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  • The end of an era...

    I snapped this photo earlier in the year, during a visit to this fiesty, well-loved, 102 year old.  It captures something of her indomitable spirit, humour, wit and wisdom.

    Tomorrow we will say our last farewells to her, commend her to the safe-keeping of the God in whom she trusted unwaveringly, and celebrate a long life, well-lived.

    Almost every Baptist minister in the UK, and many in the world, will know the name R E O White, minister and theologian; fewer had the privilege to know the woman who worked alongside him, bore his children and loved him as a life-partner.

    An era ends - someone born just as World War I began, who lived through so much challenge and change, yet held fast to her faith in Christ without ever seeming to grow narrow or stuck-in-the-mud - and it is pure privilege to be part of that moment.

  • From the old we travel to the new...

    So we did it!  Yesterday we held the final services in our beloved tatty building and moved out to spend some time 'camping' in a hotel just up the road.

    On Saturday evening, a group of us walked round the whole building (apart from the hard hat area) recalling how each space had been employed for mission or ministry, offering a short prayer and symbolically switching off lights as we went, until we left the building in darkness.

    Yesterday's morning service was a pack out, with nigh on a hundred folk, including a couple of dozen guests/visitors, sharing in an interactive and innovative service that had been created and delivered by a small team of gifted folk.  We sang hymns and songs that are meaningful for us, some expressing faith, others our aspirations.  We shared memories in different parts of the building, guided by members of our Sunday School and/or we watched a compilation of wedding videos stretching back several decades.  We recorded memories of the past and hopes for the future.  We reflected on scripture - the Hebrews 11 Cloud of Witnesses who urge us on, and the Matthew 28 Christ who is always present with those who God sends out for the work of mission.  We packed up a box with the Bible, cross, chalice and  cloths from the table.  We left the building singing, locked the door, shared a final prayer and walked, together, to the hotel for a 'welcome lunch'.

    In the evening, thirty people, from at least five churches, sat in a ring and shared a service of reflection and bread-breaking.  With Nicodemus, the intelligent, questioning man who sought out Jesus by night, with Jacob who wrestled with God all night at Peniel (being left with a limp for his pains), with the young people urged to seek out the counsel of Sophia, spirit wisdom, and the Hebrew church encouraged by Paul to keep on keeping on, we reflected on how this service came about, what it attempts and why it is important, ecumencially, theologically, spiritually.  We recorded more memories.  We broke bread and drank "wine".  We sang of the God who has 'more light and truth to break forth from the Word' and we 'marched in the light of God' to share refreshments at the church who will pick up our 'hosting' role in alternate months.

    A long day (or weekend) and an important one.  Very grateful to A, A, H and P who worked on creating the morning service, and to those others who, largely unobserved even by me, worked behind to scenes to bring it all together.

    Advent - Adventure... Coming - Becoming... Transition and Continuity...

    From the old we travel to the new, and the eternal God travels with us.

  • And a time to rest...

    I am not quite sure how we got to November already, or how I have managed to pack so much into this year both personally and church-wise.  I did, a few days ago, pause long enough to be very grateful that the challenges this year has brought were this year, not last year, as I would not have had the stamina or strength to face them at that stage.  From major surgery in January, to settling Mum in a care home, to working with others to clear, sort and pack up our church, as well as all the run of the mill stuff, it has been a busy time!

    Anyway, tomorrow I will setting off for two weeks of relaxing holiday in Tenerife, along with a friend of more than thirty years.  The photo shows the ubiquitous feline response to packing... maybe I'd be better to take them and leave the clothes behind!

    It will be very strange not leading worship for Remembrance, but I know that the Gatherers will be in good hands.  It is not ideal to be away for two Sundays just before 'move out Sunday' but the Gatherers are, so far as I can ascertain, in good heart.

    For now, it's a case of backing up my laptop (which is quite noisy this morning!) ensuring the last few practical and pastoral responsibilties are completed and finishing up the packing.  Some work on services and newsletters still to be done (airport lounges maybe!) but getting there,

    Sophie and Sasha will be guarding my home, ably asssisted by Auntie J and Auntie F, so would-be burglars beware!!!

    Back in a couple of weeks but probably no blogging til then.

  • Grieving and Gratitude... Two Poems

    Yesterday evening was the annual service of grieving and gratitude, in which people are invited to recall and reflect upon those they have love and lost, find comfort and hope and continue onwards.  Here are the two poems we used in that context...

    The Seasons of Grief

    Tom Gordon


    Every stage of grief has its season,

    And every facet of loss has its time.


    A time for disbelief, and a time for harsh reality.

    A time to know, and a time to be consumed by unknowing.

    A of clarity, and a time of uncertainty.

    A time for public smiles, and a time for private tears.

    A time to be thankful, and a time of regret.

    A time of giving up, and a time for going on.

    A time of living half a life, and a time of wanting to live again.

    A time of then, and a time of now.

    A time to feel hopeless, and a time to be positive.

    A time of looking forward, and a time of wanting life to end.

    A time of faith, and a time of doubt.

    A time for holding on, and a time for letting go.

    A time when steps are light, and a time when limbs are tired.

    A time of hazy memories, and a time of instant recall.

    A time for living with death, and a time for living with life.

    A time of fruitlessness, and a time of growth.

    A time of despair, and a time of purpose.

    A time of emptiness, and a time of hope.

    A time for rage, and a time for peace.


    Dont Tell Me that I Mourn Too Much

    Michael Rosen


    Don’t tell me that I mourn too much

    And I won’t tell you that you mourn too much


    Don’t tell me that I mourn too little

    And I won’t tell you that you mourn too little


    Don’t tell me that I mourn in the wrong place

    And I won’t tell you that you mourn in the wrong place


    Don’t tell me that I mourn at the wrong time

    And I won’t tell you that you mourn at the wrong time


    Don’t tell me that I mourn in the wrong way

    And I won’t tell you that you mourn in the wrong way


    I may get it wrong, I will get it wrong, I’ve got it wrong

    But don’t tell me.

  • The first of the lasts...

    The table after the last morning service communion to be held in this place since 1883... at least until we return in a couple of years time.

    This morning we began a month of 'lasts' as we prepare to vacate our premises at the end of the month so that they can be (DV - or at least city council planning department willing, whichever is the more significant) redeveloped into a fantastic new facility to serve us, and those who follow us, into the next 130+ years of life at the Gathering Place.

    We wove together our normal Sunday worship with a Special Church Meeting in which we authorised those who serve as Charity Trustees to sign necessary legal paperwork just as soon as it is finalised. We also expressed thanks to our longest served Member as she retired from leading our Pastoral Team... a woman whose family were among the earliest worshippers here.  And then we shared Communion... our battered wooden table clothed in white linen and laden with significant symbols... words I'd written specially, and words of scripture... we ate, we drank, we remembered... and we moved forward.

    It was, for me, and I think for others, a significant moment... perhaps that's why spontaneous applause rang out after the ballot was announced... perhaps that's why I observed a few folk shed a tear, and even became momentarily choked myself... it is certainly why I decided on the spur of the moment that we'd end by singing the doxology together.

    The first of the lasts... The next two Sundays I am away on leave and the "pulpit" will be filled by loved and trusted friends of this congregation before I am back for the very last Sunday in the 'old' place.

    As we sang at the end of the service, "it's from the old we travel to the new, keep me travelling along with you".

    A chapter concludes, but the story continues...