Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Diary Disaster

 For decades my pocket diary (or calendar for US friends) has accompanied my every move. Over the years I have experimented with different sizes and layouts. Occasionally I have mislaid one - but never for long. It has been an indispensable tool.  In ministry it was filled with duties right through twelve months, often with commitments in the next year's space squeezed at the back. Ever since 1987, I have had to log in the three monthly Botox injections that lay ahead to ensure none clashed with major absences. Gradually it became an indispensable guide to email addresses and passwords.  Every December I laboriously recopied them into the next diary. And always it kept personal data for my leaky memory.

The last few weeks have been frantic because my precious diary disappeared. Desperately I have searched in all the obvious places. Where did you last use it? etc. Everywhere I began hopefully. Surely, it had to be somewhere! And every time the search failed. Someone helpfully chided me for not using my phone calendar.

Eventually, I concluded that when I last saw it had to be on my desk among a heap of papers. A big untidy heap. (I hope Carol doesn't read this - she has strong views on the state of my desk. She came me a plaque PLEASE DON'T CLEAN UP MY MESS. YOU'LL CONFUSE ME AND SCREW UP MY WORLD!) Alongside my desk is a large waste bin in which there is often an untidy heap of papers too.  With a heavy heart I realized that the diary must have slipped into the waste bin as the heap occasionally avalanches. In the past multiple pens and even books have slid out of sight.  Usually I would check but woe is me...I failed this time. 

However, life has slowed down with ageing, Appointments, which in Spurgeon's could be four years ahead, are now absent. I am attempting to use my phone diary and am coming to terms with my loss as bravely as possible. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Surprise re-connections - All Greek to me 4)

 Just recently I came across a name from the past.  Prof. G.D. Kilpatrick.  Actually, it jolted me back to my student days in Oxford.  For our university exams, just one set at the end of three years, we were allowed to specialize in one paper. Though an extremely disappointing student of French and German I really enjoyed one particular dead language -New Testament Greek.  I won a university prize for translation which encouraged me to opt for the specialist final examination of NT textual criticism.  This involved studying the various textual possibilities that are sometimes found in old manuscripts and occasionally noted at the foot of our Bible translations.  I was fascinated to find out more.

Unfortunately only two other students joined me in preparing for the exam.  The four of us would meet around a large table in the professor's room as he gave us exercises to work on.. Dr. Kilpatrick was a leading Bible translator with an international reputation, yet he treated us as fellow translators.  I tell you, I had to concentrate in that room! It was all Greek because it was assumed we would automatically translate. The different symbols for important codex manuscripts needed mastering with an awareness of their dating.  It was pretty overwhelming as was the final exam, taken in sweltering heat as I wore my gown (a statutory requirement). The three of us were scattered across the room, heads bent and (in my case) attempts to subdue panic.

And the surprise re-connection? While on sabbatical in Cambridge, the Dean of the vast South Western Seminary for Baptists in Texas attended my church.  One day he asked me whether I would like to accompany him to Oxford because he had been asked by his Seminary to examine an impressive library of books and manuscripts with a view to purchase.  Would they be worth the thousands of dollars asked? And yes, it was the very same room we entered. It was one of those very strange experiences of being catapulted into a space you never thought you would see again.

I am not sure whether the seminary did purchase the collection. I think others were interested!  But how's that for an odd re-connection?

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Surprise re-connections - Spurgeon's 3)

 About the same time that I saw Carol for the first time, a friend who I met in my first year at University, invited me home. Paul told me that his father was Principal of a Baptist College. Of course, I had heard of Spurgeon's but it was in fresh territory in South Norwood.

I set off on my Honda C90, which was my first  low-powered motorcycle (later to be replaced by more powerful steeds!). Unfortunately it put-putted as far as Tower Bridge but as I was crossing the Thames into South London it gave up.  I began pushing it out of the traffic. Its spark plug no longer sparked.  I carried emery paper to pep up the plug, for my limited student resources meant I had no spare. I replaced the plug but it kept misfiring allowing only painfully slow progress. At the end I had to push it up S. Norwood Hill, and up the driveway into Spurgeon's. Much later than I hoped I plopped the bike by the  columned entrance to this large house.  I could see extensive grounds beyond and admit I was mighty impressed.

Paul greeted me and took me up the grand staircase, along the corridor opposite a large stained glass window into the Principal's apartment, which occupied the corner of the big house. We entered the lounge with high ceilings and windows overlooking the grounds.  I met his mother and was told his father would be in later. When he did appear much later, he greeted me graciously before throwing himself on the sofa and putting on a vinyl record of Liszt/s Piano Concerto No 1. The image of him in that room with this vibrant loud music has stayed with me ever since. In fact I used it to begin his memorial lecture many years later.

Many of you will know where I am going with this story.  In one of God's twists and turns of my journey, in 1993 I found myself becoming Principal of Spurgeon's!  Going back to this place remains one of the greatest surprises of my life. By now that room where I had heard the Liszt had become my study. My re-connection seems unbelievable still. I treasure this story - it humbles me and speaks of  God's extraordinarily mysterious ways of working.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Surprise re-connections - Romance 2)

 A couple of weeks ago we were with a group when conversation turned to telling stories about how we had first  met up as couples. When it came my turn I told how in 1965 a group of us in Cambridge who belonged to the Baptist Student Federation went to a mission conference in SE London.  Based at Chatsworth Way Baptist Church, West Norwood, it took me into new territory.  The old church building had been bombed in the war and a magnificent building erected in its place with a suite of buildings behind where we were billeted.  

Students came from all over the country. When our group arrived we were welcomed and put in charge of the most glamorous girl I had ever seen in a Baptist Church.  With artful make-up. mini-skirt, gorgeous smile and sparkling personality she shepherded us on a tour of the church.  Our group, mostly men, were captivated.  In the gallery looking down on the pulpit which modelled the arm of God with the preacher cradled in his hand, I espied a glass which seemed oddly shaped.  I asked her whether it was an ashtray or spittoon and received a withering look. Really withering.  At our first conference meal she was serving another table with a tall, handsome man and it became very clear that they were a serious item.

Move on two years, in 1967, I had just begun an experimental job at the Baptist HQ in Holborn. Almost immediately my boss fell ill and I was summonsed to lead a student group to an international conference in Switzerland.  The 6 British delegates met me on Victoria Station.  Who should arrive to join the group but this same gorgeous girl?  Oh, yes!  Much had changed in her life. She had finished her serious relationship and, very sadly, her mother had just died.  Friends had cajoled her to attend this conference with Chatsworth Way BC supporting her financially.  I'm pretty sure my chairmanship of the conference was distracted.  Needless to say that shortly after returning to the UK we were a serious item.

Next year we were married. Where?  Chatsworth Way of course. We lived in W. Norwood close to the church and our reception helped by the church was in the same hall of the BSF conference. This was the church where I received God's call to preach and from where I was sent into ministry.  Now that rates as one of the best surprise re-connections!

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Surprise re-connections - Toronto 1)

When I posted about my old friend Noel recently, I mentioned how I first saw him at the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Toronto, 1980. And how I had been selected as a younger minister to represent the UK. When I returned from that visit, I made a couple of reports, one formal to my sponsors and another informal with slides.  When I recently found the latter in my files I read, with amusement, my account of the Sunday evening visit to a church. Members of my Cambridge Church had recently been to Toronto and they had given me a leaflet about a church they had visited - Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.  

It was on Yonge Street which I found was only half a mile away from my hotel. I decided to walk and gave myself an hour. Only the next day did I discover that Yonge Street is the longest street in Canada. I had at least three miles to walk.  A banner welcomed the Congress and particularly its women attendees for their special service that evening.  I went in gingerly and seeing the rows of hats, sat down feeling lost, only to be slapped on the back by the General Secretary of the Union, David Russell, who was supporting his wife and welcomed me to join them in their pew. 

The church building has (for a Baptist church) remarkable cathedral type architecture. Indeed, I was told it was the Baptist cathedral church of Canada.  With choir stalls and robed choir, powerful organ, sweeping aisles, high ceiling it was packed with 2000 plus.  I understood why my church members had recommended visiting it.

Afterwards we all moved onto the spacious lawns alongside the church for lemonade and cookies and was warmly greeted as an unusual younger man (I think the youngest present) who had chosen to be there!

And the CONNECTION - When I wrote that report I had no idea that in 1983 I would receive an invitation to be this church's guest preacher during a month in Summer. I never dreamed that I would be in Toronto again. With Carol and the boys we began a relationship that continued through the years with many visits to preach, and to give their annual preaching lecture.  Looking back at that report it is startling to realize how dear this place, this people, this lemonade on the lawn (the standard refreshment) would become to me through the years.  Who could have known.  Well, God did, who wove it into my story!