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.