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!