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  • Fantine and St John?

    Today I've been working on Sunday's service which will be based around Pslam 126 and Revelation 21: 1 - 7.  As I was reading some commentary on the psalm, I found the song 'I dreamed a dream' from Les Miserables came into my mind, so in the end the sermon will juxtapose Fantine's hopelessness with Christian hopefulness despite the hurt and struggle.

    There's a lot that resonates in Fantine's song that will be woven into the sermon:


    I dreamed a dream in time gone by
    When hope was high
    And life worth living
    I dreamed that love would never die
    I dreamed that God would be forgiving
    Then I was young and unafraid
    And dreams were made and used and wasted


    I guess almost anyone over 40 can identify with some of those sentiments, and also these, later in the song:

    But there are dreams that cannot be
    And there are storms we cannot weather


    In ending my sermon I've tried to use these two lines as the start of a (plagiarism?) that has a more Christisn hope to it.  It needs tweaking before Sunday, but here it is as it stands...

    True, there are dreams that cannot be

    And there are storms we cannot weather

    But if Christ is at our side

    At least we’ll face these things together

    We have a hope that keeps us strong:

    The promise of a new creation.

    Until then we’ll walk by faith –

    And trust in One who keeps their promise:


    An end to death and tears and pain;

    An endless spring of living water;

    Forever in the love of God:

    The dream which keeps our hope alive!

  • Twixt Christmas and Easter

    That was the title of yesterday's invitation service - half way between Candlemas and Shrove Tuesday for those who know their liturgical calendar, the day after Valentine's Day for those who operate in another plane.  I was impressed by what the 'Gang of Four' had done, finding hymns that linked Christmas and Easter ("Thou didst leave Thy throne" and "in a byre near Bethlehem"), using a couple of OT Messianic prophecies (Isaiah 9; Micah 5) and linking them things about love (1 John 4; 1 Corinthians 13).  My talky bit had anticipated the links they wanted to make, so I'd arrived with suitable props - candles, flowers, chocolates, wine (don't tell the school!) and 'love hearts' sweets.  My tack was along the lines of gifts we give to people we love - so everyone received a tealight (hey, I trained at Northern...) and was offered chocolate; one person was given the flowers for her sick daughter, a visitor went home with a bottle of wine, and the sweets hinted at love-letters.  These were then compared with the wonder of the gifts God gives - star-spangled night-time skies, choirs of birds to herald the new day, flowers in endless variety carelessly strewn across the meadows and popping up in the cracks and crevices of derelict buildings, food and drink in flavours beyond our counting.  Then I moved on to the idea that better than cards, flowers, wine and chocolates is the gift of ourselves, our time, our love, our friendship and so on.  And so with God, incarnate in Christ Jesus.  Events in the UK and Australia over the past weeks have shown the depths of human selfless love - someone trying to rescue a sibling who has fallen through the ice; whole communities banding together to try to avert the consequences of raging bush-fires.  So it is with God's love in Christ. Writing it down it all sounds a bit twee and naff - but it felt OK at the time.  One of the visitors said it was the nicest church service they'd ever been to, and one ninety-something who'd for some reason thought she was being taken to a garden centre left with a lovely smile on her face.

    As outreach I'm not entirely sure how to measure it.

    A good half of our normal folk weren't there, and of those who were only five had brought anyone with them.  Out of 32 people (so someone told me) there were 11 guests and 3 people whose links with the church are rather tenuous.  So, proportionally, it was pretty good.  In terms of 'back to church' infleunce then, yes, there were three and that's a good thing.  In terms of people with no other church link there were possibly four, and that's good too.  Which means four belong to other churches - so hopefully they've been inspired to try something similar themselves.

    One thing that troubled me, and always troubles me with churches, is cliqueishness.  We all sat cafe style around tables which was great, but everyone (apart from me and the two tea-ladies) stayed where they were - noone else from church went to talk to the visitors or even to each other.  Whilst I didn't mind those who'd brought people staying with them, I was not so chuffed about others sitting with their own little clique and phoning or texting!  Someone told me off for eating standing up - said I'd get indigestion - but how else was I to get round and talk to people?  I just wonder how other churches handle this aspect.

    The best bit was, I think, enjoying the growing confidence of the 'Gang of Four' who will hopefully be encouraged to do something again in the autumn.  Room for further development, but overall a good day.

  • Metamorphosis

    Today we have an afternoon invitation service, being organised by 'the Gang of Four' - a group which formed at one of our Vision Days last year to look at the 'community engagement' side of our life and who did our B2C service last autumn.  It was their idea to have regular invitation services and it is a delight to sit back and let them get on with it - albeit that I have to blag the five minute address at the end.

    So, this morning I've been writing reports for the AGM next month - for "Thing in a Pub", for "Saturday Prayers" and for "Lent 'n' Advent".  As I have done so, I've been very conscious of how different is the 'feel' of these groups from the church I came to a little over five years ago.  Gone is the religious language to be replaced by something more real yet more innately spiritual; gone are the lists of of 'they who must be named lest they take umbrage and leave' (though there are still a few they aren't in the groups I report on!) to be replaced by words like 'laughter,' 'warmth,' 'friendship' and 'openness.'

    More generally, gone are the reports from all but two of the organisations in place when I arrived: the knitting group left en bloc when the building closed; the children's work closed when there were no leaders (mid-week) and no children (Sundays).  The oddly named men's social committee (whose purpose I never discerned) vanished like morning mist, the walking group reached journey's end and the singers sang their swansong.  Now we have reports on the lunch club, the pub group, the prayer groups and the last surviving Bible class.  It is, I realise , not the church to which I came!

    This reflection seems good - whilst some of the changes sadden me, and their longer term implications are worrying, on the whole we are in better shape now than then.  Numerically smaller, older, frailer, financially more precarious true; but more open, more gentle and gracious, more forgiving, more risk-taking too.

    I am sure I've changed a lot too.  I am in some senses less anxious and in others more so.  I have a proven track record for mission and ministry, for risk-taking and tough-challenge facing.  I feel I am less 'holy' and more able to be surprised that God still confirms/affirms me in unexpected ways.  I know so much more that I now know I know so much less than I thought I knew.  Now I am five-and-a-bit - a big, grown up minister person who is out of the 'drop out danger zone' of experience - I wonder what I'll be like by the time I'm ten!!!

  • Funeral Preparations

    Tonight I've been doing some work next week's funeral, and was looking for some words of commendation that would be suitable.  Among the resources on my shelf is a book with the original title of Funerals: A Guide, James Bentley et al, Hodder and Stoughton 1995.  Looking through I found this one by David Adam which I really like, addressed to the deceased:



    You shared your life with us: God give eternal life to you

    You gave your love to us: God give his deep love to you

    You gave your time to us: God give his eternity to you

    You gave your light to us: God give everlasting light to you

    Go upon your journey dear soul to love, light and eternal life.


    This funeral is relatively unusual in that there are no hymns and the only music is entrance and exit.  I am pleased that my cousins felt able to say 'no' to music during the service but am intrigued and inspired by their choices for processional/recessional, which I will ask to be played in full.  Both are by a musician called Lisa Gerrard, of whom, to my shame, I had not heard.  She sings using a form of glossolalia which evidently she says is 'singing to God' (according to something like wikipedia anyway) though she is not actively of a specific faith tradition.  The music - which I listened to on YouTube and subsequently bought a CD of - is incredibly haunting and has an innate spirituality to it.  On the way in we are having one called Sanvean (I am your shadow) and in the way out Now We are Free (from the film Gladiator).  These two threads - of shadows and freedom - will frame my thoughts; a Biblical focus on the beautiful Romans 8 'what then can separate us from the love of God' will underpin it all.

    I have probably prepared extra well for this one - I hope that's not favouritism but appropriate familial care.

  • Why do we blog?

    At the meeting today there was a request for articles to include in the organisation's publication.  Foolishly I said I'd do something on blogging - not least because I am aware of someone who has written a brief theological piece on this.  So, rather than just me waffling on about why I blog and what I think is good blogging etiquette or posting ethics, I thought I'd canvas a few views from readers and writers alike.  The only wrong answers are untrue answers - and anything that breaches my private code of blogging etiquette or ethics.  Comments, which can be anonymous, are invited from Baptists and non-Baptists, ministers and real people ;-) , bloggers, lurkers and commenters.  It would be helpful if you indicate which you are but not essential.  Also, if you happen to be a Baptist-, a minister- or a theological-blogger and happy for your blog to be mentioned in what I write, please let me know.

    Some thoughts you might want to share are...

    why you read/write blogs?

    what you read/write about?

    what rules/etiquette do you endeavour to observe (if you write or comment)

    do blogs have a useful lifespan or sell-by date?

    if you blog, has yours changed over time?

    if you blog, why is it called whatever it's called?

    and anything else you think is interesting (and publishable!)