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  • Vanity!

    Despite the injunction in this morning's sermon to think no more highly (or lowly) of ourselves than we should, I did half like spotting two photos with me in them in the "Baptist Assembly in Scotland" website.  In one I, as ever, demonstrate my inability to know what to do with my arms when standing on a stage, in the other I have weird smirk on my face.  So, if you can be bothered to wait for them to appear you can have a laugh - and spot two other Gatherers standing in front of me in one of the photos.

    Two other games you can play...

    • Spot people you know in the photos (like SBC Principals and BWA presidents for starters)
    • Count the number of non-singing-group women with microphones... (I guess the BUGB-style balancing act is a long way off yet!)

    Some excellent speakers planned for this year... Ian Randall, Parush Paraushev, Stuart Blythe to name three who will be well known in England plus Alan Donaldson (BUS General Director) and Marc Owen (BUW); so if nowt else some of my southern friends will drool with envy!

  • Releasing Creativity; Reviving Vision

    Today our participation in the West End Festival began with an event we were asked to host, a debate entitled What Have Festivals Ever Done For Us? The audience was small, but attentive, with people enjoying scones, cakes and biscuits as well as hearing the speakers discuss the important role of festivals and their link to spirirtuality, or at least to community/communal spirit.  Alas my memory has never enabled me to retain exact forms of words, but one of the observations made by a speaker was of the relationship between artists working in the context of a city (along the lines of it being a backdrop for their work) and its people discovering/releasing their own creativity.

    I found myself reminded of the Biblical text 'where there is no vision the people perish' (Proverbs 29:18) a much misappropriated text, it is true, and one I may well be misappropriating here, but the speaker's observation seemed to be almost the opposite... where there is vision the people flourish.   If festivals are a vehicle for people to glimpse something brighter, more hopeful, more life-giving or life-affirming, then that sounds as if it may help them to flourish.  So just maybe the festival may help Glasgow to flourish... and it's right that the places where the preaching of the word and the praising of God's name are central be an integral part of that.

    Three more events that we are hosting - all we need is people to come along and bring their friends, to glimpse the vision and release their own creativity.  Or something like that anyway!

  • Out of the Mouths of Babes and Innocents...

    HT Angela for these short animations based on 1960s recordings of children in Dublin retelling Bible stories/faith stories.  They are wonderful - and there are a few copies of Give Up Yer Aul Sins available on Amazon if you're quick...

    Lazarus here

    Jesus' Passion here

    Birth of Jesus here

    Plus many, many more.


  • One Prayer Only?

    The communion service at the ministers' conference included a sermon on the third section of Jesus' High Priestly prayer.  Central to the sermon was the fact that of all the things he could have prayed for in looking to 'those who will believe through them', Jesus chose unity.  Not, the preacher observed doctrine.  This gave me something to ponder over in the light of a worldwide church where doctrine and practice seem to have the power to divide and divide again.  It also made me wonder what, if I was to pray one thing only, for the 'church of tomorrow' it might be?

    Right believing?  whatever that might mean.

    Right living? ditto

    Right loving? ditto again

    Unity is an ambiguous request.  It can be heard as uniformity, but so to do would deny the inherent diversity of Jesus' prayer - that they may be one just as we are one.  However we mangle our understanding of the trinity, it is not a monochrome uniformity, so Jesus presumably did not imagine a uniform church but he did pray for a united one.  It seems to me a hard prayer to beat (is that heresy that someone might come up with a 'better' prayer than Jesus?!) but one that contains within it acceptance that we don't really know what its answer might look like.

    So, your one prayer request for the future church is...


  • Charitable Status, Gift Aid and Baptistness

    Like lots of people, I Gift Aid my charitable giving - to church, to missionary organizations, to animal charities, to health charities.  It isn't something I've really thought about beyond the fact that if HM Govt are willing to refund taxes for charitable purposes then why miss out?

    In the last couple of weeks I've encountered two Baptists in two different contexts questioning this practice for somewhat different reasons, yet in each case concluding that it might be a prophetic act of witness not to take Gift Aid (at which point every church treasurer I know takes a massive intake of breath and fears what I might type next).

    In many (most?) countries religious groups (with the exception, where appropriate, of the state church) are not granted charitable status or given tax relief; the UK situation is the exception not the rule.  We do well to remember that rather than thinking it is somehow our 'right.'

    Baptists are very quick to assert, often loudly, their (our) views on separation of church and state... yet are happy to take any money the state might offer us (as I type I'm wondering if this extends to grants too?) without seeing any sense of compromise.  Charity registration brings financial benefits but also allows the state certain controls - on how our accounts are presented (at least it does in England, not so sure with Scotland) and how our Charity Trustees are accountable.  This is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, potentially, the state can tell us how to run our affairs - there are many legal issues that impede churches from doing things they'd like to, such as allowing their retired minister to stay in the manse rent free, or to give away a plot of land to another charity, and so on.  On the other hand, it prevents churches from accumulating huge reserves without a stated purpose: the rainy day fund for the rainy day that never comes, the £250k general reserve (not restricted income or that constrained to be used for capital projects) I heard of one church in the north of England holding with no defined purpose or intent.

    Charity Law is basically a 'good thing' that regulates a sector open to abuse and misappropriation (I'm always a bit wary of exercising my right to spend unchallenged the "ministers' slush fund") but it does impact on the freedom of churches (and other charities) to act as they see fit.

    Taking Gift Aid is not, so far as I can ascertain, a compulsory element of being a charity, yet most churches will gladly accept several thousand pounds per year back from the government.  In a time when the nation as a whole is short of money, when public service cuts seem inevitable in order to the balance the books, maybe, just maybe, we do well to examine ourselves and contemplate the impact that our gain has on the people who live on our doorsteps.

    I'm not saying we shouldn't take Gift Aid.  I'm just saying that maybe it's time I, at least, thought a bit more seriously about it.