Monday, July 22, 2019

West Country break

Last week we were away visiting friends in W Somerset ( That's why even fewer posts than usual). Stuart is an artist (with his own shop in Porlock) and Christine is a County Councillor.  Both are Christians - that's how we met them.  Every time we catch up with them they take us into very different worlds.  On arrival they gave us a roast meal welcome and he presented me with a book :A field guide to Exmoor's traditional roadside fingerposts (2019).  You see what I mean by different worlds!

On page 15 Stuart is pictured up a ladder repainting one of these posts.  A campaign was launched in 2017 to repair these cast iron signposts many dating from the beginning of the twentieth century.  They looked to retired volunteers to take on the task. The book gives exhaustive details about their designs and the process of cleaning and rubbing down with a wire brush, treating bare metal with a primer and undercoat, applying top coat and then the black lettering.  Several signposts are featured because of special historical features and oddities.  Only one is painted red at Luccombe. Stuart told us that we would pass this red post when we drove to our lodgings.  He also mentioned the only post with one moveable finger on our route.  It says: Porlock 3 miles but because it is on the corner of a narrow lane it has to move to allow larger vehicles pass.

Never having given much thought to these fingerposts I now noticed them every time we drove around. The moveable finger to Porlock was often pointing in a completely opposite direction (apparently the wind will move it as well as mischievous passers-by).  The red post gleamed!

Reflecting on this holiday experience I thought how marvellous to keep so interested and involved - two folk in their 70's so zestful for life.  I preached in their local church and there was Stuart playing the flute and Christine greeting everybody.  A great example of ageing!  Yeah!

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Cambridge day 2) That detour

Just to add...I mentioned that my grandson and I dashed into the church restaurant for a quick bite. Extraordinarily, we found Carol sitting there.  She had planned to eat elsewhere but had finished up there. Greeting her, breathlessly highlighting key points of our day so far, I tore off my jacket and hung it on the chair-back, as we placed our orders.  Alas, time ran out on actually eating the snacks because we had to rush to a lecture which introduced potential students to studying Geography in Cambridge.  It proved very profitable.  Afterwards, reaching into my jacket pocket for my car key I realized I had left my jacket with key on that restaurant chair.  I hoped that Carol had seen it before she left...but no.

It was someone else in the restaurant who put two and two together.  Realizing that Carol would likely be waiting for a bus home, he dashed round to find Carol still waiting at the bus stop.  I don't know how many other bus stops he tried but it was a minor miracle he found the right one.

Carol, no doubt muttering about her absent minded husband folded the jacket but felt something heavy in its pocket.  My car key but no car park ticket.  With the ticket she would have been able to take both jacket and key home.  Instead she would have to find me somehow. Puffing her way to the Geography Dept. which she had never visited before, an academic saw her worried state, heard the story, texted me and promised to keep the key safe in her room.  Missing the text, I 'phoned home, to hear this saga and then set about finding my key. Unfortunately, by this time, the academic had left....but eventually a staff member opened the right door.

I would have seen this as an irritating experience that dampened the day. However, as we  searched for the room containing my key, the professor who had earlier spoken at the lecture met us in the corridor and engaged my grandson in a conversation which turned out to be key.  He could ask one-to-one questions.  What a bonus.

Reflecting on the whole day my grandson said "I don't think it could have gone any better!'   How about that!  That's enough about that day......but, as you can tell, I enjoyed most of it.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Cambridge day (1) A grandson's dream

This week my seventeen-year old grandson called me and asked if I was free the next day.  Cautiously, I admitted I was. 'Well, it's the Cambridge University Open Day and I wondered if you would go round with me.  I only have a 'partial ticket' which allows me a little access but one person can go with me." 'What are you hoping to study?' said I.  Past conversations with him have ranged over a wide number of options!  'Geography', he replied.  'Really, that's exactly what I studied' I told him, though I think he already knew that.

Arriving by train we raced down to the Geography Department building.  Holding his partial ticket expecting some rebuffs, instead we were able to plunge into full engagement with tutors, students, lectures.  Told to visit some of the colleges where geographers cluster we visited St. Catherine's, Emmanuel, and Downing before dashing into our former church's restaurant for a 15 minute snack.

This led to an unexpected detour which I shall mention next.  But staying with geography for a minute I found myself wallowing in memories of 1964-67 when I read geography in the same place, same lecture theatre (exactly the same!), same library etc.  We went up to the library where the librarian greeted us warmly.  Hearing that I was an old boy he found the volume containing the final examination papers for 1967.  'This is what you took', he said. My final year was devoted to geomorphology.  As I looked at these papers, the font, the questions, the smell (it seemed!) I just escaped falling into a trance!  It was surreal. This was my life!  And here, standing beside me, was my grandson possibly coming to the same place.

Doesn't life have surprises for us?  This was a good one!  I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Smoke alarm

Last Saturday at 10:00 pm the smoke alarm directly above our heads in the sitting room suddenly shrieked with a piercing squeal. The battery needed replacing.  Just as our energies were sleepily decelerating I had to fetch the step ladder from the garage and find the right screwdriver to reach into the alarm's aperture which supposedly simply releases it from the ceiling.  To my exasperation, no matter how hard I tried with different approaches the alarm refused to budge. The shrieking continued to gain in pace. It echoed through our house and we were sure would penetrate our neighbour's sonic range too.

After more failed attempts I decided to knock on my neighbour's door and ask for help. I know it was late. I apologized!  His wife, seeing my face assumed that at the least Carol had fallen down the stairs.  It was obviously an anticlimax to hear that it was only a smoke alarm problem.  Apparently, his alarms look very different.  As a practical man he mounted the ladder and applied pressure in several attempts.  Failure again. (I confess a little relief that it was not simply resolved).  'I may have to break it, ' he said. 'Go for it' urged Carol as the noise continued.   Exerting a mighty thrust the alarm came away...broken. It was still shrieking in his hand until a new battery was fixed/ 'I think it might have been broken before' our neighbour said.   Well, maybe.

Fitted back loosely the last three days have been mercifully quiet.  But on Sunday some visitors for an evening meal were sitting underneath and to our horror it started again.   'Oh, no' we chorused, as we retold the story.  Our friend smiled broadly. 'It's not that' he said.  And then he scraped his rubber sole on the wood floor to make an identical shriek again.

I can't think of learning many lessons from this experience though we note how good neighbours are a blessing and some friends are mischievous. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


For months our TV has been playing up.  The remote button has failed to register '1' which has meant much jiggery-pokery as we use 2 or 9 and go down or up to find some channels.  The guide button has also failed.  Then several channels we used to receive have gone totally blank and even some that we can see occasionally cascade into pixels at inconvenient moments.

We have repeatedly (you're telling me) promised each other that we would get onto the TV helpline .....and weeks have passed.  Part of the delay comes out of past experience when neither of us could understand instructions given us over the phone as an increasingly agitated agent told us which leads to disconnect and buttons to press.

I got the impulse last week to finally deal with it.  I got through to an agent who called me 'Dahrling' She said her birthday was near mine and clearly could see that I was an old boy who would respond to her affection!  Help! It was obvious I needed a new remote she declared and ordered a replacement to arrive the next day.  When it did we could hardly believe the difference it made - we recognized just how slow many other buttons had also become.

However, the problem with the programmes would need a two hour session she said.  This was booked for yesterday.  With abundant affection she began the session by asking me to go to one of the missing channels.  Promptly, with the new remote, I did.  Then I needed to press a couple of buttons before hitting an entirely new purple one.  Instantly the dead channel became alive.  I expressed my delight.  Two hours were not needed.  She gushed her joy dahrling.

'Why didn't we do this before?' questioned Carol.  What a good question.  And it applies to a number of more significant issues too!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Less usual moments 2) Magician's touch

At my watercolour evening class (3 years ago) the teacher advised us to use good quality paper, paint and brushes.  He particularly mentioned sable brushes - wonderful for holding paint and flowing lines etc. he said. I quickly found out that they were priced top of the range...really top.

While in Wheaton (where we once lived) we saw that the art shop is closing down after over 100 years of family ownership.  Everything is marked 50% down so I looked at sable brushes.  Under lock and key they were originally priced $300-500 plus.  The brush I had my eye on was still nearly $240 half price!  A week later they had reduced prices again but it was still $180.

The salesman saw us dithering.  Carol said she might make it a special birthday gift for me. Then he spoke: 'Honestly, sable brushes are over-rated.  I have one and it's nice to use but you can get really good brushes much cheaper.  After all, it's the magician's touch with whatever brush they are using that really counts.  The brush doesn't do the magic.'

I laughed.  Partly because he was doing the shop out of a sale by being very unsalesman-like.  But mostly because he is exactly right.  It's the artist and measure of their gifting that really matters. That applies to other aspects of life too, doesn't it?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Less usual moments - can you smell burning?

While we were in the US most days took usual shape.  However, one or two odd things happened. One occurred on our shorter flight (just under 2 hours) between New York and Chicago. As we were seated on UA755 Carol asked me if I smelt burning.  I detected a very slight smell and dismissed it.  An hour into our flight which had left on time the captain announced we were returning to New York. Somebody was unwell and there was a maintenance problem. Finding a doctor on board quickly resolved the medical problem - the young lady returned to the seat behind us saying it was just nausea.  But....the maintenance problem continued.

Returning, we were told the plane was being taken out of service because...guess what?  The oven was faulty and a new oven had to be fitted.  It had been smoking!  Carol was right.  Of course. Waiting in the departure lounge, with a drip feed of sometimes contradictory information we were eventually informed the same plane was being refitted so that we would be flying on it after all.  Bottles of water and snacks were provided to keep us going for the five hours' wait.

It is tedious to relate how the flight was further delayed on the runway and the luggage took ages to appear at baggage claim.  The journey had taken  as long as between London and New York. Deplaning, Carol mentioned to a stewardess that she had smelled burning when we first sat down. 'If only you had mentioned it!' she said.  Would it have made any difference?  We shall never know.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Back from the US

We have just spent nearly four weeks visiting our family in New York State and friends in Illinois where I worked for over 15 years.  Though woozy because of jet lag we rejoice in the many many good times sharing with family and friends -it seemed we had only been away a week rather than the year (with bad health and all...).

All those who have lived for a time in two places can experience the weirdness of transplanting between cultures. Gerald Locklin wrote this poem: Where we are

I envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london,
wales and spain,
l.a. and paris,
hawaii and switzerland.

There is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are.  I have
always loved both the freshness of 
arriving and the relief of leaving, with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

We are profoundly grateful for the powerful Christian friendship that marked the freshness of arriving.  There are so many stories of meeting up with friends - three times in Illinois different groups, adding up to over 40 people, arranged group meetings.... and every day was packed with conversations and food.  And the weather was warm and bright too. We are truly grateful.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gleanings 26) Thanks for these beginnings

I admit that dipping into the archives, as with these cuttings, is likely to have mixed value and limited appeal.  And this is true of trudging further through years of sermons and ministry in Blackburn.  I have already told the story of my ministry in Cambridge (at length!) and do not propose to prolong telling the Blackburn ministry.

Suffice it to say that, above all else, the large number of sermons through my seven years spent there helped me grow into lively expectation of preaching Scripture. 2 Tim. 3:16 declares that Scripture is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness and though I recognized (I think) early on how easily it can be manipulated I also learned about the power of God's transform individuals and a community. Time and time again God's word struck through sermons like a two-edged sword.  So, in my personal development I can see how my early experiences laid foundations not only for the demanding pulpit in Cambridge but for my passion and writing about preaching in the later part of my life.

To satisfy curiosity I should report that this first year ending with the "Sit In' led to a five year story during which the vision for a new church developed into reconstructing striking new premises with over £70,000 given by church members and friends.  A Community Room was also developed with a full-time Church Social Worker becoming a partner in ministry.  Blackburn's chief executive was quoted in the paper: The church should be congratulated on its spirit of adventure in undertaking this reconstruction, which besides giving a spiritual uplift to the town has made a significant contribution to the architectural heritage.

I shall always be grateful for these beginnings - I learned a great deal. Thank you for following some of these gleanings.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Gleanings 25) Viewpoint - Cricket

This is the last of the cuttings I have and it switches mood! It also speaks of a time before T20 and all forms of speeded up cricket!
I have just been watching some cricket. For me the perfect English summer day is to sit in a deckchair and hear the thwack of a well-timed stroke out on the cricket green. But I  know many people would disagree and murmur: "It's too slow a game for me." I suppose they would be more interested if every ball knocks down the wicket or is walloped for six. The ideal game would end up like that concoction of highlights that you see on television news when a test match is reported. Every moment shows either a wicket falling or someone getting a hundred. Cricket is not like that. It's not just the wickets falling and the big-scores - it's all the hard graft, the defences, the subtleties and the tension that fills up the time in between the big events.
And these make the game so interesting to me.  This is exactly what happens in our own lives - there are the big events of course, but it's the days between them that really count. Our lives are full of times when nothing seems to happen except for hard graft but - as in cricket - these are the times in which we are preparing and building up for the big events. we have to learn that every day can be used profitably, however uneventful it might seem.  That is why we are commanded: "Make the very most of your time (Col. 4:5) This is our responsibility before God.
In Graham Greene's place "The Living Room" there is a tragic failure of a crippled priest who is unexpectedly confronted with his young niece seeking help. Later on in the play he confesses: "For more than 20 years I've been a useless priest. I had a real vocation for the priesthood, and for 20 years it's been imprisoned in this chair. Last night God gave me my chance. He flung this child here as my knees asking for help, asking for hope.  I said to God 'Put words into my mouth' but he has given me 20 years in this chair with nothing to do but prepare for such a moment, so why should He interfere? And all I said was. 'You can pray.' If I'd ever really known what prayer was, I would only have had to touch her to give her peace." 
The tragedy of not making the very most of our time. No one can tell what you and I will have to face - that is why we must take every opportunity to pray and prepare, growing in God's love as we "Make the very most of our time".

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Gleanings 24) Viewpoint - Corruption

There's a terrible smell in the air. Corruption seems to be in every headline. But Watergate, Poulson, T. Dan Smith, allegations about the police, suspicions about M.P.'s - these are but a well-publicised whiff of a decaying odour many of us breathe in every day, because the places where we live and work also see the pressures which are dishonest, unethical, untruthful and corrupting. 
Christianity is brutally frank in its diagnosis of our mess. Its blunt assessment is found in that often misquoted verse: "The love of money is the root of all evil."  Note it's the love of money, the overmastering desire for more that pushes men into dishonesty and its harvest of corruptions.  Whenever man loses perspective and puts money so high on his list of priorities that it dominates all else then he is in severe danger. The fact that we belong to God and we live in God's world is forgotten,. Instead we plunge into the labyrinth of deceit and self-seeking. 
If the diagnosis points to man getting money out of proportion and forgetting God, what is the cure?  I believe there is only one cure and that is to know a greater love than anything we feel for money and possessions. That greater love is seen in God's gift to us of Jesus Christ, who died that the stinking mess of this world and our deceits and self-seeking might be cleansed. When we see God's love for us at Easter all the stress we put on money and material things seems far less important.  There was a sign outside a church which read: HELP STOP TRUTH DECAY.  Certainly truth is under siege and men are anxious in the swirling stench of corruption.
But the only way we can stop truth decay is with God's help as we grasp his love and get things back into proportion. There is nothing more important than knowing the love of God. If we begin to grow in that love then money and its threat of corruption will be knocked off its pedestal and we shall have helped to stop truth decay in our hearts.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Gleanings 23) Viewpoint - The Exorcist

Now this is really dated!
Even if you are a rare film-goer like myself, you will probably know that Blackburn is screening "The Exorcist" for the first time this weekend. The Council has approved its showing after some of its members have had a private viewing. Part of me is reluctant to mention even this fact because whatever I say, I know, shall be giving further publicity through his column - and that's exactly what the film makers want. This film has become a huge box office success just because of the warnings against the film and people's inflamed curiosity.  Films are part of the entertainment industry and there is a small group of people filling their pockets with delight as "The Exorcist" taps a new world- the supernatural- for its entertainment value.
That's the thing that worries me most. This commercialization of something real, tyrannical and fearful. Perhaps you saw and heard the first audience in London to witness this film.  The TV cameras were there. People talked of fright, of nausea. Some of those people who never gave a thought to God came out believing with fear in the devil. Because this is no ordinary horror movie. It is based on a book which in turn is based on an actual case of demon possession.
Some entertainment! I realize that psychiatrists and parsons have already had a field day with this film but I must emphasize that this strange world "The Exorcist" unveils IS real, tyrannical and fearful. It's not all in the mind.  Man has something to fear outside himself and this realm of evil which the Bible sums up in the description "Satan" has to be taken very seriously. We see Jesus Christ confronting the powers of this dark realm - these demonic forces which tempt him and which, in the end, crucify him. Believe me, you cannot be in the Christian ministry long without realizing the power of evil and its self-destruction as some people are enslaved by it. But we thank God that Jesus Christ has won a victory over the demonic powers. As Paul writes: "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them (Col. 2:13) This is the vital part of the meaning of the cross - it's God answer to the realms of evil and terror. We find it difficult to understand but we can claim its victory.
This film, and I presume there will be others to follow it, speaks of something which is real. It does so for commercial ends - that's why I shall not add my money to the millions of pounds already made. I shall not see it. My belief is that for some people who will go to see it, this new dimension of the demonic will come as a shock - and they will have fear.
As a Christian minister, I want to stress that the power of Christ has already come to grips with evil and has overcome , so that Jesus can promise us instead of fear - peace through his victory. It is no good being realistic about the power of forces unseen, without claiming as true the words and deeds of the one person who declares that he has dealt with sin and evil - Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Gleanings 22) Viewpoints - Christian Aid

These yellowing newspaper columns I have just found cover a range of issues.  I can't remember how many I did in total but I have three from May 1974 and another in summer 1974.  Of course the language is sometimes dated (man!) and the contexts are also dated - like the controversial first screening of 'The Exorcist" movie in Blackburn. As I review them I often see an enthusiastic, young preacher using this column as an extension of  his preaching!  How amazing to think that this high circulation daily newspaper gave space to such explicit stuff.  The first viewpoint was an obvious one for a Christian minister to write - Christian Aid Week. Sadly, this remains intensely relevant.
It is Christian Aid Week again - the annual pricking on our consciences about the poorest people in the world. As we are tempted to find small change for the envelope that popped through the letter box, let me tell you a story. It's called 'The feeding of the five thousand - how it didn't happen".   
The crowd sat patiently in the late afternoon sun, waiting to be fed. "Is there really bread for everybody, Mama?" asked a child at the back. 'Yes, dear. The Master is giving it to His disciples now." The child rubbed his eyes. " Will it be long?" Mother took him on her lap. " No, they're passing it to the front row now." Slowly the child's eyes closed. When they opened the sun was low in the west. He sat up quickly. " Did you save me some, Mama? I missed it, didn't I?  Mother stirred uneasily. 'No dear, It's not come yet. The front row is still eating." The child returned his head to her lap " I'm hungry Mama, Isn't it here yet?"  Mother looked anxiously ahead. " No, I think there's something wrong. The front row is having some more." The child sighed. " It's no good being in the back row,is it Mama?"
When the last tinge of colour faded from the sky the child sat up again. "I bet there isn't any!' he declared.  Mother shook her head. "Yes, there is, I can see them eating it."  Darkness fell and at last Mother got slowly to her feet. " Let's go home. They said it was for everybody, but I guess it's only for the front row after all."  
Let all of us on the front row take note and make this week the beginning of concern and giving for those missed out as we enjoy God's world. If we fail to help there will be a tragic story - the feeding of the millions: how it didn't happen.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

Gleanings 21) But what happened?

It's all very well remembering sermons that may have put people on the spot but what actually happened in the 'Sit-In'?   I had to look it up to recall the exact details and I found a copy of the front page headlines of the BAPTIST TIMES, October 11th. 1973 £26,000 sit-in that saved a church. Actually, it was £26,446!  (Astonishingly the value of this £ sum compared then and now is estimated at today's spending power around £230,780!)

The paper reported: The minister, Michael Quicke, told an astonished church that the result of the 'sit-in' had been a massive £26,000 and that the future of the church looked secure. He told the church: 'Never in the life of this church have three days meant so much. Through you, God has spoken his Yes, when many thought it would be No. I believe this is the beginning of something really great for God'.

I love it that Carol was also quoted: 'We have been thrilled with the way people have responded. We are all one hundred percent together in this, and we have no doubt that with our work and sacrifice we shall succeed and see new church premises built which will be of real service to the people and really be to God's glory'.

In my gleanings I recognize the partnership that Carol gave right from the start of ministry, in spite of a baby to look after and some ill-health.  100% together n it was right! Actually, I used to read my morning sermons to her last thing on Saturday nights though too often she nodded off before the end.  She joked that she had to go to church to hear how it finished.  Yes, any account of my ministry should include Carol's commitment all the way.

Among yellowing newspaper cuttings like the above I also found copies of  "Viewpoint" that I wrote (with other clergy) in our main evening regional newspaper.  Some still have relevance....perhaps!  See next time.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

King Ahab and wife

Arriving at church on Sunday, a teacher in the children's work asked me whether I could help act out a part for their morning class.  She explained that I was to be King Ahab - one of the notorious figures of the Old Testament. A gold crown (slightly too small) and a purple robe (also minimal!) were provided with a script to follow which emphasized that I was to strut arrogantly and regally as I made my entrance.

At the right moment as I waiting outside the door the teacher opened it with the words: 'And who do we have here?'  In I swept, exuding nasty authority, and exclaiming that I was King Ahab, the seventh king of Israel.  And that I was married to Jezebel who was very beautiful.   Just at that moment Carol stuck her head round the door to see what was going on.  The teachers burst into laughter and, of course, I repeated the line!   However, the story turns sour as Ahab said that Jezebel had introduced him to the god Baal and that he was now worshiping Baal instead of the old-fashioned God of Israel.

One of the children was primed to confront me as the prophet Elijah and tell me that there would be no rain in judgement upon me...and I am glad to say that God had the last triumphant word in the painful story.

I haven't been to visit the children's and youth work for years and as I saw all the work the different teachers had put into the morning sessions I was reminded of the vital, demanding, and skillful effort that our teachers put in month by month, year by year.  How easily their role is taken for granted!  We owe them so much for their dedication.  Thank you - everyone who works with our children in church.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Gleanings 20) On the spot 3

I started Gleanings because my stack of sermons needs pruning/burning? and before taking drastic measures I looked back to my beginnings in Blackburn in the 70's.  In the building crisis my short series called: BUILDING FOR THE LORD shows me wrestling with Scripture with dangers of manipulation lurking everywhere.

Sermon 2) UNDER ORDERS (2 Samuel 7: 1-18) began with the story of Saddleworth (in Yorkshire) where an ex-sprinter councillor argued for an Olympic-sized running track.  People said 'What a good idea.' The expensive track  was joyfully completed but ever since it has been permanently water-logged and unusable.  King David pleased with his rich palace thinks it a good idea to build God a rich temple too.  Consulting prophet Nathan, he received an immediate green light only for God, later that night, to break in with his rebuke.  David is not to build his temple.  No. Man is wiser after the event; God is wise before.  David and Nathan have to learn to be under God's orders.   I emphasized that a) God only knows and warned how we can all make Nathan's mistake. 'We should saturate every step with prayer as we look to our future. There can be no jumping at the good idea until we are sure it is God's order'.  And b) God only succeeds - we do wonder what God is up to?  It's a strange sort of success as David is told to look to his son.  And we are told to look to God's son and a strange sort of success in the crushing agony of Gethsemane and desolation of Calvary. But under God's orders Jesus completed the task and now as we look to the cross we see it empty, deserted - the failure of man's worst to annihilate God's best. And in his power God would have us stay under his orders today....

Preachers should often ask as they preach Old Testament stories - how is Jesus wanting to tell this today? How does this Old Covenant story belong with the New Covenant?  And are they just using a story to make a personal point?  Good questions.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lady Selena

I am just back from speaking at the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion Annual Conference.  In the heady days of eighteenth century revival with John Wesley and George Whitefield, Lady Selena experienced dramatic Christian conversion which led to her extraordinarily fearless witness to all - peers and servants - as she established preaching centres using every ounce of influence and wealth for the gospel. Facing opposition from the established church, she reluctantly organized her connection of churches of over a hundred chapels as a group of separatists.  She stands out as one of the most significant women in Christian history.

Knowing that I was going to speak, a US professor friend wrote to me: 'The Countess of Huntingdon! Oh, wow! dear Lady Selena.  I had no idea her Connexion still existed. Where do these congregations exist?'    I read this to the conference who ,with laughter, wanted to reassure him that they still exist! I promised to write and let him know.  True, numbers of churches have shrunk to 22 and some of these are small but the connexion's spiritual life with its partner connexion in Sierra Leone was evident from the very first.  Carol and I loved sharing sessions and meeting friends from places ranging from Ely, to Middleton, to Eastbourne to St. Ives, Cornwall. Children and young people had very lively parallel activities. Interestingly, at a Mission Marketplace churches had been asked to bring details of their recent outreach. I went from table to table, picking up leaflets as members enthusiastically described their hospitality projects, schools' work, overseas' commitment, work with special groups etc.  Wonderful.

In my three talks on the Connexion's tag-line: Welcoming, Supporting and Networking" I introduced some of the challenges that come with being a missional church.  Of living in the faith and vision that GOD IS AT WORK EVERYWHERE AS HE GATHERS AND SCATTERS HIS CHURCH AS MISSIONARIES.  I warned them to be ready for OUCH moments when God would ping them with a fresh challenge and maybe rebuke!   People told me they experienced several of these.  Indeed one person said they were sitting near the door to escape too many more!

So, I am grateful I was well enough to undertake this.  The Connexion website had asked prayer for me earlier in the year and when I first arrived I was encouraged by the people who asked me about my health and said they had been praying.  Thank you Lord for opening up to Carol and me another part of your great family.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday

I led prayers in my local church this morning and as I reflected on today, which marks the beginning to Holy Week, I remembered with clarity my pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Holy Week when we were able to follow in the footsteps of Jesus through to Easter Sunday and then onto Galilee in resurrection celebration.  At key points we read Scripture, sang, prayed, were quiet (so important) and sometimes shared communion.

On the road down from the Mount of Olives we read Luke 19: 28-44 when the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices: 'Blessed in the king who comes in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven and glory in the highest'.  And a little later as Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city he wept over it and said, 'If you,even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace...'  Peace with God and in relationships with others through the harmony of his love and forgiveness.

Standing there with the city of Jerusalem uncaring, even hostile to the momentous event ahead, I recall both the sense of grief that this city would miss the opportunity, tears for the lost, but also the sheer courage as Jesus went ahead in spite of such massive rejection.  He is often so alone this week, especially in the garden and on the cross, with a city that is closed to God's gift of peace.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a focus on those for whom Easter needs courage in the face of so many around them who are unconcerned and uncaring about the peace that Jesus brings.  For Christians all over the world in all kinds of situations we pray for bold witness this week.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Gleanings 19) On the spot 2

At the Church Meeting which approved re- building a specific proposal was made.  Again, the bulletin spelled it out:
'ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-THREE PEOPLE met last Tuesday and were unanimous that:
the Minister be available on the Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday morning, October 4th, 5th, and 6th, for the church to give gifts or promises for the building fund.'
With the prayer meeting nearby, I sat in my vestry to receive confidential gifts. This "Sit-In" stirred much interest with the local paper following events which must have seemed bizarrely risky. To go public when so much was at stake. Readers of my earlier postings on the St. A's story 'A Cambridge God event' will recognize a pattern developing because I was to repeat this exercise in Cambridge!
Leaflets gave fuller details and sermons kept emphasizing the theme of climbing the mountain of faith and the need for sacrificial giving.  And what kind of texts and themes would be suitable?  Well a series was called BUILDING FOR THE LORD.

Sermon 1) AT COST (1 Chron. 21:16 -22:1)  I began with a comment someone had made: "Wouldn't it be great if a millionaire donated £100.000 for the building work"?  The story of David refusing the free gift for the land on which to build an altar (from Araunah the Jebusite) comes close to this millionaire wish.  But David rejects the offer completely. "No, I insist on praying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours or offer a whole-offering that costs me nothing."  This is a basic principle - gifts to God must cost.  No party-tickets where one person can pay for the rest.   The story in 1 Chron. reveals that the cost involves REPENTANCE as David acknowledged his pride as well as REAL GIVING when he put theory into practice.  There were other sermons too......

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Gleanings 18) On the spot 1.

I was beginning to realize at this point in my short preaching career how vital it was to ensure that what was happening in church life was made explicit in every bit of literature as well as in the sermons.  First in the literature - I see evidence in the service bulletins.
   - we should book the date, Tuesday September 4th to take the decision about rebuilding on the church site. 
   -we should respond in preparation by praying with faith and vision and in our financial giving - our offering should be at least doubled every week and our covenanting should greatly increase.
  - we are called to think, work, pray in these next weeks as never before. 

Controversially, the following Sunday a new item was included in our church bulletin:  WEEKLY OFFERING - we thank you for your gifts for the Lord's work last Sunday, which amounted to £71.92.  I say controversially because it put finances in black and white figures for all to see.  It put us on the spot. Some felt it rather undignified like putting washing out on the line! Perhaps dirty washing. And others resented the public spotlight.

I guess publishing church weekly offerings rarely happens today because people have standing orders and those who can covenant their gifts too.  So it is very difficult to know exactly what is being given.  After the September 4th meeting that confirmed the decision about rebuilding on the church site an official Building Fund was set up, so it's details were included too.  Every week.

It is fascinating to revisit the impact of making our giving explicit. Three months later giving on October  21st. was General Fund £ 93. 07p and Building Fund £39. 20p. Definitely, the challenge was on but I also recognize how much more was to happen....seriously.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

First 2019 outing

It has been 5 months since I last preached and, with fuller lungs after the pneumonia I stepped back into the fray last Sunday.  The date had been in my diary for ages because it was part of the 150th. celebrations of Walsworth Road Baptist Church, Hitchin.

The minister, Rev. Andrew Henton-Pusey, was a student at Cambridge in the mid-60's and attended my church becoming heavily involved in its student ministry.  Significant things happened like meeting his wife Julie.  Sadly, I had forgotten some key specifics. As he introduced me he said that 25 years ago (he gave the exact date) I had invited him (as President of the Robert Hall Society - the Baptist student society) to preach from the Cambridge pulpit.  Apparently it was only the third time he had ever preached.  In sensing whether he was called into ministry he remembers some of my words like: 'I shall need to put every hurdle in your way!' God's call is so demanding you should only say yes when you have faced its many challenges and have no other choice.

What a delight to see Andrew and Julie 25 years on, and to remember Andrew's parents who were so involved in Carol's early Christian life! But to cap it all, we had lunch with old student friends whom I had not seen for 52 years.  Les and Judith Ebdon were members of the London student society and Les became President of the Baptist Student Federation (a body comprising some 30 Baptist groups in universities across the UK).   What a wonderful surprise to see them again.  I have seen Les's name in the national media over the years owing to his prominence in education issues, having been Vice Chancellor in two universities and latterly Director of  Equal Access (something like that!) - promoting fairness for students.  He was knighted last year but this seemed to make no difference to him as a deacon, a worker of the power-point,  a committed lay preacher and everything else.

This is the wonder of unsought networking in the Christian family when you are surprised by friends from way back who stir deep good memories and are as committed to the Lord as ever!  I guess this will be like the heaven experience, only to the nth degree!   I hope you have such stories and surprises too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Gleanings 17) Too personal

I realized that by bringing myself into the picture by telling of my own anxiety I was identifying with many in the congregation.  I believe that there are times when sharing honestly (and it must be honest!) may connect at a deeper level.  No longer is the preacher up the front, distant, talking spiritual truths which can sound rather general and can be easily dismissed.  When a problem faces the whole church and a preacher tells it like it is spiritual truth is no longer general or easily dodged.

However, in the sermon I told another story by reading out a letter I had received the day after the meeting from a young couple. (I asked them for permission and very fortunately they could remain anonymous since there were many possible young couples in the congregation!)
You stated last night that several people have already shown the foresight and faith to give for a future new building.  We are prepared to show the same faith in the future by covenanting £100 a year for the seven years necessary for a covenant, to ensure that we can build a new church/centre for the present and the future.  If we could all stand and speak with the conviction that Christianity means optimism in the future for God's sake, we'd have no difficulty in having a new place...
It is difficult to appreciate how much the pound has devalued since then.  I went online to discover that  £100 in 1973 is equivalent in purchasing power to £1,199.38 in 2019! This was a remarkably generous gift pledged when who knows what financial quagmires might lie ahead for this couple.  It seems crazy.  I commented 'When Abraham set off people thought him crazy but let no one doubt that he trusted his Lord and his faith influenced his conduct. When we set off let people think we are crazy, but let no one doubt that we trust in a mighty, living, loving God for whom we are prepared to take risks and climb in vision.

Yes, but I realized for the first time how a preacher can be in danger of manipulating hearers with stories like these.  Cicero, the Roman orator said that speech should teach, delight and persuade. The preacher's priority is always letting God persuade through Scripture and using personal stories with utmost sensitively.  It was a lesson I had to learn.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Gleanings 16) Connecting personally

The sermon contained more of me, and us as a congregation, than I had ever preached before. Beginning with the tragic mountain story (last posting) I said: 'The only way to avoid the risks of height is to stay at ground level....and that's just what most of us do in the spiritual realm. When we face the mountains of faith, when we are called to rise to a vision and respond to a call which leads beyond what we are used to, when we are challenged to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar, the known for the unknown, the safe for the risk, when we face the mountains of faith we want to stay put.' I then shared what happened to me after the meeting - my feeling physically sick, sitting in the car after the meeting. My fear about the future and blunt desire to stay at ground level, to stay with thing as they have always been.

Abraham setting out from the familiar (Gen 12) exemplifies how faith leaves the familiar for the frightening unknown.  I spent time reminding us of his journey - 'faith involves things you would never dream of doing normally.'  And moved onto how Jesus dealt with people whom he called to be and do new things and how he often said:' Don't be afraid'.

Faith is frightening but also reassuring. The sermon's second part took Rom 4: 18-25 - once God had given his promise Abraham had faith that God would stick by that promise. 'He did not analyse it, suspect it, rationalize it, over-dramatize it; he refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God.  He was sure that God the Creator is powerful when men are weak and he promises the safest route (though not the easiest).

When God calls us to do things we would never dream of doing normally, and take risks we would never begin to calculate, and climb when it seems failure hems us in on every side then we begin to find out what a live faith is.  We don't know what would have happened if Abraham hadn't responded with faith - No Israel, No Old Testament, No First Covenant?  We don't know what will happen if we don't respond in faith, or do we?

As I review that sermon, though, I am left with a question about how personal a preacher should be.....

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Gleanings 15) A shaken preacher.

The special meeting about dry rot drew 160 people. After presentations there was a strong sense that rather than pull the building down, the rot should be eradicated with the large affected areas left bare and, a new false ceiling built underneath.  I no longer possess the details but we knew the expense was likely to be huge. I knew people had been praying with vision and one or two people actually pledged gifts to make something happen within the meeting. But the majority felt extremely uncomfortable and I had strong criticism afterwards about the way the whole meeting had become too emotional.!

Immediately afterward when most people had gone home I went to my car and sat down. For a few seconds I felt physically sick.  Tension roiled right through my body. I was overcome about the sheer unknown future. I asked myself: 'What will happen now?  What will become of us?  Will we all respond to the challenge?'  I felt real fear about the future.  All that seemed familiar, known and safe was under threat.

Truthfully, though weekly offerings just saw us through regular commitments these were low considering the congregational size.  Giving was not our strong point. The financial implications of some big financial project were frightening.  Suddenly the church was faced by a mountain to climb. And that was the picture I had.  A mountain to climb by faith - full of risk.

Recent news had told the story of three schoolboys who were climbing Snowdon on the safest route - along the railway track.  Yet, tragically all three had fallen 600 feet to their deaths. Joe Brown the world-renowned mountaineer in the 70's was asked how this could have happened. Apparently, it was very safe apart from one short section, only 100 yards long, but with a sheer drop either side.  Here frozen snow could make the surface treacherous.  Climbers were tempted to rush across because it was such a short distance!  But that risked disaster and over 20 climbers had perished at this point in recent years.  There is no completely safe route when you climb a mountain.

As I thought about my next sermon I titled it :Faith - frightening yet reassuring (Gen. 12:1-5; Rom 4: 18-25) and decided to begin with this news story.  I now realize that I was more personally engaged with this sermon than I had ever been before.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Gleanings 14) Blessing then...and now

Looking for signs that this difficult church business meeting about dry rot actually began to make a difference to my preaching I found that shortly before the meeting I preached on Blessing (Deut. 28:1-14).  Blessing as 'God's power on the move like a surfer's wave engulfing and carrying high..."soul power" for the whole person, a whole people, who might know God's success". But, enjoying such blessing has a condition - 'if you obey the voice of the Lord.'  Blessing means experiencing God's power but his power comes through our obedience.  As I ended the sermon I definitely had this business meeting in mind:

'Deut. 28:2 warns us that if there is no obedient commitment then we shall not know what to aim for and the power at our disposal will not only be wrongly directed but it won't have the undefeated, unconquerable blessing of God.  That's what we should pray for as a church and as individuals. That the blessing of God shall come upon us and overtake us, leading positively and confidently forward, because we are committed, joined together in the massive band of people belonging to the Kingdom of God, with Jesus who leads us on to greater things.'

It seems such an obvious thing to do, doesn't it?  To listen to God as a whole people about his will in the practical problems they face.  And to hear publicly God's will through the preached word.

Two days ago an old friend called from Blackburn. A widow whose husband died a couple of years ago. She talked about the days when I was their minister in Blackburn and then she said: ' Just recently I was looking through the piles of old papers he kept and I came across his prayer book.  It was begun in the 70's and I found where he was praying for you specifically by name and that big meeting that we had in back July 1973 about what we should do about our building.' 

You can imagine what blessing that gave me. And what timing! I told her I was at that moment looking back at those days and how much I learned as a young minister.  And how much I owed to friends' prayers like her husband's.

Something was happening!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Gleanings 13) Bells and facing an elephant

My last post about gleanings from early sermons brought me to the dismal reminder that ever since my first Sunday in Blackburn I had seen signs in the roof and walls of serious building disease. High scaffolding in the early months of 1973 brought further investigations showing how widespread was the dry rot.  Just what was the future of the church building?

As I look at my sermons I see them trundling through stand-alone sermons - picking out key themes such as the Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.  But each one was entirely detached from the current dire situation. The Trinity sermon: Above all, Through all, In all  (Eph.. 4:6)  praised God who has dominion over us, communion with us and possession within us. I ended: ' By these three simple prepositions the scope of God's working with us leaves nothing out...Let us never underestimate any aspect of God's working.'  The same service bulletin had a notice urging members of the church and congregation to attend a special church meeting three weeks later to 'discuss the future of the church buildings.'  Maybe a connection between the 'God whose working leaves nothing out' and our practical building dilemma was in my mind.  But it wasn't explicit in my preaching.  I needed to get on a major learning curve about connecting preaching with real people and real situations!

One church member was a delightful retired Welsh Baptist minister.  When he wished to encourage me he would say with lilting accent: 'That rang five bells today!'   Mercifully he didn't grade me with lower bell counts...that rang one bell today! I appreciated him (as you can imagine) but it reinforced a expectation of little stand-alone sermons, little teaching/inspirational bubbles, to please people. No, I needed to join the dots between God's revealing transforming word in Scripture and my particular congregation, in this particular place, with this particular need. Was I ever going to mention God and dry rot?

Thursday, February 28, 2019


Very thankfully I can report that the X ray this afternoon showed my lung was now at least 90% inflated. In fact, the Registrar put the before/after Xrays on the same screen so that I could see the good news for myself.  Rather like a washing powder commercial with ugly patches on one Xray alongside an almost clear one.  It is an immense relief and we owe so much to our many friends, all over the place, who have upheld Carol and me through these weary weeks.

The doctor was a little wary about my flying long distances but not prohibitively I think we can plan to make up for our long-postponed visit to see our family in New York and friends in Chicago.  Because my visit earlier in the week to a swallowing clinic (did you know there were such things?)  I still have to undergo ingestion tests which apparently involve X rays and a barium drink.  So, there is a still a medical question mark and I won't be discharged without clearer answers.  But we are so grateful and can look ahead to fulfilling speaking engagements etc.

It's been an extraordinary journey with some dark twists and turns and several new experiences. Eating a banana, yoghurt, a biscuit and then drinking water under the eagle eye and prodding finger of the swallowing specialist was certainly a first!

We believe that prayers have been answered - we praise God for healing through the wonders of the National Health Service which, though under strain, has proved full of compassionate skill.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Good Church Guide 1989 (yes..1989!)

(Still awaiting lung Xray....)  I have just found this 1989 book. Mercifully, it has a disclaimer that it's not about distinguishing good from bad churches. Only the Lord can do that! Rather it is an information guide about 2000 churches with little symbols rather like a National Trust Handbook.  In Cambridgeshire 8 Baptist churches are listed including the church where I was minister (in 1989) St. Andrew's Street and Histon Baptist where I am now in membership.

For each church, after providing address and telephone number there are three main sections: Historical Interest, Membership and Worship.  Stars accompany historical interest. St. Andrew's Street has three but Histon has four stars with a note 'two red brick buildings set in lawns'.  Membership shows both listed membership and the size of the average congregation.  In the book's introduction it explains that usually the membership size is larger than the attendance.  However, for both churches it is reversed with much larger congregations than membership. A good sign! Worship has a number of symbols. For music both churches have the combination of the Baptist Hymn Book and Songs of Fellowship. For sermon length St A's has 20-25 minutes, Histon 25 minutes.  Both have family worship, house groups, and support missionaries but Histon has an extra symbol for Healing services.

I doubt this book had a wide readership.  It doesn't seem to have had any successors! 30 years on I reflect on some changes such as how much music in worship has changed, and how the place of healing had a significant role at Histon (and a lesser one at St. A's).  But I also rejoice in the stories of these two fellowships and my God experiences within them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Prayer fact check

In these days of social media claims and counter-claims, we are warned to be on the lookout for fake news.  Sometimes fact checks are provided by objective analysts who survey the data in order to try and set the record straight.  Thinking about my last post: 'In yer face' I was wondering about a claim I read recently.  It was in a book The Open Secret (1906). As an aside, let me say that I often find stimulus in reading old books (especially by preachers). Written by a man who in his day was an influential preacher - R. F. Horton- its language is inevitably a bit 1906.  So, he writes of the 'prayer closet' thinking of the quiet place to which we go in daily prayer   Anyway, this is the sentence that made me stop and think.

 People who have met God much in the prayer closet cannot but recognize each other in the world; they have a secret sign and a mutual understanding; in the golden atmosphere of prayer their outlines merge and their hearts unite.

It made me think.  Do people who pray consistently and quietly on their own recognize others who similarly practice prayer like this?  Do they have share a secret sign with mutual understanding?  Is there really a golden atmosphere of prayer that unites people at a deeper level?

Of course, you have to be practicing prayer that truly meets God in order both to be recognizable to others and also to realize that you are recognizable by a secret sign!  Looking back over my ministry I can recall certain people who immediately struck me as having a deep interior spiritual life (though I certainly was on the shallower side!) Sadly, I guess the opposite applies too.  I remember Sister Margaret Magdalene speaking at a ministers' conference and warning that the prayerless person stands out a mile a way. Horton's claim in an old book raises an important point - is it true or false?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

In yer face

A strange thing happened in our church house group this week.  We were looking at the subject of prayer in (Mat. 6 5-15) and discussing (among other issues) how we might be in danger of hypocritical prayer when one member of the group suddenly spoke up and described his daily practice.  This involved using a liturgical prayer to the Trinity which then set the scene for other prayers. Then he looked straight across at the group leader and said: 'How do you pray?' 

As polite English people who tend to be private on such matters this was a considerable shock.  But our group leader began to describe how he prayed, often while in the car,  Then it was the turn for each of us to share our daily practice.  Only six of us were present which probably helped the openness.  It still took several minutes to listen to each other and reflect.  Aware of the dangers of hypocrisy we all admitted our practice was not always consistent.  It was a really deepening experience. 

Being put on the spot spiritually is unusual for most of us.  I recall as Principal of Spurgeon's College being present in my home church of Holmesdale, South Norwood.  Alas, I rarely attended because most weekends I was away preaching.  After this morning service, an older West Indian gentleman sitting close by turned and asked me: ' How is your walk with Jesus?' It was a shock....but I thought afterwards it shouldn't have been.  I know it will expose hypocrisy but that is the key question.  And 'How do you pray? is another.  How would those questions find you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Gleanings 12) Elephant in the roof

During all the time that I was offering my first sermons I was aware of a massive problem. A discovery had been made  in the months between my accepting the call to Blackburn in early 1972 and actually arriving. Surveyors and architect had found very extensive dry rot in the roof and walls.  In fact, it was judged to be so serious that it posed a huge question mark over the future of the church buildings.   Perhaps major repairs at great cost might save the building but it was suggested that maybe because it was so large and high it should be demolished and rebuilt!

I first heard about this when the church leaders wrote to me with the news and in 'good conscience' said that they would release me from my call to the church.  As they put it - it seems unfair to place such a heavy burden on a new minister.   I wish I had kept that letter!  Looking back it now seems such an unlikely scenario. I guess it may have happened to other ministers facing their first pastorate but with some naivety (I now realize) Carol and I prayed about it and replied to the leaders that we believed the call was still operative.  We would still come.

I had no clue what this might mean for my future ministry.  And from my first Sunday I could see the large areas of wall and ceiling where the plaster had been stripped to lay the problem bare. The elephant really was in the roof.  I no longer possess minutes of those early meetings when I arrived -so much background stuff is lost in memory.  But as I have been gleaning through this sermon file I was looking for the first signs that I would be facing this elephant, with my people, from the pulpit.

I really needed to...but how? 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Biopsy - some good, some mystery

Definitely some good!  The doctor informed me yesterday that the bronchoscopy revealed kiebsiella oxyloca infection (in case you are asking!) but no evidence of endobrochial mass. An immediate injection was required but earlier sinister possibilities seem to have faded away. Hallelujah! My Christian doctor commented that my pneumonia had been serious and it would take some time for me to feel really well but that we could see how prayer had worked through these weeks.  'We have a good Lord!' he said.  And we all fervently agreed.  Of course, though this is difficult to think through, we would still need to say that we have a good Lord if it had turned out to be lung cancer.   God's goodness is a constant!

However, some lung mystery remains.  The cause of my problem requires further analysis at a Dysphagia Clinic and the state of my collapsed lung cannot be assessed until Feb.28th. when we assume the hospital will look to see, with fresh X rays, how much of the lung has inflated.

Through all this weariness we rejoice in your prayer support and care which has made a tremendous difference.  My hope is that I shall only need to post once more on this drawn out illness...soon after Feb 28th. with a full(er) lung.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Gleanings 11) A great day for the piano player

(Still waiting biopsy results...soon!)  In my record collection I used to have a Duke Ellington disc, recorded live, and on the back of the record sleeve it said: 'A great day for the piano player' as it described the extraordinary circumstances of the particular live recording.  For a preacher there should be many great days but in my first year I discovered the thrilling dynamics of preaching at Easter. Looking back at these first sermons I catch the wonder and privilege.  I see several features that were to prove true for the rest of my ministry.

First, through the pacing of Lent and Sundays after Easter the gospel account of Jesus' last days captured me and gave such energy to re-enacting the agony and triumph of Easter. That wonder has never left me. I had reveled in my first Christmas but preaching at Easter became so significant for me that right up until the last couple of years (when I have sat in the pew) I have preached every Easter. That's over 46 years in very varied contexts - UK churches, festivals, and US churches of different stripes. Titles of those first sermons include: The Inescapable Cross (John 12:20-32), The courage of Jesus, Blessed are the meek (Zech. 9:9-12,Mark 11: 1-11), The Silences (Mt. 26:14-29,36-46) Die with him to live with him (John 20: 1-20; Rom 6:3-11), Is God alive today? , Full of gloom? (Luke 24:13-35).

Second, Easter morning was also a believer's baptismal service - with the Romans 6 text.  Janet, Kathleen and Brian were baptized and in the evening shared their conviction that God is alive today. It was a thrilling way to testify to being Easter people right there and then.  This was another element that was repeated right through my ministry - combining the Easter story and its transforming message with contemporary transformed people.  In honesty I must admit that some of the congregation objected through the years.  As one person forcefully told me: 'Having baptisms really spoils the day with its great hymns and family holiday spirit!'

Third, I was introduced to witnessing with other Christians in dramatic ways. On Palm Sunday 1973 the Blackburn churches set off from 6 assembly points to walk through the city for a service in the Cathedral.  I shall never forget the excitement of seeing so many coming together and the Provost exhorting us to shout out: Jesus is King!  At a later Easter I was the cathedral preacher for the day and the Provost (who became a good friend) said it was a real Baptist preach!  What did he mean?

Oh, yes, a great day for the preacher.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Gleanings 10) While I wait..mixed feelings.

Apparently my biopsy result will take at least two weeks to emerge and in this limbo time I have returned to the file of my first year of sermons. Looking through this mass of material (and it is!) I am trying to discern emerging themes as I grew in experience.  My experimental evening services morphed into a series: Words with a Kick with themes like Forgiveness, Faith, Hope.

With mixed feelings I also see a morning series through February 1973 on Prayer. 1) A Dull Duty? which led to two other questions: Is prayer a duty? Yes. Is prayer dull?  Well, it requires persistence like many duties but talking with God steadfastly in prayer leads to deeply satisfying surprising places in God.s will. 2) Parachute or Paraclete? Parachute prayer is for emergency use only and can be very powerful but is used only in a crisis.  Paraclete prayer is about journeying every day with the Holy Spirit our Guide and Comforter (who enables us to say "Abba, Father').  3) Answered or unanswered? God always hears but the answer may be Yes, No, and Wait.  I quoted someone who lamented how his prayers never seemed to work - he'd pray for the sick and they were no better. 'Then I think that it is not good that God should do good in my way. And I do not know what is the best way for God to do good.  I only know that what He wills is the right way. I pray for all that seems good to me to pray for. But when I have done that, I like then to say to God: Do your will.  Do your will.  And I like to think that what He will do, I shall not understand, because me, I have the brain of a little beetle and He is the great God'.    4) The Practice of Prayer  1-Begin with the Father; 2 Practice daily; 3) End with action - 'a good prayer is not tested by our feelings or fervour at the time but by our behaviour afterwards'.

I said 'mixed feelings' because I hadn't at this early stage of ministry led the church in its corporate and personal prayer life to implement any of this.  Good words on Sunday but no joined up thinking, no link, with how we operated practically!  Only later, in my second church did I realize with horror this disconnect.  There's little point in telling people prayer is important if you don't share with them in doing it practically!

I wrote many prayers in this series.  Let me include one:
Lord, you so often astonish us - by granting requests which were only half-formed; by enriching our experience in unexpected ways; by reminding us of factors which we had overlooked.
However you answer our prayers, may the outcome be that we love you more, understand your purposes better and believe in you with greater confidence.  Through Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Waiting with hope

Yesterday's bronchoscopy apparently involved a rinsing as well as a biopsy. The doctor speculated that because I have an unusually narrow wind pipe (or whatever the proper anatomical term is!) into the lung which went into spasm during the procedure this might be responsible for some of the problem.  But who knows. Until the biopsy results we cannot be sure about anything though he did reassure me (with a wry smile) that I did not have mad cow disease which is featured in the clinic literature.  I am sure that's his one-liner with most of his patients.

So..more waiting.  I am booked in the Respiratory Clinic at the end of February and I am sure they hope that, providing the biopsy uncovers nothing sinister, the lung will have reflated by then.  But it is a time of waiting with deep hope in God's good purposes.  So many of you have been in touch from all over the globe - Carol's facebook page has been red hot.  Thank you for all your prayers and support in our weird time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Next step,

Thank you so much for prayer and support in my medical saga - the latest prayer target, please, needs to focus on the bronchoscopy procedure that I must undergo tomorrow afternoon (Weds.) at 4:00 pm.  Obviously, the mystery mass in the lung requires more attention and a biopsy.

I only received details about the bronchoscopy three hours ago when the clinic insisted that it happen as soon as possible.  The speed of these different procedures is mightily impressive - a chest X ray the same day it was requested, a result the same night, the consultancy appointment a week later, followed by the CT scan with dye the next day.  And now the bronchoscopy within two weeks of the
start.   As my doctor said: 'The National Health Service can really move fast when you are very unwell!'   But there's a sting there!

Anyway, we remain full of trust and hope and will report back when things become clearer. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

One of the 9...but

Friday evening - we have just returned from hospital after the CT scan with dye.  Warned that we would hear nothing until Monday I was startled when my cell phone rang in the hospital cafeteria.  It was my lung cancer specialist carer who wanted us to hear the news so that we did not have a 'hard weekend of waiting'.  He had made special effort to access the scan results. And the news is good.  No cancer was found in the lung mass nor in the lymph nodes.  So none of the malignancy that the consultant seemed to be expecting!   We are so grateful.

However, the lung is still partially collapsed and the mass still shows something is amiss. He said that I would be called back for tests, X rays etc.  So this pneumonia thingy continues to cause some mystery but the main fear of lung cancer has gone.  Praise God...this time I am one of the 9 not the tenth (see last post!)   For your prayers and concern we continue to be so grateful and tonight we rejoice.

9 out of 10 people who are referred are not diagnosed with cancer.

That's the statistic in the blurb from the Lung Rapid Access Investigation Service.  Going into yesterday's session with a delightful consultant we had high hopes that I was in the 9!  His cross-examination of my ill health saga so far was capped off by seeing my chest X ray.  I don't remember the medical profession being so open with details in my past.  However, I was shown an extraordinary sight of my abdomen cavity with a quarter blanked out by something white. This is what concerns us he said, pointing out the shape of my left lung.

Then I was introduced to my lung cancer specialist carer who took me to his room for further breathing tests.  He too is delightful and explained how hard he had worked to get me into the next stage of examination - the CT scan with dye.  Alas, one of the scanners has broken down but I am due for the last scan this afternoon (Friday).  We went round to scout out where the CT scan unit is and are all set up for our visit at 4:30 pm.

We have valued your prayers and concerns immensely and, as you can imagine, remain grateful as we go through this next stage and have to wait for results until after the weekend.  It is somewhat disconcerting to remember how 7 years ago awaiting biopsy results I was told by every doctor I met that the likelihood of cancer was they shared in the shock when results showed I had aggressive prostate cancer requiring radical surgery.  We are trusting for a good outcome this time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An intermission

I regret to write that I seem to have contracted pneumonia and have been in bed the last five days.  I say 'seem' because the doctor does not yet know the cause of the partially collapsed lung...X rays, blood tests and sputum sample were all done when I was still upright (though coughing for England!).  The X ray shows a problem area but until the Chest Clinic examines this in more detail we do not know exactly what it is.

At the moment we are going with pneumonia which is unpleasant enough.  This means (I hope) a short gap in my posts, because even writing this gives a certain weariness. As many of you can testify in your own experience, the prayers, thoughts and practical action of so many friends have been immensely supportive.  Belonging to God's people brings such a depth of encouragement and both Carol and I know God's presence as in those John Donne words:
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring; 
Though in the ways of fortune or understanding or conscience, you have been benighted till now...... now, God comes to you.  Not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon...... 
I am at the Clinic on Thursday afternoon and will report back.  Thank you for being part of the caring circle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gleanings 9) Talkback

Sunday evenings also gave opportunity for a Talkback experiment.  The leaflet promised: 'The minister will be under fire from the congregation following the evening service'. The idea was that in the service I would focus on a topic and after the benediction the congregation would talk back with comments and questions.

The first topic was DEATH.  Beginning with a recent opinion poll that 48% of Brits (especially men) said that we 'go out like a light' at death I ranged over various other options: Diluted Christian (God's going to make it OK, isn't he?); Spiritualist (some element of us will survive including separation of body and spirit); and the full Christian view with resurrection of the body at its heart.

The experiment continued for a few months with others 'under fire'. Topics included: CARING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE February -with Geoff Evans who was the County Youth Training Officer (and a Baptist friend); March - WHAT USE ARE MISSIONARIES IN THE MODERN WORLD? with missionary Jean McCormick; April - THE EMPTY TOMB - THE BIGGEST CON?;  May - THE TAKING OF LIFE - with Prof. Edward Popham of Salford University.

Some people were willing to participate with some genuine feedback.  But others seemed disengaged. Maybe presentations were sometimes too abstract or, perhaps, too obvious.  I recall one of my outspoken members challenging me on THE BIGGEST CON - 'Why tell us things we agree with anyway?!' (Much later in my Cambridge ministry I found far more seekers who didn't agree).

However, the whole exercise raised questions about preaching itself.  How much was this proclaiming the gospel?  And could such dynamics work with a much larger group anyway? 
Shouldn't my preaching always be looking to make connections and receive feedback through the conversations and living of the congregation? This desire to collaborate continued to grow throughout the later years of my ministry with some further experimentation (which I think was more effective).  But, anyway, we tried!.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Tale of two Amaryllises

Something happened at 2:35 am that reminded me of a series of children's talks in my Blackburn church.  I had been given a pot with a green stub sticking out and told to keep it moist.  The label said: An amazing amaryllis - keep watering and you will be amazed!.  Never having grown one before I was surprised to see signs of life within a week.  So I began to take it to church as a 'show and tell' with the intention of underlining Jesus' description of his kingdom work as seeds growing, mustard seeds into trees etc.   Once or twice more the growth was so dramatic that children shared my astonishment. on following weeks  Now a meter tall and promising some blooms what would happen next?

Three gigantic blooms sprang from nowhere and I looked forward to capping off my talks with such splendid signs of God's growth.  Loading it carefully into the car I was as gentle as possible.  Yet, somehow when I arrived the blooms had dropped off the stem and I was left with a handful of crumpled flower and an amaryllis stalk.  Did I confess to the church?  Of course, and I think I tried to make some worthy point.  However, many people never forgot the final day of the amaryllis showing.  Many years later a couple were reminiscing: ' Do you remember that plant that we watched grow only for it to go wrong at the end?'  Yes, I remember!.

And what occurred at 2:35 this morning?  For only the second time I have grown an amaryllis which again grew enormously to bloom with three red trumpet flowers. Magnificent, set on a bookcase.  Until early this morning when it became too top heavy and fell with a mighty crash, smashing the pot, cascading the soil and scattering the bloom. Sleep was also shattered as we awoke from deep slumber and I rushed downstairs expecting something far worse than attack by an amaryllis.  We are recovering.

I don't think I can make a worthy point a second time!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Gleanings 8) Wax stencil and printer ink

During my first Advent and Christmas in Blackburn I attempted to publicize forthcoming services.  My first New Year in ministry. I prepared a tri-fold leaflet using a wax stencil and Gestetner duplicator machine which required messy inking and hand cranking. (Anyone working in an office in the 70's will remember!) It's appearance was as amateur as you can imagine.  On the front, using a stylus I drew a number of cartoon conversation bubbles with typed words - Something's happening on Sunday evenings. Where? At Leamington Road Baptist church 6:30 pm. What?  Thought you'd never ask - see over.

Inside I have details of five upcoming Sunday evening services.  Really - Sunday evening?  Although these were by far the poorest attended they also gave immense scope for doing things differently. Many churches have found similar scope as evening congregations dwindled these last decades.

Foremost on the leaflet was my first Baptismal Service - 7th Jan.1973.  In the morning 4 people were baptized and in the evening What this day means to me was a conscious effort to give the baptismal candidates plenty of time for each to speak about their faith. I have often described baptismal services has having multiple preachers for there is no more powerful witness than lips and heart at baptism. Pauline, Miriam, Andrew and Russell - two older ladies and two young people - were fellow preachers that day. Also, Paul Carter spoke about his Christian life as he also joined the church.

These names begin a glorious list which sums up the best part of my Baptist ministry. (I note in a recent publication on Baptist ministers in retirement that some pastors mention how baptisms in their ministries were the highlight too). How I treasure these names and rejoice that Paul became youth leader, deacon and still remains a key deacon in the church 48 years later.

I began to discover the unique evangelistic power of believers' baptisms which was to mark the rest of my ministry. When ordinary people say why they belong to Jesus for life they connect with seekers like no-one else. I was learning how God's kingdom grows.