Friday, 27 September 2019

With Thanksgiving...

AFC Harvest Festival 2018
Harvest Festivals, like the one we are holding this Sunday, are a Cornish invention.  Apparently it's all due to the Rev Robert Hawker inviting his Morwenstow parishioners to a thanksgiving service in church in 1843.

Festivals such as Harvest invite us to make a connection between life and faith.  So, on Sunday, through our hymns and prayers we'll have many opportunities to give thanks for the beauty of creation and the fruitfulness of the earth and sea.

During this Sunday's service members of our Junior Church will also bring a presentation about water and the challenge of there being either too much or too little of it.  Their presentation is much appreciated because Harvest Festival is also a time for us to think about our stewardship of the world.

An active interest in ecology is surely a necessary part of our faith and it's why we are starting to put 'Eco-Church' on our agendas at AFC.

A piece of good news, that I believe is worth celebrating this harvest season, is the fact that over July and August this year the UK energy capacity rose marginally more in renewables, such as wind power, than in carbon based fuel.  A step in the right direction, I think, and a cause for thanksgiving.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Taking a step back

Listening to the radio this morning I heard the CEO of Microsoft talk of the need for those in his digital industry to ‘take a step back’ and reassess the road technology is going down.  He was concerned at the rapid rise of the internet and the use to which governments, industry and individuals have put it, even talking of its ‘weaponization’; using it for manipulative purposes.

Like most of you reading this, I’ve embraced new technology with enthusiasm and enjoy the benefits of communicating using WhatsApp, writing sermons with the ability to reference facts on Google and write articles on a word processing programme that has a built in spell checker!  Yet I am also aware that all this technology has a downside and that schools these days will have sessions on Cyber bullying.  This week an App was launched, supported by The Duke of Cambridge’s mental health charity, designed to help youngsters keep alert and safe whilst on-line.

‘Taking a step back’ means deliberately pausing and reviewing both the path already taken and the one in front of us.  These can be pivotal moments and forks in the road that determine our future. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’.  In other words, there are times when changing our minds and coming to fresh conclusions is a sign of maturity, not weakness.

As I write the Supreme Court, opposite Westminster Abbey, is pondering whether or not the Proroguing of Parliament this autumn is an abuse of the system.  It’s a ‘stepping back’ moment, to pause the tape and take a considered view.

We all need such moments in our lives because, by and large, life runs on at quite a pace and we can be swept up by events.  Liturgically we do this on Sunday mornings in church as we share in the Prayer of Confession.  Confession includes reflection.  We are called to ponder the events of the last week.  In doing so we are all aware of moments things have been done well and occasions we have fallen short.  In the quietness of prayer we acknowledge all this before God seeking his renewal and help for the week to come.

Centuries of worship has taught us that ‘taking a step back’, such as a time of reflection and confession, can be positive and healthy – even good for the soul.

Friday, 13 September 2019

What's in a name?

I sometimes think that in church life September is the price you pay for August!  After a month of virtually no meetings they all come at once.

So, on Tuesday our Elders gathered.

If we met in other churches this particular group would be called by a different collective.  'Modern' congregations seem to have adopted the title 'Leadership Team'.  A term that has a certain 'thrust' behind it.

Other congregations might call such a group a 'Church Council' emphasising that it is in the coming together that discussions take place and decisions are made.

Most of the churches I've had the privilege to serve in the Baptist tradition have had 'Diaconates' - coming from the Greek word 'servant' - and I've always loved that, the idea that 'service' is at the heart of leadership.

At Amersham Free Church we follow the URC and Presbyterian convention of having 'Elders'.  It's interesting that there is always a delight expressed when younger Elders join!  In a sense the term isn't, I think, so much an age issue but the hope that the experience found within the group will prove beneficial.  Most of the good folk sitting around the table on Tuesday evening have met with similar challenges and joys on the agenda before.  We bring that experience and perspective to our current discussions and that's a blessing.

Whatever our teams are called, all of us in church life know that we need God's help as we seek to serve the local church.

Every Queen's Speech in Parliament ends the same way and it's really a prayer - suitable not only for our MPs but also for our; Leadership Teams, Church Councils, Diaconates and Elderships.  It goes like this: My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God will rest upon your counsels.  And a hearty 'Amen' to that!

Friday, 6 September 2019

Eurpoean friendships

On Sunday a member of the congregation, a former RAF pilot in his 90's, told me how his thoughts every September 1st go out to the people of Poland recalling their invasion on what was, effectively, day one of World War Two.

Later on Sunday I caught sight of a news report from Poland and the visit there that day by a dignified German President who 'apologised' for his country's actions eighty years ago.

Over the summer it's been a joy for us to visit both Germany and Austria.  In fact, over the last five years we've deliberately (post children!) made various European countries our destination of choice for holidays.

 Invariably we have been impressed by the courtesy with which we've been received and the sense of history and identity we have found in each place.  I've concluded that many of our continental neighbours find it so much easier than us in thinking of themselves as being, say: German, Italian, Danish or Spanish and, at the same time, European.

Our most meaningful contact has been with a German family and it's been wonderful to twice be guests in their beautiful farmhouse home. We first visited last year with a group from church and on the opening evening after supper our gracious host made a short speech of welcome.  He spoke so eloquently about 'friendship'.  It has clearly been his family's deepest wish to take every opportunity to forge bonds of friendship with folk from Britain whenever possible.

As I listened to his speech it dawned on me that such a desire is essentially 'spiritual'.

 It is driven by the deepest faith convictions that we share a common humanity.  In fact, I suspect that for my German friend the European project can be seen, partly, as an act of 'redemption' for the horrors of the twentieth century.  And that, I believe, is something we should better understand, appreciate and respect.

Friday 29th May 2020

People have been doing remarkable things during these last two months - often via Zoom and other 'platforms' which have enabled grou...