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  • Contextualisation

    This week I've decided to swap the sermon theme with that I had scheduled for next week, because it feels that the theme is a better 'fit' for Sunday 11th September - 15 years on from the so-called 9/11 events.

    It was interesting reading ver the sermon I wrote on the same theme (from James, not 9/11) thirteen years ago, and realising how very context-specific it was.  Context as where, context as when, context as who, context as why... I reckon it was an OK sermon, the thrust of it is pretty much timeless and non-specific, but it is also one that could not simply be lifted and preached in this place, at this time to these people.

    My creative juices are working and I have some ideas begining to coalesce.

    September 11th 2001 was the day I went for dinner to the manse of the church in South Manchester at which I would spend the last two years of my training.  I had agreed to bring dessert (I have long since forgotten what I made/took) and we would talk over what the placement might involve.  Inevitably we spoke about the events that were still unfolding, a mix of incredulity and bewilderment.  I guess the sermon that Sunday offered some kind of response - but I don't recall that either.  Memory is a funny thing.  Sometimes every tiny detail is seared into our subconscious, sometimes we struggle to recall anything at all, and either is fine.  I guess that's part of the challenge of preaching - that context is never concrete or absolute.  What is hugely significant for one person is meaningless to another.  The same day that some people celebrate, others are devastated by tragedy.  And I, as a preacher may oblivious to all of this... which makes the task both easier and more difficult... which is why preaching differs from teaching, if only in tiny ways, because of that inexplicable something that is God's Spirit at work.

    If you want to listen to something truly beautiful and helpful to aid your own reflections on 9/11 or on tragedy at a more personal level, then go here, and listen to the words of Provost Kelvin Holdsworth at 19'48"


  • Hmmm and Wow and Hmmm some more!

    I'm home after a privileged and pleasurable weekend sharing with a young couple as they entered the covenant of marriage.  It has been a weekend of 'hmm' and 'wow' moments to be sure...

    I always like to buy a "silly gift" for couples I marry, something of little monetary worth but that somehow symbolises something about their marriage.  This time, I'd failed misterably - or so I thought. 

    On Friday morning I'd nipped out to do some last minute shopping, and had been given a £2 coin in my change.  I thought nothing of this, and set off to catch my train.  At the railway station, I bought a cup of tea and handed over the coin in payment, spotting too late, so I thought, that it was really shiny and new.  The young man took a close look at it, handed it back and said, "you should keep that, it's valuable - worth around £50."  Somewhat nonplussed, I took back the coin and sifted through my change for alternative means of payment!  What an honest and generous young man, who could simply have swapped the coin for his own change after I'd left...

    Curious, I tapped in to my phone the details of the coin, and, sure enough, it is relatively rare, a special edition coin, minted for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and currently selling for £10-£15 on well-known websites.  A bit more searching revealed that an historian had been furious at the design, King John is holding a quill pen to sign the document when , actually, he would simply have used a royal seal.

    Suddenly, I had my daft gift... the Bible reading chosen by the couple was from Song of Songs 8:6-7 and begins "set me as a seal upon your heart..."

    So, I told the story as part of my address and gave them the coin, telling them not to spend it, but to put it in a drawer and, every now and then, when they came across it, to remember the promises they made this day.



    This morning the new Mrs C handed me a small packet saying, that this was a thank you gift for me... as I opened it, I discovered this wonderful, carefully designed piece which was inspired by my New Zealand koru (unfurling fern) brooch - which I had worn yesterday for the wedding ceremony.  It is stunning beautiful, a real 'wow' moment and also a kind of a 'hmm' moment too.  My unfurling fern, a Maori symbol of new life and/or resurrection is a precious possession way beyond its monetary value.  This beautiful necklet expresses the same symbolism, consciously or unconsciously, and I will treasure it always.

    In the silly and in the sacred; in symbols great and small; in moments that make you laugh and in moments that take away your breath, God speaks, and I am so glad that, in these few days, I heard.

  • Remembering... Stories and Spaces...

    It's no secret that I'm not a great one for place attachment.  Almost every significant building in my life has been demolished or compeletly redesigned.  Places I walked have been buried under housing estates.  Recently I discovered that the church building where I was baptised and ordained is about to be sold - no doubt it will be demolished (it's not a nice building!!).  And so on, and so forth.

    At the same time, I am very aware that for other people buildings and places carry huge signficance.  In this place all the major milestones of their lives were marked.  Here they went to school; there they met their life-partner... so I am always careful not to let my experiences undermine the authentic attachments of others.

    It was a bit of surprise, then, last Sunday when I was spending some time alone in the Gathering Place, taking photos of noticeboards and other random, mundane things, that a memory floated up from my subconscious dating back to 16th September 2010!

    A beautiful sunny day... a Thursday... and a day when, 24 days (I just counted!) after my cancer diagnosis, and the ensuing rush of appointments and tests and goodness knows what, I had a gift of a day to draw breath.  A day in which I went into the hall and span (spun?, not sure of correct form!) myself round and round like a child until I was dizzy. 

    I realised that, for me, this place carries part of my story too - my major life events.  Not in the once beautiful sanctuary, but in the tired, red lino of the hall; not only in the public and wonderful, such as my induction, but in the private and poignant, such as that day in 2010.

    Perhaps it's ironic that the hospital where I was diagnosed is no more... perhaps it is the story of my life that places where my signficant moments exist only in my imperfect memory.

    Today, I will be travelling north to stay in a real live castle, and to conduct a marriage ceremony for a young couple.  One day they will look back and recall that place, that day... one day, too, this place will be part of my story and, mysteriously, I part of its.