Saturday, December 31, 2022

Entering 2023

Every New Year, for the 21 years I was minister, I led a Watch Night Service to see the New Year in.  In Blackburn there was a Church Social first followed by a short service, with reflection and fresh commitment. My portable radio was barely audible until Big Ben struck when I turned the volume up for the chimes to ring out. Happily we greeted each other and then processed outside.  Streets of terraced houses packed tightly around the church. Facing these neighbours we let rip with 'The Lord's my Shepherd.'  It was a memorable way to begin the new year.

Though the hymnbook  used during those 21 years had a section of hymns specifically for the Old and New Year we rarely sang any of them. But looking through I thought the words of this one is worth repeating as we enter 2023.  It has a deep seriousness, shared with many of these hymns. No bubbly enthusiasm here!  And, yes, it does have Thees and thous etc. Written by L. Tuttiettt (1825-97).

Father let me dedicate 

All this year to Thee,

In whatever worldly state 

Thou wouldst have me be;

Not from sorrow, pain, or care

Freedom dare I claim;

This alone shall be my prayer

 "Glorify Thy name,"

If Thou callest to the cross,

And its shadow come,

Turning all my gain to loss,

Shrouding heart and home:

Let me think how Thy dear Son 

To His glory came

And in deepest woe pray on, 

"Glorify Thy name."

If in mercy Thou wilt spare

Joys that yet are mine,

If on life, serene and fair, 

Brighter rays may shine, 

Let my glad heart, while it sings,  

In all proclaim:

And whate'er the future brings, 

"Glorify Thy name."

So, quite a challenge! To enter 2023 saying "Glorify Thy name" whatever happens.  May this be a year knowing God's love on every step of your journey.   

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Appropriate Gift

Imprisoned by sciatica I escaped in reading including Rosemary Hill's biography of Pugin, God's architect. It's a dense read and co-codamol and diazepam slowed my progress.  Undeniably Pugin's short dramatic life impacted Britain with his visionary Gothic architecture. Hyper-active and hyper-creative he designed cathedrals (Punch magazine said he could do one it in 45 minutes), churches, houses, furnishings with side-lines like Big Ben and inside Parliament.  So many details are fascinating such as his designing the interior of the chapel in Jesus College Cambridge (of special interest to me)  The interweaving of his Roman Catholic faith with his work and relationships threads right through. Family life was important to him as was romance but his unstoppable work rate made him increasingly remote. 

One paragraph struck me.  In 1840 with a son Cuthbert just born and Agnes aged 4, Rosemary Hill writes;

He was a fond father but at the time a distant and intensely preoccupied one.  His daughter Agnes later told her granddaughter that she remembers Pugin saying that for her birthday that year he had designed a cathedral.  She also remembered being very disappointed.

The sheer inappropriateness of the gift seems not to have crossed Pugin's mind. He wanted to give her something magnificent but unsurprisingly the four-year old was disappointed. It was all a tad beyond a child's wants and appreciation.

I haven't preached much recently but this struck me as a commentary note on the Incarnation and its sheer appropriateness.  God could have overwhelmed with magnificence, but a baby in a manger can be understood by all.  The whole miracle of Jesus being among us shrinks glory into a Lord who lives like us. Who can be easily rejected.  But, when taken seriously will never disappoint. 


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Have a glorious Christmas

After this long (welcome to some) silence, I thankfully break into cyberspace in time to greet you as we race to Christmas Day.  At last my pain is subsiding and my leg has returned to near normal usage.  The doctor warned me that it would likely take up to eight weeks and he was right. Though physiotherapy, acupuncture, erratic exercises have helped the process.  So, I shall be able to worship tomorrow morning in flesh, which is rather what, on the biggest scale imaginable, the world-changing miracle of Christmas is all about. God coming in flesh among us. 

On Facebook yesterday I saw a quote from one of my favourite authors, E. Stanley Jones. "The early Christians did not say in dismay 'Look what the world has come to,' but in delight 'Look at what has come into the world'."

Today's reading in a book of readings through the year, has Catherine Booth (wife of William Booth)  writing on the mystery of the Incarnation.  

Humanity must have a deliverer able to save, and no less than the Almighty deliverer was equal to the task. Here all merely human deliverers, all philosophers and teachers of the world had failed because they could only teach, they could not renew... rectify the heart. They could set up a standard, enunciate a doctrine, but they could not remove man's inability....Man needed some being outside of himself, above him and yet able to understand and pity him in his utmost guilt and misery, and helplessness - able to inspire him with a new life, to impart light, love, strength, and endurance, and to do this always and everywhere, in every hour of darkness, temptation and danger....God's expedient for showing this to man was to come in the flesh. How else could God have revealed himself to fallen man?

So, enjoy a glorious Christmas tomorrow wherever you are and celebrate this best news this world had ever heard.  God has intervened to deliver us. With delight let's say "Look at what has come into our world".


Thursday, November 10, 2022

Sciatica....just turned up

It's always a temptation to be personal on a blog and to over-share.  That's a real danger as I write!  And, usually, a nagging low back pain would not deserve a mention.  Sticking hot patches on myself I moved around for five days, aware that many suffer stoically.  However, last Sunday afternoon the back pain shot down my left leg within a couple of hours. \

I had been at church in the morning, walking steadily on two legs. Suddenly, I lost use of my left leg with excruciating pain dropping me to the floor.  Only able to crawl on hands and knees suppressing yelps of agony with each move, I hoped dosing up with paracetamol would give me back my leg. 

Sleepless, at 6.00 am Monday, we phoned 111 help line and a duty doctor informed me it sounded classic sciatica and he would prescribe stronger painkillers to be collected at the pharmacist.  Their high level of codeine encouraged two bouts of vomiting that were so noisy Carol had to apologize to our neighbour!   New drugs are now at work four days on....and though the dr. cheerily informed me it can be a 4 to 6 weeks recovery I am trying to remain positive.   But does mean that you will be spared any posts for the next few days!  Prayers would be appreciated.  

Saturday, November 5, 2022

God copiers 5)

In this daily battle, rejoice that Jesus is alive and well and calls us to be awake and careful together. I love the way the apostle ends this section. At a social occasion I met this professional musician who played in a famous London orchestra.  I love orchestral music and immediately I had several questions imagining how wonderful it would be to be in the middle of skillful people creating such wonderful music.  Which piece of music thrilled him most? Lots of questions.  I began: 'How wonderful to belong to an orchestra like yours. How exhilarating to be in the middle of such music making.'  And he looked at me blankly. 'No. It’s just a job'. And I suppose if you have been doing this for a number. of years, the same stuff, the conductor saying, turn to second movement bar 269.  Routine.

We haven’t looked at all the aspects of the world’s culture listed but one of them hits on drunkenness: v.18  Don’t get drunk with wine….(that’s not the way to lasting joy), instead be filled with the Spirit singing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, giving thanks to God the Father.  Come and worship and support each other because that’s the way to lasting joy.   Nothing routine. And the power of us belonging together as community is the way that God helps us through. Our first hymn today: 'What a friend we have in Jesus" - as I sing it and realize just how foreign it sounds to world culture I glory in being among his friends singing it together.  I love the definition of a Christian: A Christian is someone with whom it is easy to be good. Being together should bring out the best.

With mind and strength we say: By thy call of mercy, by the grace divine we are on the Lord’s side, Saviour we are thine.  We say to our critic. With God's help we really are trying to be better copiers as his children. We know we make many mistakes but come and join us in kingdom culture where we seek to grow in love, care and truth.  

Thursday, November 3, 2022

God copiers 4)

This is why we need to remember Jesus said: The greatest command is to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30).  This is no walk in the park.  No easy living.  It needs all your mind with all your strength.  Copying the world comes so easily, thoughtlessly  It’s how everybody is living.  Copying God needs Jesus, the Holy Spirit, with your mind and your will.  

You see God's urgent yearning that we be better copiers through these verses.  To recognize there are so many empty words v6…words which seem so convincing and because we are in the world’s culture we can’t help bringing some of this stuff into church.  God will not tolerate worldly behaviour v.6  In contrast with this darkness we are to v.8 Live as children of light, for the fruit of light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth It's pretty clear how God wants us to live. We don't need long sermons.  Right in the middle of the big challenges come two vital challenges:

V14 Wake up, you’ve gone to sleep. You should be resurrected people with Jesus shining on you.  Don’t sleep walk and let the world's culture dull your senses, your brightness.  

V15 Be very careful how you live not as unwise people but as wise making the most of the time because the days are evil  vv14,15.  Don’t be sleepy careless people.  In my ministry some of my most difficult times have been listening to people, sometimes in leadership positions, who found themselves sleep walking into traps set by the big three: sex, money and power.  Wake up, be very careful, be wise.

No wonder it's like a daily battle!


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

God copiers 3)

But today, an ever increasing section of society does not know the Christian story and take it seriously, God is squeezed out, the Bible is ignored, morality is what you choose. In contrast with 1858 this is called a post-Christian culture and a post-truth society.  Notice in chapters 4 and 5 when Paul describes his culture with its sexual permissiveness, impurity. greed, falsehood, anger unwholesome talk, drunkenness...its unholiness..what similarities there are with today.  This was a pre-Christian culture. Now we are slipping into a post Christian culture.  Now this is a big subject and we must never forget that God has made us in his own image so there is always goodness, good people.  As a journalist in the war in Ukraine said last week, war brings out the worst of humanity in its cruelty but also the best in its courage and compassion.  Yes, people can be so unkind, angry. and cruel. Look at social media, trolls etc. But they can also be kind and compassionate.  However, we have to agree that this church now lives in a very different world from when this church began in 1858.   

I said the hymn has some major things right, but one thing was wrong. It’s that line: Who will leave the world’s side?  And we cannot actually leave, we are always in our culture.  We  are in the world, When Jesus calls us to follow him, he is calling us to belong to his kingdom. Which has a different culture of obedience and love. To be in the world but not of the world. To belong to his kingdom culture even as we live within the world's culture. To get your second passport.  Become a dual citizen.

 When we ask: Are we following God’s culture while living in the world’s culture we are even more aware of the struggle.  Who is on the Lord's sideFacing the foe. Fierce may be the conflict. We are helped by Paul’s honesty in Rom 7:13 when he says: for what I want to do, I do not do, and what I hate I do. Copying the world's culture comes naturally.  God’s culture - his way of thinking and behaving, his kingdom way is so different.  It demands everything of us.  It’s a battle. Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who will fight the foe?  

Saturday, October 29, 2022

God copiers 2)


As I was thinking of this challenge to be God copiers, something came to mind. Like a soundtrack. Actually, it kept playing right through this sermon. When I was in the Boys Brigade there were a couple of hymns we used to belt out.  Really make a noise.  I remember being told to sing quieter and slower.  Imagine that. 

Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the king?   

Who will leave the worlds side? Who will face the foe?

By thy call of mercy, by thy grace divine, We are on the Lord’s side – Saviour we are Thine.  

Some of you may know these and probably sang them in a more gentle way.  But none of this is gentle. It's fighting talk. Fierce may be the conflict, strong may be the foe, but the King’s own army none can overthrow.  

And this hymn gets major things right.  And one major thing wrong, What it get right is there are two sides.  Only two.  And they clash. They are in conflict. Who will face the foe.  Our church young people at the moment are studying the clash between God’s culture and the world’s culture.  And that’s a good way of describing the contrast.  Culture is a way of describing our habits, ideas, customs, social organization, values…  what we think, believe, do… the whole bundle of our thoughts and behaviours.  And the challenge is – which culture are we copying?  That's the challenge for God copiers.

 1.       Are we world culture copiers?  We live in western culture, in UK culture, and we cannot help share its habits, etc.  Histon Baptist Church began in 1858 and a short video made recently shows some of the saints. The first minister in black frockcoat, key personalities in black, wing collars and not a smile in sight.  And the story involving the Chivers family, big local employers, with their mighty influence. We see the formality and way of living   So much has changed as we see ourselves today, our dress, jeans were only invented in 1873, our informality, our smiles.   But these changes are obvious surface things.

Look deeper and the changes are profound.  One of my books is called The Death of Christian Britain. Sounds dramatic it’s a study of secularization in Britain 1800-2000.  We don’t need a book to tell us how things have changed.  In the 19th century, Britain was called a Christian county, People took God seriously, the Bible seriously, Christian code of behaviour seriously.  For the great majority of people the Christian story was known and taken seriously.


Friday, October 28, 2022

Back in the swing (sort of)

On Sunday I am preaching in a series designed by our minister.  We have reached Eph. 5:1-20. Thinking back to 21 years of ministry when I was often preparing two sermons every week I find it so much slower going. 'It's age', says Carol. That's true but it is also being out of the pastoral swing and weekly disciplines.  Anyway. I am thinking of a dialogue at the beginning.  Perhaps something like this.  

If you’ve got a thing against Christians (I’m hoping that’s not true), but if you’re a critic and you think they make claims for themselves that they are superior, holier than thou, and therefore hypocrites because they are just like us, if not worse.  If you’ve got a thing against Christians today’s reading is just a gift.  It justifies everything you think.  Just look at it. Eph. 5:1  Be imitators of God. It's a strong word - imitate, copy. I like JB Phillips translation; As children copy their fathers, you as God’s children are to copy him. Copiers of the Father,  

And the critic says: 'That’s exactly what I am talking about: You have this claim 'imitators of God' and all the stuff in this chapter about not even a hint of immorality, impurity, greed, falsehood, anger as God's holy people living in love and unity.  How can you seriously claim that?'

Defensively, we reply: 'Hold on, you haven’t been to our series on Ephesians where the first three chapters are all about how much difference Jesus makes in his love and power and by the Holy Spirit to our lives. And how much we need him to become imitators of God.  

And the critic says: So you are really calling yourselves imitators of God.  Come on, be serious.

And we say:  We are not saying we are good imitators, copiers.  In fact we know we are not very good, but that's what we long to be, better God copiers with God's help.  



Saturday, October 15, 2022

Memories stirred

I need to spare you any more oral history...a further 6 pages worth. But one of those formation places I mentioned came roaring back recently. Arbury Rd. Baptist Church, where my father went to be minister when I was sixteen, invited me to preach at its Harvest Festival Service two Sundays ago. 

Yesterday, I had lunch with some friends, all of whom grew up in churches. We commented how as young people we were expected to do stuff!  Practically and spiritually. That was true at Arbury. Back in 1961 the church buildings were set back behind a large lawn. I recalled that lawn....and the choir, children's work, manual work, organizing events, taking services. In the service I mentioned mowing that lawn with a manual mower!  Others did help on a rota - but phew! I also looked up at the choir loft where I was one of three basses with mandated (much needed)weekly choir practice.  And yes, Sunday School teaching, helping the summer children's holiday club. Strangely, one summer I was given main responsibility for organizing a church family afternoon on school fields nearby. I liaised with the school, planned games for all ages, with prizes, competitions, an ice cream vendor, and hand made publicity.  The leaders took a risk! Unsurprisingly, I remember great friends within the young group and the wider church. 

And, some of them are still there, 60 years on. Still working practically and spiritually.  I think that lunch conversation got it right.  We were really expected to do stuff.  And it did us a lot of good, laying foundations for lifetime. 


Saturday, October 8, 2022

Oral history 6) An Inescapable conclusion

Third, ecumenical relationships became vital.  Thrust into working with key people in the student world, such as Oliver Barclay (IVF), David Head (SCM), Martin Conway (Church House, Westminster), Douglas Brown (Methodist House) I discovered exceptional kindness and sharing.  Encounters like these deepened my appreciation of other denominations and laid a foundation for positive engagement in the future, attending national ecumenical conferences and seeking to represent a Baptist perspective.  

Four, a growing sense of call to ministry So many elements of my BUGB life contributed to a nagging conviction that I should test this call.  Obviously, being thrust into positions where I was expected to lead, preach, and encourage others helped to pressure me.  Paradoxically, a bitter experience played a part in my call too. Visiting a morning serv ice to enlighten a congregation about what a BSF mission might mean, the minister stood up just before I was due to speak.  With anger he turned on his people, berating them for their lack of care for him and his family on this their anniversary.  The shock, sadness and angst of this outburst headlined all that I feared about ministry.  Yet right within this sadness I sensed that God was saying to me: ‘Yes, ministry can be hard but it’s my calling for you.  And I will be with you.’

Carol’s church, Chatsworth West Norwood became my church. Traditional testing of the call began.  I undertook lay preaching with the LBA beginning with midweek services.  During an evening service in Chatsworth itself a decisive event occurred when, in the middle of my preaching, I heard (so it seemed) God’s voice calling me to be a preacher. I have chronicled this unique event in my book 360 degree preaching.  Many other reality checks occurred as well as interviews. In only our first year of marriage the whole process was hard on Carol for whom the implications were largely foreign to her experience.

All this searching crystallized with recognition by my sending church, London Baptist Association (which gave me a tough interview in the Shakespeare Room), and by Regent’s Park College, Oxford that I was indeed called to Baptist ministry.  This meant leaving BUGB after only two years.  Yet those two years had been pivotal and though other influences were strong, I cannot overstate how this immersion in the BUGB shaped me and prepared me for what was to come.  BUGB was a positive kaleidoscope of influencers.  Far too many to name. Years later, talking with Earnest Payne, I suggested that I write a book containing biographies of leading Baptists. By then I had met many of them and been impressed by their stories. He was enthusiastic, though the project (like others in my life) never took root.  But, it shows just how many people I had grown to respect.  And, as I look back, I see how this all led to an inescapable conclusion.  A Baptist shaped conclusion! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Oral history 5) A truly Baptist experience


Many descriptions survive of Baptist Church House in Holborn, London, but my experience of climbing the steps under John Bunyan’s stature, pushing open the large oak doors, passing Spurgeon’s statue in the black and white tiled entrance, opened a new world. I could hardly believe that I was working there! Ascending the stairs, past different departments, the Shakespeare Room (where we held worship) and the stunning Council Chamber, I reached my own office.  Room 32 which, though I shared it with the Stewardship Dept. overseen by Ungoed Davies and Jim Findlay, was rarely used by them.  A desk, old typewriter, paper, carbon paper was waiting for me. Fortunately, I had taught myself touch typing in my early teens, so I could cope with being my own secretary.  Instantly, I was catapulted into a crash induction course about what it meant to belong to the national Baptist family. Beginning the same day as the new General Secretary, David Russell I know he was definitely better prepared than me!  So much was to happen to change the direction of my life. In summary, I note four key aspects.

First, personal changes.  As a newcomer I was treated with extraordinary kindness by all the staff. My role with student work was placed within the Youth Department. Its head, Peter Tongeman, gave me immense freedom. However, in my first month, Peter suffered peritonitis and David Russell sent me in his place to chair an International Baptist Student Conference in the Baptist seminary, Ruschlikon, Switzerland.  Having only traveled abroad once before (briefly to Paris) I suddenly found myself leading a small group of chosen British students to join others for (what proved to be) an intensive conference.  Suddenly I was chairing sessions, discussions and even preaching.  What rash assumptions were made about my competences!  Most significantly, one of the British party was a recently orphaned student called Carol Bentall.  Utterly swept off my feet by her, we were married after 11 months.  Carol was to prove the single best thing that has happened to me and my ministry, next to my relationship with Jesus Christ.  Inevitably, this developing romantic relationship added yet more sheen to my happy BUGB memories.

It needs to be added that Carol’s teenage conversion under Frank Goodwin’s ministry at Chatsworth BC, West Norwood, led to her leadership in the large youth group. She describes how the church became her family when her mother died, giving Carol profound support in every way. Out of her experience, she was so positive about how a local Baptist church could express love in action. Actually, her presence in Switzerland owed everything to the church’s practical support.  Her positive experience of the local Baptist church was to prove vital for the future.

Second, organizational experience. Quickly, I learned the Union’s main accountability structures: specialist committees reporting to Main Committees onto General Purpose and Finance Committee and ultimately to the Council. My first Council Meeting in 1967 remains imprinted on my mind. The Chamber (where the British Council of Churches was formed) had a parliamentary feel, with circular seating around staff at a central table. I was to witness many key Baptist leaders in action.  With high quality debate, I grew to know names of individuals, their favoured seats, points of view, and likely interventions. Several memories still hold of key dramatic moments. I had no idea that British Baptists comprised such a range of gifted people. All the time I was imbibing Baptist life and making connections. Networking it would be termed today.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Oral history 4) A weird crunch point

Extraordinarily, this led to the most significant period of formation that forever changed my life.   While I was urgently seeking graduate employment, the Baptist Union of Great Britain was urgently looking to appoint someone to succeed Ray Vincent as a full-time Secretary of Student Work (and Chaplaincy).  My only qualifications were some positive experiences with RHS and BSF!  As a twenty-one-year-old I seemed massively underqualified. Tentatively, I went up to Baptist House, 4, Southampton Row, Holborn, London for interview.  Ernest Payne was in his last year as General Secretary. The job was explained - I would be expected to visit and encourage thirty plus Baptist student groups around the nation and undertake all correspondence relating to student work (including the Commendation Scheme involving two months of sorting and passing on several hundred student names from churches to relevant chaplains.  And, significantly, to represent Baptist student work to my ecumenical counterparts. 

The role was bewildering with its responsibilities and demands. I did pray about it though my father was rather discouraging.  Never a great fan of BUGB I think he felt it was a retrograde step after my education!  Living in London with a risky ambitious project, funded on a shoestring, must have seemed a poor prospect after my EACCA hopes.  Nevertheless, as I sensed God was calling me to do this, relatives in the East End kindly provided free accommodation and board.  At the 1967 Annual Assembly, in Westminster Chapel, I was welcomed into the new position by Earnest Payne before the whole congregation.  Unfortunately, a serious nosebleed on the journey from Cambridge meant a fixed expression when the full church with crowded galleries applauded me. It all seemed unreal as I returned to take my Finals.  Having never been to any BUGB function I have to say I was greatly impressed.

Many descriptions survive of Baptist Church House in Holborn, but my experience of climbing the steps under John Bunyan’s stature, pushing open the large oak doors, passing Spurgeon’s statue in the black and white tiled entrance, opened a new world. I could hardly believe that I was working there! Ascending the stairs, past different departments, the Shakespeare Room (where we held worship) and the stunning Council Chamber, I reached my own office.  Room 32 which, though I shared it with the Stewardship Dept. overseen by Ungoed Davies and Jim Findlay, was rarely used by them.  A desk, old typewriter, paper, carbon paper were waiting for me. Fortunately, I had taught myself touch typing in my early teens, so I could cope with being my own secretary.  Instantly, I was catapulted into a crash induction course about what it meant to belong to the national Baptist family. Beginning the same day as the new General Secretary, David Russell I know he was definitely better prepared than me!  So much was to happen. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Oral History (3) Next big influence

Alongside church involvement, my academic life in sixth form blossomed enabling me to enter Jesus College, Cambridge in 1964.  Here a third extremely influential connection was made.  I joined the university Baptist society – the Robert Hall Society (RHS).   My three years in RHS coincided with a peak in membership and liveliness with a range of meetings (many weekly) – prayer, mission focus, bible study, social, Sunday afternoon speakers and, importantly, summer missions. This large group's breadth of theological views and experience challenged my development intellectually and spiritually.  Because it was so embedded in the Baptist denomination drawing speakers and serving local churches it fed healthy denominational commitment.  I served in several roles, including representing RHS on the Student Ecumenical Council meeting in Gt. St. Mary’s.  Each year I attended the Baptist Student Federation annual conference where members of thirty plus student societies across the UK met with BU and BMS leaders with much lively debate.  Each summer we shared in missions based in local Baptist churches.  In 1965 and 66, in Plymouth and Dorking, I learned the disciplines of door-to-door visitation, school visits and teamwork. It is hard to calculate how much RHS’s ethos impacted me. From my period (1964-7) seven contemporaries later entered Baptist ministry.

Entering my last year of study, specializing in geomorphology, I saw my immediate future in further academic study.  Though committed to the Baptist church family and local church leadership, I was miles away from thoughts about full-time ministry. Indeed, I rejected much of what I had seen of my father’s ministry, with its constant demands, financial restraints, and powerlessness when trying to lead a voluntary organization, full of strong personalities. I admired my parents’ sacrifice but sought another Baptist way of living.

Somehow, I learned of the East Asian Christian Colleges Association (EACCA) and its programme of sending new graduates to teach within Christian universities overseas. Impressed by the opportunity to serve in this way, I applied, was interviewed and approved for a two/three year term as a geography professor at Serampore College, India.  A happy combination of mission helpfulness with research possibilities! But my delight was brutally punctured a few months later by a perfunctory duplicated letter informing me that EACCA had collapsed, and all future commitments were cancelled. With only four months before graduation, I had no next step from Cambridge.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Oral History (2) Early formation

On August 24th I mentioned the 5,000 word project on my personal Baptist history. I shall only repeat a few words (Phew! relief!) but, perhaps, when I used the word 'inevitable' about the Baptist influence on the life you will see why. (Again, please ignore these posts if, understandably, they seem boringly personal!) 

My early life combines four main areas of early formation, all strongly embedded in Baptist life. The first involves being born into a Baptist minister’s family. Three Quickes are listed in the Baptist Union Directory 2000-2002. My father Walter George, commenced ministry in 1944; Stephen, my younger brother began in 1972 as did I.  Undeniably, the fact that two brothers ended up in Baptist ministry owes much to our parents’ vocation – a calling to which they gave themselves unstintingly.  My mother particularly influenced me spiritually, and I remember daily family life was dominated by church commitments. My father’s peak ministry was probably at Brunswick Road, Gloucester 1953-1961, with a large suite of buildings including Robert Raikes’ original Sunday School.  Sunday worship mornings and evenings were very well attended with the contemporary diet (as he described it) of ‘one Bible, one hymnbook and one order of service’.   Signs of decline were barely visible.

In Gloucester, through Sunday School, Boy’s Brigade and Junior Church my growing relationship with Jesus Christ was nurtured and declared in baptism in 1953.  Though an undramatic process it marked a decisive commitment, which my mother said she noted in my subsequent behaviour! This ushered in the second key formation influence.  I became immersed in the church youth group full of serious and gifted friends whose intensity of service and prayer was to impact many futures.  Taking services around village churches. holding our own prayer meetings, handing out Victory tracts in the streets, sharing in open air witness (with me playing the piano accordion) helped me mature in understanding and expressing my faith.  Each summer we reveled in Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) Summer Schools.  It is no surprise that three in our group eventually went into full-time service, one as a missionary and two of us as Baptist ministers.  Others became church leaders. I owe so much to this group. When my father moved from Gloucester to Arbury Rd. Baptist Church, Cambridge, in 1961, I continued strong commitment within a fresh youth group, with less intensity yet continuing nurturing through BMS summer schools.  Church life was lively with my father successfully initiating the first ‘All Age Sunday School’ in BUGB using US teaching materials!  Great days of Baptist life and witness.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

National mourning/thanksgiving

When I was seven I shall never forget the head teacher coming into our village school classroom and solemnly announcing that King George VI had died. For the first time I became aware of the monarchy in a personal way, and in the following months as we prepared for the coronation of Elizabeth II, like all school children, we were plunged into creativity, making crowns, painting posters, hearing about golden carriages and fine palaces.  The coronation itself was, of course, a great occasion, even if we had no black and white television to see it. .As a child I didn't understand much of the significance of our form of government with crown and parliament in tandem.  Later, especially when we lived in the US, did I realize more fully how unusual our democratic history and form of government is. 

But 70 years later as the nation mourns the loss of Queen Elizabeth, I really want to share in thanksgiving, for her qualities of service, duty, decency,  integrity, and so much more as she has exercised this extraordinary role.  But best of all, it is her Christian faith for which I truly thank God which, of course, explains her qualities of service.  In our morning worship we had a minutes quiet reflection when a series of slides were shown featuring key sentences from past Christmas addresses.  It was quite wonderful to see her affirmation of faith and hope in Jesus Christ and her willingness to share the message with the nation.  We are grateful for a woman of transparent faith who lived her long life in the glare of the international spotlight as a servant of Christ. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Baptist family

On Saturday, my reunions with former Spurgeon students were an utter delight.  Of course, I met several other members of the congregation. One man, slightly older than me was recognizable though his name had slipped my memory. A noted Baptist missionary he had served overseas for nearly twenty years before returning to minister in England, I knew him slightly through the Baptist network, and he shared how he had retired to the area to be nearer family.

However, I was a little startled to hear him say: 'We were upset and angry when we heard you were going to the States.  We said: Why go there when they already have plenty?  Why?'   Even as he spoke he still seemed upset!   Twenty-two years later!  When I tell my Baptist story I obviously include the fact that in 2000 Carol and I felt called to move to Northern Seminary, near Chicago.   I knew at the time that some in the denomination were unhappy but I was surprised at this 'we' comment from someone I barely knew. 

Comments like these, totally unexpected and heartfelt, wake you up to wider dynamics and relationships. I guess such comments reinforce the sense of belonging to a wider Baptist family!  We do share cares and concerns about each other and can miss each other!  That's humbling and rather wonderful.

Carol and I do believe that God was calling us to take the risk and serve in another branch of the Baptist family, albeit in the US, and we also believe we can discern 'signs following' that authenticated this was God's call.  But this comment was a reminder about the reality of Baptist belonging.  I shall hold this in mind as I recount part of my oral Baptist story.  

Monday, September 5, 2022


I will return shortly to my oral history but I must mention a service last Saturday.  Mat Wilson was inducted to the pastorate of Shirley Baptist Church and he invited me to preach. I suffered was over 20 years that this was my regular task as students left Spurgeon's College.  Mat left in 2000 to serve as Pioneer Missionary in Albania, later as Director of the International Mission Training College in Birmingham, and most recently as senior pastor of Pavilion Christian Community in Rowheath. A colourful and demanding journey of service, accompanied by his gifted wife Hannah and family.  And now he had received a unanimous call from Shirley.

The large church building was packed - I couldn't see more than a couple of empty chairs at the front. Singing was joyous with the right balance of worship, seriousness and sheer delight at the new thing God was doing.

And a key reason why this service meant even more to me was the fact that five ministers in the congregation were all students in my era at Spurgeon's.  Neil, now a Regional Minister led the service.  Ed, Nick and Mark were Mat's contemporaries and as we greeted each other I was deeply encouraged (yes, I think deeply is the right adverb) that all these men, with wives happily partnering, were still in active ministry, still (they said) grateful for their training in Spurgeon's and still on fire for God.  That's quite wonderful, isn't it?  They commented about words they heard way back in college chapel.  One said that throughout his ministry he kept reminding himself of three things I once said:  God made you. God loves you. God wants to use you.  I have no recollection of saying that (!) but you can imagine for an old Baptist minister its humbling to hear years later some God words stuck.

So, deeply encouraged and grateful. 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Holiday Bonus

Out of the blue we have just been able to enjoy a week by the seaside in Minehead.  All the rooms in the Baptist Holiday Apartments were fully booked until 3 weeks ago when a couple of sets of people dropped out, So we seized the opportunity to go with our London family. Separate apartments - good idea!  Much was enjoyed together.

On our journey to the West Country we stopped at a mall and, in need of tea and tea-cake, we joined the queue in the M & S cafe.  As I neared the till the lady in front asked me whether I was having two drinks.  Somewhat surprised I confessed that I was. And I was even more surprised when she then produced two tokens for free drinks. 'I have these spare, so why don't you use them?; she said.  You can imagine I thanked her profusely.  It seemed a good omen for the holiday ahead.

Arriving in Minehead before our apartment was ready we were in need of another tea.  Going into a supermarket cafe, where other vital supplies such as bread and milk would be purchased, we peered at the options on view.  Behind us was an older lady who sweetly enquired whether we would like free drinks and slices of cake.  She had two tokens which unfortunately she could not use, expiring that day!   You can imagine our delight at the pattern emerging!  We thanked her profusely. She turned out to be a local. Enquiring where we were staying she commented that she knew it and that as Church of England she was happy to help some Baptists!

From then on we were on the lookout for ladies with spare tokens....but I guess this was already enough of a bonus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Oral History (1)

 A few weeks ago I was asked by the President of the UK Baptist Historical Society to contribute 5,000 words to an oral history project (which actually will be written!) asking various people who have been Baptists of 'your experience of being Baptist, changes during your lifetime (positive and negative etc.) These written responses would be placed in the Angus Library and available for future historians to provide a more reflective and experiential view of Baptist life in the 20th and early 21st. century.'

The project is not looking for formal material but a record of memories and reflections by those who took part in events - nationally, regionally, in the local church. Accompanying notes suggest that participants say something about: their early life,  development of Christian experience; call to ministry/vocation and how linked with the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB); formation for future work and how they were led to an area of work; details about where they served and work they did; reflections on how they changed and what changes have happened from when they first began. 

Long suffering readers of my blog will know that I have from time to time indulged in blobs of autobiography.  I think the older you grow the more tempting it is to look back and (hopefully) reflect.  As I began my 5,000 words I realized this task would be strongly slanted...describing my life from a Baptist perspective.  Just how much did BUGB impact me?   And how many of my life experiences come from being Baptist?

And I discovered a huge amount of my life experience does come from being Baptist!  Perhaps, it's inevitable when you think how my life started!  I realize some of you may glaze over but I thought some of it might be of interest.... See next posts. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Summer heat

My posts are slower and lethargic as this drought and heatwave continues .....we could cope with the heat in the US, courtesy of air conditioning.  Often fierce as you entered indoors.  But here we just drip and drop!  And I know we are not suffering alone.

However, our US family made the visit after 4 years and joined up with our London family for some joyful holiday times in Cambridge.  I think they rated our time on the river, messing about in punts, as one of the best.  Hiring two punts, I blissfully reclined in one, knowing that my two sons would take the strain.  Moving up river to Granchester in temps. of 38 plus degrees, I dipped my hand in the water and gleefully splattered myself . Then, to my joy, my grandsons took over the punting.  For two of them it was a new experience but before long they were propelling us along in more or less straight lines.  Occasionally we visited low hanging branches and reeds and needed the paddle to push us off.

I thought to myself, with a glow of thankfulness, what a special time we were being given. Family togetherness in bucolic scenery with new skills transmitted onwards. My father taught me to punt when I was nine years old and now I see a new generation enjoying themselves.  So, this is a very grateful post.

Hopefully, you also have found some good times and relief these last weeks.  

Thursday, August 11, 2022



Contentment translates a Greek word apatheia which sounds close to apathy, doesn’t it?  Apathy speaks of indifference which is exactly how it was valued by Stoic contemporaries of Paul.  Stoics held that contentment or self-sufficiency was a virtue that an individual gained when they learned to be indifferent to their circumstances.  They gained independence not needing anyone or anything in a state of complete detachment from outside things.  Unruffled by whatever life threw up.   

When the apostle Paul uses this word it could not be more different.  Richard Foster wrote about the state of relinquishment. when 'we begin to enter a grace-filled releasing or our will and a flowing into the will of the Father.....from struggling to the releasing...this prayer is a bona fide letting go, but it is a release with hope...God is not destroying the will be transforming it so that we can freely will what God wants'.  What an extraordinary word! Relinquishment means to release or let go.

I think this radical prayer of relinquishment has much to do with living the second half of life in God's way.  

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to you.  

May your will be my delight today.

May your way have perfect sway in me.

May your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to you

my hopes,

my dreams,

my ambitions.

Do with them what you will, when you will, as you will.

I place into your loving care

my family,

my friends,

my future.

Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into your hands

my need to control,

my craving for status,

my fear of obscurity.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish your

kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake,


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A learned secret


I must make space for the apostle Paul on this subject of ageing. Spurgeon imagines him as 'an old gray-headed man upon the borders of the grave, a prisoner shut up in Nero’s dungeon at Rome'. Looking back over the highs and lows of ministry (and were many lows) he shares some personal thoughts with this fellowship at Phillipi.  In his reflections he makes a staggering claim: I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation (Phil 4: 12). Really? He writes that he has learned, past tense, to live contentedly.  That really takes us to deep places because, sadly, this quality of life is largely missing. Rather, discontentment marks much living – when Rohr's 'necessary suffering' upsets any hope of contentment.  

Paul calls it a secret because it is not obvious. It is not a surface value or experience. Indeed, for many of us it has never rooted within. The first half of life, chasing after goals with disturbing restlessness is marked by busyness and interrupted nights where sillinesses are stirred up out of all proportion seeding resentments, jealousies, and slights to ruffle the spirit and undermine any chance of peace.  How can you really know contentment in any and every situation?  

Yet the apostle says it can be learned. If we take the trouble to be taught about it we can actually grow in contentment.   Spurgeon wrote of the College of Contentment in which Paul had cultivated contentment.  It is unnatural.  Not a natural propensity for our covetousness, discontent and murmuring. That’s normal behaviour. We don’t need to learn how to complain that comes easily. But cultivating contentment requires immense care.  It's nothing less than the new nature of becoming new creation in Christ.  At the beginnings we may call Jesus as Lord but  we need to learn what it means to trust and live in the Spirit more and more.  Spurgeon emphasizes that for Paul it 'cost him some pains. No doubt he sometimes thought he had learned and then broke down. Do not indulge the notion that you can be contented without learning, or learn without discipline. It is not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually'. Only as an older man could he actually speak about learning in the past tense.

Hmmm...learning in the College of Contentment. There's a challenge. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Provocative phrases

Rohr employs some provocative phrases.  He writes of the tragic sense of life' that it is not, nor ever has been a straight line forward...Life is characterized much more by exception and disorder than by perfect order. Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time. Life seems to be a collision of opposites.  

This means that we all face situations that we cannot fix, control, change or even understand.  Such stumbling stones take us places where acquired knowledge or willpower cannot cope. Rather we need to grow beyond our resources and to surrender control. If we only attempt self-improvement in our own will-power we miss opportunities for real change in spiritual growth.

These stumbling stones are necessary suffering. by which we can grow by surrendering self-control. He describes this surrender as being 'out of the driver's seat for a while or we will never learn how to give up control to the real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. This kind of falling is what I mean by necessary suffering.

Second half-of-life wisdom comes from the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows you to see beyond your own shadow and disguise and to find who you are 'hidden with Christ in God' as Paul puts it (Col 3:3).

His conclusion says much about ageing. In the second half of life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught and led - which leads to 'choiceless choices.' These are the things you cannot not do because of what you have become, things you do not need to do because they are just not yours to do, and things you absolutely desire. Your driving motives are no longer money, success, or the approval of others. You have found your sacred dance.  

Now your only specialness is in being absolutely ordinary and even 'choiceless,' beyond the strong opinions, needs, preferences and demands of the first half of are happily participating in God's vision for you

Plenty to think about!

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Checks along the way

Early in his book Rohr emphasizes the need to check movement and direction in our lives, with two key insights: 

1) you can only see and understand the earlier stages of your life from the wider perspective of the later stages. Only when you can see past immaturities can you grow more mature!  Only by growing 'in wisdom, age and grace (Luke2:52) can you be patient and understanding of the previous stages. Mature people learn from their past. They do not create enemies and they are not either-or thinkers. As he puts it 'they bathe in the ocean of 'both-and".

2) from your own level of development you can only stretch yourself to comprehend people just a bit beyond yourself.. To sense the challenge of growing more mature by comparison.

The workbook journal asks us to reflect on our lives and ask whether we see deeper meaning in our youthful life experiences than when they were first happening. What changes do we feel called to make now that will free me up to living a larger life on behalf of the world.  I noted down details about my early stages of faith as a child, youth and student. Looking back I can see how fortunate I was in all the influences and God-incidences in my life. How much I owed God. But I also recognized how much my need for achievement and recognition was locked into even my faith journey.

Rohr's two insights remind me of a lunch when I was interim pastor of First Baptist Church, Wheaton, Illinois. An elderly couple had invited us to a meal in their home.  He and his wife were a sheer delight, showing great interest in us and our lives as newcomers to the church. Such care was shown. Only when he died a  very few years later, and at his thanksgiving service I saw the video of his own lifetime achievements, did it dawn on me.  What a gifted man with a mighty impressive portfolio!  As a missionary evangelist he had preached to thousands -a video showed him in action.  Impacting hundreds of lives he later become a denominational leader of note.  Yet, in his dealings with us (and everyone else), none of this was evident. He just shared love. His humility that had no need to parade his past set a high standard of spiritual challenge my own development. I have never forgotten that lunch. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Two halves

I was glad to see Bill's comment after my last post commending a book they profitably used on ageing. I must look it up. When it comes to books on this subject I suppose one of the best known is, Richard Rohr’s ‘Falling Upward - a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It's unusually wide in scope and not an easy read. The two halves of life was originally Carl Jung's idea. Rohr warns that the first half of life is the one that we all recognize and sadly some of us never move beyond.  It is the life when we establish our identity.  It's full of trying to make our mark, achieve what he calls a strong 'container' that is all about surviving successfully.  Our career, home, relationships, financial security are vital to who we are. But that's not all that matters.  

Rohr rightly sees that almost all of culture and even religious history has been invested in the creation of this first half of life.  And, of course, we do need to have boundaries, identity, safety and to feel special. To build ego-structures which need to be strong to contain the contents and contradictions later in life. 'You ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of your ego.'  

And, tragically, if there is no letting go the ego's need for affirmation, certitude and control we can never move into the second half of life.  His spiritual challenge is to discover our true self as we grow in our journey with God. This involves much uncertainty and things out of our control, stumbling over stumbling stones and necessary suffering as we learn who we truly are with him. It's a huge upheaval from the way we have lived earlier.  As he puts it ' a falling off of the very wagon that we constructed. No one would choose such upheaval consciously; we must somehow "fall" into it.'  It's all about learning more of God's grace - discovering what really counts to God in our weaknesses and lack of certainties as we go down in the second half before we go upward in God's love. 'Great love is always a discovery, a revelation, a wonderful surprise, a falling into 'something' much bigger and deeper that is literally beyond us and larger than us. 

There are many demanding ideas in his book. I remain challenged by his assertion that the first half of life is discovering the script and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.  I have used the companion journal to his book and need to mention a couple more things.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Yes...optimism helps


Reflecting a little more on ageing, is it true that those who write about ageing successfully are generally on the inside of the subject?  Some have breezed through their seventies (the so-called young old) and remain active in their eighties (the ‘old-old’).  They may never have suffered serious illness or, if they did, it is in the past.  Very significantly, they are active in mind.  No signs of any form of dementia.  Probably they are spared money worries and most importantly of all, they have relationships that give them pleasure - family, friends, neighbours, and church. A lively social network is widely regarded as essential for a satisfying life.  All these positives perhaps explain how they are able to write about ageing in the first place!  Writing requires a degree of determination and optimism.  

Research published in 2019 by the University of Boston connected levels of optimism with long life. The most optimistic men and women increased their lifespan by 11-15 percent.  They had 50-70 percent great odds of reaching the age of 85 compared with those in the less optimistic groups.  The study included many other factors such as chronic diseases, educational attainment, alcohol use, exercise and diet.  Research suggested that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behaviour and bounce back from stress and difficulties more easily.  The oldest man in Britain was interviewed recently and asked for his reason for his long life he attributed it to ‘being happy.’  ‘When I look at life I see things that make me happy’ he said, a big smile on his face.  Well, some of us want to say ‘Hurrah for optimists' bur what about those who have suffered serious illness, dementia and have not been spared money worries?  

I am acutely aware of those to whom life has not been kind and enter older age rather battered down, often through suffering.  What other things can be said?

Thursday, June 30, 2022


I'll get back to the subject of ageing but something odd happened a few days ago.  Carol asked me what was the matter with my left leg, pointing to something on the back of my leg, out of my sightline.'' never seen anything like it! she exclaimed. 'It's like a black growth with a black teardrop hanging down. It's really strange and ugly.'  Blissfully unawares I had for some days, showered, dressed, sat and walked while this thing determinedly hung on.

At Tesco pharmacist we asked for advice. At first she seemed loathe to examine me but, when pressed, she pronounced with surprise that I was housing a large tick which needed to be removed at once.  A tick?  Wouldn't I have felt something like that?  Apparently not.  Just over 2 hours later in our doctor's surgery a nurse wielded large tweezers to extract the tick and then jump on it several times. Apparently, NHS regulations suggest killing it by a burning cigarette - that doesn't sound appropriate in a smoke free zone! The nurse from Cameroon said she had often dealt with ticks in Africa but since coming to England I was only her fourth victim.

Then began a watch and see period.  Was the site going to expand, change shape and colour?  Was I going to show symptoms of infection such as headache, fatigue, muscle pain. I am happy to report that a friend who is an experienced nurse has now examined me and declared me free.  There is no mass underneath the bite and I have no symptoms.

The great mystery is where this particular tick has come from. Could it have begun eating me in the US on our visit there?  Or is it homegrown?  Apparently, they are on the rise in the UK.  So, this salutary tale is a warning to us all.  Beware ticks..  

Friday, June 24, 2022

Optimistic faith


In fairness, I should give more space to the book with that provocative title: The Joys of Successful Ageing. Written by a popular US pastor George Sweeting it is full of bright optimism. Though he has experienced serious illness, it is also clear that he has enjoyed a successful career and is widely admired. Optimism radiates from the first chapter 'Lighten Up'. He likes the quote: 'We don't stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing'. Humour, he writes, combats stress and helps creatively cope with life. He calls us 'to use it or lose it' and claims that people of faith tend to live longer. Because they view the physical body as God's temple, trust in God, belong to an extended church family, practice faith with prayer and can experience grace. 

Positively, he unpacks these different aspects with the OT character, Caleb, as his role model. Aged 85 when many people are well into retirement Caleb claimed he was as strong to serve as he had been at the age of 40 ( Josh 14:11).  ‘Rather than seeking security and ease, he asked for an enemy-infested mountain, so he could give it as an inheritance to his children and grandchildren. Caleb is an authentic role model for all who want to age successfully. His last years were his best…and they can be your best as well'.

He commends Caleb's secret: 'Don't be misled by circumstances or frightened by difficulties. They're not what matters. It is you attitude that counts. Caleb won the battles of life because he first won the battle of faith. That was Caleb's secret...and it can be yours.'  

It's a bright and cheerful book. I couldn't help thinking about two sentences at the beginning:  First, he says he was born with a happy disposition, a giggler who sets others off laughing.  Second, he emphasizes how authentic joy has nothing to do with disposition but comes from a spiritual relationship with God. Nothing to do? Isn't it likely that when you are born with a happy disposition, applying Christian faith positively is easier?   I must ponder some more!




Friday, June 17, 2022

Getting back into the swing.


Returning from the USA has proved long and weary. Jet lag has lagged on and on. What we could once bounce through in a day or two has taken nearly two weeks. Several have pointed out that not only has the  pandemic interrupted patterns of behaviour, but has wedged two years of misery and ageing into our lives. This certainly hasn't helped any of us. But, whatever the reason, it has been hard work getting back into the swing.

When I turned 70 (a while ago) I was given a Christian book - The Joys of Successful Ageing   It made me think.  What joys lie ahead?  Is joys the appropriate word?  And what is successful ageing?   Is ’joy’ the primary sign of successful ageing?  So that when everything takes more time, faculties dim, friends die, and life becomes more limited, is the ability to keep joyful the symptom of success ? 

For younger readers I realize these may not be urgent questions. (Though, of course, ageing is continuous and maybe there are applicable lessons for those in their forties, fifties!)  But, frankly, I didn’t think much about ageing until I was into my 70’s.  But this book title set me thinking and I need to ponder what word is most appropriate to ageing. 

So, for a post or two I though I might reflect about successful ageing. I rather like the idea.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A good hiatus

I know there's a gap in postings. Well, we have just visited our US family, for the first time in 3 years.  Having not flown since (blame Covid) it all seemed to absorb more nervous energy beforehand and some exhaustion afterwards.  But as Carol pointed out, helpfully, everything seems more difficult with age.  But it was so worth it!

  • Just being with family after a long separation.  Yes, just being.  Relaxed, sitting, talking, listening and eating.  I guess that the fact we had missed being together for 3 years intensified the experience. They have worked so hard improving their home in Warwick, NY, with 1 and half acres of grass, trees, with deer, chipmunks and flourishing flower beds. A lovely home.
  • Kindness in so many ways.  Planning for us very thoughtfully. Their checklist included visiting Carol's favourite store in their town (three times); seeing Downton Abbey together; strolling through a huge outlet stores complex where Carol spent birthday money; cheering Elliot playing trumpet in the school jazz band as it led the town's Memorial Day procession;  being amazed at Sophie's skill on her computer design programme; enjoying ice cream served by Elliot at the farm shop where he works part-time; celebrating the Platinum Jubilee with BBQ steaks, fire pit and sparklers. 
  • They planned a Grand Finale on the day before we flew home.  Rob had booked a session in a photography studio to capture us as a family group.  But, to my astonishment, he presented me with a plaque celebrating the 50th anniversary of my ordination.  Which I had to hold for some of the poses!  All slightly embarrassing but so generous and thoughtful. 
I know family reunions can vary greatly.  But I just wanted to share with thanksgiving how ours worked out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

When a local church surprises

Sunday morning we had arranged for church flowers (Carol's favourite blue and white) to mark the 50th anniversary of my ordination.  A great practice for all in church when celebrating various special events!  My honest expectation was that the minister would likely say a word in passing. It was a packed service led by our Brazilian elder and his wife, Bart and Zara, who came to us after lively leadership in Brazil.  After much singing and a testimony they began talking about us. No?? 

Zara had worked hard on an embarrassing piece about our ministry but with a good emphasis on my partnership with Carol.  Generous and totally unexpected. And then we were invited forward as the congregation applauded to receive a rose plant, a large chocolate cake surrounded by chocolate cup cakes (see a theme?) and most importantly, prayers from a couple of friends. Then afterwards we had to cut the cake together (!) on a table groaning with cakes for all. 

Carol and I joined this church when retiring 7 years ago.  We reflected how remarkable it was that the whole congregation shared in this event with such kindness and enthusiasm.  How wonderful it is when a church family acts like family.  We are truly grateful.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Just one more reflection

Forgive a further (last) post.  But, after all, 50 years doesn't come round often. My ordination was a heady time. We were expecting our first child, final Oxford exams were close, soon we would move to my first church at Blackburn but, most demanding of all, were the vows, laying on of hands and public declaration that this was it!  I was giving myself (and my family) to all the unknowns about our future life together for God's sake.  

  • Extraordinary grace - only by God's gifts of love and strength can any of the story be told. Year after year he has kept us going - through serious illnesses, church difficulties, family life and the constant demands of Christian leadership.
  • Unnerving unknowns. Thrust into all those expectations in my first church when we were also setting out in parenthood, not knowing how I/we could cope.  Praying for strength and wisdom far beyond our years.  And that continued to be the story of need throughout 50 years. 
  • Out of control.  Unusually, not one of the moves we made in ministry was sought! Always they were initiated by others....sometimes against my preference.  Blackburn approached me because a previous minister had a vision that 'I was the man'.  Next, Cambridge approached me 2 years before I said convinced was I that it wasn't for me.  Spurgeon's then approached me - the strangest call of all. Utterly beyond my radar!  Lastly, Chicago seminary approached me - a delegation whom I did not know challenged me in Dresden. We knew nothing of the situation and yet had to leave all the family and pick up fresh responsibilities in a very different culture.  Fancy having a life where you don't direct any moves!  
  • Solid partnership.  Among the recent list of 14 surprising facts about pastors ( no.4 reads: 'Our families feel the weight of our calling more than they will ever tell you.'  That's true, and none of the journey would have been possible without Carol's total commitment in co-service.  I could fill a few posts on this.
  • Prayer power.   Among friends along the way, I know we owe huge gratitude for the untold prayers of those prayer warriors who upheld us and our ministries.  We shall never know how much the God-happenings were due to their diligence and sacrifice. 

You've hardly changed..NOT

On Sunday May 21st 1972 a (Buddy Holly) bespectacled ministerial student was ordained into Baptist ministry, in Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood (where we were married in 1968).  So many rich memories of the occasion crowd in - with Barrie White the preacher and my dear Dad sharing in the laying on of hands.  Members of my first church in Blackburn travelled down to share in the service, and one of them took the photo on the front of the Induction Service leaflet and blew it up so that nobody with poor eyesight could miss it!  Tom Baldwin, one of my future deacons, was the official Blackburn town hall photographer who loved enlargements.  

Carol and I are quietly and thankfully sharing memories this weekend with a good dollop of wonderment about the 50 years since.  All with profound gratitude to God who has seen us through. I know it's asking your forbearance but I hope to post some reflections soon.


Monday, May 16, 2022

25 years on

Yesterday, one of my former Spurgeon's students - Martin Caesar - celebrated 25 years since he was ordained into ministry.  He asked me to preach again, 25 years on.  It was an exhilarating book-ending day.  For all sorts of reasons:

  • Striking continuity. Martin and his wife were just as I remembered!  So committed to each other, to serving the Lord together, with a family now grown and embedded in church leadership elsewhere.  Later he shared sad news of some contemporaries who are no longer in ministry.  But what a thrill to catch up with his own story.  Strong and committed through 25 years.
  • Signs following. His current Baptist church at Biggleswade (BBC !). Warm in friendship and buzzing with life, it was swollen by representatives of the three churches he served earlier in ministry.  Thanksgiving spilled over into every part of worship.  People genuinely wanted to celebrate his 25 years so far.  And to be together with him.   How happy to visit a church like this.
  • Humility. With genuine humility Martin spoke to me before the service about his embarrassment with the personal focus on him. But he ensured that God was at the centre of the celebration by placing communion service at the heart of our worship,  emphasizing just how he/we owe everything to the God's grace in Jesus.  Prayers with hands laid on them as both made a fresh dedication 25 years on.
  • Partnership. Ali, his wife, spoke in the service with such love and encouragement. She had collated reflections of Martin's 25 years from the three churches. What a joy to see her in action, so much part of the journey.
  • Just fun. The communal meal afterwards was some meal....especially the deserts.  Christian hospitality.
Martin began as student the same year I started as Principal. This was the very first time I saw with my own eyes how a student with so much potential, making heavy vows and commitment at his ordination, had fulfilled so many hopes for his ministry.  What encouragement all round.  And it made me think.....see next post..... 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cabbages and Music

In the last post a phrase struck me - 'the  mystery of music.'  As someone for whom music is vital, who listens to CDs (on my old Walkman) before going to sleep, these words provoke. Written by a Christian lawyer at the beginning of the twentieth century, Arthur Clutton-Buck. 

If we grow cabbages, we are necessarily in a relation of use to them.  But there are other things that we cannot understand at all if we see them only in the relation of use. If I listen to a symphony by Beethoven expecting it to give me some information of use to myself, information that will help me to increase my income or cure my indigestion, I shall not hear the music at all, and it will be to me a mere chaos of sounds. The music does not exist to give me useful information...True, to perceive it will profit me; I shall have the delight of experiencing beauty. But the paradox of the process is this, that I shall not experience the beauty if I try to experience it with an eye to my own profit....If I am to experience the music as it is, I must forget about myself and all my demands and expectations, and allow myself to fall in love with it, if I can; I must allow that relation, which is the music to happen to me.

Now according to Christ, the universe  in its nature, is not like cabbages that we grow for our own kitchens; it is like music. Its reality consists in a relation that is not a relation of use to us at all, and we must get ourselves and our own wants and demands and expectations out of the way....But, further, to be aware of that reality of the music of universe is the highest good, the highest happiness.  Then we ourselves become part of the music; we are by hearing the music constrained to make ourselves part of it; for it is a real music, irresistible in its beauty, and we cannot but dance to it when we hear it. He himself heard it and danced to it; and the beauty of his dance, of his life, of his whole state of being, has for two thousand years allured the world, even while the world would not understand the meaning of it. .


Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thankful for our senses

Being quiet in the garden also reminded me of some words by Edward King, (an English bishop at the end of the nineteenth century).

I will thank him for the pleasures given me through my senses, for the glory of the thunder, for the mystery of music, the singing of birds and the laughter of children. I will thank him for the pleasures of seeing, for the delights through colour, for the awe of the sunset, the beauty of flowers, the smile of friendship and the look of love; for the changing beauty of the clouds, for the wild roses in the hedges, for the form and beauty of birds, for the leaves on the trees in spring and autumn, for the witness of the leafless tress through the winter, teaching us that death is sleep and not destruction, for the sweetness of flowers and the scent of hay. Truly, oh Lord, the earth is full of thy riches!  And yet, how much more I will thank and praise God for the strength of my body enabling me to work, for the refreshment of sleep, for my daily bread, for the days of painless health, for the gift of my mind and the gift of my conscience, for his loving guidance of my mind ever since it first began to think, and of my heart ever since it first began to love. 

Taking time to be thankful through our senses is vital for our health and our worship.  I really need more such times!


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Garden Meditation - Creation Pizzazz

We have a small garden and I have very limited horticultural skills.  But this last week the colours, shapes and forms have exploded with blooms and blossoms crowding green leaves. Shrouding the garden shed clematis and potato vine have covered every inch with delicate pink/violet flowers and bright blue flashes.  Pansies and primroses brighten beds and hanging baskets.  Trees, bushes, birdsong, clouds, sunlight. Yesterday I sat and marvelled. And some words of Annie Dillard came to mind:

Why so many forms? Why not just one hydrogen atom? The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here?  The point of the dragonfly's terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork, for it doesn't, particularly - but that it all flows so freely wild,...that is all surges in such a free, fringed tangle. Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soul and sap; and the  creator loves pizzazz.

Terrible things are happening in our world which deserve our attention and prayer. Human cruelty seems boundless.  But moments of awareness, of sensing beauty around us, deserve our attention and praise too.  We mustn't miss the creator's pizzazz!

Saturday, April 23, 2022


Now, for something completely different. Yesterday, at Tesco's where we do our main weekly shop, we enjoyed a FREE lunch!   Completely gratis courtesy of the management. The backstory to this act of generosity covers several weeks' of solid campaigning by Carol. Six weeks ago she saw that the toilet serving the café was out of action causing inconvenience (!) for customers and especially young families.  Seeing others' distress Carol asked to see the manager and demanded action.  As she put it, nicely, 'It is illegal not to have a functioning toilet!'  The manager (also called Michael) said that repairs were in hand.  They were awaiting parts.

The next two visits found no progress on the toilet front.  The cafe manager said they had tried and tried but perhaps Carol could talk with the top store manager.  So, four weeks ago she struck up a warm relationship with top manager Darren who promised personal action. Delightful though he is, the following week found no action.  By now, Carol was known to all the café staff who greeted her as their special friend and fighter for rights.  Apparently, there was another store manager even more powerful.  Owen heard Carol's forthright plea, confessed it was the first he had heard of it and promised immediate action.  The campaign had reached the top.  Definitely, it would be sorted.  Michael promised us a free meal next time we were in.

Yesterday, Carol was greeted by exhausted staff who couldn't wait to tell her that plumbers really had been trying to repair it but still without success.  Michael said we deserved a free meal (well, Carol did) for all her fighting so far.  And so we sat down happily to egg, chips and a wrap.  Of course the saga goes on but Carol has made several new friends. Just thought I would let you know.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Widening media

These Easter eggs have really gained traction.  Hundreds of people have now seen them in the past three weeks with many stories as church members have sat on benches nearby to talk and share.  Up until last Sunday I had contented myself with some sedate posts.  I rather like the pace of blogging which suits me....a couple of short pieces every week or so with a small but faithful readership.

However, on Sunday to greet people 'Happy Easter,' I made the rare move of posting a shaky video on my facebook and to my astonishment viewings are nearing 300 with comments from friends across the world.  

Even rarer (these days) I was involved in a broadcast interview this week on Cambridge 105 radio.  Nobody else was available so I was given 7 minutes to describe how a village church could involve its children, young people and others (I was the oldest) in creating an art installation in order to tell the most important story of all.  A clip of the broadcast can be found easily.  Just google Cambridge 105 and see it on the home page (for a little while anyway).

So, exciting in many ways!   Here endeth the Easter egg saga!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 9) The best day EVER

The best conclusion to any story EVER - the Empty Tomb and the Resurrected Jesus.  These last two eggs were painted by the youngest painters.  The Empty Tomb painting had help from their teacher with the children's hand prints radiating the morning sky (in Ukraine colours - quite coincidentally)!  And some of the church young people painted the last one, looking out of the tomb onto a landscape transformed by the risen Jesus. 

This morning's service was packed out with chairs brought in. With exuberance the congregation made response to Jesus Christ is risen - He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Actually, several times during worship! Many languages were spoken by our international congregation during the service and at its conclusion the majority of us shared in a magnificent feast prepared by our international members and friends.  Such happy celebration.

I hope that you have experienced Easter joy today!  

Friday, April 15, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 8) Following the story

Though each artist worked in isolation the contrast between the Last Supper and Jesus praying in the garden proved to be stark. We move from fellowship around the table into the dark grief of Gethsemane, Jesus' arrest identified by a betraying kiss from Judas and the brutality of the Cross.  These next three eggs go to the heart of Jesus' sacrifice.

Today from 10.00 am till 2;00 pm we had open church to welcome the village to share in the Easter story with different churches sharing in the welcome, providing all kinds of activities for families (including donkey rides)!   Complementing these activities, several churches held more usual Good Friday services!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 7) Following the story

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, the picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey formed the backdrop to our service.  Tall bamboo canes and rich foliage transformed the church, and palm fronds on every chair encouraged maximum participation. 

Tonight we focus on the Last Supper.  Our minister designed this second egg, holding the famous Rublev icon in mind, with its three divine figures seated around a table.  He contemporized it, adding a chalice on the table and the washing of the disciples' feet.  Its golden colours stand out in marked contrast with what it to come.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 6) Attempting a visual

Today I found an old (very cheap) camera and tried to capture the eggs, after having been frustrated by newer technology.  Sadly, the sun failed to shine.  It makes so much difference to the impact.  But at least it should illustrate the vision that sparked my last few posts. Alas, the stand which explains each picture obscures the Empty Tomb egg.  

But I look forward to giving more detail these next few days!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 5) Making impact.

Just enjoyed a week away with our London family in sunny Minehead.  And it was surprisingly sunny compared with other UK weather!  On my return I couldn't wait to find out how the installation of the seven eggs had worked outside the church.   Apparently, really high winds had threatened and new stakes were now holding down each one.  

But the important news was that throughout the week people had stopped to look at their depiction of the Easter story and more than that...had talked with church volunteers who were strategically placed at two benches.   One friend told me how a man had walked slowly along the eggs and in conversation then asked for prayer. It seems that many other stories can be told about our visitors. Our two local newspapers have sent reporters who have interviewed our pastor and his wife about the project and taken photographs.  I expect we shall see something in print shortly.

How we long for the Easter story to make fresh impact this year.  And that's the big prayer this Easter.  In the middle of all the bad news, much of it so terrible emanating from the Ukraine (reminding us of so many other easily forgotten battlegrounds) that Jesus goes through this terrible week towards his brutal death to bring the world back to God.  Overcoming its brutality in love, forgiveness and new life in his kingdom on resurrection day.  He really does change reality for the better!

(I was hoping to post a picture of the seven eggs,  but my Android camera does not talk to my blog.  I wish I was more gifted with IT!)