Thursday, October 29, 2015

Climbing 3 - the delight of former students

As I mentioned a few posts back, one great joy of seminary teaching is being reacquainted with former students.  To my joy several returned to share in our forum.  The best news they brought concerned their ministries in the years since.  They shared, often with shining faces, what was happening in their churches. Mixed with much realism were glorious stories. Uplifting!

One student, John, who I hadn't seen for several years brought me a gift.  It was a pack of six Penguin biscuits.  He said that he never forgot how we finished each course with a celebration party and that Carol always brought Penguin biscuits from England.  It was his introduction to these milk chocolate cookies and ever since they have been sweet reminders of the classes!  (Actually, he told me how he had introduced others to the cookies whenever he found them on sale in the US!)   What to be remembered for!

Another student, Kevin, presented me with a book: An Hour of Good News: The story of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club.  For 65 years this hour long program, first on radio and then television became one of the most famous pulpits in the US and beyond.  Best known preachers of the day shared in its story and a list at the back of the book includes so many names from the past.  Kevin gave me the book because when I was teaching full-time at Northern the pulpit from this program was donated to our the preaching lab (which doubles up as a prayer chapel). Photographs in the book show the pulpit in use in the TV program. Today, a sign on the pulpit references its past and that many preachers such as Martin Luther King have proclaimed from it.  Over the years each batch of students has been acquainted with the story as they preached their sermons! So, I was given another totally unexpected recollection alongside Penguin cookies!

Before I return to Cambridge we have been busy planning for the next Forum and I leave Northern with encouragement and, of course, continuing need of prayer

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Climbing 2 - Mustard seeds

Yesterday we held a review meeting including participant responses to the New Kind of Preacher Forum. No response mentioned the clicker, roof leaks or car crash outside!  Actually, it was thrilling to see responses to various questions.  One asked: How did you hear about the NKP Program ? and one person wrote: 'Carol Quicke grabbed me by the arm and pulled me over to the laptop to register'. What did you find most interesting/surprising about the information presented today? gained a large number of replies like: 'It wasn't another "technique" conference!  It was refreshingly encouraging to hear a new focus not just for preaching but for our churches', 'Being drawn to God or driven by ministry',  'The idea that God is doing a new thing that we cannot now know, only discern'. 'If I am to be a transformative preacher, I must be a transformed person'.

Of course, there were sections asking what they would like in future forums, where could the forum be improved and who could we invite to the next one.   It was immensely rewarding to see the honest engagement in it all.  We learned much.
The most critical outcome, however, concerned potential new facilitators and participants as we seek to set up more groups.  I think I knew we would not be overwhelmed!  Commitment to a group involves $1000 with a two-year covenant and facilitators have a rigorous training program before leading one of these groups.  But, there are a few good signs.  Lauren and I commented how the Lord always loves to work with mustard seeds where he can give surprising growth.  Our President, Karen, independently reminded us of what can happen with loaves and fishes.  So the next stage of the NKP climb looks ahead to nurturing mustard seeds and multiplying loaves which - of course - is largely out of our control.  The need for prayer remains urgent.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Climbing 1 - positives and negatives

I need to thank everyone who prayed and supported yesterday's launch of the New Kind of Preacher project.  I likened it to beginning a mountain climb.  The project Director Lauren and I knew that one new peer learning group would be there to make a start and a few pastors had said they were coming.  But many more said they wouldn't be there!  In the end the conference hall was surprisingly full with a striking variety of pastors, worship leaders and students.

Tomorrow we share in debriefing with an opportunity to see evaluation forms.  From my perspective, the beginning worship session opened up into a day of daring to perceive what new things God is calling us to see:  See I am doing a new thing: now it springs up do you not perceive it! (Isa 43:19) I particularly appreciated the time of confession as we spent time in the context of a later verse as God chides his people - 'You have not wearied yourselves for me' (v.22) because they have failed to call on him expectantly and constantly.  Worse, God says:' But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses' (V24). Not wearying him with good stuff; drastically wearying him with bad stuff.  I think setting the whole forum within this Scripture - every participant was given a copy in their folder - put us in a humble open-hearted place. Certainly, it did me!

Much happened.  Positively, the sessions, panel discussion, table talks with leaders brought lively interaction. We definitely started to climb! Negatively, three things happened that have never occurred before in that conference hall. First, the clicker to operate my power point slides refused to cooperate.  Many attempts were made to remedy this (I really wanted my presentations to flow because they were being videoed) but all to no avail.  The technicians couldn't explain it.   Second, a violent storm hit the building and rain poured through the previously impervious roof.  People rushed in with giant bins to catch the water.  Third, in the middle of my second session, a woman four times over the alcohol limit crashed her car into the conference center and was only 5 feet away from the front door and our welcome table.  Police, fire and ambulance noisily rushed to the scene.  Since the conference center is on a private road the whole incident seems utterly bizarre.  I have found any advance for the Lord is accompanied by a spiritual battle when negative things occur.  But this ranks as one of the strangest.  Perhaps it means that God's new thing really is beginning to happen!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Next climb up the mountain

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about pitching base camp as the New Kind of Preacher program begins here in Chicago.  Now I am looking up the mountain as the first lap of the climb leads up to the First Annual Preaching Forum on October 24th. It's being held in the seminary's Lindner Conference Center, funded by the generous Lilly grant.  Invitations have gone out.  The Director, Lauren Visser, and I have been working on the details for many weeks. In these final days I know that prayer remains the most vital ingredient.  So, hoping that others may join me in extra praying, I have written a short prayer to focus my own thoughts.

Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who alone makes your new things happen, we commit to you the First Annual Preaching Forum.
May your invitees come with open hearts and minds, sensitive to your will for their lives.
May your presence be magnified as lead-worshipers prepare and help the forum to worship.
May your voice be heard through the preaching, and your vision seen through the main sessions.
May your encouragement and challenge be experienced in the panel and groups.
May your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Lord, nothing of eternal significance can occur unless people humbly depend on you.  Help every person involved to trust and obey every step of the way.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

And, if you happen to be around Northern Seminary, Lombard on October 24th. we would love to see you there! Details at!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tipping the balance

Yesterday I preached at Northern Seminary's weekly chapel service. Set near the beginning of a new academic year it was good to gather with faculty, staff and students, in a familiar space with many familiar faces. I reflected that this October I have tipped the balance.  When I was ordained as a Baptist minister I believed I would spend my entire life in pastoral ministry serving various churches.   In fact I only served for 21 years (in two churches) before a surprising call to seminary life at Spurgeon's College in London.  I recognize that I have just tipped into my 22nd year in seminary life.  I could never imagine that I would spend more than half of my ministerial life in theological training....but it's just happened.

People sometimes ask me which I prefer - church or seminary. That's a really difficult question because they are such contrasting ministries.  In the local church Carol and I became embedded in church family and wider community with extraordinarily deep connections as we grew in service together.  At times it was all-consuming, in-your-face stuff.  Highs and lows in rapid succession.  We belonged! At its best it meant living in love together as God worked his purposes out....far beyond our imagining.   I know there were grim times too, when balance between church/home was hopelessly wrong or pastoral tragedy struck.  But living the pastoral role is unlike any other.

In seminary we were embedded in a different kind of community with a longer time-line.  Stephen Olford termed it: 'Ministry to ministers is ministry to multitudes'.  Far beyond the immediate bonds of teaching and caring for students and families preparing for ministry there lies a wide kingdom reach when they graduate to touch hundreds of lives over future decades.  And the joys of hearing outcomes are often delayed for years....yet joys they are as you hear of the part you played!

I guess the fact that Carol could not be as closely involved in partnership these last years (though she has given her best) is the biggest difference between church and seminary and, personally, I admit I much preferred it when we were able to work as a team in the local church.  But ....what a privilege it has all been.  Now setting up base camp for a climb in my 43rd year of ministry!   

Friday, October 2, 2015

Audrey - singing in heaven

In May I posted about 'hymns and the elderly' because of an experience when Carol and I shared in the 80th. birthday of my former secretary at Spurgeon's College. I didn't mention her name though many of my readers will have known who I was referring to - Audrey Jones.  Well, I have just heard that dear Audrey has died and our thoughts and prayers go out to all her friends and all who will miss her.
Audrey served as Principal's Secretary at Spurgeon's for 25 years. 'Served' is the word!  She poured every fibre of her being into the task. When I arrived in1993 she shepherded me through the first months with extraordinary care.  Her encyclopedic knowledge of the college - its students, staff, donors, supporting churches - combined with her pastoral gifting which seemed sensitive to every situation proved invaluable.  She directed me where to spend my initial energies- key people to whom I needed to relate and which opportunities to say 'yes' or 'no' to!  Previously, I had never had a diary kept for me - it was unnerving but comforting as I recognized Audrey's wise leading at every turn.  Administration kept humming and, as people were in-and-out of her office with constant phone calls interrupting, I witnessed a lady expressing pastoral gifts and spiritual wisdom in every relationship.
I hope she knew how much she was treasured.  When she finally retired we tried to give her the best send-off we could with a banquet, gifts and speeches.  But I know she saw her service was primarily for the Lord and what really matters is his great "Well done!" 

Carol and I have so many memories.  In retirement Audrey visited us here in Chicago and I marveled at her continuing energy - especially when she went downtown to the city and we later witnessed her photographs!  In May I mentioned how an unusual kind of dementia prevented her from speaking or showing expression yet at her birthday party she mouthed the words when we sang 'Happy Birthday'.  The group then went on to sing some of her favorite hymns.  She joined in soundlessly but word perfect!  'Great is Thy faithfulness', 'How great Thou art', 'Thine be the glory' and 'Just as I am'.  Apparently, the last one was a particular favorite.  Before she came to Spurgeon's she worked for the evangelist Eric Hutchings and this was a great response hymn at his crusades (as with Billy Graham).   Verse, after verse, we all marveled at her freedom of expression.  Now, we rejoice that Audrey is at liberty to join in the glorious praise of heaven.  And we believe she is, with no holds barred!