Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 59) At last the decision and a crash

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Recently a friend who has been patiently reading this story commented how difficult the decision process about building was - with such variant views.  And how complicated it was allowed to be with everyone speaking their mind.  Quite so!  But I believe that 'seeking the mind of Christ' is often a complicated corporate process!  For a whole people to own a process there is nothing more effective than wrestling in prayer together through good and bad.

On December 2 1987 we shared in an extraordinary meeting open to everyone in the congregation when we sought to take the big decision to sign the contract and actually begin the work.  We agreed to participate in communion as part of our meeting.  What was the risen Lord calling us to do as he met with us in bread and wine? We were still way behind financial needs with our promises and gifts lagging yet momentum had grown.  So much praying and giving had accompanied the good and bad news so far.    And, at last, the meeting agreed to sign the contract and move ahead. A mixture of fear and excitement continued as the plunge was taken. 

Then comes a note in the prayer diary within a red ink box: 'MQ viral hepatitis Dec 1986-March 1987.'  As I crashed out-of -view the brand new team minister Nigel Manges had to step up and take responsibility for public leadership through heady days of Advent, New Year, baptisms, demolition of buildings alongside the church, digging foundations with steel structure appearing above the hoardings along the street.  Thrillingly, he demonstrated immense gifts and proved how right his appointment was.

Meanwhile,  I languished with multiple pains on the side-lines.  A few months earlier I had been in Singapore speaking at the Baptist World Congress and sampling the local culture, and we wondered whether this explained some of my poor health ever since I returned, culminating in this illness.  But, no doubt, the strains of leading through this 'complicated corporate process' took its toll too!   

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Golden Memory Lane in US (2)

One of the extraordinary happenings were the many unlikely encounters during our stay.  Going into a nearby popular (frozen custard) restaurant which also served chicken and french fries, we kept bumping into people. On several different occasions we were surprised by: a returning missionary who had heard me in 2002, a couple who belonged to the Wheaton church, a family who recognized us from the past, and a group of six who were just entering as we were leaving and who insisted we turn round and share their table while they ate.  Later, queuing up in a charity shop the lady behind said she thought she recognized me and as we listed different churches I had preached in we finally hit on the right one.  With enthusiasm she hugged me.  I guess it's the accent.

But, strangest of all, as we walked down Main Street in Wheaton past a coffee shop a man sitting inside waved at us.  I assumed he was waving at someone else.  However, he chased out of the shop down the road shouting out "Hey, the Quickes".   It turned out to be Dr. David Olford, son of a famous former British preacher, Stephen Olford.  Normally in Memphis, he just happened to be there with his two daughters in their twenties who are in Chicago engaged in graduate studies.

David undertook his doctoral work (on Romans) in Cambridge and for three years attended St. Andrew's Street together with others from Tyndale House.  To my utter astonishment he began to describe to his daughters what those three years meant with such sharp memories of times spent with us.  One of the most powerful, which he said he had spoken about many times since, was when I had my sit-in and appealed for the church to give in faith for a new mission centre in Cambridge.  Anyone reading recent posts will know exactly what he was talking about!  He described in detail what it meant to bring his gift and my prayer with him after he had dropped it into the box.  He said that prayer has never been forgotten, nor the experience of being in the Cambridge story.

I don't know what his daughters felt as their father reminisced with such emotion but Carol and I were truly humbled.  You never know do you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Golden Memory Lane in US (1)

Carol and I have just returned from 3 weeks wandering down memory lane.  Though our wedding day is July 6 we planned this golden wedding visit to the US early in order to avoid hot weather.  But, within two days of arrival temperatures hit mid to upper 90's (Farenheit!) and pushed Carol into perpetual search for rigorous air conditioning. Shorts and sandals ruled.

Carol's ambition to revisit old haunts from our 15 years of full-time life in the US and to reconnect with friends was gloriously fulfilled. Many evenings were spent with friends as Carol mistress-minded an exacting social calendar. Our bucket list of places to visit was almost completed and (after a variety of hospitality scenarios) we ended up staying in the home where we had lived the last couple of years in Wheaton with some dear friends who lent us their car.  You can imagine our delight and gratitude.

Two contrasting themes summed up much.  On one hand our experiences delightfully reminded us of the familiar.  Indeed, it seemed only yesterday as we drove round streets, charity shops(!) and (in my case) tasted raspberry chocolate chip ice cream in picturesque Geneva.  Time and time again we commented how familiar everything was.

Yet, on the other hand, we witnessed such dramatic changes that we could only echo that catch phrase 'Only in America'.  The church in Wheaton where I was interim preacher for two years and we have so many friends is no more First Baptist...after only a few months it has morphed into being a campus church for a completely different church model. We couldn't believe how rapidly it had changed from last Easter when I preached there.  Also, staggeringly within a year, the seminary of seven acres where I worked for 15 years is now squeezed onto a couple of floors of an office block.  When we visited the old site it was barricaded off - with all our old memories behind barriers.  However, the new seminary has developed technology to an extraordinary level and my former faculty members cannot credit enough how effective their classrooms are with 25 students present in flesh and another 25 streaming and interacting on-line.  Knowing how troubled many residential seminaries are this seems a viable model and I only met enthusiasm about the new.

Happily back, we rejoice in all that we have seen and done - old and new.  And in the good health we were granted to enjoy it all.  Thank you for the prayers that Carol and I would keep well.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 58) Nudging forward and changes in ministry.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Oh, the months of turmoil between the summers of 1985 and 1986. Even recalling milestone meetings gives me a headache.  Eventually, in October 1985 another crunch vote was taken: 'the Church Meeting accepts the existing plans which have received planning permission from the City Council and instructs the architect to proceed with the detailed drawings immediately.

Because so many new members were joining us we kept on retelling the story.  Day Conferences were a boon. Fresh ideas kept popping up.  One of them focused on working with the unemployed. Some were unemployed in our own fellowship and it was suggested that we should support them and others in the city. Could this be a God idea?

Months and months of working through details, agonizing over decisions large and small moved on through 1986.  Nothing much seemed to be happening.  Of course not!  We still hadn't said yes. Meanwhile the church continued to grow rapidly with newcomers enthusiastically joining in. 

After three splendid years of ministry, Martyn and Margaret Travers moved onto ministry in Ipswich, with our gratitude ringing in their ears.  Their time with us accompanied some extraordinary growth.  To our joy another leaving student and his fiancee, Nigel Manges and Sarah were seeking a church placement and accepted the call to Cambridge.  This turned out to be a further time of great happenings.  Part of Nigel's brief was to focus on church mission at home and abroad and he really impacted this dimension. And, as you will see, arriving Summer 1986 he was to play a larger role than first envisaged.  At the same time we were able (courtesy of a gift from the US) to appoint a part-time Music Director - a wonderfully gifted musician Brian Astell who was also going to have a very positive impact.

Though progress on building plans was slow church life was bubbling.  I can read in the prayer book the excitement of living through these months.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 57) A fudge and a blow

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  So far in the building story no irrevocable steps had been taken. By September 1986 we knew we needed to take that irrevocable step!  After yet another information evening (no one could claim they didn't know what was going on!) we set the  September 30th church meeting as decision day.  Yes, finances were still woefully short. Yes, we were still divided over the scheme.  Yes many of us remained convinced that we were in God's big story.

It proved to be a tough evening.  More people spoke out strongly against the scheme than at previous meetings.  One member read out ten objections.  Another claimed that the leadership was being disobedient to God. 'How can we borrow £210,000 when we are already at fully stretch?'  It was uncomfortable chairing between two sets of very strong convictions, for and against. I was definitely in the former camp yet tried to remain open to what God was saying to us. Not easy, and I had my critics (probably deservedly)!

Instead of a clear positive decision, a proposal was passed which was a definite fudge. The fellowship of St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church reaffirms its commitment to the Church Development and to the ongoing witness planned for the Christian Centre by agreeing to support it in the sacrificial giving of our time, talents and money and through constant prayer'.  I know there was disappointment yet this fudge enabled us to go on praying and working.

Another brochure was produced: Something IS happening in Cambridge.  There was fresh stimulus to giving and within a couple of months further gifts and promises of £70,000 plus interest feel loans.

Then came another major blow.  The lowest tender instead of being about £500,000 came in way above this figure at £717,000.  The goalposts kept moving. We were actually on a different pitch!  Hesitation about going forward seemed vindicated.  Just how could we say God was in this process when so many barriers kept going up?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 56) Springtime happenings.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). On Pentecost Sunday (May 26th 1985) we celebrated the Church's birthday by taking another step of faith.  A second leaflet was printed: Something's happening in Cambridge. All the time new friends were joining the church and many shared a sense of urgency grew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  A fresh opportunity was given for further gifts and promises in our Pentecost offering.

It was glorious spring time in the city.  I was Chair of the Cambridge Christian Festival which was supported by city churches in arranging a mission in a Big Top on one of our main commons - Midsummer Common.  With the evangelist David MacInnes, crowds came night after night with many coming forward in faith. It was exhilarating working with many other Christians.  Across the top of the tent a huge banner read: YOUR GOD REIGNS.  No one could doubt the message.

The Sunday before Pentecost we broadcast the BBC Sunday half-hour of hymn-singing. I couldn't help marvelling how our music had developed from the early days and I was greatly surprised at the numbers of letters we received from all over the world thanking us.  In so many ways church life was expanding.  In June we twinned with Oradea Baptist Church, Romania - quite a step in Ceausescu's time. This led to many adventures in communist Romania (and my father learned Romanian so that he could really relate - but that's another story). 

On Pentecost Sunday we received more promises and gifts amounting to £45,180.  Wonderful! £226,837 was assured already.  Even as we rejoiced however the planning authorities rejected some of the outline plans.  But it was Springtime!

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 55) What do you do in a difficult meeting?

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  In the raw emotion we were brought back to essentials.  I think it was Martyn Travers ( my ministerial colleague who gave wonderful leadership) who stood up and said: 'Why don't we pray?'  Oh, yes! It was a godly intervention and goes down in the story as a key moment when a human group realized afresh their gross limitations and need for prayer.  So obvious in retrospect!

For half-an-hour one member after another led us in heartfelt prayer. Gradually the tension and frustration began to lift and be replaced by a love and unity that owed everything to the presence of Jesus Christ.  The experience of praying changed everything. Someone said that we were given a gift of togetherness.  Another commented that perhaps that was why we needed to have gone through the meeting.

After prayer by an overwhelming number it was agreed to delay taking the big decision until the February Church Meeting.  Continuing  tension was inevitable as we pushed the decision further away yet we had learned a vital corrective about keeping corporate prayer at the centre of church meeting.  Indeed, we planned a time of open prayer for February.

In February more were present and, of course, views continued to be divided.  When the proposal was presented that we should proceed with the scheme and obtain planning permission it greatly surprised me that only one person abstained.  Sitting on the fence was not an option. The figures were: Agreed 76. Against 27.  What made so much difference were all the other matters on the agenda as we prepared for more baptisms, welcomed new members, and continued all the mission and fellowship initiatives of previous years.  The future of our premises remained a part only of burgeoning church life.  And just as well!