Thursday, 26 July 2012

Jessie Owens and Luz Long

I guess like every minister I constantly find  that more people talk to me after the service about the ‘Children’s Talk’ than the sermon!  We sometimes hear God speaking to us in the simpler thing.

Well this week I’ve been preparing a number of talks for next week’s Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade Camp at Corfe Castle and inevitably they’ve had an Olympic theme.  One talk has got to me – so I hope it makes a similar impression on the youngsters as they hear it stood around the flagpole in a Dorset field next week! It isn’t exactly a simple story because it contains some of the most complex issues any society has to cope with – namely those connected with racism.

It’s about the remarkable friendship which grew between the black American athlete Jessie Owens and his long-jump competitor, the German Luz Long during the Berlin Games of 1936. 

Hitler wanted to prove Aryan supremacy but that didn’t stop Luz Long giving Jessie Owens a tip about starting his jump six inches back so he didn’t foul.  That one piece of advice probably cost Long the gold medal because even though he broke the Olympic record on his jump, Owens followed with the jump of his life at over 26 feet and beat Luz. 

The first to congratulate Owens was Luz Long – the friendship these two men had built up during the games went deep and to show just how deep the next thing Long did was stunning.  He took Owens by the hand and led him – the man who had just robbed him of the title – over to the German crowd and held up Owens’ arm in victory.  To Hitler’s intense annoyance the crowd, egged on by Luz Long, started chanting Owens, Owens, Owens!

It must rank as one of the greatest Olympic moments of all time – a testament to true friendship and respect at a time when the menace of Nazi prejudice was growing by the month

Tomorrow the 2012 Games start – and sometime over the weekend – in a field by the south coast - I’ll have the privilege of telling this story from 1936 – a story about values and ideals for any year and for every person.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Expressing our thanks

The sun came out last Sunday!  Physically it was a delight to see blue skies, at least by mid-afternoon, and enjoy a warm evening.  Spiritually there was a different sort of brightness being spread – in the form of the Junior Church ‘Promotion’ section of morning worship and the afternoon social gathering we shared at East Coker village hall.

I still have some, actually when I think about it I have most, of my Sunday School prize books on the study shelves!  Last Sunday we distributed this year’s crop of books to the young people of South Street.  During the service each group was called to the front and individuals received their goodies followed by a prayer for the whole ‘class’ offered by their specific leader.  There was just something very touching about this opportunity to say ‘well-done’ to the youngsters.  The essence of these prizes is that they are not really won as no exam has been passed, instead they are ‘given’ – with love and goodwill – a sort of ‘thank-you’ expressing our gratitude that these young people are part of our church community.

During that service we also showed our admiration for Karen and Pauline for all the effort they have put into Junior Church over the years – now they are stepping down from some of their responsibilities we wish them well.

The day continued as many of us travelled over to East Coker and spent the afternoon together – one of the very best church events of the year.  Games and barn-dancing were the order of the day before a shared tea and all of this was followed by Family Communion.  The Eucharist is another occasion of ‘thanksgiving’ – we express our gratitude for the grace of God expressed through Christ, and we also, I think, express our love for each other as fellow pilgrims – nothing seems to bind us together more than receiving bread and wine.  Perhaps that was even more evident last Sunday afternoon as we departed from our ‘normal’ administration routine and offered the elements from the front, alongside a blessing for children.

As the rest of us drove back home the members of our Solid Rock youth group and their leaders ended their day by walking back into Yeovil together – for another meal, this time of a Chinese flavour!

A great day of supportive fellowship with a real inter-generational mix.  A day when we expressed our thanks and offered our encouragement.  A day when it felt a real privilege and joy to belong to this body we call ‘Church’.

With best wishes,


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Anyone for Clustering?

There’s been a lot of talk recently on Baptist websites and blogs about the ‘Futures’ Report accepted by a special gathering of The Baptist Union Council last week. 

It’s impossible not to sense a deep angst behind the report.  Those who have compiled it have worked hard at listening to as many voices in the Baptist Family as possible and they have done their work against a backdrop of falling finances and dwindling denominational allegiance.  Having read the press releases from Council and the Baptist Times write-ups I confess I’m still looking for a ‘big idea’ in the Futures Report.  For all that I hope and pray its recommendations will be helpful to the churches which make up our Union.

Alongside this development has been the re-emphasis, made by senior staff at Baptist House, that churches should become more committed to ‘clustering’. 

Now that, I know, isn’t always easy.  In theory you might think Christians would enjoy meeting up with other Christians from neighbouring Baptist churches – but the gap between theory and practice here is enormous.  I was once minister of a church with a three sided gallery and there was an element of truth in the myth that the folk who sat in it really didn’t know the names of many who worshipped below them on the ground floor!  If that was true then meeting up with fellow Christians from the church down the road was about as counter-intuitive to them as being in a relationship with Baptists on Mars!

Actually I'm not even convinced that clustering has a water-tight biblical foundation either.  In Paul’s day it’s hard to imagine that congregations could realistically meet up together for fellowship or worked alongside each other regularly in mission.  I suspect that Christians in Corinth, Rome or Ephesus were just as parochial as us.

So if clustering isn’t the most natural or instinctive of behaviours and if its biblical justification is fragile and unconvincing – why do we keep advocating that it’s a good thing; and what are we to make of the mantra that Baptist ecclesiology is essentially about inter-dependence rather than absolute independence?

Well this is where we have to not only read about a good idea but experience it.  On paper getting to know about the other churches in a cluster, praying for them and even working alongside them looks burdensome and unrealistic.  However, when we actually meet up with sisters and brothers from the church down the road – our Baptist or ecumenical partners – I think there is a possibility we might see it differently.

Today I did a fair amount of clustering – perhaps I’d better unpack that!  At lunchtime I had a meal with a colleague from a rural Baptist Church near Taunton.  It was great to share time together in supportive fellowship.  Come the evening and I was off to a meeting of our local East Wessex Cluster at Crewkerne.  For some reason I’ve always loved these meetings – even on a cold winter’s night - or a chilly summer's evening for that matter, they have been moments of inspiration.  Over the coffee we share news of our congregations and through the years a degree of trust has built up which makes this more than superficial.  We then pray together – and it is deeply touching to hear someone pray for your church with such warmth and sincerity.  Ironically it’s often the smallest church in the cluster which sends the most people!

I’m not sure what to make of the ‘Futures’ report but I do know there can be something very precious about meeting up with brothers and sisters from other churches in fellowship and prayer – it's a treasure - and during my time in Somerset these gatherings of our local cluster have been a real highlight.

With best wishes,


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Family Planning!

No not the sort you’re thinking of! Instead I’m thinking of the logistical nightmare which is our family diary at the moment. 

Ever since our children started school we realised that the last weeks of each term, be they Christmas, Easter or Summer, are always chock-a-block with wonderful, worthwhile yet time-consuming and routine-busting additions.  We love the plays, concerts and parties but they cause havoc with the diary.  We thought that as our children got older these delights would slim down – how wrong we were!  The addition of School Proms, School Play, School Concerts, an over-seas orchestra tour and Grade VIII music exam have this year blown any idea of a quiet end of term out of the water! 

Don’t get me wrong – it’s all good fun and we try to enjoy all these occasions and are very grateful for the inspiration and experiences they offer.

Spiritually speaking I often long to inhabit the routine, predictable and comfortable.  It’s in these rose- tinted contexts that I expect to find God.  Yet however much we cling to that delusion I suspect we all know life just isn’t like that.  God meets us ‘outside the box’ and has a habit of revealing himself in the A.O.B section of our carefully planned agendas.

Many years ago when I was a young minister (!) the Baptist Area Superintendent came to our church to talk about ministry.  I forget his actual words but the essence of his wise reflections that evening was that ministry is all about dealing with crisis. He believed we rarely spend long dealing with the routine and predictable – no, our regular, even ‘normal’ challenge is how do we find God, follow him and represent him in a crisis.  Discuss!

Well all of us probably identify with such an understanding of life – and today, to varying degrees, we will have interruptions to our routines, threats to our expectations and disappointments to our hopes – the challenge is: how do we meet these moments?  It’s all too common to think God is absent from our difficulties yet ever present in our joys.  To think like that is to just about ignore every bible story we have ever read!

He is the God who sat alongside his people by the waters of Babylon and wept, he is the Christ who felt the pain of two sisters grieving a brother’s loss, he is the Spirit singing with Paul and Silas in a prison cell.

He is the God who is to be known to you and me when our routines are interrupted and our plans are dashed.  Perhaps, even, never known more than at times like that.

With best wishes,


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 ...