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  • "...And That's It"

    Yesterday was one of my favourite days in the pre-Christmas rush, the day when the morning service is taken by the Sunday School (if you are blessed with one; for me this was the first time since I left Manchester...) and the evening is the carol service (or candles by carol-light or lessons and carols or some variation on the same theme).

    I love the children's nativity service, always slightly unpredictable - we had our own minor panic when the Virgin Mary was sick the day before (quite apposite I'd have thought...) and we had one uncooperative shepherd who chose to hide under a chair for part of the service - and always guaranteed to evoke lots of emotion in the congregation, perhaps recalling when they, too, were 'third angel from the right' or bravely announced in their best voice 'we have no room.'  O maybe, like me, it is because such an event marked the start of their own (conscious at any rate) faith journey.  I love the earnest faces of little children, of the six-year old Mary who whispers her 'yes' to God's call on her life, the over-exuberant boy-Joseph who drags his expectant wife at high speed along the road to Bethlehem, of the coy-preteen playing wise-man three or arch-angel Gabriel and hoping no-one from school sees them in a halo or crown, and so on and so on (not all of these were evident yesterday but they were out there somewhere).  I love the mix of mystery and wonder, of make-believe and truth and the sense that God is at work.

    And I love the carol service, the walk through dark streets (and yesterday with snow falling) into the cosiness of the church where the participants wait in quiet expectation.  The pre-service buzz of chatter stills and we find ourselves drawn gently through familiar readings and carols, blended with some newer material (which depending on location could be film, drama, choir, poetry or prose).  Yesterday our first reading, the prologue to John, was read in a rich, velvety Welsh accent by one of our members, and I was, momentarily transported to any small Victorian chapel with hard, polished pews, a draught round my feet, and secure familiarity of church tradition: 'hear, then the word of the Lord according to the gospel of John...'  A carol later and the delightful rawness of a child's east Glasgow accent led us through the Isaiah 11 'stump of Jesse' reading.  Again, in my mind's eye I was transported elsewhere, to school halls with their familiar smell of disinfectant, boiled cabbage and wax-crayon, to the uncertain enunciation of strange words and the chest-bursting pride of being asked to read.  As our reader finished, she paused for half a second, uncertain what to do next, then she said 'and that's it' before she sat down.  And so it continued, the lovely blending of a choir of children from a less privileged part of town with the adult voices of two church choirs, the familiar Bible texts in assorted British accents, the reflective pieces from diverse theological stables...

    And that's it... another year's carol services are done and dusted.  The magic happens (and I don't apologise for using that word - the word Magi has the same root), we are drawn beyond ourselves to other times and places, connected or re-connected with those who share our faith, and, mysteriously, encounter again the God who chooses to be born as a baby.  And that's it... that's the point.

    I have no idea what the little girl who uttered those words last night might be doing today, or will be doing over Christmas.  I cannot know what her life is like now or how it will work out.  But last night, in a moment of uncertainty over what to do next, her words made so much sense.  'A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse...' and that's it.  That's what we commemorate, that's what we celebrate, that's what we anticipate.  Amen and amen.


  • Thin and soft and mushy

    'Good Catriona she went out

    On 20th December

    Checked the snow that lay about

    Wasn't deep enough to close church'


    Among the 'things they never taught me at college' is that the decision to close the church because of snow lies, ultimately, with the minister.  For most people in most churches that means, 'are the roads so treacherous or the car park so slippery that it would be too dangerous for people to get to church?'  Here it means, 'is the snow loading on the roof such that our insurance is void.'  Setting aside that we aren't quite sure if it 50mm or 100mm that triggers this decision, and setting aside that I'd have thought the density/compaction of said snow would be a factor, and setting aside that actually we couldn't physically get up there to check the depth defintively without risky life and limb in all manner of other ways, it was with some relief that as I walked through the park, ending up looking like an abominable snow-woman, that I could see quite clearly that the snow was quite definitely thin (< 5mm), soft and mushy (not compacted).  So barring a sudden blizzard during the time we are at worship - which we won't see because we'll be inside with the doors closed - we wont be 'calling it' any time soon.  Oh, and regarding the massive blizzard during the service - I reckon I'd argue 'time at risk' and dazzle the insurers with phrases like 'ten thousand year return period' if worst came to worst.  Which it won't.


    'Therefore Gatherers all be sure

    As you come to worship

    That your Rev is on the case

    And the roof's not bro-o-ken!'


    Joking aside, keeping our folk safe is a real responsibility, whether it is icy paths, freezing meeting rooms or wonky steps.  I'm glad that folk here take seriously the conditions of insurance rather than saying (as I have heard elsewhere) "oh, God will never let that happen."

    Now I must do some proper work before worship!!

  • Christ Reaches Out...

    Over at Hopeful Imagination, Lucy a minister who is just under half my age (if I am right I 'double' her next year!) posted a wonderful reflection that 'showed' me a delightful image of Jesus as a toddler in a pushchair smiling and reaching out a hand towards me.  This image has stayed with me, I can almost hear him gurgling with gleeful toddler laughter as he reaches out in that open-handed way toddlers do to embrace a world that excites them.

    Then a moment when I was very humbled by one of the people I mentioned yesterday who gave me a Christmas card with a jolly robin singing in the snow.  It was almost as if Christ said to me, "you might struggle to see me, but I see you, and, in this frail, wizzened hand and this wobbly writing I reach out to you."

    In the soft, warm, pudginess of a little child's hand, in the dried, cold, thinness of an old man's hand, Christ reaches across time and space to reach us all.

  • The World is a Small Place

    The Baptist world is small.  The nuclear industry world is small.  When two small worlds intersect, as these two do remarkably often, I meet people who know people I know.  Some people thought that moving to Glasgow was a long way from people I know... but they failed to allow for the smallness of the worlds I inhabit, that we all inhabit. Without resorting to the blatantly obvious 'people I know who my church also know' because they are well-known figures in Bappy-land, here are some of the connections that exist...

    • Someone in church who works with someone I used to work with, albeit briefly, albeit a long time ago
    • Someone in church who is, technically, an alumna of the same London college as me, because his medical school merged with my college
    • Someone in church whose son used to work for said college, and who knew/knows someone who taught me fluid mechanics and thermodynamics all those years ago
    • Someone in church who knows the father of one of my friends because they used to work together for a Christian radio organisation
    • Someone in church whose father is a retired Baptist minister who once preached with a view at Dibley (I don't know who declined whom!) and held pastorates in EMBA at churches now served by friends or former colleagues of mine
    • Someone who went to university in Leicester and attended a church where I once, pre-Dibley, preached 'with a squint'
    • Someone in the coffee shop opposite the church who comes from a village just a few miles from Dibley and who, over Christmas will be down there while I'm up here

    Every now and then here, as formerly at Dibley, people ask me when I'm going home.  This grates a bit, though I know it is kindly meant, because no one would ask such a thing of a married minister.  Home is where your heart is, and my heart is here, in this place to which God has brought me, among these people whose lives already intersect with my own in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.  The world is a small place, and the Christian/Baptist world even smaller.  The interconnectedness, which so delighted one of my former tutors (Brian Howden) whose former church secretary had been one of the engineers who worked for me, is part of what makes us who we are - the Body of Christ.

    Oh, and if you are a reader who can give me a few more 'Brian-like' connections I'd love to know them.

  • Hopeful Imagination

    By the wonders of advance posting, I am here today even before I wake!