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  • One Extreme...

    This month I am attending two conferences for Baptist ministers, which could not be more different if they tried!

    Today I am heading of to St Andrew's, in Fife, for the Scottish Baptist Ministers' Conference which will be very male and very white.  In a fortnight I will be heading to IMC, Birmingham for a gathering of women Baptist ministers to make the centenary of ordination being possibl;e (at least in England and Wales) which will include several minority ethnic women, though the main speakers are all white.

    Each will be very different from the other, and each will bring its own joys and challenges.  In one context I am still a pioneer, an anomaly, a curiosity; in the other I am just one among many, though recognised as one of the 'history book' names (which I still find incredibly wierd! If only they knew... imposter syndrome)

    I look forward to catching up with friends in each venue, and to meeting new people.

    May each be a time of encouragement and growth.

  • Airport Prayer Room

    My journey to Rome involved more than a few last minute changes which resulted in me flying from Edinburgh via Madrid on an airline that has zero vegetarian options on its menu apart from Pringles crisps!

    Anyhow, I arrived at Edinburgh, after a taxi ride with three other people squashed into a private hire car, and, with time to spare before I could check in, sought the tranquility of the prayer room.

    Apart from an armed police officer putting his head round the door to see what I was up to (praying....) it was a true oasis of calm amidst the busyness of the airport.  And I thought the printed prayer, which was located next to the visitors' book, which I signed, was a good one.

  • Historically Significant...

    I visited the Colosseum in Rome with mixed feelings... I wanted to see it because it is historically significant, but I was very aware of what I was visiting - the scene of mass murder, mass execution of Christians and other 'criminals', animals starved so that they would fight to the death, and where losing gladiators could be spared or not based on an audience vote.  My fear was that what I would find would offend - and in some ways it certainly did.

    As an architectural structure, it is truly amazing.  As a historical 'document' it is vitally important.  The trouble is, despite plenty of good information to explain what it is, the majority of people there seemed to be unable, or unwilling, to 'read' it.  I couldn't help wondering how they would react were they to visit Auschwitz, or some other twentieth century site of human atrocity.

    To be very clear, I am not comparing the systematic extermination of around 11 million people by the Third Reich with the unnumbered executions and fights-to-the-death in Rome.  What I am struck by is touristisation (if such a word exists) that glibly overlooks the 'what' in the pursuit of a checklist visit and yet another grinning selfie (sometimes complete with 'thumbs up' or 'victory V sign').

    I stood quietly, looking down towards the hypogeum, where the accommodation of those condemned to die would have been - dark, dank, depressing.  I thought of St Perpetua and the other countless martyrs whose deaths were mere lunch-time entertainment for those wealthy enough to secure a good seat at a day's sport. I closed my eyes, and prayed the Lord's Prayer - something that for me is always a 'communion of saints' thing - and for a few moments escaped the hubbub of tourists on 'free entry' Sunday. These people were faithful to the end, and it is to them, and others like them, that I owe the faith I now name as my own.

    In a century from now, people will still visit Rome, and presumably do whatever, by then, is the equivalent of taking selfies. In a century from now, will people still visit Auschwitz, and if so, how will they behave?  Will we recapture the ability to 'read' historically significant place, or will they just become part of an ever lengthening checklist of 'must see' places for those who have the freedom and money so to do?

    Amidst the noise and activity, there was one, brief, moment that gave me hopeful pause... Looking across the arena, I spotted a simple, Roman, cross, erected to the memory of those who had died for their faith in this place. To me it spoke more than mere memorial, being a symbol of redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and more.  For many visitors, it was just another opportunity for a selfie... but, in that way only God's grace can, my annoyance was transformed to deep, deep sorrow and a renewed determination to follow, as best I can, in the footsteps of Jesus - even when to do so is costly, at least in some small measure.