Monday, 31 December 2012

Some Highlights from 2012

I’m conscious that my blogging is so occasional as to be almost non-existent. I regret this as, regardless of whether anyone engaged with what I wrote, I found the experience to be enriching. I observe that many of those whom I view as part of ‘my’ bloggers community, have gone the same way as me - a notable exception being Living Wittily. I think that Facebook is mainly responsible, but that’s another post.

On this, the final day of 2012, as I’ve reflected on the last year and jotted down some of my highlights, I’ve decided to post them. All of these highlights have been life-giving and in them I’ve experienced the touch of God in some way or the other.

Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, is most definitely the ‘Book of the Year’. The writing is intensely beautiful at times, while being refreshingly raw at others. Sarah Quigley’s novel, ‘The Conductor’, about the events surrounding the composition of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, ‘The Leningrad’ was captivating and moving.

Among the many excellent films recommended to us by our good friends Chris and Frances Norton, going with them to see ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ on one of the few sunny Saturday afternoons of the year was wholly worthwhile. ‘Delicacy’, with Audrey Tatou, was quirky and exquisite - and we downloaded the CD ‘Franky Knight’ by Émilie Simon, from which the soundtrack was taken, as soon as the credits came up. 

‘Borgen’ Series 1 and 2 were hugely enjoyable. The second series isn’t broadcast in the UK until next Saturday evening, but the kindness of friends meant we were able to borrow their imported box set. Both were excellent as was Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’

Live music:
This included Richard Strauss’ Salome, and Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold, both at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Palm Sunday, sung by the Bach Choir at the Royal Festival Hall; a concert at the Theatre de Champs Elysees by the French National Radio Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davies, including, Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto and Dvorak’s 7th Symphony. The tickets were €10 each and we were at the back of a box and could see nothing without standing.  It was still exhilarating! Two Renaissance choral concerts, one by Stile Antico at The Stables, and another by The Sixteen at The Church of Christ the Cornerstone in Milton Keynes were gorgeous.

Two stunning purchases were James MacMillan’s, Miserere, and St John Passion. And on DVD, the Peter Sellars‘ ritualisation of Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic together with a stellar cast of singers including Mark Padmore.  This was one of the highlights of the year above all.

This year the Horizon Ensemble - Katie Canell, clarinet, Geoff Colmer, bassoon, and Mary Cotes, piano - has performed on a number of occasions, notably giving first performances of Chris Norton’s Trio, Clarinet Sonata and Bassoon Sonatas, composed for us! 

Art highlights include the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy (for the second time); Daniel Buren’s Monumenta 2012 at the Grand Palais, Paris; and Fra Angelica’s Annunciation at San Marco, Florence - I struggle to put into words how beautiful this is (see photo) - and a surprise find at the Chiostro Delle Schalzo of black and white frescoes.

Holidays in Paris, Umbria, including Assisi and Montepulciano, and Florence, were renewing, refreshing, and huge fun, and we fell in love with Assisi, ‘a particle of paradise’.  

This last year I’ve had the opportunity to speak on New Monasticism, and to launch Faith Engaging with the Arts, speaking on The Arts and Christian Understanding, and The Arts and Christian Spirituality. The Order for Baptist Ministry has continued to grow and develop and its second convocation in November was an encouraging event.

Miscellaneous highlights include discovering Art of the Day which is sent to my Inbox every day and has been a source of delight.  And likewise the daily reflections from the Franciscan, Richard Rohr.  The BMS Mission Catalyst edition on Art & Mystery was one of the serendipities of the year - it was so good!  

Over this year I have been awed by the courage of colleagues and friends facing the challenges of life, which for some has meant terminal illness and death. It seems appropriate that in a small way I honour them by including them among my highlights. They have been an inspiration.

There have been other highlights, including many family ones not mentioned, but also some lowpoints and a lot of in-betweens. 'For all that has been - 'Thanks' and for all that shall be - 'Yes'. 

And for 2013, grace and peace from Wonder and Wondering!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Order for Baptist Ministry

I'm delighted to announce that the 'Order for Baptist Ministry' now has a website and can be found here.

Along with information about the Order, including The Journey (the story so far) and The Dream and Two Expressions (foundational documents), there's news of the Convocation in November, and downloads of The Daily Office.

We hope that this will provide a window onto what we're seeking to be and do.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

New Monasticism: something old, something borrowed, something blue

Tomorrow sees the beginning of the three-day Baptist Union of Great Britain Assembly at Central Hall Westminster. What seems like ages ago I was invited to give the address at the Baptist Ministers' Fellowship AGM, and the suggestion was, New Monasticism.  At the time it sounded like a good idea!  Well, I'm nearly prepared and looking forward to it.

I'm not an authority on the subject but I do have an interest which is more than just curiosity. The title I've come up with is 'New Monasticism: something old, something borrowed, something blue'.

If you come early to the Assembly and haven't been seduced by other attractions, it would be great to see you at 3.00 p.m. in the William Sangster Room.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Faith Engaging with the Arts - A Day to Explore

I'm excited at the prospect of an event that's organised for Saturday 19 May. The Central Baptist Association will be hosting, 'Faith Engaging with the Arts - A Day to Explore’, at Loughton Baptist Church, Milton Keynes, from 10.30 - 4.00 (with refreshments from 10.00 a.m.)
We hope to explore broadly, through presentation and conversation, issues of art, culture and creativity; and specifically how we appreciate and understand them as Christians, and how they relate to spirituality and encountering God.

I'd really like this to be not just a one-off, but the beginning of something that might develop.  It would be good to do some serious thinking together about the arts from a Christian perspective, and to ask some hard questions. Are they just an optional extra? Isn't other stuff more important? How do we discern God in the arts? Could the arts be perceived as the Holy Spirit's playground? ...

Other issues might be around the use of the arts in the life of the Church, and not just in it's worship; and the nurturing of artistic expression.

There are a number of conversations going on around these themes, some of them within academia, and some among Christians involved in the arts within their own disciplines. Normally the local church is likely to be too small to have this sort of conversation, but an Association of 153 Baptist Churches might just provide a suitable arena. Friends from other churches are most welcome.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Order for Baptist Ministry

Back in October, I posted on the first Baptist Order Convocation.  I didn’t feel able to follow that up with more news but am now in a better position to do so.
Over three days in October 2011, twenty-five people came together at All Saints Conference Centre, Hertfordshire, to explore further the possibility of establishing an Order that was distinctively Baptist.  
At the heart of the gathering was a rhythm of prayer - morning, mid-day, evening and night - drawing upon a variety of liturgies, mostly those that have been specifically written among ourselves for personal and cell group use.  This was particularly rich and nourishing, combining stillness and silence with carefully crafted words.  
We had opportunity to share the Dream, to hear from a number of ‘Holy Dreamers’, and to hold some discussion about different aspects of the Order.  Of special significance were the conversations we had with Brother John Hennings, once a Baptist minister, now a Franciscan Friar, who we invited as a guest.  Brother John was of enormous help, listening to our story and enabling us to consider the way forward.  Two main things that we took away were: what we’re doing is likely to be a lengthy process and one that shouldn’t be hurried; and we need to articulate the particular charism of what we’re about. 
Since then, a further period of conversation and reflection has taken place and in January, as the Core Group met to consider the story so far, important decisions were reached, especially concerning the name, the charism and our priority.
We’ve continued to struggle with the name, having adopted ‘Baptist Order’ until recently.  We feel that now we have settled on, ‘Order for Baptist Ministry’.  
Our charism, ‘We are an Order for Baptist Ministry who see ministry as a living means of grace to the church as together we mediate the presence of Christ in the world.‘  
‘Our priority is to encourage patterns and rhythms of relationship and devotional life that sustain this way of being.’
At the close of that day, we made our first vows with a real sense that this was God’s time to make this initial commitment.  
We’ve booked a venue for our second Convocation.  This time it will take place in the North, from 7-8 November 2012 and will be at Minsteracres Retreat Centre, near Consett, County Durham. 
For those of us who’ve been involved in this for over two years, it feels not so much like an arrival as a beginning!  We’ve much more to process as we continue this journey, but it seems as though a start really has been made.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Christmas listening, watching and reading

As well as family, food and drink, Christmas - for me without responsibilities to lead worship and preach - has provided some space for listening, watching and reading.

I've thoroughly enjoyed listening to the 'four' CD's I received. The first, the newly released box-set of the Beethoven Symphonies with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra - don't ask how many other sets I've got! Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians - beautiful, minimalist, repetitive music, which caused some 'interesting' responses from some family members. Bach Oboe Concertos and Sinfonias, played by Heinz Holliger, who recently turned seventy and still plays with virtuosity and extraordinary musicianship. And Paul Mealor, A Tender Light, which has some hauntingly beautiful songs, performed superbly by Tenebrae.

As for watching, this included 'The Holly and the Ivy', a black and white movie starring Ralph Richardson torn between his roles as a clergyman and a father - thanks Chris and Frances for the present. And The Lemon Tree, a film which tells the story of a Palestinian widow defending her lemon tree field when a new Israeli Minister of Defence moves next to her - it's real, challenging and moving. We thought that The Artist might be on general release but we'll have to wait until 6 January.

Other notable watching also including listening to the BBC2 broadcast of the Royal Opera House's stunning production of Tosca, with an entertaining introductory documentary with Antonio Pappano. Darcey Bussell Dances Hollywood, was stunning in a different way! And then Claudio Abbado's Mahler 9 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra on DVD, another Christmas present.  This performance concludes with three minutes of silence before the audience gives a standing ovation.

As for reading, Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2, is everything I expected it to be. If you haven't come across her poetry, a small extract from Everything:
'I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
     what I mean, that don't go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
      keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
      the question mark and her bold sister

the dash...'

The poem concludes,
                                      'I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
      and see the unseeable. I want them to honour
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
      the gladness that says, without any words, everything.'

And finally I've begun Eugene Peterson's The Pastor, which does to me what all of his books do, that is, remind me of my primary calling and help me to recalibrate.

Lest this all sound a bit serious, there has been much family, food and drink. Let January commence properly tomorrow.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advent and Creativity

What is it about Advent that seems to let loose a deluge of creativity? Is it because it's the beginning of the new church year; or because ordinary time has seemed so long prior to the Kingdom Season which doesn't really do it for many people; or because it's the first of three seasons which have a natural and progressive movement about them? Or is it because there is something about Advent which is essentially generative?

Repeatedly people say that Advent is their favourite season, and I'm one of them! This week I assembled our home Advent Candle wreath and crafted some words and prayers for each Sunday; I set up the daily Advent Candle; I sorted out the Advent playlist on iTunes; and thought about some reading for the season. And I began to recall some of the great works of art, and poems, that are informed by Advent themes.

I came across this brilliant video clip on Godspace which entertains and informs - Advent in 2 Minutes.

And also these beautiful words from John Van De Laar.

‘Advent reminds us that there is a new world coming – always coming. It also teaches us that this new world does not remove the realities of the old world, at least not yet. Rather, the new world exists in the midst of the old one. The signs of suffering and trauma that we see every day are not an indication that God’s reign has failed, or that God is not coming, or even that we still need to wait for some future fulfilment when all will be set right. Rather, the suffering we experience in this world is an opportunity for us to encounter God and to help others to do the same. The struggles of this life are a call to embody now the grace and restoration of God, so that we become the manifestation of God’s motivation and the channel of God’s presence and activity for those around us.
'Our challenge, as we begin the Advent journey again this year, is to hold fast to faith and to live, as best we can, in the midst of the struggling world, the hope-filled life of Christ. Despair is not an option for us. Rather, as we celebrate God’s coming, hope becomes the fountain from which our joy, our love and our life of Christlikeness can flow.’ 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


At the Baptist Order Convocation, someone quoted from a booklet, AnamCara: Collegial Clergy Communities by Mahan Siler. A number of us were captivated and so we ordered some copies from the States.

It really is a booklet and not a book, but this slim volume is dense with beautiful writing and deep wisdom.

'How do you stoke the fire of soul within your institutional role? How do you keep alive your curiosity about this mysterious generosity that wants to surge through you and your ministry? How do you lead with passion and vision within a congregation that may desire more management than leadership, more comfort than challenge, more efficiency than effectiveness?

'My response from fifty years in our vocation, is this: You cannot by yourself. Without soul friends, vital pastoral leadership is not possible. A single log will not remain aflame.'

And another extract, 'How do we get to that place where the Music of the gospel becomes again and again more important than we are? With friends, I submit. I imagine pastors circling up with other colleagues to "jam", to lose and find themselves again in the Music. I picture AnamCara as one of those gathering places where vocational friends, practice, improvise, harmonise, note the discordant sounds, learn from one another, laugh with one another over mistakes - in other words, to love the Music together.'

Friday, 21 October 2011

Reflections on Time and Music

I've read two posts this last week which have reflected in different ways on time using music as a pattern. One is from Glen in relation to spirituality; the other from Stephen Hough on pleasure: its delights and dangers. Because music takes place in time as well as taking time, and because by its very nature it's elusive and can't be freeze-framed, seized, captured, it provides a rich means of connecting with dimensions of life that are similarly elusive and hard to grasp.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Welcome to Rev Jeannie's Poetry Blog

I met Jeannie when I was a student assistant in a church in South London. And all these years later it's a delight to meet again as colleagues and friends. I was so pleased when Jeannie told me at the Baptist Order Convocation that she'd begun a blog. She's a deeply insightful human being who knows how to use words, as you'll see in the poem she read at the Eucharist in the Chapel and posted on Friday.  So do visit her at Rev Jeannie's Poetry Blog.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

CBA Ministers' Conference

One conference over and another one to go! The Ministers' Conference went really well. Jonathan Edwards and Kathryn Morgan were great. And Nick Spencer from Theos, who I hadn't heard before, was very impressive. Keith Judson and Tim helped us relax at the end of the day with some entertaining, thoughtful, sometimes humorous, sometimes bitter-sweet, songs.

There are many things that I could comment on which were nourishing. But a couple of things in particular that have stayed with me: Dan Foster's sax playing; and the privilege of praying and anointing with oil those who chose to come forward after Communion. It felt to me as though we were standing on holy ground.

I'm now at the Baptist Order Convocation, which is a huge contrast and already I'm feeling refreshed by the space, the pace, and the comparative silence.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

CBA Ministers' Conference

This week's a bit crazy! Before the Baptist Order Convocation, running from Wednesday to Friday, is the CBA Ministers' Conference from Monday to Wednesday!! This year the theme is 'Faith in the Market Place' and the speakers are Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union, Nick Spencer from the public theology think-tank, Theos, and Kathryn Morgan, Baptist Union Mission Advisor. We've got Keith Judson performing, with son Tim, at an after-hours session on Tuesday evening, and I'm preaching at the final communion. I'm looking forward to it and it promises to be another really good conference.

On Wednesday, straight after lunch, I'll leave King's Park, Northampton and catch my breath as I drive down the M1 to London Colney to begin the next event!  Come Friday I fully expect to have had a varied, rich and exhausting week!

Friday, 7 October 2011

First Baptist Order Convocation

From Wednesday to Friday of next week, 12-14 October, we will be holding the first Baptist Order Convocation.  

Well over two years ago, four of us, close friends for many years, found ourselves talking about the possibility of a Baptist Order. We invited another friend who had some more developed thinking to join the conversation. This took place in Oxford in October 2009 and we agreed to take things further. We each invited a friend on a similar journey to a 24 hour conversation, and also we asked someone to facilitate the gathering. On 11-12 March 2010  eleven of us met in Warminster and through a process of discernment produced The Dream, which has been something of a foundational document since. How this came about - from thoughts going in every direction to something quite coherent - had a touch of the awesome about it! 

We met again on several other occasions but hosted a further conversation in January of this year to which we invited those who we thought might be interested. And over 50 people travelled to Milton Keynes. As expected, many questions were raised in addition to those we were asking ourselves. We're still working through these and there is no hurry, but there was a real sense of affirmation and a desire to take things further.

At the heart of what we're doing is a commitment to prayer and attentiveness through a daily rhythm of prayer, spiritual accompaniment and retreat. And there's a commitment to gather, regularly in a cell, and annually as an Order. Acknowledging a debt of gratitude to communities like the Northumbria Community and the Franciscan Third Order, we're continuing to explore ways in which we acknowledge our belonging to the universal Church and yet express that which is distinctively Baptist. This is no small task but one that feels hugely worthwhile.

It seems as though we're on an adventure with that mixture of both excitement and apprehension. I have to say that I'm really looking forward to what could be a significant milestone on the journey.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Mobile phones going off in concerts

I really enjoyed this photo I saw on a bassoon-playing friend's Facebook!