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  • Welcoming New Church Members

    Last Sunday we welcomed two people into membership of our church using the form of words laid out in Gathering for Worship.  It was, I think, a joyous occasion, and one that many people seemed to appreciate.  However, someone commented to me that they wondered about making such a big deal of it, and what any visitors or new people might make of the whole rigmarole.  These were good questions about which, if I am honest, I have never really thought because all the Baptist (URC and even Methodist) churches I've had associations with or been a member of have had equally significant rituals (for want of a better word) for welcoming new members.  That doesn't make it right or wrong, it just makes it my normative experience.  And it's an approach I value because I think the promises made are important and I think it is important to make a bit of a fuss of the people involved (though maybe that says more about my needs than anything else!!).  But what could I live with as a pared down version of this?  Must people stand (or sit) at the front of the church facing everyone else?  What is a minimum requirement by way of declarations of faith and commitment?  How important is it that other people offer the 'right hand of fellowship'?  And so on, and so on.

    Whilst I would be very happy to adjust and tweak the words and format to reflect individual circumstances, there are some things I think are essential as symbols and signs of what we are doing...

    • Reception into membership, like Baptism, is a public act and must take place in the context of public worship
    • Reception into membership is a solemn undertaking and must involve some form of declaration of faith and some acceptance of the responsibilities to public worship, private prayer, mission and participation in the church meeting.  This need not be mega heavy, and the forms offered in Gathering for Worship and/or Patterns and Prayers are neither unduly onerous nor unhelpfully narrow.

    Apart from that, I think that it is up to the individuals involved to work out the fine details whilst keeping a framework that ensures some kind of continuity through time.

    In the last two churches I worked with there was a rather fine, very old, tradition of new members adding their own name to the membership book.  At Dibley we had a book dating back to 1875, in Manchester the book in use was newer, but additional, older volumes completed the full list.  This visible sign of the 'communion of saints' (a concept Baptists seem to be getting more keen on these days) including notes of transfers and deaths was a much treasured part of each of these fellowships.

    I know some churches are moving away from 'traditional' congregational ecclesiology approaches to membership (which are probably about as biblical as Christmas trees anyway) and using annual community covenants instead, albeit with their own problems and benefits.  Maybe I'm just more of an old traditionalist that I like to realise, but I can't help feeling there is something instrinsically good about welcoming our new members, whether their route in is Baptism, confession of faith or transfer.

    What do others think?  What do your churches do?  Do you have customs that are worth sharing?

  • Little Family; Big Family

    One of the joys of this place is the cultural and ethnic diversity.  We have recently been blessed by the arrival of two people in our church who speak almost no English, yet who come faithfully, participate fully (even telling me one week they understood the sermon) and are always smiling.  On Sunday after the service I made a point of inviting them to come to our Christmas Day lunch.  Their delight was very apparent, and one of them in halting English said, 'in [my country], my little family; here, my big family.'  I was touched that she felt this, and glad too, because she expressed feelings with which I would concur about this church.  Some people visit us and decide what we are is not what they seek, which is fine, but everyone I have met comments on the warmth of the welcome and the sense of open-handed love they feel.  We aren't prefect, of course not, but this is a strength of this church, and I can't help feeling it's rather a good one!

  • Advent Reflections - tricky passages and new insights

    On Sunday I was using part of the lectionary reading from Philippians as a focus for some reflections on how we might prepare ourselves spiritually for the 'Day of Christ.'  Using Paul's prayer for the people at Philippi, part of that reflection was about 'growing in knowledge and insight' and I commented on the danger of a stagnant understanding of scripture, fixed firmly in the way we heard stories as children, and the risk of not really reading or engaging with scripture afresh.  It seemed to resonate with (at least) some people. I also commented that Jesus injunction to 'become like a child' was not about a kind of Peter Pan refusal to grow up, rather about a curiosity and openness to discover truth through the whole of life.

    This morning I was reading the lectionary readings for today and was left discomfitted by the Isaiah 30:19 to end passage which was, crudely, God blessing Israel and God punishing Assyria.  Not that God is not free to punish those who deserve punishment, or to bless those whom God so chooses, just I find the whole national level blessing and cursing hard to handle.  As it happened, I also checked out NBLCs Advent reflection for today which was using a different Isaiah passage, Isaiah 19: 18 - 25 which, in the CEV is labelled up as 'The LORD will bless Egypt, Assyria and Israel'.  A contrast, and a more hope-filled passage... yet still part of the greater whole.  I can't just ignore chapter 30 in favour of chapter 19, rather I must try to find the signs of hope, the good news in the greater whole, the bigger picture.  Not sure that's easy, not sure I'll ever quite get there, but a challenge to keep seeking the new insights, to keep learning and growing.

    The 'thought for the day' bit on NBLC's website (which will have vanished tomorrow) seemed very apposite:

    Egypt and Assyria were the opposing superpowers in Isaiah’s time. Israel was the corridor connecting them – a dangerous place to be. Yet Isaiah speaks of a time when these three enemies would be at one, each blessed by God, each known as the people of God. It’s an amazing vision of peace. As we await to celebrate the prince of peace, are we working and praying for the Taliban to be at one with the USA, for India to be at one with Pakistan, for Israel to be at one with the Palestinians?

    I wonder who the communities or people groups either (or all) side(s) of us are?  How is our place a dangerous palce to be?  Who is it we need to be praying for locally as well as internationally?

    Come now O Prince of Peace, make us one body... come now Lord Jesus, reconcile your people.

  • Feasting and Fellowship

    IMG_0579.JPGA great evening of food, laughter, friendship and conversation was shared by a good number of folk (I didn't count but I suspect nearer 40 than 30 in the end) at last night's progressive meal.  With five hosts (I think) offering sumptuous starters and mains, we then moved on to the Gathering Place for desserts, coffee/tea and chocolates.

    It was above all a really happy evening.  Some of those who came along are really quite lonely or troubled people (I hope they will forgive me for saying so) and it was good to see them tucking into their food and laughing and chatting.  Others are amazing cooks who could have given the five thousand a real banquet, never mind fish sandwiches.  Still more have an eye for detail, making sure the place looked lovely as we arrived.  Some put furniture out, some put it away, some washed up (with the dishwasher, panic not!) and some were just the most wonderful guests.

    We can get ourselves rather into theological knots in Advent - should we feast or should we fast?  I suspect the answer is, a bit of both.  Jesus, as I recall, got into trouble for feasting when others thoguht he should fast; he also assumed that people would fast (check out Matthew and his revisit of the Law) with good attitudes and cheerful demeanours.  Sometimes it is about the 'how' and 'why' not the precise form of the 'what'.  So it was yesterday.  I have a feeling that Jesus would have approved of last night's repast.IMG_0577.JPG

  • Recipe 3: Raspberry Cheesecake

    So, after making the mousse there are two egg yolks needing to be used up... here's a great way!

    You will need

    500g full fat cream cheese (the sort that prompts brotherly/sisterly love is fine)

    20 or so digestive biscuits (about one standard packet of the sort made in Ashby de la Zouch)

    150g unsalted butter

    Around 300g or two punnets of fresh raspberries

    2 dessert spoons of sugar

    2 egg yolks

    1/4 pint double cream (could be left after you make the mousse...)

    1 tablespoon agar flakes dissolved in a cup of water (or one sachet of gelatine made up according to instructions)


    2x 7" Victoria sandwich tin lined with foil


    Smash the biscuits to bits inside a food bag.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and then stir in the biscuit crumbs.  Divide the mix between the two tins, press down firmly and then place in the fridge for about half an hour

    Mix together in a large bowl the cream cheese and sugar, then add about 3/4 of the rapsberries and mix really well.  The raspberries fall part and the mix takes on an attractive pink hue.  Add the egg yolks and again mix thoroughly.

    Whip the cream until it 'holds it shape' and stir in the agar/gelatine and mix well.  Add the cream mixture to the cheese mixture and beat thoroughly.  Divide the topping between the two tins (you may find the filling stands proud of the tins but is think enough to stay put).  Chill for at least four hours and preferably overnight before serving.  Just before serving top with the remaining raspberries.

    Serves 10-12.  I forgot to work out the calories but by now, who's worried?  You get part of a 'five a day' in each serving and it's a great source of calcium, so it must be good for you.