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  • Being Made Welcome...

    Last night I was formally welcomed to the BUS at Assembly at Queen's Park.  It was a special moment, one where your mouth insists on twitching into a smile even though you are probably meant to be sober and serious.  Standing on a platform with a group of other ex-pat BUGB ministers (and a few others) some now fully accredited BUS ministers being (in BUGB parlance) 'handshaked' and some retiring ministers was one of those moments when God's presence pierces the ordinary and allows us to glimpse something more wonderful.

    Assembly has had (and will have today when I set off in a few minutes) all the same niggles it has 'down south' and is, for me, the same wonderfully whacky Baptist family that I love so much.  So they had 'that song' and David Coffey told 'that parrot joke' but I have also met lots of lovely people, been hugged by total strangers (partly because of what I represent) and made to feel very much at home.

    The great cloud of witnesses will be unlike anything we may ever imagine, and way more wonderful, but as an Assembly-phile (albeit a slightly critical one) there are aspects of what I experienced this weekend would make it a great place to be.

    More reflections to follow in due course.

    In the meantime...

    Behold I go, riding on the train,

    Off to Queen's Park to join the happy throng

    Having fun at Baptist Assembly

    With new friends who all love God.


    (Now that is a MUCH better version! ;-) )


  • Sermons Behaving Badly

    This week I am struggling to wrestle my sermon into submission!  I know the things I want to share but each time I try to turn the thoughts into words they gum up and what emerges from my typing is unsatisfying.  Yesterday, which was 'officially' renamed Monday because Monday had acted as Tuesday, I found the reasons beginning to clarify in my mind - the subject matter (worship, or more specifically 'being worshippers') is one that is at once so obvious that we shouldn't need to talk about it, so complicated that we can always spend time usefully reflecting upon it and so contentious that talking about it is dangerous.  So now, finally, I have the openning for what I want to say, can name and move on from the unhelpful things fairly swiftly and move on to the ideas I want to explore, which I am linking with parts of Deuteronomy 6 and Acts 2.  I suspect that when my sermons behave badly it is because I need to think a bit harder, to wrestle a little more rather than settle for something that is easy to write and so falls short of what honours God... which is suitably ironic in a sermon on worship, the very act of saying to God 'you're worth it.'

    Anyway, time is against me, so write it I must.

  • And a little child shall lead them?

    A nice, out of context, quotation as a header to some brief thoughts arising from listening to Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2 at the start of the BBC's 'World of Faith Week' for 2009.

    Is faith 'taught or caught' or is it a bit of both?  One of the perennial questions, a bit like the nature/nurture stuff where you can never properly establish the controlled conditions you might need to answer the question.  Allied to this, and in the light of the 'reflection' that comes at just before 8a.m., do children meet God through the teaching/example of parents or do parents glimpse God in the lives of their children?

    I am really enjoying being in a church where there are children after almost six years without any.  One of the things I am pondering is what exactly I/we are about in the 'children's talk' section of the service.  For me, building on what I did when there were no children present, some aspects are quite clear: it is an 'introduction' to the theme that will be explored later on in the sermon, and this has quite significant implications for who leads it and how.  Either it needs to be led by the preacher, assuming he/she is comfortable/competent so to do, or it needs a lot of advance planning to ensure that, if responsiblity is shared, it does indeed all hang together: a good challenge.  It also needs to be seen as relevant to all people present, and that isn't so easy.  I want it to be something that children can enjoy - even hopefully be a teeny bit excited about - but it is not mere entertainment value.  I also want it to stir into action the grey matter of the adults who may either be a teeny bit bleary eyed or pre-occupied by other things they need to do.  What I love about working this part of the service very interactively is that, once relationships and rapport are built, there is the potential for little children to share incredible insights that point to God or challenge my own presuppositions.

    I have some ideas about how I want to develop this aspect of worship in due course, and am glimpsing hints already of the potential that exists.  Way back when, someone allowed me to read the Bible in public worship, someone gave me permission to do and be in embryo what I now am.  Nature/nurture? Caught/taught?  I don't know.  But somewhere in it all God was, and still is, active.

  • Participation

    I have just been reading over some information on the people who make up the committees and groups at church, and it is really encouraging because there are over 50 names listed - a good proportion of those who are in membership or attend regularly.  When I was a student in Manchester, I knew a retired minister who told me had always had a policy of giving people little jobs to do in church as soon as they'd settled into a pattern of regular attendance.  His theory was that if people had a reason to be at church then (a) they'd be there (b) they'd feel needed/valued and (c) they would come to take appropriate pride in the church.  Over the years I have come to see a lot of sense in this philosophy, though it isn't entirely foolproof.  Sometimes people need church to be a safe enough space to slip in and slip out again; sometimes the battering they have taken in life means they need time to recover before taking on responsibility; sometimes people are just passing through on their way somewhere else.  Participation is excellent and essential, dare I say it, Biblical, but it needs to be handled sensitively and I for one don't always find the right balance.  The reality is that in many/most churches a very small proportion of the people do a very large share of the work.  Even so, already I am enjoying being part of a church where lots of people do a little bit, which saves me one line of preaching; I just need to spot the opportunities for those who don't yet have 'a little job' !!

  • Freedom and Responsibility

    Last night I watched BBCs Question Time - well I expect one heck of a lot of people did - and then part of the programme following it (This Week) which discussed to some degree the rights and wrongs of what had gone on.

    Jim has some helpful thoughts on the programme here which are well worth reading and pondering.

    It's a really tricky one isn't it, balancing freedom of conscience and expression (something Baptists love to assert is part of our heritage) with responsibility; how to permit diversity without allowing bigotry or prejudice to go unchecked.  Someone where in all of this the creative tensions of being Gospel People seems to emerge: the call to be inclusive (welcoming the stranger and not demonising the 'other') whilst prophetically challenging that which is wrong, sinful, evil.

    The BBC is, I think, quite probably right in prompting the debate its actions have prompted, but that doesn't mean we should simply accept what was broadcast without asking many, many questions.  Too easily we blame the government or the BBC for what has happened and shrug off our own responsibilities.  At the same time it is too simplistic just to say, as some did yesterday, well you voted for them, you caused the situation to which you now object.  Has this programme given extremist parties publicity they may crave? Has it created an minority underdog being beaten up by the mainstream majority?  How much of the inherent bias of this so-called impartiality have we noticed?  It is very tricky, and this virtual 'thinking aloud' is not making it any less so.  Questions about the responsibilities that accompany freedom do need to be wrestled with.  I don't have any answers, I just recall that Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.


    Who is it we demonise in all of this?

    What are our own sins of omission or complicity?

    How do I abuse my freedom?


    On us, and on those we find offensive:

    Lord have mercy

    Christ have mercy

    Lord have mercy