Thursday 30 November 2023

Advent 1: A walk rather than a drive

 I don’t know about you but I sometimes drive the car and end up at my destination without any detailed memory of the journey I’ve just done, especially if it’s one I do very often, like driving to church.  It’s as if I’m on automatic pilot.  Maybe I’m listening to the radio as I go along, or perhaps I’m planning next Sunday’s sermon in my mind.  So, I get to my destination, the church car park say, and I’ve barely noticed my journey. I can almost hear Rachel, my wife’s reaction to that confession: Well, that just explains your driving!

When I walk to church it feels so different.  I start off at the Manse and notice the neighbours, I cross the road and go over the railway bridge looking at the tube trains making their way to Baker Street, I’m now outside Tescos Express and if it’s lunchtime 150 students from our local Grammar School will also be there buying lunch, it’s then a walk up the high street, a nod to our neighbouring church of St Michael’s, make my way over the Zebra crossing, trying to always remember to be polite to the car drivers who have stopped, especially if I’m wearing my clerical collar, and then in, via the back door of Amersham Free Church. A ten minute journey in which I’ve probably met, noted and encountered 10 different people or events taking place that have made an impression on me. 

Such a different journey walking to driving, because I’ve noticed so much more.

Advent, these next four weeks is often thought of as a waiting time, and in many ways that’s a good understanding, especially in our impatient society.  Yet, the idea that Advent is primarily about waiting can imply that nothing of too much importance will happen between Advent Sunday and Christmas Day.  Maybe viewed like one of my car drive experiences, just a journey of convenience, no more than just getting me, perhaps rather mindlessly, from A to B.

I’d rather look forward to the gift of these next four weeks and Sundays as a walk, instead of a drive.
  A journey when much might, and probably will happen.  And in that sense, I tell myself this morning that Advent is just as much about watching as it is about waiting.  Watching is active.  Watching is being open to the whispers of God.  Watching is about becoming engaged and available.

So, today we start our Advent journey.  And rather than ask Sunday by Sunday ‘Are we nearly there yet’, let’s take time to notice the journey and enjoy the discoveries found round every corner along the way.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Black Friday/Good Friday

The adverts are awash telling us it’s Black Friday at the end of this week. Everywhere I look on the internet there are deals to be had, all pressurising me to buy a product on Friday and save probably at least a quarter on last week’s price!

Apparently Black Friday is always the day after Thanksgiving in the United States and signals the first day of the Christmas shopping period.  It’s become the day when shops have the biggest footfall and takings of the year, traditionally pushing them from being in the red, to being in the black.  Hence, its name.

I’m conscious of the Sydney Carter hymn we sing to an old American Shaker tune, The Lord of the Dance.  One line goes: I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black. Yet we call it Good Friday.

At the heart of the Christian story the death of Jesus speaks to us of a dreadful day, full of so much injustice and pain, yet one on which love triumphed over hate, light over darkness and goodness over evil.  None of this came about through brutal power but through self-sacrificing love. 

As we approach and prepare for the season of gift giving, maybe even taking advantage of a Black Friday bargain or two, let’s pause and find our greatest inspiration in the message of Good Friday and the greatest gift ever given, of Jesus, who in love, gave us his all.

Thursday 16 November 2023



One of the great pictures we have of Jesus in the gospels is that of him encountering so many people on his travels and engaging with a significant number one to one. My favourite account is of him meeting up with the Syrophoenician woman who, through their conversation, seems to change his mind.

A characteristic of living in a Liberal Democracy like ours is that everyone seems to have an opinion about everything, and many are not shy in sharing theirs!

Within seconds of browsing the internet anyone can read a thousand and one opinions on everything from the conflict between Hamas and Israel to whether or not different Churches offer to bless or marry same-sex couples.

By and large I’m grateful for the majority of these internet articles and the insights they offer.

However, there is a particular perspective I value more than any other and that is encounter. 

For example, I’m aware that all the views I hold, and most of what I read about, regarding the current crisis in the Middle East are essentially theoretical views rather than personal experiences.  Yet, if I actually lived there, or even if I knew someone who did, I know these theoretical views of mine would be challenged.

The same has been true for many of us in church life when it comes to issues such as women’s ministry or same-sex marriage.  My views on these issues have been formed mostly, I think, not through what I’ve read, but rather by the people I’ve met. Encounter is wonderfully powerful and definitive and, I believe, that’s how it should be.

My hope and prayer is that in meeting another person the space between us might be occupied by God.  A space that makes all the difference in the way we encounter each other in our lives.

Thursday 9 November 2023

A Good News Story

 I suspect I’m not alone in searching for a more positive take on life in the daily stories that pour forth from the media.  For even in the bleakest and most anxious of times, perhaps even especially at such moments, hearing  good news stories helps re-balance life and save it from desperation.

Well, I discovered one this week.  Although it didn’t headline on the BBC news website (in newspaper speak we might have said it appeared below the fold) it was still posted in fourth place that day!

It concerned Marc Gauthier, 63 years of age and from Bordeaux.  As someone with Parkinson’s he knows what it means to have mobility issues, frequently shuffling and even freezing.  For Marc getting into a car or a lift is fraught with difficulties as is general walking.

 I simply can’t fully appreciate the thrill he is currently feeling since his life has been utterly transformed by a team of medical specialists who have given him epidural spinal implants.  These have stimulated nerves, which in turn, can now send messages and signals to make muscles move. 

 Marc can now walk unaided and more smoothly, he’s not even afraid of the stairs and every Sunday does a four miles circuit around a lake.  Just a few years ago we might have described all of this as simply a dream, yet through the wonders and miracles of modern science it’s become a lived reality for Marc.

 He is so happy, and so was I as I read it.  There are indeed times when such advances and achievements seem inspirational and examples of us finding and living out our better selves.

I love the words of Paul in Philippians 4 when he writes:

Whatever things are true, noble, just and pure.
Whatever things are lovely and of good repute.
If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy,
Think on these things.

Marc’s story, and the work of all those scientists and medics who helped it come to pass, are surely wonderful examples of that which is truly
praiseworthy and it is indeed good to think on these things. 

Thursday 2 November 2023

Bishop Keith's Funeral


On Monday 30th October 2023 a group of us travelled into central London for the funeral service of a former minister of Amersham Free Church, Bishop Keith Riglin.

Keith’s ecumenical journey took him from his Baptist roots to a period of service with the URC before finding his spiritual home with the Anglican Church.  He served as a college lecturer, a local church minister, a university chaplain and latterly as a bishop within the Scottish Episcopal Church.  All these phases were represented in the congregation of Wesley’s Chapel at which the service took place.

The church on Monday was very full.  There was, possibly, around six to seven hundred people present, so the singing was truly uplifting.  Indeed, the whole service was inspirational and led so well.  The Bishop of London was present, along with three of her episcopal colleagues, as were clergy from Cambridge, Regent’s Park College in Oxford and King’s College in London.  There was a veritable sea of clerical collars!

We heard moving tributes from Keith’s brother and daughters.  They spoke movingly about his love and zest for life and there is no doubt that he leaves behind a family who hold him in high regard. 


The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith, Keith’s wife and the Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, gave the sermon.  Her moving and courageous words spoke of both the pain of loss she felt, along with the Christian hope that she and Keith shared.  It was very touching to hear that Keith ‘slipped away’ surrounded by his family whilst one of his daughters read to him from C.S.Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Another very profound element of the service was the presence of members of an African Fellowship, of which Keith was patron, who ‘kept guard’ at either end of the coffin, as is their custom, all the way through the service, periodically ‘changing the guard’ and sharing out this duty throughout the service.  It seemed like a great act of love and respect.

All our group felt it was so good to be at the service, in some small way representing AFC and the years Keith served here.

Keith was a man of many parts, whose life had many phases.  What was clear on Monday is that in each of these the one constant was his love for God.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

A Prayer for a Land Called Holy


How to start?

Allahu Akbar…

We give thanks to Adonai for his faithfulness…

We come to God the Father, in the name of the Son and through the power of the Spirit.

Our hearts are heavy with grief, confusion, anger and worry. 

We don’t know enough, yet maybe we know enough to pray:

Kyrie Eleison – Lord have mercy.

Gracious God, your Son walked in this land, attended weddings and funerals, confronted discrimination and experienced religious bigotry.

Our own government, through a treaty, divided up this land.  A British plan that gave one nation a home and made another nation bereaved to have lost so much.

Through the urgings of the old and the energy of the young Hamas took up arms and as October dawned, we witnessed a new and terrible pogrom.


Some on the border who lived there deliberately to foster peace and reconciliation, who literally and metaphorically flew kites of hope, were the first to be cut down.

Did they have to die?  O Lord we lament and call out to you with tears…so many have died and we hang our heads and pray..

Kyrie Eleison – Lord have mercy.

How do we respond?  An eye for an eye?  Evacuation? More deaths? A Presidential visit. 

We listen to thoughtful politicians; we tune in to gracious rabbis and peace loving Imams and our heads swirl…

So many words, all grasping for truth and hope yet all spoken with sadness and fear.

And so we are still…silent before you…

Yet we know we must not stop praying, and longing, and hoping for peace with justice. 

So, we turn to you…whether we call you…



Or a Trinity of Creator, Redeemer and Sustainor.

 And we pray one more, even a thousand times…

Kyrie Eleison – Lord have mercy.

The Blog returns on Friday 3rd November 2023

Thursday 12 October 2023

A Morning Parable

 I got up ‘grumpy’ on Tuesday morning!  I had a dental appointment – a root filing – and I’m not the best when it comes to ‘the drill’!

So, rather dreading what was coming, I plodded to the dentist with my head down longing for the next hour to be over.  That was until I say a young lad on his way to school, he could have been no more than 14, and there he was in the middle of the street on his phone.  Nothing unusual about that, apart from the fact that he was taking a picture of the glorious sunrise, first facing one way and then the next; a sunrise that I had completely failed to register.

This boy’s face was transfixed by the stunning beauty of a sunny autumn morning, and he obviously wanted to capture it on his iPhone.

I confess I felt, at one at the same time, chastened and inspired.  Chastened that I was so consumed with my dread of the ‘drill’ that I had missed the beauty of an early October day, and inspired that a member of the younger generation had appreciated it so much that he wanted to capture it on his phone.

Well, I walked over the railway bridge into the centre of town and looked down on the commuters lining up for the 7.49am to Marylebone.  They had their phones out too, but not to take a photo of the sunrise!

I entered the dentist, and the next 30 mins were pain free – what a wimp I had been to let such anxiety take hold.

Later that day I chaired an EcoChurch committee at AFC and I couldn’t help but remember the wonder on the young lad’s face as he greeted the sunrise.  It gave me great encouragement and became a helpful morning parable.

Advent 1: A walk rather than a drive

  I don’t know about you but I sometimes drive the car and end up at my destination without any detailed memory of the journey I’ve just don...