Thursday, 14 June 2018

On this day...

Ordination Sunday 14th June 1987

Over breakfast I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard that ‘On this day…’ in 1777 the United States adopted the Stars and Stripes as their national flag.

Then I realised it was 14th June – which for me is a memorable date because it was ‘On this day…’ thirty one years ago that I was ordained.  It was Trinity Sunday 1987 and I was 26 years old!

I suppose in some ways it was a different age: No internet or emails so I actually read newspapers and made telephone calls.  No ‘cut and paste’ facility on my electric typewriter, so I wasn’t tempted to use the template for last week’s order of service and forget to change the date!  No Whatsapp, so I wrote letters and no Spotify so I listened to CDs!

It’s also true that back in the late 80’s Church life was different too.  There were more people around.  We were still the beneficiaries of what I sometimes think of as the ‘Billy Graham’ generation.  Those folk who had come to faith in the 50’s and 60’s – many of whom have now been ‘promoted to glory’.  A repeat ‘influx’ of new people has never really been repeated on quite the same scale.

I have had the privilege, over these last thirty-one years, of serving in five churches: in Northamptonshire, Worcestershire, the West Country and two in the Home Counties.

However, for me, today isn’t just about looking back but re-committing myself to those ordination vows I took in my late twenties – even as I now enter my late fifties!!

I think I am fortunate that I still have a sense of optimism and conviction about local church life, never more so than in serving amongst my present congregation for whom I have the deepest respect and admiration.

My prayer for coming days is that, with God’s help:

 I’ll continue to strive to make sermons as interesting and relevant as I can.

That our worship together will resonate with daily life.

That we’ll be an ‘encouraging’ congregation.

That we’ll seek not only a personal application for faith but a corporate/civic/ society understanding too.

That we’ll be a church, confident enough in God, that we go on asking questions.

I have no doubt they’ll be ups and downs in coming days, but I have every confidence that God will work beside us every step of the way and that ‘good’ things will develop.

On 14th June 1987 my prayer was that God would help me ‘make good my vow’ – and that prayer has never changed.

Friday, 8 June 2018

The 'Sound of Silence'

Last Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Jewish Scriptures was the story of Samuel’s call.  Part of the narrative is that the Lord’s voice had not been heard in recent years at Shiloh, the national shrine of Israel.  There had been silence.

Some people long for silence whilst others fear it.

In just over a week’s time I’ll be attending the Retreat Association conference in Derbyshire which this year has the intriguing title: ‘Sounding the Silence’.

I think I personally have a love/hate relationship with silence.

On the negative side I struggle a little with short periods of silence.  I never seem to settle down. Perhaps I need more practise!

On the positive side, I love silent weekend retreats.  After the welcome and first shared meal on Friday evening the group goes into a corporate silence until after communion on Sunday morning.  As I journey through these few days I actually feel myself ‘calming’ down and becoming more focussed, and I hope, open to God.  The lack of a need to talk, even in company with others, I find surprisingly liberating.  Come Sunday lunchtime and I’m slightly reluctant to leave the silence – but at least I know I take the fresh perspectives I’ve found within it away with me.

One of my favourite ‘modern’ hymns, by Christopher Idle, puts it like this:

Lord, you sometimes speak in silence
through our loud and noisy day.
We can know and trust you better
when we quietly wait and pray.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Circling the City

On Pentecost a group of about twenty of us from Amersham joined hunderds of others in London to 'Circle the City for Christian Aid.  We walked the six miles and visited over a dozen churches to get our booklet stamped!  It was a wonderful occasion, held in perfect weather.  The fellowship was nourishing, the churches inspiring and the cause worthwhile.  Can't think of a better way of spending the afternoon of Pentecost Sunday - the Church on the move - all seemed appropriate somehow!

Friday, 18 May 2018

Prayer - but not as we may know it!

This week our church, along with the two others in our Ecumenical Covenant, has been engaged in a Week of Accompanied Prayer.  Every day people from our congregations have been meeting members of The Team who have been accompanying them on what is basically a ‘retreat’ in everyday life.

Alongside this our church sanctuary has been turned into a sacred space full of ‘prayer stations’.  These have been beautifully and imaginatively prepared.  Each station invites us to spend time ‘praying’ in a multitude of ways.  It’s been a space open to all and some have called in a number of times.

I ‘visited’ a few of the stations on Sunday, Tuesday and today.  One was a Scrabble board, full now of words of faith made up each day by those who sat at that table and pondered what was important to them.  This morning I lingered at the ‘Spirit’ table and drank some of the fruit juice that represented the ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ I most longed for in my own life.  At another table, full of broken pieces, I learnt of the Japanese tradition of valuing a broken pot that had been lovingly put back together again – and in so doing, to appreciate that it’s often in our own ‘brokenness’ that we learn the most about God, others and ourselves.

These ‘stations’ have been a real blessing and a wonderful gift to many of us this week.  Just another example of the breadth of prayer in which we can all engage. 

There is no one way to pray – I realised that yet again as I moved from table to table in our Sanctuary this week – appreciating that each one was ‘holy ground’.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Ascension - at St Pauls!

On Monday, on one of the hottest days of the year so far, we climbed the three hundred steps up to the highest gallery of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was our own ascension moment – come three days early! 

Now, our audio guide informed us by the time we were half way up, (at Whispering Gallery level) that by the time the cathedral was nearing completion, its architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was no longer able to climb the scaffolding and inspect the work.  Instead, he was hauled up to the dizzy heights of the dome in a basket!  It all seemed incredibly precarious!

I’ve tried to imagine the scene since. This wonderful architect, who had lived long enough to see his vision for the new St Paul’s become a reality, standing in the Whispering Gallery looking down.  What, I wonder, did he say now his job in its creation was almost complete?

I’d like to think he said something like:  Well, I’ve given you the framework, here’s your new House of God, now fill it with prayer and praise, fill it with music and service.

Now I know Jesus didn’t ascend in a basket but maybe the essence of what he said to his disciples just before being taken from their sight wasn’t so very different:  I’ve given you a framework and this is what the Kingdom of God looks like.  Remember the stories I’ve told you, the moments of compassion we’ve shared and the experiences that have bound us together.  This is what the Kingdom of God feels like – now continue to live it out.

Ascension, it’s both the break in the road and the continuation of the journey.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Funerals – maybe we are loved more than we know!?

Perhaps, like many churches, as winter ended we found ourselves having quite a number of funerals - five in quick succession.

We miss these dear friends as many were central people in our community. Yet we also rejoice in the faith they showed, recognising that we are called now to pick up the baton and show a similar commitment as we continue to run the race.

The overriding impression I have of the funeral services we held recently is the sheer number of people who have joined us on these occasions.

In the planning stages the families have often been quite conservative about the number of mourners they thought would show up - yet on the day itself I regularly spoke with stewards who anticipated running out of service sheets.

It’s been super to welcome so many people to these services as we have come to give thanks for a friend’s life and it’s a real testimony to the idea that ‘no man is an island’ and that all our lives are interconnected.

At the last service at which I officiated a granddaughter spoke of the positive world her grandma created. She said she always came away feeling better for being in grandma’s world. 

I thought that was a wonderful tribute.

These spring funerals have taught me that, just maybe, we are loved by far more people than any of us realise.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

On St George's Day - one of 353,000 new arrivals hits the headlines!

So, our country has a new prince – who seems to have arrived remarkably promptly on Monday morning just after 11 o’clock.  It’s lovely news for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and for the nation.

UNICEF estimate that every day the world welcomes 353,000 new citizens, that's 4 babies born every minute!  Interesting to put that into context with the figure of 155,000 daily deaths.

At the Manse we have a new puppy and a member of our family commented this week that whilst she looks a bit like a teddy bear its amazing to realise she’s actually ALIVE!  It seemed to have come as something of a revelation!

Well, every new life feels a bit like a wonderful miracle.  I think the Sunday TV serial ‘Call the Midwife’ knows a thing or two about touching the heart strings and making even the most desperate situation seem just that little bit more bearable with the news of a new arrival in the family.

The bible charts the whole of life with ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ featuring in both Testaments.  Significant births include the longed for, yet slightly unexpected arrival of Isaac and Samuel, to the highly chronicled stories of John and Jesus’ entry into the world.

Over recent days, as we have anticipated, and then experienced,the arrival of this new royal child there has been a sort of inference in some reporting that as he is only fifth in line to the throne his arrival isn’t as important as that of Prince George’s in July 2013.

Well, in an historical context I suppose we understand that.  Yet in a family and personal sense the birth of this (at the time of writing) unnamed youngster is of equal and precious worth alongside that of his siblings.

Whether children are born into our lives, adopted, fostered, or befriended – whether we are a parent, aunt or uncle or a friendly and encouraging presence – we give thanks for them and value our limited role in their development.

As an old hymn puts it;

Father, in your presence kneeling,
All our heart’s desire revealing,
to your love, in faith, appealing –
For our children, Lord, we pray.

On this day...

Ordination Sunday 14th June 1987 Over breakfast I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard that ‘On this day…’ in 1777 the ...