Monday, October 15, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure 89) Anything to add?

Someone commented about this story: 'If it could happen in St. Andrew.s Street Baptist Church it could happen anywhere!'  It wasn't because this was a particularly needy church beset by dire problems.  Not at all. It was just that in its long influential history in the centre of Cambridge its best days seemed well behind it.  Visit it and you found a small band of mostly elderly believers in a large church building.  Middle-of-the road, theologically mixed, and formal in style.  A continuing gentle decline seemed almost inevitable.

Posting all these blogs about the fresh happenings was not intended to pump up another 'success story church' for some self-glory.  Rather it was to recognize that a story begun with so few human resources discovered the unlikely ways by which God can work out his purposes immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us (Eph. 3:20).  I hope that it will be an encouragement to readers and stir up faith.

However, I also recognize that God does work in seasons, in what Scripture calls kairoi - God quality times.  He brought so many different factors together with dramatic effect within a short period of time.  Another friend looking back on it said: 'I was so grateful to have lived through that special time.  I know God can give those times but I also know I cannot keep expecting them!'  That made me think hard about living with responsibilities in less exciting times - God is still working his purposes out though less dramatically.  Someone else warned me that they saw a danger of some idolatry as church people looked back to these good days.

I am not sure what may happen to this collection of blog posts.  A historian friend said that I should ensure it ends up in the church archives so that the personal experience of one of its ministers wasn't lost.  Well, maybe.  But thank you everyone for reading so far and to any who can add colour, correction, encouragement please be in contact:  I am sure there are things to add.  Blessings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 88) The how.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  As the church story went on I found myself invited to speak about undertaking 'faith projects' at various conferences and churches.  I always stressed that I was a surprised as anyone (except the Lord of course) about what actually happened. Sometimes I was asked for specific advice - just how do you develop a big scheme? I recently found notes on seven points that I gave on one occasion:

1. Don't do it unless the Lord gives you no choice. Begin with his vision and seeking glory for him.
2. Only do it with prayer and keep praying, praying all the way.
3. Seek God's unique plan for your church because of your community's need. Don't quickly copy another.  Ask what is God's strategy for your premises where you are. Launch out where he sees the fish.
4. Keep communicating - every issue must be open and every decision shared.
5. Expect opposition - every step forward for God will be under attack.
6. Expect rising costs - projects always seem to cost more than first envisaged.
7. Expect great things from God, Attempt great things for God.

I was with someone two weeks ago who lived through the entire Cambridge God adventure. He has been a member of St. A's for several decades so my ministry and this vision was put into perspective. 'Looking back,' he said, 'I believe the most important thing that happened in your time was prayer.  As a church we really prayed through those years and I shall never forget what happened.'   I think he was absolutely right.  Number 2 above was essential for all the rest.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure *87) One highpoint...and a bump!

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  I am near the end of this story because its unfolding from 1990 onwards is so densely packed I wouldn't be sure how to pick out appropriate highlights. So just a couple more posts.

Mention of the TV morning service in my last post reminds me of one significant highlight which I cannot miss because when our congregation and its mission went national it was a kind of summary event.  August 4th. fell awkwardly because it was both family holiday time and out of term.  I remember my wife Carol urging people at a church meeting not to go away on holiday!  Certainly, when the day arrived the church was full. Interestingly the service began with David Beer,  my successor as Free Church Adviser to Anglia TV (I had to resign when dystonia hit me), explaining about the church by sitting in the Stone Yard Centre restaurant.  In a few frames he encapsulated the whole story of faith and mission. Then the camera went through the doors into the packed church.

Everyone was on best behaviour.  Our different music groups combined to make music. We sang a new hymn written by our music leader. Drama brought Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to life.  Leaders led prayers and read...and I did my thing!  It seemed joyfully to sum up so much of our journey together.

However, not everyone was on best behaviour.  Returning to our home, high as kites, we discovered our house had been ransacked.  Thieves seeing publicity for our big event took full advantage of our absence and burgled our house at leisure.  We didn't have much of value, but what little we had was found!   It brought us back down to earth with a bump.  But it couldn't take away from our worship experience and when I have occasionally seen the CD recording since I can only rejoice again in what the Lord did with us all. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 86) One random sample

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  My recall for this story has inevitably been patchy. Long ago, diminishing space meant I had to let go my collection of monthly Messengers (our church magazine) though these would have given me far too many memories for 86 posts.  As it is, I still have a large box of St. A's memorabilia with countless photographs that, given assiduous attention, would probably overwhelm any story telling.

But I was surprised to find just one random Messenger for September 1990 in the box. There's so much in it. Its opening Comment  itemizes several issues each beginning 'Our New' -
- assistant minister - Simon Houghton who served through the rest of my time at St. A's into the following interregnum.
- manse - with the setting up of Simon's new home on Tavistock Road.
- pastoral assistant - A new graduate Helen Bray succeeded Michael Wray,  I realize that I failed in my posts to do justice to this stream of graduates who stayed on to give a year's service.   Their contribution was significant as was the roll-call of names as they went on to make impact in the wider church.
- neighbours - the Cambridge Community Church (known now as C3) had outgrown their meeting place in Hills Road Sixth Form College.  From September 1990 they began to worship in the cinema next door to us. Their Senior Pastor Ian Rawley kept us in touch with all their plans and we happily welcomed them. What a difference such 'house churches' were to play from this period on through to today.
- opportunities - the City Council Planning department had  just given permission for Anglia TV to bring all their bulky transmitting equipment onto St. Andrew's Street for a national Sunday service on 4 August 1991.  This TV service was to provide a far-reaching opportunity for the gospel - those of us who shared in it will never forget.

Just a sample from one full magazine. So many others and so much else belongs within the story!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 85) Vernon's story

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Vernon Gosden, a prayerful man of great integrity (and author of All the Power you Need 1977) proved an immense gift to us as the Building Fund Treasurer.  In 1994 he wrote his own account of these events to send out as encouragement to donors.  Based largely on the different leaflets that we produced, sadly it gave very little personal reflection.  I would have loved to read about his experience at the heart of events where his role was vital - like the Day of Willingness.

He was always encouraging.  Early in 1984 he dug out a story for the church magazine of  Mr. Doubt-the-Lord (written by R. Hudson Pope) who jeered at Christian when he faced an impassable wall of great thickness blocking his pilgrimage.  Christian began to doubt for the way back was shrouded in mist yet it seemed impossible to go forward.  Vernon described how we were Christian pilgrims who had come some way but mounting costs faced us like a wall of great thickness. 'Has the Lord fooled us and led us to a dead end where He either cannot or will not help us?  In the next issue he described Christian reading the words of the psalmist 'By my God have I leaped over a wall,' then by bounding faith leaped over.  Kneeling on the other side Christian thanked God for giving him faith, agility and courage.  Of course, Vernon then laid out the challenge for us to go on praying and giving before our wall,  giving especially attention to covenanting gifts for extra income!

He finishes his story as only a Treasurer could (!):
So by the end of 1990 all outstanding bills had been paid and there only remained the repayment of Interest Free Loans and the Bank Loan.  Gifts continued to be received, especially during 1991 (£86,000) and by the end of 1993 the Fund's total receipts reached the outstanding figure of £1,115,700.   During the years since almost all the Interest Free loans were repaid and it is estimated that all the loans will be dealt with by 1996 - 12 years after the fund was opened.   The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy (Ps 126:3).
In an accompanying letter to this account he commented how well this story could be complemented by hearing from the Director Graham Thomson, other key workers and of course the testimonies of those helped and who came to faith.   Oh, yes.  I should love to receive reflections from others.  Leaping over the wall involved so many as the Lord continued to make 'new people'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 84) Just stop!

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). The last couple of posts have told yet again of wonderfully good things happening. Utterly unexpected and undeserved.  At each turn of the story so far through the years the Baptist Times (our weekly denominational paper) had printed  about us - often on the front page.  The Day of Willingness was also given front page treatment: ONE DAY'S OFFERING.  It faithfully recounts the story of the day's giving and then quotes me: 'In the upside-down Kingdom you lose in order to gain!  We're in the foothills of experiencing the joy of receiving the amazing riches of God to give them away'.

Then follows a good summary of how things were developing:
The Stone Yard Centre has been fully open for over a year. It has a staff of 14 full-timers and many volunteers. Its restaurant has over 3000 customers each week and has become a popular Christian meeting place in Cambridge.  The church calls the centre their 'shop window'. Part of the centre's ministry is the Job Search programme which in three years has found over 300 jobs for long-unemployed people. Counselling services are available through the Rev Ron Messenger and the Cog Wheel Trust which specializes in family relationships.  Stone Yard also boasts a library and Christian Resource Centre. However, Michael Quicke says that in spite of all the facilities, 'the key to the centre's life is the rich diet of formal and informal activities for all ages seeking to witness and serve in the city centre. These range from the Mums and Toddlers' Rainbow Room to the Friday Focus luncheon club for older people. Though the centre has been costly the church has continued to give away in mission. We have been able to support three long-term and six short-term misisonaries. We also sent over £22,000 to Romania last year.

After this story appeared the editor of the Baptist Times informed me that he had received a very strong letter from another minister pleading with him to stop printing articles about St. Andrew's Street. 'Enough is enough. Just stop.' I can really understand why he felt so irritated. I really can.  All this apparent heaping up of good news is hard to read when perhaps your own situation is languishing....who can bear it?   And, honestly, I don't think I appreciated just how wonderful it all was at that time and though we always talked about giving God the glory it couldn't but help give the church a bit of glory too. Two weeks ago I met someone who had shared in this story: 'I never realized how good it was at the time', she said.  Oh, it was good and to God be all the glory!

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 83) Just at the right time

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). Looking back I realize that not one of my places of ministry has known financial plenty.  Every organization I have ever been involved with has always required faith and generosity to meet annual budgets and as for big projects, like the Stone Yard Centre, the struggle never seemed to end.  We rejoiced in the Day of Willingness and many acts of sacrifice (and there were many) but financial stress continued with a background of national economic slowdown.  In budgeting our commitments to mission remained a priority but other problems loomed.

One critical issue was to find a home for the Director of the Centre and his wife, Graham and Val Thomson.  They began life in Cambridge renting but we needed something more permanent.  With all the other financial pressures this seemed a forlorn task. Yet on May 5th 1991 we learned that one of our dear members, Mrs. Elsie Norman, not only bequeathed a substantial sum of her estate to the church upon joy....her house in Leys Avenue.  It seemed like an action replay of the extraordinary gift of the house for the associate minister in 1983.  Just when we needed it!  Just!

The role that some of our older saints played by their praying and enthusiasm for the church is one of the unsung themes that needs to be voiced.  It thrilled me when I visited our elderly members to hear their excitement and commitment to all that was happening. They really belonged within the church family. And then to see it in the way they had written their wills was deeply moving.

Although so many older friends played very significant parts in this story I also should mention Miss May Pigott who died around the same time and who also left a substantial part of her estate. May was a spectacularly loyal saint, of strong views and long service in the church - particularly as an Assistant Treasurer who kept the Sunday offerings overnight (guarded by her dog) before banking on Mondays.  Like so many older friends she was exhilarating to visit because the church community meant everything to her and her enthusiasm shone out.  That's church family.