My last post about gleanings from early sermons brought me to the dismal reminder that ever since my first Sunday in Blackburn I had seen signs in the roof and walls of serious building disease. High scaffolding in the early months of 1973 brought further investigations showing how widespread was the dry rot. Just what was the future of the church building?
As I look at my sermons I see them trundling through stand-alone sermons - picking out key themes such as the Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. But each one was entirely detached from the current dire situation. The Trinity sermon: Above all, Through all, In all (Eph.. 4:6) praised God who has dominion over us, communion with us and possession within us. I ended: ' By these three simple prepositions the scope of God's working with us leaves nothing out...Let us never underestimate any aspect of God's working.' The same service bulletin had a notice urging members of the church and congregation to attend a special church meeting three weeks later to 'discuss the future of the church buildings.' Maybe a connection between the 'God whose working leaves nothing out' and our practical building dilemma was in my mind. But it wasn't explicit in my preaching. I needed to get on a major learning curve about connecting preaching with real people and real situations!
One church member was a delightful retired Welsh Baptist minister. When he wished to encourage me he would say with lilting accent: 'That rang five bells today!' Mercifully he didn't grade me with lower bell counts...that rang one bell today! I appreciated him (as you can imagine) but it reinforced a expectation of little stand-alone sermons, little teaching/inspirational bubbles, to please people. No, I needed to join the dots between God's revealing transforming word in Scripture and my particular congregation, in this particular place, with this particular need. Was I ever going to mention God and dry rot?