Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Needing help (2)

Secondly, I would really value insights about leadership in Baptist churches.  I realize that many readers do not have a Baptist background and will happily switch off.  But for any who do have experiences, please share your ideas and stories. 
In early March I am addressing a conference of Baptist ministers in SW England.  The title is 'Herding Cats: Issues in Baptist leadership'.   The title immediately suggests that certain issues/problems may especially occur because of Baptist congregational polity!  Does the way that Baptists organize their life together complicate leadership in any way?  Sometimes congregations seem so full of independent folk that 'herding cats' is not too far off reality!  Are there particular issues that Baptist leaders need to aware about?
However, I also believe that there are some very positive aspects for leaders in the Baptist context. In many ways we are privileged because our theology of the gathered church gives major responsibility to communities which are able to move in God's will strategically in their own neighbourhoods.
There is much to think about over these next four weeks - I shall be grateful for input and shall keep you posted.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Needing Help (1)

Sometimes I unashamedly use my blog to ask for help. Two needs this week, please! First, sermon collaboration.  It's been a long time since I have preached a sequence of sermons in one place.  My own local church at Histon has asked me to preach through February. This gives me an opportunity to receive help along the way for my thinking and preaching.  Already I have met with the worship coordinators and shared the 'main impacts' of my four sermons. They will collaborate with me in planning congregational worship.

I am taking advantage of this sequence to deal with some more questions that Jesus asked. (Those with longer memories will know that I have dipped into this subject in the past and written posts about them).  With over 100 questions in the gospels there is plenty of scope!

On Feb 1st. I shall look at the two questions that are inextricably linked in the story of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41):  'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'  In preparation, I sum up the sermon's main impact:  By the grace of God this sermon will say - Jesus meets us in our fears when we have trusting faith; the sermon will do - encourage hearers to know Jesus' presence when they are afraid and to trust him with their lives. As always I shall be so grateful for feedback within the local church as well as from thoughtful readers.  I shall use my email address:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Post Christmas blues

Is it possible that God might be somewhat disappointed about some of our church worship in January?  We spend so much of December preparing for and celebrating the Christmas story. We claim it is a really big deal: Love came down at Christmas, the Word becomes flesh, Peace on earth and goodwill to all people. And the rest!

Yet, in January, in many of our churches we hear no more.  The story goes dead! Preachers launch their sermon themes for the New Year without so much as a backward glance. Churches get on with their own agendas. It seems anticlimactic.  Of course, some in the world church celebrate Epiphany right through January.  I was reminded of this vividly last Sunday, when we concluded the service with prayers around the nativity scene, remembering that the incarnation of Jesus Christ is foundational to the good news that God so loved the world.

Epiphany deserves more time, don't you think?  Its stretch through January deliberately paces us to slow down in order to celebrate the revelation of Christ as Saviour of the world as the Magi visit and God's mission to the world with his church is anticipated. Too often the wonder of the incarnation seems lost in the busyness of New Year activity.  As I prepare for next Sunday's worship at Oundle I shall try to ensure that the glory of the incarnation at least makes an appearance!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eight minutes

I gratefully add my visit to Little St. Mary's yesterday to my list of worship experiences.  Arriving 30 minutes early I joined the clergy preparing themselves for high mass, with three celebrants donning magnificent gold-trimmed robes and others with surplices.  My place in the procession was described to me, as were various points of the liturgy that particularly affected when and where I preached. After a short preparation service behind the scenes, incense was lit, the procession began and the ancient service carefully followed through the printed order for high mass in the full church. Not a word was out of place!

I preached for 8 minutes according to Carol!  After a service rich in Scripture and prayer, filled with awe and reverence, the  warm and friendly congregation gathered for refreshments.  One commented that my homily had been very Baptist because I had drawn out issues from each of the four lectionary readings. 'It was very Baptist to stick so close to the readings,' he said. Another member high fived me and said, 'Today you are Father Michael!'

How rich is the Christian family!  The contrasts between sharing in liturgy unchanged for hundreds of years and engaging in Baptist worship are many. You can say that again! Yet, there could be no doubting the integrity and care of those taking part, nor the commitment to serve the city - particularly in its care for the homeless. Next Sunday I shall feel more 'at home' at Oundle Baptist but I was so glad to experience this authentic worship yesterday.   

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sunday at Little St. Mary's

On Sunday (Jan 18) I have been invited to preach at Little St. Mary's, Cambridge which is (as you would expect) smaller than the university church - Great St. Mary's - though much 'higher' in its worship practice.  Worshipers have been on its site since at least the twelfth century and it was originally the chapel used for the first Cambridge college - Peterhouse - which was founded in 1284.

It's a gracious invitation for a dissenting Baptist! It's humbling to remember that I used to be minister of St. Andrew's St. (down the road) which was only founded in 1721 (and some leaders in the university tried to place it out of bounds for students of the exclusively Anglican university).  But, in this week of Prayers for Christian Unity I am welcome!  I was given the lectionary readings for this Sunday and have engaged in the unusual (for me) exercise of reflecting on four rather different texts: 1 Sam 3: 1-10; Psalm 139: 1-5,12-18; Rev. 5: 1-10; John 1:43-end.  The length of my homily must be no more than ten minutes in order to give adequate time for celebrating eucharist!

So, this week I have been preparing in a rather different way - and it has done me good.  Perhaps, you can read through the passages above and see if there is a theme that runs through for you!  This week I have also been in early stages of sermon planning for Oundle (Jan 25th) and at Histon Baptist Church (for all February Sundays).  Each opportunity is very different and keeps me on my toes and knees!  I'll let you know how it all goes.  Many thanks for your interest and prayers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lessons from the gym

I have just returned to the gym after four months' enforced absence.  Last time I was there was in August 2014.  Then, as always, I recorded in a small notebook the weights I lifted, the length of time spent on the elliptical and bicycle, as well as resistance levels I reached.

As I revisited each exercise machine I optimistically set the weights and targets only a little below last time. But I could hardly budge the weights let alone last the distances. It was dismal realizing just how much muscle wastage has occurred.  How come that I am so weak?

Time was racing by.  I really wanted to achieve something worthwhile. Reducing weights further on the arm strengthening machines I gritted my teeth and pulled.  A trainer walked by.  Seeing my frantic snatches he gently said, ' Always go for range of movement over weight. What really matters is how much you are moving your muscles.'  I nodded, realizing that I was missing the point.  As I moved to another machine with determination to hit the target, another trainer reminded me that learning back instead of staying upright rather undid the purpose of the whole exercise.

After, I reflected how much I had spoiled my re-entry by two T's:  time and targets.  I was so set on getting the exercises over and done to my satisfaction I missed the point. I took short-cuts which spoiled the whole purpose.  And, as such things tend to do, it made me think about our spiritual exercises and the way that the two T's can ruin those too.  So conscious of passing time and getting our exercises done we can miss the point of being still and knowing God (Ps. 46:10), so that he can pace the relationship and build up our spiritual muscles.  I am grateful for the warning learned at the gym.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Yesterday proved delightful.  Carol and I reconnected with Andrew whom I have known since he was a schoolboy in my first church in Blackburn in 1972.  Later our paths crossed dramatically when he became a student at Magdalene College Cambridge and also (as a very gifted young man) became Director of Music at my Cambridge church.  Here he met his wife and flourished.  We met them both again over lunch.

Interestingly, while Andrew was in Cambridge his parents moved here for the last part of their retirement and so the family was reunited in the 80's.  You can imagine the fun we had as we reflected over their Cambridge time.. So many names and memories from the past.  At one point as I mentioned his parents (and the debt I owed them both) he commented wistfully that I knew his mother in her prime.  Sadly, Andrew's wife never did.

Today, reflecting on the joy of reconnecting I happened upon a serendipity.  On Dec. 3rd. my Blogpost mentioned that a bizarre thing occurred just as I was preparing to write some bible study notes on Ephesians. I found a collection of yellowing newspaper columns (also on Ephesians) cut out and sent to me by a lady in my church. Extraordinarily, I discovered these cuttings in an old art materials' box. Written in 1984-5 they had somehow survived several house moves and major decluttering efforts!

Why mention this again? Because today I saw on the floor a crumpled letter dated Oct. 26, 1986. It had accompanied the cuttings and dropped by the bookcase. She writes about a Brazilian pastor who had heard me give one study at the national Baptist assembly and hoped I might put all 36 columns into book form, or somehow provide copies.  And, yes, the letter came from Andrew's mother!  I know that Andrew sometimes reads my blogs - I promise to show you the letter next time I see you!  But what amazing connections there are!  Will heaven be like this, full of connections in God's glory?  I hope so.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Not in my back yard!  I mentioned in my last post that I had walked behind our house. There's a wide expanse of fields with tracks running through giving a wonderful open space, with glorious sunsets (like yesterday).  The fields have been farmed for two thousand years. Underneath are Bronze Age artefacts and Roman remains.  It offers a splendid vista with a couple of farm houses in distant trees, and winter wheat appearing in green bands running off into the distance.  It's a popular area of walkers, especially for dog owners.  Ever since we moved here we have marveled at this countryside backdrop right behind our garden fence.

However, plans are going through to build completely over it with 1750 housing units in a vast development including shops, school, and some high rises of four storeys.  We have followed the planning debate, attending local meetings to discuss this huge expansion. You can imagine the agitations of some of our neighbours. Our main road which is clogged now will have to cope with hundreds more cars emptying out from this new estate Many of our neighbours have lived here for over forty years and have come to love the wide open countryside backing onto our properties.

It really has been interesting to be thrust into this highly contentious debate. I do understand the NIMBY attitude.  So much will change for the worse.  However, there is a desperate shortage of cheaper accommodation in Cambridge.  Younger people are unable to get on the bottom rung of the property market. All round our city, housing is acutely needed.  How can we possibly deny others homes? Seriously?

They scheduled the first building work to begin September 2014.  We braced ourselves for promised massive earth movement as new main roads and services were built.  But, as yet, nothing has happened!  So, I confess that I am enjoying every minute while the fields stay the same, hoping for a few months' respite! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Best foot forward

It's just four months since I had surgery on my ankle and began rather plaintiff postings about my slow progress from inert bed rest through wheelchair to two crutches... and then (wobbling badly) to one crutch.  One or two folk have kindly asked about my latest condition.

Quite remarkably, and it is remarkable, I have transitioned in the last month from my first painful unaided steps (with protesting muscles and tissues afterwards) to incremental walks.  Today I managed a fairly fast paced half-an-hour through the fields behind our house. The improvement has been exponential though the swelling and some continuing pain reminds me it will take many months yet for a complete recovery.

But, this is what really caught my attention.  A Canadian physiotherapist has been visiting our church.  She has witnessed my recent progress and always asks with professional interest about my foot - with encouragement to keep my physio exercises going!   In her last conversation she said, 'You do realize that your ankle will be stronger than ever now that you have all this extra metal structure in your foot.  You will be surprised how strong it is compared to the other leg!'  What a positive spin to put on the accident!  There's a surprising paradox in Scripture about strength coming out of weakness.  On a mundane level I really do look at my leg differently - once broken now renewed.  So, when I think of putting my best foot forward in 2015....maybe its the damaged one that has now been strengthened!