Monday, August 22, 2016

Collaboration and accountability

Over coffee, a business entrepreneur was talking to me after church yesterday.  He asked about my next event and (of course) I mentioned the New Kind of Preacher Forum with its theme 'collaboration'. (Carol tells me it tends to crop up in conversation with increasing urgency!) He questioned whether this concerned preachers working with others.  When I replied 'yes' he smiled. His next comment was most revealing. 'I have often been amazed that compared with the business world with its high accountability the church has such low accountability. It seems that people in church leadership just don't feel the need to be accountable to anyone.  Perhaps it's because they find it difficult to accept constructive criticism. Some churches seem to suffer from a lot of fear and defensiveness!'   I hasten to add this was not directed at our own church - he made it clear that it was a general observation gained over many years in different churches.

I guess the immediate defense preachers and other leaders would make is that their accountability is to God. True - that is the ultimate accountability!  Some preachers I know have a Spiritual Director who helps make this much more than a pious claim.

However, it was the link he made between   collaboration and accountability that really struck me.  I hadn't really thought about the ways in which working with others, being open to their insights and views, inevitably brings a measure of accountability which working solo can totally avoid.

For example, in sermon preparation, collaboration not only exposes the amount and quality of work a preacher is doing with the text and their spiritual and theological depth but also their willingness to listen and discern what God may be saying through others.  I conclude there is even more need to highlight collaboration! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Next event

Back from Canada I have been plunged into preparation for my next major happening - the annual Forum for the New Kind of Preacher Program.  Scheduled for October 1st at Northern Seminary in Lombard its theme will be COLLABORATION. Advertising has gone out inviting all preachers everywhere!  Speakers are lined up, including one who will describe how collaboration works in their ministry. I am speaking a couple of times and rounding it off, in hopes that the forum will spawn some new peer learning groups among preachers for the next two years.

Collaboration is both gloriously adventurous and seriously threatening. Gloriously adventurous because it brings the best out of us when we are willing to work together, giving our best to a common purpose rather than caught up in competition and rivalry. It continues to amaze me how Jesus - the most complete human being there has ever been - chose to work with disciples who became friends in spite of their flaws, and who he deemed as so necessary to his mission.

But for many preachers I admit the sound of collaboration is seriously threatening.  It is so easy when you open up to someone else's insights and experiences to feel less secure - especially when you are preparing sermons.  There are so many reasons to ride ahead as lone rangers!

I believe that part of God's challenge on October 1st.  will push  preachers to see past the reasons (and defences) for working solo and open hearts and minds to working with others as never before.  I shall keep you in the picture as it develops.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time with the next generation

Since returning from Toronto life has been a blur with commitments each day...mostly good ones! Yesterday was my birthday which brought my London family to see us (also to enjoy a Chinese buffet!) which added zip and zest.  I spent a couple of hours with my 11 year old grandson, Anton, while the rest of his family went into Cambridge.  He has just left his junior school and is stepping out into his new career as a secondary school-boy.  Rarely have I had a chance to speak to him alone and I found myself in an extraordinarily imaginative world of big possibilities.

Anton told me that he really wants to become a 'Professor of Swords'.   Apparently there are only nine authorities extant who have devoted themselves to the story of swords and daggers - a passion he has shared for a number of years.  And what really interests him is inventing something new which would really make its mark in the world.  For example, a light sabre which really destroys evil.  'If I gave my name to a new weapon,' he said, 'I would only want it to be used to stop bad people!'  Mind you, he would not mind inventing any number of fantastic creations some of which he described in breathless detail....all for the good of mankind you understand.

Part of our conversation took part while walking through fields behind the house.  Unfortunately, since I last walked there thistles have grown so abundant (and up to Anton's height) that the pathway home was almost impassable.  We tried a couple of options without success, eventually beating our way through with my furled umbrella.  Reaching home he texted his friends that he had got lost in a field of thistles with his Grampy!

I know ageing has its downside but there's nothing quite like accompanying a lively 11 year old with the world in front of him, some high ideals, and immense imagination.   I am sure I enjoyed the experience more than he did!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A cemetery farewell

On our last full day in Toronto I walked through the Mount Pleasant Cemetery which is close to our apartment.  Spread over a wide area, containing graves of many of Toronto's good and great, I needed to find the memorial to William Davies with whom I had found a family connection.  The office clerk looked up the details of William Davies (1831-1921) and told me several people were also buried at the memorial.  With a detailed map of the grave's location I set off and, to my great surprise, found that it was very close to the main gates that I have often walked through these past days.

But the real surprise, and a very sad one, was to see that William and his wife Emma who lived 89 and 75 years respectively buried eight children at this site.  Their names are inscribed on the other three sides of the squared memorial.  George (3 weeks), James (32 years), Nellie ( 35 years), Charles (37 years), Samuel (25 years), Philip (23 years), Mary (5 months) and Arthur (29 years). Eight times the parents stood there in bereavement;  William was there nine times.

There is obviously a story behind the deaths off Charles, Philip and Samuel for two died in Nassau, Bahamas in 1890 and the third, Samuel died in New York on his way home from Nassau in 1890.  What on earth happened in Nassau to these young men in their twenties and thirties?   What tragedy lies behind the stark dates?

What struck me was the care that had been taken to give Scripture references to each one.  Some surrounding memorials had descriptive tributes.  Not here - just plain Scriptural testimony that death is not the end! Christ is risen! In the sadness and mystery of short mortality this conviction remains the greatest hope.

Preaching Adventure (3)

Last night I concluded my six sermon sprint at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.  As anticipated, it has been a great time of interaction about sermons....I have received more in-depth response after each service than for a very long time.  By in-depth I mean the willingness of individuals to talk about different biblical texts with personal involvement and insights!
The short series 'The God who makes friends' ended with the greatest theme of all - Love.  God's love for us and his command to love him and each other.  The two texts spell out startling implications of Christ's offer of friendship before the cross, John 15:1-17 and, after his resurrection, his restitution of the failure, Simon Peter, John 21:15-19.  I had never preached these passages before with the theme of God's friendship as central and all the preparation really refreshed me as preacher too.

As guests Carol and I were treated to meals after the services, including a late supper on the concluding night. It was stimulating to share in conversation about the appropriateness of this theme 'The God who makes friends' as people around the table spoke of its personal impact but also its connection with current culture in which deep friendship seems rarer and loneliness more prominent.  One person told me about a recent cartoon showing an empty church with a coffin at the front. The funeral director was saying to the minister: 'I thought there might be someone here. He had 2000 friends on Facebook!'

Anyway, we are shortly returning home, full of gratitude for the friendship of so many and the opportunities to spend some summer in Toronto.  Thank you to all who have been remembering us!

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Toronto Connection

This week I made my way (through temps in low 90's) to Toronto Archive Centre.  Only recently I have realized that one of the great figures on my mother's side of the family belongs within Toronto history.  Isn't that odd?  Only towards the end of my uncle John Davies' 91 years (which I posted about last year) did it become clear how his father came from a Welsh Baptist family and his great uncle, William Davies, emigrated to Toronto in 1854.   Families sometimes have personalities whose exploits go down the generations.  William Davies certainly did!

Born in Wallingford 1831, leaving school aged 12, he was running his own grocery business by the age 20.  When he was 23 he emigrated and three years later founded William Davies & Co in 1857 which specialized in exporting cheese, butter and eggs.  However, his main interest was in meat and in 1861 he opened the first Canadian building devoted to cutting and smoking meat, especially hogs.  The business expanded greatly with large premises in central Toronto.

His biographical entry comments that he was a rugged individualist and remained a Baptist throughout his life making generous gifts to the founding of McMaster University, Brandon College, also supporting hospitals, sanatoria and, of course, Baptist churches.  The biography notes he was the most important pioneer in the Canadian meat packing industry.  Who would have thought it? I was able to find out where he lived and his church connections at the archive centre.

I guess it is the Baptist bit that thrills me and the weird personal connections!  I spent my last sabbatical in Wallingford and preached in the Baptist church there....the very place where my great- great-uncle was baptized before setting off on his adventure.  And here, in Toronto, is another connection.  And what about the 'rugged individualist' tag!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A vine mess! (2)

As one of you commented about my last post - a vine mess!  Unfortunately, that proved to be the least of my problems.  Preaching about the true vine I set up a gloriously positive picture of how believers belong together in Jesus Christ, bearing fruit.  A happy picture of abiding in him!  And it is a wonderful picture.

Yet, as I preached I was gradually introducing the warning that this happy belonging utterly depends on bearing fruit.  If there is no fruit of love in the life of believers then the vinegrower gets to work.  Pruning is the first step to make branches more productive.  But if there is still no fruit then the vinegrower throws away branches to die. Fruitfulness because we are obeying God's commandments to love one another is essential to belonging.  But, apart from him we can do nothing.

In the first part of the sermon my interpreter seemed relaxed.  My sentences were repeated briskly in even shorter Romanian.  Suddenly, as I moved to the work of the vinegrower as pruner a marked change came over him.  To my great surprise he began to speak rapidly long sentences all on his own.  I stood there speechless as he launched into a mini sermon of his own.

Only later did I hear from my father and a church member with excellent English that his earlier translation only approximated to my words.  He was enjoying preaching his own sermon on the true vine.  When he realized my sermon had taken a turn (that I had well and truly signaled but he had failed to mention) he had to explain to the congregation that the preacher (and more importantly, the text) was saying something else.

I don't think this sermon will go down as one of the most effective!   Any stories you have about working with interpreters?