Thursday, 19 October 2017

Do this in remembrance of me...

All Souls on Sunday night
On Sunday it was my privilege to attend two Communion Services.  At one I presided and at the other I joined the queue alongside about eight hundred others.

In the morning I was at Amersham Free Church, and after I preached I stood behind the table and led our communion liturgy; it’s always a very precious experience.  I love nothing better than watching our Elders take the bread and wine to the congregation.  We do it ‘our’ way at AFC – although we are a Free Church we are firmly within the liturgical tradition and our twice monthly Communion Services have a rhythm all their own.

Then came Sunday evening and a trip into central London with my eldest son as we joined the congregation of All Souls, Langham Place.  The church was full, mostly of students and I felt slightly old.  The music wasn’t really my cup of tea but the welcome and sincerity we found at the service was terrific.  To be truthful Communion was slightly chaotic as eight hundred people made their way to various ‘serving stations’ – which meant we had to clamber down from the balcony!  Yet none of this mattered.  It was an immense joy to join the queue behind my son, cup my hands and receive bread, lift the cup and drink the wine alongside so many wonderful young people in central London.

I hardly know what makes Communion so special.  It’s all about the presence of God coming alongside us and it’s certainly about remembering love at its costliest.  I suspect it’s also about doing it ‘together’ – so much so that it sort of becomes a community proclamation of a truth that both binds us together and spurs us on in service.  Whatever it is, I felt I experienced a double Eucharistic blessing on Sunday – firstly as a Pastor leading my own people and secondly as an anonymous worshipper in a crowd of hundreds at the top of Regent Street.  These moments are precious and affirming – and for me, at least, moments when faith seems to come alive, and for that I give God grateful thanks.

Best wishes Ian

ps Blog holiday next week!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Black Sheep and Prodigals

The book discussion group at AFC meets about six times a year and at our latest gathering we reflected on Dave Tomlinson’s book: Black Sheep and Prodigals.  It met with a divided response.  Some thought it may be a step too far in its departure from orthodoxy whilst others, like me, felt they had ‘come home’ as they read it.

Dave Tomlinson comes from a similar evangelical background to me.  Yet we both share a journey that, whilst still valuing that foundation, we have moved on to a different way of seeking and interpreting faith.  Unlike me our author has spent a lot of his ministry in pubs!  Pub Church has been a place where he has opened up numerous discussions and met so many people on a spiritual quest but whose footsteps have never taken them inside a church building. 

Yet none of this background means Dave Tomlinson has in any sense ‘dumbed down’ the Christian tradition.  He is obviously a widely read priest and now serves a north London parish.  However, this Pub Church background might explain the way he writes (in my view, so effectively) in colloquial rather than academic English.

You really only have to look at some of the chapter headings of Black Sheep and Prodigals to get a flavour of it:  They include:

I believe belief is overrated
I believe in original goodness
I don’t believe in an interventionist God
I believe in life before death


I don’t, for one moment, believe Dave Tomlinson destroys faith in this book, he rather asks us to look at traditional doctrines differently.  So, he ponders whether we have a workable definition of God, he re-assesses what we really mean by an ‘interventionist God’, he puts into everyday speech the most important contemporary theological issue of our day: a re-assessment of what was really happened on Good Friday, and he positively bubbles up with joy at the notion of resurrection, but once again in a non-orthodox way.

You could, I think, read this book and hate it!  That’s because it re-evaluates much of the tradition some of us have been familiar with since Sunday School.  Or you could read the book and end up shouting: Hallelujah! I’ve found someone who wants to ask the same questions as me – and even offer some provisional answers along the way.

Make no mistake though, Dave Tomlinson takes the bible very seriously, sees God everywhere and still believes that when it comes to ‘Liberal Evangelism’ Jesus is the answer!

I suspect, like Marmite, Black Sheep and Prodigals is something you’ll either love or hate.  For me – well, pass me another slice of toast as I spread on yet more for my breakfast!!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

What's in the box?

Here’s a confession.  Here at The Manse we have just finished watching four series of the rather ‘geeky’ Channel 4 comedy show The I.T.Crowd which aired on TV between 2006 to 2010. 

It’s set in the fictional London offices of Reynholm Industries and focuses on the haphazard I.T. department located in the basement. Moss and Roy are the geeks whose answer to almost any technical problem seemed to be, ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again’! (Which actually most of us find surprisingly effective!)  They are overseen by Jen who is technically illiterate but has the grand title ‘Relationship Manager’ which, in reality means she draws a salary for not doing very much at all.

We thought it was a fantastic comedy and loved every show. 

One episode has Jen having to give a seminar upstairs on behalf of the I.T. department.  She panics about this because, of course, she knows nothing at all about I.T.  So, Roy and Moss set her up with a shiny black box, about shoebox size, and convince her that the Internet is in it.  That’s right, the World Wide Web that touches just about everyone’s life, was locked away in Jen’s box! 

She believes them and presents this box to the seminar – where, surprisingly, she in turn is believed.

Moss and Roy cannot understand how gullible people are and how their ‘joke’ has delated because it was taken seriously.

Jen’s box, ‘housing’ the Internet, crops up periodically throughout the series, until at last the penny drops and even she realises the absurdity that the World Wide Web has its HQ in a box at her office!

This week the lectionary OT reading takes us to the 10 Commandments and I’ve once again been drawn to the first one about having no other gods or carved images, idols.

Since dawn began I suspect we human beings have been trying to put God in a box.  If we carve an idol we might control God and if we write a creed we can surely define him.

But isn’t that just as ludicrous as Jen thinking the Internet lived in her box.

God is more fluid than a carved piece of wood and no creedal statement could ever define him.

Of course we use words, images and ideas to describe God.  But we fool ourselves if we consider ourselves ‘Keepers of the Truth’ because we box God up in our favourite theological paradigms.  Surely better to be an ‘Explorer of Truth’, open up the box and throw away the key!


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