Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Other Point of View

Well hasn’t it been a week and a half!  ‘Shakespearean’ some commentators have called it – ‘breaking news’ almost on the hour – never has ‘fact’ felt more like ‘fiction’!  The other day I actually wondered if I might wake up soon and find it had all been a bad dream!

So – the blog this week is something of a ‘confessional’! 

At a church event this week I found myself at a table having a cup of tea and cheese scone with a lady from the community who had voted the ‘other way’ to me last Thursday.  Now I don’t consider myself to be an aggressive type yet the more we talked the hotter under the collar I became – and as I was wearing a clerical one that wasn’t a very good witness!

I shocked myself really – she presented her case with calm and steady conviction and in response I heard myself sounding just a little patronising and dismissive.  To be blunt she deserved a better mannered listener than me – fortunately I think I began to realise this before it was too late and I think we parted as friends.

As I walked home to the Manse I gave myself a good telling off because, even though I stand by the decision I made at the polling booth, I have no right to dismiss the opinion of a lady who had so carefully and conscientiously thought through the issue and come to a different conclusion to me.

I think we are all so aware of how this issue has polarised and divided our nation – the process as well as the result seems to have caused so much dejection and concern.

It seems to me that we in the Church need to go the extra mile in coming days in speaking words of reconciliation and hope.  Our prayers must surely be that amid the siren voices all around us our nation will regain its composure and embrace the future with generosity of spirit and true co-operation.

 Of course, all of this starts at home – and for me that means listening with a bit more respect to those with whom I share a cheese scone on a Tuesday afternoon.

With best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 24 June 2016

Making our 'mark'

BMS Action Team: Bonnie, Sam, Deborah, Dom
I’m writing this the day after the European Referendum – the day after we left our ‘mark’ at the polling booths with a majority of British voters opting to leave the ‘Community’.  I suspect the result of yesterday’s vote will go down as a moment in history.  Our prayer must surely be that nationally we will ‘pull together’ to make the best of the ‘different future’ which is now before us and, internationally, that we remain an ‘outward looking’ nation, welcoming and always ready to dialogue in a friendly, intelligent and generous manner with our continental neighbours. 

That phrase, ‘making our mark’, reminded me that my great, great grandparents, James and Mary Pettifer couldn’t write their names on the marriage certificate issued to them at Sarrat Parish Church on Dec 14th 1867 – so a simply X replaced the expected signature – but at least they had left their ‘mark’!

The death of the MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox seems to have been part of the Referendum story of recent weeks – and amid all the tragedy surrounding her untimely death it is, I think, worth saying that her short life left a tremendously inspiring ‘mark’ on those around her.  She seems to have been the epitome of a principled public servant.

Talking of good people who inspire us, I just want to say that the four youngsters who spent the week with us from BMS – the Action Team, reporting on their time in Mozambique: Dom, Sam, Bonnie and Deborah – really put their ‘mark’ on us at AFC.  We delighted in their enthusiasm, courtesy and wonderful ‘team’ spirit – it was a privilege to have them as guests here in Amersham for all too short a time and we wish them God’s blessing for coming days.

Perhaps the words of ‘Lord for the years’ form a good prayer for us now as our nation charts a new and different course on the world stage: ‘Past put behind us, for the future take us’. 

May God help us all to put our ‘mark’ on life in a way that pleases Him and blesses our neighbour.

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Eating Samosas together - a spiritual experience - well yes!

Last Thursday the local ‘Beyond Difference’ group organised a wonderful evening at Chesham Mosque.  We regularly hold these gatherings in each other’s buildings and it was a delight to be with our Islamic friends last week.

The first part of our time together, as always, was a themed presentation given by a Christian and then a Muslim speaker – followed by comments and observations from the floor.

As stimulating as that was I sense it was the second half of the evening that made the biggest impression.  As it was Ramadan the daily fast last Thursday was due to be broken at 9.21pm – just as we were finishing.  So all of us who were guests at the Mosque were invited to stay on and break the fast together with our Muslim friends – eating the most delicious samosas imaginable!

That act of generous hospitality and friendship said a thousand words and made a deep impression upon us.

So too did the opportunity towards the end of the meal to follow one of our hosts down to the Prayer Hall and watch the worshippers attend the Call to Prayer.  We looked on as folk ‘did’ their prayers – that is – ‘prayer’ in the Islamic tradition is obviously not just about the words you say but the corporate act of bowing together and facing a specific direction – the ‘ritual’ is important – you literally ‘do’ your praying. 

I thought that quite attractive and helpful and I can see that ‘going through the motions’ might actually become a very nourishing and meaningful discipline.

Last weekend we heard yet another tragic story from Orlando that combined mental illness, sexual identity tension, religious mania and the easy accessibility of guns.  Our visit to fellow ‘seekers after truth’ last Thursday was, for me at least, a healthy corrective to all that.

Best wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A Birthday Party

This weekend sees three days of birthday celebrations for the Queen. 

Although she reached her 90th in April the national celebrations have been clustered around the traditional Trooping the Colour on Saturday – with a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s on Friday and the Patron’s Lunch in The Mall on Sunday.

‘Monarchy’ is something of a mute point in the bible because even though God, especially in the Jewish scriptures, regularly gets a crown along with majestic acclamations, he never the less isn’t keen to grant Israel her first king.  Saul’s reign ends in tears and doesn’t even establish the hereditary principle – with David’s anointing being nothing less than a completely fresh start.
I think there is little doubt amongst the commentators that our own Queen views the vows she made at her Coronation in 1953 as sacrosanct.  That service had at its centre not simply the crowning but also the communion – because almost as soon as the crown of St Edward was placed upon the young queen’s head, she had it removed and she and Prince Philip knelt at the High Altar of Westminster Abbey and received bread and wine.

Elizabeth II seems to take her personal faith very seriously.

On Maundy Thursday she never misses the service, held at a different cathedral each year (one of those traditions she started) at which she distributes bags of Maundy Money to the same number of recipients as her age.  A gesture that is meant to encapsulate the greatest ‘command’ of the bible to love God and serve neighbour.

And at Christmas the Queen has become more and more up front about her faith during her traditional broadcast to the Commonwealth.  Even I’ve noticed ‘sermon’ characteristics in her presentation over recent years.

All of this is reflected in a super booklet we are distributing at AFC this weekend to our ‘young people’ entitled ‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves’ – a book for which the Queen has written the first ‘Forward’ of her long reign.

On Sunday we will continue to give thanks for this gracious and faithful servant of God – and pray for his continued blessing to rest upon her.

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...