Monday, 31 January 2011

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hopeful and encouraging signs!

I enjoyed the service to mark the Launch of Hope Church.
The Simple Pastor gives a good account of it here but the service was well thought through,informative about the old churches  and  new church, with good worship,good participation in prayer and a helpful sermon from Martin Charlesworth which  rehearsed something of the history of the church and encouraged them as they go forward into the future

I was struck that the new church was described by one of it leaders as missional in intent, and even more struck by some of the ministries they are engaged in especially Grease Monkeys an innovative and inspiring project for 16-24 year olds that provides them with hands on car mechanics experience

To extrapolate from the local to the national; In an age when we rightly worry about church attendance stats,the evening highlighted some hopeful things about the evangelical church in this country in 2010

  • We are much more united than we have been for many years ,there is not only a willingness to work together but also a desire to do so
  • We are even willing to merge churches ,and let old and cherished traditions die for the sake of the Kingdom, as Hope Church have done..I personally expect church mergers to become more common,not because there is a desire to huddle together against the storms of secularism and materialism but to release energy and resources for mission
  • Churches seem much more willing to try new  ministries and to innovate generally .I haven't heard the words "we have never done it this way before " for a few  years which has to be positive!
  • Churches are much less likely to be preaching centres these days and much more determined to put down deep roots into the local community they serve
  • There seems to be an increasing desire to worship and an increasing desire to pray which ,not surprisingly builds faith which in turn encourages mission
Now not everything in the garden is rosy ,there are enormous challenges ahead for the Christian church but there are also great reasons for hope 
The next decade or so could be very exciting ,I certainly hope so.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Hope- Radio Shropshire Pause for Thought 23/01/11

Imagine the scene….The band plays, the dignitary says in as loud a voice as possible  I name  this ship the Mary Rose ,a bottle of champagne is smashed against the side and the new vessel glides gracefully down the slipway and into the water.
Tonight I am going to the launch  not of  a new ship but a new church. There won’t be a slipway, I am guessing there won’t be champagne, but I am hopeful there will be a band!
This is a new church formed as a result of a merger between 2 churches that have served Shrewsbury well over the years The Grange and North Shrewsbury Community Church
They have chosen a great name for the new church Hope Church.
Now in certain contexts hope can be a weak word I hope it doesn’t rain I hope we win, I hope I don’t lose my job. In this context it really does little more than express a wish that something might or might not, happen
However Hope can also be a mighty word
In the darkest days of the Second World War Churchill inspired hope for survival and then victory by in Jack Kennedy’s phrase mobilising the English language and sending it into battle
Nelson Mandela implanted hope in the hearts of millions that together they could build a better country
Their expressions of Hope changed history
Hope church is a strong name chosen as Phil the churches leader puts it and I paraphrase because the church wants to bring hope to children and young people, the community, the unemployed and families.
Perhaps you’re listening today and hope is in short supply. You’re in debt, unemployed, your marriage is in trouble, or your ill .Someone said to me not long ago I am not living I am just existing …without hope!
It is tough to survive without hope

Now many people have said Christianity is pie in the sky when you die
And it’s true to the extent that we do have a future hope…. A hope that because Jesus died and rose again from the dead that those who believe in Him will in His own words Though they die  yet shall they live “ That is a future hope ….call it pie in the sky but  it is a future hope of life beyond the grave and life beyond the crematorium.  However  that future hope should also inspire  present hope, right here right now   not just pie in the sky when you die but it is also steak on the plate while you wait!
Inspired by his future Hope Jesus spent His time  ,giving sight to the blind ,feeding the hungry helping the lame walk , ministering to the poor and needy  speaking out for justice
In other words our future hope should inspire us to believe in  and indeed work to build a better world here and now for the depressed , the vulnerable, the  hungry, homeless, abused , paranoid , the hopeless and despairing
In that sense every church should inspire hope in the community every church  should be Hope Church
Maybe you think of church as boring  but a church doing those kind of things can be challenging and demanding but never boring
Hope church sets sail on an exciting journey into the future tonight
To use a nautical metaphor God Bless her and all who sail with her!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Of Gods and Men -personal reflections

I don't often get to the cinema but I did see this and found it profoundly moving
Of Gods and Men is an account of  life in an Algerian monastery in the mid-1990s as the monks face a threat of violence from Islamic fundamentalists in  a peaceful corner of the Atlas Mountains.
The film traces the mental and emotional journey the monks make as they struggle to decide whether to stay in this dangerous place that they have been called to serve or whether they should return to France.In the end they stay.

The film is based on a true story ,is beautifully acted and at times very emotional, particularly when the monks (as danger intensifies) eat and drink wine together as they listen to the haunting music from Swan Lake.A last supper together.

I am not a film critic so I just want to offer a few reflections on the film
  • Faith is often joyful but it is always a serious business- These men were disciples,followers, they were concious that they were people under orders and those orders affected their decisions  They were afraid but they obeyed at great cost.
  • The idea of authentic  community (in this case brotherhood) came across powerfully in the film.These people lived together ,got on each others nerves at times,they worshipped together ,prayed together ,broke bread together and the strong sense of  Christian community gave them strength to serve and eventually to suffer together
  •  They were all committed to their mission to the poor and needy ,they identified strongly with those they were called to serve,and they would serve anyone in any way they felt called to do
  • The film also portrayed the agonising decisions some leaders have to make as we see The Abbott initially trying to make decisions on his own,and then he starts to speak to each of the monks in turn and out of the conversation comes a deeper trust and a unanimous decision to stay
  • As we see The Abbot take this emotional journey we see the immense responsibility he feels and the courage he shows It is also striking that who he is is much more important than what he says. A lesson,perhaps, for all Christian leaders.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Reflections week of prayer

 Firstly the prayer room was beautifully and helpfully arranged by Sheila and Mathew Howe’s mum Cherry. Many people commented how great it looked and how the things in it inspired them to pray.
People did not use the room in vast numbers for personal prayer but some did and a few people used it again and again. I have been asked if it can stay up permanently but made no promises!
As far as the events were concerned
The prayer walks
2 in the town centre and 1 at Monkmoor.
The town centre prayer walks both had about 10 people attending; I didn’t get to the afternoon one, but heard it was helpful. The evening one from 9pm -10pm was perhaps too early to get the full Friday night experience (!)but it was good to walk and pray and to think just what a variety of things go on in the town centre and what great needs!
The Monkmoor walk( about 8 came) was led by Peter R and again it was good to be physically close to the schools and shops and people that we often pray for. In most streets Peter would tell us who he is praying for in a particular street. He has built some good relationships. An idea also came up for a project for Soul Purpose in the area.
The praise evening (Monday) and intercession (Wednesday) – I was encouraged especially by the evening of intercession which was well led by Victor and Margaret and Roy and Mary and focussed on the church, its people and mission. We prayed for a vast number of people and things and over the course of the evening from 6-9 pm 30 -35 people were present
The session led by Jane Willis from The  Abbey (church not pub!) on the Jesus Prayer was an eye opener for me (its not often you have prayer beads in a Baptist Church)but in fact I found the repetition of the prayer very effective and it generated a great deal of thought
It was evident a couple of people struggled with it but most loved it and found it very helpful- I have already been asked to get Jane back again.I was delighted with the attendance for this. On a Thursday morning about 17 people came

Lament evening was led by Beryl and for me was the highlight of the week. About 8 people came but all were fully engaged. Beryl covered the biblical material on lament very well, and with great sensitivity and chose some good songs to accompany the talk. We then wrote our own laments which I think we all found painful ( I certainly did) but 3 or 4 people read their own ones  out which was deeply moving. Perhaps the small turnout helped with the intimacy of the occasion. We were able to be vulnerable This was a good evening

Prayer Breakfast If I am honest it was not a good turnout- 13 I was expecting 40 (was it too early?)
David Boddy had,as always, done a fabulous job with the food and the singing and the prayer in large and smaller groups was good .We looked at Colossians 1 and Steve had arranged a mini walk around prayer stations in the church to finish which was appreciated.

·         I was encouraged that a lot of people engaged with the week in some way
·         I was encouraged that the feedback from people coming has been very positive because that means they found it helpful
·         Though I feel tired I also feel I have met with God through a variety of prayer experiences
·         I feel we need to develop further some of the things we experimented with this week meditative prayer ,lament etc
·         It was good to have a dedicated prayer room that had been thoughtfully put together I was sad more didn’t use it perhaps they needed help with this?
·         I was surprised more people didn’t come to the prayer breakfast as I thought people who hadn’t come to anything else would feel comfortable with that
·         I think we need in practical ways to demonstrate ways of praying as a means of teaching people to pray and to sustain their prayer lives

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Crowmoor ,Claremont -Shrewsbury Baptist church

I said in my earlier post on John Palmer that while the history of Baptists in Shrewsbury was not always glorious, there were exciting and encouraging times.

In 1956 under the leadership of Eric Hayden, Claremont Baptist Church made the inspired decision to start work on the Crowmoor housing estate
The work began and by 1958 the church had its own premises in which it began children's work initially and then Sunday evening services towards the end of the same year.
In the early years Crowmoor was supported by 3 missionaries in training and a deaconess (much the same work as  a minister but less pay!) .the work appeared to thrive and was one of the first in the area to hold a holiday club in 1962.
 I write cautiously here ,because it is in living memory, but I have been told that in the 60's and early 70's  the work at Crowmoor became less of a priority for the Claremont Church.- it would have been no surprise then that the church became independent in 1976.
Ron Lycett became lay pastor. I met him recently and his faith and comittment and passion for the gospel is as strong as ever. I remember worshipping at the church in about 1977 and it was a dynamic experience if a little scary for a young Christian!

Whether influenced by Ron or not the church was powerfully affected  by the charismatic movement ,which transformed the church. In 1977 there were 27 baptisms and in 1979 another 20 ,in 1983 20 more.this was a period of exciting and sustained growth the church grew to 143 members and now had a very different ethos to the church at Claremont which had become more traditional in practice  and reformed in doctrine.
The 1958 building was was too small and the church made the bold decision to meet in the centre of town at the Music Hall among other places.

Then the church made the decision to divide in two One part returned to Crowmoor and one part continued as Barnabas fellowship.This division appears to have been entirely amicable and indeed Barnabas church (now part of New Frontiers) has grown and  thrived and flourished and planted churches

The church that returned to Crowmoor built a great new building but just as it opened there were defections from the church which made paying for it a struggle

Perhaps all of this helps me understand the reason Shrewsbury Baptist Church has in its DNA  a powerful desire to work both in the centre of town and in the Monkmoor area

This is our God given vision, the name of the church may change (or rather revert) to Shrewsbury Baptist Church but the wonderful thing is that the work of building the Kingdom goes on!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

John Palmer pastor and evangelist

Not for the first time in my life I have 3 books on the go at once!
The Discipleship book mentioned in the post below,a biography of Edward the third ,(very long but a fascinating read about a man of whom I knew little) and; Deep Roots ,Living Branches -a history of Baptists in the English Western Midlands.
I realise the last mentioned book will not be to everyones taste ( I cant help wondering how many of these books actually sell!) but it is to mine, not least for the good reason, that it throws considerable light on the history of the 2 churches that merged in 2008 to form Shrewsbury Baptist Church.
 Both Claremont and Crowmoor receive numerous mentions and I learned a lot about both churches that I didn't previously know.
The History of Baptists in Shrewsbury is long (the first Shrewsbury Baptist Church was formed in 1653) , and to be honest ,not always glorious.It  is often a story of mergers and closures, of lost opportunities,of arguments  and divisions; usually over matters of doctrine or church policy but sometimes over personality.
However, there have also been very  exciting and encouraging times and I will blog on one or two of those in the coming days.
One Baptist pastor in Shrewsbury stands head and shoulders above the rest .
John Palmer (1768-1823) was born in Worcestershire to Christian parents,Palmer was an enthusiastic and energetic evangelist and a church planter with a phenomenal record. He planted churches in among other places,Tilstock,Whitchurch,Church Stretton ,Ellesmere,Wem, Ludlow and also outside Shropshire borders in places like Welshpool and Kington.

Above all however he was pastor at Shrewsbury ,a man with a big heart and a big vision.

He arrived in the town in 1792 to find a church in debt and with just four four or five members.Palmer gathered the people together to pray ,began preaching in Christmas 1793 .Between 1793 and 1817 Betteridge reports the church grew from about 20 to 195 despite sending members away time and again to plant new churches .During Palmer's ministry the 1780 meeting house was extended and schoolrooms added for a flourishing children's work.In addition to all this Palmer was present in London in1813 when the Baptist Union was formed
Here is a man with a passion for prayer and for preaching and teaching, who would travel vast distances to preach the gospel, or to encourage churches. The fact that in less than a quarter of a century he could make such a large and in many ways lasting impression should be an encouragement to us all and an incentive to pray
The church still owns a portrait of John Palmer but his true legacy lives on in the churches he founded in so far as they seek to proclaim Jesus,share the gospel and build the Kingdom.

John Palmer lies buried in a vault in Shrewsbury Baptist Churches town centre building.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


Discipleship is a key theme of our church in 2011.This will also be the theme of our church weekend in March

Bonhoeffer was very direct on this "Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ"

To help me think through the issues I am in the early stages of reading Bill Hull's The Complete Book of Discipleship .I am  already finding it challenging reading, which contains some thought provoking quotes from other Christians; e.g Dallas Willard's observation "we have not only been saved by faith we have been paralysed by it!...we have lost the idea that discipleship is normal"

To begin this focus on discipleship we have organised a week of prayer starting on 9th January to encourage people to develop their prayer lives This week will include many different types of prayer and hopefully inspire us to be in a much deeper relationship with God as we face the challenges and  the opportunities that lie  ahead
More details here