Sunday, January 31, 2016

50 years ago (1)

Today I preached at Arbury Rd. Baptist Church Cambridge to celebrate the 50th. anniversary of the 'new' church which was built when my father was minister there. For me the anniversary had two sides.

The first concerned the congregation's celebration and fresh commitment.  50 years ago the people dared to build for the future under my father's ministry.  In the hall next door a series of exhibits told the story and a fascinating much-thumbed album gave insights into 1960's people and the happenings.  God fired the vision for a new church on the large lawn in front of the current buildings and people prayed, gave and dreamed. From the membership an architect - Bob Wyatt - gave his skills of design and oversight free to the church.  And marvel upon marvel this high steel and brick structure arose, costing about sixteen thousand pounds!  I guess some people opted out but how wonderful it was that the great majority opted in! Of course, time has passed. I asked for a show of hands and less than 10 people signaled they had been there when the new doors were flung open on January 29th. 1965.

But, wonderfully, the story goes on. Today, it was thrilling to see the congregation (admittedly smaller than it was) under its new minister using the building to the full. The best part was reading his anniversary letter by which the church is challenged about God's vision for the future.  He, with other leaders, spelt out some long-term possibilities (which, yes, involve fresh building) with some short-term possibilities. A special offering was taken up.  Here was no exercise lost in nostalgia but one of faith and hope.   All anniversaries should be like that, shouldn't they?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Churches Together

Last Sunday on a cold evening I preached at a service for Churches Together in Ely  to begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Over the years I have attended many of these in the UK but this was markedly different - in a good way! 
  • the church building (Countess of Huntingdon) was full with very lively worship in which everyone seemed to join under enthusiastic leadership.
  • people with their clergy came from a wide number of churches so that it truly represented Churches Together.
  • they said together a covenant that seemed to be specially written. I was struck by the humble way they confessed where they had hurt each other in the past and expressed desire to love in the future.
  • at one point a list on the screen showed some of the ways in which the churches had acted together.  It was lengthy with the Foodbank one of the major commitments alongside much participation in city events. It was a great list.
On a personal level I was thrilled to meet old friends - someone I baptized over 25 years ago and a retired Regional Minister who I hadn't seen for 15 years.  I could hardly believe that he remembered to ask me how my neck problem was.  That's impressive pastoral concern. I continue to marvel at God's special kingdom network.

And though I hesitate to mention it, after I preached some of the congregation applauded!  This is highly controversial....I remember reading that only bad sermons are applauded because the genuine article should stir the soul not excite the mind.  It happened to me once before in a Chicago church and the church officers banned it in the strongest possible language the next Sunday. So, I don't expect it to happen again.  And shouldn't !

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Galilee remembered.

Something extraordinary happened this week.  Just before Christmas a conversation occurred in a Histon sheltered housing complex.  Eileen, a newcomer aged 84 who had recently moved in, was trying to make some new friends.  In general chat with Molly aged 93 she mentioned going to the local Baptist church and somehow the name Michael Quicke popped up. 'I know Michael Quicke', said Molly 'but I am not sure its the same one!'  Later, in their communal lounge she brought along some photographs taken over twenty years ago. 'This is me being baptized in the Sea of Galilee by Michael Quicke' she announced. Eileen and one or two others agreed that it was the Michael Quicke they know (though now considerably less youthful!)

Astonished, Molly asked whether they ever saw me and where did I live? They told her that they saw me every week at church, at the cheap pub meal and at the over 60's community time!  She expressed the hope that perhaps she could meet me too. Well, this week it happened.  As I visited her flat and saw the photographs of her baptism powerful memories flooded back....I remembered the day vividly.  I recall her and her friend Dorothy so well.  Oh, all the preparation of her and three others (involving discussion with their supportive home churches) to ensure this was no cheap tourist photo-opportunity.  But what a wonder on the day itself with each of them giving testimony in a little chapel beside the lake before descending into the water.  And, as the photos captured, the moments of joyful baptism with all four candidates praying afterwards in the lake. I'd never seen these pictures before!

The greatest thrills in talking with Molly came from hearing her testimony since....that baptism truly marked a life-changing event in her Christian journey and that she kept in touch with the other candidates long after the pilgrimage.  No one-off in exotic surroundings - it has proved to be genuinely believers' baptisms should always be.

I was so surprised to be plunged into such joy.  Many pastors will know this best kind of surprise - of God working on in lives that we only briefly touched.  I never knew what it meant, but how grateful I am to know now.  That's true encouragement.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Life in Music

Over the last few days I have enjoyed reading the story of Sir David Willcocks in A Life in Music which a friend loaned me.  Several time I saw him in action on Christmas Eve at King's College (with his famous carol descants) and, as a teenager, sang (poorly) from his Carols for Choirs.  But his career dazzles in its wide range, taking in Westminster Abbey, dramatic wartime service, Salisbury and Worcester Cathedrals concluding with directorship of Royal College of Music and the Bach Choir. What makes the book unusual  is wide-ranging engagingly told by transcribed conversations with Sir David and friends.

Many things struck me. People who knew him best always remarked on his beautiful and meaningful conducting of the psalms.  He said he could recite many of them by memory and when preparing the choir he would ask questions like:
Where does the main stress come?  In a verse like "God is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1) is the stress on 'very', 'present', 'help', or 'in trouble'?  You have to work in rehearsal to make sure that the entire choir feels the words in the same way.....I love the psalms. They cater to every mood, and speak of joy, sadness, sorrow love, hate, redemption and reconciliation - every mood experienced by man is to be found in the words of the psalms.  
How right he is.  It just so happens that I am starting a new set of Bible study notes for Scripture Union which includes two psalms -108 and 109. You can certainly see some moods there!  Oh, to love the psalms too.

I also enjoyed (amongst much else) his philosophy of conducting. 
I'd say to any person who wants to be a conductor, "Play in an orchestra, sing in a choir, be at the receiving end, and make up your mind what it is you like about the person up on the rostrum.  Is he talking too much?  Is he encouraging?  Is he getting to the really important points, or is he fiddling around with little things that don't really matter?
 Is it possible that I hear a message there for training preachers too?

Another aspect that impressed me was the loan copy was personally inscribed with a lovely message to my friend, Maggie, who was also responsible for transcribing interviews, for collating book material and for photographs. Listening to her speak of her own fond memories (sadly not included!) including his very last years make me even more grateful for the difference that Sir David made to so many of our lives through his glorious music making.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Happy New Year!

With great joy I greet you as we rush into 2016 (at least, it seems like a rush to me).  Like many of you I have tried to find time to reflect on the last 12 months and to anticipate the next 12.  I find it is easy to be too disappointed with myself!  I enjoy reading biographies of great Christians but along with an element of inspiration there is a large dollop of discouragement when I think of my journey so far.  Of course, I am not meant to let other people set the standards but live out my calling with my own gift-mix knowing that Jesus is the one who sets expectations pointedly for Michael Quicke.  So, it is what he is looking for me to be and do that really matters.  It won't be great biography but I am praying it will at least be me seeking to be true to his will and purpose who and where I am.

The text that rang loud and clear in today's devotion is: 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'(Col.1:27).  Just ponder that - in you, hope, glory.   What a thrilling promise for the next 12 months (and beyond!)
I would love to tell you that all this means that I shall find enthusiasm and content for more posts this new year  on my blog but I regret this is unlikely.  However, I shall try to keep some semblance of communication going and I remain surprised and very grateful that you have kept in touch with some of my ramblings.