Friday, 24 February 2017

Carpets of Welcome

This week a new blue carpet has been laid along the aisle at Amersham Free Church and it looks great.

This new addition to our church furnishings replaces the original carpet put down when the building opened in 1962.  I wonder how many soles have walked upon it?!

I was intrigued to read that the largest carpet in the world also resides in a religious building.  The one in the Abu Dhabi mosque is an astonishing 60,000 square feet and took the Iran Carpet Company two years to weave.

On Palm Sunday we are told the Jerusalem crowd greeted Jesus entering their city on a donkey by ‘carpeting’ his path with their cloaks. 

This all sounds rather similar to that piece of English myth about Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her shoes muddy.  It’s long been thought this incident never actually happened and is a piece of imaginative writing from the pen of the 17th century cleric cum historian Thomas Fuller.  It’s still a great story!

The use of a ‘red carpet’ for welcoming guests, especially important ones, is documented in literature going back four centuries before Christ .  However, the actual term, ‘rolling out the red carpet’ was first used in 1902 when the New York Central Railroad Company used a plush crimson carpet to direct passengers to the 20th Century Limited trains. 

Well at AFC we’ve chosen ‘church’ blue for our carpet!

I’d like to think, whatever the colour, that our new carpet remains a symbol of welcome – reflecting those Jerusalem crowds laying their garments before the entry of Jesus.  I also hope it offers a welcome to all who enter our building and come into the Sanctuary for worship.

Welcoming God and welcoming each other – laying out the red (blue) carpet for both is an important part of what we do Sunday by Sunday.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

'Like living on a film set...'

Venice on Wednesday with the Doge's Palace on the right
Yesterday we flew back to Britain after a week in Venice.  The lagoon sparkled in early spring sunshine and the city was gearing up for Carnival – a sort of last ‘fling’ before Lent!

One of the most interesting visits we made during our time in this Italian masterpiece was to the Doge’s Palace on the waterfront.

The Doge was the elected Head of the Republic of Venice – and over its thousand year history it had one hundred and twenty of them. They were elected for life, they couldn’t refuse the honour and neither could they step down from it. 

Their ‘life-long’ appointment was most unusual in that almost every other post in government was for a strictly limited time span: usually for three or six months or possibly a year.  After service for that specific period the holder of the office stood down for exactly the same period of time before the possibility of standing again came along.

All of this was Venice’s attempt to stamp out corruption.  If you didn’t serve overlong then, it was reckoned, you wouldn’t be in anyone’s pockets! 

The Doge wasn’t so fortunate.  He served for life, so was usually appointed around the age of 80.  He also served at his own expense.  He received no salary; quite the reverse, he had to pay for the upkeep of the palace and all the state entertaining out of his own fortune. Our guide thought that’s why one Doge died two days after a significant part of the palace burned down.  She thought he just couldn’t face the repair bill!

All this talk of power and its use and misuse touched a chord with me.  It reflects the constant struggle we humans have.  As the adage goes: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We even experience that in religion and I couldn’t help but notice as we looked at many of the painting’s in Venice’s galleries how often Mary and Jesus were depicted not as a marginalised woman or wondering rabbi but with crowns upon their heads seated in thrones.  All too quickly we invest them with an earthly ‘power’ that is surely so foreign to the lives they lived or the message behind their story.

Power – it’s something all of us in the Church need to ‘handle with care’!

There is, however, another reason for this reflection about Venice.

At AFC we have just lost one of our central members, Mary.  The last time I saw her, just a day before she died, we talked of Venice.  She reflected on her visit there ten years ago and said: I felt for the first two days as if I were living on a film set.  I couldn’t get Mary out of my mind as we walked through Venice last week.  Mary was a great servant of God at AFC and her family go back almost to its inception.  We are sad she has left us and we will miss her gracious character, wise counsel and faithful example – but we rejoice that she dwells today upon another shore, in a greater light in the loving presence of the God she served so well.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Beyond Difference

I wasn’t really looking forward to going out on Tuesday evening.  It was a cold, damp night and it had been a full day at church.  Yet I came home from the meeting so glad I went.

The meeting in question is called; Beyond Difference.  It draws together folk who want to participate in inter-faith dialogue and usually has a speaker from both the Muslim and Christian traditions followed by an open discussion that often has a Jewish presence as well.  We’ve met at my church, the Chesham Mosque and on Tuesday a full house gathered at the Quaker Meeting House in Amersham.
Both speakers reflected on places and people who have influenced their journey of faith.  Irfan, our Muslim speaker who studied law at Cambridge and has just been called to the Bar aged 30, told us not only of his love for Pakistan but also his concerns for that ‘new’ nation.  He also unpacked for us the notion that Islam always has a cultural context and is never quite the same in any two countries.

The purpose of these Beyond Difference gatherings is that we LISTEN to each other.  And in the listening we learn and explore.  And in the exploring trust, respect and friendship grows.

I’m a big fan of this process because it seems to me that over the last quarter of a century, with so much ‘dumbing down’, Western Society has moved from an Age of Reason to an Age of Emotion.  That’s lead to one Democracy after another experiencing a massive blow to reasoned argument because of the knee jerk pressure of the Popular Vote.  This is the exact opposite of The Long View which values facts, history and the nuanced ability to calmly listen, analyse the complicated and come to a measured response.

This week the statistician Hans Rosling died.  He is the man who brought facts and figures to life as he pursued his passion to make our understanding of the world an informed one based on reason and not emotion.

Jesus did the same I believe.  He got behind the emotional smoke scenes of his day that were fuelled by prejudice and fear.  He talked to the sex workers, mentally ill, and terminally incurables of his society rather than shouting about them.  He took the long view and taught that forgiveness may be hard but ultimately it had to be explored and pursued throughout a lifetime. His views were never populist – his cross is a testimony to that.

It was dark, damp and cold on Tuesday evening – but in that gathering at Amersham’s Quaker Meeting House – as Muslims, Christians, Jews and people of no faith connection came together in mutual respect we experienced the light and warmth of our common humanity.  Surely a ‘God Moment’ if ever there was one.

Best wishes,


Living in the story

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