Thursday, 20 June 2019

One small step...

Exactly a month from now, on 20th July 2019, we shall be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing.

Apollo 11 left the Kennedy Space Centre on July 16th, 1969 and on July 20th the lunar module, Eagle, landed in the beautifully named part of the moon designated as The Sea of Tranquillity. Neil Armstrong was the first man out and as he set foot on the lunar surface broadcast those immortal words: One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind. Minutes later Buzz Aldrin joined him and that day they spent two and a quarter hours roaming the surface, collecting forty-eight pounds of rock to bring back for analysis.  One of those small fragments is now encased in the Lunar Window at Washington Cathedral.  These brave and adventurous astronauts, along with the not to be forgotten Michael Collins, who flew the command module and gave them a lift home, splashed down in the Pacific on July 24th.

I remember watching all this as an eight-year-old and being transfixed by those fuzzy images as we all gathered around the family TV. 

I know it is probably a much-overused metaphor, but we often talk of our pilgrimage through life as a ‘journey’. 

The journey to the moon is about 239,000 miles and a bright spark has worked out it would take most car drivers six months to complete the journey! 

Yet, maybe the most important journey we make in life is the ‘interior’ one.  We are constantly moving on from one phase of our lives to another for nothing stands still very long.  Sometimes we fear the change that comes our way whilst at other times we embrace it. What is true for all of us is that ‘the next step’ in life is usually a step into the unknown. 

Way back, in 1696, Tate and Brady set the words of Psalm 34 to music and came up with a hymn that urges us to trust in God as our companion and guide.  Their words still resonate with me as I consider that interior journey which is as life changing as any lunar landing:

                                Through all the changing scenes of life,
                                               In trouble and in joy,
                                        The praises of my God shall still
                                          My heart and tongue employ.

Friday, 14 June 2019

aaggghh I've forgotten my mobile....!

The other day a personal crisis of epic proportions came my way!

Whilst driving, en route to a dog walk, it suddenly dawned on me that my mobile phone was missing from my right hand side trouser pocket.  A wave of panic and anxiety filled me, all be it momentarily!

I had left it on the breakfast table.  Later that day I would be attending an organ recital at Southwark Cathedral.  We had got talking over the toast about the history of the place and, as is our custom these days, pulled out the phone to ‘google’ (is that really a verb as well as a noun?!) some information about its antiquity.

Well, despite my irrational fears (because I have existed on this planet perfectly well for half a century before buying my first mobile) I survived the dog walk without a phone and arrived home in one piece.

Just to prove the point, Google tells me the first cell phones came about in the USA in 1973, six years later in 1979 they were used in a car phone network in Japan.  The first portable cell phone, resembling a brick, came on the scene in 1983 and whilst these became popular in America and on the Continent it wasn’t until 1992 that they were introduced to the UK.

It’s hard to believe now that the general public were at first mystified as to why they needed a mobile phone.  Sales were sluggish! 1992 saw the first text message on 3rd December, it simply said ‘Merry Christmas’.

We got used to mobiles throughout the 90’s and in 2007 the iphone was launched, and the rest they say is history!

I suspect it’s all about that insatiable and intriguing human need for connectivity and although some of us need it more than others it does seem to be a universal desire.

Family and friends who are younger than me have a virtual world of connections that runs into hundreds of people; Facebook and WhatsApp to name just two platforms a dinosaur like me is aware of.

A minister friend of mine is working on a doctoral thesis examining the impact of this idea of ‘virtual community’ upon the Church.

In terms of faith ‘connectivity’ is a big issue.  This weekend congregations around the world will be celebrating Trinity Sunday, a time when we ponder the community of The Godhead and the connectivity between Father, Son and Spirit.

I sense, in my own pilgrimage, that much of my search for meaning and purpose rests on the idea that I am, in some way, ‘connected’ to both God and other people.  That gives me a sense of identity and hope.  It is the essence of prayer.

Whether walking in the countryside or bowing my head in church I think of prayer as the process of making ‘connections’ and sensing my place in the network of life.

Fortunately I can still pray whether or not I’ve remembered to pick up the phone from the kitchen table and that sense of the blessing of God and others in my life is not, ultimately, dependent on the availability of a 5G network.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Pentecost Gloves

Some of the lessons you learn in Sunday School stay with you a life-time; as has one about gloves and the Holy Spirit for me.

I remember my Sunday School teacher holding up a glove.  It was a nice glove – not that as a nine year old I took much notice of their finer points!  She asked how this glove might be transformed and come alive?  We must have been a particularly dense lot because I remember none of us proffered an answer!  Of course, she simply put her hand in the glove and it was instantly transformed into something that moved.  That, she says, is a picture of the Holy Spirit filling the life of the Church enabling us to become the living Body of Christ.

Well, it’s stayed with me all these years; the simplest of illustrations with the profoundest of meanings.

Without the Spirit of God we are merely a very worthwhile institution, yet with His Spirit we become a vibrant expression of God’s love and life for the here and now.

Happy Pentecost on Sunday – and, remembering that Sunday School lesson of years ago, I’ll be taking my gloves to church for the All Age Talk!!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

We 'Circled the City'!

After Morning Service on Sunday 19th May 2019 fourteen of us from AFC took the Metropolitan Line into London and joined 500 other people doing the 'Circle the City' sponsored walk for Christian Aid.  We visited twelve churches in three hours and walked either the six or three mile route.  It was great fun and we hope to have raied about £500 for Christian Aid in the process.  Many thanks to everyone who supported us!

Walk finished with medals proudly worn!

Friday, 17 May 2019

Word Morphing

Word Morphing is new to me!

It’s the idea of changing a word by altering a letter.  Apparently, it’s quite big on the internet with open Morphing groups set up with a continuous stream of word transitions going on.

At its simplest morphing happens when you change a letter; so hog becomes log, or tap morphs into map, or when you add a letter; ate turns into gate, ice become mice and so on!

Every week I send my upcoming sermon down the tube so that one of our Elders can print it and make copies available at the back of the church for Sunday morning.  Last week was no exception, so the sermon was duly sent off.  Later in the day I received an email from my astute proof reading elder to say she had taken the liberty of changing the phrase: God wants to give us the foulness of life into…the fulness of life.  She hoped that is what I really meant!!

I was so pleased she changed it.  Yet in a sense that is the morph of grace that we celebrate in the new life Jesus gives us, changing the foulness of our lives into the fulness of life.

Well, I sent this week’s sermon off yesterday and haven’t heard back – so hopefully no morphing this time round!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Watford to Wembley - more than a journey on the Met Line!

Some of the houses around Amersham currently have Watford F.C. scarves hanging from their windows; all in readiness for the F.A. Cup final at Wembley next weekend.

Alongside Wycombe, Watford is really our nearest big town; one I feel a certain affinity to because I was born there!

My grandfather, who had a chance to play for them, turned them down because the money was better in the Fire Service; how things have changed!

I think it would be interesting thinking which positions the Apostles would play if they had ever been a football team.  Maybe Peter would have been the main striker, with James and John (the sons of thunders) in midfield with the rest of them (of whom we know very little) as defenders.  Perhaps Matthew (ex tax- collector so a very solid and reliable type) in goal.  Judas, as he looked after the money, could organise the player transfers and Paul, always a bit pedantic, might have made a good referee!

Actually an ‘apostles’ team’ might not be too far fetched because many famous clubs actually owe their origins to the days of church football teams, perhaps the most famous being Southampton, otherwise called ‘The Saints’, who grew out of St Mary’s Church.  Everton traces its origins back to a Methodist church team. 

Perhaps the closest Watford get to this tradition is that their ground is Vicarage Road!

Team sports create an enormous sense of local identity and I hope Watford have a good day at Wembley next week; I think my Grandfather will be cheering them on from a heavenly grandstand.

Working as team with a sense of purpose and a common aim isn’t a bad comparison with a church.  And just like any football club a church community has its strikers, midfield and defender players.  St Paul used the Olympic running track as a metaphor for the Christian race, perhaps today he’d also have a word or two to say about striving to score a goal in a Wembley Cup Final.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Build My Church

This week, whilst internet browsing, we stumbled upon some original plans for the building of the new Amersham Free Church back in 1962.  It’s rather moving to ponder these drawings of a building yet to be completed.  I can see so much careful thought behind them, much of it arising from the ‘liturgical movement’ that was popular in the Free Churches of that era.

It is, perhaps, remarkable that in the Sanctuary, at least, the building is used today in exactly the way it was envisaged nearly sixty years ago with prayer desk, communion table and pulpit being in use every Sunday in one way or another.

Since these drawings the actual building they aspired to has become a reality and thousands of worshippers have gathered in this sacred space since its opening on Sunday 30th September 1962.

We never really stop ‘building’ the Church – the real Church – the people, the congregation, the community. 

The building we call AFC houses a community of faith that is constantly changing.  We rejoice when folks settle among us an make us their spiritual home and we are sad, like yesterday, when we hold a service of thanksgiving for a much loved friend. 

I feel quite moved as I look at these architectural plans and realise all the hope they contained for future days – pray God some of those dreams have come to pass as faithful and committed friends have given their all by serving Christ in this place for their time.

One small step...

Exactly a month from now, on 20 th July 2019, we shall be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing. Apollo 11 ...