Saturday, November 28, 2015

UK thanksgiving

To our great surprise, quite out of the blue, some English friends invited us to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with them in Oundle. Actually, the six who greeted us all belong to Oundle Baptist Church. Each of them had experienced the US day in one way or another and wanted to transplant it. With anglicized  thanksgiving food (paying special attention to Carol's lactose and fructose allergies)  we enjoyed a great time. A couple of things happened.

First, I met a distant cousin and her husband for the first time!  My father's family tree was left as just a couple of father had very little interest in tracing the past.  My newfound cousin was a fount of knowledge who has promised to pass on some detailed research from another cousin (who I also have never met).  Apparently, the Quickes go way back to a notorious highwayman who was nicknamed: Nick the Quick!  What thrilled me most was to find that this (admittedly distant) relative and her husband are keen believers...indeed they helped to plant the Baptist church. I've not been very good looking at my past either - but this was an unexpected thrill.

Second, Carol asked each of us round the table to share one issue for which we are truly thankful.  As we have found in the past on Thanksgiving Day, it is powerfully moving to hear friends share deep positive happenings in their lives. There are many disturbing things happening in our world and we should not escape them in our concerns and prayers.  But there are also wonderful happenings for which we can be genuinely thankful.  That remains true each day.

PS. Our hostess encouraged Carol to bring special Thanksgiving napkins and a central table decoration of a Pilgrim with a pumpkin and turker.....she must have heard about John Lewis.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Table Settings

Readers of my blog will know the erratic variability of its content and timing.  But I just had to mention a fun happening.  This week I went with Carol to the Christmas Evening for John Lewis customers in Cambridge.   A couple of thousand people lined up outside and as we filtered in, drinks and mince pies were on hand.

Various demonstrations were organized through the evening.  On the ground floor one focused on how to set your seasonal table attractively.  We found ourselves in the crowd gathered around an empty table waiting for the signal to be given so that two John Lewis employees could start their display.  They announced it was to be a gold and white display and they threw onto the table a cloth with a distinctive gold stripe.  Tucking it down in front of the chairs they seemed not to notice the tangle on the side nearest us.  With aplomb Carol stepped forward and straightened it out so that it fell attractively. One or two in the crowd applauded her public spirit.

When the white napkins with a gold stripe were placed alongside the plates one was apparently not arranged the right way round.  Again Carol stepped forward, as naturally as could be, to correct the mistake.   The organizers seemed to take it all in good part but, as anyone knows who has witnessed Carol's table displays, they were really pushing their luck by being so slipshod.   As an impartial husband I have to say that the finished result seemed rather drab compared with Carol's normal fare where napkins make statements, and table runners, platters, decorations, candles all add up to design with panache. As she said, she really could not help herself! 

Saturday, November 7, 2015


'Thank you for your patience'.  I lost count of the number of times we were thanked on our flight home.  Waiting in airports is highly topical and hearts go out the holiday makers stranded in Egypt. Our trip back from the US was less news-worthy but proved highly irritating.
Having packed up (four) suitcases, cleaned our room, washed sheets ready for the next visitors we prepared to say goodbye.  In Chicago it was a glorious day for travel - clear blue sky and temperatures in70's Fahrenheit.  As a last minute thought  Carol quickly consulted her ipad. A blunt email from United Airlines announced that our flight was canceled.  Period. No explanation. As we tried to find alternative flights for London we discovered that thick fog was causing havoc at Heathrow. Eventually, we managed to secure seats for the next day though relief at being able to travel together was undone by a later email saying Carol had to travel separately via Washington (which ultimately did not happen). Unpacking, remaking the bed etc. we readied ourselves for delay.  Psychologically, it is odd to prep for departure and find yourself in limbo.

The next day at a chaotic airport we were delighted that our packed plane was only 20 minutes late for departure.  Sitting at the departure gate we next heard that the plane had a fuel leak and would not be ready for an hour.  The mantra: Thank you for your patience was heard for the first time!   After a full hour we boarded, with relief that the delay was over.  Taxiing slowly to the runway we came to a halt....for another hour. The pilot announced an electrical fault in the cockpit with their window heaters overheating.  We needed to return to a gate but none were free. Again, sweetly we heard the mantra.  Another hour passed.  Unfortunately, the economy plus seats we had booked on the earlier flight were not available on this plane and the seat in front of me was damaged and flopped backwards into my lap.  Not only did my kneecaps touch the seat in front!  Meanwhile we heard the mantra again as over three hours late in close proximity to the passenger in front we took off.  Of course, we were commended again for our patience and when we finally reached London we were rewarded with a heartfelt: Thank you for your patience.

I noted some things.  First, that pre-empting impatience is quite clever psychology.  It seems expecting people to behave well goes a long way towards them behaving well.  Second, passengers were remarkably equable. The repeated mantra could have really irritated us but somehow it didn't! Third, because the Christian faith makes much of patience as a fruit of the Spirit perhaps we ought to expect it of other believers and thank them for it pre-emptively. How wonderfully positive to assume the best of others!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Climbing 3 - the delight of former students

As I mentioned a few posts back, one great joy of seminary teaching is being reacquainted with former students.  To my joy several returned to share in our forum.  The best news they brought concerned their ministries in the years since.  They shared, often with shining faces, what was happening in their churches. Mixed with much realism were glorious stories. Uplifting!

One student, John, who I hadn't seen for several years brought me a gift.  It was a pack of six Penguin biscuits.  He said that he never forgot how we finished each course with a celebration party and that Carol always brought Penguin biscuits from England.  It was his introduction to these milk chocolate cookies and ever since they have been sweet reminders of the classes!  (Actually, he told me how he had introduced others to the cookies whenever he found them on sale in the US!)   What to be remembered for!

Another student, Kevin, presented me with a book: An Hour of Good News: The story of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club.  For 65 years this hour long program, first on radio and then television became one of the most famous pulpits in the US and beyond.  Best known preachers of the day shared in its story and a list at the back of the book includes so many names from the past.  Kevin gave me the book because when I was teaching full-time at Northern the pulpit from this program was donated to our the preaching lab (which doubles up as a prayer chapel). Photographs in the book show the pulpit in use in the TV program. Today, a sign on the pulpit references its past and that many preachers such as Martin Luther King have proclaimed from it.  Over the years each batch of students has been acquainted with the story as they preached their sermons! So, I was given another totally unexpected recollection alongside Penguin cookies!

Before I return to Cambridge we have been busy planning for the next Forum and I leave Northern with encouragement and, of course, continuing need of prayer

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Climbing 2 - Mustard seeds

Yesterday we held a review meeting including participant responses to the New Kind of Preacher Forum. No response mentioned the clicker, roof leaks or car crash outside!  Actually, it was thrilling to see responses to various questions.  One asked: How did you hear about the NKP Program ? and one person wrote: 'Carol Quicke grabbed me by the arm and pulled me over to the laptop to register'. What did you find most interesting/surprising about the information presented today? gained a large number of replies like: 'It wasn't another "technique" conference!  It was refreshingly encouraging to hear a new focus not just for preaching but for our churches', 'Being drawn to God or driven by ministry',  'The idea that God is doing a new thing that we cannot now know, only discern'. 'If I am to be a transformative preacher, I must be a transformed person'.

Of course, there were sections asking what they would like in future forums, where could the forum be improved and who could we invite to the next one.   It was immensely rewarding to see the honest engagement in it all.  We learned much.
The most critical outcome, however, concerned potential new facilitators and participants as we seek to set up more groups.  I think I knew we would not be overwhelmed!  Commitment to a group involves $1000 with a two-year covenant and facilitators have a rigorous training program before leading one of these groups.  But, there are a few good signs.  Lauren and I commented how the Lord always loves to work with mustard seeds where he can give surprising growth.  Our President, Karen, independently reminded us of what can happen with loaves and fishes.  So the next stage of the NKP climb looks ahead to nurturing mustard seeds and multiplying loaves which - of course - is largely out of our control.  The need for prayer remains urgent.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Climbing 1 - positives and negatives

I need to thank everyone who prayed and supported yesterday's launch of the New Kind of Preacher project.  I likened it to beginning a mountain climb.  The project Director Lauren and I knew that one new peer learning group would be there to make a start and a few pastors had said they were coming.  But many more said they wouldn't be there!  In the end the conference hall was surprisingly full with a striking variety of pastors, worship leaders and students.

Tomorrow we share in debriefing with an opportunity to see evaluation forms.  From my perspective, the beginning worship session opened up into a day of daring to perceive what new things God is calling us to see:  See I am doing a new thing: now it springs up do you not perceive it! (Isa 43:19) I particularly appreciated the time of confession as we spent time in the context of a later verse as God chides his people - 'You have not wearied yourselves for me' (v.22) because they have failed to call on him expectantly and constantly.  Worse, God says:' But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses' (V24). Not wearying him with good stuff; drastically wearying him with bad stuff.  I think setting the whole forum within this Scripture - every participant was given a copy in their folder - put us in a humble open-hearted place. Certainly, it did me!

Much happened.  Positively, the sessions, panel discussion, table talks with leaders brought lively interaction. We definitely started to climb! Negatively, three things happened that have never occurred before in that conference hall. First, the clicker to operate my power point slides refused to cooperate.  Many attempts were made to remedy this (I really wanted my presentations to flow because they were being videoed) but all to no avail.  The technicians couldn't explain it.   Second, a violent storm hit the building and rain poured through the previously impervious roof.  People rushed in with giant bins to catch the water.  Third, in the middle of my second session, a woman four times over the alcohol limit crashed her car into the conference center and was only 5 feet away from the front door and our welcome table.  Police, fire and ambulance noisily rushed to the scene.  Since the conference center is on a private road the whole incident seems utterly bizarre.  I have found any advance for the Lord is accompanied by a spiritual battle when negative things occur.  But this ranks as one of the strangest.  Perhaps it means that God's new thing really is beginning to happen!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Next climb up the mountain

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about pitching base camp as the New Kind of Preacher program begins here in Chicago.  Now I am looking up the mountain as the first lap of the climb leads up to the First Annual Preaching Forum on October 24th. It's being held in the seminary's Lindner Conference Center, funded by the generous Lilly grant.  Invitations have gone out.  The Director, Lauren Visser, and I have been working on the details for many weeks. In these final days I know that prayer remains the most vital ingredient.  So, hoping that others may join me in extra praying, I have written a short prayer to focus my own thoughts.

Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who alone makes your new things happen, we commit to you the First Annual Preaching Forum.
May your invitees come with open hearts and minds, sensitive to your will for their lives.
May your presence be magnified as lead-worshipers prepare and help the forum to worship.
May your voice be heard through the preaching, and your vision seen through the main sessions.
May your encouragement and challenge be experienced in the panel and groups.
May your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Lord, nothing of eternal significance can occur unless people humbly depend on you.  Help every person involved to trust and obey every step of the way.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

And, if you happen to be around Northern Seminary, Lombard on October 24th. we would love to see you there! Details at!