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  • Last post before Easter

    Not a lot to say really - have a rotten cold which precluded much sleep last night, and a whole host of silly little jobs to do today.  But then I can begin to focus towards Easter, and that is something I am eagerly anticipating.

    Talking to a few colleagues this last week we are all tired and frazzled.  One was angry, one anxious, another frustrated.  Some space is something we all need.

    Yet, as I recall each year, for 99.9% of the world, the events we now know as Easter had no immediate impact - frazzled, furious and frustrated folk (don't try saying that if you're drink) the world over simply got on with life.  Babies were born, people died, life went on.  There is a sense of 'both/and' about it all - that we need space to reflect and be still, but we also need to get on with what we are doing in the here and now.

    I am quite looking forward to my first cup of tea on Easter Sunday, but more I am eager that Friday's experimental offering is a positive experience.  Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope that Easter brings what you need - whether that is sleep, chocolate or new spirtual insights!

    "Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly pomp, ride on to die, bow down your head in mortal pain, then take, O God, your power and reign" H H Milman, (approx.)

  • BQ too much like GQ?!! I don't think so...

    Today I went to Manchester to read and photocopy chunks out of Baptist Quarterly (BQ).  Now to most people, this would be a good working definition of boring beyond belief - and certainly I do feel medals should be awarded to those who have the patience to wade through a century's worth of stuff - but it was a useful and quite entertaining enterprise.

    I was looking for clues as to how the Baptist Historical Society (BHS) saw itself- aims and objectives along with any views on historical method and/or denominational history.  I think I discovered in H Wheeler-Robinson something of an ally - or more properly that I am probably a potential ally of his - as he seeemd to be saying almost a century ago what I'm thinking now.  I also found some useful stuff by Paul Fiddes that I could understand (maybe my brain power is slowly increasing) and a few others on 'God and History' written in the 1980s.

    What amused, and to a degree irritated, me was a piece on denominational history commissioned for the BHS golden jubilee by a Methodist writer.  He was quite derisory about the move of BQ from simply chronicling history to including aspects of theology (something of which Wheeler-Robinson seemed quite proud; rightly in my view) and a kind of 'popularising' that the writer equated to reducing BQ to something like 'Men Only' magazine.  I have no idea what this magazine was like but I did find a few copies for sale on Ebay and a typical front cover is below:



    The blurb in Ebay suggests this was a very light publication full of jokes and pictures - so maybe not as racy as its name suggests.  But whatever the truth of the matter, the title put me in mind of something like GQ ((assuming that's still in print (which used to be in my dentist's waiting room in Warrington)) an analogy I find rather bewildering and extremely funny.  I'd say BQ was more 'People's Friend' than 'Cosmopolitan' any day - and would not have a clue which men's magazines that might match with.

    The dichotomy of theology and history is, in my view, a false one, and it is nice, another fifty years on, to be allowed the space to challenge it.  The writer 50 years back had some useful points but was, I felt, advocating an antiquarian (and slightly misogynist) viewpoint that will not serve Baptists in the 21st century.  Wheeler-Robinson, as in print, seems to have had a good vision for the BHS - one that can be usefully renewed for the 21st century (hey, the ideas are forming, finally!)

  • Boring Beyond Belief

    Tonight we had our AGM (zzzzz) followed by a very dull Church Meeting (even zzzzz-er).

    This year, as last, I tried to inject a bit of life into the AGM by putting together a slide show in PowerPoint of highlights along with vaguely funny captions... no one laughed, a few didn't even look at the screen, and one scowled - she thinks this is a waste of time in a'business meeting' as she insists on calling it.  There weren't any comments on the reports and the elections were virtually non existent as we had no nominations for deacons or Treasurer.  I was losing the will to live even before we'd done the AGM stuff!

    The main meeting was no better - we spent half an hour going round in circles over the Treasurer issue, fiddling with little bits here and there and never progressing the main points.  We did eventually come up with a set of actions, but nothing that will sort the issue very quickly.  We need a constitutional change to stand any chance of getting out of this position - which means yet more boring meetings.  Oh joy!

    The one good thing, and it was good, and it could be really good, was an agreement to spend a whole Sunday working solidly on discerning our way forward as a fellowship.  There were a few dissenters - Sunday is a day for rest, not for doing work, even God's work (hmm, so why do I work Sundays then?!) - but most seemed reasonably keen on the idea.  This will take place on 27th April and sits nicely between our next Deacons and Church meetings.  I guess I have two prayers... one that it won't be boring and the other that we will actually come away from it with something concrete.  I'm not sure I can stand much more circumnavigation of the same spot!

  • Preparing to Experience Easter

    This year's Good Friday event is now well on the way to being sorted... or at least my bit is!  Other people seem to need incredibly detailed instructions and I am more than a tad apprehensive that the person setting up the 'Communion' station has not grasped that what we want is a big loaf, a jug of grape juice and something a bit rugged - the fear is we get the Meths communion kit including frilly white cloths to cover it all up - I pray not!

    'Experience Easter' is a multisensory event for all ages, spread over three rooms, with different foci (i.e. they are plural, as an aside, I am getting fed up with people round here saying 'foci' when they mean 'focus' but that's another story!).

    I have two installations to produce - 'water' and 'oil'

    Water will include various extracts from John (woman at well, foot washing) and Matthew (Baptism, Great Commission) as well as water for drinking and water for washing.  The essential nature of water for life will be flagged - from amniotic fluid, to seas, to rain, to blood - as well as its refreshing and restorative properties.  Touch, taste, sight and possibly sound will feature in this installation.

    Oil will draw on accounts of Jesus being anointed (John, Matthew, Luke) and explore anointing for healing, commissioning and dying.  Scented aromatherapy oil, olive oil and baby oil will be on offer for people to anoint themselves (or each other).  So smell and touch very much at the heart of this one.

    One of our challenges is to take people to Calvary and leave them sufficiently disturbed without being distraught.  Even our children's song will leave Jesus at Calvary in 'pain and agony' (although the activites will inevitably pre-empt Sunday)

    I think I will need to provide guidance notes for all the installations, as I doubt they will be self explanatory or that folk will do them, but overall it is proving a positive experience to prepare for this and is allowing me to enter into the ideas a little more deeply.

    I wonder how many people will choose to Experience Easter with us?  We will have sent out 1500 leaflets or thereabouts and had it announced in local radio.  I'd love to see 100 people come through the doors which would be more than twice what we get to a traditional Good Friday service - we shall see!


  • Nearing Holy Week

    This week's sermon for Palm Sunday has been one of those that doesn't want to be written. I knew what I wanted to work with but it has been a hard slog to get it any kind of shape.

    We are using the Matthew 21 Palm Sunday story (where you can, if you so wish, picture Jesus astride two donkeys simultaneously - to what does the final 'them' refer in verse 7 refer, coats or donkeys?) and the great kenosis hymn from Philippians 2.  It is the latter reading that I have been more drawn to, and which better serves my desire to enter into the mystery and intensity of Holy Week, and I have being playing around with ideas around what it means to say that Christ Jesus was 'emptied' or 'poured out.'  What is the relationship between the emotive outpouring of praise on Palm Sunday and the pouring out of Jesus blood on Good Friday?  What is the connection between Christ relinquishing divine privilege and Jesus expending his life's energy for others?

    The sermon itself is trying to get people to engage more with Holy Week, to move beyond the idea of famliar stories and towards something of the mystery of Easter, to avoid skipping blithely from happy to happy and yet to recognise that we cannot unknow what we we do know.  I'm not sure how well it does/will succeed, but it has helped me to begin to focus.

    And with it come a resoution to abstain from blogging next week simply in order to take the time to ponder and reflect some of what Holy Weekis about, not in a pious, self-righteous way, but in an attempt to allow it to confuse and unsettle me as my comfortable routines are disturbed.

    In my preprations for Sunday, I came across a prayer by Dorothy McRae-McMahon in Liturgies for the Journey of Life,which I have adapted to form the invitation to communion (her words in italic, mine plain text)...


    Life is a journey on many different roads

    But God is always with us


    Sometimes we lift our faces to the sun

    And God is with us


    Sometimes the journey is harder

    Through pathways of pain

    And fears in dark places

    But God is with us  

    Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus


    Jesus travelled a journey

    From the excitement of Palm Sunday

    Through the poignancy of the Last Supper

    And the agony of Gethsemane

    To the abandonment of Calvary

    And here, today, by God’s Spirit, he is with us


    In our journeys

    Of life

    Of faith

    Of love and laughter

    Of sorrow and pain

    We meet

    To eat

    To drink

    To remember

    To celebrate

    To anticipate

    And God is with us 


    So come, for all is ready…