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  • O Happy Day!

    So, with our very exciting up-coming Pentecost service (one Baptism and four people into membership) I have, as is pretty usual in these situations, invited the four people to choose a hymn for us to sing.  This is something I always enjoy - whether I am leading or not - and it is interesting to see what people choose and why.

    I am more than happy with the four choices this time around... they fit the ocassion, they say important things and they reflect the people who have chosen them.

    T'wil be gradely (sp?), as they say in Yorkshire!


    Quick challenge:

    Can anyone find me the words to the first verse of "O happy day that fixed my choice" in Yoruba?

  • When 'not ready' means 'ready enough'...

    This evening I had a meeting with the young man whose will be baptised at the Gathering Place on Pentecost Sunday, and the person who will be assisting me in the baptistery.  Having done a 'dry run' in the middle of the vestry (as one does) he said he had some questions he needed to ask... which centred around whether or not he was ready to be baptised, and what it meant for his life-style choices ever after.  With some very helpful input from my colleague, we explored some specific concerns and some more generic ones, concluding that actually the fact that he had these questions was evidence of itself that he is now ready for Baptism.

    No-one is ever 'ready' for Baptism.  No-one fully 'gets' what they are doing, what it means, what (if anything) it does, how life will be different or the same afterwards.  We all continue to sin, to stumble and struggle - because we are always God's "work-in-progress".  But the ability to recognise that, to identify that this or that topic or future decision might be affected by me marking my discipleship of Jesus in this profound way, is a sign of being 'ready enough'.

    And of course we Baptise people in the context of a faith community - it is not a private ceremony, but a public act, in which we who are witnesses promise to stand with our newly baptised sibling-in-Christ, upholding them as best we can, as they, in turn, uphold us.

    I am excited, very excited about our Pentecost service.  I am excited, very excited about how God's Spirit's working in people's hearts and minds is leading to new expressions of faith and commitment.  I am excited because just as we are, God will receive us and bless us.  We're never going to be ready, but we can be ready enough...  

  • Intergenerational Worship

    A couple of thought-prompting posts here and here.

    It is now almost a year since we, at the Gathering Place, agreed a way forward as an experiment, and during which we have revised and tweaked what we do in morning worship more than a few times.  A year on, and still we have not found "the" or even "a" solution that everyone feels happy with... but at least we are still working at it.  Not an easy one to find a good answer to, but one we must continue to keep on our mental, and literal, agendas.

    Enjoy the posts - and let them prompt you to think too.

  • Shining Like Stars in the Universe

    It was a good - even a great - BUGB-BMS Assembly in Blackpool.  Here are some thoughts that arose from it for me.

    The Assembly took 'Shing like Stars in the Universe" as its title, but it seemed to get overtaken by a line in Malcolm Duncan's address (on being risk takers) which used the phrase from Robert Louis Stevenson "punching holes in the darkness" (which was, as it happens the title of the BUS-BMS Assembly in 2009, if memory serves).  Then as now, the phrase was grasped and exploited based on what, in my view, is a misunderstanding of the phrase... it does not mean a clenched fist used to break its way through some near impenetrable wall, rather it alludes to a leather punch, or a hole punch, a tool employed purposefully, carefully to create a hole in the fabric for the specific purpose of allowing something (light in this case) to pass through.  Perhaps it is semantics, but in a world characterised by violence, I don't like like the idea of Christians thumping our way into anything.  At the same time, the idea of carefully identifying the right place purposefully to pierce the dark and then doing so, allowing light to permeate it, is a good image.

    Other phrases that gave me pause for thought included the idea that you can only see stars when it is dark... not sure I've quite got to the root of what that says, but it made me think!  And it reminded of this little quote printed on the back of the order of service for the funeral I went to last week:


    'When it rains, look for rainbows

    When it's dark, look for stars'


    Perhaps the point is that darkness (or rain) are our inner perceptions, and it is the stars (or rainbows) that carry hope as well as beauty?


    Anyway.  Enough of that.  Thoughts on what I heard.


    I chose to attend three seminars/special interest groups - one on the experiences of people with disabilities (led by two ministers, one blind, the other a wheelchair user), one on intergenerational worship (that's all age worship by a fancy name) and one on pastoral support for LGBT people in our churches.  Whilst the intergenerational one disappointed me in terms of its content (or my perceived lack thereof) there did seem to be a common thread running through all of them, which is the challenge of what it REALLY means to be inclusive. 

    It was the blind minister who summed it up when he said (words to the effect) "we are quite good at welcoming people, putting in ramps and toilets, selecting the right colours for PowerPoint, but that is not including people."  By way of example, a case was cited of a church where a wheelchair user was excluded from the readers rota because s/he would be unable to mount the three steps to the lectern.  These two ministers, well read and graciously passionate also spoke about our use of language, and the way that we can tie ourselves in all sorts of knots trying to get it right.  The minister who uses a wheelchair reminded us that, on the whole, people with disabilities will forgive faux pas in language if it is clear the intent is good; they won't mind a 'lash up' ramp as had indeed been the case in the session, because of a late request for an accessible platform to raise him above floor level.  It is our intent, our desire to move beyond welcome to inclusion that is key.  I have to admit I spent most of Assembly muttering every time we told (not asked or invited) to stand and adding my own "if you can"... it took until Day 4 for this to be heard from the front...  If nothing else this will be my legacy to the churches I have served... we INVITE or ASK people IF THEY CAN to .....  (Sorry block caps is ranty... but it's not rocket science peeps!)

    A decade ago (or just over) at the first Baptist Assembly I attended, also in Blackpool, human sexuality was a topic on the agenda.  It was all very uncomfortable, and the decision by one man to out himself in front of 2000 delegates nothing short of a miracle.  This year the topic was once more on the agenda for the final deliberative session.  No proposals were to be brought or voted upon, rather we heard a poignant, honest story from a man describing himself as "a husband, a father and a minister."  This man has four children, and he has conducted the weddings of three of them.  He could not do this for his fourth child, a son, as he was gay.  In a moving account of his own struggles to come to terms with his son's disclosure, he admitted to things he had said he wished he hadn't, and also of probing questions or responses his son had offered.  His son is happily settled in a CP and with his partner is now moving forward in a process to adopt children.  The father still has questions and concerns, but he loves his son, his son's partner and in due course I am sure will love their child/ren.

    The small group discussions were far less stressy than their equivalent a decade ago, far more open, far more honest, and overall the word people used was 'gracious'.  There was a sense that in that decade things have changed, and whilst many Baptists are still uncertain, there is a desire to engage more seriously with understanding the complexities of the topic (which is much broader than 'just' marriage law).  There was even a subtle but significant hint assertion that ministers may express their convictions without fear of censure (even there are still some very clear limits on what we may or may not do).

    For many, younger LGBT people, this may seem like its all too slow, all too vague and wishy washy... all I can say is that Affirm (the Baptist network) which includes some younger people seem to be genuinely encouraged by it.

    As the conversations drew to a close, a pigeon flew right across the arena... now the fact is there were two or three pigeons nesting there, so there is a totally logic explanation... but the image of the dove (the Greek word can be either pigeon or bird) overflying our conversations was profoundly symbolic... surely God's Spirit was moving in the meeting as conservative and liberal, traditional and radical, certain and confused recognised that we are all in this together.


    The appointment of Lynn Green as the new General Secretary was both historic and welcome.  Another 'first woman' who will need our prayerful support as she takes her place in helping to guide and shape the BUGB for the yeras ahead.


    A long essay!  Of course there were aspects of Assembly that disappointed (for me some of the songs were just plain annoying... and I do not get the idea of singing Christmas carols in May!) but these seem as nothing compared to the real sense that God is doing something new, already it is springing up - and we a beginning to perceive it.

  • Not Just a Number

    This article on the BBC website yesterday didn't tell me anything I didn't know.  10,000 a year - and I am one of them.

    A reminder that behind every statistic there are real people, with real lives, real dreams, real fears, real friends and real families.  Health, wealth (or lack thereof), employment... not just a number.

    Not an erudite post, but a reminder to myself that all the data published points ot someone who says 'that's me'