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!