Monday, 30 July 2012

The Olympic family

I have enjoyed the start of the London Olympics enormously.
I thought the opening ceremony was a stunning spectacle and wonderful interpretation of one mans vision of our history and indeed our present.
I loved the fact that it was unafraid of putting into the rich mix ,some of things which would make a section of the population uncomfortable. I didn't feel as as at least one MP did that it was "leftie" ,nor did I think it was pessimistic, but rather it reflected the huge diversity of Britain in 2012 & at various times it made me both laugh and cry.
A work of genius that incidentally included not one, but two Christian hymns.
There is one phrase though from the Olympics that has grated on me enormously.It is a phrase that has occurred both in connection with the discussion around empty seats, and with the special traffic lanes.
Both the seats and the lanes we are told are reserved for " The Olympic Family". These are often the IOC & National Olympic Committee bureaucrats.
I think it grates because it speaks of insiders and outsiders, of a privileged elite who are somehow better than the rest and therefore deserve special treatment and special seats reserved, even if they have no intention of taking them up.
It rather belies the claim that these are the Olympics of the people.The phrase asserts that rather the games don't belong to everyone but to the few.
I am probably being excessively chippy about it.

It did get me thinking though about the phrase "the church family".
it is a phrase which has justification in scripture in both Old Testament and New Testament. Acts 2 indeed shows us how the church behaved and blessed others as a family. It is therefore not the theology of the phrase, but the way it is sometimes used and interpreted today by Christians that can seem troubling.
I have heard the phrase used to justify a club mentality, we belong to the church, we are members therefore we have special privileges, we are insiders and club members,and even “the church is about us” Indeed once many years ago I was reminded that we pay your wages ,you should do what we want" but of course, I may be their servant but they are not my master.

I dislike this club mentality because we are not better than other people ,if we belong to Gods family it is not about our gifts, or our characters, it is all about God's amazing grace "that saves a wretch like me"

Belonging is not about privilege, it’s not about special seats in the grandstand in heaven,or special lanes on the Highway to heaven it is about service.

I dont expect the IOC to understnd this but I am hopeful that the church will

Yes if by Gods grace we belong to God, we belong to His family, but we are there not to preserve our rights, but to serve others as Jesus did, and by our service, done in Jesus Name and power, to make, by Gods grace, outsiders insiders. Isn’t that what Jesus came to do?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Olympics come home!

The opening ceremony of the London Olympics takes place tomorrow .I will watch intrigued to see what they come up with..In the weeks to come there will be wall to wall coverage of every Olympic sport.
The BBC will understandably spend millions covering all the events, on a multitude of sites, and I would expect them to do it well.

 I haven't seen what the projected audience figures around the world will be but they must be massive.

It is  Baron Pierre de Coubertin who is deservedly given the credit for founding the modern Olympics but what is less well known is that he got his inspiration from   Dr William Penny Brookes from Much Wenlock in Shropshire see here
Brooks who was decades ahead of his time was convinced that sport would make local people healthier and that exercise was essential to a healthy life style. To that end he campaigned vigoroulsy for PE to be taught in schools, and for that reason too,Dr Brookes  founded the Wenlock Olympian Society which staged their first games in 1850. It was on Brookes  insistence that"the Games  was open" to the working classes   despite pious people complaining  that this  would mean having  a large number of scantily-dressed young men performing in front of women. It was felt that such an event would cause drunkenness, rioting, lewd behaviour, and that men would leave their wives.".... None of these things appear to have happened( because of the games!)

Following the success of the Wenlock Games the first Olympian games were held at Crystal Palace in 1866 drawing a crowd of no fewer than 10000.The legendary cricketer W.G. Grace took part in the hurdles 

Baron Pierre de Coubertin  was invited by Dr Brookes to Much Wenlock to see the Wenlock Olympics in 1890 and spent time talking to and learning from his  enthusiastic host ,who also became his friend. Drawing inspiration from his visit  the Baron determined to re start the ancient games and the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896.
Brookes was not present having died just a few months earlier but Coubertin  said of him

“If the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not been able to resuscitate survive there today, it is due not to a Greek, but to Dr W.P. Brookes. It is he who inaugurated them 40 years ago, and it is he, now 82 years old but still alert and vigorous, who continues to organise and inspire them.”
Baron Piere de Coubertin, 1890.

We can learn a lot from William P Brookes about the importance of vision and how critical it is, whatever the odds, of persistence in pursuing that vision

The Wenlock games still exist today see here

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

August is busy!

The sun has come out ,the temperatures are rising,the school holidays have begun and church life moves into a different phase.
Different but it is just as busy, for even though various ministries have stopped and those that run them are having a well earned break,we still have various projects on the go.
August in particular is a very busy month .In our Central building we have various things going on that relate to the big Flower Show that is such a popular annual event in August, these include an afternoon tea (complete with speaker ) for Senior Citizens,  various children's activities and an art exhibition ,we are hopeful hundreds of local people will come and see these as they go past our building on the way to The Flower Show See here. This is a great opportunity to meet and bless people.

Roy and Mary Ellis are running Senior Moments at Crowmoor  for the second time from 14th -16th August  and I am, hearing bookings are going very well indeed, and many of those booking in are not regular members of our congregation which is great!
Then last but not least there is The Holiday Club. This has been run annually for many years and is hugely enjoyed by those primary school  who come along.
August is therefore not a quiet month but certainly a very exciting one giving us loads of opportunities to engage with local people
I am looking forward to a good month!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Decline in Church in Wales

I was interested to see the huge decline in the Church in Wales press here
Reading the article (and briefly glancing at the original report) the most encouraging thing is a recognition of the seriousness of the problem; quotes like this indicate how dire things are: "Those parishes that do have any serious work with young people are tiny compared to the number that do not."
Diagnosis is always very important and the fact that the report states there is a desire for change is hugely encouraging ,though in my experience one only sees how deep the commitment to change is when change actually starts happening
Nevertheless many of the recommendations seem radical and  offer a positive way forward for the Church in Wales to reconnect with the culture in order to share the gospel. It is interesting that these discussions are happening in a whole variety of denominations and my hope and prayer is that we all have the courage not simply to reflect on the changes needed but to change
One of the histories on my own church states that a minister a century or so ago  shared with the church meeting the idea that we should start evangelistic meetings in local homes , the church minutes records "The brethren thought this was a good idea and decided to defer it for another time"
It was from memory during a revolution in the 1980's in eastern Europe that the students took to the streets chanting  "If not us then who? If not now then when?"
I think there is a recognition that the church needs to change. Is there a will to see those difficult and painful changes through?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Changing church for changed times

We are about to begin a new series in the book of Daniel .As a part of the preparation for that I have been reading Gerard Kelly's stretch" Lessons in faith from the life of Daniel,"which I have found helpful and at points even inspiring. The book contains some great quotes like " The ultimate triumph of Daniel is that he does better in Babylon ,than many of his fellow Jews had done in Jerusalem" and Daniel's God is not too small for Babylon,he is too big for Babylon"
As you may guess from the quotes Kelly draws a convincing comparison between where Daniel was in exile and where the church today is in a post Christendom age and suggests that while there are differences between his time and this time, there are also similarities and therefore important  lessons we can learn in not so much surviving but thriving in this new exciting time when the church is in transition
Kelly helpfully quotes Stuart Murray seven key points of transition
Stuart Murray, (cited on p.21) mentions seven transitions for the church as it moves into post-Christendom:

from being at the centre to being on the margins;
from majority to minority;
from settlers to sojourners;
from having a privileged place to being part of a plurality;
from controlling to being a witness in a culture controlled by others;
from maintenance to mission;
and from institution to movement.

While reading this I also came across a post in  Simon Jones blog a sideways glance which struck me as both provocative and containing some important truths for our age about living in exile

Monday, 16 July 2012

Light a virtual Candle !

Grasmere church interior

I was in the Lake District at the weekend and popped into Grasmere Church and was fascinated to see the numbers of people writing prayer requests on small bits of paper and sticking them on the noticeboard provided.  I think it says something very positive  about how spiritual people are even if the do not regularly attend church and how much they value being prayed for.
Equally visit any of the great Cathedrals and for a few pence you can light a candle for a loved one,which for many people is a very meaningful act and from time to time I have done it myself, as an aid to concentration as I pray
I think I might draw the line at this though  London internet Church

What do you think?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Shropshire Prayer Breakfast 2012

Despite being in Shrewsbury since 2004 ,I had never got along to the Shropshire Prayer Breakfast before.
I went along to this and it was good to be there.
Arriving in jeans I initially felt a little underdressed as there were lots of people in suits arriving at the same time as me at the Lord Hill Hotel

The breakfast the hotel offered was superb and seated at large round tables ,there was plenty of chance to meet other people

Mark about to tuck in!

Once the plates had been cleared ,we sang a couple of songs and then settled back to hear Ian Coffey ,now at Moorlands College speak

It was a highly relevant message on the good Samaritan
Pointing out that the Good Samaritan
Came to where the man was
Saw him
Made a practical response

we were encouraged to do the same

Ian also came up with some excellent quotes
For example "we are welcomed as the prodigal son and sent out as The good Samaritan"
And " if the 1950's come back the church is ready!" perahps most tellingly
"do you want to lead a successful or a significant life?"

Following the talk we heard from 3 people about the excellent local projects they are involved in .these were good to hear about but I did wonder if they could have been slightly shorter, because if I had a small concern about what was, all in all ,an excellent morning we were left with only about 15 minutes of prayer together,before a final song and an encouraging  blessing from the Bishop of Shrewsbury

The day was organised by the amazingly energetic Stephen Derges who did a great job in pulling it all together.
It was good to be there!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

It seems so long ago- reflections on college life

Sometimes “I get to thinking on the past” so begins a well known Leonard Cohen song “Tonight will be fine”( I am not sure it is in the Baptist hymnbook!)
I have been encouraged in that process  of reminiscing by a whole series of photos that have been  posted on Facebook that were taken during college days ,long, long ago.
The truth is while I (mostly) enjoyed my time at college, I haven’t thought a great deal about it since. That is probably my loss for I certainly learned a lot and met some very good people,but maybe by nature I like to move forward, (indeed one of the reasons I started this blog was to encourage me to reflect more)

There is though something  about photographs  of the past, and of people that you once  knew very well indeed, that is absolutely fascinating. I wondered how they were doing ,whether their lives had been fulfilled ,and of course whether their faith had grown or dissipated, matured or stagnated .

Wondering about others ,of course encouraged me to look into my own heart and to reflect on some of the many mistakes I made then, and have made since then.

I remember my very first night at BTI there was a welcome service ,we started with” O for a thousand tongues to sing “ Since that day I have heard louder singing sometimes, and better singing frequently, but never such passionate singing. These were people who in some cases had sacrificed a lot to get to college, people who were committed to doing God’s will for their lives. Many of them went to serve in foreign mission fields ,some are still there decades later. These were not perfect people(though probably a bit more perfect than me) but they were  people with big characters who took their Christian faith seriously –who allowed it so shape their lives that they were changed.

Our excellent lecturers are either very old and frail or have gone to their reward, some of our fellow students have also died but well into my fifties and looking at the photos, my prayer for myself and for them is that we finish well; that we display the same passion for Jesus in our later years that we did when we walked up Bothwell St and climbed the steps into number 64 one autumn long ago.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Radio Shropshire Pause for thought July 1st 2012

Not quite a random photo! -this took place outside Central on Friday and Saturday night and the youngsters who were taking part in slum survivor from the 6th form CU and SYFC were also on the programme it was good to meet them at the studio

Mike, I nearly asked you if you remember what you were doing this time last week but you were here!

I heard you talking to Dave Mathias about the Euros and particularly the England game –The nation was full of anticipation.

This time last week the  St Georges flags were flying from cars and houses alike

This time last week hope was rising ,optimism was in the air  surely we would beat the Italians and progress to the semi finals …..even I thought we had a chance

It didn’t quite turn out like that  …   I got back from the evening service bang on time for kick off  (strange coincidence that!)  The TV was already on   I was  ready to go The rest as they say is history they also say history repeats itself and as far as England  goes it sure does following.. the tension and stress of the game we witnessed the 12 yard lottery of penalties and of course we lost!!

Ecstasy followed by inevitable agony….the carnival is over for us

But I am here today to say all is not lost there is still the opportunity to celebrate this summer ,to party

The Diamond Jubilee celebrations continue indeed - Shropshire Diamond Jubilee Pageant is being held at RAF Cosford, in presence of Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on July 12th

Then ,of course there are the Olympics we can celebrate every gold,silver or bronze medal even if it is in some minor sport that none of us have ever heard of ,or would usually pay attention to.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the nation to party

I think that is great

Yes there are times to grieve and to be sad  but there is also a time to celebrate

It is important to celebrate on a local as well as national level

In the last week I was present as a couple renewed the marriage vows they had first taken at Shrewsbury Register Office 38 years ago –children, grand children ,great grand children  came along to celebrate

I was also present at a splendid 10th birthday party for our churches women’s  ministry CLEO

You don’t have to be a card manufacturer to think that it’s important to mark special occasions

Remembering someone’s birthday ,taking a colleague who is retiring out for a drink, marking an exam success ,all these make people feel valued ,cared for ,wanted

There is power in celebration!

As I read the gospels I am astonished just how much time Jesus spent eating and drinking, so much that his enemies accused him of doing it to excess, he goes to a wedding turns water into wine, he eats at the home of Mathew the tax collector, he feeds 5000 people he has a last supper with his followers even after the resurrection he eats fish with the disciples. As one writer puts it” in the gospels Jesus always appears to be going to a meal at a meal or coming from a meal ,often he was celebrating” No wonder Luke tells us “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”

Not everyone approved of these celebrations many religious people said

why is he eating with these sinners ?

But Jesus loves people he loves parties he loves celebrating.

Mark those special occasions in people’s lives, throw a party for them it need not be expensive ,it doesn’t have to be grand or ostentatious -,display an” attitude of gratitude” to your family & friends- show them you care

……perhaps even more radically bless others and  throw a party for people who have little  Jesus said when you give a feast invite the poor the crippled the lame the blind and you will be blessed … they may not be able to repay you but God will

So forget the euros ….let it  go! Barring a miracle ..(which is always possible )  we won’t  even win the world cup in two years time but we still have loads of reasons to party and to celebrate this summer!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Baptist Futures -The decisions!

Well  BU council have met and made decisions. I was not there and therefore can't be sure what happened, but Neil Brighton was and  has his thoughts and shares them here Distinct Reflections.
 Assuming Neil is right about the facts, then I am inclined to agree with his rather stark conclusions. If anything Nigel Coles is even more gloomy about the outcome of the Futures process here

Neil has however also pointed out some great reasons for optimism here and I am sure he is right that social networking will be really important in this debate going forward

As for The Baptist Union's official take it is here Baptist Times

Thank goodness God is not confined to working in a process but His Spirit  moves how He will and with whom He will.