Friday, 25 October 2019

As I was saying to the High Sheriff...!

There was something of a party at church on Saturday.  The occasion was a presentation by the Lord Lieutenant of the county of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service to the Chiltern Child Contact Centre.

The Contact Centre meets on our premises and over the last eight years many in the congregation have served in the roles of Co-ordinator, Chair, volunteer or trustee.  Every other Saturday it offers a safe and secure space in which children can meet and spend time with their non-resident parent.

Saturday was a day when, in essence, the State said 'thank you' to all the volunteers who make the Child Contact Centre happen.

Over the tea and cake afterwards I enjoyed a conversation with the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire and she told me how proud she was that this year ten, rather than the usual four, Queen's Awards for Voluntary Service have been awarded to various groups in the county.

Mr Google states that in the UK around 20million people regularly 'volunteer' in some way or another; that's 4 in 10 of us!

Ironically I've spent my working life alongside volunteers - because that's the nature of Church; I'm normally the only one who gets paid!

Volunteers are the backbone of churches and many other groups in society.  Their contribution to our life together is immeasurable, and in some small, yet deeply significant and much appreciated way last Saturday, this was made clear and celebrated.

'Loving Neighbour' - it often starts with a voluntary act of kindness.

(Blog Holiday next week)

Friday, 18 October 2019

I've been archived!!

Every month or two we are delighted to receive, through the post, the current magazine of some of the previous churches where I've served as minister.

One arrived last week and I chuckled as I turned to the back page.  Under the title 'From the archives' there was a photo of me!  It came from the early 2000's and showed a group of us just about to set out on a Good Friday Walk of Witness through Malvern.  It was a super picture full of great people I once heard the privilege of working alongside.

I suppose, in one way or another, we have all been achived.  Technically speaking our 'footprint' must be on many official documents gathering dust in government and institutional buildings.  More than that, however, is the emotional, even spiritual, footprint we all leave behind.

Paul, the letter writer, sometimes wrote to those from his past saying, 'I thank God upon every remembrance of you...'.

As I say, upon seeing that picture from  Malvern taken early this century I chuckled with delight as I looked at the faces of folk who brought much commitment and joy to the companionship of church life.

Not a bad epitaph really, to be a good memory in a person's life, so when they think of us - they smile.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Lenin's Fish and Chips

Last Saturday, as is our wont (!), we did a London walk; this time following the route of the River Fleet (now totally underground) from St Pancras, through Clerkenwell and eventually to Blackfriars where it joins the Thames.

En route we wandered passed King's Cross and down the street where, between 1903-10, Lenin and his wife lived.  We learnt from our guide book that the Lenins loved London's fish and chips and we passed the site of the shop from which they bought them.

This rather mundane fact about his eating habits has somewhat changed my perception of this influential Russian who changed the course of 20th century history. It's rather like knowing that Churchill adored the weekly delivery to Chartwell of his favourite fruit cake from Fortnum and Masons.

I was once gardening in the front of a former manse when a church member drove up, lowered his car window and called out with some mirth, 'Oh, you can mow the grass then?'.  It was obviously a revelation to him that the person he usually saw in the pulpit could actually do something as 'ordinary' as push a lawn mower!

All of us are far more than our public face.  Whether we are 'up front' or 'behind the scenes' people we all, inevitably, have an image we perfect and project.  This isn't always helpful because we can misunderstand and misjudge each other too harshly when we fail to appreciate with compassion each other's humanity.  Even our icons enjoy fish and chips, relish fruit cake and, yes, ministers sometimes even cut the grass!

One of the most poignant speeches in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is Shylock pleading for a more empathetic understanding of himself and his race:  He says:
If you prick us do we not bleed?
If you tickle us do we not laugh?

If you poison us do we not die?

That's an understanding based on the mutual vulnerability common to all humanity.

In such a light it somehow makes it worth knowing that Lenin loved his King's Cross chippy!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Beauty and the Beast

Last Saturday's Harvest Lunch
Last weekend at our Harvest Lunch we were entertained by an extrovert pianist who loved interacting with the audience!  Introducing one of his numbers, he 'dedicated' it to two of our congregation sitting close to him.  This was unexpected and a bit of a risk on his part as the selection of music he was about to play was from Disney's Beauty and the Beast!  The 'Beast' he selected was our event organiser (who took it in good part) and the 'Beauty' was a lady sitting on a nearby table.  'What do you think about that?', he asked her.  In a flash, with no warning but with great theological insight, she responded,'Well, there's a beauty and a beast in all of us'.

I loved her words and thought them both full of grace and insight.

There is so much truth in what she said and it is reflected by the words of St Paul in Romans 7: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I do.

The world is rarely divided into that which is obviously good and bad.  Ethical and political decisions are no where near as clear cut as our press and media hypocritically try to suggest; there are shades of grey everywhere and it needs careful, patient and thoughtful discernment to chart a way forward.

So, I'm grateful to our fellow lunch guest last Saturday for her wise words reminding me that all of us need the grace of God and the forbearance of those around us because in every person there are elements of both 'The Beauty and The Beast'.

Living in the story

A friend of mine recommended a new author for me to read during Lockdown: C.J.Sansom.  He writes Tudor Whodunits!  So, over the last few w...