Friday 27 May 2011

Passport to a better life?

I used to live in dread of appearing in the Mystery Worshipper reviews of the Ship of Fools website! These days I'm a less frequent visitor to the site, and I probably wouldn't even notice such a review was there.

It is interesting, though, to get an unsolicited review of a sermon, especially when it came from a Muslim and a Sikh! One of my church members, who works for the Passport Office, has set up a Home Office Christian Network in the building - well done, Rupert! He invited me to speak at a half hour Maundy Thursday service, which I was glad to do. It was a bit of a surprise to find two diversity representatives from the PCS (Public & Commercial Services Union), and I did a quick mental check on my talk to assess whether anything in it might be misconstrued by those of other faiths. Fifteen attended the service, which exceeded expectation, the talk went well and the hot cross buns were enjoyed afterwards! Now I find that it is reviewed in the dizzy heights of the local PCS newsletter (titled 'Resistance'!).

In case you are dying to find out what they wrote, here it is:

'As part of the importance shown of celebrating diversity within IPS, your local PCS group had sent two reps. (Kaniza and Amar) to participate in the service on the theme of ‘Remember Me’.

It marks an important event in the Christian calendar, where many positive and praiseworthy characteristics are learnt through the sacrifices of Jesus Christ.

The event was organised by the Home Office Christian Network, who hold a regular Christian fellowship, every Wednesdays between 1pm and 1.30pm in Multi-Faith room 1. The service was well attended and there was a pleasant atmosphere.

The Guest Speaker Reverend Tim Edworthy spoke passionately about the message of Easter. It was a positive and a powerful message, to remember and nourish one’s soul through the remembrance of the sacrifices made by Jesus Christ.

There has never been such an important time in Human history – because of the natural and man-made disasters seen all over the world – to walk the path of altruism (my italics). The message and challenge given by Reverend Edworthy was a listener's/reader's response from a Christian point of view to Jesus on the cross; one thief denied His claim, the other believed.

PCS would like to ‘Thank’ the Home Office Christian Network for organising this; we look forward to seeing more of such events by the local Home Office Christian Network, and those of other faiths and groups.

So there it is. The sentence in italics was not a part of my talk, but an interpretation added by the two representatives. I'm glad the message came across so well. It's not often I have the pleasure of sharing the life-giving good news of Christ with those of other faiths inside of my church building. How about you?

Maybe we clergy all need to get out more!

Monday 16 May 2011

Yes, Minister!

There are times in church settings, where we talk in a language that only the initiated will understand! We obscure truth by hiding it in theological language.

It's an imperfect illustration, but I love this quote from 'Yes, Minister'. Jim Hacker is talking to his private secretary, Bernard, about a complaint that has been made:

Jim: ‘Sarah tells me this complaint is nonsense.

Bernard: ‘Oh, fine. So we can CGSM it?

Jim: ‘CGSM?’

Bernard: ‘Civil service code. It stands for Consignment of Geriatric Shoe Manufacturers. [Pause as Jim Hacker looks bemused] Load of old cobblers, Minister.’

How do we Christians, and we clergy, obscure the meaning of what we want to say?

How do others hear it?

How can we say it better?

Thursday 12 May 2011

You heard me in my tune ...

Last week, I led prayers at a local Christian care home. I won’t name it, but members of my church will know it well. I chose a hymn to sing with the residents, started the accompanying CD and off we went. Except that one woman, we’ll call her Jeanie, started singing a little late and with great gusto! All the way through the hymn, she was out of time with the rest of us. At the same time, she was out of tune. It was hard for the rest of us to keep going, and a few of us stifled smiles!

It reminded me of the line of a song from my favourite rock band, U2:

‘You heard me in my tune, when I just heard confusion.’

Of course, Jeanie is very deaf, but she was so pleased to join in with the singing. I heard confusion, but I don’t think she did at all, and I’m sure that God didn’t. If God can make sense of our flawed attempts at living, God can certainly enjoy Jeanie’s tune!

Monday 2 May 2011

A Celebration of Baptist Life

This is a slightly edited version of my report for our Church Magazine

From 30 April to 2 May, I and my family attended the Baptist Assembly in sunny Blackpool, along with about 2000 others.

What is the Baptist Assembly? Well, it is best described as a celebration of Baptist life, especially for churches in England and Wales. It included the Annual General Meetings of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and of BMS World Mission. Before you yawn …..


The two AGMs are kept as brief as possible. This year, for the first time, they were held back to back and lasted a total of an hour or so. Happily, although times are hard and some tough decisions have had to be made, both organizations continue to balance their books. This means that the money that churches are able to give is being put to best use in resourcing ministry and mission at home and overseas.

Who can go? Anyone! Each local church can send its minister and delegates (two for our church), who are entitled to vote at the AGMs. But any Baptist Christian (or others, should they choose) can sign up. You might want to go next year! We can (almost) guarantee you will enjoy it and be blessed.

So what else did we do? We went to morning and evening meetings in the main auditorium at the Norbreck Castle Hotel. This year’s theme was ‘Your Kingdom Come.’ The main evening speakers were this year’s BU President, Pat Took, Jeff Lucas and Julie Pennington-Russell, an American Baptist minister. All were inspiring with Pat giving depth, Jeff providing humour, and Julie combining the two! In addition, I went to two afternoon seminars delivered by Jeff, one of which looked at ‘The Power of Creative Kingdom Leadership’ and the other which explored lessons drawn especially from Jeff’s own church setting in Timberline, Colorado.

Worship was led by Andy Scarcliffe from the Baptist Union of Scotland. Andy led with grace and diversity. He is not averse to giving a few surprises. For example, a song ‘Majesty’ (not the old one we know) was followed by ‘Silent Night’ (well, why not?)!

Our celebration of communion was fantastic – perhaps the best large-scale Lord’s Supper at which I have been. Music was provided by a Jazz ensemble, playing sensitively and with beauty. Questions asked by two children formed a framework that opened up the mystery of the bread and wine (although other children were not present – perhaps they should have been?). Our friend, Lynn Green spoke powerfully on the need for churches not to exclude but to include people in the Kingdom.

Other highlights, which happen every year at the Assembly, were the recognition of new ministers in the BU and the commissioning of new missionaries for BMS. At the 2009 Assembly there was a call for us to pray for God to raise up many more people for missionary service? Well, God has answered in a mighty way with around 20 being sent out this year, and a similar number due to enter training next September!

What about our children? They attended ‘Innovation’, the event for secondary school age. When we asked them what they did, they said ‘Stuff.’ That generally means it was OK, coming from teenagers! We think there was lively worship, and good teaching. We know they had a good time with friends, some of whom they have met at Leading Edge and previous assemblies.

What was the best bit? As always, it is meeting up with friends old and new. One lunchtime, we attended our College reunion and caught up on news of the college, as well as with some of our contemporaries. There were many more friends that we caught up with from all parts of the country as we wandered through the hotel where the assembly was based.

We came away feeling that it is great to be a part of God’s family, the Church. It is great, too, to have a home in the Baptist denomination. God has much for us to do as a denomination, and as the local Baptist church at Park Road, Peterborough, in bringing the Kingdom to earth ‘as it is in heaven’!