depth of our encounter together.

We also travelled back to Amersham with a profound sense of gratitude that the work of ministry has been entrusted to such fine 'Ministers of Word and Sacrament'.

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 18 June 2015

'Catching' the music

Young musicians at Tuesday's LunchBreak Recital
One of the delights of working at Amersham Free Church is hearing great music at our LunchBreak recitals.  This week we enjoyed the final visit, for this academic year, of musicians from Dr Challoner's Boys' School.

It's not often that you would get the chance to look at an audience whilst the music is being played.  Well on Tuesday, sitting as I did on the side, I actually managed to 'see' the reaction of those listening.  It was during a piece by Telemann, played by the String Ensemble, that I glanced over at the boys from the choir, seated on the front two rows awaiting their turn on the programme (they were on last!).  It was a magical moment because these young lads looked utterly captivated by the beautiful music being played.  It was as if Telemann had 'caught' them - touched their soul and given them one of those profound moments that goes deep.

I love such moments and I think they come close to 'prayer' - moments when we connect to something beautiful and greater than ourselves.  Moments that lift the spirit giving fresh and inspiring perspectives.

For such moments 'thanks be to God'.

Ian

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Jambusters! A story of Community?

Over recent Sunday evenings we have been watching the ITV series Home Fires all about the comings and goings of a Cheshire village in World War Two focused on the tribal antics of the Women's Institute - all based on Julie Summers book Jambusters.  It's been a provocative series highlighting many social issues as well as providing some of the more conventional ingredients of Sunday night telly!

One aspect that always strikes me about memories of wartime is the sense of community and common purpose that seems to have been apparent.  Folks often look back with nostalgic eyes to a time of real austerity and rationing, international danger and family grief with a feeling that just maybe there was a greater sense of togetherness then than now.

In the years since the last war we have grown considerably richer and life has become increasingly more comfortable.  Yet it is perhaps also true that there is a greater sense of individualism now than ever before, along with the accompanying loneliness that it often brings.

Perhaps the equation runs like this:
Poverty and struggle = a community working together
Wealth and ease = a community somewhat fractured by individualism

I think one of the challenges for the church in these days of relative wealth and ease is to foster a spirit of community through worship and service.  Working together for a common purpose can be one of the most rewarding journeys life throws up and one we should cherish.

Best wishes,

Ian

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Death is Nothing at All???

Thursday night saw us in the BBC Radio Theatre at the top of Regent's Street watching the recording of this week's Radio 4's News Quiz.  All great fun!

It was hosted by the brilliant Sandi Toksvig who will be leaving the show after it completes its current series. All the panelists were wonderfully witty.  The recording lasted an hour and a half and then overnight the backroom technical people whittle it down to the half hour that is eventual broadcast over the weekend.

So, all was going well and we were coming to the final goodbyes when Sandi Toksvig had to announce that a much loved panelist on the show, Charles Kennedy, had died this week.  It just cut her up and for a few moments she was simply unable to continue.  All our hearts went out to her because it was obvious that this depth of emotion had caught her by surprise.  She thought her professionalism would see her through, yet when the moment came, announcing the news of a much loved friend was just too much.  After a brief pause there was a retake and that's the one that was broadcast.

Charles Kennedy was just a year older than me so I too feel his death in some way, but no where near the way that our host did.  She spoke of him with such warmth and admiration.

This afternoon I sat alongside a friend who is probably spending her last few days in a hospice.  I held her hand and prayed as we both wept knowing that in all likelihood this was the last time we would meet  this side of heaven.  I'm always comforted that instead of presenting Jesus as a stoic, the gospels have him as the friend who wept outside of Lazarus' tomb.

Whilst Henry Scott Holland's poem, 'Death is Nothing at All' has some fine sentiments in its later lines, I confess I find its opening ones a little difficult to take.  Death - is, as someone once said, 'an awfully big adventure' and personally I would never want to reduce it to 'nothing at all'.

The simple truth is that most folk, like my good friend this afternoon, would so value a few more weeks or even days of life.  And no one, I believe, in Thursday's audience had anything other than the deepest sympathy for Sandi Toksvig who has lost a good friend far too early in both their journeys.

I sometimes use these words at the funerals I am privileged to take - they do not say it all but they do say something I hold on to and count as very dear when it comes to saying goodbye to people I love:

Where does the journey end?
Beyond where you can see.

Where do the years end?
That’s unknown to you or me.

Where does life end?
In love and eternity. 

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...