I have just returned from another of those memorable ministry vignettes. In 1662 the Baptist cause began in Oakworth, Yorkshire, and I was invited to preach the 195th anniversary of one of the churches that emerged from this beginning. Slack Lane Baptist Church boasts a magnificent view. It is set on the brow of a hill, looking over its own immaculate graveyard. Beyond lies a glorious rolling landscape of farms, field, woods and moorland. Dappled sunlight from patchy cloud cover brought spectacular bursts of moving colour as Carol and I stood and marveled.
The impressive stone building now houses a smaller congregation though at its peak it had 436 members. I was handed a copy of its history where its beginnings described how weavers and farmers made up its community. It was situated near spinning mills. Children as young as five years old could be woken up as early as 5:00 am in order to work in these mills (a practice which continued until an Act of Parliament in 1833). Life was hard in countless ways. Yet, they met to worship with such convictions in God's grace that held them through life-times for succeeding generations right up to the present.
I asked the secretary how long he had been at the church. ' 79 years', he said. That just sums up the solid faithfulness and commitment that I experienced as I led worship and preached. (There was a good tea between the services too which held high the Yorkshire tradition for good hospitality!) I challenged them to make this anniversary a 50/50 event, to look back with gratitude and celebrate God's goodness over yet another year but, in equal measure, to look ahead with willingness to be the people of God joining in God's mission for Oakworth.
I guess 50/50 is not a bad way of ensuring every day a measure of reflection and thankfulness but never at the expense of living in God's kingdom right now!