Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 63) A very serious shadow

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Even as I was fighting this strange illness another date stands out: September 15 1987.  But this time not for a good reason.  One leader put it: 'Never has a church meeting heard as much grim news.'  The dry rot that had been uncovered a few weeks before turned out to have infected large areas of the church.  Three major areas of disease had spread downwards to affect gallery supports, pillars, and walls.  As one person said to me: 'That's it. I have stayed with the vision as long as I could but this is the last straw. Count me out.'  How understandable that was - many extra thousands of pounds would be needed.

Yet, at the church meeting, someone else said: 'What a blessing that we have found this out now. It might have spread right through the entire church without us realizing!'  The meeting agreed that we would share in a Day of Prayer on Monday Sept. 28th from 8:00am to 8:00 pm concluding with communion.  I challenged people: 'Please do not treat this as a well-meaning symbol, the kind of thing Christians are supposed to do. This day of prayer is for real.'

As the church took on a stage-set appearance with one side shrouded in plastic sheeting and holes appearing in the structure we squeezed into two-thirds of the church.  It was an unreal time with extra irritations like vandalizing of the amplification equipment one weekend. But on the Day of Prayer people came through all day.  Again, I remember comments like the person who said: 'There's a marvellous feeling of tolerance and oneness in the church.' There was.  People were still believing and giving.

However,  my twisting neck seemed to be deteriorating with medicines not only proving ineffective but actually causing worse problems.  One drug took away my ability to write, disconnecting my brain from my hand. Weirdly troubling!  I only emerged now for special occasions as Nigel undertook the lion's share.  Yet, church life through the autumn proved to be as full and joyous as ever.  I thought I should at least make an effort to preach on Christmas Day 1987 but I wish I hadn't. Not only was I in obvious pain, but the congregation witnessed my trouble. In spite of my best efforts I could not stand upright and was clearly struggling.  I knew, and everybody with me, that I couldn't go on.  The illness was no short term thing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 62) Filling a gap and a serious shadow.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  It is no surprise for a city centre church like ours that one of the major gaps in our church family concerned the low number of children.  There were never more than 10-12 children in our main service and this had almost become accepted as normal.  With all the rest that was going on how could you possibly envisage developing a children's work where we were?

Of the many dates that stick in my memory I ring Sunday September 12 1987 because that was the day that one of our newish members, John Clark, helped to lead a family service.  He told us that we should pray for the Junior Church (as we called it) to grow up to 50 children within the coming year.  I remember experiencing such a thrill at hearing him and sensing the prayerful context for his vision.  How easy it is for enthusiasts to sound off with triumphalism.  But John was grounded in a calling and gifting to minister to children with loads of experience and dynamic personality.  Within a month 20 children were regularly attending...and so the number gradually grew to everyone's immense joy.  This serious gap was being filled and the front pews were being filled with youngsters. And the weekly 'Talk with the children' became a sweet spot!

While I was in the pew listening to John and witnessing his dynamism I was feeling increasingly unwell.  Beginning on holiday a few days before I began to find that my neck was twisting my head downwards towards my right shoulder and with an awkward loss of control came painful headaches.  My doctor (who became a personal friend) could not explain what was happening.  He prescribed various muscle relaxants and gave careful watch over the coming days.  We all hoped that this sudden problem would ease off.  But, particularly at night, when my head hit the pillow I knew that something weird was happening beyond my control as twisting and tremors and pain took over. Something strange and unfriendly was occurring.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 61) A burst of sunshine

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). Those Summer months were glorious in so many ways.  I married Nigel and Sarah in their home church and we were to enjoy their friendship and leadership for the coming years. I was appointed as Free Church Adviser to Anglia TV - one of my great loves which saw me immersed in programming and filming in Norwich on my days off.  (I promised it would not interfere with church ministry!)  I revelled in this opportunity.  Epilogues still closed off evening TV and gave so much scope for gospel creativity.  (How media has changed!)

In church, the mission dimension that Nigel was charged to lead took off with a Missions Council launched on June 22nd. that gave inspirational leadership. I know committees sometimes don't work but how this did!  A number of missionaries were being prepared to leave on short-term service as well as long term and at home the church committed to undertake the One Step Forward Campaign - a denominational evangelistic programme. Five people were sent abroad that Summer and several others were seeking God's will about service overseas. We began including regular 'Windows on the World' in our worship services to keep the whole church involved.

In the building work, the steel structure was up and the new centre was taking shape (with inevitable traffic congestion).  On July 18th. we held a stone laying service while, at the same time, other church members were on a float sharing in the opening day of  the Cambridge Festival. Its theme was: Made in Britain.  30 people sang on our lorry, with emblems of the work we intended to carry out in the centre. Our slogan read: New Christian Centre - Made in Britain for YOU in Cambridge.  Prizes were awarded for the best float and we came second.  A newspaper photograph of the triumphant float back at the church and Carol presenting me with the prize cheque captures splendidly a great day.

My last post mentioned being surprised by others' reflections of those days.  We really experienced God's goodness. On the foundation stone are the words: TO GOD BE THE GLORY.  Oh, Yes!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Surprising burst of sunshine

This morning I enjoyed a full English breakfast (with black pudding) at a Men's Breakfast in my church.  The speaker was Graham Daniels, Director of Christians in Sport (as well as Director of Cambridge United football and a former player) and one of the great Cambridge characters I remember back from when I was minister in the city centre.  He is a winsome, witty, self-deprecating speaker with a wonderful testimony and we all appreciated his words and challenge.

Afterwards I thanked him and reminded him of Colin Baillie an Irish international who captained Cambridge United and, with his wife, attended my church. 'Oh, Colin' he said,'I'm still in touch with him.'  'And Graham and Adrian Daniels who captained the University Rugby team and later played internationally for Wales?" 'Oh, yes, they were great lads. What a great time that was in the mid-80's!'  "Yes,' I replied, 'They were wonderful witnesses in my church'.  Then he paused, looked at me, and asked: 'What is your name?'  When I told him he reached out and held me...of course, he said, I can see now.  And wonderful memories tumbled out. He told me that  I never knew that the first time that he ever spoke at a big church event was when Kriss Akabusi, the sprint, hurdling and field athlete came to Cambridge.  And it happened to be in my church!  'What marvellous things were happening at St. Andrew's Street at that time', he said. 'It seemed to be where everything was happening!'  Well, that was an exaggeration but there is nothing like hearing such enthusiasm from an surprising source.  A burst of sunshine.

But then, gripping me, he said 'Isn't the most wonderful thing that all these years on we are still going on with the Lord.  We are still going strong!'   It's not depending on past memories but our current experience that counts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 60) Cut out but a silver lining

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  I need to avoid self-pity (!) but my weeks of illness led into a serious bout of pneumonia and then extreme weakness with headaches. Eventually a consultant at Addenbrookes diagnosed it as ME.  I was locked into ten weeks of what turned out to be my first experience of depression.  During this time my dear friend and senior deacon Jim Adam died and I remember stumbling over words for his funeral service as Nigel wrote them down by my bedside.  How I was to miss this spiritual giant.

Laid low, I recalled C.H. Spurgeon commenting: Remember that it is God who accomplishes the work that He can continue to do without my help, and that He will be able to make out with other means whenever he wants to cut me out. Nobody likes to be cut out!  After several weeks I crept into the gallery for morning worship and slipped away during the last hymn.

When I did return someone said to me: 'The silver lining of your illness is that more of us have been involved in everything.'  The church was going full throttle.  Strange connections were being made. Earlier at one of our day conferences several people had identified the unemployed as a group we could serve.  Early in my illness we learned that the government was now inviting churches to host Job Clubs - clubs where longer-term unemployed people were counselled and helped to find employment.  Could this belong within our vision to serve the city? From my bed, I was thrilled to hear about church leaders applying for a job club,then being accepted and even appointing our first Director, Roy Toseland, who became a member of the church team.

At my first prayer meeting back from illness (April 7th) we met in the same room as the new Job Club, with their posters already on the walls. One of the recorded prayers that night reads: For Roy Toseland and the Job Club and the ten people beginning next Monday! Members of the Job Club, including some of our own fellowship, became included in our prayer ministry as the months rolled by.  Indeed, so successful was our club in finding employment that we were granted a second club to run simultaneously and a cabinet minister paid an official visit. Did it make a difference that a praying church was running these clubs?  It certainly seemed so!

Because the new building was attached to the church sanctuary builders needed to break into its top wall where they discovered dry rot which immediately pushed the cost up another  £50,000.  But counterbalancing such disappointments was continued giving. In the prayer diary (May 5 1987) I note  £2,000 given today!.  Trusts were also proving helpfully supportive.  I still felt far from my best but there was so much to look forward to. Actually, we had a wonderful burst of Summer sunshine coming.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 59) At last the decision and a crash

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Recently a friend who has been patiently reading this story commented how difficult the decision process about building was - with such variant views.  And how complicated it was allowed to be with everyone speaking their mind.  Quite so!  But I believe that 'seeking the mind of Christ' is often a complicated corporate process!  For a whole people to own a process there is nothing more effective than wrestling in prayer together through good and bad.

On December 2 1987 we shared in an extraordinary meeting open to everyone in the congregation when we sought to take the big decision to sign the contract and actually begin the work.  We agreed to participate in communion as part of our meeting.  What was the risen Lord calling us to do as he met with us in bread and wine? We were still way behind financial needs with our promises and gifts lagging yet momentum had grown.  So much praying and giving had accompanied the good and bad news so far.    And, at last, the meeting agreed to sign the contract and move ahead. A mixture of fear and excitement continued as the plunge was taken. 

Then comes a note in the prayer diary within a red ink box: 'MQ viral hepatitis Dec 1986-March 1987.'  As I crashed out-of -view the brand new team minister Nigel Manges had to step up and take responsibility for public leadership through heady days of Advent, New Year, baptisms, demolition of buildings alongside the church, digging foundations with steel structure appearing above the hoardings along the street.  Thrillingly, he demonstrated immense gifts and proved how right his appointment was.

Meanwhile,  I languished with multiple pains on the side-lines.  A few months earlier I had been in Singapore speaking at the Baptist World Congress and sampling the local culture, and we wondered whether this explained some of my poor health ever since I returned, culminating in this illness.  But, no doubt, the strains of leading through this 'complicated corporate process' took its toll too!   

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Golden Memory Lane in US (2)

One of the extraordinary happenings were the many unlikely encounters during our stay.  Going into a nearby popular (frozen custard) restaurant which also served chicken and french fries, we kept bumping into people. On several different occasions we were surprised by: a returning missionary who had heard me in 2002, a couple who belonged to the Wheaton church, a family who recognized us from the past, and a group of six who were just entering as we were leaving and who insisted we turn round and share their table while they ate.  Later, queuing up in a charity shop the lady behind said she thought she recognized me and as we listed different churches I had preached in we finally hit on the right one.  With enthusiasm she hugged me.  I guess it's the accent.

But, strangest of all, as we walked down Main Street in Wheaton past a coffee shop a man sitting inside waved at us.  I assumed he was waving at someone else.  However, he chased out of the shop down the road shouting out "Hey, the Quickes".   It turned out to be Dr. David Olford, son of a famous former British preacher, Stephen Olford.  Normally in Memphis, he just happened to be there with his two daughters in their twenties who are in Chicago engaged in graduate studies.

David undertook his doctoral work (on Romans) in Cambridge and for three years attended St. Andrew's Street together with others from Tyndale House.  To my utter astonishment he began to describe to his daughters what those three years meant with such sharp memories of times spent with us.  One of the most powerful, which he said he had spoken about many times since, was when I had my sit-in and appealed for the church to give in faith for a new mission centre in Cambridge.  Anyone reading recent posts will know exactly what he was talking about!  He described in detail what it meant to bring his gift and my prayer with him after he had dropped it into the box.  He said that prayer has never been forgotten, nor the experience of being in the Cambridge story.

I don't know what his daughters felt as their father reminisced with such emotion but Carol and I were truly humbled.  You never know do you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Golden Memory Lane in US (1)

Carol and I have just returned from 3 weeks wandering down memory lane.  Though our wedding day is July 6 we planned this golden wedding visit to the US early in order to avoid hot weather.  But, within two days of arrival temperatures hit mid to upper 90's (Farenheit!) and pushed Carol into perpetual search for rigorous air conditioning. Shorts and sandals ruled.

Carol's ambition to revisit old haunts from our 15 years of full-time life in the US and to reconnect with friends was gloriously fulfilled. Many evenings were spent with friends as Carol mistress-minded an exacting social calendar. Our bucket list of places to visit was almost completed and (after a variety of hospitality scenarios) we ended up staying in the home where we had lived the last couple of years in Wheaton with some dear friends who lent us their car.  You can imagine our delight and gratitude.

Two contrasting themes summed up much.  On one hand our experiences delightfully reminded us of the familiar.  Indeed, it seemed only yesterday as we drove round streets, charity shops(!) and (in my case) tasted raspberry chocolate chip ice cream in picturesque Geneva.  Time and time again we commented how familiar everything was.

Yet, on the other hand, we witnessed such dramatic changes that we could only echo that catch phrase 'Only in America'.  The church in Wheaton where I was interim preacher for two years and we have so many friends is no more First Baptist...after only a few months it has morphed into being a campus church for a completely different church model. We couldn't believe how rapidly it had changed from last Easter when I preached there.  Also, staggeringly within a year, the seminary of seven acres where I worked for 15 years is now squeezed onto a couple of floors of an office block.  When we visited the old site it was barricaded off - with all our old memories behind barriers.  However, the new seminary has developed technology to an extraordinary level and my former faculty members cannot credit enough how effective their classrooms are with 25 students present in flesh and another 25 streaming and interacting on-line.  Knowing how troubled many residential seminaries are this seems a viable model and I only met enthusiasm about the new.

Happily back, we rejoice in all that we have seen and done - old and new.  And in the good health we were granted to enjoy it all.  Thank you for the prayers that Carol and I would keep well.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 58) Nudging forward and changes in ministry.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Oh, the months of turmoil between the summers of 1985 and 1986. Even recalling milestone meetings gives me a headache.  Eventually, in October 1985 another crunch vote was taken: 'the Church Meeting accepts the existing plans which have received planning permission from the City Council and instructs the architect to proceed with the detailed drawings immediately.

Because so many new members were joining us we kept on retelling the story.  Day Conferences were a boon. Fresh ideas kept popping up.  One of them focused on working with the unemployed. Some were unemployed in our own fellowship and it was suggested that we should support them and others in the city. Could this be a God idea?

Months and months of working through details, agonizing over decisions large and small moved on through 1986.  Nothing much seemed to be happening.  Of course not!  We still hadn't said yes. Meanwhile the church continued to grow rapidly with newcomers enthusiastically joining in. 

After three splendid years of ministry, Martyn and Margaret Travers moved onto ministry in Ipswich, with our gratitude ringing in their ears.  Their time with us accompanied some extraordinary growth.  To our joy another leaving student and his fiancee, Nigel Manges and Sarah were seeking a church placement and accepted the call to Cambridge.  This turned out to be a further time of great happenings.  Part of Nigel's brief was to focus on church mission at home and abroad and he really impacted this dimension. And, as you will see, arriving Summer 1986 he was to play a larger role than first envisaged.  At the same time we were able (courtesy of a gift from the US) to appoint a part-time Music Director - a wonderfully gifted musician Brian Astell who was also going to have a very positive impact.

Though progress on building plans was slow church life was bubbling.  I can read in the prayer book the excitement of living through these months.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 57) A fudge and a blow

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  So far in the building story no irrevocable steps had been taken. By September 1986 we knew we needed to take that irrevocable step!  After yet another information evening (no one could claim they didn't know what was going on!) we set the  September 30th church meeting as decision day.  Yes, finances were still woefully short. Yes, we were still divided over the scheme.  Yes many of us remained convinced that we were in God's big story.

It proved to be a tough evening.  More people spoke out strongly against the scheme than at previous meetings.  One member read out ten objections.  Another claimed that the leadership was being disobedient to God. 'How can we borrow £210,000 when we are already at fully stretch?'  It was uncomfortable chairing between two sets of very strong convictions, for and against. I was definitely in the former camp yet tried to remain open to what God was saying to us. Not easy, and I had my critics (probably deservedly)!

Instead of a clear positive decision, a proposal was passed which was a definite fudge. The fellowship of St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church reaffirms its commitment to the Church Development and to the ongoing witness planned for the Christian Centre by agreeing to support it in the sacrificial giving of our time, talents and money and through constant prayer'.  I know there was disappointment yet this fudge enabled us to go on praying and working.

Another brochure was produced: Something IS happening in Cambridge.  There was fresh stimulus to giving and within a couple of months further gifts and promises of £70,000 plus interest feel loans.

Then came another major blow.  The lowest tender instead of being about £500,000 came in way above this figure at £717,000.  The goalposts kept moving. We were actually on a different pitch!  Hesitation about going forward seemed vindicated.  Just how could we say God was in this process when so many barriers kept going up?