Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Road Less Travelled

The M25 has once again become an inevitable component in our travel plans since moving to Amersham.  The Chorleywood junction is just about five miles from where we live and we use it regularly. 

A fortnight ago a group of us from church travelled by car to the URC Synod at Tottenham - via the M25.  Well that was the plan.  It took an hour and a half to get to Watford - a journey that might nbormally have taken just twenty minutes - and because of a major crash there the M25 shut down.  We took a 'road less travelled', made a detour and arrived for the morning coffee an hour late - but received the warmest of welcomes.

A week later we were back on London's orbital motorway, this time during the Monday morning rush hour driving down to Sussex where I was taking a family funeral.  It was a fraught and tense journey and we were glad to have factored in slow traffic because it took us twice as long as normal to get to Crawley.

It's been a similar tale told today by some of the participants attending the Order of Baptist Ministry Convocation here at the Quaker Conference Centre in Birmingham.  One of our number was held up on the Aston Freeway for over two hours - joining us way past the start time - but once again, I hope, receiving the warmest of welcomes.

The picture of a journey is, maybe, an over used analogy for life - yet it surely resonates with us.  For we all have hold ups and detours in life - our journeys, whether with family, in church or at work, rarely go to plan.  Yet in the twists and turns we come upon unexpected joys just as much as unwelcome difficulties.

A few years ago I attended the saddest of funerals of a friend of mine. He was the father of two young daughters and at the funeral his wife told the congregation what she had told her girls.  That their journey had taken an unexpected turn in the road - they had neither expected nor wanted it - but it was now the journey they were on.

Such grace and bravery made a deep impression upon us all.

So tomorrow, when we drive home from Birmingham back to Amersham,  at rush hour, who knows what the motorway signs will be telling us. 

Perhaps in all our journeying our constant prayer is that, whatever is before us, we might be people who are 'travelling hopefully'.

Happy Advent!


Thursday, 21 November 2013

We had a party...


On Tuesday night we had a party!  Held at church it gathered together the five groups which make up our ‘Life and Faith’ programme at AFC.  Our Associate Minister takes the lead with this part of church life and it was she who had planned the evening we were about to share.

We began with food, of course!  Conscious that each group might ‘stick’ together folk were given tickets to sit at numbered tables.  The food was delicious and table-talk stimulating.  After the main course and before pudding we paused and had a presentation from each group reflecting some aspect of their life together over this past year.

We began with one of the three ‘study’ groups – the one that seems to do it differently!  This group – as with the other two – has been looking at the lectionary readings.  However, they are up for more than discussion and often thoughtfully and deliberately include craft-making or game playing in their sessions.

Next came our Thursday evening group and they presented a charming ‘drama’ depicting what might have been if Saint Luke had actually joined them for one of their study sessions; what questions would they have posed and what answers, or lack of them, might he had offered.

Third on were members of our Friday ‘Bring and Share Prayer Group’.  They practised what they preached by leading us in some quiet moments of reflection using prayers based on the The Fruit of The Spirit – the theme they have taken on recent Fridays.

Next up was the ‘Hands Together’ groups.  This is a fellowship group that meets to knit and chat – their handiwork is then sent around the world helping our various charities.

Last on was the Wednesday evening group.  They finished their studies on the lectionary by the summer and during these autumn months have been looking at ‘Jesus The Jew’ – so they took the Lord’s Prayer as their presentation theme on Tuesday evening and prayed it in a variety of ways, including ‘signing’ for the deaf.

I sat there with a growing sense of respect and appreciation for these groups.  It’s wonderful that they represent such diverse styles and activities appealing to different sorts of members. Yet each expression is a worthy exploration and experience of Life and Faith in action.

A year ago at my Induction I hinted that in the lead up to my appointment I had glanced just a little of what God was already doing at AFC.  Tuesday evening was yet another confirmation that as a minister in this church I stand on ground which is already holy.

Our Life and Faith Groups are a real treasure – so I’m glad we had a party on Tuesday to celebrate them.

With best wishes,


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Farewell Poirot

I’ve just come in from a Ministers’ Breakfast and over the bacon rolls my part of the table was talking about a colleague who so loved films that he showed almost a clip a week during his sermons.  When his successor was called to that church the deacons, who’d had enough of illustrations from the silver screen, respectfully asked if he would refrain from showing film clips, at least for the next couple of years.

Well I’m going to be a little self-indulgent today and write not of the big but small screen and the demise last night on our TVs of one of my all time favourite characters, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.  Today I’m still in mourning – I even woke in the night feeling sad!!
This television adaptation played by the wonderful David Suchet has been with us for almost twenty five years and I’ve seen most of the seventy episodes at least three times (I know I should get out more!).

Of course it’s murder done with such finesse, respectability and implausibility as to make it, generally, totally unbelievable yet very enjoyable! 

In this quarter of a century we’ve got to know this funny Belgium sleuth with his penchant for spats, moustaches, and silver tipped walking canes.  Over the years his character has grown more melancholy and reflective.

I read the final book ‘Curtain’ whilst on a Boys and Girls Brigade camp in Devon a few years ago.  We bought it at Greenway, Christie’s house on the banks of the Dart.  I remember hiding in my tent avidly reading this ‘page turner’ chronicling Poirot’s last outing.  Ironically I’ve lent the book out, can’t remember to whom and need a detective to take up the case for its return!

I couldn’t watch last night’s final episode live as I was at a very well attended meeting of Churches Together in Amersham and Chesham Bois.  But I didn’t hang around afterwards returning home eager to see if the TV recorder had done its job.

Well either you share with me this love of Poirot or the preceding paragraphs have left you wandering if I need some sort of therapy!  And in a way the books and programmes are nothing more than entertainment. 

Yet...there is something about the integrity of Suchet’s acting that I find deeply touching.  That, combined with Christie’s writing, has given us a detective who is passionate for the truth, always keen to champion the wrongly accused even if the authorities and public want a quick prosecution – and most of all a man who hates murder with such a passion because he so obviously loves life.  So even though these programmes have never been intentional sermons, they have made something of a spiritual connection with my own ‘little grey cells’!

Farewell Poirot - and a thousand thanks to David Suchet!

Best wishes,


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Perspiration as well as Inspiration

To round off half-term week last Friday we spent the morning at The British Library at St Pancras.  We visited one of the permanent exhibitions in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery where we saw treasures such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Codex Saniaticus, the oldest written copy of The Gospels.   

As spine tinglingly (is that a word?!) enthralling as these priceless artefacts were the display case that really caught my attention was the one full of music manuscripts.  The original copy of ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles was on display.  Paul McCartney says this lovely tune came to him in a dream one night and upon waking up he rushed to the piano to write it down.  To the likes of you and me I guess that sounds a bit like ‘Inspiration’ – a rare moment when something comes to us almost as a gift. 

However, that didn’t look to be the case with the display manuscripts of
Mendelssohn's Wedding March or Elgar’s sketch for the 3rd symphony.  Both these geniuses seem to have struggled to bring their works alive.  Bar after bar on the Mendelssohn manuscript was crossed out and Elgar seemed to have come to a dead halt and so gave up entirely using the remainder of the page to draw cartoon like animal characters!

I came away, I think, realising afresh that very little in life that is to be cherished and valued comes to us ‘pre-packaged’.  It’s sometimes easy to believe that as we listen to a completed piece of stirring music or look at a framed and varnished painting.  Yet the precious truth we need to remember is that probably everything that’s worthwhile in life takes time, naturally involves many ‘crossings out’ (‘Falling Upwards as Richard Rohr calls it) and even ‘starting again’.  That’s why these manuscripts from the great composers, in all their glorious scruffiness – showing as much perspiration as inspiration, seemed to me to be just as precious as listening to their completed and polished final work.

The same was true of a biography lent to me by a member of Amersham Free Church recently, written by her friend all about the Cholera pioneer doctor James Christie.  It was a book written in a refreshingly honest style giving us an account of this Scotsman’s downs as well as ups, rather than a hagiography simply charting his successes.

Almost a year ago I took up my post here in Amersham and part of that process was reading the profile of the congregation sent to me entitled: AFC – a Work in Progress.  Well, I don’t think there will ever be a ‘completion date’ (this side of eternity) that could be put on such a profile.  For in our church life, as well as our personal and professional ones, we are all in an ongoing ‘process’ with very few pages of our story written neatly.  Instead there are crossings out followed by bursts of inspiration recapitulating again to times of either valued or dulled routine. And that is fine, and that is good – and that, I guess is the way it’s always been – and in it all, we dare to believe, is God – at work in us, through us, and even sometimes, despite us.

With best wishes,



The Past is a Foreign Country

I love L.P.Hartley’s well known quote: The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. This week we went, as a f...