Friday, 30 March 2018

Good Friday Reflection

Good Friday Reflection

I didn’t know what I was doing, really.  I just got caught up in the excitement of the occasion!  I heard them coming, and I went out to see what the commotion was.  A melee of people, moving down the Mount of Olives, a buzz of constant shouting in the distance, not in anger but in…joy.  Others joined me to see what the fuss was, and before we knew it we were a crowd, waiting for this other crowd.  As they drew near, moving through the valley and up the slope towards Jerusalem, I saw him – a man, riding on a donkey.  Nothing unusual about that.  What was unusual is what the crowd were doing.  They were pulling down tree branches and spreading them before him.  They were taking off their cloaks and throwing them in front of him and his donkey.

We lined the roadside, as if a King were passing by!  Maybe one was, because the crowd that came with him kept shouting: ‘Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in highest heaven!’

As I said, I didn’t know what I was doing, but before I knew it I was shouting aloud too: ‘Hosanna, hosanna to the Son of David.  Hosanna to the King!’  That’s what you do, isn’t it?  You go along with a crowd.  You join in.  So I did.  Even before we knew who it was, we were shouting.  Before the crowd that went with him told us it was Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth, a man whose reputation for doing remarkable things goes before him, we were yelling out.  And we wondered, some of us, whether he really could be the one promised by the prophets of old?  Could he be Messiah?  Then, I more or less forgot about it – until this morning.

Again, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  We were gathered outside the palace of the governor, Pilate.  He was giving us the choice between two prisoners – one would be released and one would be executed.  To my amazement, one of them was Jesus, and he already looked in a bad way.  And Pilate asked us which one he should release.  The crowd roared back, ‘Free Barrabas, free Barrabas.’  That went on for some time.  When the noise died down, he asked, ‘What do I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’  The crowd shouted louder than ever: ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’  I was aghast – even more so when I heard myself going along with the crowd, shouting: ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’

And now they have.  Now we have.  Now I have.  As I said, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  Now I find myself looking at the cross, the dead body of Jesus upon it, wondering, ‘What have I done?’

The thing is, he gasped out a few words as he hung there, dying.  ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’  Did I know?  I just went along with the crowd.  I didn’t mean for a man to die, not this man!  Could God really forgive me?

As the end drew near, and his agony increased, he cried out, ‘Eloi, eloi, lama, sabachthani.’  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  It was agony watching, hearing, never mind the agony of being on the cross.  And I wondered how could God let him die like this?

Finally, he spoke his last: ‘It is finished.’  Then he breathed his last.

Now I stand here wondering.  Is it finished?  Is it finished for Jesus?  Is it finished for me?

Or is it only just beginning?

Buckingham Parish Church
30th March 2018

Saturday, 3 October 2015

25 Dreams for Well Street United Church

This is a copy of my article for our church's October magazine.

Whilst studying for ministry, and for a number of years after, I had a quote from George Bernard Shaw on my office wall:

‘You see things and you say “Why?”  But I dream things that never were and I say “Why not?”’

I believe that both of these positions are valid.  We need people in life and in our church who ask “Why?”  Why are things the way they are?  We also need people who dream of things being different and who ask, “Why not?”  Why can’t this dream become a reality? 

I doubt that anything has ever changed for the better without someone having a dream that things could be different.  History is full of examples.  One such person is, of course, Martin Luther King with his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.  King looked out on the injustice of racial segregation and he dreamt of a better future where all human beings are equal.  Today, it is much better although there is a long way to go.

I would not put myself in the company of Martin Luther King, but in the past week I have been moved to dream some dreams for our church.  After just over a year as your minister, I have had a good look at our church with all of its strengths and weaknesses.  There are many great things about our church, and there are areas in which we could do better!  Maybe you will have more dreams to add, but here are my ’25 Dreams for Well Street United Church’. 

·      I dream of a church that is putting the King at the heart of Buckingham
·      I dream of a church in which Christ is at the centre of all we do and are
·      I dream of a church ‘without walls’ in which the world is welcome in the church, and our church goes out into the world with the Good News
·      I dream of a church that opens itself to the challenge of God’s Word in the Bible
·      I dream of a church in which we are all FTCWs (Full-time Christian workers) taking our faith seriously in the workplace
·      I dream of a church in which we live up to the ‘United’ part of our name
·      I dream of a church that realises we are better together
·      I dream of a church in which we respect the rights of others in the church to hold different views to our own
·      I dream of a church in which we are always seeking to encourage one another
·      I dream of a church in which we know how to have fun together
·      I dream of a church that treasures all people from the very young to the very old and encourages them on the journey of faith and discipleship
·      I dream of a church in which our children and young people are not just the church of tomorrow, but the church of today
·      I dream of a church in which our older people are not just the church of yesterday, but the church of today
·      I dream of our children and young people growing into people of faith who want to change the world
·      I dream of a new church building that is a hub of community life in its locality and for our town: a place that is ‘owned’ by people as their church, even if Sunday worship is not what they do
·      I dream of our church being in the marketplace in Buckingham on a Saturday morning, sharing our faith in creative ways
·      I dream of our church being present on the Town Council, on school governing bodies and the like, bringing a Christian influence
·      I dream of God’s Spirit being so powerfully present in our worship that questions of style are not an issue
·      I dream of a church in which worship is both a Sunday and a Monday to Saturday activity
·      I dream of a church that treasures its non-conformist tradition in which we are agents for transformation in the world
·      I dream of a church in which we put what others need before what we want
·      I dream of a church known throughout the area as one that cares for all, but especially for the last, the least and the lost
·      I dream of a church that is both local and global in its impact
·      I dream of a church that is passionate about growing the Kingdom of God rather than its own empire
·      I dream of a church that is truly putting the King at the heart of Buc­kingham!

On the Day of Pentecost as related in Acts 2, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’ (Acts 2:17)

I guess the above makes me an old man!  Yet the important thing here is that prophecy, visions and dreams are all signs of the Spirit.  I believe that some of my dreams are already a reality at Well Street and in our Methodist chapels.  For all of these dreams, I want to say ‘Why not?’

My question for you is ‘Will you dream these dreams with me, and help them become a reality?’

Monday, 27 April 2015

Show Up!

This is a copy of my article for my church's May magazine.

At the time of writing, the General Election is fast approaching.  At your time of reading, it will loom even closer or possibly may have passed.  Either way, it is a significant time in the life of the United Kingdom.

I confess to feeling a little disenfranchised in our Buckingham Constituency.  We have the privilege of having House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, as our Member of Parliament.  However, convention dictates that the main political parties do not field candidates out of respect for the office of Speaker and to ensure that he is re-elected.  It could be tempting not to bother to use our vote, since the result is a foregone conclusion.  That would be to fail to exercise our hard-won right to vote and to forget that there are also local elections taking place.

What can we do when it comes to the elections?  What does the Bible have to say?

Firstly, we can show concern.  In 1 Timothy 2v1-2, we are urged to pray for ‘all those in authority’.  The task of politician is often a thankless one, but they need our prayers whether or not they are people of faith.  To be honest, we need our prayers too – it reminds us that government is essential for the order of society.  Of course, our prayers should not only be at the present time but all the time!

Secondly, we can show respect.  Romans 13v1 says, ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.’  We will not always agree with those in government, we will sometimes need to oppose, but if we are indifferent we show a lack of respect for the authority that God has allowed. 

Thirdly, we can show up!  It could be said that the government we get is the government we deserve.  The more people who vote, the more will our government reflect the will of the people.  Also, when we vote we earn the right to criticise and hold to account our elected representatives, be they Member of Parliament or local councillors.

Finally, we can show interest.  It’s a bit late for this set of elections, but it would be great to have members of our church having the conviction to stand for election in the future.  Take a look at and, in particular, the ‘Show Up’ video.  It’s very thought-provoking.

As we vote, and as the make-up of our new government becomes clear, may God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Five Rules for Life

If I were not a follower of Jesus Christ, I would be glad to have Jonathan Sacks as my rabbi!  Once again, I find myself nodding in agreement, this time with his ‘Five Rules for Life’ as published in the Times (5/1/13). 

Here are the five rules, in speech marks with my own brief comments added.

1.     ‘The first thing to do is dream…. Dreams are where we visit the many lands and landscapes of human possibility and discover the one where we feel at home. The great religious leaders were all dreamers.’

I am currently encouraging my church to dream dreams for ‘Vision 20/21’, based upon John 20:21 (‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’).  We are asking what are our dreams for the year 2021?  Why 2021?  Well, it’s not so close that we feel those dreams unattainable, nor so far away that they mean nothing for our generation.  If we aim low, we are likely to hit the mark.  If we dream large, we may not attain it but we are likely to achieve so much more for Jesus!

2.     ‘The second rule is, follow your passion. People who follow their passion tend to lead blessed lives. Happy in what they do, they tend to spread happiness to those whose lives they touch. That is a life worth living.’

Sixteen years as a Baptist minister have taught me that I am a ‘big picture’ person rather than a ‘details’ person.  Where it is possible I am happy to delegate the latter.  Some people may be passionate about the detail, but I am not!  Sixteen years has also taught me to say ‘No’ to things that do not appeal to me.  For example, I had a passion to see the Street Pastors’ Scheme set up in my former city of Peterborough, so I took steps to help it happen.  I turned down the opportunity of store chaplaincy because it did not excite me, important though it may be.

3.     ‘The third rule I learnt from the psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl, whose Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most widely read books of our time. Frankl used to say: Don’t ask what you want from life. Ask what life wants from you.’

Before I trained as a Baptist minister, I had a career in the building society world.  For a long time, I found great fulfillment in it.  I moved to another building society for a substantial pay increase and a company car, only to find that the job satisfaction vanished.  I had had a sense of calling to pastoral ministry for some time; now was the time to pursue it.  This was what life – or God – wanted from me.  I believe He still does!

4.     ‘The fourth rule is: make space in your life for the things that matter, for family and friends, love and generosity, fun and joy.’

Early in my time as a Baptist minister, I became a bit of a workaholic.  This was what I had been called to and I was enjoying it so much that my working week was closer to 80 hours than the 35-40 that is the norm in other walks of life.  I tended to wait until the end of the week to see what time was left for leisure.

I came to realize that overwork is not a virtue.  It is a denial of the Sabbath rest that God has built into his plan for us. I now try to build leisure into my week, irrespective of how much there is to do.  I work from rest, rather than the other way around.  I feel much better for it and, strangely, the ministry is usually still done and is probably more effective.  Oh, and I still enjoy the ministry – most of the time!

5.     ‘The fifth rule is work hard, the way an athlete or concert pianist or cutting-edge scientist works hard. The American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls this the principle of “flow”. By this he means the peak experience you have when you are working so hard at a task that you are unaware of the passing of time.’

Whilst overwork is not a virtue, hard work is!  It is quite possible for clergy to ‘underwork’, since a lot of the time no one knows what we do!  Sacks reminds that the Hebrew word for serving God – ‘avodah’ – also means hard work.  Whilst ministry can be a slog, I often find that there is fulfillment in working hard especially when following a passion.

Sacks concludes:

There are many other rules but these are some of the most important. Try them and you will be surprised by joy.’

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Popes, archbishops and blindfold boys

We continue to await the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  Meanwhile, a blindfold boy has chosen the next Pope of the Coptic Church in Egypt from three candidates.  Is there a lesson to be learnt here?

As an interested observer of the Anglican Communion and a friend of many within it, I cannot help thinking that the selection procedure is all about power-play and politics.  Liberal Anglicans want an archbishop, who will see through reforms, which they had hoped would come from the present incumbent.  Conservatives desire one who will resist the tide of tolerance towards what they see as unbiblical practices.  If it were just about the Church of England, a decision might be more easily reached.  But we must also factor in the worldwide Anglican Communion, where even more entrenched positions seem to be taken.  Who is the diplomat who could hold all of these things together?  Deadlock!

It got me thinking.  What if the choice were whittled down to a final three candidates?  Each candidate would have different gifts, skill and points of view, and each would be able to make a valuable contribution to the life of the Church.  That would be the human part of the process.  A blindfold child makes the final choice from the three.  That could be the divine part – the place where the Church entrusts the outcome to luck/chance/God (delete as appropriate). It has its advantages.  No jockeying for position from the final three, no canvassing of votes from their supporters, no accusations of the wrong choice being made.  It might lead to more fervent prayer from all parties that God’s will be done.  That would be a good thing!

That’s the Archbishop sorted – what about the US Presidential election?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Sharing the Peace

At a recent Eucharist that I attended at Peterborough Cathedral, we arrived at that point in the service that some Baptists call ‘clammy handshake time’.  Yes, it was the Sharing of the Peace!

I was struck by contrasting examples of the way in which peace was shared with me.  As I was circulating and shaking hands, one woman put her hand in mine but was already looking towards the next person as she shook it and declared, ‘The peace of the Lord be with you.’  No eye contact was made.  No smile was given.  It seemed to me that peace was shared in word only.  Contrast that with another person, who knew me and approached me specifically to wish me well as my family and I prepared to move to Newbury, and to share God’s peace with me.  This time the action matched the words.

It got me thinking about the Sharing of the Peace.   Why do we do it?  Where does it come from?  I have to admit that it’s not usually a big part of my Baptist tradition, although I will occasionally encourage people to share the peace in the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper as we tend to call it.

A quick bit of research pointed me back to the Didache, an early handbook for the Christian Church.  This in turn points back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, confirming their use in the early Christians’ practice of Communion:

‘[Therefore], if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something again you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First, go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; then come and offer your gift.’  (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).

So, sharing the peace is about being reconciled with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  That makes sense! 

Happily, I don’t seem to fall out with a companion believer too often and then have to leave my gift at the altar to go and be reconciled.  I suspect this is true of most Christians (or am I just being naïve here?).  Why, then, share the peace at all?  Perhaps there is a principle at stake here, which allows us to enter into the practice of reconciliation when we need to?  Sharing the peace reminds us that humanity is fallen, and that the Church is a part of that, and individual believers are a part of that.  It reminds us that we all need to be reconciled to Christ.  It is not just a way of saying ‘hallo’ to one another, but rather a sharing of the peace that comes to the world through Christ alone.  When we share the peace, we are preparing ourselves and one another to take the bread and wine which reminds that Christ reconciled the world to himself by the Cross!

With all of that in mind, I might encourage my congregation to share the peace more often!

What are your thoughts on, and experience of, sharing the peace?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

What have I done?

This is my final article for the Church Magazine (July/August 2012)

As I write my last magazine article after eight years as pastor of Park Road, there are three questions that come to mind.

The first question is, ‘What have I done?’  Why am I taking myself and my family from a place where we are settled to a place where we will have to begin again?  Why am I causing my wife to leave a job that she enjoys, and my children to leave a school with which they are content?  For all of us, why are we leaving behind friends and starting again with, well, strangers?  The answer is ‘God’!  We believe that God has called us to go to Newbury, and that he is calling us from Newbury to serve in the Baptist church there.  God is the reason we are going, and in faith we are seeking to follow him.

Of course, that question can be taken another way: ‘What have I done in eight years of ministry in Peterborough?’  I prefer to tackle that with a second question: ‘What have we done?’  Ministry is something that we as a church of God’s people are called to do together.  I happen to have had the privilege of being paid for it, and of serving you as your pastor!  As I look back on eight years of our ministry in the city, these are some of the things (in no particular order) for which I believe we can give thanks:
·      Alpha Courses.  The first course that we did after my arrival was the best in which I have had the privilege of being involved.  Some of you were on that course – you might remember.  God was so clearly at work!
·      Baptisms.  These are always a high point for any Baptist minister and church.  From age 12 to 85, we have had the blessing of people being baptized and setting out on the journey as disciples of Jesus!
·      Church Members’ meetings – no, really!  My first church did not really have a strong sense of identity as a Baptist church.  You have shown me more of what it means to seek the mind of Christ together as a church.  Of course, I still get frustrated with them at times, but don’t we all?!
·      Inspirations Studio.  Linked to the last heading, the series of three church members’ meetings through which we explored and affirmed the vision of Inspirations Studio were inspirational!  And it’s been great to see the work developing under the guidance of our church member and project manager, Stuart Mathers.
·      Mentoring.  For a couple of years or so, Stuart, Mark Tiddy, Joel Mercer and myself met about once a month to explore different aspects of church leadership.  See above and below for updates on Stuart and Mark!  We can give thanks too for the opportunity to support Joel as he has explored a calling to Baptist ministry.  Watch this space for where he will be in September!
·      Café Kindness.  This is such a simple idea – opening up the front of the church and offering free coffee and cake – and yet it has probably put us in contact with more people than anything else we have done.
·      CaféChurch.  This was a great experiment in a different way of doing church.  Although we brought it to an end after a year, it was good to have the experience.
·      Mark Tiddy.  A few months into my time here, we applied to receive a church-worker from Careforce for one year.  We got Mark Tiddy and we ended up having him for four years!  He was a great blessing to us and especially to our young people.  We can be proud (for God!) of our part in training Mark for full-time Christian youth ministry.
·      BMS, Street Pastors and Interim ministry.  A blessing of being set aside as a paid minister is that I can work on your behalf in areas for which you might not have the time.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve as a trustee of BMS World Mission, in helping to set up Peterborough Street Pastors and as interim minister/moderator of Open Door Baptist Church (Harris Street). 
·      BMS, again!  We can be thankful to God for the faithful service of Pat Woolhouse over many years in Kimpese, DR Congo.  Three of us have had the opportunity to visit Pat there, and to see the impact that her work with others has made for God.  Now we can pray for Fiona Macdonald as she prepares to pick up the baton as a member of the forthcoming Peru Action Team.
·      Churches Together in Central Peterborough.  Looking back, I believe that the Lord brought together a group of like-minded clergy at just the right time.  We had a desire and a will to build upon the ecumenical links that already existed.  It was a very moving occasion when we came together in January 2009 to become CTiCP.  Fruit is growing from our relationship: Love came down at Christmas, City Centre chaplaincy, Inspirations, Children’s Fun Days etc.
·      Small groups.  Back in 2004, we had a couple of small groups but most of our members were not in a small groups.  Today, we have ten small groups and with many more involved, they are at the heart of our church.
·      Baptisms, again!  At the time of writing, it looks like we will have two baptisms on 15th July.  Maybe, there will be more?  God is still at work!

Of course, there are many more things for which to give thanks, but this article is beginning to gush like an Oscar acceptance speech, so I’ll leave it there!

The third question is, ‘What has God done?’  For the answer to that, see above!  ‘…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ (Philippians 3:13).

Wendy and I and our girls will go from this place with sadness because of the friends we leave behind, and with gladness at all that we have been able to do together.  We go, too, with excitement at all that God will continue to do in Peterborough and Newbury.

Please pray for us, as we will pray for you.  We will welcome visitors from Peterborough, once we get settled into our new abode.

Thank you so much for sharing the journey of faith with us.  It’s been great! Praise God!