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  • One to ponder... and chuckle if you dare

    Check out this link if you want to find something that will either make you smile or tut (or both).  HT BUGB e-news sweep.

    I guess the question to ask ourselves is, why do we react as we do to this cartoon?  And why have I not been smited instantly from above for posting it maybe?!

    (As an aside, I sent the link to an agnostic friend and had an interesting MSN chat as a result - maybe this is a mission opportunity?!)

  • RT Poem

    Buy the Christmas Radio Times.  This a Pauline imperative!!  Why?  Because it contains a version of The Twelve Days of Christmas by laureate Carol Anne Duffy that you simply must read.  If you live in Oz or the Czech republic or somewhere that doesn't sell it, well, persuade your friends to post you a copy.  It may be online if you look hard enough.  But just buy it.  And read it.  And think on it...

  • Special Privileges

    Sunday evening just gone was very special.  To a casual observer it may have seemed to be a simple, if beautifully crafted, reflective service for Advent 3.  But for those in the know, it was something very special.

    There are not many instances of Baptists and Church of Scotland folk sharing worship regularly together; far less where they share communion.  We are probably especially unusual in that we swap-preside.  For Baptists this is really no big deal; our theology and ecclesiology mean we can, and do, allow all sorts of people, lay and ordained, to preside.  For the C of S it is massive, needing approval of the Kirk Session and special dispensation to receive from a non-ordained person in a Baptist church (whilst, in common with most traditions, in their own place it must be an ordained person).  You have to know this to understand what happened on Sunday evening.

    Our worship was led by a C of S minister in training (I think that's the right word) and it was the first time ever she was presiding at communion - something she could do in our church but not her own (at least so far as I understand it; again this is not unike many other traditions, even URC and Methodists do not allow their trainees to preside).

    To be present at such a moment is privilege indeed.  I recalled how much preparation I put into my own 'first communion' and how terrified I was of messing it up.  It made me pause to recall just how great the privilege that we heretic Baptists take for granted of allowing anyone we choose to undertake this task for us.  Who am I, that I should be allowed to lead God's people in this way?

    Part of the beauty of the moment was bits that didn't quite fit neatly.  Some slightly mixed theology - virtual trans-substantiation language sat in the same sentence as pure memorialism (all bases covered then!) - and some uncertainty about whether to hold onto the wine or drink it straight away - so the the C of S drank and the Baptists held.  None of this mattered, because the moment was bigger than any of this.  And it was smaller.  A group of twenty odd folk gathered in a church hall on a cold December evening unnoticed by the world at large.  A bit like a supper in a borrowed room in Jerusalem a couple of thousand years ago where a man made it up as he went along, and his friends found themselves specially privileged.

    When you break bread, when you drink wine, remember...

    Thank you J for a very special privilege, may God bless you as you bless others in your ministry

  • The Poet, The Dreamer and Me

    If the title has thinking of Kermit the frog singing 'The Rainbow Connection' well what can I say, it gives away your age.

    On Sunday evening I watched the TV programme charting the story of Susan Boyle's roller-coater ride through Britain's Got Talent to the triple platinum (which I 'm fairly sure when I was a teenager wold have been a gold) disc for 1 million sales of her album.  As I watched I thought she still seemed incredibly vulnerable and I was left hoping someone will really look out for her when the fuss dies away and she has to get on with the reality.  I was also drawn into some end of year reflecting, not least because long before I'd heard of Susan Boyle, I had used her signature song, 'I dreamed a dream' in a worship service at Dibley as we faced the reality of the shattering of some of the congregational dreams and began to face a very uncertain future.

    Susan Boyle is about 18 months older than me and grew up in a very different culture and with very different expectations. She dared to dream a dream of being a professional singer despite the odds being stacked against her almost from the outset.  People who grow up in council houses don't do that, least of all if they have mild learning difficulties and live with their mums.  But she did.  And there are small parallels many of us can find as we, too, grew up in council-owned homes and refused to be defined by the low-aspirations of our neighbours or the stereo-typed expectations of media.  People who grow up in council houses don't (or didn't then) go to university, let alone come top of the year...

    When I went to Dibley I had great dreams of what we might achieve together, and I am sure they too had high hopes of what I might bring.  We spent a season together and achieved a lot of great stuff as well as facing countless challenges but, as the song says, 'there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.'  I used the song to shape a sermon and some prayers when it became evident that things had to change.  For that reason it is a song I always associate with standing in the hall of a primary school ona Sunday afternoon in February.  Almost a year on, we have all moved on, we have faced the challenges and discovered their outworking.  I am now very happily settled in my new church, starting to dream new dreams and seek God's leading for a new chapter.  My old church is in the hands of a caring and experienced moderator who will guide them gently on their way.

    This morning I dug out the words I wrote back in February to use at the end of a sermon in which we had expressed hope in struggle and confidence in the God of new creation...

    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!


    For me, 2009 is ending well.  Life is upbeat with lots of hope.  But I'm not naive or daft enough to expect 2010 (and beyond) to be a stroll in the park either.  I am glad of the poets - the ancient psalmists, the song writers and lyricists - and the dreamers - the ancient prophets and Susan Boyles - who help me to pause and reflect, to learn and to grow.  Maybe Kermit wasn't so far out after all - the rainbow connection, the promises of our wonderful God - are found by holding together insights from the poet, the dreamer and me!

  • Advent Overview

    This is the third Sunday of Advent, for most of us Proddy nonconformists essentially the final one because next week will be nativity services and 'candles by carol light'  and variations there-on.  I have no problem with this, indeed, I love the 'traditional' fourth Sunday given over slightly non-liturgically correct anticipatory celebration.  Over the last couple of days, I finally worked out the direction that this year's advent services have taken (I'm a bit slow sometimes!!).

    Week 1 we were 'spotting the signs' recognsiing that even amidst all the chaos and troubles of the world there are signs of God's activity, signs of hope.

    Week 2 we were 'getting ourselves ready' and used Paul's prayer for the church at Philippi (chapter 1 of the letter) as a basis for some personal spiritual clearing out of clutter, the 'removal of dross by fire' and 'washing with fullers soap' of the prophet

    Week 3 we are 'being joyful' and using Philippians 4 as the centre of our thoughts.  Joy not as a feeling (it isn't) or an option (it isn't) but as an imperative and as evidence of God's work within us (cf Galatians 5).  Having cleared out the clutter there is space for beauty - gentleness, peace, prayerfulness, hopefulness.  Not mere tinsel put up for a few days, but permanent fixtures.  Wow!

    Week 4 - we will be quite ready to celebrate as the children and young people lead our morning worship and as we welcome ecumenical friends and visitors for our evening carol service.

    Always good when it comes together... especially when we discover what God has been doing as we (I) have blundered through it all again.