Thursday, August 31, 2023

About Noel 2)

When I wrote yesterday's post I had no idea how much joy it would give me. I hadn't really thought about the circumstances of how I became friends with Noel for years. Maybe never.  Not properly. Now I see more clearly that it was one of those wonderful moments when God gifted me in quite a remarkable way.  I hope that you can look back to the beginning of some friendship which became a vital part of your life.

Immediately we met, Noel and I clicked.  Of course I was intrigued by this significant BWA figure on my doorstep but none of that mattered.  His biography speaks of his humility and goodness.  I love that definition of a Christian: 'Someone with whom it is easy to be good."  Even though he was 24 years older, was Western Australian through and through, he became a close friend to the whole family.  Our teenage boys loved him and so, eventually, did their wives. While he studied for a term in Cambridge his wife, Heather was studying in Paris. This gifted couple had begun lives as Baptist pastor and wife, with pastoral  experiences I could easily identify with. 

In 1959 he was appointed as the Founding Principal of the proposed Baptist Theological College of W. Australia and the adventure of building a college from scratch began in 1963.  By the time I met him, his role and influence was well established but, honestly, he wore these credentials with such modesty they were invisible.  All we saw was a loving man of God who was willing to share love with us.  And I know this may sound over the top but he remained a dear friend in our story right up until his death in 2016.

That following Christmas, 1980, I sent him our annual letter which playfully summarized some of our family happenings through another year.  He wrote in appreciation and said how every year he invited a group of neighbours after Christmas to share in breakfast. Though some were not believers he wanted to give thanks for the season with them.  Hospitality and evangelism were two of his big themes.  However, he began a tradition which continued the next three decades of reading aloud our Christmas letter! 

It's impossible to do justice to the difference Noel made to my subsequent life and ministry but I must write at least another post.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

About Noel 1)

In my last post I mentioned Noel Vose who became a great friend and mentor.  His story in my life is entangled with several happenings. In 1980 the Baptist Union Council selected four 'young ministers' to be delegates to the Baptist World Congress meetings in Toronto, 1980. 20,000 delegates, representing 30 million Baptists from across the world held their main meetings in the Maple Leaf Gardens, home to the famous hockey team. As my first experience of the BWA it was utterly overwhelming.

Delegates stayed in hotels throughout the city, and each day began with prayer in the hotel with fellow guests.  On my own, I quickly made friendships, some of which lasted for years.  Each day, we then travelled to the Maple Leaf Gardens for morning Bible Study, after which sessions detailed the wide ranging work of the BWA departments and commissions.  I was involved with the Commission on Doctrine which met later in the afternoons and was to turn out to be a significant dimension of future ministry in writing and ecumenical dialogue. Of course, at the beginning I had no idea of what lay ahead.

In the evenings there were major worship and preaching sessions with a wide range of speakers.  At one of them an Australian preached.  I was sitting far away in the stalls with thousands around me.  A large screen showed gave his headshot so I had some idea what he looked like.  I remember vividly how he illustrated sin by the way delegates continued to take flash photos even though they had been instructed not to!  Though there was a noticeable drop in the number of flashes still they happened. 'You see, you just cannot stop doing it" he challenged.  He said much else of substance.  I noted his name Noel Vose in my bulky congress notes.

A few months later, back in St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, I was leading our evening Sunday service. It was a dark, miserable evening. Congregations in the morning service were small but in the evenings only a smattering of people met in the building holding 900. I know some people felt its death was nigh. At the very back a solitary stranger appeared. When the service was over I shook his hand and realized that a few weeks earlier I had witnessed him at a distance in the Maple Leaf Gardens.  Noel was studying at Tyndale House and thought he would try a local church.   

I couldn't believe it. Neither could he!  We arranged to give him a meal that week and quite extraordinarily we began such a warm, deep friendship that from that point on he became one of those special people that the Lord gives us.  He was truly the best kind of gift God could give.  I have often wondered how he might have gone to another church on that dismal night.  But no.  God was in it!

Friday, August 25, 2023

Farewell to George H. Morrison

I know....who is George Morrison?  In the sad task of saying good-bye to the last of my preaching books I want to show respect to some past great names before their collected books go. I admit I knew nothing of this Scottish preacher until my friend and mentor Noel Vose was visiting us.  Noel deserves many posts himself for if I am remembering old friends he deserves to be up the front.  However, not to sidetrack, Noel on one of his visits from Australia accompanied me to a used book shop where retired clerics had dumped their books.  Often piled up haphazardly at bargain prices (but who would want most of them?) Noel espied an old volume of George Morrison's sermons.  I confessed I had never heard of him.

Noel bought it, plus one or two others, and said I needed to familiarize myself with him. He lived 1866 to 1928. Early on he became assistant editor on the New English Dictionary at Oxford which drilled into him the power of words and on completing his Divinity course at Glasgow University he became assistant to the famous minister Alexander Whyte, whose lifestyle and ministry greatly impacted him.

He served churches in Thurso and Dundee before his most significant ministry at Wellington Church, Glasgow from 1902 until his sudden death in 1928.  Several issues hit me in his biography.

  • He completely devoted himself to his churches and their communities. Nothing mattered more than caring for the sheep and preparing sermons, ever asking the question: 'What is there for my people to live on?'  Rigorous in his study he visited every afternoon for several hours and kept an accurate record of every visit he paid. The last year he lived he paid 1200 calls of his nearly 2000 members. He said that the secret of a happy ministry was to be constantly moving among the homes or our people.
  • He was not strong and suffered serious illnesses. One of his friends said "illness and loss have been mighty factors in the shaping of George Morrison...the cruel fellowship of pain and sorrow had given him great thoughts of God and Christ.'
  • His modesty. Though he became famous through his preaching and writing he 'retained the modest spirit that will learn from the humblest friend, and never forgets anything of any value that may be dropped by the poorest talker. In private life the same gentle and generous man speaks to you as speaks to you from the pulpit, and in the quiet kindness of friendship though you never feel you deserve that.
This gifted hard-working man who devoted himself to the local church took preaching seriously. Every day he read a sermon from a wide range of preachers for the good of his soul and when it came to his own sermons he gave his very best with a simplicity of language (though dated to our ears), a sincerity, and uncomplicated style.  

I think Noel wanted me to know him because his life speaks of many qualities that I so admire.  Not one of the big names but worth knowing.  The few books I say farewell to will not appeal to many of today's readers but I am grateful to have had them on my shelf.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A couple of personal bits

Friends have asked me about a couple of things, still hanging.  Has my son's book, which dominated much of 2013, progressed or not?  And is my brain upset sorted?

The book, with much huffing and puffing met the deadline at the end of June.  Itself a minor miracle. It then bounced back as 8,000 words too long!  The publisher demanded a culling within the following couple of weeks.  In anguish, Rob managed to cut parts, some of which he says were the best bits.  In each chapter he included two live examples drawn from the audio world, Intended to be highlighted in boxes, they sprinkled some magic dust. Actually, some of them were very good stories.  But the culling meant half had to be cut. Such is the writer's lot when they miscalculate length.

Anyway, he heard last week that the cuts were accepted and now the process of editing etc. whirrs into action with publication planned for early next year.  This is quite wonderful.  Readers of some of my earlier posts will have detected my doubts and weariness in ever meeting the deadline. So this is one bit of personal news that genuinely thrills me. 

And about my brain. Today, my neurological consultant ordered some specialist blood tests for detecting brain flow and is changing my injection routine in hopes of minimizing more dramatic head happenings.  I saw her with my left arm swathed in bandages from a fall on Sunday which owed everything to tripping over a folding chair rather than renewed brain trouble.  But I don't think she was too reassured about my general state.  However, I remain positive. There's so much to be grateful for.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

A serious Thursday

My mother suffered a near fatal cerebral haemorrhage in her thirties and then suffered massive brain damage causing her early death at 57 years. I remember her telling me that I should beware a sudden severely piercing headache with peculiar sensations in my skull.  Her grave words struck me on Thursday.

After a quiet breakfast I was hit by violent head pain which travelled up inside my skull.  I had never experienced such a walloping before. At first I hoped that paracetemol and some quiet rest would blunt its sharpness. When it wound up instead of winding down, I shared my problem with Carol (resting upstairs) who called 111 where Kelly listened attentively to my symptoms. I was told to wait for a clinician to call and shortly after Dr. Patel listened to me, drew the conclusion I might have a brain bleed and said he was requesting an emergency ambulance. 

Within 10 minutes the ambulance was with me. The paramedic greeted me with the words: 'We thought you were dead!' I felt I was a disappointment but nevertheless she agreed I needed a hospital scan immediately. Carol sat with me in the ambulance and accompanied me as I was examined, taken for a CAT scan and then waited for the outcome.  Carol had asked our church payer chain to whirl into action which it did mightily. We both said how much we felt supported by prayer. 

The consultant hadn't yet seen my scan when he interviewed me.  Having rehearsed my drama once more he left to examine the scan.  You can imagine the utter relief when he returned and announced there was no sign of a brain bleed.  Wonderful!  But what caused the pain?  He reckons that maybe my dystonia (a form of Parkinson's disease) is misbehaving.  So, more patience is needed and who knows whether we shall ever know. Except that God's does know!  A happening like this reminds me of my vulnerability, my need to praise God for the gift of each and every day, and his gift of faith so that I can trust every day too.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Unwitting gifting

The last post jogged my memory. I was 9 or 10 living in Gloucester and passionate about camping. I had read a book with idyllic pictures of camping life and had set my heart on having my own ridge tent. With concentration, scraping every penny from pocket money and birthday money, the day eventually arrived when I had enough to buy a 6 foot by 6 foot by 6 foot canvas tent.  It was the basic model. No ground sheet nor waterproofing. But proudly I erected it in the back garden and slept on the back lawn that night. 

I needed to add vital extras, sleeping bags, stove, utensils etc. which took more effort over many months. But first on the list was the need for a ground sheet.  Again, I saved enough money to buy it and proudly bore it home in its plastic bag.

At the same time, my father's church was hosting a massive refugee appeal which went across the city, resulting in piles of donations in our main hall. The organizer spoke powerfully at its launch and its impact involved tens of volunteers.  I remember the excitement caught us all up.  And somehow my brand new, wrapped ground sheet was caught up in the donations.  I need to make it clear to you that this was not my intention.  I was shocked to the core. 

On the final Sunday, the organizer spoke about the boy who had given up his new groundsheet for the sake of the refugees.  How this was such an appropriate donation!  Fortunately, I was not identified! It's all a bit hazy but I guess the deed couldn't be undone so I swallowed my disappointment.  It was strange to be seen as an example of generosity when I had failed to be generous and rather resented what had happened.  But I tried to be positive.  Looking back I realize that I gave him a great preacher's story which would touch peoples' hearts.  And I truly hope it was useful to a refugee family somewhere.

How odd to have that memory jogged!