Sunday, September 25, 2016


Between last Wednesday and next Wednesday I shall be jumping between my old life and new.  Last Wednesday was the first time for 16 years that I had been back in a lecture room at Spurgeon's College.  Actually, I had to ask where Lecture Room 2 was because building alterations meant a walk around outside to new entrance (with security cards buzzing me in!) into a transformed former Reference Library.   In spite of many changes with walls knocked down, former entrances blocked and much improved security all round so much was reassuringly familiar. Faculty and staff were generous in their welcome.  The Acting Principal is a former student of mine and though several faculty members have changed there was a happy buzz as old friends were hugged and new friends were greeted.
As always, interacting with students was the most rewarding part of all.  My day with 9 D Min students and 2 PhD students proved lively and encouraging.  Best of all, among the new students present for Orientation Week were two friends,  Chris from my home church in Histon and Erica who was once in the youth group in my Cambridge church.  Oh, how good to see another generation coming through.

Next Wednesday I shall be in Northern Seminary in Lombard with much that is reassuringly familiar in greeting faculty, staff and students.   Again, interacting with students while living on campus and during the Forum on October 1st . will likely be the best part, though meeting up with friends from the churches I served will run it a close second!  With Carol I do not take the privilege of doing our bit both sides of the Atlantic for granted.  At church today, several friends said they would be praying for us and we continue to be grateful especially for prayers for health, strength and wisdom to be used by God aright.   Wildly paraphrasing the psalmist: This is the day the Lord has made and I don't want to mess it up ! 

Friday, September 16, 2016


I've been quiet on the blog front recently, overtaken by a phenomenal amount of holiday hospitality as we have hosted friends from UK, Canada, Australia and USA in a solid (but happy) sequence.  But there is another reason for my quietness  - I have been desperately working to three deadlines.

First, to complete Module 7 (with 3 chapters) of the resource book for A New Kind of Ministry.  Only one more module remains....but then the task of re-editing and including stories from the field begins.

Second, a Doctor of Ministry Workshop Day back at Spurgeon's College on Sept. 21st.  Two years ago I had the delight of being appointed Distinguished Visiting Scholar which blissfully involved me in nothing until now!  But my first duty has arrived.  It's a good one because there are few occasions more stretching than reflecting with practitioners about where theology is meshing with their ministry practice  Of course, I shall hope to turn some of my sessions towards enriching my own work for my further deadline....which is:

On October 1st. we hold our second annual FORUM for the New Kind of Preacher at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. This year we are developing one of the program's main themes - collaboration.  Several people will be speaking, including a pastor for whom collaboration is central to his ministry practice.  For both my sessions I have dared to involve a good friend of mine, Bill Suriano, who is a trial lawyer in Chicago.  Collaboration requires the give-and-take of people who take each other seriously in pursuing a common goal.  In the past Bill (and his wife Dawneen) have been wonderfully warm, direct and insightful in partnering me in both preaching and writing.  I am expecting him to tell the forum just what it's like to collaborate from the pew-side.

Time for registration is nearly concluded....hopefully last minute participants can squeeze in.  For  kind friends who follow my happenings thank you for praying for these two events. I'll let you know more later.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Cold reality!

Last week Carol opened up her ipad to discover she had been hacked. A number of friends had sent urgent messages of warning.  Frantically we changed the password.  Four days later, on Sunday morning before leaving for church Carol checked again.  This time a warning blared in block capitals - FRAUD.  Carol's air miles card had mysteriously been used back in the US to make some extravagant purchases, included a Gucci purchase of $3,400.  We say mysterious because the card was safely in her purse...yet was making waves a couple of thousand miles away.

It took 50 minutes (and made us late for the morning service) as Carol contacted the card suppliers and went through all the security rigmarole.  She wondered if the hacking a few days earlier had opened the way for this fraud?  The card clerk thought it might be so!  Later still she discovered that her main email account was refusing to send any messages.  As a great greeter of others and sender of cheery notes (including some lengthy ones!) she found herself unable to contact the world. Help!

Monday was a vital repair day.  Our pastor, Ron Day, who is an IT expert as well (what a good combination!) invited us at 10:30 to have coffee while he worked on it.  At 12:00 noon he admitted it was beyond him.  Carol and I marveled at the way he and Gill were so gracious on a Bank Holiday Monday.  This truly was Christian grace.  But it meant very lengthy afternoon calls to Apple (in Belfast) was sorted.

Carol commented in exasperation about how many rotten people there are who just hack into stuff, cheat and steal, spoil and add complications to life. Yes, it's an unpleasant lesson.  I have a colleague whose refrain whenever there is trouble runs: 'It's because of sin...and there's a lot of it about'.  Yes!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Collaboration and accountability

Over coffee, a business entrepreneur was talking to me after church yesterday.  He asked about my next event and (of course) I mentioned the New Kind of Preacher Forum with its theme 'collaboration'. (Carol tells me it tends to crop up in conversation with increasing urgency!) He questioned whether this concerned preachers working with others.  When I replied 'yes' he smiled. His next comment was most revealing. 'I have often been amazed that compared with the business world with its high accountability the church has such low accountability. It seems that people in church leadership just don't feel the need to be accountable to anyone.  Perhaps it's because they find it difficult to accept constructive criticism. Some churches seem to suffer from a lot of fear and defensiveness!'   I hasten to add this was not directed at our own church - he made it clear that it was a general observation gained over many years in different churches.

I guess the immediate defense preachers and other leaders would make is that their accountability is to God. True - that is the ultimate accountability!  Some preachers I know have a Spiritual Director who helps make this much more than a pious claim.

However, it was the link he made between   collaboration and accountability that really struck me.  I hadn't really thought about the ways in which working with others, being open to their insights and views, inevitably brings a measure of accountability which working solo can totally avoid.

For example, in sermon preparation, collaboration not only exposes the amount and quality of work a preacher is doing with the text and their spiritual and theological depth but also their willingness to listen and discern what God may be saying through others.  I conclude there is even more need to highlight collaboration! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Next event

Back from Canada I have been plunged into preparation for my next major happening - the annual Forum for the New Kind of Preacher Program.  Scheduled for October 1st at Northern Seminary in Lombard its theme will be COLLABORATION. Advertising has gone out inviting all preachers everywhere!  Speakers are lined up, including one who will describe how collaboration works in their ministry. I am speaking a couple of times and rounding it off, in hopes that the forum will spawn some new peer learning groups among preachers for the next two years.

Collaboration is both gloriously adventurous and seriously threatening. Gloriously adventurous because it brings the best out of us when we are willing to work together, giving our best to a common purpose rather than caught up in competition and rivalry. It continues to amaze me how Jesus - the most complete human being there has ever been - chose to work with disciples who became friends in spite of their flaws, and who he deemed as so necessary to his mission.

But for many preachers I admit the sound of collaboration is seriously threatening.  It is so easy when you open up to someone else's insights and experiences to feel less secure - especially when you are preparing sermons.  There are so many reasons to ride ahead as lone rangers!

I believe that part of God's challenge on October 1st.  will push  preachers to see past the reasons (and defences) for working solo and open hearts and minds to working with others as never before.  I shall keep you in the picture as it develops.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time with the next generation

Since returning from Toronto life has been a blur with commitments each day...mostly good ones! Yesterday was my birthday which brought my London family to see us (also to enjoy a Chinese buffet!) which added zip and zest.  I spent a couple of hours with my 11 year old grandson, Anton, while the rest of his family went into Cambridge.  He has just left his junior school and is stepping out into his new career as a secondary school-boy.  Rarely have I had a chance to speak to him alone and I found myself in an extraordinarily imaginative world of big possibilities.

Anton told me that he really wants to become a 'Professor of Swords'.   Apparently there are only nine authorities extant who have devoted themselves to the story of swords and daggers - a passion he has shared for a number of years.  And what really interests him is inventing something new which would really make its mark in the world.  For example, a light sabre which really destroys evil.  'If I gave my name to a new weapon,' he said, 'I would only want it to be used to stop bad people!'  Mind you, he would not mind inventing any number of fantastic creations some of which he described in breathless detail....all for the good of mankind you understand.

Part of our conversation took part while walking through fields behind the house.  Unfortunately, since I last walked there thistles have grown so abundant (and up to Anton's height) that the pathway home was almost impassable.  We tried a couple of options without success, eventually beating our way through with my furled umbrella.  Reaching home he texted his friends that he had got lost in a field of thistles with his Grampy!

I know ageing has its downside but there's nothing quite like accompanying a lively 11 year old with the world in front of him, some high ideals, and immense imagination.   I am sure I enjoyed the experience more than he did!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A cemetery farewell

On our last full day in Toronto I walked through the Mount Pleasant Cemetery which is close to our apartment.  Spread over a wide area, containing graves of many of Toronto's good and great, I needed to find the memorial to William Davies with whom I had found a family connection.  The office clerk looked up the details of William Davies (1831-1921) and told me several people were also buried at the memorial.  With a detailed map of the grave's location I set off and, to my great surprise, found that it was very close to the main gates that I have often walked through these past days.

But the real surprise, and a very sad one, was to see that William and his wife Emma who lived 89 and 75 years respectively buried eight children at this site.  Their names are inscribed on the other three sides of the squared memorial.  George (3 weeks), James (32 years), Nellie ( 35 years), Charles (37 years), Samuel (25 years), Philip (23 years), Mary (5 months) and Arthur (29 years). Eight times the parents stood there in bereavement;  William was there nine times.

There is obviously a story behind the deaths off Charles, Philip and Samuel for two died in Nassau, Bahamas in 1890 and the third, Samuel died in New York on his way home from Nassau in 1890.  What on earth happened in Nassau to these young men in their twenties and thirties?   What tragedy lies behind the stark dates?

What struck me was the care that had been taken to give Scripture references to each one.  Some surrounding memorials had descriptive tributes.  Not here - just plain Scriptural testimony that death is not the end! Christ is risen! In the sadness and mystery of short mortality this conviction remains the greatest hope.