Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Cambridge God adventure 21) Bold expection

Part two of our prayer time looked ahead with desire to set some specific goals for 1981.  We prayed about what we should pray about.  Again, without reserve people spoke out their concerns. Personal evangelism was a priority with a focus on each of us befriending, inviting and sharing with others the good news.  Developing corporate prayer and the work of Manna House was highlighted and the need for young families and children to belong to the church family.  Someone felt strongly about encouraging the congregation to sit nearer the front rather than hiding away at the back and several commented about deepening fellowship among us all.

As these issues were written down, one unspoken and unshaped goal seemed to hang in the air.  In 1981 we all dreamed that the church would grow.  Statistically it had shrunk in 1980 and the challenge about having a vision to serve on the main street when our resources in people and money were so limited loomed large.  Somehow the group agreed that we should pray specifically for new members to join us.  I remember my felt-tip pen hovering over the acetate sheet.  How specific should we be? I searched the faces of the exuberant group.  Tentatively the number 50 formed itself in my heart and even more hesitantly I mentioned it.  What an appalling risk and terrible presumption to place an actual number in a prayer request!  And in terms of our current size what a mountain of faith was needed.

It was an extraordinary moment.  Stillness was charged with expectation. For a few seconds there was quiet before heart-felt assent.  And my pen had written 50 new members in 1981.  Reflecting on this I marvel how the spirit of thanksgiving seemed both to liberate and unite us that night and to nurture faith. The Holy Spirit was blessing us with a bold vision of what might be.  Why 50 people I have been asked.  Facetiously I have answered that maybe it was one new member for every week of the year allowing for two weeks' holiday. But I have no idea.  Really. I was sharing in a spiritual reality on the threshold of a year when God could do mighty things.  Even with us.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Cambridge God Adventure 20) What a prayer meeting!

Of the many prayer meetings I have attended a few jump out as truly unforgettable.  One occurred at the end of my first year of Cambridge ministry - the date December 30th. 1980 is etched as a big day. It was advertised as a look back/look ahead prayer meeting. I was surprised that in spite of  post-Christmas exhaustion the room was packed with anticipatory buzz like an audience waiting for the curtain to go up on some favourite show.  People really wanted to be there!  The evening was split into two major parts. First, the whole group was invited to share highlights in their lives and the church's life through 1980.  I used my current technology (!) -an overhead projector with acetate sheets -to record everything. I didn't want us to miss anything (and I also needed to be able to transcribe it accurately into the prayer agenda book!)

An avalanche of highlights poured in from all round the room. Praise tumbled out for those who had made personal commitments to Jesus Christ and for the powerful impact of the three baptismal services that year. Several people in the room had actually come to faith themselves in 1980 - oh, the enthusiasm of new Christians!  Clear answers to prayer and deepening of relationships in the care groups and gifts groups received special Amens. We marvelled at the work at Caxton village and new initiatives with our young people. Someone said: 'For me the highlight is the new feeling of warmth and caring in the church'.  Many nodded in agreement. Others spoke of their fresh understanding of corporate prayer. Free-wheeling thanksgiving filled the room.  You know sometimes how giving thanks can lack a sense of immediacy.  Well, this was marked by genuine gratitude to God. Spontaneity and gladness radiated throughout the room.

You can guess what a powerful spring-board this made for part two of our meeting - though what happened next remains one of the great surprises of the whole God adventure.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Cambridge God Adventure 19) Some earnest plodding

For those who are interested (just skip if bored!) I attempt to pick up the Cambridge story again (last considered back in October). I must emphasize how alongside eye-catching events - like opening the church at Christmas- there was much earnest plodding.  You remember the Use of Premises Committee (set up by the Church Meeting in response to the rejection of the coffee shop idea)?  Well, all the time this group was praying and working away on basic questions about our regular mission presence on the main street.  How might God be calling us to throw open the doors on Mondays to Saturdays?

You remember too that monthly church meetings expected to hear about progress!  And, true enough, this committee brought a recommendation that we improve one of the rooms in our Lower Halls to become a friendlier meeting place.  Volunteers were needed to decorate and upgrade this dingy Victorian classroom but everyone knew that this was the easier part. The committee suggested the resulting space become a welcoming centre for giving hospitality to passers-by.  Perhaps we could begin opening three mornings a week?

It was pointed out that a minimum staff of two people would be required each day and others were needed to bake cakes etc.  The committee pointed out this meant around twenty-six people to be involved on one morning each month and that it was long-term.  Would enough of us be willing and able to give hospitality? What name would we give the new venture?   We had some fun asking for suggestions for naming this initiative.  I cannot remember now any of the ideas except the one that a later church meeting agreed - the Manna House.  Nourishment in the desert!

I titled this 'some earnest plodding' because when all this took off - and gloriously it did! - it represented a much longer term commitment to serve the city. Passers-by really valued our service. From Autumn onwards the Manna House formed a vital element of our weekly mission.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Retirement issues

A friend asked me over these last couple of days to help in the process of devising a questionnaire for retired Baptist ministers.  He had worked hard at some of the issues that Baptist ministers particularly have to face.  Like all retirees so much depends on health, finance and relationships but questions about where to live, how to find accommodation, whether to move away from the churches they have served all have an edge.  Even more sharp-edged are questions about losing a public role with all its given relationships and expectations.  Ministers respond very differently to suddenly finding themselves in a new place without being able to exercise ministry as they once did.

One of the most interesting sections of the putative questionnaire concerns relationships.  Relationship with God is primary with questions about personal spirituality and accountability. Relationship with a local church is also vital with questions about which kind of church and on a Likert scale (1-5) how happy are they within this church.  How much do they feel part of it?  How good is the relationship with the minister? Do you belong to a home group and other group? Do you have good friends in the church?

The section on relationships also asks about Baptist regional ministry and a sense of belonging to the 'wider Baptist family'.  Does the minister have meaningful contact with other ministers?

Of course there is much else that is asked.  It's a long questionnaire - probably too long. I guess the process of its devising has some way to go.  Bluntly, I confessed that such a task is not my gift!  But it really made me think with gratitude about how I would fill in that section on relationships. For all retirees the loss of role and coping with ageing forces us to face a new range of life issues, but relationships with God, church, family, friends and the wider family remain constants!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tenth Anniversary

My first blog post was on 18 November 2007.  I was (fairly) gently ushered into the experience by Rob my IT son who insisted it was the best way for me to keep in contact with friends, students, churches.  I began hesitantly and defensively.  It seemed to me, and it still does, that happenings and thoughts in my life do not merit much attention.  Content has wobbled through personal news (with the largest response ever when Carol wrote about my prostrate cancer!); details of my itinerary and preaching with requests for help and prayers along the way;  consecutive posts on subjects such as top seven ministry qualities, top ten texts for preachers, funny things that happened in ministry; multiple reflections often with a devotional edge; and random events along the way.

Some of the strongest stats for readership occurred when I was interim preacher in churches where members collaborated in sermon preparation - before, during and after each sermon. That was very special.  On several occasions when I have asked for help as I prepared for conferences the post has hummed with tremendously positive input (often sent privately to me rather than posted publicly).  On such occasions I have thankfully agreed with my son's early enthusiasm. 

However, 10 years on I have wondered about its value as my life in retirement quietens down.  Should I continue or not? One or two have said my recounting of A Cambridge God Adventure is of interest to them and encouraged me to plough on with telling that story. This is something a retired guy can do (!) and I have the advantage of possessing details close to the events which will ensure I am not relying on memory. But I will only do it as long as the Lord gains the glory. So I shall persevere a little longer but I am very alert to the dangers of going into dotage.   To those of you who have generously stayed with me over the years I want to say an IMMENSE THANK YOU for belonging to this little cyber community which has given me so much encouragement and surprise through the years.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A sober weekend

Over Remembrance weekend I read for the first time All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque. My oldest son gave me the book a little while ago but I had never given it attention.  It is a tough read.  A group of German soldiers who go to the trenches in the First World War experience the gamut of horrific experiences as seen through the eyes of a sensitive nineteen year old Paul Baumer. So much is incredibly sad as his company of 150 soldiers is reduced to 32 in an early battle.  You long for him and his particular friends somehow to survive when so many others are perishing but in the end they all die.  The story came out of the author's own experiences on the front line - its vividness, horror and disillusionment all ring terribly true.

Reading this made a difference as Carol and I saw the British Legion Festival of Remembrance and shared in other remembrance events of the weekend. Several parts of the book particularly made me stop and think.  As when Paul Baumer describes a short home leave in the midst of the horror when he tries to come to terms with life back home. Now he sees what matters in life so differently from people back home.
They just talk too much. they have problems, goals, desires that I can't see in the same way as they do. Sometimes I sit with one of them in the little garden of the pub and try to get the point across that this is everything - just sitting in the quiet.  Of course they understand, they agree, they think the same way, but it's only talk...they do feel it, but always only with half of their being, a part of them is always thinking of something else . They are so fragmented, no one feels it with his whole life.

Feeling life with our whole life.
 Facing life changing realities should make a profound difference to how we live.  Central to Christian faith is the sacrifice of Christ which confronts us with the horror of sin and his gift of new life, the possibility of moving from death to life. And that should certainly make a difference to the way we feel life with all our being!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Driving again...and the joy of belonging

This weekend marked the end of what my doctor termed the critical four week stage of my stroke recovery.  And gave me freedom to drive again!  Carol and I celebrated by visiting Ely - its cathedral and market (for dairy free chocolate cake).  Walking in the sunshine, enjoying the autumn colours - just wonderful to be out again.

I know I have a different journey ahead with daily (strong) medicine and some tests still to come but we give immense thanks to God and all our friends who have prayed and supported us through these first four weeks.   I have just tidied all my 'get well cards' away which I looked at each day. They represented support from around the world.  Several had long messages inside.  Emails also came from all over the place.  I was able to give unhurried attention to each with immense appreciation for the trouble taken and love expressed.

One of the special delights was to realize that over a third of my cards and messages came from members of our local Baptist church.  Though we are relative newcomers, coming to the church fresh in retirement, we have been surrounded by such expressions of love and practical support.  Many friends visited me - some people I had never had a proper conversation with before.  Carol and I commented about the solid thrill of belonging to a community of love and kindness like this.  Oh, how thankful we are to belong to Histon Baptist Church - its Lord and his people.   Thank you to you readers too for sharing along the way.