Thursday, 28 March 2013


With Rabbi Danny Rich,
Chielf Executive of British Liberal Judaism
This week has been holy for both Jews and Christians as both Passover and Easter is celebrated.

On Tuesday I accepted an invitation from The South Bucks Jewish Community to be a guest at their Passover Meal being held in our church hall.  It was a wonderful evening!

I was welcomed with great respect and friendliness and soon introduced to Rabbi Danny Rich, the Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism, who was leading the Seder that night.  I had hoped to blend into the background but it was insisted upon that I sat at the top table – with Danny’s wife graciously helping me through every part of the proceedings with whispered explanations.

Much of the Seder is about storytelling and with quite a few children present it was obvious from the start that it was all about passing on this cherished tradition to a younger generation.

There was also an obvious sense of ‘connectedness’ about the evening.  Folks told me how much they were aware that these same words were being said every hour around the world on Tuesday – and how touched they were to remember that their parents and grandparents would have used them in their day. 

All of this was accompanied by an informality that just doesn’t happen at a Christian Communion service.  The Rabbi cheerfully dealt with, and even encouraged, cheeky interruptions.  This was an evening to be enjoyed, it had something of a ‘family party’ feel with good humour and gentle banter.

Of course it has to be recognised that Rabbi Danny is the leader of British Liberal Judaism.  So I was fascinated to talk with him about his take on tradition and interpretation.  He holds very flexible and provisional views and displayed, it seemed to me, a great willingness to approach the texts with questions whilst at the same time sensing their relevance for every age.

At one or two moments during the Seder liturgy Danny looked over to me and almost winked – this usually occurred during references to the coming Messiah.  On this issue, inevitably, we hold different theological views.  However, I came away with the conviction that I had gathered with fellow seekers after truth, men and women of enormous good-will and spiritual integrity.  So I, for one, had no trouble in joining them in giving thanks to God for the liberation he offers us all and praying for peace in our world.  Tuesday was my chance not just to read about a Seder meal but actually experience it in all its joy and kindness.

This event in Holy Week has made a deep impression on me that I think I will never forget – it has made me realise afresh just how much our Christian story has its origins in the Jewish one.  And it seems to me we still hold much in common – I felt on Tuesday that I was sharing company with good friends.

It strikes me that part of the richness of the Jewish tradition is its use of language which, even in translation, puts things so eloquently – just think of the Psalms.  Well on the tables was a ‘bluffer’s guide to Seder’ (for which I was very grateful) that had this rather beautiful saying on the front:

‘There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots; the other, wings’.

And then there was a line from ‘A Song of Passover’ – Danny pointed it out in his sermon – it read:
‘Slaves are those who stop searching for the way’.

At Passover, on Tuesday night, I felt God was very close.



Thursday, 21 March 2013

Sitting in The Pew

Whilst in London this week I managed to catch a splendid free lunchtime concert at St Martin in the Fields.  It was encouraging to see the place packed with all ages come to listen to the American musicians: Linda Chatterton on flute accompanied by Matthew McCright on Piano.

It was strange to be in the pew – normally in church I’m ‘up the front’!  So I savoured the moment.

The programme was varied (always a useful phrase that!).  There were familiar pieces that felt warm and comforting like Bach’s Sonata in E Flat Major or Borne’s Fantasy on Themes from ‘Carmen’ – I felt everyone wanted to hum along during that last piece.  There was also a brand new work especially commissioned by Chatterton and McCright from the Kentucky composer Brian Ciach.  This was a brilliant ‘world premiere’ full of sparkle and hope.  Another modern piece, and one new to me, Raian’s  ‘chainstitchembroidered’ was more of a challenge – and I’ll let you read into that what you will!

It struck me as I sat in the pew that when we come to church on Sundays we probably have a similar reaction to the lectionary readings and liturgy we hear and use.  Some of it warms our hearts and affirms faith – surely a necessary part of any Sunday service.  Sometimes we’ll discover new things which instantly hit the spot and thrill us with new vistas.  And other times we’ll be confronted and challenged by a truth that we find disturbing and uncomfortable – yet to dismiss it would be to miss the possibility of hearing God’s whisper.

All of this is surely true of our journey into Holy Week and Easter.  Many of us are so familiar with the events we are just about to commemorate and celebrate.  Some will reassure us, one or two might come new to us and maybe, when we’re least expecting us, an odd one might disturb us – and probably make the most impact.

‘Lord – give us all open-hearts this Holy Week’ – Amen.

With best wishes,
ps this has nothing to do with the above but it made me smile...earlier today I was at a Ministers’ Meeting – as it had been scheduled for 8am in a church hall we were sat there enjoying our  bacon rolls when someone comes through the door with a puzzled and anxious look enquiring – ‘Is this the Young Offenders Breakfast?’  - you can imagine the response!!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Negatives into Positives

As Lent is a time for confession let me tell you that this time last week I was attending a Driver Awareness Course in Dorchester.  Instead of the penalty points for speeding at 38mph in a 30mph district on the way to the Dorset coast I went to what my children call ‘The Naughty Boy Driving School’ for a morning.

I have to say it was all done terrifically well and I learnt a great deal. It struck me, however, that the start and finish of our time together felt a world apart.

When the thirty of us arrived, (only two women in our group and I make no comment!), few of us made eye contact.  There was an almost tangible sense of resentment in the room that we had to undergo the inconvenience of this course.  A few ‘louder’ members of the group engaged in conversation as we signed in – protesting that they were only a few miles over the speed limit – ‘not as if I was doing seventy like the fool I saw on the road yesterday’!

We shuffled down the corridor in silence, heads bowed (is this what prison feels like, I thought) and separated into two classrooms with about fifteen of us in each.

It was the instructors who made the difference and started the thaw among us.  They were such good people – treated us with courtesy and respect, listened to our questions, challenged our assumptions with politeness and a lightness of touch.  The three hours flew by and we left as friends – I almost asked ‘same time next week then?’!

What happened last Thursday morning?  I think a negative was changed into a positive – skilfully and deftly done.

It struck me that we in the church need to do the same.  We talk about sin, confession and repentance – serious things which we need to take seriously.  Yet to leave it there would only ever be half the story – it is, however, the only half I think people sometimes hear.

Jesus seems to put it much more positively in the story of the Lost Son.  For that adolescent there was a moment when he realised what a mess he’d made of his life – a moment of honest self-realisation.  Yet there was also, after the change of direction, such a welcome home given him by his father.  A negative was changed to a positive.

We Christians are not the ‘thou shalt not’ brigade – but seekers after truth who believe Jesus came to show us ‘life in all its fullness’. 

It seems to me that just about everything in church life should, therefore, absolutely be about turning negatives into positives.

With best wishes,

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Experiencing a good committee!

BURG Committee around the breakfast table!
No that isn’t an oxymoron but my experience last week whilst serving with the Baptist Union Retreat Group Committee.

I heard a trailer for a Radio Four programme the other day about the benefits of bureaucracy presented by the former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell.  Of course he spoke as a life-long career civil servant but his basic thesis is that all of us benefit from good, people focused bureaucracy.

I suppose on my best days I feel that about church committees.  Now I know they can be the most frustrating part of the humanity we bring to the Body of Christ, but at their best a committee of people can come up with ideas, insights and solutions which no individual by themselves could.

That’s how I felt about the BURG committee as we gathered for three days at Ivy House Retreat Centre, Warminster last week.  It felt supportive, optimistic in spirit, willing to grapple with reality and every conversation was held in mutual respect.

As I ponder what made this particular time spent ‘in committee’ feel so positive I’ve concluded that:

·         The regular moments we worshipped together – Morning and Evening Prayer and Mid-day Communion enhanced our sense of fellowship and focused our thoughts on what was really important.

·         The meal times (even when spent in silence) made this feel so much more than simply being at a meeting – table fellowship has a valued place within the Christian tradition – it’s surely significant that so much of Jesus’ ministry was spent in the sharing of meals.

·         We gave ourselves a long time on the first day to get through an agenda – nothing is more stifling to discussion that an imposed, but often quite necessary, time guillotine.  The luxury of an afternoon session that could run on to an extension after supper was good.
What we experienced last week was actually a Committee mixed with a Retreat and, of course, that’s not always possible month by month.  Yet times of worship are ‘do-able’ in a monthly meeting - and the occasional meal or social event can enhance any committee’s self understanding.

They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee – but even camels have their place!
With best wishes – especially for your next committee.


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