Thursday, 15 October 2015

A Supportive Group

A picture from the Centenary Party for our Women's Own in 2013
Yesterday I was the speaker at our Women's Own Harvest.  This organisation has been in existence at Amersham Free Church for over a hundred years as the group celebrated its centenary back in 2013.

Like many such gatherings in churches our Women's Own caters primarily for 'senior' ladies.  Indeed many similar groups in neighbouring churches have now closed because older ladies can no longer attend and younger ones are busy elsewhere.

However, there was a good crowd yesterday afternoon and everyone seemed in fine form - well they laughed at my jokes - which was nice of them.

It was fascinating to see the dynamics of this group in action: the friendly way these twenty five ladies greeted each other when entering the room, the gentle and encouraging conversations that were had, the love of singing old hymns and the willingness to try some written in the 1980's! There was an almost tangible sense of companionship and support with lots of laughter thrown in.

At the end I was struck by just how many from the group came up and thanked me for the talk.

As they left the leader of our Women's Own turned to me and said 'these ladies are like family to me'.  I knew exactly what she meant and I feel it's partly her wonderful pastoral care that has kept the group strong for so long.

It's easy, among ministers of my generation to be a bit despondent when it comes to ministry with the elderly. It's youth work or outreach to young families that grabs the headlines and wins the cheers of others.  Yet I sense that is an out of balance perspective.

With a growing demographic - certainly in churches if not in society itself - weighted towards the elderly it would be foolish for us to dismiss their needs and think of work among them as 'second best'.

It's for that reason that in just a few weeks our church is having an Elders' Training Day on this very subject of how we might positively and optimistically view and value our ministry in a church where the majority of the congregation are predominantly beyond retirement age.

If my experience of a lively and supportive Women's Own yesterday was anything to go by that should be something we do enthusiastically.

Best wishes,

Ian


Friday, 9 October 2015

Another Point of View

I am currently devouring the 'historical' novels of Philippa Gregory. They are set at the time of The War of The Roses - that fragile time in English history as the cousins from the Houses of York and Lancaster jostled for the throne: Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII and all that!

This all started with the TV series earlier in the year called 'The White Queen' - the story of Elizabeth Woodville's marriage to Edward IV.

I find all this interesting partly because I love history but also because Gregory's books are unusual in that they are written entirely from the 'woman's' viewpoint.  These are essentially novels not about the Kings of England but their consort Queens - women often discarded in history textbooks yet brought to life by these wonderfully written and well researched novels.

The other fascinating aspect to Philippa Gregory's writing is that she sometimes takes the same story or time period as covered by a previous book but this time writes it from the viewpoint of another character.  In this way the villain of a former novel becomes the heroine of the next!  She makes us see the same story and events from two vastly different viewpoints.

There is that old saying that you cannot really understand another person unless you've walked in their 'moccasins'!

Actually understanding another person's situation, problem or personality is a constant challenge for us all - yet a very necessary one.  We cannot just look at life from our own point of view and expect to have a fully rounded picture.

Part of 'carrying each others burdens' is to strive for this empathetic attitude which enables us to look at life from 'another point of view'.

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Anyone for Roast Preacher!!

What makes for a good sermon?

Surely there must be an answer other than 'short'!

This autumn one of our housegroups is using the sermons of the previous two Sundays as the basis for their reflection and study.  I'm intrigued as to how they are getting on - especially as one of the sermons they looked at yesterday was actually the Harvest Festival 'All Age Talk' at our Parade Service.

There is, of course, the old adage that we should 'preach about God and preach for twenty minutes'!

Over the last three years I've been introduced to the discipline of preaching from the set texts of the Lectionary.  I think that my sermons have probably changed as a result - whether they are better or worse is hard to say!

I strive to work within a few self imposed guidelines in my sermon preparation:

* Try to understand the theological significance of the text in its own background
* Let the text determine the theme and tone of the sermon
* Look at the text from a 'sideways' angle rather than just repeating the obvious - but don't be afraid of reinforcing core truths
* Use appropriate illustrations - these are often the moments when folk really connect with the preacher (well if the conversation at the door is anything to go by!)
* Apply the text to  everyday modern life - if we don't at least set the ball rolling with this our sermons morph into lectures

Philip Brooks, a former Massachusetts Bishop used to say 'Preaching is truth through personality' - I rather like that phrase and definitely believe preachers need to give something of their 'heart' whilst speaking - and our prayer is that the hearer too will receive the sermon not only with their minds but their hearts too.

For me preaching remains one of the greatest privileges of this calling as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

Oh - and I'd dearly love to be a fly on the wall at that housegroup!

With 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...