Friday, 26 February 2016

Shifting Chairs!

A job well done last Saturday!!
Not everyone has the same ideas about ‘Community’.

If we take it as being synonymous with ‘society’ then Mrs T told us she didn’t really believe in it whereas her current successor once called for it to be ‘big’.

Last weekend as both boilers in the Sanctuary and Alfred Ellis Hall simultaneously went kaput I felt very conscious of the value and inspiration of our church ‘community’.


After a flurry of emails we decided to hold the Sunday morning Communion Service in the hall which meant a big effort at 5pm the night before to get things ready.  So many willing volunteers came along, bringing not only themselves but also a willing spirit that the job of assembling a hundred chairs and various other bits of ‘essential’ church furniture was done in no time. As things were got ready there was a sense of  purposeful ‘togetherness’ which actually made the whole experience such a good and positive one I was almost grateful for the two misbehaving boilers!

I’ve always thought that the idea of ‘community’ is central to Christianity. 

Rob Bell in his book, Love Wins, expresses the rather provocative idea that the phrase ‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ is simply one you’ll never find in the gospels.  He’s just flagging up the thought that faith isn’t meant to be only, or even primarily, a personal pilgrimage with God.  Faith is also about ‘community’ – learning and experiencing it in a Faith Community and living it out in a Local one.

For me this was exemplified in a really inspiration way at the Lent Lecture, hosted by Churches Together for Chesham, at which the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy was the speaker.  He spoke so eloquently and passionately of his Christian faith, formed through his Roman Catholic tradition, and the way it impacted upon his life as a serving police officer.  For Sir Peter there has clearly never been a division between what he privately believes and how he publicly acts and I sensed that all of us came away from that splendid evening at Broadway Baptist Church in Chesham deeply inspired by the connection between belief and praxis this former Chief Constable displayed. All of us need good role models and I thought Sir Peter was a gift to us that evening.

As our Lent journey continues my prayer is that we will all make that connection between the private and public parts of our lives and realise afresh that as Easter Morning People our faith is not only about how I say my prayers by the bedside but also how I live out that prayerful life in all the various communities to which I belong.

Best wishes,

Ian

Saturday, 20 February 2016

So you're a Protestant.....

Last week the Anglican Bishop of London and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster shared together in an evening service of Vespers at Hampton Court's Chapel Royal - the first time a Roman Catholic service had been held there since Henry VIII became Supreme Governor of The Church of England.

Speaking afterwards Richard Charters, The Bishop of London, said: We live in a Post Denominational Age.  Establishment and Dissent don't seem to matter any more.

It got me wondering 'Do I really feel Baptist anymore?', especially as I now have the privilege of serving in an ecumenical context at Amersham Free Church where none of us generally know if we are Baptist or URC - however the accent of our many Scottish friends at AFC usually indicates their Presbyterian past!

All of this came into focus for me this week as we spent half term in Italy visiting the beautiful city of Florence dominated by its awe inspiring Roman Catholic Cathedral and numerous churches.

It was outside the Cathedral that I succumbed and had  my caricature portrait done - we'll hang it on the wall of the littlest room in the house! The artist was an engaging chatterbox telling me the city receives twenty million tourists a year (half from China) and inevitably he asked me my occupation.  I told him I was a 'priest' but not a Roman Catholic one.  'Ahhhh - you are Protestant', he replied, 'You are protesting'!!

Well, am I?  Is that how I define my faith - a protesting Protestant?!

Florence is lovely in so many ways and our week there has been terrific and during our stay we were able to attend worship in three of the city's ancient churches. Yet to be truthful this wasn't always the uplifting experience I hoped for.  I am probably too wedded to an English version of 'Gothic' architecture to really appreciate its Continental cousin and as the only Italian words I speak are Spaghetti and Lasagna the services were basically incomprehensible to me! In truth I do wonder if faith can get a little lost in old buildings, liturgies and ideas of authority.

So as I sit here in the airport waiting to come home I've come to the conclusion that I do somewhat protest against theological concepts that see God as more powerful than loving and at church traditions that support the status quo by clinging on to priestly and ecclesiastical 'power'.

In their place I don't long for either a post or new denomination era but for the experience of walking alongside fellow Seekers after Truth who sense that love is the deepest, strongest, most comforting and challenging aspect of God we can ever explore or experience.  And that God is bigger than any of our constructs so there really is no such thing as 'orthodox' faith or 'infallible' truth.  We grasp.  We look into the mirror dimly.  We delight in mystery and are wary of the delusion of dogma.  We seek to walk humbly before God and in companionship with fellow pilgrims.

In short I've come away from this beautiful place (with a fine portrait in my suitcase!!!!) even more convinced that I'm not in the business of 'guarding' truth but 'exploring' it.

Yours, protestingly!!

Ian

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Selfies in The Vestry


So with Epiphany still a very fresh memory we are now officially in Lent - so for us at AFC it was pancakes at LunchBreak on Tuesday and sharing in a Service of Ashing and Eucharist at St Michael's yesterday.

But what does it all mean? And how can we find a sense of freshness in the Church Year?

That’s why I was very grateful for the insights of two ministerial colleagues yesterday - Ash Wednesday.

Sharon, the Associate Priest at St Michael’s used a phrase in her off the cuff vestry prayer (that's the Selfie photo - even clergy can misbehave in vestries!!)  before we went into the Lady Chapel for the Eucharist that asked God to help us this Lent ‘realign’ ourselves.  She didn’t linger in guilt or try to define sin, she didn’t pray about giving up anything but chose instead having a positive view of Lent.  That in the business of life when it’s easy to get so many issues out of perspective Lent could be seen as an ideal time for realignment – actively seeking to restore the equilibrium of our faith, relationships and responsibilities.

An earlier contribution to a conversation in the day was also helpful.  I was having lunch in Ruislip with Edward and Edwin, pastors of our link church at Harlesden in North London and Edward was telling me of his recent Sabbatical.  He told me of the month he spent on St Kits, and then the month back home in Ghana and finally the four weeks with which he concluded his Sabbatical on a Silent Retreat with the Sisters of The Lamb of God just outside of Oxford.  Four weeks of silence – I gasped over the garlic mushrooms.  'How did you survive'? I asked.  He smiled and told me; 'well I only went to the 5am service twice!' He then said: 'But I actually got into the rhythm of being there and ended up loving silence so much I didn’t want to come home!' Well, just like Jesus and his 40 days, Edward seems to have been changed, or at least his faith deepened by that experience.

Wilderness and realignment - that will do me at the beginning of our Lenten pilgrimage!


Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Of Alley?!

Having had lunch at St Martins in The Fields on Saturday we walked along to the Courtauld Institute of Art at Somerset House.  En route Rachel read out from the guide book that this whole area had been sold off by a previous Duke of Buckingham many moons ago with one proviso - that every part of his name and title should be commemorated in this area by becoming a street designation.  Hence there is a George Court (his first name), Villiers Street (his family name), Buckingham Street (that's obvious) and would you believe it Of Alley (now called York Place) because - rather pedantically - as Duke OF Buckingham he wanted every part of his title on record!

Well - what do you make of that?!! He certainly wanted history to remember him!

I suppose all of us wonder what people will remember about us when, in the words of the Salvation Army, we are 'promoted to Glory'.

The newspapers were full of very sincere and heartfelt tributes to Sir Terry Wogan on Monday.  He was a man who really seemed to 'connect' with many people.

Last Friday at AFC we held Brenda's Thanksgiving Service.  Brenda was a wonderfully warm and encouraging member of our fellowship.  In her early eighties she still had great energy and enthusiasm.  I never left the table after having a coffee with her without being uplifted.  She played a big part in our church's life as in so many other societies and clubs in Amersham and Chalfont.  Perhaps no surprise, then, that about two hundred people came to church last Friday to give thanks for this kind hearted lady.

I believe I saw something of Jesus in Brenda - something of his warmth, kindness and laughter.

Isn't there an old gospel song that goes 'Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me...'  And that, I would suggest, is the greatest complement that anyone could ever pay us.  Although I'm not sure the Duke of Buckingham would agree?!

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...