Monday, April 23, 2018

A wobbly leg

Last Saturday I shared in an adventure with 14 other men.  I say adventure.. but that didn't look an appropriate word at all because it merely involved a 7 miles walk around Royston Heath near Cambridge.  For many of the men this meant a gentle stroll in good company.  From their well-worn walking boots and experiences on the Camino and in the Lake District this was obviously a doddle.  A good social occasion organized by Histon Baptist Church for us to develop friendships.

The weather was splendid.  A minibus took most of us to the heath and we set off at a leisurely pace. Fitter walkers had to be reined in for the sake of those behind.  I had not undertaken a walk like this since my broken right leg and titanium rebuild but over the last couple of years I have built up strength.  Indeed I had walked 6 miles on the preceding Monday with no effort or bad effects.  I was feeling confident and remained so until two-thirds along.  At this point we had a moderate climb where rain softened the earth and footings slipped.  No flat surfaces anywhere. Every step slightly twisted my ankle one way or another.  I felt no pain or tiredness but when we reached the top I felt my titanium leg go into wobble mode.  Fortunately my good left leg held firm but I looked down to see this new phenomenon of a wobbling leg  threatening to throw me off balance completely.

We still had a couple of miles to go.  Two of the men, who also happened to be deacons, recognized my awkwardness.  One cut down a branch to make an impromptu stick which in my right hand immediately gave me more control.  Then, way behind the rest, they kindly accompanied me on what really was a personal adventure!  We arrived back to obvious relief all round.  At church the next day we were pressed on all sides with concern and were very grateful for the care though I haven't suffered even a twinge since my hot bath!

Lessons learned: 1) Don't think that walking on level ground adequately prepares you for uneven ground.  2) Be very grateful for companions on the way.  A wobbly leg without friends around is no joke.  3) Walking together allows for great fellowship.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 48) Enjoying Christian togetherness

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). Though repercussions from developing our church site were ever-present and can all too easily tip the balance of story-telling into a succession of significant dates, I must counter-balance with mentioning the joy that increasingly marked our months together.  With Martyn and Margaret making a wonderful difference there were so many corporate occasions alongside worship where the church just enjoyed being together.  In January 1984 we celebrated a Church Family Night with jacket potatoes and gateaux.  The kitchen was a broom cupboard for small brooms so we imported potatoes from TATTIES up the road (Carol negotiated group discount!)  This was the first of many Church Family Nights.  Sometimes they preceded in the week before the decision day of Easter 1984 when the church would express faith by giving.

A sense of fun, fellowship and hospitality became a key feature right through these years, sometimes involving special children's events, like a film, or featuring a ceilidh, and closer to Christmas the much-anticipated Church concert was an occasion to let hair down.  Students especially enjoyed poking fun at Martyn and me!  Christmas 1984 was the first time that we took part in the city-centre Christmas late-shopping.  Borrowing a lorry (from one of our member's business) we filled it with musicians and carol-singers along with Father Christmas.  Sweets and invitations to our Christmas services were liberally showered on passers-by.  The slogan at the back of the lorry read: You are following some of the happiest people on earth. They belong to St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church. Come and join us. (All Carol's handiwork of course!)  This became an annual fixture.

Yet, the most significant issues of all revolved around the continuing conversions, baptisms and glorious testimonies of new Christians. Some of the baptismal services deserve full posts themselves because of their spiritual dynamism.  In 1983 49 new members joined the church and in 1984 42. And in 1985 52 people joined us - these were heady days of knowing God's goodness and power. So humbling and encouraging.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 47) It may be the will of God

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). After all these years it is easy to gloss over the difficulties and complexities involved in whether we would go ahead with a church financed scheme or with commercial help - unsafe or financially safe.   Personally, I had already gone through two grave learning experiences.  One was a major building project in my previous church which we managed to avoid dominating ministry but it added much controversy and gobbled up energy.  Also, in 1982 the leadership thought it would be good to refurbish the pew cushions which were hard and uncomfortable.  I thought this would be a simple project. However, giving for the targeted sum by a Love Gift from church members fell considerably short.  It was humbling to see the limits to generosity.  Much made me hesitate.

Yet, conviction grew that God was calling us at this was a time in our history that we take a major step of faith. In preparation for the decision a month later the deacons met and agreed a positive proposal to bring to the church.  It read: Believing that it is the will of God that we redevelop our premises along the lines of the church financed scheme, we recommend that we ascertain the response of our fellowship to the financial development by Easter 1984, 

The meeting shared honestly their fears and their faith.  At the end, they agreed this proposal with one change.  Instead of 'Believing that it is the will of God'  church members said: 'Believing that it may be the will of God.'   This major note of caution was introduced to rightly respect the tone of our prayers and thought.  We were not to presume!  And it gave time for concentrated prayer and thought with a specific end-date when the faith responses of the congregation would make the future clearer.  If it mirrored the pew cushion response any faith vision would go straight out the window.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 46) Elephant in the room

Every prayer time continued to mention the need for wisdom about redeveloping our premises.  Work with the architect stretched on through many months until we reached the point when a design (and its costings) were clear enough to present to the church.  The critical date to receive the report was set for November 15th. 1983.

I wrote to every church member urging them to be present.  As the church governing body it was essential that we discerned God's will together.  The scheme was an ambitious one to maximize the site and meet all the hopes in our brief.  It envisaged a small commercial property at the front to provide ongoing rental income to sustain the whole project.  However this highlighted two distinct ways to proceed.  The safest involved going into a commercial partnership which involved giving over a major share of the land to make it all worth their while. The unsafe, audacious option was to commit to a church financed scheme where we would seek to find all the costs ourselves.

So the architect's drawings were one key element as we pictured the possibilities.  But the elephant in the room was ensuring how it would be paid for. And, true enough, this was now costed to be at least £300,000.

As we listened and asked questions and, most importantly prayed, it was clear that the scheme met our hopes and dreams. There was mounting excitement at the imaginative design but the huge matter of its cost loomed over us. We knew that we needed to take further time out for prayer and thought before taking a decision at the December Church Meeting.  This delay for a month was really tough.  I remember conversations and rightly cautious members urging great caution.  As one person said: 'We'll be trapping our grandchildren with debt if we try to do it ourselves.'  What was going to happen?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 45) In praise of small groups

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). A most strategic development for building church community reached fulfilment in May 1983 when we launched Sector Groups (which some complained sounded rather militaristic!  It does!)  On a large map every member was located and then, like spokes on a bicycle wheel, a number of sectors were drawn to include them all.  This meant that those (often older) who lived in the city were linked with those who lived a little further out in a desire to mix up ages and experience.  And we placed everyone in a group.  Experts claim that no more than 60% of a congregation will actually join in small groups but we needed everyone to know where they belonged for mutual care. From then on, new members were expected to share in the church on Sundays and mid-week.

Later these morphed into Pastoral Care Groups as the church grew further.  Organizing these groups providing oversight to the leaders, training and weekly resources proved to be a huge task.  Indeed, it rated as one of the most time-consuming (and often delicate) responsibilities that I shared with leaders through ensuing years.   But these groups proved to be the bedrock for church life, growth and prayer.  I cannot overstate their importance and in ministry ever since I have championed the role of small groups...though (and this is sometimes overlooked) they need immense care in selecting, appointing and nurturing group leaders.   Like parenting you never grow past responsibilities for continuing care.

By these groups we learned fellowship and discipleship.  Difficult issues - like music in worship - could be talked over prayerfully with respect. Actually, music in worship as many traditional worshipers found the advent of contemporary music so difficult, proved to be one of the litmus paper tests of members of the congregation able to listen to each other.  And all the time the future use of our premises occupied a key place in our prayers. Oh, the value of small groups.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 44) Buzzing church life with a beat

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).   While these twin timetables of building and assistant minister marked out the months through into 1983, general church life bubbled along with both large and small answers to prayer.  Manna House ministered to passers-by and the lonely sometimes leading to remarkable stories. Gift groups continued their work with projects like a World Development Teach-In Day organized by the world development group, and house-to-house visitation by the evangelism group.  Baptismal services were highlights with new friends coming to faith.  Student work thrived.  And wider concerns about the Cambridgeshire Baptist Association of Churches and overseas missions occupied a key place in thoughts and prayers.

One of our musicians Geoff Warren wrote a full musical called 'Footsteps' which led to immense fun as well as lively witness as a large choir practiced (with mixed talent!)  The outcome was a thrilling act of worship.  Also a songbook containing more contemporary music was printed in order to supplement our standard hymn book.  Details of needs, bereavements, special events, personal requests pepper our prayers at this time.   And, always, the twin timetables sounded out an underlying beat!

Reading through the prayer diary I am amazed at the variety and richness of church life through these months.  All the names and all the events. But I also remember my longing for Martyn to join me in full-time ministry as numbers grew and kingdom possibilities expanded.  When he arrived in the summer of 1983 I felt the joy and wonder of belonging within a team which God was going to use greatly.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 43) The eleventh hour

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). Yet within a very few days of that despairing meeting something happened to transform the situation.  Miss Winifred Nutter (aged 99 years) died and we learned to our immense surprise that she had left her home for the singular purpose that it be used as a residence for the minister.  A large house, set in an even larger garden in a lovely residential area near the main hospital.....we couldn't believe the timing in our hour of need.

Miss Nutter had become a member in 1909 and at least of ten of her close relatives had served as deacons in the church.  She was a great character belonging to a significant Cambridge family.  On my first visit she mistook me for the man who was going to measure for new curtains and she was clearly irritated when I sat down expecting to share in conversation.  Her generosity in leaving her house to us was extraordinary in its appropriateness and timing.   We marvelled at this God-incidence....we had come so close to despair yet had kept praying.  And at the eleventh hour!

I wrote in the church magazine: 'Could there be more dramatic 'signs following' confirming the rightness of a second minister than the gift of this house at this exact moment in our church life'.   The prayer diary (May 3) records thanks for 'GREAT ANSWERS in the house provided for future ministry of Martyn.'  Oh, yes! Martyn and Margaret had somewhere to live and this became a key centre of hospitality and ministry for many years.  Sometimes it was called the 'Nutter House' which occasionally seemed highly appropriate!

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 42) The joy of Martyn and Margaret

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  More about that new minister!  I talked with the Principal of the college in Oxford where I trained and asked if there were possible candidates entering their final year in 1982 who might begin with us in 1983.  He mentioned two students.  One of them turned out to be a miracle for me. I know that Martyn Travers should tell this story from his side. A law graduate, married to Margaret, he was willing to consider visiting us. Joyfully I recall that from the very first I felt an instant bond with Martyn, and longed for him to visit and preach so that the church could meet and hear him.  Our prayer diary record marks the date of Nov 7th 1982 as the date Martyn and Margaret first visited with a triumphant follow-up note in December about the unanimous call to him which he accepted.

Of course he had to finish his degree and could not join us until Summer 1983 but along the way we were to experience another miracle.  Among many practical details was the sticky issue of providing adequate accommodation.  Sticky because Cambridge was growing to be a difficult and expensive city to find a house.  Various attempts in the next few months to find affordable accommodation all came to naught.  In April 1983 the church meeting received another despairing report that no property had yet been found.  One member stood up and told us that this failure to find accommodation was a serious sign that God was not supporting the whole idea!  "If God wanted us to have another minister surely he could have made it plain by showing us confirmation in signs following. How can we possibly think of welcoming a new minister and his young wife to this church when we don't have anywhere for them to live?"  It was a good point.

So much did seem irresponsible and naive - especially since Martyn and Margaret were expecting their first child.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Welcome, glorious Easter!

On this celebration day I reread Evelyn Underhill:
So many Christians are like deaf people at a concert. They study the programme carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the quality of the music, but only really hear a phrase now and again. So they have no notion at all of the mighty symphony which fills the universe, to which our lives are destined to make their tiny contribution, and which is the self-expression of the Eternal God.
Today, I am keeping my ears open to the sound of Easter glory which has changed our lives forever.  A Happy Easter to you all.