Tuesday, 30 December 2008

An Excellent Christmas!

It was an excellent Christmas for presents, and these are some that I will enjoy for a long time:

'As steals the morn ...', Handel arias and scenes for tenor, with Mark Padmore and The English Concert - exquisite!

Beethoven Violin Concerto, with Lisa Batiashvili - the rave reviews are justified - sensational!

Alex Ross's book, 'The Rest is Noise, Listening to the Twentieth Century', which recently won The Guardian First Book Award. Bjork describes it as 'an incredibly nourishing book' and having read a quarter of the 600 pages I'm finding it riveting. Ross manages to combine an immense knowledge of the subject with a highly accessible and entertaining style, as he trawls through the last century exploring the different paths of music in their historical and cultural context. 

I'm still waiting for some jazz, Abdullah Ibrahim, Senzo, to be delivered, so there's more to come!

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Presentation of Jesus - Rembrandt, Levertov and John Coltrane

This morning I read Luke 2. 22-35, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I find this a most moving episode, with Simeon's Nunc Dimittis, followed immediately by the warning to Mary. 

Rembrandt captures something special in his picture of a seriously old Simeon, who has the appearance of failing eyesight, and yet sees with eyes of another kind.

Denise Levertov does something similar in the brevity of her poem, Candlemas:

With certitude
Simeon opened
ancient arms
to infant light.
before the cross, the tomb
and the new life,
he knew
new life.
What depth
of faith he drew on,
turning illumined
towards deep night.

And then Maggi Dawn, in her book Beginnings and Endings, captures something else in her wonderful John Coltrane story. She recounts the words of Simeon:
'"Now, Lord," he said, "I can die happy. Now I've seen the thing I've been waiting for all my life. I've done what I came here for. I am fulfilled. Nunc dimittis: now you can let me go."

John Coltrane, the jazz saxophonist, is famous all over the world for his beautiful music. The interesting thing about jazz is that, more than any other kind of music, every performance is unique. One night, Coltrane performed "A Love Supreme", one of his most famous pieces, and as he played, every last ounce of his skill and musicianship seemed to come together in an absolutely magical performance. Just that one time, he was even better than the best. Everything about that performance was sublime, and when he'd finished, as he walked offstage, his drummer heard him breathe two words: "Nunc dimittis". It was a unique moment of glory and Coltrane himself recognised that there was something beyond accolades going on. Somehow he had touched heaven and he knew that he had done what he came for. The glory of God is revealed in those magic moments when we are touched by something beyond human achievement, when we see the presence of God break into the ordinary and there is a sense that life has been fulfilled. Heaven and earth collide.'

Thursday, 25 December 2008

A Joyful Christmas!

A favourite Christmas prayer:

Today, O God, 
the soles of your feet
have touched the earth.
the back street, the forgotten place
have been lit up with significance.
the households of earth
welcome the King of heaven.
For you have come among us,
you are one of us.
So may our songs rise to surround your throne
as our knees bend to salute your cradle.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Festival of Lessons and Carols at St Albans

On Monday evening, we went as a family to St Alban's Cathedral for the Festival of Lessons and Carols. Interestingly, I'd just read nah then, which was sort of appreciative of this sort of thing, but asked the question, is it really an act of worship? 

For me, this event is a high point in the journey towards Christmas. The overall impact is so very different from what we as Baptists do, even accepting our diversity. We don't do buildings that are huge and seriously old. We don't do robed choirs made up predominantly of boys. We don't do ceremonial clerical dress and carefully choreographed movements, nor do we use such a structured liturgy which is followed to the letter. We do candles in some of our churches, but not in the number or with the same effect. We do organs, though far less frequently these days, and overall not very well.

Last night, all of this was done spectacularly. The readings, eight of them, were constructed around John chapter one. We sang seven carols. As the bell struck at eight o'clock, and the cathedral was plunged into darkness save for candlelight, the choir sang from a far distance as they progressed in, a gorgeous arrangement of 'Silent night'.  They also sang a new work by Simon Johnson, 'O Magnum Mysterium', and pieces by Herbert Howells, John Taverner, and Poulenc, all superbly. And we prayed. It was undoubtedly performance, and our participation added something to the performance. So, to answer Glen's question, was it worship? 

Certainly it wasn't like any worship experience I've had in a Baptist church. For me, it was an occasion which impacted my senses with overwhelming beauty (to my way of perceiving) and reinforced something of the mystery of the incarnation. In the process I encountered God. And I think it did the same sort of thing for the rest of the family although they might not express it that way. 

Would I want to do this every Sunday? No.  

If I was to be critical of our way of doing Christmas, often we don't let the story speak for itself, and stifle it with our preaching. And in our preaching we don't engage seriously with the incarnation and use Christmas as a stepping stone to get to the cross as quickly as possible - I heard yesterday of a worship leader berating the congregation for having their eyes on the cradle rather than the cross.

We ourselves have our own way of performance which includes our preaching, but also increasingly our worship style.

And generally we don't do mystery. We tend more to be pragmatists who have it sorted.

But then, we certainly do the participative which can be 'richly human and genuinely worshipful', and Glen's experience shows us in relationship at our best, doing church rather than church being done to us. And that's in part why I am what I am, and why I wouldn't want the glorious experience of Monday evening all the time.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Late yesterday, we decided to go to The Stables to hear Koshka. It was a bit of a gamble; two violins and guitar playing Russian gypsy music certainly isn't my default setting for music. However, earlier in the year we had pushed beyond our comfort zone when, on the strength of reviews, went to hear Moishe's Bagel. This was described as 'rip-roaring, foot-stomping, jazz-inflected klezmer and Balkan music' and our experience proved to be one of the highlights of the year.

So, were we disappointed? No!

BBC Scotland sum them up, 'The charming Lev Atlas, fiery Oleg Ponomarev and Nigel Clarke are all virtuosi; the violins agile and by turns soaring and brooding, the guitar astoundingly fluent with a plectrum on nylon strings. Gypsy jazz, achingly beautiful Russian airs, cafe-style music, and some pieces in homage to the Hot Club style of Grapelli and Reinhardt. In the wrong hands, playing like that can degenerate into a flash showcase for virtuosity,but all three have their hearts in the music, and while their copious abilities are necessary to play their material, they never overshadow the communication.' 

What was captivating about the evening was the variety that they managed to engender. This could have been seriously monotonous. But masterfully they kept you with them with changes of musical style, seasonal stories, and humour, so that at the end of the evening they received one of the best receptions I've witnessed at The Stables, giving two encores. This was also largely due to the interplay of entirely different personalities. Lev, is a superb, obviously classically trained violin virtuoso, currently the principal viola in the Orchestra of Scottish Opera - a clean-cut, 'nice' guy. Oleg is an equally superb violin virtuoso, but with far more of a folk/jazz emphasis, delivered with charismatic flare - he cuts more of a romantic, Byronic character. And the guitarist, Nigel, is the glue, but so much more. Each was integral, but together they provided a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.  

It was an enriching, enjoyable and highly unusual seasonal experience and if you live in Manchester, Stirling, or Otley, you still have a chance to hear them.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Annunciation - He Qi, The Godbearing Life, and Denise Levertov

I'm preparing to preach on the Annunciation, and I've been looking at paintings, dipping into a much-loved book, and reading poetry!  

I'm really taken with this artist He Qi whom I first came across through the cover picture of the Regent's Study Guide, Attention to Christ: Reflections on Baptist Spirituality.  And then, upon entering the chapel at Regent's, I encountered a number of his prints adorning the walls.  Check out the He Qi Gallery

An inspiring book which has informed my thinking, is, Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry.  The authors have some profound things to say about pastoral ministry as Godbearing, taking Mary, the Theotokos, Godbearer, as a model.

A favourite poet is Denise Levertov, and in her poem, Annunciation, she concludes:
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail, 
only asked
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel's reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power - in narrow flesh,
the sum of light. 
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love - 

but who was God.

I'm not sure how much of this will be explicit in what I say, but my soul has been nourished in the process!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

How music instructs Advent

I've blogged today at Hopeful Imagination. If you're particularly interested in how music and theology can interact, especially at Advent, you might find this interesting. 

And if this pointer counts as a blog, it's my hundredth! I feel quite chuffed!!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

An adventurous Advent

I love Advent!  And I really miss being a minister in a local church at this season of the year. So, I ensure that Advent practices continue to happen. 

When I was at theological college, the Principal, Paul Beasley-Murray, fired my imagination with his practice of Advent Teas and so, since before our sons were born, we've made Sunday tea (or dinner if it's in the evening) special during Advent by lighting candles and remembering the particular focus of that Sunday in Advent with a simple liturgy.  We have a bright red Swedish Advent candle holder which holds four candles in a line, and this together with Advent music playing quietly adds to what has now become a well-established and much-loved tradition.

The music we listen to consists of a number of versions of 'O come, O come Immanuel', including a fairly straight version, one by the King's Singers, and one that comes from what was called 'The Late, Late Service' and is best described as 'alternative'. 'Wait for the Lord' from Taize, is on the play list, as is Bernadette Farrell's Litany of the Word, which we sang every first Sunday in Advent for fourteen years in churches where I served! 

During the season I also listen to James Mac Millan's Veni, veni, Emmanuel which though not to the taste of the rest of the family is a brilliant concerto for percussion and orchestra, written for Evelyn Glennie.

Poems are another dimension of Advent. Denise Levertov features, as does Luci Shaw.  For other reading, I enjoy journeying with a particular author and last year Maggi Dawn's Beginnings and Endings was a gift. This year I have David Coffey's Joy to the World, and Stephen Cottrell's Do Nothing Christmas is Coming - An Advent Calendar with a Difference. I've also got Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan's, The First Christmas, What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus' Birth.

Two years ago we attended the Advent Carol Service at St Alban's Abbey which was fantastic and definitely to be repeated, commitments permitting. There is something about the liturgy of this season which draws me.  This morning I used this prayer, and with it was the sense that Advent had begun:
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all, 
to you be praise and glory for ever. 
In your tender compassion the dawn from on high is breaking upon us 
to dispel the lingering shadows of night.
As we look for your coming among us this day, 
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will, 
that the world may rejoice and give you praise. 

'Happy Advent' doesn't sound quite right. I like the suggestion, 'An adventurous Advent'!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Welcome to Gathered and Scattered

Welcome to Craig at Gathered and Scattered. I met Craig only last week at Baptist Union Council, but I'd read his Whitley Lecture, 'How can we sing the Lord's Song? - worship in and out of the church' and found it riveting, not in small part to the fact that he engages with theology through music. I greatly look forward to his posts. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

A new and unlikely experience

I had a wonderful weekend including one totally new and unlikely experience!

Saturday afternoon was the ordination of Mary Moody at Bovingdon. On these occasions space is given to 'tell the story' and Mary's story of her call to pastoral ministry was inspiring, not in some spectacular way but simply in how things fitted together with that sense of right-ness and God. It was particularly encouraging to see a number of other ministers there supporting her, and there was some lively conversation over tea and cake.

Sunday morning I was at Stotfold Baptist Church which was another good occasion. It seems to me that while many of our churches describe themselves as charismatic, what this in fact means is that they do worship alla Spring Harvest. Stotfold really is charismatic, and it was refreshing as well as a great ambiance in which to preach. This is a church which is big-hearted, and one way that this is expressed is in helping struggling churches to get on their feet and to flourish. On Sunday afternoon, Sandy Baptist Church was inducting its minister in training, following Stotfold's recent involvement.

And then Sunday evening and a new experience. I was due to preach at an Ecumenical Confirmation Service in Milton Keynes which I was looking forward to, even though it was '10-12 minutes' (I confess to exercising a little license!). But then, unfortunately, Mary Cotes, the Ecumenical Moderator, was unwell and so I was asked to take her place as one of the Milton Keynes Mission Partnership Presidents. And I did. This involved leading the service, and after four baptisms, two by immersion and two by sprinkling, I confirmed twenty-two candidates. It was a significant occasion and a moving one, and although I don't expect to make a habit of it, a great privilege.

Before the service, the person responsible for the practicalities of filling the baptistry came to me and enquired, 'Are there any normal baptisms as well?' He wasn't to know why I found his question so amusing, but after explaining that I was a Baptist he saw the funny side of it as well.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

6 Random Facts Meme

I've been tagged for 6 Random Facts Meme by Julie.
The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
I'm going to be a bit boring and not tag anyone else.  Partly because I don't know anyone left who hasn't been tagged, and secondly because time's too short at the moment!

So, my six:
1.  I was ordained wearing a Giorgio Armani 100% virgin wool suit that cost £65 from a dress agency in Lincoln and on very good authority belonged to Jonathan Ross.  It had only been worn once or twice and all of the pockets were still stitched.  It looked brilliant.
2.  I made my solo debut as a musician playing 'Stranger on the Shore' on the clarinet.  Having mastered the instrument, or so I thought, I moved to the bassoon.  Stranger on the Shore would still be a Desert Island Disc.
3.  I passed Grade V music theory on the third attempt.
4.  I have a growing collection of snails, not real ones, as a result of a conversation with my good friend Ruth Layzell about four years ago.
5.  I've cut through cables of two electric gardening tools, neither of which belonged to me.
6.  I once ran three marathons in 12 months - this accounts for why I'm unable to run at all.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


A couple of months ago, Richard posted a blog on the difficulty of using ‘the Grace’, or other spoken-together but unwritten words which are familiar to the congregation, but not to the visitor.

He went on to speak about the helpfulness of using a Benediction, or Blessing, spoken from the front. He mentioned biblical benedictions: the end of Jude, Ephesians 3, 2 Thessalonians. And in a later blog he included this benediction from Brian McLaren:

‘May the Spirit of Christ empower you to love and serve your neighbours, welcoming them into your lives and homes and schedules and hearts, so that through belonging they may discover the joys of believing and becoming. You are more ready for this than you realize. Go in God’s grace and peace!’

Benedictions are important to me.  There is something about a benediction or blessing which marks not just the end of the service but a moment of deep significance as ‘the service ends and the worship begins’. For me the benediction is one of those special moments in a service.

From my experience of conducting the inductions of new ministers, although the service is led by others, normally the newly inducted minister concludes the occasion by pronouncing a blessing – it’s his or her first action as the minister of that church. 

When we say a blessing we speak good and holy words over people. And there’s something about that which is powerful. We have the privilege of saying words through which we expect God, whose business is blessing, to do something, admittedly something mysterious and intangible, but something all the same. And so we become a part of the action of God, and through words spoken release God’s grace into people’s lives.

I collect benedictions, not in the obsessive way that I do other things. But I do sort of pick them up.  I particularly like the Northumbria Community blessing, ‘May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you …’ And there are some gems from the Iona Community. But unoriginally, my favourite benediction remains Numbers 6, made more special because of the use at ordinations and inductions and other significant occasions where they don’t necessarily come at the end of a service, but can mark a moment of special grace within the service. 

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Fell running makes the news

I was amazed that fell running not only made the headlines at the weekend but remained there for 24 hours. In the careful statements issued by the police and mountain rescue, clearly they advised against going ahead with the Original Mountain Marathon event and in retrospect they were right. But I'm not surprised that it took place. Fell runners are a strange breed.

There was a time when I had aspirations to be a fell runner, and I ran in three fell races. Looking back they were amazing experiences, although time is a great healer and I also recall them as gruelling in the extreme. If it was a road race I was normally two-thirds down the field, but in a fell race I came close to coming last, certainly in two of the events. It was made worse by the fact that I wore my club running vest with Stilton Striders on it! Obviously we were not a fell running club, unlike the White Peak or the Dark Peak clubs.

What was good about it? A very relaxed approach to the race. 'Off you go' were the words that began one race. This was preceded by, 'Run to end of field, turn right, cross river [there was no bridge], go up hill ...'. There were marshalls, of sorts. Once you'd got to the top of the hill which always seemed considerable, running along a ridge was absolutely fantastic. Another thing that was good was finishing, when the endorphins kicked in with a mega-hit. Also, the camaraderie over tea and cakes in the village hall, with people thanking us lads for coming over.

What was bad about it? Running up the hill, or rather feebly attempting to do so. And even worse, running down for which you need a peculiar mentality which seems to have no care for personal safety. I was pathetic and one competitor described me as mince-ing down the hill. [For 'hill' ordinary people would speak of 'mountain'.]

Fell runners really are a different breed. Read their training programmes and by comparison marathon runners appear as wimps. But read the Fell Runners Association magazine, to which I subscribed for a while, and you will encounter elegiac poems penned by those musing on their experience on the hills. There are legends like Joss Naylor, a Wasdale sheep farmer, who in 1975 bagged 72 Lakeland peaks in 24 hours. The record was broken in '97 by Mark Hartell who bagged 77. There are gripping stories of unbelievable feats of human endurance.

This is most definitely a thing of the past for me. But I continue to enjoy fell running vicariously as I chat to my mate Simon, with whom I ran my first fell race. He's gone on to run several mountain marathons and has some great stories to tell. It was a genuine relief to discover that Simon wasn't in the Lake District at the weekend, and that this was one story he won't be telling.  

Friday, 24 October 2008

Theology through music

Thursday was a very stimulating day leading a quiet day for Workplace Ministry, an ecumenical team of ministers offering chaplaincy wherever people work.  We created some rhythm to the day with the Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer of the Northumbria Community.  And in between we did some theology through music, so it wasn't a typical quiet day, although the music provided space and there were moments when the music had the effect of creating a quiet, if not a silence.

I reflected on the reality that 'so much music seems rife with rumours of God'.  And then went on to explore a spirituality of the psalms through music.  I used Walter Brueggemann's scheme of grouping the psalms into three basic types: psalms of orientation, disorientation and new orientation. 

We then spent the rest of the day looking at each type, reading the psalms but listening to how they have been treated by a variety of composers.  In all we must have listened to about twenty pieces of music, of different genres, including music by Mozart, Martin Taylor, Verdi, Boney M, U2, Allegri, Acoustic Triangle, Eric Whiteacre, Louis Armstrong, Arvo Part, Bernstein, and Stravinsky.   

There was plenty of interaction with the sharing of insights, many moments of tingle-factor, showing again that one person's tingle-factor isn't necessarily an other's!  And because of the huge capacity that music has to gather associations, there were several moving stories connected with pieces of music. The icing on the cake for me was the privilege of being able to exist in the two worlds I know best at one and the same time!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

An extravagant hope

Thanks to my good friend Colin for these words, especially the last line, which he passed on to me.  

Those who would transform a nation or the world
cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent
or by demonstrating reasonableness and desirability
of the intended changes
or by coercing people into a new way of life.
They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope.

(Eric Hoeffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, New York, 1951, p 18.)

To kindle and fan an extravagant hope seems to me a pretty good description of the task of pastoral ministry.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Luton Airport with sector ministers

I spent the day at Luton Airport, not plane spotting, but as part of an event that we put on for sector ministers.  The aim was to gather together to listen to stories about chaplaincy and to share insights and good practice; to hear about the particular work of airport chaplaincy and have a look around the airport; and to think about how we might develop this group.

We had full-time chaplains, part-time chaplains, ordained and lay, serving in education, health and industry, together with some members from the CBA Council who simply wanted to support the day and find out more. It resulted in some stimulating discussion covering a number of important issues, and speaking for myself, my understanding of this expression of ministry was expanded.

I jotted down some notes and picked up a couple of great quotes. 'I've come to see that the local church is genetically inward looking' said with slight exasperation. And more hopefully, 'In God's kingdom every contact leaves a trace.'

I'm full of admiration for these people who bring a range of gifts and skills to situations quite separate from the church. They have much to teach us in terms of incarnational ministry, simply being a Christian presence, although of course it's never that simple. 

Monday, 20 October 2008

Shenley Christian Fellowship, Intelligent Design and Wayne Rooney

On Sundays I can drive long distances to preach.  Yesterday it was just one mile to our nearest Baptist church, Shenley Christian Fellowship.  When we moved to Milton Keynes, Shenley CF wasn't part of the CBA or BUGB.  It is now, and on the two occasions I've been I've been impressed by the warmth and vitality of this congregation.  Chris Doig is one of our Baptist ministers and is doing a great job.

I spoke on discipleship, but early on in the service, for about ten minutes sitting in easy chairs, I was interviewed by Tim Cutting, with prepared questions from the audience.  This was a fun experience, as I had some idea about the questions but knew that there was at least one surprise.

This came from one of the young people, 'There's been a lot of discussion about creation and evolution, and particularly 'intelligent design'.  How can I explain to my school friend a biblical approach to creation, taking into account my Calvinistic, pre-millennialism, and second blessing position - with particular reference to Wayne Rooney and the missing link.'  They have a sense of humour as well!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Baptist monk

On Saturday I presided at another induction, and while all inductions are different, this was significantly different.  First of all it was at one of our ecumenical congregations within an ecumenical parish in Milton Keynes, Christ Church, Stantonbury.  But what made this very different was the speaker.  Chris Howden, who was being inducted, had invited Brother Graeme, a Baptist monk from a Baptist monastery in Australia, to preach.

He was wonderful!  I can't remember hearing many sermons at an induction which included quotes from Irenaeus, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Simone Weill and Carl Jung.  He reflected at depth on the verse in Psalm 23 'He leads me to waters of stillness, he restores me to my self', to use his translation. And connecting this to the seventh day of creation, he spoke of the rest of God as 'a deep, abiding, healing, fertile stillness'.  

He gave a tantalising glimpse of his understanding of the Transfiguration of Jesus making a distinction between two kinds of glory: the glory that surrounded them, and the glory that emanated from Jesus, which was not about his divinity but his humanity, cue Irenaeus, we are not made for the glory of God but to be the glory of God.  To follow Jesus is not to ape Jesus but to be who we are meant to be.  

Brother Graeme is part of the Community of the Transfiguration and having Googled it, this is what I discovered:
Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a center of renewal in Breakwater, a working-class neighborhood of Geelong, a city of 200,000 on the west of Port Phillip Bay, in the state of Victoria in Australia. A compelling adaptation of historic Christian monastic traditions to contemporary life, the community is unique in that it continues the life and witness of a 135-year old Baptist congregation while drawing on classic sources of Christian monasticism.
To read more go here - fascinating stuff.  So welcome Chris & Brian Howden, and thank you for introducing us to Brother Graeme.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Burning bush

I've said before, I'm not a gardener, but over the next few weeks something will have to be done in the way of pruning and tidying, and in fact I've made a few brief forays.  However, amidst my general lack of energy for things horticultural, this tree/shrub really does it for me.  It's a rhus or a sumac, and most of the year it's fairly ordinary, and if anything a bit of a nuisance because it grows at an amazing rate and new sprouts emerge in the soil and the lawn.  But at this time of the year, it comes into its own, and for me is a high point of Autumn.  The photo wasn't taken this year as it's past its best, but still it displays its glory.  And as with many of the trees at this time of the year, it speaks of beauty, even in death.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A Gospel for All Nations

From Monday to Wednesday of this week we held our annual CBA Ministers' Conference, and following on from last year when we looked at 'A Gospel for All Ages', this year we took as our theme, 'A Gospel for All Nations'.  These gatherings can be occasions of rich fellowship and personal refreshment, and my sense, together with feedback so far, is that this was so.

We had my colleague from the London Baptist Association, Pat Took, lead our Bible Readings and she was simply brilliant, which didn't come as a surprise! She took as her theme, 'Signs of Glory' and explored with us John 4, 11, and 21. These passages are well known, and well preached upon but Pat brought deep insight and fresh perspective.

Dorothy Selebano, the Baptist World Alliance Women's Department President, travelled from South Africa to be with us, and spoke on 'Mission from a Global Perspective'.  Dorothy was compelling in her passion for the gospel for everyone, and she brought a fresh and invigorating dimension to our Conference.  John Smith, our BMS World Mission Area Co-ordinator spoke on 'The new C4:World Mission and the Emerging Church'.  His address with an enigmatic title, was his swan song as he takes up a pastorate in Godmanchester in the new year, and as we've come to expect it was pacy, informative and challenging.

The final session, when we might have been flagging, was presented by Kumar Rajagopalan, 'Developing a Mindset for Cross-cultural Mission'.  This session was superb as Kumar challenged us about the manner in which we relate to our black and Asian neighbours.  I quote from him, 'Our attitude in serving a missionary God should be humble, careful, circumspect in our claims about God, and in awe of God's missionary endeavours.'  His gracious approach to other cultures is to affirm them; to be careful in how we practice our faith; to work with other faiths to achieve kingdom purposes; to embrace different cultural expressions of Christianity; to accept and apologize for past mistakes of church and society, and to have an openness to see and affirm aspects of God that are absent or lost within the Christian tradition.  I'm expecting a hand-out to be available on the CBA Website, together with one particular acetate which was awesome!

We didn't just sit in sessions!  And actually this year I think we got the balance right with each session finishing in ample time for breaks and meals.  The Tuesday afternoon, we had a number of Conversation Points where people could host a conversation around a current interest.  

My colleague, Colin Pye, led worship creatively and sensitively. Communion gave opportunity for people to receive prayer with the anointing of oil. And then, probably the main reason why people come, there was opportunity for leisurely conversation over meals, coffee, and a drink in the evening, with much laughter as well as sharing of concerns.  

It takes a lot of planning and organization, and there's a sense of relief when it's over, but pretty soon we pick up on the ongoing planning for next year.  And this will be a conference with a difference because I've asked Roy Searle from the Northumbria Community to lead the whole conference but as a retreat.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Mark Greene on Mis-Lit and Modest Mission

I've just received an email from LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) and was drawn to two excellent articles by Mark Greene.  This guy tells a great story and writes in an entertaining way that explores an issue with insight and at depth, and in the process inspires, encourages and provokes, all with a disconcertingly light touch.  I guess the articles have appeared somewhere else, but if you haven't seen them, go read.  One is, Mis-Lit for Miserable Times, and the other is A Plea for Modest Mission. Great stuff Mark!  

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Encouraging but realistic about ministry

An ordination on Saturday and a commissioning on Sunday were occasions when I had the opportunity to hear some fine preaching.  On Saturday it was Rob Ellis, Principal of Regent's Park College, Oxford, and on Sunday Juliet Kilpin, from Urban Expression.  Both were refreshingly realistic about ministry, and offered some nuggets which I've continued to reflect upon.  

On Saturday, reflecting upon the contemporary situation in the light of the experience of the church at Philippi, Rob commented, 'With church attendance generally in decline we manage to find ingenious ways of putting off those who come!'  Juliet spoke about taking risk and had some hilarious slides showing how risk averse we are as a society.  She said most movingly, 'When we become followers of Christ we gave up the right to self-preservation'. Both Rob and Juliet, brought some encouragement and challenge at these significant milestones in the lives of ministers and churches.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Melton Mowbray Pork Pie gains special European status

We lived in Melton Mowbray for nine years prior to moving to Milton Keynes.  And one of the delights that we quickly discovered was authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie.  These were so good that I would put them in the class of delicacy, not a term usually associated with pork pies.  

Today I heard the news that at last the Melton Mowbray pork pie has received special protected geographical status.  This means that it is now in company with Arbroath Smokies, Cornish Clotted Cream, Welsh Lamb, and further afield Parma Ham, and Champagne.  And that only producers making pork pies using a traditional recipe and in the vicinity of Melton Mowbray can use the town's name.  Wondrous news!

One irony is that Matthew O'Callaghan, who has worked tirelessly for the status of the pork pie, is in fact a vegetarian!

For those who haven't yet lost the will to live, a proper Melton Mowbray pork pie consists of the finest fresh, uncured (hence the grey appearance), British pork, with pastry that is hand-formed giving a slightly irregular appearance, and with the final ingredient of natural bone-stock jelly.  These delicacies appeared at all Melton Mowbray social gatherings we attended, and as the finest pork pies, made by Dickinson & Morris since 1851, can be purchased in a number of supermarkets, they appear regularly at our regional ministry team meetings, and on other special occasions. Probably they are now most enjoyed in our home for breakfast on Christmas Day (and Boxing Day), maintaining what is an established Leicestershire custom.  

Friday, 3 October 2008

Rothko at the Tate

I've had a day off and been down to London to see the Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern. Often when I visit the Tate I go to the Rothko Room which contains several large abstract murals featuring dark reds, maroons and blacks.  A space has been created which has a contemplative feel about it.  These works were part of a commission in 1958 for an exclusive restaurant, the Four Seasons, part of the Seagram Building, in New York.  Rothko came to doubt the appropriateness of the setting and withdrew from the commission.  I have to say that I can't imagine them in a restaurant!  And while the restaurant would only have been able to accommodate seven of them, he produced thirty.

In the 60's, the Tate began discussions as to the possibility of displaying a group of them as 'an immersive environment' and selected nine of them for the gallery.  This new exhibition, among other paintings and murals, has united eight of the Tate's Seagram murals with a selection of those from other galleries.  The largest room where these are displayed is stunning and although less intimate than the Rothko Room, still has that contemplative, immersive effect.  

It comes as no surprise - except that it did - that there is a non-denominational Rothko Chapel in Houston, an octagonal building which was constructed with his paintings in mind.  And while none of the particular paintings are displayed, similar works from that period are displayed, known as Black-Form paintings, which are as suggested predominantly black, and hugely impacting.

This latest exhibition focuses on his late works which consist mostly of vast canvases of simple solid fields of colour, often very dark, but made up of layers of thinly applied colour which create a luminosity or fluorescence.  Gazing at these works is akin to contemplation - you're drawn in, immersed in the colour and a sense of depth.  And there is a definite emotional dimension to engaging with them.  The word 'spirituality' seems never far from any comment on Rothko's paintings.  

It was an excellent experience and in the words of Rothko, 'If it's worth doing once, it's worth doing again.'

Monday, 29 September 2008

Thanksgiving for a Ruby Wedding

I had such a good day yesterday!  Eighteen months ago I was asked by Andrew Thomas, the Minister of Kingsthorpe Baptist Church, Northampton, to preach on the special occasion of his ruby wedding anniversary.  It was a very special occasion for everyone there, Andrew and Joy in particular, their family and friends, and the church family, and also Cazz and me.

It gave me an opportunity to use a form of words I used in my last church, taken from the Common Order of the Church of Scotland, but more recently appearing in our own Gathering for Worship.

Rather than just repeat the words used in the wedding service, Andrew spoke these words to Joy and she then spoke the same words to him:

I Andrew, in the presence of God
renew my commitment to you, Joy, as your husband.
I give thanks that you have shared my life. 
All that I am and all that I have I continue to share with you.
Whatever, the future holds, I will love you and stand by you, 
as long as we both shall live.

The congregation were then asked if they would continue to uphold them in their marriage and they responded 'we will'.  It was most moving, and the sense of privilege of ministry was enormous.

A terrific lunch was laid on including an array of home-cooked puddings which was spectacular!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Peter Grange

Peter Grange, dear friend and colleague, died yesterday at 6.25 p.m. Peter was my Regional Minister before we became regional minister colleagues.  His warmth, wisdom, inquisitive and amazingly informed mind, buoyant faith, determination and sense of humour were an inspiration.  

There was a season in my life when I thought seriously about leaving ministry in the local church, and Peter's response was typical, 'I think I ought to come over and have a chat' (spoken in his soft, still evident Yorkshire brogue).  His gift on this occasion, as always, though it included wise counsel, was a remarkably peaceful, non-anxious, presence.  I stayed.  As a regional minister colleague, his advice and friendship have been immense.  

I will miss him and our chats.  Rest in peace, Peter.  And for Janet and the family, our prayers are with you in your loss.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Diabelli Variations, and Martin Taylor & Alison Burns

In company with many people, September and October is a crazy time for me, as things kick in with a vengeance after a more sedate August.  However, over the last few days there have been two sources of musical refreshment.  The first appeared far from promising as it arrived in a package which most definitely smacked of work.  It proved to be a case of prudent recycling, as inside was a gift of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations.  I didn't know this work but a friend had been singing its praises and generously sent me a copy.  The pianist is Stephen Kovacevich who gives a riveting performance and as I'm getting acquainted with the 33 variations through repeated playings as I drive around, I'm enjoying some great music played superbly.

By contrast, on Tuesday we went to The Stables to hear Martin Taylor and Alison Burns.  We feel a bit like Martin Taylor groupies, as this must be the fourth time we've heard this great jazz guitarist.  He is another superb musician, of a different genre, with a passion for 'tunes', which he performs with enormous creativity and dexterity while never obscuring the essence.  This is the second time we've heard him in an accompanying role with Alison Burns, the singer, who also happens to be his daughter-in-law.  She has a terrific voice, and her performance of Stevie Wonder's 'If it's magic' was probably the high point in what was a very entertaining evening.

Saturday, 13 September 2008


The last two Saturday afternoons I've been inducting.  The first was Val Pyper at Kimble Free Baptist Church, and the second was Scott Carr at Toddington Baptist Church.  Both good occasions in different ways.  

That's the thing about inductions - inevitably there is similarity as there are certain predictables, but also there are the dissimilarities which make every one distinct and special. Just as no two people are the same, the same goes for churches, and so on my journey over I find myself wondering, 'What's it going to be like?'

On both these occasions, but in different ways, there was that mixture of excitement and expectation. Sometimes the expectation can be unrealistic, and I'm left with concern that minister and church are being set up for failure.  But conversely, if you can't get excited and positive about the future that God seems to have called you to, then it would all be a bit grim!

Inductions vary from the formal to pretty relaxed.  Whatever, I bring a note of seriousness. This is an occasion when there needs to be some gravitas as well as celebration - this is a holy moment where minister and people covenant before God.  And this is a moment that needs to be remembered, especially in the testing times that will surely come.

The preaching can be inspirational, and I find that by the time the induction season begins to lighten I'm grateful for a different sort of Saturday afternoon, but grateful too for the nourishment I've received.  Rarely do I preach, but I make notes for the next time I'm asked to!

I heard someone say recently that most sayings seem to be attributed either to Spurgeon or Churchill.  I thought of that today as I heard that Churchill said, 'Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.'  It sounds the sort of thing Churchill would have said, although I've never read him and only heard him quoted.  

The declaration of induction and the blessing is a high point for me, especially as I or the congregation say the words of the Aaronic blessing. Always it feels awesome. I'm going to post on benedictions so I'll come back to this.

And then there's the ubiquitous tea that follows.  I heard a great story about Robert Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave the advice, 'Don't eat anything that doesn't have McVities written on it.'  Another piece of wisdom handed on to those of us who attend these occasions regularly, 'Don't touch the egg sandwiches'.  I have to say that the teas are nearly always noteworthy and so far I've had no ill-effects, although I tend to have the minimum and save myself for the curry that's in prospect for the evening. Talking of which I need to order it or I'll be out of favour with the rest of the family.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Books I've just bought

One of the things that I miss about being the minister of a local church is the space to read.  I find that in my role, reading is far more intermittent and rarely leisurely.  This means that I purchase books less frequently.  However, I've just had a bit of a spending spree.  

For some time I've had it in mind to get Tom Wright on Romans in the The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary.  So I splashed out - even at a reduced rate it was quite an expense - and had the joy of receiving a large parcel containing a seriously large volume.  I've dipped into it and I'm at that stage of deluding myself into thinking that I'll read it from beginning to end.

By contrast, I've also received Daniel Barenboim's Everything is Connected: The Power of Music.  This slim edition by comparison, is also in hardback which has that feeling of luxury and durability.  I listened to Barnboim's 2006 Reith Lectures on music, as podcasts.  They were entertaining but had real substance on several levels, and I see that he includes some of the same material, so another pleasure to come.  I'm enjoying his recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas, having heard how fantastic his performances were at the South Bank earlier year.

Today I received John Paul Lederach, The Journey Toward Reconciliation.  I remember this as a book that was recommended when I undertook mediation training with the London Mennonite Centre's Bridge Builders.  I'm putting together an event for churches in the Central Baptist Association with the title, 'When Christians Disagree', and I thought I'd read this as I prepare.  Lederach uses stories from his own experience of peacemaking as he reflects on learning to live together in the midst of deep differences.

And finally Amazon have just informed me that my most recent order is in the post, Dave Tomlinson's Re-enchanting Christianity.  I've recently heard his talk from Greenbelt and having been stimulated by his other books thought I'd hear a bit more of what he's saying at the moment.

Now all I've got to do is read them rather than look at them longingly.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Encouraging Women in Ministry

This week I've had the opportunity to speak on two occasions encouraging the ministry of women.  

The first was with a church which isn't convinced about calling a woman minister and so there was some lively discussion, though conducted graciously I must add.  It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

The second was with a group of women with whom I and my colleague Helen Wordsworth, had breakfast.  This was organized with a view to encouraging women in all forms of ministry in the local church.  It was a case of 'preaching to the converted' as the group needed no convincing, but we had some enjoyable discussion about the difficult passages of scripture and experience of church life, and this was thoroughly worthwhile.

What I've found frustrating on both occasions is the necessity of engaging with the difficult texts at length while risk losing sight of Jesus' radical attitude to women, and that of the Early Church.  I'm also acutely aware that the vital issue of contextualising the difficult texts is viewed with suspicion by some and seen as not taking the scriptures seriously.

When you think that in 1922 Edith Gates was the first recognised Baptist woman minister, and that in 1925 the Baptist Union officially accepted the call of women to pastorates, it's taking some of us a long time to catch on.  Therein is the nature of our ecclesiology!

However, for me this is a an issue which is not just about church practice, but about the gospel and mission.  And actually it felt right for a man to be addressing the issue.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Apologies to those who've tried leaving comments

Sorry if over the months you've tried leaving a comment without success. This was flagged up to me by Jim and it's sorted (I think). Thanks Andy!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for life

Saturday was the first in this season of inductions, but it was one with a difference. Although I took part, leading some prayers, I was there as a friend. Colin Norris was inducted as the Senior Minister of Westbury upon Trym Baptist Church. Colin has been a close friend since our time at theological college, and over the years our friendship has deepened, so it was good to be there for this special occasion. It’s slightly unnerving as it was Colin’s fourth induction and I’ve attended them all!

By contrast, today I was in Melton Mowbray to for the farewell service of Charles Jenkin. Charles has been the Rector of St Mary’s and while I was in Melton our relationship as colleagues in Churches Together became a valued friendship. This too was a special occasion, in the process meeting up with other friends we haven’t seen for a while.

Although I find myself regularly hearing the nice sort of things said over the weekend, on these two occasions, because of the nature of the relationship, I have been part of the story, and it caused me to pause and be grateful to God for those with whom I have shared and continue to share friendship. I came across a phrase several years ago, ‘There are friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for life.’ Colin and Charles fit firmly in the last category.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Brillante Weblog Award

I've just been nominated, along with six other people, for this not-to-be-taken-too-seriously award by the generous Catriona at 'A Skinny Fairtrade Latte in the Food Court of Life'.

These are the rules for the nominees:
1. Add the logo of the award to your blog
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog
5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blog

It's a bit daft nominating Catriona, but call me daft because I'm going to anyway - her blog is a favourite and it would be unjust not to! So, the seven are:
Andy Goodliff
Bishop Alan's Blog
Living Wittily
Maggi Dawn
Sean the Baptist
Skinny Fairtrade Latte

I agree with Catriona that it feels 'a bit incestuous or narcissistic' but it's a bit of fun for a Bank Holiday Monday. And the spin-off is that it's got me into blog-mode again after a few weeks of being blog-lite.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


I’ve finally succumbed to watching reality TV! Tuesday saw the first of Maestro in which eight celebrities compete for the chance to conduct a live orchestra in Hyde Park on the Last Night of the Proms. They soon found out that it's no easy thing to conduct an orchestra and I have to say it was fairly compelling viewing.

Initially I struggled with the fact that many of the competitors were unable to read music which is foundational. I managed to overcome this, just about, as it became increasingly clear that conducting was more than just waving a stick to keep time or not.

The first outing of the totally inexperienced ‘conductors’ was mostly painful in the extreme. The process of acquiring some basic skills through the involvement of personal mentors and group experience was fascinating and continued to provide entertainment. When it came to the first performance before an audience, it was at times hysterically funny, an experience shared by the judges, mentors, audience and orchestra alike.

If I keep with it, and I’ll certainly watch next week, it'll be interesting to see who wins. Goldie was the most convincing and showed some musicianship and authority. Jane Asher was pretty good. Sue Perkins delivered. Peter Snow was a total disaster in a thoroughly good-natured way and was dismissed, but it was a close contest with the Blur musician Alex James, whose intake of breath before the down-beat of his piece was probably the high point of the programme.

The BBC Concert Orchestra seemed to be having fun and did brilliantly under the circumstances.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Puglia and Il Concerto Bandistico

I’m just surfacing from a post-holiday avalanche of emails. We've just spent two weeks in Puglia, Southern Italy – a beautiful, rural region, considered by some to be the new Tuscany. Food and wine were superb, accommodation was very good with a secluded swimming pool, weather consisted of cloudless, unbroken sunshine and if anything was too hot when it got up to 40C! To add to this we met some great people: Brian and Catherine, David and Jane, and John and Marian who treated us to pre-breakfast coffee as we passed their villa on our not-very-early morning walk.

It was a very chilled two weeks which was just what we wanted. For the first time we went to a Lido and it exceeded expectations, swimming in the warm Adriatic and enjoying a welcome cool breeze. We visited Puglia’s equivalent of Cheddar Gorge, the Castellana Grottoes. And other trips included the neighbouring towns and the city of Lecce which was fantastic although you could suffer from Baroque overload.

As it happened the patronal festival took place in our town, Cisternino, which included a number of outdoor musical performances which were free. The highlight were the two town bands, one from Citta di Francavilla Fontana, and the other from Citta di Bracigliano. They didn’t just play but performed with a high level of accomplishment in their own inimitable style which was highly spirited though not always overly fussed about intonation. The programmes over three days consisted of condensed versions of Italian opera arranged for band with solo instrumentalists taking the part of the solo voices – the trombonist taking the part of the tenor used a valve trombone with a raised bell, which was something else. We were treated to Il Traviata, Turandot, La Boheme, Tosca, Rigoletto, and other excerpts as well. The sound ranged from very quiet to deafeningly loud with four Sousaphones, and a full complement of brass together with other wind. It was such a one-off glorious sound that you wanted to bottle it and bring it home, except that probably it wouldn’t sound the same in Milton Keynes – that’s the nature of holidays!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Lambeth Conference - People and Quotes

I’ve met some wonderful people, and some from unlikely places - in particular, the Bishop of the Arctic and also the Bishop of Narajevo, the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. I’ve met bishops from Sudan and other parts of Africa where there is enormous suffering. I feel I’ve got to know bishops from India, especially my Host Bishop Pradip Kamble. And in addition to the bishops I already know from the UK I’ve met some others with whom I’ve enjoyed fellowship – thank you Paul and James especially.

Life is full of surprises – yesterday evening I bumped into Sally who was one of the first people I met when I first went to Moortown Baptist Church in Leeds, when my Christian faith was being reawakened. Sally works in Geneva with the UN on their Aids programme and was speaking as part of the self-select programme. She and her husband Ian are terrific people.

Lots of memorable quotes – but just two to share and both from Archbishop Rowan:
the key task of the bishop is to be a linguist, learning the language of God;
and, God always creates a new situation when we listen and pray.
He’s got quite a job on his hands, but I have to say, I think he's a great guy!

Over another week to go, but after ‘The London Day’ that’s it for me.

Lambeth Conference – Bible Study and Indaba

Today was my last attendance at the Bible Study and Indaba. I spend tomorrow in London with the Lambeth Conference as we take part in a Walk of Witness to express support of the Millennium Development Goals, concluding with lunch at Lambeth Palace followed by tea at Buckingham Palace. It should be a memorable day. But then I go home for a quick turn around for a holiday.

The Bible Study was a spirited affair as we looked at the story of the woman taken in adultery and the following words of Jesus, ‘I am the light of the world’. In the exchange some fascinating insights emerged.

The Indaba group was a very different experience from yesterday and the concerns expressed had been taken on. We stayed within the group except for a few minutes in three’s or four’s following a DVD relating to the Millennium Development Goals. The two questions that were asked were, What is God calling us to do about justice and evangelism in our own context? And how can we work together to do that?

People spoke passionately and movingly and there was a sense of deep listening to the challenges that are faced in the different contexts. One bishop related how he had spoken to a bishop from Africa who commented that at Lambeth he eats three cooked meals a day, while at home some days he has no food at all. People shared their concerns, inevitably touching upon the sexuality issue, but although there was diversity, there was respect. One bishop from the Episcopal Church in the States spoke about his context in which there were a huge number of gay people, many who attended his church - there had been a time when the cathedral was burying fifty people a week because of the Aids epidemic. His diocese was actively committed to the relief of global suffering in core survival areas of the world.

At the end of the meeting the group needed to nominate three names from which one would be taken as the Listener for the group. The facilitator, or animateur, as he is called, did an excellent job of managing a process in which there were a number of views of how it should be done, and we got our three names. It feels as though it’s reached the point where things might really start to happen. And I’m about to leave. I have to say I feel some sadness. It’s been excellent to share this part of the journey.

Lambeth Conference - Buena Vista Social Club, Collect and Geraldine Latty

We had rehearsed two of the songs in preparation for today, and it was necessary. This morning’s worship was led by the Episcopal Church of Cuba. Musically it was a bit like the Buena Vista Social Club, which I hasten to add I appreciate - I’ve got the CD! The difficulty is that this style is very hard to engage in if you’ve been trained in the Western classical music tradition and I have to say I was nowhere. There is a rhythmic pulse but the syllables, which are numerous, and melody are very fluid. This being said, far from detracting from worship it was most helpful.

When we as a Baptist family have a global gathering, different parts of the world are given an opportunity to share their culture within the worship. This can be extremely rich but the down side is that with a completely different menu each time you can feel a bit stuffed! I’ve only been here for a short while and if I was present for the full two weeks my experience might be different, but my sense is that the worship led by different provinces brings a distinctive flavour whilst remaining within a liturgy which remains essentially the same. So there is variety but within a given-ness.

The collect for today I particularly appreciated:
Almighty God and Father,
who breathed your life into humanity
and wrote our names in the dust:
help us to accept the transient nature
of our saintliness and sinfulness,
that enlightened by the witness of your Son,
we may ever hold fast
to the eternity of your love. Amen

During the Eucharist, the music was sublime, including a beautiful piece sung by Geraldine Latty. It was very special.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Lambeth Conference – Brian McLaren

On Monday evening, Brian McLaren spoke on Changing Contexts: Breaking Open Our Models for Evangelism. He spoke at a lively pace which was a struggle for some of those for whom English isn’t their first language and for those like me frantically trying to get down some of his highly quotable quotes. But I’ve heard nothing but high praise and I thought he was spot on. He has a most effective way of communicating that draws upon superb stories that not only entertain but say what he wants to say.

He began with the Choluteca Bridge, Honduras, which survived Hurrican Mitch in 1998. Amidst devastation and huge loss of life, the river got moved and now the bridge goes nowhere, standing as a monument to Japanese engineering. This was his way into explaining the shift from a modern to post-modern world. As I’ve already said, great quotes, but also he issued some basic but provocative questions: How do we create space for people to become authentic disciples of Jesus Christ? What if it were as simple as being an example?

I wish I’d got his definition of evangelism but I’ll have to listen again. To whet the appetite it began, ‘Evangelism is the gentle and respectful relational process of understanding and responding to people’s questions …’ He was deeply respectful and appreciative of Archbishop Rowan, and drew out those things that Anglican’s have going for them in this time of change. I loved his comment on the liturgy, ‘Liturgy which combines beauty, mystery, intelligence and clarity’.

On Tuesday he spoke at one of the many self-select sessions. It was billed as ‘Evangelism by Example’, and I guess that he addressed this in a roundabout way. But his approach was to continue with some of the questions that he didn’t have an opportunity to respond to on Monday evening. It became a conversation with many participating and no-one dominating, and looking especially at the questions that are asked by people not obviously part of the church.

The predictable question concerned why bad things happen to good people, and he explored the thinking behind the question, showing that people work with a model of the universe that is mechanistic, and one that needs challenging. Other questions that were striking included, How do you justify a book that reverences genocide and violence? And this one, though probably not often put so succinctly, In a multi-choice world, what do we choose and what’s worth choosing? This begs the question, what will happen if the multi-choice world begins to fragment, if consumerism should begin to crumble?

I liked the story he told about being distinctive. He was speaking with Seventh Day Adventists who asked him, ‘Can we really keep the Sabbath in this day and age?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, but you can’t think it makes you right.’

A question he asks often of people he meets who aren’t connected to a church goes like this, ‘I guess you don’t go to church. What do you think people like me need to hear?’ It’s a great question. He followed this with the lines of a song written by a friend, ‘An open hand is stronger than a fist, and listening is stronger than a shout.’ And his conclusion was the point that he made on Monday evening, biggest change requires example.

Lambeth Conference - Morning and Evening Worship

I’m really enjoying the worship. A special publication has been produced with the predictable title, Lambeth Praise. It consists of music from different provinces and some of the newer music. It’s a delight to sing many of the songs from around the world, and if there’s one feature that stands out it’s that it is all sing-able, which isn’t always the case with contemporary worship songs. I’m also enjoying a sound which contrasts with the assertive soft-rock style of much contemporary worship – no drums except for African drums, a guitar with a classical feel, flute, recorders and voices in four-part harmony and a piano. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it is mine and so like a good cup of tea it’s refreshing. The other feature which is marked is that even with the shorter songs I’m left wanting more, rather than feeling that the song has been done to death.

A surprising and pleasant point of connection for me is Geraldine Latty who has been a prominent presence in our own Baptist Assemblies and a familiar and friendly face.

Each day after Evening Prayer there’s a corporate rehearsal to learn some new material for use the next day which with a global constituency is not only a good idea but a necessary one.

Lambeth Conference - Indaba Group, Mother Teresa stories, and a ‘thought for the day’

On Tuesday the Bible Study and Indaba Group were good occasions, but it is becoming apparent that already the Indaba Group isn’t doing what it's meant to do, and there were many voices of concern that it feels process-driven without the time to do what Indaba is meant to do. One Indian bishop spoke about using the concept but not the methodology, and that if it isn’t going to be genuine Indaba then it needs to be called something else. This being said, the facilitator is doing an excellent job and is committed to making it work as it’s meant to. Watch this space.

A nice touch - in the Bible Study, with four Indian bishops we got into Mother Teresa stories which came from first hand experience and were moving.

And a ‘thought for the day’, emerging from talk about church decline and the pressure to be successful, ‘In the book of Revelation, the crown doesn’t go to the successful but the faithful.’

Monday, 21 July 2008

Lambeth Conference - Indaba – the experience

The first Indaba followed on from the Bible Study which today consisted of only five of us, a Bishop from Connecticut, North America, who is our facilitator, and three Indian bishops. It was a good experience, in which I was encouraged to participate fully. It was humbling to hear the answer to the question - set in the context of the story of Jesus walking on the water and saying to the disciples in the boat, ‘I am, do not be afraid’ – what are the things that bring fear to Christians in your own context? ‘Waiting for the church to be burnt for the third time’, ‘Waiting for an excuse to be attacked.’ And not just for being a minority religion, but for being linked to the West. For these brothers from India expressing faith in ‘I am’ rather than living in fear was inspiring.

And the Indaba group? Well, so far, it’s what it said on the packing. We set some ground rules and then in quietness answered three questions. We then moved into two conversations in different pairs and then formed a group of five in which we explored in more detail the question, ‘Who am I as an Anglican bishop?’ At this point I might have felt left out, but not only was I was fully included but the group immediately offered to ordain me to the episcopacy there and then, and were already improvising for a bishop’s staff and Episcopal ring! Of course I resisted. What followed was not significantly different to the conversation I might have with my Team Leader colleagues, or indeed all Regional Ministers.

We then took our one sentence back and with the other small groups within the larger group, shared findings noting points of convergence and divergence.

Group dynamics are always fascinating, more so when you get a group of leaders together. And today was no exception, although everyone was very gracious and listened well. This was just the first meeting.

The second meeting followed later on in the afternoon. We took as the starting point, The Anglican Way: Signposts on a Common Journey. These are: Formed by Scripture; Shaped through Worship; Ordered for Communion; and Directed by God’s Mission. After a reading of each of these, we opted for one of these signposts for further discussion. I decided to join the group considering Formed by Scripture.

We were asked to engage with the statement which began, ‘we discern the voice of the living God in the Holy Scriptures, mediated by tradition and reason’. I was intrigued to hear the breadth of understanding, ranging from a ready acceptance of the tools of the historical-critical approach to simply taking God’s Word as it is, without allowing our culture to interfere with it in any way.

We face a similar breadth of understanding among our Baptist ministers and churches. But I return to our Baptist Declaration of Principle which begins in a different place in stating, ‘That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.’ Interestingly, this went down extraordinarily well with my Anglican friends who seemed to be quite taken with it!

Lambeth Conference – Indaba – the process

At the heart of this Lambeth Conference is Indaba. Indaba is a Zulu word for a gathering for purposeful discussion. It’s both a method of engagement and a process, and offers a way of mutual listening concerning challenges that face the Anglican Communion.

Each Indaba group - fifteen in all - will nominate one of their group to carry the views and the fruit of their discussion into the reflections process. Their ‘listener’ will join a Listening Group whose task will be to generate a common text which authentically reflects the Indaba. On four occasions the Listening Group will meet in open sessions where the bishops can comment on the developing text. The hope is that every bishop attending the conference will be given the opportunity to shape the reflections from what emerges.

I’m taken with this approach and find it helpfully expressed in this statement: ‘The thinking behind this is that in Indaba, we must be aware of these challenges (issues) without immediately trying to resolve them one way or the other. We meet and converse, ensuring that everyone has a voice, and contributes (in our case, praying that it might be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and that the issues at hand are fully defined and understood by all.

The purpose of the discussion is to find out the deeper convergences that might hold people together in difference and come to a deeper understanding of the topic or issues discussed. This will be achieved by seeking to understand exactly the thinking behind positions other than our own.’

Bishop Alan makes these useful reflections:
Indaba demands full participation
Indaba is an emergent process
Indaba is driven by trust
Indaba requires working space
Indaba is an expression of respect
Indaba is an expression of faith
There’s a real world out there, far more important to God than Ecclesiastical navel gazing.

I’ve been inspired and influenced by the Mennonites, Bridge Builder approach to peace making and in particular conflict resolution, and the similarities are apparent. Bridge Builder’s premise is that conflict is natural. The challenge is how we handle it and learn to live with difference. And listening, deep listening, is crucial. And our Baptist ecclesiology, with its emphasis upon the gathered community discerning the mind of God through listening to one another in the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, also finds resonance in the process.

Now for the experience.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Lambeth Conference - Introduction

Revived by some lunch, we met in plenary for the Introduction to the rest of the Conference. This marked a change of gear, moving on Monday into what are ‘ordinary days’, the getting down to business.

It was fascinating to hear more about the Conference Programme and especially the nature of Indaba – on which I intend to blog – as well as the Covenant Proposal and also the Windsor Report Process – this is the report on human sexuality. This last aspect began to address the issue which is never far from the surface. It seems to me to be many people’s concern that this shouldn’t be the overriding issue of the Conference, that there are other more important issues to discuss. However, the absence of 250 bishops is, as Bishop Clive Hanford, the Chair of the group responsible for the ongoing process of the report, said, ‘a symbol of division and pain’. I was impressed by his analysis of the current situation, in which he spoke of the severity of the situation; the complexity of the Anglican Communion, with competing value systems, and a lack of clarity about shared values; inconsistencies in applying the Windsor Report; the breakdown of trust which has a number of components; turmoil in The Episcopal Church; and diminishing Communion.

Concluding this session, before Evening Prayer, Archbishop Rowan gave the first Presidential Address, in which he acknowledged in his opening statement that the Conference was ‘very aware of people’s eyes upon us’. And that ‘our eyes are upon each other’. He was pointed. ‘God is asking more sharply than before, what do we want to do with the Anglican Communion?’ He made clear that the greatest need is for transformed relationships, and he provided some of the suggested options: a loose federation, a connection of national family churches, more centralisation. ‘Is there another option? There is, but it would take some change of what we take for granted.’ The option he offered as the one in which he believes the Anglican Communion is being directed consists of two elements: counsel and covenant. He’s a wise and godly man and this was good stuff – the question is how will the Conference proceed over the next two weeks? A helpful reminder was that the Conference doesn’t vote, but it does make resolutions.

I had tea with Phil Groves, who was a Team Vicar at Melton Mowbray during my ministry there. He’s the Facilitator of the Listening Process and he’s done an excellent job in editing, ‘The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality’. You can imagine what we talked about.

Lambeth Conference – Canterbury Cathedral

The logistics of getting to the Cathedral for the Eucharist were no small thing, but it was managed most effectively with vast numbers of coaches manoeuvring through narrow Canterbury streets. The University, where we’re staying, was awash with purple, but as we lined up to process into the cathedral this changed into a sea of scarlet. To state the obvious, it was very colourful!

Canterbury Cathedral is an awesome place – majestic and beautiful. The music was wonderful and varied with the organ enhanced by a brass group, and the choir accompanied by African percussion for the setting for the Eucharist, the ‘Missa Luba’, a version of the Latin Mass based on traditional Congolese songs for the Eucharist. During the Giving of Communion, the Choir sang ‘O sacrum convivium!’ (O Sacred Banquet) with words by St Thomas Aquinas, and music by Gabriel Jackson (b.1962) which was exquisite. This was followed by ‘Loquebantur variis linguis apostolic, alleluia’ (The apostles spoke in many tongues, alleluia) by Thomas Tallis.

The liturgy used at least six languages apart from English. And a highpoint in the drama was the Gospel Procession accompanied by a dance by the Melanesian Brothers and Sisters.

The preacher was the Right Reverend Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo, who spoke from 2 Corinthians 12.9, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Commenting on the Anglican Communion, he noted that, ‘The crisis is complex - it is not a crisis that can be resolved instantly. He called for self-scrutiny, for unity and diversity, and for articulating a prophetic voice. He spoke with a quiet authority and insight and I particularly appreciated his comment that inevitably the prophetic voice is boring, relentlessly boring, it has to be said again and again. And also it isn’t self-serving. A great opener – Sri Lanka has five major religions: - Bhuddism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and cricket!

We left at 9.00 a.m. and made it back for 2.00 p.m. so it was something of a marathon. And though it was nothing like my normal Sunday experience of worship (nor most people’s I guess), it was a deeply meaningful experience and one that I won’t forget.