Wednesday, 15 July 2009

it must be sabbatical, there's time to read the news!

There’s no doubt about it, the Church of England still make the news – in a way I personally don’t believe Baptists should ever aspire to (so many of the seeds of our decline can be traced to our desire to rise up the classes!) I'm thinking about the call to reduce the number of Bishops, although I realise it's not exactly reported in the most helpful manner. Certainly, I cannot imagine a call for there to be fewer Regional Ministers to reach the columns of the Daily Mail (Telegraph maybe!). The issue it raises is a good one though in a generation where we have to think more seriously about the connections between local ministry and regional/national etc - anything which helps us engage more usefully with our missional context. 
I notice FIFA are trying to clamp down on the Christian Brazilians footballers and have re-stated their rules:

FIFA rules say: “Players must not reveal undergarments showing slogans or advertising. The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.”

‘Pants’ to that! I love the translation in ‘The Message’ of Matthew 10:9 where it states ‘you don't need a load of equipment - you are the equipment!’. It seems the life we’ve been given is ‘the basic compulsory equipment’ and no one has ever produced a rule-book which has succeeded in silencing those which speak for Jesus. Of course, many have and will continue to try.

Hey - thanks Paul for the link to yesterday's news on the BBC website 'degree in rhetoric to be launched'. Very interesting development. My hunch is the big wide world beyond the church will increasingly become more taken with what has become a dying art and then, guess what, the church will suddenly discover preaching to a congregation is sexy again. Call me a cynic if you like.

A fun day yesterday (aren't you supposed to be on sabbatical I hear them cry). Well, Maggie had a day off so we did some research into working class social groupings and went to 'The Big Pit', across the border, with our friends Gerry & Val. The most stunning part of this World Heritage Site is it's free - Welsh Assembly money I guess, but it's a terrific insight into the mining culture. Our guide, Pete, was another great example that rhetoric has not been entirely lost. I wouldn't dare put him up front in church though.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Good preaching remains an art worth practicing

On Friday we had a great day – a staff training day with Mark Seaman. Mark recently retired as a BBC producer for many years in order to pursue other things such as training and play-writing. Not surprisingly, therefore, we had a fun day looking at presenting skills together. We all enjoyed it and I’m sure learnt something - whether we preach regularly like the RM’s, or announce the notices like Lesley. It has to be said, however, Lesley’s minute video was the most enjoyable!  In some ways this was a bit of a trial run to see how useful Mark’s training days might be for groups of Christians wanting some help with talking to the media, presenting skills etc. I shall heartedly recommend Mark on the basis of this day and hope we’ll be able to make his gifts more widely available.

Saturday saw Maggie & I off to Barbury Castle to watch Ben compete. He did well if we forget the dressage score and there’s no doubt some of those jumps on the cross country course don’t just look big, they are big. Beating Zara Philips, in his section, will no doubt become a claim to fame at some point in the future!

My overwhelming response to yesterday (apart from hearing the gutting news Emily had had her camera stolen in Brazil) was around the importance of preaching to a congregation as a vehicle of transformation and the communication of God’s word. It was a privilege to be at our home church (the sabbatical part two has officially begun) and listen to some quality preaching. Mid-way through the evening, Ian was talking about who we’d like to look like, picking up on cosmetic surgery etc and asking us who we’d like to look like when we look in the mirror. It caused a bit of laughter and everyone was entering into the fun. Then ‘and who do you want to look like on the inside’ – wham straight between the eyes and that was it for me. That’s one of the things I experience as a result of decent preaching – it provides a platform for God to speak into my life a necessary word. I’m still listening to the arguments about different preaching styles, discussion groups etc (we did a bit of that yesterday too – frankly too big a main group for it to work and the only purpose it seemed to serve was to break up the time for the sermon – ie an indirect aid to listening) , but making a collage is yet to prove itself as a vehicle for transformation in the same way as preaching can more easily become. I know the debates will rumble on, but I wonder how many in the debate ever listen to other people preach? I do and my conclusions remain that good biblical preaching remains the best vehicle for achieving the desired ends. Unfortunately, it seems it is poor preaching which is winning the argument. I can read, discuss and reflect in other places and with smaller groups of people, but left to my own devices I don’t get the chance so often for God to address me in the way preaching provides. Good preaching remains an art so let's keep practicing!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Parakeets in London!

This will be a blog entry which will confirm all my friends worst suspicions about me! Following last weekend in London, I've been wondering about the Parakeets we watched each morning in Graham and Gill's garden where we stayed. The thing which struck Maggie was that had we been in Nepal I'd have been really excited and trying to capture them with my camera all day - in this case I only got it out of the bag to prove I was vaguely interested. "So, why aren't you bothered?" 
On the one hand I was genuinely interested in these beautifully coloured birds, but ....... the fact they shouldn't have been there meant I viewed them as imposters and the other half of me was wondering what their presence was doing to resident species etc (told you you'd dispair!).
I'd seen wild Parakeets in London before, but did not realise the population had now grown to an estimated 30,000 by 2007 and projected to rise, by the RSPB, to 50,000 by next year - that's a load of Parakeets and they're rising up the most 20 sighted birds in London at a rate of knots. Apparently, there is no evidence as yet they are damaging domestic species, which makes me feel a bit better, but I still can't get anywhere near as excited by them as I would be elsewhere - perhaps I need some counselling?

Monday, 6 July 2009


Interesting week, last week, for various reasons. Heard two stories I didn’t want to hear, but are a sad fact of life. One concerned an ex-Minister of ours and at least confirmed my hunches were well founded, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I don’t like my role on such occasions.

Michael Owen off to Man Utd! It’s not like the good old days is it – perhaps he was never really a true believer in any case!

Had a lovely weekend in London where, amongst visiting some good friends, we went to North Cheam BC where I used to be the Assistant Minister (not called that these days often). It was fascinating registering my thoughts and feelings after not having been for a good few years. I was boosted by the ‘I can’t believe how young you both look’ comments …… until I realised they were most probably including me with Maggie out of politeness and those speaking were 93, 89, etc – I’d hope I do by comparison!

By far the most satisfying thing was seeing and hearing Simon and Lisa who both led sections of the worship. They were both teenagers when we were there and it was just wonderful to see them playing such significant roles in the life of that church today – and doing what they did so well. It made me think again about how we evaluate ‘success’ in ministry and how important it is we look more at what we leave behind us. No, it’s not all about numbers, but it may well be all about people.

Listened to Roger Federer’s last set on the way home – what an achievement! Also, we called in at Polesdon Lacey for a lovely walk around – to celebrate our new National Trust membership and an official public acceptance of middle age!