Thursday, 28 January 2016

Compassionate and Determined...

Captain Thomas Coram
Last Saturday we took ourselves off to town and visited The Foundling Museum near Bloomsbury

It commemorates the establishment of the first dedicated children's charity in this country; a charity that came about through the drive and dedication of one Captain Thomas Coram.  Upon his return from sea in 1720 he was shocked to see how children born 'illegitamately' were left at best, in the care of the Poor House and, at worst destitute on the streets of London.

His vision was to provide a place of care and compassion yet he had neither the means or initial patronage to set up such a grand scheme.  Yet that did not deter him because Coram was a man described as both Compassionate and Determined!

He walked miles each day calling on Dukes and bankers appealing for funds.  He gained the respect of the artistic community so that Handel, Hogarth and Dickens supported his endeavours - even today the proceeds of an annual performance of Handel's Messiah goes to the present day Coram Charity.

This was not overnight work.  Captain Coram took no less than nineteen years to get his project off the ground and it was only in 1739 that George II, probably under the influence of Queen Charlotte, signed the Royal Warrant establishing the Foundling Hospital in Brunswick Square. To date the Coram Charity (although today in a different form) has helped over 25,000 children to a better life.

It's so moving to see displays of the 'tokens' that came with every child as they were admitted.  Once accepted these children were given new names so the only thing to identify them was a  'token' , maybe a cross, coin or even just a note, wrapped in paper and kept in a file so that if a parent wished to 'reclaim' their child they could do so by stating what that original token was.  All very Dickensian - indeed Coram is even mentioned in Little Dorrit!

The thing that struck me on Saturday was that phrase describing this Captain as 'Compassionate and Determined'.  Strikes me that many great things have been achieved in this world by such wonderful people - many doing them in the name of Jesus Christ.  Indeed the love of God isn't best displayed in a sentimental character but in the Compassionate and Determined entrepreneurs, 'movers and shakers' and 'dreamers' who want something of God's Kingdom of love and justice to break into our present world.  For such people, inspired by such a God, we give thanks.

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 21 January 2016

They say...

The week got off to a good start (and a snowy one) as we were joined at AFC by the other Clergy and Congregations of COTHA - Churches on The Hill Amersham.  Sharon preached a brilliant sermon on the Wedding Feast at Cana!
From Monday to Wednesday the Baptist Union Retreat Group committee received the warmest of welcomes from Sarum College located on the Cathedral Green at Salisbury.  What a great place to be - for us it was a comfortable base to hold our meetings, for others in residence it was a place to go for their own conference or to take part in the various excellent courses Sarum provides.
Room with a View!!  It was in this room that we held the BURG Committee meetings - sometimes my mind wandered from the agenda (nothing unusual about that really!) as I looked out of the window.  We learnt that the tower at Salisbury is not strong enough to house bells - just the solitary chime of the hour bell.  Sad in a way to think that such a splendid building - at least on the outside - can't sing.  Must be a metaphor in there somewhere!
The sun shone during our time in Salisbury and on the second day we had a day of Silent Retreat ourselves - practising what we preach.  I read, wrote a journal and walked (I hope 'prayerfully') around this beautiful city - Tuesday felt like a real gift! Oh and the lemon drizzle cake in the Cathedral Refrectory was wonderful too!
Relaxing with members of The Baptist Union Retreat Group committee at the Red Lion! - an inspirational group to be around, committed and faithful to the idea of seeking God in all sorts of ways, especially in quiet prayer, retreats and Spiritual Direction.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Church - A Family?

This coming Sunday at Amersham Free Church we are really looking forward to welcoming friends from St John's Methodist and St Michael's Anglican churches as they join us for a service of Holy Communion - especially as our heating has now been fixed!  Hooray!!

These three congregations are in 'covenant' with each other and collectively we make up COTHA - Churches on The Hill Amersham and twice a year we hold united morning service.

Our preacher on Sunday is The Revd Sharon Roberts, an assistant priest from St Michael's - my colleague Erna helpfully pointed out, as she proof read the draft order of service, that I had put down 'Our preacher this morning is Sharon Stone'!! I do get my Hollywood actresses and vicars mixed up occasionally!

Churches share many of the same characteristics of family - whether that's the relationships in a local congregation or between a collection of congregations. Like any family the dynamic in and between churches goes up and down.  The important thing is never to loose sight of the intrinsic relationship between us in that we are all God's children and brothers and sisters to each other.

I love this drawing of a church because it emphasises that we are made up of people - and we all come in different shapes and sizes with different personalities and preferences. Yet St Paul refers to us as 'The Household of Faith' - his way of saying 'we are family and community'.

Our three communities have ebbed and flowed since last we met.  At St Michael's a much loved Vicar, Diana retired after ten years of much appreciated service amongst us and on March 15th her successor, The Revd Debbie will be welcomed.  At St John's David moved on to pastures new in Romford and The Revd Anne now serves as Superintendent Minister. In all of this we seek to prayerfully support each other and lend a hand whenever possible.

I came across this quote about family and community life this week which I rather like:
Family isn't always blood.  It's the people in your life who want you in theirs.  The ones who accept you for who you are.  The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.
I've met people in both my family and the church family who care for me just like that.

On Sunday we celebrate COTHA and what it means for our three churches to be in covenant together.

I think Mother Theresa put it rather well when she said: What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.

With best wishes,

Ian





Saturday, 9 January 2016

Wise Men? Well - not always!

So it's the season of Epiphany and after Christmas comes the visit of the Magi from the East.

For a few years the Baptist Union Retreat Group met at Burford Priory, a Benedictine House in the Cotswolds.  We usually gathered just before Epiphany and couldn't help but notice that the beautiful models of the three kings would start the week at the top of the Priory staircase yet each day, as we got closer to January 6th, they mysteriously managed to descend yet another another flight of stairs so that by the day itself they ended up outside the chapel doors.  I have a suspicion those nuaghty monks moved them every day on the stroke of midnight!!

This year to help me get a different take on the season I read The First Christmas by Borg and Crossan - it was great! One of the things I learnt was that the Magi were probably the descendants of the magicians in the story of Daniel.  In that narrative these Wise Men were the 'baddies' and stood in opposition to God.  In the story we have been celebrating this week the Magi are positive 'instruments' for and even of God; they serve his purposes and are on the 'good' side.

There is surely a glorious irony there.  That God can 'redeem' us all for the better.  A story of transformation.
A story of how even the foolish can become wise.

Happy Epiphany!


Ian

Friday, 1 January 2016

Wisdom for a New Year

I’ve always looked forward to starting a new diary at the turn of the year.  January 1st feels like no other date in the calendar; it’s full of promise becoming, perhaps, the most ‘hope-filled’ day of the year.  On this day many make a personal resolution that things will never be the same again.  In the words of Sydney Carter’s hymn it’s from ‘the old we travel to the new...’

Yet like all dates and anniversaries a new page in the diary, even a first one, doesn’t have the power to change us.  For like the Roman god Janus, after whom this month is named, we face two directions at once, both the past and future.  We bring yesterday into today for we can never truly leave our past because, in part, it has both made and shaped us into the people we are today.
So what then can we hope for on January 1st?

I think we can hope for ‘wisdom’.

I long to live 2016 having learnt from 2015.  Last year I had joys and sorrows, successes and failures.  I received love yet sometimes showed indifference.  Although I suspect 2016 will be similar to the year we’ve just left, I hope I’ve learnt some lessons about myself, my community and God.  My prayer is that such life experiences from the last twelve months will inform those that commence on that fresh first page of my 2016 diary.

So along with the greeting Happy New Year may I also wish you wisdom – the sort that looks back to the old year and then guides us into the new.

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...