Saturday, July 29, 2023

Fun Regifting

We enjoyed giving lunch to a couple of friends last week who brought an attractively wrapped parcel of chocs with them.  I thought the glossy paper wrapping and ribbon bow was rather over the top.  

After the meal I unwrapped it to offer the contents around and finish off the meal in style with our coffee. A tight cellophane sleeve enveloped the chocolates in their plastic box and as I cut it, twenty-five pounds fluttered out. It had been cleverly concealed. I was truly astonished, but my surprise was nothing compared with our guests'.

Hurriedly they explained that they had been given a number of gifts as they were leaving their church and they thought they would share this one with us. The bonus gift made sense. Pocketing the money they were clearly racking their brains about who the original donor might be.

We laughed as we enjoyed the chocolates (apart, that is, from poor allergy-affected Carol).  Regifting is a great idea but this was a novel hazard.

Monday, July 24, 2023

An Enquiry

I have shared the anguish of parting with my books on a past couple of occasions and though the bulk of my books has already been given away, some outliers remain. I am grateful that my friend Ian Randall has just been able to resettle a small collection of my Baptist history and doctrine books, 

Yet, I keep finding books that were particular treasures of others who bequeathed them to me.  One is my father's facsimile copy of William Carey's: An Enquiry into the obligation of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathen.  First published in 1792, this copy with the same type setting and f's instead of s's was re-produced in 1934 to celebrate the Centenary of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). As was common, the title page which the religious state of the different nations of the world, the success of former undertakings, and the practicability of further undertakings, are considered.  It became the charter for Protestant missions and produced the BMS.

It's a remarkable read. To think this Baptist minister in Moulton, Northamptonshire, could summarize the biblical imperative of mission, describe earlier missionary movements and give a ;Survey of the present State of the World  with statistics in 22 packed pages.  He set sail for India in 1793, acting on his convictions. His stats for India beyond the Ganges was: Extent - length miles 2000, breadth miles 1,000; number of inhabitants 50,000,000; religion - Mahometans and Pagans

I love the way he concludes the book:  We are exhorted to lay up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, not thieves break through and steal.  It is also declared that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. These Scriptures teach us that the enjoyments of the life to come, bear a near relation to that which now is; a relation similar to that of the harvest and the seed. It is true all the reward is of mere grace, but it is nevertheless encouraging: what a treasure, what an harvest must await such characters as Paul, and Elliot, and Brainerd and others, who have given themselves wholly to the work of the Lord. What a heaven will it be to see the many myriads of poor heathens, of Britons amongst the rest, who by their labours have been brought to the knowledge of God. Surely a crown of rejoicing like this is worth aspiring to. Surely it is worth while to lay ourselves out with all our might, in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ.

I am glad this book is now being lodged in the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.

Monday, July 17, 2023

My opera friend

It just so happens that someone has just visited us whom I had not seen for many years which continues the music theme. In the early 90's I led daily Bible studies for the conference of European international Baptist churches, gathered in Interlaken, Switzerland.  You can imagine the delight Carol and I felt to be back in the country where we had first met (also at a Baptist conference!)  The organizers had chosen a musician to lead our worship who remains utterly bewildered that he was ever asked!  As a member of  Welsh National Opera Kelvin Thomas sang opera at heady musical heights and taught at Cardiff University.  However, he also founded a Christian choir, worked with other Christian groups and as a Baptist was known as a gifted all round musician.

The more we grew to know him the more I realized what a gem he is. Our friendship developed - one Christmas we visited his choir Cambrensis as it filled St. David's Hall and I even spoke!  When he was singing at the South Bank, London he used our home as a base.  He was the soloist for Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King - a music spectacular with a violin smashed in anger and Kelvin acting out George III at his delusional worst. (George's worst that is)! One night we attended this highly unusual piece and afterwards met Sir Peter.  I marvelled that Kelvin had one foot in this contemporary classical music and one foot in orchestrating contemporary Christian songs for Cambrensis.

As you can imagine, we had much to talk about and chuckle over as we reminisced about the past. About how our very different worlds had collided because of our togetherness in Christ. That's exactly what happens in his kingdom.

Friday, July 14, 2023

The Proms

A group of older friends mentioned that the Proms were starting today. Stories began to flow.  One friend described how for his first date with a young lady (now his wife) he bought tickets for the Proms, but his car burst into flames destroying the tickets.  Strangely, she could remember the seat and row numbers so they still turned up and after much explanation were allowed to wait to see if those seats remained empty. When they did, they claimed their first date together. 

I contributed two stories. The first was my father's cycling as a fifteen year old from the E. End of London to the Royal Albert Hall because he had never heard classical music and wanted to sample it as a promenader for 1 penny. (I think that was the current cost for standing on the main floor). The beauty of the music made him weep and that began his love for classical music which he passed on to the rest of the family. 

For my sixteenth birthday he decided I needed my own initiation into the Proms.  The Royal Albert Hall inspires visitors but especially this teenager. We were seated in one of the lower boxes. Playing that night was someone about my own age.  Jacqueline de Pre was to become famous as a world renowned cellist. Little did I know that we were present for one of her first Proms as she played Elgar's Cello Concerto. The conductor was Sir Adrian Boult, already famous, and a hush fell as soloist and orchestra prepared to play. Baton was raised and just then in the corridor behind our box a loud voice called out in conversation.  The door to our box had come open. Sir Adrian stopped and looked up at us with his baton pointing, accusing us of interruption.  Hundreds of eyes swiveled in our direction. It was excruciatingly embarrassing.  Of all the things that could happen. Why our door, and such noise at that precise moment?

The performance soon erased discomfort.  I still have an LP of her playing that concerto. It remains one of my favourites.  I was glad that group reminisce brought the memory back.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Chess Massacre

 It is always a joy to see our London grandchildren. Last weekend they visited, the two older lads now at six feet two inches and, though much smaller, the 11 year old holding his own!

At one point he brought out his travelling chess set. Apparently he belongs to an intergenerational chess club and enjoys its meetings when they learn fresh moves and then challenge each other in games. I last played in the early 70's when a neighbour in Oxford shared regular evening contests.  David and I were surprisingly equal in skill, which meant the bar was pretty low for both of us.  To put it politely we had mastered few impressive strategies and played it one move at a time with only hazy hopes for the next move.  It made for surprisingly long games with deep pauses for thought.  

I knew that playing with Milo was risky.  Not only had he triumphed before my eyes by beating his older brother in short measure but the rest of the family was obviously amused. I recognized humiliation was round the corner. As we began, I was white and moved first, I tried to be unconventional.  He admitted this slightly threw him, though he still managed to check my king in four moves.  I could wriggle out of that and, with relief, plundered some of his pieces.  However, the net was inexorably closing.  Other members of the family gathered around....they knew what was coming. Out of the blue he exclaimed CHECKMATE.  And that was that!

He explained how visualizing two or three steps ahead was really helpful and he was very gracious in victory. It was one of those delightful moments when the next generation shows what it can do.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Country lanes

In the 60's my uncle, who had worked at quite a high level for Rabone-Chesterman in Birmingham, (manufacturers of measuring equipment) felt called to the mission field. He came to live with us as he prepared for his new life, which turned out to be the Administrator for Chandragona Hospital in Bangladesh.  He wanted a toehold in property here while he served away and his search for a place coincided with the need for our family to find a new home within the area, because my father's church appointed an associate minister who was moving into the church house.

It turned out to be a glorious experience. We found a cottage in a very small village to the south of Cambridge, called Hildersham.  Called the Corner Cottage its thatch, crowning white dung and wattle walls, was picture postcard rural England. I loved my tiny room tucked under the rafters with its window looking down the hill and I reveled in the walks with our dog Snowball in the lanes and fields.  Often accompanied by my mother, these country walks were rich in sights and conversation.  Within a few weeks of meeting Carol I brought her home (on my motorcycle - another story!) and, as a born and bred Londoner  living off the South Circular, she fell in love with it too.

Why trouble you with these details? Because on Sunday I was preaching in Linton Free Church which is in the next (much) bigger village to Hildersham.  I had never been to this church before and was interviewed in the service beginning with a question about whether I had lived in Hildersham.  When I reflected (briefly) on my few years living there with my joys of being in the countryside you could see the congregation warmly agree. I know how fortunate I was and how grateful I am today for that time in my life.

The church is experiencing renewal with some wonderful stories as people come to faith and new families join in.  It was a special Sunday worship experience. All together a memorable time.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

College Reunion

Yesterday Carol and I went to the annual Jesus College Garden Party.  When you arrive you are given name cards with the year when I matriculated - 1964.  On the list of attendees I searched for others from the same vintage and found only one other name.  I remembered Andrew but had never seen him since we graduated in 1967.

In the marquee as we chose some delicate sandwiches and scones (though Carol found nothing dairy and fruit free) Carol suddenly called me from across the tables and pointed out this man next to her  He had seen her name badge and asked where I was.  It was long time no-see Andrew. He rushed up to me saying that he just had to talk with me because he had been thinking of me the previous week. Really?

Once he had chosen his food he followed me out to the lawns where seats were placed in circles of eight. I commented how little he had changed. White hair yes but so much like the fresh-faced teenager I met all those years ago.  He reminded me of the big beard I had back then.  And why had be been thinking of me?  Well, he was reading the biography of Jim Ede who bequeathed his art collection Kettle's Yard to the city. The book brought back memories of how I had introduced him to Jim in our first year, setting off his life-long love of sculpture - practicing as well as admiring. 

Jim ran a generous open house for any student who would like to see his art collection.  Just knock on the door and wait.  I couldn't believe my fortune when I heard about his work and welcome and took full advantage, benefitting from his wisdom and encouragement.  He was a joy of a man. Could I remember that I introduced Andrew to him?  Only vaguely.  But as we chatted together all the memories of him loaning us valuable paintings and even a sculpture for our college rooms and being a positive presence came flooding back.  It was exhilarating.  I guess that happens at the best kind of reunions.

Strange isn't it how old memories come to life like this.  I hope you've experienced some happy surprises thinking back