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  • General Confession

    This week's Baptist Times has published a couple of letters in repsonse to the Apology for Slavery issued by BUGB.  Whilst they raise valid issues, I find myself irritated by them, because they feel as if somehow there is a holier-than-thou mood about them.  I'm sure this isn't what was intended, I'm sure it's just me.  I'm trying to grow in grace!

    One comment was on Baptist ways of doing things - essentially that Council didn't have the right to issue this without it going to Assembly first.  The letter points to the way we (theoretically) conduct church business and reads across.  It makes sense but... surely this was a moment when delay was unhelpful.  Also, if we take seriously our history, the old Assemblies which did make bold statements on issue have in real terms been superceded by Council.  I fear we are putting protocol in where it suits us, and happliy ingnoring it where it doesn't.

    Another comment seemed to pick up something about tokenism - but which way I wasn't sure.  If we are giong to apologise over slavery, it asserted, what else?  There could be an endless list - indeed there could.  If the point was, as I'm sure it was, that we must beware tokenism, it was a valid one.  However, isn't it good if we've finally recognised the need for confession and apology and taken a step to be different from now on?  I think it is.

    I recognise that we cna't be forever issuing apologies on this, that or the next thing, and lots of the 'sins of the parents' we do not know about.  But the wonderful General Confession prayer which is printed inside the cover of such delights as BPW or BHB offers us a good model for approaching this... 

    Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
    we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
    in what we have thought,
    in what we have said and done,
    through ignorance, through weakness,
    through our own deliberate fault.
    We have wounded your love
    and marred your image in us.
    We are sorry and ashamed,
    and repent of all our sins.
    For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
    who died for us,
    forgive us all that is past;
    and lead us out from darkness
    to walk as children of light.

    (This version, B33 Common Worship)

    If we, as Baptist Christians could truly pray this prayer, truly live its outworking, wow, what a difference that would make to this battered world of ours.

    In so far as it is in my gift, I am sorry for the evil perpetrated by those from whom I am descended genetically, nationally or spirtually, and pray that the God who forgives, will give me grace to live in penitence and faith.

  • Grace Growers

    Another buzz phrase from today's events in Didcot.

    When I had a real job, several people I know had a little A4 poster on their notice boards that said "every day I have to add to the list of people who p*** me off" then a space to add 'today's names' and 'permanently p***ed off by...'

    Such people were referred to today as grace growers - those people who come into our lives in order to help us grow in grace.  It's certainly a more constructive way of looking at it...

    Every day certain people help me to grow in grace...

    Today's grace growers are...

    The long term grace growers are...


    What d'you reckon?  How have I helped you grow in grace?! ;-)

  • Bleeding Mission

    No, I haven't lost my rag and decided to swear at my PC, or the world, it is one of the titles used by one of the speakers at today's Small Churches day at Didcot.  The logic was, as I recall it, the Greek word for 'witness' (noun) is, in anglicised form, 'martyr', and martyrs as we think of them are people who shed their blood for their cause, so mission is about witnessing, about shedding blood, about bleeding (at least metaphorically) in the cause of the Kingdom.

    In one sense, today didn't tell me anything new: I am now an experienced small church minister, I know the centrality of mission, of knowing and understanding your community, have preached til I'm blue in the face about mission as the reason the church exists...  I know about the limits and opportunities of being a small church, I know about the tensions, I know where the BUC guidelines are and even have most of the books they showed us (though for some reason were not selling the Toolbox for Small Churches).  The best part for me was the presentation of the ideas for moving Home Mission forward in ways that will make the whole thing more effective - though it will be some time before that is able to find expression because of the necessary wheels grinding their way forward.

    This is the passage that I wish had been used in the opening worship session...

    As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brither Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for the were fishermen.  "Come, follow me, " Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men and women,"  At once they left their nets and followed him.  (Matt: 4: 18-20, NIVi)


    What was used was, granted, a more pedantically correct translation of the Greek, but not the intent... and when we are supposedly a fully inclusive communiity (discuss!) and when we want to attract people who have not grown up with gendered langauge as 'normative' it is time we - and especially those in corridors of power - got our heads around this issue.   Ten years ago I'd never have believed I'd be a strong advocate of inclusive language... but then this time ten years ago I was still a few days from hearing God call me to ordained ministry - a lot's happened since then.

    Yesterday I was involved in some Association work where we picked out as key issues topics of small and tiny churches, women ministers and the multi-racial, mutli-cultural, multi-faith dimension of working in our part of our Association.  Bleeding mission - being sacrificial witnesses to the Good News of Jesus is a massive task.  In some ways I feel that EMBA is small church writ large - compare our geographical area, membership and staffing levels with other Associations and you see what I mean.

    It has been a good, if tiring, couple of days, and it doesn't get any easier from here to Christmas.  We were reminded today that at Christmas we recall how God does small, weak and vulnerable - a baby born to a couple far from home; how God speaks through people outside the 'church' and outside our faith - shepherds and magi; how mission is risky - Herod's massacre, Jesus, Mary & Joseph exile to Egypt; etc etc. 

    I think, on balance, it was a worthwhile day, a good two days, in which I have begun to see more clearly some of what God might be saying to me about my role in the Missio Dei - the mission of God - in Dibley, Leciestershire, EMBA and the ends of BUGB! 

  • Food and Faith

    I was chatting with my lunchtime pray-ers today about the endeavours of some to re-establish a church prayer meeting, which is looking like it might happen, if at all, either in an evening or on a Saturday morning.  None of them would go to either meeting - some are very old and don't go out after dark, for others Saturday is either shopping or family time.  I asked about lunch times - and they were enthusiastic - they like the half hour of stillness followed by food that we share 10 times a year.  So, foolishly, I have just emailed my deacons to suggest we add another 12 lunchtime prayer meetings a year, one a month, and offering to host alternate months.  Maybe the butternut squash and pumpkin soup has gone to my head, but in an older congregation where loneliness is a real issue and where people living alone may opt for a slice of toast rather than a proper meal, it seems that twin needs of pastoral care and spiritual nurture can be successfully blended without the poor old minister needing yet another evening out.

    We will see what happens.  Unless other people are willing to host six out of the twelve meetings, I won't pursue it.  But it has promise, I feel.

  • Practice Hospitality

    Sometimes, in my more cynical moments, I think that English Baptists understand this as 'rehearse this by having a Sunday roast at home.'   Whilst I have a few friends who do indeed practice hospitality, who do welcome strangers, who do feed people who are hungry and who do embrace people who are lonely, they are the exception rather than the rule.

    For four years I have tried to model something of practising hospitality - having open house, feeding those happened to be around at meal times, and most specifically by providing space to pray and eat in Lent and Advent.  Because of the nature of my congregation, this has meant making endless pots of homemade soup - early on it was made very clear to me that this was no great ask (even though at church events we got watered down packet soup).  Whilst at times it has felt a chore, my trusty slow cookers have ensured there was always piping hot broth on offer - usally some weird concoction I invented from what was in the cupboard.  We've had some lovely times together and with the money raised supported among others Christian Aid, TLM, HMF, BMS and one time we bought a water pump for an African village.

    Something has finally clicked somewhere... on Sunday someone gave me a cake for today's lunchtime Advent group (yes I know we're early, it's all to do with how the Tuesdays land this year) and yesterday someone rang to offer to make some soup or a stew for another week.

    Practice hospitality... cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days it will return as buttered toast - as a woman at a bus stop once said to my mother.