Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Can we have our ball back?


On Sunday the whole country seemed to revel in the glow of the success of the Lionesses at Wembley.  Perhaps Prince William caught the national mood as he hugged the team members before presenting them with their winner’s medal.

Our eldest son was in the stadium and said the atmosphere amongst the 87,000 spectators was electric.

Yet the story of women’s football sounds like it comes from a different planet, even more so when we realise the prejudice shown against them was just a hundred years ago.

It was in 1894 that Nettie Honeyball (what a wonderful name!) founded the British Ladies Football Club.  The game was popular amongst women, but it took the tragedy of war to bring it to significant prominence.

For, during the First World War the role of women on the Home Front changed dramatically simply because of the absence of so many men who were away fighting.  It was during this period in North East England that the Munitionettes’ Cup was established.  On Boxing Day 1917 a Women’s Football International was held between England and Ireland before a crowd of 20,000.  And then a Women’s Cup Final in 1918 was played before no less than a staggering 22,000.

Now, none of this success and enthusiasm went down well with the English Football Association who, in 1921 issued a statement which read: the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not be encouraged.

That started a ‘ban’ on the women’s game that lasted from 1921 until 1970.  Similar restrictions were also introduced in countries such as Germany and Brazil.

The FA made it impossible for women’s teams to play on any grounds that belonged to the Association.  Some teams tried to continue by playing on rugby pitches but, basically, the momentum of the women’s game was lost.

Historians conclude that jealousy played a big part in this prejudice as the ‘gates’ at women’s games were financially significant, and the FA had no control over these monies.  So, rather than seek a mutually beneficial way forward, the men took the women’s ball away.

What a difference a century makes, and how ‘absurd’ it all sounds now to read of the reasoning behind the ban.

Part of the dignity of being human and made, as the Bible rather poetically says, ‘in the image of God’, is the ability we have to change our minds and in that process to see the world differently and afresh with new perspectives.  Such a process leads to progress!

In a book the AFC Book Discussion Group are currently reading, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: Yes, we do have setbacks, but you must keep everything in perspective.  The world is getting better.  Think about the rights of women or how slavery was considered morally justified a few hundred years ago.  It takes time.  We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.

Wonderful words of hope from a man who knew what it meant to live in bleak times.

Such a way of thinking meant that, following the success of England in the 1966 World Cup, the Football Association eventually said ‘yes’ in 1970 to those from the women’s game who had been demanding for decades that they
 have their ball back!

Blog holiday now until September – have a lovely summer!

Thursday, 28 July 2022

A Sense of Place

We’ve spent my day off this week exploring the streets of Spitalfields.

We were there because one of our sons has just set up a stall, selling re-cycled clothing, at the Vintage Market in Brick Lane.  So, we thought we’d do the ‘parental’ thing of giving encouragement to a venture we barely understand!

Like many areas of London this patch, between Shoreditch in the north and Whitechapel to the south, has many layers of history.

Back in 1612 Spitalfields saw the foundation of the very first Baptist Church in England.  It was led by Thomas Helwys who, just a few years later, was thrown into Newgate jail for his ‘dissenting’ views in matters of faith.  Us Baptists have always been part of the awkward squad!

Towards the end of the 1600’s Spitalfields saw the influx of thousands of French refugees who we have come to know as Huguenots.  Louis XIV’s Edict of Nantes declared that France would no longer tolerate their Protestant belief, so 50,000 of them settled in Britain, many in the East End of London.  The Huguenots were tremendously industrious and made the area famous for their silk merchandise.  They settled so well because Spitalfields was outside the legal and financial jurisdiction of The Guilds and Companies of The City.  An obvious sign of the success of the Huguenots was the establishment of ten small Protestant Meeting Houses in which they worshipped.

As if to teach them how the English really built churches, the Parish of Spitalfields commissioned Nicolas Hawksmoor to come up with a truly grand and monumental design for the new Christ Church, standing at the centre of this community.  We had lunch in the church grounds this week and the building still towers over everything around it – it’s truly massive.  Recently Christ Church has become one of the many satellite congregations of Holy Trinity, Brompton.  It’s contemporary worship style and heavy support from HTB has re-energised it so much so that it now regularly holds three services on a Sunday.

Another example of ‘thinking outside the box’ is the recent establishment of a Community CafĂ© on Brick Lane, Spitalfields, sponsored by Baptist Home Mission and set up as a ‘crossing point’ between church and community.

Oh, and of course, Spitalfields is also the famous location of many Jack the Ripper cases.  We even did the tour!

Well, it’s a fascinating place with a long history and a contemporary multi-cultural feel.

The Bible regularly invokes a ‘Sense of Place’ as shorthand for various observations and messages about faith and life.

We talk of The Garden of Eden in terms of a lost paradise.  Whilst Sodom and Gomorrah stand for all that is beyond the pale.

And isn’t it significant that Jesus was born in the, comparatively, insignificant town of Bethlehem and died on a cross outside the capital, Jerusalem, at Golgotha, a place of shame.  All making the point that this King never lived in a palace or sat upon a cushioned throne.

There is a modern Call to Worship that says:

This is the place
and this is the time;
here and now,
God waits
to break into our experience;
to change our minds,
to change our lives,
to change our ways……

This is the place
as are all places;
this is the time
as are all times.
Here and now
let us praise God.

And it’s surely an inspiring thought that God is with us at all times and in all places.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Money - you just can't give it away!

 Last week Bill Gates, the world’s 4th richest individual, vowed to give almost all his money away.  Eventually, he wants to fall of the ‘rich list’ and he says this feels, to him, like an ‘obligation’ to society.  To that end he has made a further donation of £17bn to his Foundation which is combating diseases like Malaria across the world.

Yet, it seems just giving money away isn’t as easy as it sounds.  After all Bill Gates made this same promise back in 2010 and since then, with a decade’s growth on the stock markets, his wealth has doubled.  So, even more to give away now!

Andrew Carnegie, sometimes thought of as the Father of Modern Philanthropy, had a similar experience.  From his humble beginnings in Dunfermline, Scotland, he ended up one of the richest men in America.  He gave away $350m in his lifetime (his money helping to fund the discovery of insulin) yet at his death in 1919 he still retained, apparently to his great disappointment, some  $30m.

It was the St Paul, writing to young pastor Timothy who said The love of money is the root of all evil, and I also note he spoke of such avarice as ultimately bringing many sorrows.

Money itself is, of course, neutral.  It’s its use, or our insatiable quest for more and more of it, that can be so destructive.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from talking about money and the good it can do.

In the Jewish Scriptures there’s the idea of a Temple Tax, meaning that all men over the age of 20 paid half a shekel to the Temple and half a shekel to God annually (about four days wages) on top of their free will offerings.

In Jesus’ day we are told that a group of women financially supported his ministry.  Luke even lists three of them by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna (who husband, intriguingly was the Administrator in Herod’s household) and Susanna.  The Greek word used to describe them is the root of the word Deacon, meaning one who serves.

The Church has not always been good with money, gaining a reputation for filling its own coffers at the expense of the poor.  In the time of the Prince Bishops in England that meant Cathedrals and Abbeys owned huge swathes of land, whilst on the Continent Martin Luther spoke out against a greedy Church selling Indulgences to pay for building work in Rome.

Today, the debate about money, and especially taxes, rumbles on and is central to the current leadership race in the Tory party.

Having enough money can bring all of us a reassuring sense of security.  Striving to make taxation fair, and government spending well targeted, is seen by many Christians as a matter of justice, one that stands at the centre of our faith. And, if recent reports of the actual unhappiness encountered by some lottery winners is to be believed, it seems St Paul was right; money can bring many sorrows.

Yet, alongside Mary, Joanna and Susanna, I guess that most of us truly want to use our money wisely and well.  And like Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie (although I suspect in much smaller quantities!) we will hope that the money we give away may be a blessing to others.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

We live in unprecedented times...Do we?


Listening to the radio over the last few days I’ve been struck by a phrase regularly used by commentators that goes something like: We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s got me thinking if that is actually true?

Take, for example, this current spell of very warm and sunny weather.  The grass is parched and Wimbledon didn’t have to be extended this year as rain hardly stopped any play.

Although this sort of weather doesn’t come our way every year, depending on the Jet Stream, I very much remember the long hot summer of 1976 – perhaps because I was sitting school exams – when the reservoirs dried up and the ice cream ran dry!

Or how about the Pandemic?  For us, this worldwide phenomenon started in December 2019, yet a hundred years earlier the world was emerging from the 1918/19 Spanish Flu Pandemic that killed more people than those who lost their lives in the First World War. 

And now there’s the political uncertainty as No 10 Downing Street falls vacant after a tempestuous few months.

It’s significant that the body organising the election of a new Conservative leader has the title of the 1922 Committee. This group, set up to represent the views of back benchers was actually established in 1923, a year after they effectively rose up in collective strength and forced the resignation of David Lloyd George whose Premiership of the Coalition was faltering because of accusations of sleaze and wrongdoing.  Baldwin described him as a Dynamic Force of the wrong kind!  All sound a bit familiar exactly one hundred years on?

We have been here before, yet we quickly forget that.

During these days of Covid I’ve often wondered why, at school, we hardly touched on The Spanish Flu Pandemic? And then, recently, I heard a historian point out that we have a tendency to forget the hardships we go through.  It’s a sort of self-preservation mechanism that enables us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and try to walk more optimistically into the future, rather than get stuck overly conscious of the past.

Yet, in doing so, perhaps we forget too much.

We forget that we do, individually and collectively, ‘fall down’.  Often, we can recover and stand up again.  Indeed, that is the basis of the Christian idea of redemption.  We can begin again, receiving both the forgiveness, acceptance and new beginnings offered to us by God and those around us.  It’s the reason why the story of the return of the lost, prodigal son being greeted by the forgiving and welcoming father, remains one of the best loved and most relevant of all biblical narratives.

So, when I hear that phrase, we live in unprecedented times I’m just a little sceptical.  We’ve probably been here before in some senses, and we’re likely to be here again.  Yet we hang on to the belief that God shares every day and every challenge with us, be that in 2022, or 1922.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

July's View from The Pew


This week's blog is a write up of our visit last weekend to Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church on one of my Sabbatical Sundays.

Here's the report: July's View from The Pew

Thursday, 7 July 2022



Yesterday we hosted an AGM and lunch at church for The Baptist Union Retreat Group.  The meal we provided for our guests was a corporate effort and I contributed by providing a few home-made lasagnes.  I’m not sure what came over me when I made that rather rash offer, but once made I had to come up with the goods!

As I sat through the morning AGM increasing self-doubt wafted over me as I could smell the lasagne cooking in the church kitchen.  What if it was a disaster?  What if I, single handedly, managed the bring down the whole Baptist Union Retreat Group with food poisoning!

So, my relief was almost palpable when I saw the guests not only tuck into the lasagne at lunchtime but also seemingly survive the afternoon.

Cooking for others might be something of a great responsibility but it can also be a great joy.

One of our relatives, when hosting friends for a meal, apologised to the guests that the pudding on that occasion wasn’t up to his wife’s usual standard.  He wondered why she kicked him under the table as he said this.  After they left she told him of her embarrassment at what he’d said because it was, in fact, the guests who had brought the pudding that night!  I wonder if they ever came back!

Judith Jones, the American editor best known for ‘discovering’ the Diaries of Anne Frank and promoting the food writer Julia Childs, spoke of cooking using ‘religious' language when she wrote:
Cooking demands attention, patience, and above all, a respect for the gifts of the earth. It is a form of worship, a way of giving thanks.

So, I suspect that yesterday I was rather like Martha (rather than Mary) in the Bible story.  As we were discussing the agenda my mind was actually in the kitchen with my lasagnes!

It seems both natural and good that sharing meals plays a part in our corporate life.  Our Jewish friends probably lead the way with many of their rituals actually based around the family table rather than the one in the synagogue.

Even the modern discipleship programme ALPHA made sharing a meal together an integral part of its ethos.

I’ve enjoyed countless times around the table with friends at church.  None more so than an exchange visit to Australia and preaching in a rather remote village chapel on the banks of the Murray River outside Adelaide.  After the service we went over to the church hall for lunch at which just about every lady in the congregation produced a home-made shepherds pie.  I’ve never seen such an array of the same dish, yet each one just a little different from the rest.

The very word companion means to share bread with another.  At AFC we might do that at LunchBreak, Tea at Three, Lunch Club, Men’s Breakfast or our occasional Church Lunches. I think even sharing a biscuit at After Service Coffee also counts! 

Perhaps we might even twist a well known proverb and say that  A church that eats together stays together.

Of course, the most important ‘meal’ Christians ever share is Communion.  Breaking bread and drinking wine in  remembrance is the meal that nourishes our souls and draws us to God.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Three Score Years and Ten


Over recent weeks a couple of the Care Homes, in which we used to hold regular services, have got in contact with us asking us to return.  This will be a great joy as, during the Pandemic, these homes have been ‘off limits’ resulting in an increased sense of isolation for their residents.

Such services are an important part of AFC’s life as it’s our opportunity to share half an hour of worship and fellowship with folks who can no longer attend a service in their own church.

Over the last couple of years I’ve taken a number of funerals of some of the residents who used to attend such services, their families having contacted me because ‘Mum used to love the times when AFC visited and she could sing her hymns again’.  All very moving.

I was struck by the recent findings, published this week, from last year’s Census.  Apparently, there are now close to 59 million of us living in the UK with 11 million being over 65 years of age, and that’s an increase of about 4% on ten years ago, whilst the number of young adults under 35 has fallen by 5%.  I suppose, in colloquial terms, that means society is ‘getting older’.

I remember the first time someone asked if they could give up their seat for me on the Tube!  It happens quite regularly now, but it happened first in 2012 as we piled into a carriage on our way back from attending the Olympic Games in East London.  To be truthful I was rather taken aback and declined, these days I always accept!

In Psalm 90 we are told a life span equates to the legendary Three Score Years and Ten.  Yet the truth is that if you are a mere 70 years old in a church today you’ll almost certainly be considered one of our ‘younger ones’!

One of my favourite bible stories is the one about Simeon and Anna, two aged saints who advanced in years with faith burning bright in their hearts.

Of course the Bible comes from a time when society had fewer ‘categories’.  The term ‘teenager’ hadn’t yet been invented so I suspect you were simply thought of as either young or old, with your ‘senior years’ almost certainly starting around your early fifties. 

We might also make the observation that Jesus only ‘experienced’ being a child and then young adulthood.  Dying at 33 meant he barely reached middle age.

Job says that wisdom and understanding belong to the old, whereas Joel, in a passage also quoted on the Day of Pentecost, declared that old men will dream dreams whilst young men will have their visions.

We need both, every community needs both, the dreamers and the vision see-ers, the young and the old.

A  modern hymn by David Mowbray, one time vicar in Watford just down the road, charts our lives with the first lines of each verse reading:
Lord of our growing years…
Lord of our strongest years…
… our middle years…
… our older years… and then
Lord of our closing years…

In some ways it’s a brave hymn because of its honesty, yet every verse has this wonderful refrain:
Your grace surround us all our days -
for all your gifts we bring our praise.

Can we have our ball back?

  On Sunday the whole country seemed to revel in the glow of the success of the Lionesses at Wembley.  Perhaps Prince William caught the nat...