Thursday, 17 December 2009

O dear - having logged on not being ready for Advent, things have gone from bad to worse in terms of having time for all those things I was going to do! Of course, this is also the story of my life, so to blame Advent, or Christmas, would be naive in the extreme. What it has done, however, is raise even more questions in my mind about how Churches and Christian organisations get things done (or of course, don"t). Since re-entering the real world after my sabbatical I've had some interesting meetings with a one or two Churches around this theme. Basically, with permission, I offer a very basic overview of the extent to which a Church to align its practice with whatever they believe to be their reason for being. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, rather scary. Now, of course, when something is as challenging as feeling everything must change, our default position is to retreat like a tortoise - we're OK underneath this shell from everything 'out there' which threatens us!
So, I'll be interested to look at this e-book offered free by Seth Godin with thoughts from 70 thinkers on what matters now -
Also, don't know if anyone else saw an article about the Met being a dysfunctional organisation in various newspapers? Well, this was apparently what Sir Paul Stephenson, the current Met chief, (does the knoghthood come with the job these days?) said was true about certain parts of it before he took over little over a year ago. Now, of course, we must always take care with our responses to such news, but it made me think if the Met, with all the organisational expertise at their fingertips, are dysfunctional, perhaps we're not so bad after all. Incidentally, I can hear many a new Minister saying the same thing about their Church, referring to the previous Minister. What was also intriguing, to me at least, was the reason given - 'in-fighting between senior officers'. Now, when I conducted my research into why people leave Christian Ministry some years ago now, conflict within the key leadership team was high on the list of significant factors.

Monday, 7 December 2009

In Northampton for three days this week for our Settlement Team along with the National and Regional Teams consultation, which is the only time during the year we get the key team members together across the board. Whilst here, I'm conscious the rest of the world keeps turning - two key events taking place with the Copenhagen conference on climate change and also, Kettering playing their FA Cup 2nd round replay away at Leeds tomorrow night! Come on the Poppies.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Despite what some people think when I speak, I am actually a very strong believer in weekly Sunday worship services. So much so that when the clock hits 6.30pm, on a Sunday, I feel I’m in the wrong place if, like now, I’m sitting at home – even if I’ve already been to two services already, as today.

Both events were great adverts for Sunday worship. Firstly, I was at Hillfields Park, Bristol, in the morning, which is always a good place to be. A few years ago they felt they were going nowhere fast, but what a difference a catalytic leader like Ian makes, although he still erans his money as a postman. The consistent feature of my visits there in recent years is the amazing people I meet after the service with the stories of what God is up to in their own lives. This time was no exception and I'll just mention something of Mark's story -

During the service. Mark had already shared how God had helped him at work last week. He was being bullied and this culminated last week with someone pushing him up against a cupboard, with their hands around his throat. They threatened him, demanding he let someone else get the benefits of the new deals he'd achieved. Somehow, he said, he found the strength to refuse. The other guy then forced him to the floor and at this point the boss came in – having been listening to the whole scene he sacked the other guy there and then. Mark is now praying for his persecutor.

After the service, Mark told me that five months ago he was homeless - having lost his property and job in Spain. He returned to Bristol, soon found himself placed into a hostel and feeling he was pretty much at rock bottom. He managed to get a job - door-to-door selling deals for The Bristol Post, which must be a pretty thankless task in today's climate. Anyway, he was on the brink of giving this up one very wet day and finding very few interested people. His boss encouraged him to keep trying and he picked another street by more or less closing his eyes and placing his finger on the map. In this street, he knocked on Anne's door (I met her too) who, describing Mark as looking like a drowned rat, asked him if he'd like cup of tea. Mark describes an overwhelming sense of love in that house, which was unexplainable, but very real. For a reason he can't explain, he asked her if she went to church and she began to talk about God with him as a result. Well one thing led to another and he ended up becoming a Christian.

From there I went to meet the Bristol Chinese Baptist Church to join them for a baptismal service. Four people were baptized and added into a steadily growing fellowship. I’m sure all the testimonies were powerful, but my Chinese is not up to scratch, so I’ll base it on the two who had some translation.

Yep, a good day at church.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

definitely not ready for advent....

Well, officially back to work after my final month of sabbatical (I remember fondly that nice feeling at the beginning of September after month 2 thinking 'I'm off again before the end of next month). My colleagues will say it's the longest running sabbatical ever and stretching it out by taking three separate months has certainly prolonged the sabbatical mode and mood. Anyway, I start back at the beginning of advent, which remains one of my favourite times of year and always productive in terms of my walk with God. Ironically, however, I'm not even prepared for advent has been the theme of my thoughts in the car today. Advent has something to do with preparation I know, but I've amused myself at least with thoughts of suggesting next November becomes an official prepare for advent month in the liturgical calendar! I'm using Stephen Cottrell's "Do nothing Christmas is coming' as a daily anchor and anyone who starts off with quoting Ogden Nash - 'Why is Christmas like a day at the office? You do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit.' can't be that bad in my opinion.
Last night I returned home with the cries of 'Nigel, Nigel' from the thousands who gathered in Portishead for the switching on of the Christmas lights ringing in my ears! No, not me this time - Nigel Parker was the local worker at Sainsbury's Homebase chosen to switch n their lights. Us Nigel's need to stick together and you tell by the 'meet nice Nigel' BBC headline -
maybe we need to campaign against Nigelism?!
Kicked myself whilst driving - didn't have the camera in the car today and a lovely buzzard was sitting on a fence post two metres from where I stopped.
Oh for advent thoughts check out for some worthy Baptist bloggers among others - I think i have 18th. for my date.
Today's world aids day and after my visit to SA last month is a whole load more poignant than previously. The picture is of Leon who is part of a Baptist congregation in one of the black township's outside Cape Town. he wont get any substantial funding, but, he and his wife, have given up their jobs to work with children and women who are hivaids affected. No glamourous ministry this one, but really impressive work in the kingdom of our God.

Friday, 27 November 2009

the demise of RUN

Well, I'm at the end of my sabbatical and need to clear out my study and case ready for next week, but there are always so many more interesting things to do! I began my sabbatical by sending a brief to our officers group which ended 'you'll see from the above this is characteristically unrealistic' (or words to that effect). Well, so it has proved! But what are sabbaticals for? If they're to do 'work' then I've failed hopelessly - not that I've been lazy, far from it, although I've had a lot more space for things which too easily get squeezed out normally. If they're to create work, I've accumulated a list as long as my arm (average length apparently). I now have a book unfinished with no publisher, I'm contemplating starting a DMin (was definitely not doing another degree) and a list of projects, things to consider, look at and implement. It's just as well I believe a characteristic of any Minister is the need to live contentedly in the tension of unfinished business.
Some bad news - certainly from my perspective on the face of it - is the demise of RUN. I had the e-mailed news last week along with many others telling us they'll close at the end of the year after 15 years. As with the Forge news from Australia, financial sustainability is a significant factor. They point out alot has changed in last 15 years and people now glean resources from a wide variety of sources in our challenge to reach the unchurched. Also, they highlight the fact that many other organisations have sprung up with similar aims, which tends to dissipate energy.
So, does it matter? Does this signify the missional thing was just a fad along with many other fashionable trends within the church? Have we really come so far that RUN are indispensable?
Time will tell, but part of my own anxiety is related to the use of language. The word 'missional' has become part of our language. within a few years we've moved from people raising eyebrows - 'didn't you mean mission?' - to replacing their old word (mission) with a new word (missional). My question remains - is language all that's changed? Those of us called to earn a living from the church know this problem only too well - we think we've done something because we've discussed and talked about it. My hunch is we've lulled ourselves into a false sense of security again - as people used to say 'if everything is mission then nothing is mission.' We've simply changed the word.
So, I do care about the demise of RUN. I'm sorry for Chris Stoddart especially, but also the others too - all who have such a heart for this massive area of unfinished business.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

pc Christmas or what?

I read this week about a couple of Bishops encouraging Christians to wear symbols faith this advent and have to admit I'm wondering about doing the same. Someone sent me this link - it's definitely not PC, but it does make a point we're pretty shy about as Christians -


9th November 1989 the Berlin wall fell and triggered a whole series of events - accustomed patterns began to change in the light of freedom. Many would say a chain of events was started, which included walls falling here in South Africa. Three months after the remarkable events in Berlin, we watched another historic event unfold (admittedly from the comfort of our UK TV sets) - the release of Nelson Mandela. Five years later the wall of apartheid fell.

15 years on I should, however, as a follower of Jesus Christ, be less surprised to discover the existence of many more Walls.

Laws of separation may have been removed, but walls of separation have been erected to replace them. The significant problem, which remains is these kind are in our minds and hearts. The good thing is - we have the power to dismantle them. The bad news - the testimony of the human heart - we tend to take a long time to start to take them down.

The landscape of the human heart is difficult terrain in which to dismantle a wall - it can be such a difficult business to get across the barriers we’ve erected in the name of protection, separation, security, and any number of other ‘good’ reasons.

It’s not, however, only the walls of heart and mind, which are here – there’s plenty of real tangible walls, which I have to open with a remote key rather than anything psychological. I wonder how many of the walls I slept safely behind during this trip have been built during the last 15 years?

Two electricity workers I met in one guest house brought a degree of humour to the situation I was asking about. Both white guys, they told me a few jokes around the theme of ‘job creation’ - joking was the medium but they were deadly serious. Too many jobs, too big an industry is now at stake for it to be dismantled was their theme. How many degrees of truth entwined among the cynicism? Certainly, there’s plenty of truth in the extent of the security industry here. The signs on private household walls provide the telephone number for their ‘armed response.’ Practically every business – shop, restaurant, etc. has their own security it seems. In Nongoma the gun buys were on the roofs along the main street. They can shoot to kill now, but only if someone is robbing their property. Last month there was a shooting – there’s an armed robbery most months. Boys with guns across the road watched it take place – I wondered whether a decent camera zoom lens might be more helpful? I had the privilege of meeting and praying with a mayor – a pastor thrust into the political arena because people have looked to him as a man of integrity. Great news – I can almost imagine colleagues cheering him on, but he arrived with two armed bodyguards. Would I want his job with the deemed necessary ‘perks’ – they come as a result of almost daily death threats?

I think of the suspicions, which were voiced to me. Many were very happy to talk about their response to the last fifteen years from a whole variety of racial backgrounds and perspectives. I moved among people in four language groups, but there are nine official languages of South Africa which is but one insight into the fact ‘complicated’ was my first response to the social mix here.

I saw not a few tears forming in the eyes and certainly in the hearts of those who told me of their family who’d participated in the ‘white flight’ migration. I think of my glib and shallow responses to those I have met here in the UK. Unlike the swallows who commute annually between our countries, they don’t plan on a return. I million white South Africans have left out of a population of less than 5 million – reading just some of the history last fifteen years it registers again how easy it is to listen to the news, but not really hear it back home.

Barbara Holtmann - just a name to me, but who works in defence, peace, safety, and security at the CSIR - wrote in a newspaper whilst away ‘if instead of walls, we had built houses for those who needed them, would we need them today? It’s a really good question and one, which deserves an answer. I’m unqualified to provide it, but it strikes me looking back with hindsight will not solve it, but trying to move ahead without dealing with past issues doesn’t wholly work either – the Truth Commission post-apartheid discovered that. Bear in mind I’m next to ignorant about the situation here, but I spent some time in Zululand. This is IFP country and Mangosuthu Buthelezi has been around a long time – I couldn’t help feel they get a hard deal in terms of government grants etc. and wondered how much the past has been forgiven? Can social justice for become a reality by ignoring the past?

Walls remain. I didn’t hear much radio, but within such a short space of time I heard discussions about racism in a variety of walks of life. One I recall was within the advertising industry. You’ll know from a British perspective, some of the arguments. Surely with a majority black population you should have the positive discrimination policies here to reverse a total (unjust) imbalance. Does that, however, equal appointing people above their level of competence? Why should someone who would normally require at least 20 years experience to become an executive leap-frog others? etc.

Where’s the voice of the church? It’s a good question to ask. It remains, however, a difficult one for them to answer here. The only mention, for example, of the church on the Big Red Bus tour around Cape Town brings every tourist a reminder of the place of the Dutch Reformed Church here in apartheid. They simply point out the old headquarters of the DRC and state when the WCC kicked them out, ‘only one of their ministers agreed it was a good idea’. I should have checked out the accuracy of that comment, but that remains the perception of all churches in the minds of some. Some said the church needs to re-gain a prophetic voice – I notice the Cathedral – the once base of Desmind Tutu are trying. Some say the church feels paralysed like everyone else – they recognize someone needs to take responsibility today, but feel they’ve lost their voice. Some say they should start with unity among themselves – there are two main ‘reformed’ churches in SA, just as there are two main Baptist groupings, although now in an alliance, and they remain separate behind walls – largely it appears according to race. This may be wholly inaccurate, but I’m just commenting on what I saw. Neither ‘side’ seems particularly interested in unity - an anathema to the gospel, or just the way it is here?

There are tribal walls, political walls, racial walls, national walls, psychological walls, financial walls – Tutu’s rainbow nation is present, but some colours of it shine more brightly than others. Mandela’s image of a great river being fed by several smaller streams may be the better metaphor in my opinion, but some of the streams seem to be running in parallel still

Conclusions? – Complicated!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

the shack

I did like this guy in Cape Town - enjoyed his playing too! I came across a write up of a visit by Paul Young, the author of ‘The Shack’, to a group of Baptist students in the US and for various reasons, found it very interesting. Apparently, over the years, he had written stories as gifts to his children. So in 2005 when his wife, Kim, asked him to think outside the proverbial box and write a deeper and more involved story for the kids, The Shack was born. At first, he intended to hand out around 15 copies of the story -- which he had gotten a local Office Depot to print for him -- to family and friends. Little did he know how his story would touch the lives of that small group of people so much that they started sharing it with others.

“I’m not an author. It’s by accident,” said Young.

Soon, The Shack made its way into the hands of two movie producers who thought it should be published. However, 26 publishing companies turned it down. After this, two of Young’s closest friends decided to put their resources together and started their own publishing company, Windblown Media, in order to make the story available.

“In the beginning the book was only available on the Internet, and then copies started selling so quickly we couldn’t keep enough copies printed,” said Young.

The rest is history -- a history that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. As an example of the book’s appeal around the world, Young jokingly told the audience, “I don’t even know what this means, but it’s the 'book of the decade' in Croatia.”

But his discussion of the book’s content wasn’t all about laughs. He talked about several deep theological issues into which The Shack delves: having a personal relationship with Jesus versus religious performance; what it means to please God; and questions about whether God is good all the time and what God’s character and nature are.

Young called The Shack a metaphor. “It’s like a house on our insides that is decaying and its walls need to be rebuilt. It’s secrets that we hold on to because we’re ashamed. It’s your soul, our hearts, who you are that matters,” said Young.

He also said he didn’t anticipate much of the reaction to the book -- and how it has spoken to people. “People read a particular section of the book and replace the role of a character with themselves, from their point of view,” he said. He noted that dealing with his own personal “shack” meant no more running away from God and long-standing issues in his own life.

Young also discussed the importance of a relationship with a father figure -- both a human father here on Earth and God the Father. He referred to a friend who has served as a judge. “He told me that in 26 years of sentencing men to prison he always asked them, ‘How was your relationship with your father?’ Not a one of them ever shared a good story,” said Young. In other words, he said, sometimes God is the only father figure a person has. And for the rest of us, God should be the ultimate Father figure. “My relationship is with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Monday, 23 November 2009

A Wildebeest crossing?

Sunday 15th November

Another amazing day, but a total extreme from yesterday. We had to drive through the Hluhuwe-Imfolozi Park in any case to get to Richards Bay airport, but I had the choice – straight drive or 5 am start for a leisurely one. If you ever get the chance, believe me it’s worth getting up for. That’s not to suggest glorious sunshine in the South African summer – the weather here has been a real surprise and today was no exception, but the light and visibility was good till it started raining and by then we’d had a good few hours driving – giraffes, zebras, eagles, vultures, wildebeest, elephants, buffalo, prairie dogs who’d just made a killing,impala, etc – this was an awesome experience. Sorry, probably used that word a lot recently.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

off to Zululand

Friday 13th November entry.

We finished up at Wortel-hut. It’s been really interesting. It would be fair to these guys have a different work schedule to back in the UK. It felt like I was discussing in the group all day yesterday – probably because I was! Hilariously (to me, probably no one else) we had the flip chart out again before 8 am this morning, whilst we were finishing breakfast – because some were leaving this morning! I can imagine how that would go down of I suggested that!

I was one of the early leavers because Danie was my lift and going to Cape Town airport. Another glorious drive for two hours back to Cape Town and off to Durban, where I was met by Steve Mantle, my old colleague and the previous Regional Team Leader for our East Midlands Baptist Association.

Steve’s an interesting guy and I was keen to see what he was up to. If you’re interested he’s now working for the Shine Foundation here in South Africa. Steve’s based in Nongoma, which is three and half hours drive further north – so I was extremely thankful for the lift! Ddin;t really expect the lack of sunshine – Nongoma is quite high so some of it is low lying cloud, but hey, I’m in Zululand in summer. Thanks too to John and Denise we shared a meal with them in the restaurant (yes, ‘the’) and afterwards I was introduced to the various game trophies in their home over coffee. Just as well I’m not against hunting is all I can say! – cultural differences, which we could easily get stuffy about.

Saturday 14th November

Boy – what a day. Left with a real mix of emotions swirling after this one.

Essentially we spent the day visiting people and projects Steve and Shine are working with.

What would you do if you were a single mum with three children of your own and you receive £50 a month to live on? (and I haven't noticed food being that much cheaper here) Well, I guess getting yourself into a situation where, whilst you have no increase in regular income, you end up feeding 43 children on a daily basis, would not be on most people’s ‘must do’ list. This is no soup kitchen, this is three meals a day, 10 sleep and basically call Lindiwe ‘mum’. Aids is a killer, we know that, but the reality of meeting child headed households is something which bites rather deeper than accumulated head knowledge. Basically Lindiwe began when she saw a young boy who she just sensed was in need. You can be an orphan here quite easily and with many people having no ID and living in a part of South Africa which to use Steve’s word is ‘forgotten’ someone like Lindiwe is, to breathe some meaning into an oft-used trivial phrase, a God-send. She told me, ‘every morning I wake up and ask God to feed these children – and he does’. Steve has been able to help significantly with food supplies in recent weeks.

Another story, which came out among the children when we were there was of a boy – although a teenager now by appearance – had recently been on a school visit to Richards Bay. Lindiwe forbade him to go elsewhere asking for money – you ask your mom, you are not street children here. Somehow she found the money (nearly double her monthly allowance). Steve and Shine are now supplying much of her food.

I feel I need to find time and space to tell some of the other stories I’ve had the rich privilege to be a part of this day. There was one reason I came to SA, but there seem to be so many spins offs from this visit I'm struggling to put the pieces together right now.

Emotionally tired, but enjoyed watching the story of Angus Buchan – ‘Faith like Potatoes’ on DVD with Steve, before an early start for the game park tomorrow en route home!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Wednesday 11th November entry

Finished up in Somerset West today. Clearly the race divisions and how they impact upon church unity and a sense of common purpose in mission remain a theme. In one sense it’s the old HUP issue – to what extent do two separate church bodies continue and merely encourage a gradual embracing of a more diverse ethnic mix in their congregations and to what extent do they pursue merger as a prophetic statement of the nature of the gospel?

My next destination was a place called Wortel-hat. This is a stunningly beautiful place. The drive down itself was amazing. Ian took me via the scenic coast road which is a very dramatic part of the Western Cape coastline - part of what's called the Garden Route in the guide books. He asked whether I fancied stopping for a while in case we could se some whales at Hermanus. I said yes, but didn’t really expect much. How wrong can you get! This is apparently, the best place for whale watching from shore in the world. We saw several in a fairly short space of time – and so close. Mum and calf together. Unfortunately I have no photos to prove anything – had my camera, but the battery had clearly been switched on in the bag for some time and my spare battery was buried in my case. However, I’ll never forget such an awesome sight – 40 tons of Southern Right Whale apiece. I was, however, nearly just as excited by the tortoise crossing the road. (if you're a Minister always use the phrase 'rich privilege' in the same sentence as 'sabbatical').

The actual place we’re staying at is in a wonderful location. It’s a remarkable complex – right on the coast line with a back-drop of mountains. There’s, I think, 24 directors who bought the land and have each built a house here and the complex is then managed by them and used for Christian camps etc – they have 8000 people through a year. Basically, each one owns a house (a holiday home), but when they’re not using it the centre make them available for groups. If they sell, half any profit goes to the trust, tec. One of the professors here is a director and so we’re staying in his and someone else’s place. There’s ten others here to review their MTh in Missional Leadership and how this can better build the leadership capacity among their Ministers. Why am I here – that’s a good question, but it is a rich privilege and providing some helpful hints as to how we might develop things back home. One thing is very clear - they've seen a clear link between the importance of building capacity among their clergy and the effectiveness (or otherwise) of their congregations.

I do tend to think we need a more integrated view, root much more in learning in context for M degrees, be more intentional about linking further degrees with missional practice where applicable, do more to enhance the overlap between theology and practice, etc etc - no doubt a few more things will come as time goes by.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Somerset West - living our Missional Calling

Sunday 8th November entry.

20mm of rain yesterday – it must have been far more today – this is summer they tell me!

Well, I attended my longest ever service today at four and a half hours! Normally they say it’s three, which is OK, but when we got to four hours I was ready for a drink, even if I could cope without any lunch - after a good breakfast! The main reason was it was appreciation Sunday – so many speeches about the pastor. What I loved was the singing. We were in a 8m x 6m room with a tin roof. The rain was almost deafening at times, but you could only hear it when we weren’t singing! The translated the sermon and main points from Khosi, which made life easier. They had an outside speaker booked otherwise I’d have been on – quite glad really I was just asked to bring a greeting and short message (which it was honest). OK I said four and half hours, but I didn’t include the pre-service warm-up songs. The next person who moans about a long service back home …..!

In the photo above you'll their church building (rear) and Lucas' home (foreground) - did I hear anyone complain about their manse?

Basically, after church I had to collect my stuff and move down to Somerset West ready for the morning. Sounds nice doesn’t it – but don’t honestly know yet as it’s so dark. On way out of Cape Town not sure what had gone on, but the guy on the floor had a lot of blood on him and looked pretty dead - the puddle of rainwater looked horribly bloody to me. The police were there – who knows? Everyone white tells me of the crime problems – difficult to work out what’s actual and what’s perceived, but some of the stories are not good. WE've heard the headlines in the UK, but it'll be interesting to try and suss what it's really like. Managed to contact Maggie on Skype once arrived though – yippee internet access here.

Monday 9th November entry

Started conference today – Living our missional calling. We speak the same language – well, apart from Afrikaans & Khosa. Mostly bi-lingual though so no real problem and de la Harpe ('from the Harp' – cool name) has translated anything I might have missed.

This is a review more than a conference and consists of those who’ve been engaged with South African PMC. Over 200 congregations have now participated in five years, which is a bolder start than our UK pilot just begun with 8. Frederick Marias, however, tells me we’re wise – could have fooled me!

There’s a lovely tone been set, which has translated from words into reality and is refreshing to be a part of. The invitation was given to be a gift to one another in three ways – to listen deeply to one another, to affirm one another and to be open to surprises. This has resulted in providing a safe place in which people feel free to share and has a wholesome feel to it.

We’re using Luke 24: 13-36 as our text as we dwell in the word. For those not familiar with this I warmly recommend it – those who’ve connected with us via PMC and/or Imagine in WEBA, however, will be surprised to see a new text!

Some of the story here has a familiar ring to it and I’m not sure whether to be encouraged by the familiarity, or not. We’ve struggled to get churches willing to risk the PMC journey with us and some of the same reasoning why folk backed off has been true here also. They seemed to be more successful in recruitment though, so is there something even more suspicious in the british psyche?

One of the big issues most pastors have with PMC seems to be because it doesn’t provide the answers ready packaged – they want to see more for their commitment etc. On the other hand, people complain about pre-packaged answers. On the one hand we say we’ll do it ourselves, but on the other hand we don’t produce much ‘it’, or we continue to work harder at what clearly hasn’t been working for a ling time.

It was quite poignant to recognise the Berlin wall fell 20 years ago today and set off a series of events around the worlds – not least here in South Africa, which led to the release of Nelson Mandela and a new era of Government. This was likened to those times when the kingdom of God breaks in and takes us on a journey – we can either resist/ignore it, or be converted by it. Much of these days will be taken up with seeking to discern where and how the kingdom is breaking through and whether we are being changed by it. There’s a healthy note being struck between our own lives as individuals and the outworking of discovering what God is up to in a congregational context.

An underlying issue seems to be hidden in many comments – the unity, or lack of, between the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) & the Uniting Reformed Church – perhaps inevitably there is a colour distinction between these two groups. Clearly some would dearly love to see a unification whereas others seem to back off. The Baptist scene is little different – we have a Baptist Union of South Africa (predominantly white) and a Convention (predominantly black). It would be easy to criticise, but this is a complex place – not been here long, but I’ve worked that one out.

Had a good chat with two cynical electricity workers who reckon the security business is all about job creation – not sure how that would go down with some people I’ve met!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

finding my bearings?

Saturday 7th November entry

Guest is house is great. Bessie and Helgaard are very warm and welcoming and the breakfast is terrific, so what more do you need? It’s halfway up Table Mountain with some great views from their garden. Meeting Lucas today – the local Baptist I’ve been able to link up with, which I’m looking forward to.

Well, if you have a camera and you make an observation like the one above, my advice is take the photo whilst you’ve got the chance – it’s been pouring for much of the day – 20mm apparently – so far!

Had a great time with Lucas – he’s planting in Samora Machel, which is a township outside of Cape Town. After 10 years there’s a membership of around 70 plus other adherents. Quite a number more have been baptised but gone in search of other churches. Lucas and his wife and baby live in one room, which is typical of the shacks (my word which seems to be the most accurate one to me) in Samora Machel. Could he have planted without doing this I asked? You’ve guessed the answer – not that he could probably afford to do anything other financially. Since starting he’s completed a diploma at the Capt Town Baptist seminary and is now on his second year of a Masters and then plans on a Phd, so he’s no mug intellectually by any account.

Another highlight was meeting Leon who started a project working with HIV aids sufferers. He and his wife both left their jobs and now feed 100 people per day, plus run workshops and all manner of other things – two more people who have followed God’s call at some personal cost.

The legacy of apartheid is still around and the guys I met today reckon it’ll take a generation at least. They’re bothered about a militant Islam who want to rule SA, they don’t have the financial means to support themselves, they work with meagre resources, but their faith is real and really quite humbling. Walked around the Waterfront in Cape Town later and struggled to comprehend how these guys feel looking in the windows of Gucci and co.

A white guy un-nerved me today when he told me to keep walking and not look at my map in public as it would mark me out as someone who didn’t know where they were – ‘don’t trust anyone he said.’ Before that I’d felt fine!

Had a chat with a car security man. What that means is they help you find a space, direct you in and look after your car whilst you eat. It was absolutely throwing it down and he must have soaked. He’d made 650 rand (about £5) that day and was supporting his wife and two children. There are loads of these guys around, but all I hear in the UK is how the blacks have taken the jobs – some job!
Should have brought a card reader for photos! Will add to my travellist.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Friday 6th November entry

Today was a delightful introduction to the Cape. Well, who said a sabbatical was all study and no play? Saw some seals in the harbour and baboons en route to the Cape of Good Hope, which made my day. I’d intended visiting Robben Island, but unfortunately no trips today because of the weather – waves too rough! Maybe I’ll get another chance – we’ll see. Didn’t get to Cape Pont either because the road was up! Actually, very nearly missed Cape of Good Hope – I must have been the last car let into the national park - at 5.59 when they stop entry at 6pm. – got caught in the Cape Town rush hour I guess.

One of the great things about speaking English and the advance of technology is life is so easy when abroad somewhere like this – picked up a hire car with sat nav, which brought me straight to the guest house the guys here had booked me into – good job as it was really dark and couldn’t see the road names. No problem with jet lag either as it’s straight down from us – a fair way down admittedly, but only two hours ahead. At least it’s not pouring with the rain it was I Amsterdam.

Everybody here is so friendly, it really hits you, well me! I thought the Aussies were friendly, but these guys are even more so. I love it.

cape point .... almost

Friday 6th November entry

Today was a delightful introduction to the Cape. Well, who said a sabbatical was all study and no play? Saw some seals in the harbour and baboons en route to the Cape of Good Hope, which made my day. I’d intended visiting Robben Island, but unfortunately no trips today because of the weather – waves too rough! Maybe I’ll get another chance – we’ll see. Didn’t get to Cape Pont either because the road was up! Actually, very nearly missed Cape of Good Hope – I must have been the last car let into the national park - at 5.59 when they stop entry at 6pm. – got caught in the Cape Town rush hour I guess.

One of the great things about speaking English and the advance of technology is life is so easy when abroad somewhere like this – picked up a hire car with sat nav, which brought me straight to the guest house the guys here had booked me into – good job as it was really dark and couldn’t see the road names. No problem with jet lag either as it’s straight down from us – a fair way down admittedly, but only two hours ahead. At least it’s not pouring with the rain it was I Amsterdam.

Everybody here is so friendly, it really hits you, well me! I thought the Aussies were friendly, but these guys are even more so. I love it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

in the land of Mandela ... and others!

Not sure how this will work, but 've been in South Africa for four days now and just got a wireless connection - so I thought I'd start with 'one I prepared earlier' and drip feed the other entries I've made along the way and as and when I get some access to internet..... here goes.....

Thursday 5th November entry.

Well, I'm now well and truly on my third and final month of sabbatical. I was, however, delighted to have the excuse to meet with my team leader colleagues on Wednesday despite sabbatical, but didn't enjoy Lyons' late equaliser in the evening. I've arrived in South Africa where I've been delighted to respond to an invitation to be part of a review of over 100 congrgations who effectively been, or going through, what equals 'PMC South Africa'. Not at all sure what to expect, but I am looking for some translatable clues which might help our own much needed UK transition into a missionary movement of churches again. Whilst I have no doubt about the need for this, many will consider it a rather naive dream, but it is one I am still nurturing and have reason to believe for good reason. I am being inspired by reading 'Mandela' - Anthony Simpson's biography. Born in rural Transkei, now in his 91st year and most probably the greatest living hero in the world, but one cannot really escape the fact he spent 27 of those years in prison. I keep reading that number, but it takes a while for it to sink in – 27 years! I remember praying for his release and for an end to apartheid (apparently pronounced 'apart hate' and not 'apart hide' as I've always said, which in itself is an interesting play on words). However, on reflection now and to my shame, it feels as if it was all pretty half-hearted. It's remarkable how I at least, have been able to speak with some passion about peace and justice, but within a vacuum and with next to no personal consequence to myself. So, even before I landed, there was a degree of personal therapy going on! I often think of the AA introduction - 'my name is Nigel and I'm an alcoholic' as a helpful reminder of my humanity, which (not very pc) means I have to begin any visit like this 'my name is Nigel and I'm a sinner.' OK - I won't use those actual words with everyone I meet. One thing I have found very interesting is the fact that the things the govt. authorities always initially banned Nelson Mandela from were meeting like-minded people and travel - and here I am hoping for both in abundance - my prayer is. both will prove to be the help and power the SA authorities recognised they had the potential to be.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Christmas, going, going......

Christmas is coming and I'm guessing most of the geese are already fat enough and in a freezer somewhere. However, Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, is getting in early with encouraging Christians to wear symbols of their Christian faith and not be intimidated by PC world.
Me thinks the temperature is rising. It strikes me we do need some wisdom, but which is less afraid of consequences than in previous generations. Out come the books of Daniel and Esther.

the wood or the trees?

Well, one of the places we've spent some time this past week is in New Forest. With some glorious weather (we left before the wind and rain of this weekend) the trees were fantastic. Of course, the problem with so many trees is the difficulty with seeing the wood/forest and I admit we did get hopelessly lost on one occasion. It was that moment when we reached a road I assumed would be the road between Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst to discover it was totally different - 'Brockenhurst?' said the guy in the car, 'you're a long way from there.'
Well, loads of time for reflection and some great supply of source material drawing from my own in-competence!
We were following a walk out of an AA book, but hadn't bothered with a map (!) Now you need to know I was a scout and, throughout almost my entire life, maps have been precious and highly prized possessions. I've extolled their virtues and scolded others for not bothering to take them because they didn't think they'd need one!
I've also been reading, slowly this time, Stephen Cottrell's "Hit the Ground Kneeling' and he talks about stepping back sufficiently to distinguish the wood from the trees.
All it took was the mis-reading (or mis-writing depending on who's really to blame!!) of one little instruction - in what was a detailed, no one can really go wrong, walk description. Once you've made that error, however, there's no easy way of getting back on track if you don't have a decent enough map to discover where you really are.
Now, because I'm a let's enjoy the journey as part of the adventure kind of walker all was not lost, although my male ego has another little dent down one side.

Monday, 19 October 2009

making waves?

I thought the best line from Roy Searle during our Saturday morning with leaders drawn from across our region was 'if you want to run something, go and get a job at Curry's - the pay's about he same, but the hours are a lot better.' Cheers Roy, I'll use that not a few times, I'm sure, in the months ahead. Saturday was a good event where we brought twelve groups of leaders together, plus a number who came on their own. My sense is, this needs to be one part of the criteria for what we put on as WEBA - will it be more than event? will there be at least the potential of multiplication? Roy helped us ensure both were a good 'yes' this time around.
The picture here, however, is from our retreat last week. I wonder how often most of us get back to that point where we realise God is speaking to us regularly, but we've been too preoccupied to listen? Certainly (once again!!) that was my experience last week and I'm hugely grateful to God for the opportunity to stop and listen. We talk about making a difference, but whatever we do needs to arise from a place of having met and hearing God. Just look at how the light is breaking through that clearing in the cloud.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

remembering people were God's idea....

If I was a normal, rational human being, I should be moaning all day about a stupid beach ball which greatly influenced Liverpool's defeat (1-0) against Sunderland yesterday - now even the non-football readers are vaguely interested!
However, and this is much better for my sanity and sanctification, I'm thinking about the gifts of God, which come our way in the shape of people.
Ray and Annie are two of them. These wonderful people opened up their beautiful home for seven of us to share a retreat together last week in Wales. There are people who have the gift of hospitality and then there's these two are in the premier league - thanks for everything.
Roy - Roy Searle is a wonderful gift and has been again this week. Roy led us brilliantly through the two days, but was also sufficiently part of us - thanks Roy.
My other five colleagues - we had a three way retreat for the Regional Ministers of South West, South Wales & WEBA and we had a great time together - thanks guys.
And then I start thinking about the willingness of Roy's wife, Shirley, which enables him to travel. i'm thinking about the Ministers who came to Thornbury yesterday morning - I thank God for those who have the wisdom and foresight to bring along other leaders and who are genuinely concerned about spiritual leadership. I think about the nice people we met, just briefly, in the theatre last night. What a blessing to simply receive such good gifts.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Roy Searle retreat week....

I've just read my friend, Geoff Colmer's blog to see he's looking forward to Roy Searle leading their Ministers conference as a retreat this week. Well, I now know what Roy's up to all week - because from there he's coming over to lead a retreat for our Regional Ministers cluster - consisting of ourselves, South West & South Wales. This is about deepening our relationships with one another and God and I'm confident it'll have a fair share of fun included too - hey, they call this work! Following that Roy is leading a morning at Thornbury for us which is aimed at those in local leadership teams in our churches - elders, deacons, small group leaders etc. This is a Saturday morning, which a good number have decided to give up to come to and I'm sure it will be worthwhile. One of the things we're discovering is how crucial it is for a team to have a sense of journeying with God in discipleship together. I do hear a number of people saying they don't have time, which by observation proves to be counter-productive.
One point of posting here today is to let local enough people be aware they don't have to be part of any formal leadership to come along. Details are on our WEBA website and whilst it'll most beneficial to come as a team, it will be personally applicable too.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

demise of Forge Victoria

Had an e-mail last week telling me of the closure of Forge Victoria. Very sad - or is it? Forge has been at the cutting edge in many ways helping move the practice of ministerial formation in context forwards (in my opinion). The founding director was Alan Hirsch and for twelve years they've done some good pioneering stuff. Actually, I was planning to go out there next month for my final sabbatical month this year, but changed my own plans. Obviously, I don't know the reasons why, but it does sound as if it finances are, almost inevitably, a factor. It's tough making ends meet in pioneering something, which is not, by definition, exactly universally popular. It's making me wonder to what extent any organisation, which is subversive by design, can last very long. If it's job done, then maybe it would be time to change, or conclude. Sometimes, however, the original values become subsumed by the institution it seeks to change. This, I guess, becomes pretty subjective and nigh impossible to measure, but I am often amazed by what is not so amazing because I do not it myself on a regular basis. Christians and especially those with leadership roles and responsibilities, have a great ability of thinking because we've read it, or discussed it to the point we've discovered its weaknesses, we've done it. I remember, when I was part of the Mainstream leadership team, this was a question we asked regularly and I know some would take the opinion it's done it's original job, so why carry on? Maybe Forge has done its job and passed the baton on elsewhere - if missional movement is what we're after, it's bigger than grouping, but only if the DNA is sufficiently spread to continue momentum. One school of leadership suggests the aim should be to work yourself out of a job - not sure we do too much of that if we're honest, but I still ascribe to the ideal. Problem is, with ministry, mission, church, the job is never actually done - there's no perfect churches, no completed 'to do' lists. It seems to me Jesus also lived with that tension and we can only sensibly take responsibility for what we're called to contribute, but certainly not for the whole job. This whole meandering leads me towards sadness rather than anywhere else - the 'm' word is now 'missional' and has become part of the jargon we use. The problem is I've found it's merely replacing 'mission' and the real benefit initially, it seemed to me, was to be able to talk about why it doesn't simply mean doing, etc. I wonder whether the devil is getting us to where he likes us to be - thinking we're being effective, whereas in actual fact, the ship's till going down?

Monday, 5 October 2009

sorting out the apples from the pears

I'm always interested in people who are able to take some initiative - especially when there's a strong element, which can make a real difference. It was with some delight, therefore, I witnessed the mincing and juicing of apples of last week. Ian and Tanya are members of our church at Tytherington and have started producing their own apple juices, which are delicious - certainly the two varieties I've tasted so far. They have an orchard of 80 trees and are now in their second season - growing traditional Gloucestershire varieties. Ian's had groups along to hear their story without charge, but accepting contributions for Operation Agri.
Another couple who are doing something very significant are Geoff and Jan Wallis. They are significant players for who are seeking to raise significant money to build a six storey centre for Sofia Baptist Church.
My anxiety stems from the 'fact' I find too few of them among churches - the problem often surfaces when individual ideas are shared too widely in a way, which requires wider support. Because entrepreneurs, by nature, can't easily answer what the project will look for at the end of the day, or produce a nicely budgeted management plan they don't get off the corporate ground. It's a similar reason why many evangelists have to find expression for their ministry outside of the orbit of a local church.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

acknowledged communities

jonny baker has blogged about CMS becoming an 'acknowledged community' of the Church of England. Sounds a good idea in terms of marrying a pioneering missional agency with a traditional structure. Maybe us Baptists could learn something here? It always struck as ironic that in the early days of charismatic renewal the Anglicans managed to find a synergy between spontaneity and freedom whereas so-called 'free' churches, like ourselves struggled to cope with change.


'This is the time of the follower' is a phrase which begins a chapter in "Followership' by Barbara Kellerman, I've just started reading. I've turned to it because I'm looking for some clues to help church leaders (there's a word when talking about followership) re-connect more of what they do with more of the outworking of the lives of disciples who are the church. So far it's proving to be helpful and challenging to the church systems we work in. Of course, if anyone knows anything about what it means to be a follower it must be Christians - right? Wrong! Obviously, I exaggerate, but so much 'leadership energy' is, in reality, more about re-arranging an organisation rather than cultivating an environment for the growth of disciples. I see it networks of churches too, which as Baptists, we still call Associations or Unions. I'm grateful our own executive are becoming bolder in willingness to see the translation of desires into realities. If we do see at least ten new churches come into being over the next few years, then monday's meeting will prove to be a significant milestone. No guarantees, but these days most families are 'planned'. Sometimes when I look at today's people carriers I wonder if they'd have been produced a few years earlier, whether Maggie and I might have planned more children! Financial constraints are a feature for many in their thinking and planning, but within the church these are the issues which are often writ so large to be, not only constraints, but the rationale for our being. So, the size of the Home Mission budget determines the amount of ministry we do, rather than vica-versa. Churches with a full-time Minister 'can't afford' XYZ, but then in a pastoral vacancy 'we can't afford XYZ because we need to do up the manse'. I have three great children - we could never have afforded them.

Monday, 28 September 2009


Even though I have an all day executive meeting today, my overwhelming feeling on reflecting back over the weekend, is one of relief. The first Cluster for Partnership for Missional Church launched us very well into what I hope and pray will be an exciting journey for the nine congregations involved ( 5 Baptist, 4 Anglican). I spent the first part of the Leaders Day on friday thinking what a great shame more of our churches had not been brave enough to come along on this journey because it will scratch where many are itching. However, once I'd been challenged along with the churches taking part to focus on the gifts God has given to a church, rather than on what we're not good at, I was able to get going. The response to Saturday was overwhelmingly good - but a number don't like American work schedules - not sufficient, or long enough, civilised tea breaks! Anyway, much to be thankful for, although a long way to go yet - at least it's started after such a long and frustrating wait. Now, on to the exec, which could be crucial.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

i shop therefore i am

Stephen Cottreell, the Anglican Bishop of Reading, is someone I have a lot of time for – especially having just received a copy of his delightful little book ‘Hit the Ground Kneeling’. He’s been quoted in the press this week as suggesting the Church must shed its M&S image to attract the Asda and Aldi generations. Well, I’m siting in Morrisons in Weston-super-Mare trying to prepare some stuff in between meetings and the folk sitting around me wouldn’t look out of place in many of our Baptist Churches. What does that say?

Ironically, I think the M&S image has consciously been appealing to a variety of generations in recent years - do I think that because I'm now 50, or because they use particularly attractive women in the adverts – and I’m old enough to remember Twiggy first time around (albeit very young)!? On a slightly more serious note ‘your M&S’ is a good slogan which keys nicely into the mindset of movement. Also, has anyone done any research on colour and supermarkets - their green works for me in a way the Aldi orange and blue doesn't? But then, we're more Lidl than Aldi in our house.... 'as for me and my house'....

On an even more serious note we do need to re-address the overwhelming middle class tone in the Church in generally - on this point we agree.

Looking forward now to tomorrow when we begin Cluster 1 of the UK pilot for Partnership for Missional Church in Clevedon. we'll be working with a group of Baptist and Anglican congregations throughout this process designed to help churches transition into a missional way of being church, which should be fun, I hope.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

changing landscapes

O my word, two blog entries in one day, whatever next! Today I dropped my car off to my mechanic. Sounds grand, but Martin doesn’t work solely for me – it’s just I’ve stuck with him even though his garage is in Bathampton and not round the corner and a garage you can trust is worth a bit of inconvenience I reckon. Anyway it meant I’ve been rooted in Bath for the day so visited one of our new Ministers, Mark and did some work whilst supping coffee elsewhere.

The interesting thing was listening to the phone-in on five-live about whether the UK is increasingly liberal (politically) in terms of the mind-set of its people. This reflects the comments of a few significant Liberal political figures recently, which certainly suggests this is what they believe. Now there is an interesting discussion to be had as to whether this is the time for the Liberal Democrats to make more serious in-roads into our political landscape, but that is not what interests me primarily. My interest was grabbed by the extent to which people were saying, from a wide political spectrum that our neighbours and colleagues have, in general, become increasingly ‘liberal’ in their thinking since the 1960’s in terms of the growing importance placed upon individual freedoms and responsibility. I tend to believe this is true. Now, the problem the Liberal Democratic party have is combining their appeal to individualism with corporate responsibility for government – you can please all of the people some of the time, but…..

Churches have the same dilemma, however, and the fact larger churches tend to grow at a slower rate than smaller churches (it takes more church members per baptism in a larger church on average, etc.) tends to support this. If we pay too much attention to words such as ‘leadership’, or ‘ministry’ as church leaders and not enough to words like ‘maturity’, ‘growth’, ‘development’ as they apply to individuals, we end up with a ‘system’ designed to support an organisation, which we call our local church. Too much attention seems to be paid to developing individuals in ‘ministries’ which support the organisation called church and insufficient on becoming individuals which are enabled by being called together as a church – and there’s more than a subtle difference. (NB - i know, I've made the errors myself). If, however, we are living through a transition – and most ‘post-modernity’ talk will support this claim, churches and their leaders need to key into how the landscape of individuals has changed and provide an environment, which supports their growth.

Must go now as I need to collect the car – good news this time!