Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 79) Internationalism

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Involvement with the homeless particularly focused attention on using the premises during Winter but once the restaurant area and halls were all open and geared up we found ourselves at the heart of much else - especially a Summer outreach programme.

Hundreds of overseas students flock to Cambridge each Summer in order to learn English and enjoy this beautiful city.   A vision grew to become the International Student Outreach programme which involved us with other neighbourhood churches in providing accommodation on Summer evenings for serving refreshments with friendship and witness.  Henry's (at Holy Trinity) and Andy's (as St. Andrew's Street) served tens of students with teams of Christians - themselves drawn internationally - hosting these events.  An annual highlight was our turn to host one Sunday service which would focus entirely on reaching overseas students.

Giving hospitality for Christian events in Cambridge gave us many opportunities.  One significant long-term relationship arose when the Cambridge Korean Church asked whether we could become their base in the city.   Meeting on Sunday afternoons, they launched their community in December 1989 and immediately became part of us (a relationship that holds fast right until the present). We loved their friendship, sharing occasional joint services and their feasts!

When I visited Seoul, Korea to speak at Baptist World Alliance meetings  I was utterly stunned on the second evening to find one of the Cambridge Korean Church members awaiting me in the hotel lobby.  Apparently he had taken note of a conversation in Cambridge about my visit and knowing he would be back in S. Korea by then made the decision to find me. Unsure where I might be staying he had visited many hotels where delegates were lodged, eventually finding mine and then waited patiently for my return.  His desire to take me home to meet his family was sadly impossible because they lived some distance from Seoul and my commitments filled much of my time. However, he stayed overnight in order to spend time with me the next day.  What kindness.  That's hospitality!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 78) A lone voice

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Details about the sermon series were easily at hand because I have written about it on a couple of occasions, particularly in a small book.  Doing Theology in a Baptist Way was written by four Baptist college principals in 2000 and I was responsible for the section on 'Theology and Preaching'.
The significant starting point for me is Baptist identity with the specific context that belonging within the Baptist tradition provides. Because of our distinctive commitment to live under the Word of God together, gathered as believers focused on word and sacrament, a community comprising those who have been baptized or who are on the way to baptism, we of all people should stress the corporate nature of the preaching event. 
I argue that preaching and community are reciprocal realities - those who hear are gathered into community of faith with the preacher.  Not an audience but congregation. 'The sickness of preaching is not to be cured by individual remedies to render the preacher more interactive, narrative or multi-media in style. Rather the hope for effective preaching lies in the involvement of preacher and listeners in shared life together in Christ, shaped by God's word.  Corporate preaching.

Unsurprisingly I tell this story about the homeless as an example.  I summarize it:
As the main preacher I found myself both bruised and sustained by the demands of preaching to myself and my community in new ways which exposed me to upside-down ways of living there and then. At no time can I recall such disturbing personal wrestling, such vulnerability, and such answering grace in God's truth.
This conviction about preaching and leadership has burned within me and has been expressed in much of my writing ever since (especially 360degree leadership: preaching to transform a congregation),  I really do believe that hearing God's word for a whole people energizes preaching and church meetings in/for God's big purposes.  However, as I title this blog....I fear I remain a lone voice as few contemporary preachers seem interested in God's leadership through preaching.  But, it's my story anyway!

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure 77) Edgy living.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  My first church secretary commented many years later that he reckoned this was the most significant series of my ministry.   Others have told me how they experienced this series somehow (by the Spirit) brought us to a sense of engagement together so that as a community we experienced something new.  We moved towards a freshly discovered edge of living in the kingdom.

I have noticed how the language of 'ministry on the edge' has recently become fashionable in some circles.  For us, this immediate challenge of living out the values of God's upside-down kingdom with the homeless felt edgy!  And the highest highlight of my many church member meetings was when we faced the proposal of making our main Upper Hall a safe place for the homeless to sleep.  Early discussion repeated several hesitations, some of them serious.  We prayed as a people seeking to do God's will, knowing that it involved overnight staffing as well as altering our premises.  In our ears the challenge of living in God's kingdom echoed.

To my wonder (our wonder I think!) the meeting was unanimous that we should offer our hall.  The full-time coordinator of Winter Comfort, Nick Dykes, came to speak to us about the consequences of providing such accommodation.  And during the Winter months of 1991/2 nightly attendance varied from 10-25 with 114 different people sleeping.  Through dedicated follow-up some 25 of these people were eventually found alternative accommodation.   The following Winter numbers were up and for 4 months a total of 50 volunteers (many from our own church) formed teams in overnight shifts.

As envisaged there were some difficulties.  One of those sheltered was found murdered the next day. Interruptions to church daily life were more common.  But there were joys too.  Some members set up a Bible study for those who wanted to attend and many experienced surprises as these vulnerable people shared their stories and reciprocated friendship.

The story was to roll on and in a few years our sister Baptist Church, Zion, gave their adjoining Sunday School block to become a homeless shelter called Jimmy's which is still in vital ministry. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 76) A rebuked preacher

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). While the church was sympathetic to helping the homeless in principle, several voiced concerns about the practicalities of providing accommodation in premises which already had a wide number of other uses.  Open our doors in this way and it could dominate our mission.  Already we had drunkenness sometimes interrupting worship services - what else might happen? What would be the knock-on effects on the general public using our restaurant, or our children's work using the same halls.  Wouldn't it change our whole ethos on the main street and make it less easy for strangers to come in?  Oh, you can imagine the fears and how understandable they were!

The rebuke about shirking this need was one of the factors that led me to preach a sermon series called 'The Upside Down Kingdom'  which I preached directly to myself as well as the church. The first sermon was called 'Down is Up', based on Luke 1:46-53.  I began:
Most of us are conventional, happily fixed in our own culture where we've been brought up to do certain things in certain ways. So we try to make Jesus conventional and predictable too. We play safe and over-spiritualize, concentrating on the comforting words of Jesus. If we come across revolutionary words we try to avoid their practical implications which might affect us socially, morally, politically, economically.......
Titles like: Blessed are the poor, Losers Finders, Loveable Enemies, Last is first, Low is High, Peace with a Sword, Unseen is seen brought deep challenges Sunday by Sunday.  And I found myself repeating like a refrain these words:
When Christ comes among us he turns everything that people thought about life upside down. Something new is happening among us, right now.  God says 'My kingdom is here. It's a kingdom of love and service, The least are the greatest, outcasts are welcomed, adults become like children, enemies love each other, leaders are servants of others'....
Was a God-happening occurring?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 75) On our doorstep

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Each year the national Baptist Assembly (with delegates from churches all over the country) passed public resolutions calling for action on a number of themes. A resolution deploring the growing number of homeless people, especially younger people, on our streets called for local churches to act on their behalf.  We knew we had to.

The church set up a Homelessness Task Force which began to focus  minds and hearts. In the April Church Meeting in 1990 they reported that in Cambridge an estimated 250 single people were living on the streets, squats or overnight hostels.  They mentioned a new organization called Winter Comfort that was working towards providing help during the winter months.  Several individuals took up the practical challenge of working with projects such as the Cyrenians and others were concerned about the politics of homelessness and not just the symptoms.

But, the 'symptoms' were unavoidably confronting us as a whole church.  Whenever we left worship, we were faced by homeless people requesting food and money and during services needy people were drifting in asking for help.  When the weather deteriorated we found people sleeping on our front steps.  Of course, with the restaurant area next door we were able to give drinks and shelter on Sundays and a team of volunteers developed skills at befriending those who came to us on Sundays.  But what about the much bigger problem of overnight accommodation and in the worst of weather?

I vividly remember the shock when I invited the founder of Winter Comfort to have coffee with me in the Stone Yard Centre.  After briefly looking around at this new church venture he stared at me and said: 'But what are you doing for the poor?  Can't you use your property to give shelter overnight?'  I realized how much easier it was to focus on issues like unemployment and loneliness than on giving over our premises to sleep the homeless.  It was a rebuke I have never forgotten.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 74) Reaching Out

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  During these tumultuous months a number of countries came to the fore - each deserving far more time than I can give.  UGANDA featured through our missionary Martin Brown.  CHAD (the poorest country in the world) because of Mario Thompson who was translating the New Testament into the as yet unwritten language of the Maba people.   in N. Chad.  We shared her astonishment in her discovery of a book in Paris which appeared to help in translation. What stories we shared as we commissioned her on Harvest Sunday, September 24th.

ROMANIA loomed large because our relationship began back in May 1985 when the church was twinned with 2nd. Baptist Church in Oradea.  In harsh Ceasescu days Sheila Moore, accompanied by my father (who taught himself Romanian), became our first ambassadors and links developed with the pastor Dr. Nic Georghita visiting us for a second time in Autumn 1989.  Plans were made for me to visit with my father (it would be his third visit) in Spring of 1990.  However, in December before we went the world was glued to the news of Ceasescu's downfall and our prayers outpoured for friends in this church.

Tragedies emerged as Romania became open to the West and the desperate plight of the orphans touched one of our members in particular, Dave Brunning, who drove a lorry to help in some of the worst deprived areas. What he saw changed his life.  His photographs and testimony on his return hit our church and far beyond.  This began some remarkable heady days as he spearheaded a LOVE ROMANIA campaign, filling lorries with necessities, including washing machines for the orphanages. His compassion and zeal touch us all.  On Radio 2 he raised £3,000 on two mornings alone. Appeals for 2 tons of soap power, 2 tons of children's teaching material, 7 tons of seed barley, 2 tons of paper, medical and clothing supplies.  Milton Baptist Chapel became the clearing house for mounds of material as the campaign raised over £20,000 and sent 28 tones of materials.

Few of us will forget living through these days of action.  Of course, this wonderfully complemented mission at home, which was crowned by basing the national Billy Graham Live-Link for our region with us. A large satellite dish perched strategically on our roof.  Over 160 people attended counselling preparation sessions in our Upper Hall with thrilling outcomes as hundreds attended and many made faith decisions for Christ.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 73) The Jigsaw Leaflet (c)

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  It is a great danger that in telling this story  only the few in obvious public roles are mentioned and the roll-call of other names (which is mighty extensive!) is just assumed - countless volunteers, helpers and prayers.  Actually, the momentum for all that was to happen came from the collective response of people too numerous to name. That was why the last key blank piece of the jigsaw leaflet asked 'Would you like to be part of the picture...by volunteering, praying, giving? And so many did.

In particular I should add the day-in-day-out commitment of the Treasurer, Vernon Gosden, and three men who succeeded each other in John 1:6 AV fashion: 'There was a man sent from God whose name was John.'  Because they were available' between jobs' these men gave their all to supervising the project liaising with architects, builders etc. and enabling detailed work like fitting out the commercial kitchen.  What a gift they were: John Abbott, John Whitmore  and John Watts.  Their expertise and dedication mightily blessed the project.

The Summer of 1989 was scorching (like our current one) and we were finally in position for a proper opening on the weekend of Saturday June 10th and Sunday June 11th. The build-up involved much practical work in order for the building site to be sparkling clean with beautiful floral displays. On the Saturday 500 people came together for the official reopening by Malcolm Allsop who was Senior Producer of Current Affairs for Anglia TV (and an active lay reader). Months later he was still talking about it: 'Your vision and the way it has been enacted is a lesson to Christians everywhere.'  It was such an exciting time. A new hymn was written by our organist, Geoff Warren - 'We are the body of our Lord Jesus Christ'. Yes!

The next day, Graham, Ron and Jenny were commissioned by Rev. David Harper (our Area Superintendent) for their ministries through the Stone Yard Centre and evening worship contained reflections from leaders who had seen the process so far.  An exhibition in the upstairs hall displayed brochures, photographs etc about the story so far. Looking back it seemed that God had been leading at every stage. There were too many coincidences not to be God-incidences.  Graham interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire said: 'We are sitting on a miracle'.  We were!