For the beauty of the earth

I’m on the road again.

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A preaching, teaching and conference speaking tour sees me for 10 days in the south of England and with it traffic congestion and hold-ups. Yesterday the M40 between Oxford and London suffered serious delays following a car fire on the southbound carriageway. Thanking God for satnav traffic reports I was able to divert my route and by doing so, altered the pattern of my day very positively. Instead of racing on down the motorway and joining the slow moving car park, the M25, I rerouted and as a consequence called in to see good friends and fellow Northumbria Community Companions Philip and Rosemary at Bridge House, Shillingford.

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Following a brew and a delightful catch up, conversation and prayer around the farmhouse kitchen table I then drove through the beautiful towns, villages and countryside of Oxforshire, Berkshire and Surrey, arriving in Horley relaxed, interested and enthralled by the journey. It added 45 minutes to my drive but with no hold-ups and passing through spectacularly beautiful landscapes as summer gave way to autumn, the time spent in the car was very enjoyable.

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As Gandhi said, There is more to life than increasing its speed, something I will take up and share this weekend at Ashburnham in Sussex where I am speaking. The relaxed nature of the journey allowed me the time and space to reflect, think through and pray about the many happenings and experiences that summer has presented.

Among the eclectic mix of songs on the playlist that accompanied my journey in southern England was John Rutter’s For the beauty of the earth and Louis Armstrong’s, What a beautiful world“. My spirit was lifted as I listened to the words and observed the beautiful surroundings I passed through on my journey around London, beyond yet parallel with the M25.

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The only sadness came as I reflected on what I had been reading the night before, all of which reminded me of how we are scarring the beauty of the earth with our consumerist lifestyles and disregard for the consequences of the way we live and treat this sacred planet.

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The remarkable photographs that were heralded on BBC Breakfast News on Tuesday, their beauty and fascination extolled by the presenters but who so singularly failed to see the tragedy in such images. The seahorse carying a cotton bud! Marine life is dying and the whole oceanic ecosystem is threatened. Plastic, so much a feature of contemporary life does not rot away. Every piece still exists on our planet’s surface, billions of tonnes of it ending up in the sea or on the ocean floor. Ocean currents gather to form ‘great nations’, masses of plastic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ocean roughly twice the size of France, is a mass of floating plastic waste, up to 10 metres deep, which has been collected by the currents.

There are beaches on Pacific islands that appear to be covered in multicoloured sands but under close observation, the blues, yellows and red grains are not sound at all but tiny fragments of plastic.

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The plastic that gets dumped into the seas around the UK is carried to the Artcic within two years where it does enormous harm to the fragile polar environment. Plastic is frequently mistaken for food by fish and birds, causing damage to life throughout the seas.

As I pulled over the car and went for a short walk to take in the wonderful woodlands of leafy Surrey I recalled leading a group of family and friends on nightjar spotting walk on my cousins farm in Norfolk this summer as part of my special birthday weekend festival party. It was like leading a pilgrimage as we entered the dark wood and walked slowly to the Heath, stopping, ears cupped and eyes intently gazing out on the night sky. (On this ocassion we neither heard or saw any nightjars – perhaps the cool ssummer had triggred their early departure). But the walk in the woods at night felt special, sacred. It is an area designated as a site of ‘special scientific interest’ but that term doesn’t capture for me the beauty of the place and the awe and wonderment that accompanies it.

 

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There is great power in words, in the vocabulary and language we use, including how we name and describe things. So for my bit, as a friend of heaven who should be at the forefront of being among the Friends of Earth, I think we should name those oceans that we have polluted as the ‘Great Polluted Artic Sea’, the ‘Plastic Killing Waters’ or the ‘Poisoned Plastic Drift’.

And for those areas that in contrast remind us of what the world could and should be, let’s not be too clinical and over technical in describing them as ‘areas of scientific interest’ but let’s put up signs describing them as; ‘You are now entering an area of outstanding beauty‘ with warning signs declaring, ‘keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared to be awed and wooed by the wonders before you

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For the beauty of the earth…

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Aftermath of Election

I am intrigued, encouraged and challenged by the election results.
For the Prime Minister, it was a bad judgement call, exposing her weaknesses as a leader. She and her party got what they deserved and she should sack her manifesto and campaign advisors and the “dark master of political strategists” Lyndon Crosby whose attempts to portray and destroy Jeremy Corbyn’s character failed.
Corbyn has discovered that wearing a suit and tie makes him look more ‘prime ministerial’. Whatever people may think of his policies, he has had a remarkable campaign. The gathering of thousands at his rallies were in stark contrast to the orchestrated, ‘invitation only’ small meetings that Theresa May attended. Refusing to debate and being ruffled when scrutinised by journalist’s interviews exposed her fallibilities whereas Corbyn grew in confidence and was at ease with the public, interviewers and in debates.
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Following the results, chaos now reigns but also the opportunity to change and find new ways of responding to the challenges facing Britain and the wider world.
There is undoubtedly a desire for change among many people.
The results are a wake-up call for politicians to listen to the public, particularly to those who have been adversely affected by seven years of austerity measures. Policies which have been unfair, some of them cruel and have disadvantaged the poorer members of society. The savage cuts to public services have been so damaging to the NHS, education, welfare and the environment.
I see in the results a call for a fairer, more compassionate, more collective society and a desire to realise that we are, to quote Scripture, “our brother’s keeper”.
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I rejoice and give thanks for the demise of UKIP but remain concerned with the Conservative Party moving further to the right to accommodate UKIP sympathisers. Theresa May said several years ago that she was worried about the Tories being seen as the “nasty party“. If she and her party really do care we need to see some evidence of it. Her tough and emotionless speeches and hardline policies are being rejected by the public. Her assertion that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” when negotiating Brexit has done nothing in my eyes to commend her or her approach to what are going to be very difficult negotiations. Talks that will affect the lives of people for generations. Whoever advised her to keep going with the mantras, (weren’t we sick of “strong and stable leadership“, particularly when it wasn’t being seen) and the nauseous, “Brexit means Brexit” which engendered as much enthusiasm as saying “cardboard boxes mean cardboard boxes“!
Theresa May Seeks Queen's Permission To Form A UK Government
These are dark, disturbing and turbulent days.
The prospect of another election in the near future is wearisome as it will not be easy for the Conservatives to work with the DUP. They may fail to gain a majority of support in the House of Commons for the Queen’s speech. If they can’t formulate an agreeable proposed legislative programme, we would be forced into another general election before the summer is out.
I love the Rend Collectives song which includes the chorus:

 

Build Your kingdom here

Let the darkness fear

Show Your mighty hand

Heal our streets and land

Set Your church on fire

Win this nation back

Change the atmosphere

Build Your kingdom here

We pray

And in the words of a pray for those who govern us:

 

Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all humanity; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.

Amen.

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Who will get my Vote and Why

Regular readers of my blog will not be surprised at my political leanings, forged years ago in the 1980s on Teesside where I witnessed first hand the political decisions and economic policies that destroyed communities, damaged people’s lives and accelerated and endorsed greed and selfish consumerism. Seeing the film Brassed Off again recently brought the memories of those dark days in the 1980’s.

When you’ve lived and worked in an area that was ravaged by unemployment, (from 11% to over 50% in four years on one of the estates), seen the consequences of government policies result in an increase mental health issues, family breakdowns, domestic violence, crime, alcohol and drug dependency and a loss of hope and aspiration, you cannot, if you claim to be a follower of Christ, turn a blind eye. When people suffer injustice, where the poor are neglected and others, often through lack of opportunity, or who’ve been born “on the wrong side of the tracks”, are marginalised, no true disciple of Christ can remain silent.

I have written previously about the dangerous rise of popularism and the frightening consequences of people like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin who have carefully and skilfully exploited the masses and exercised a malevolent influence in the world. Thank God that much of mainland Europe have seen the error and dangers of populism and the renaissance of nationalism in Britain and the States and have begun to reverse the tide that threatens to undermine civic society and sow the seeds of conflict and war between nations. Thank God for the Dutch, French and the Germans who have decided that hope not fear, cooperation and collaboration not contesting and isolation, will determine their political and economic policies. The political naivete, arrogance and damaging consequences of last year’s Referendum and the incredulous hardline that is being taken by the present government is poor and damaging our relationship with our European neighbours. What are the values that are driving such combative language?

And it’s that which brings me to thinking about the manifestos for the own General Election here in Britain. I took part in the survey recently where you had to answer a whole series of questions about what you would do, what attitudes you had to certain issues and the actions you would take in response to a number of situations. The answers were then formulated to reveal which political party you were more naturally aligned to. Apparently, according to the survey, I should be voting for Plaid Cymru, the only problem being that they are not putting up a candidate in North Northumberland!

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I am a member of the Labour Party and seriously considered not continuing my annual subscription. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the present leadership of the party and particularly in some of the people who are surrounding its leader. But, just because things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped, it’s no reason to abandon ship so I am hanging in there. In the same way, Middlesbrough’s abysmal season in the Premiership and subsequent relegation does not mean that I no longer support them.

But when it comes to values, more than any other political party leader, I do believe that Jeremy Corbyn lives what he believes. That he is a man of principle and he has lived consistently with those values throughout his political life. He has been a champion of the poor, has consistently represented and spoken out on behalf of those who are marginalised, has been a dedicated envoy for peace and reconciliation, for cooperation and solidarity with other nations. He has refused to follow the party line when his own party’s policies have contravened his values. His consistent opposition to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, have to my mind, shown strength of character and commitment to the values that he lives by.

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Far from being weak, he has been strong on so many of the issues that matter to a civil society. He is a different kind of politician and I would contend, lives what he believes. I want a Prime Minister who thinks deeply about the implications of possessing a nuclear deterrent, who is prepared to speak to opponents, even enemies in the pursuit of peace and justice. I like the idea of having a Prime Minister, who lives simply, who didn’t go and do PPE at Oxford, (Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite and so many of our current political leaders who I believe have become an out-of-touch ruling class. A privileged class who make the right connections and climb the ambitious political career ladder who will then retire and sit on the boards of several lucrative corporations. In contrast, Corbyn is someone who is in politics because he has witnessed poverty, injustice, exploitation and seen the need to make a difference. Someone who left school and went to serve others with the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). I like the idea of a politician who lives in a very modest house, grows vegetables on his allotment and makes his own jam. As a leader of the Opposition, he has been disappointing. He has missed opportunities and is clearly not a great organisational or strategic leader. Despite these traits, he is not a weak or unstable leader. On the contrary, he is a man of strength and integrity. His team have not been great at handling the media and managing his public image. This has certainly not helped his or the Labour Party’s cause but there is something within me that admires somebody who disregards the notion that the medium is the message and who possesses a disdain for spin and manipulative propaganda. There is something refreshing about a politician who says things and commits to things that they really believe in? And there is no doubt that wherever he goes he is very popular and draws huge crowds.

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Tonight on Tyneside, in the pouring rain, thousands of people have waited to hear him. Whatever the outcome of the election he has had a good campaign and got people talking about the things that matter; the kind of society we want to live in, the values that matter.

The attacks on his character reveal more about Lyndon Crosby, the man masterminding the Conservative party’s campaign strategy. He has been successfully employed by political parties all over the world and has been described as a “master of the dark political arts”. He knows that you influence the masses by appealing, not to reason but emotions. Persuade through reason but motivate and determine through emotion. If you can’t connect with peoples’ emotions you can’t win. You have to be able to trigger an emotional response from people to win their votes. Portray Corbyn as weak and you appeal not to peoples reasoning, (how many people know what Jeremy Corbyn really stands for?) but to their feelings. Keep preparing the ground prior to the election by casting doubts on his character and portray him as weak and when the campaign is launched immediately counter it with the carpet bombing strategy, ‘Strong and stable leadership’.

The last Prime Minister’s Question time saw sycophantic Government MP’s preface every question to their leader with the phrase. Crosby had given the ammunition, Teresa May and her Chief Whips had issued the orders and each one fired the phrase with sickening regularity. So why was it used? Well Crosby knows that brute repetition works, that by deploying bland, vapid slogans over rational arguments people’s emotions are taken in. The lies on the Brexit bus about the money the NHS would receive if we left the EU worked! So many people were captured not by the truth and reasoned arguments but how they felt. It was appalling that some of the Leave campaign messages appealed to those elements of nationalism and racism that won people over. In the same way some of the Remain campaign tried to use fear to win over voters to their position. Such manipulation of feelings allows a post-truth society to flourish and seriously undermines democracy.

What is going on under the surface of British politics is very disturbing and those who understand the dark arts of persuasion are capitalising on a relatively unthinking or superficial and poor reasoning of the general public.

So, back to the manifestos. I’d rather have one that is put together by people who actually stand for something, (even if I don’t agree with everything they propose) than those whose goal is solely to achieve power. Jeremy Corbyn may be naive but he will not substitute principle for power. He has been consistent throughout his political career and has not changed his values or convictions since becoming the leader of the party. You may disagree with him but of all the leaders in this election, he and Carolyn Lucas of the Green Party, to my mind, are the most transparent about what they stand for and what they would do if elected Prime Minister.

The likelihood of Corbyn being our next Prime Minister is very remote. Nevertheless, he will get my support. I will vote for someone whose party’s policies offer the greatest hope not only for Britain but for the wider world. Someone who will seek diplomacy, negotiation and international cooperation in the efforts to resolve conflicts and wars scarring the world. Someone who would only go to war as a last resort. Someone who is prepared to build bridges not walls between people and nations. A leader who is more aware of the needs, concerns and plight of ordinary people than most. A party leader who is willing to discuss, debate and talk with anyone. Someone who leads a party that was formed in 1900 to represent the interests of everybody in society. A party that after the Second World War wanted to end austerity, remove the cloud of the economic depression that had cast its shadow over Europe in the 1930s and contributed to the Second World War. After that terrible war, Labour was swept into power and founded the National Health Service and a cradle to the grave welfare state. A party that introduced the nationalisation of transportation and public utilities. A party that was committed to building better relationships with its European neighbours and playing its part in seeking to build a better world for all its citizens. A party that recognised that the days of the Empire, the British Raj were over and that it was time for us as a nation to rethink what Britain in a changing world could offer. A party that would not turn its back today on the plight of refugees nor renege as the present Government has done on its commitment to taking 2,000 child refugees. A party that will seek to end the hideous and growing gap between the rich and poor, that will endeavour to redistribute wealth to serve the many and not the few.

It’s a party, for all its weaknesses, that will get my vote because I believe its principles more closely reflect the values of the Kingdom of God and serve the common good for everyone, the many, not the few in society.

As George Monbiet said recently, I would love to elect a government on June 8 led by someone both competent and humane, but this option will not be on the ballot paper. The choice today is between brutal efficiency in pursuit of a disastrous agenda and gentle inefficiency in pursuit of a better world…. The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean, and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation. I know which I favour.

Me too!

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In concluding, I had the privilege on Saturday to preach at an induction service where during the worship we sang the Rend Collective song which included the verse:

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

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I pray and will be voting with the hope that God’s kingdom will be served and that the darkness, that has enveloped places like Manchester and London in recent weeks, will be pushed back; that hope not fear, love not hate will bring healing to our streets and land and that we might discover a gentler and different way of doing politics and living as a society that serves to change the atmosphere.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer and build your kingdom here.

 

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Rydal Reflections

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I wander’d lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

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Lines from William Wordsworth’s most famous poem, inspired by his sister Dorothy coming across a ‘long belt’ of daffodils as they walked by the water’s edge in the Lake District one April day in 1804.

Britain was very different then from what it is now but so much of the landscape here in the Lake District remains the same. I am back for the annual Northern Baptist College retreat at Rydal Hall. In probably my favourite Lake District location, Rydal Water, the Hall’s setting in the naturally beautiful landscape is couched with mountains and beside the lake is enhanced by the wonderfully designed gardens and grounds of the landscape architect Thomas Mawson. His creation of terraces and viewpoints, balustrades, lawns, topiary and paths, together with the planting of ornamental, exotic and native trees, orchards and ponds highlight the breathtaking views of the lakes and the surrounding fells which make this a very special place. Not just a beautiful place but a ‘thin place’ a sacred space. Through the estate run woodlands interspersed by streams and a series of waterfalls which have through the years drawn and inspired artists such as John Constable.

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In the 18th century the Reverend William Gilpin, one of the originators of the idea of picturesque which he defined as ‘”that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture” and began to expound his “principles of picturesque beauty”, based largely on his knowledge of landscape painting. He travelled extensively in the summer holidays and applied these principles to the landscapes he saw, committing his thoughts and spontaneous sketches to notebooks. He popularised a whole series of essays and books that demonstrated how landscapes could be viewed to show the grandeur, complexity and beauty of nature. He advocated certain ‘stations’ what we might call viewpoints where the natural world could be best appreciated. The Rydal Hall Grot was the first of these ‘stations’ that Gilpen cited.

The Grot far from being grotty is described in Wordsworth’s, ‘An Evening Walk’, published in 1793. He had moved to Rydal Mount near Rydal Hall, in 1813 and it remained his home to his death in 1850. Towards the end of the poet’s life his nephew Christopher Wordsworth went with him to The Grot.  “He accompanied me to the gate and then said if I had a few minutes longer to spare he would like to show me the waterfall which was close by – the lower fall of Rydal. I gladly assented and he led the way across the grounds of Lady Fleming (Rydal Hall) which were opposite to his own to a small summer-house. The moment we opened the door the waterfall was before us. The summer house being so placed as to occupy the exact spot from which it was to be seen. The rocks and shrubbery around closing it in on every side. The effect was magical. The view from the rustic house, the rocky basin into which the water fell and the deep shade in which the whole was enveloped, made it a lovely scene. Wordsworth seemed to have much pleasure in exhibiting this beautiful retreat.”

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It is in this place of retreat that we gather, alone and as a college community, to seek God, to reflect and pray and to value the opportunity of being together and sharing something of our lives and calling. The retreat is beautifully led by Leslie Sutton who invites us to awaken our senses to the relationship between art and faith, to explore those places of liminality, vulnerability and paradox. Stories, images and photographs of installations and other artwork open up windows on the soul and of the world in which we live and the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

A free afternoon affords me the opportunity to visit and pray for a dear friend and close companion in community who is in that last chapter of their life here on earth. He is alive and well in spirit but his body is failing. We reminisce, recalling times and experiences shared ‘on the road’, there is laughter and moments of quiet where reflection and space allow both for the sadness of parting and quiet thankfulness for a life well lived.

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Endings and partings, echoed in the sharing of those who this summer will graduate and begin their new ministries as they conclude their studies at college. Leaving and saying farewell but embarking upon new journeys and adventures. Just as it is for my dear friend and companion who must soon journey through the valley of the shadow of death to his eternal home and resting place where there is no more pain and suffering, cancer, grieving or tears of sadness but a place where there is fullness of joy.

I hope and pray for those who are beginning their new ministries that at their conclusion, that the end of their life’s journey here on earth that they will, like my dear friend be able to look back at a life well lived and that the memories and reflections of life and ministry, through all its paradoxes, challenges and unpredictability, will nevertheless be cause for thankfulness and a sense of fulfilment.

A morning walk around Rydal Water triggers mixed emotions; sadness at the impending loss of a dear friend and joy in listening to a young and gifted leader whose ministry is growing and developing, whose life and energy, passion and heart for God and his kingdom is so heartening.

After lunch I sit back in the meeting room with staff colleagues and students and am profoundly grateful to God for the privilege of serving, inputting and imparting some of the wisdom of experiences that I have gained over many years that I pray will encourage, inspire and enrich them in their own lives and ministries.

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A diverse group of young and middle-aged folks, men and women, with differences of theological outlooks, perspectives and experiences of life, following and fulfilling their calling in different ways. Different streams; charismatic, exuberant, prophetic and radical, contemplative, social activists, some more at home in contextual theology, others applied theology and others just wanting to get on with ‘doing the stuff’! Each one known and loved by God, each one by God’s grace and enabling, called to live out the gospel in their varying contexts. Many of them broken and bruised but whose buffetings have become sources of blessing; their scars providing the tributaries through which the love and light of God flow to others. I am enthused by the passion of those who are determined and confident that they will make a difference in the church and the world, whose ministries I and many others will hear or read about and I pray that they will not grow weary or lose their passion in the ensuing years. I am encouraged and challenged by those who will go to the forgotten places and people, of whom little will ever be written or heard of but who will carry the light of Christ to the poor and marginalised, to the abandoned people of our society.

I take delight in the cohort from Cranmer Hall, Durham for whom I have some responsibility. As the first batch of people able to train for Baptist ministry in the north-east they have set a great example and created a benchmark for a new and fresh generation of Baptist pioneers, church planters and missional leaders. They did not need to buy me a pint at the local pub at the end of the day to gain my approval, (although it was much appreciated!) They are a joy and delight to tutor. When so much within our denomination’s life and work is turbulent and troubling, mirroring the disturbance within happenings of the world, there is hope to be gleaned and shafts of light to be seen in the lives of those whom God is raising up for such a time as this.

Another walk around the lake takes in the daffodils and my favourite folk singer Johnny Coppin’s beautiful song, Rydal accompanies me along the lakes western shore. The birds are singing, the buds are emerging and the first blossoms are seen on the trees and hedgerows.

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Winter has passed and spring is in the air.

After winter comes spring.

After death comes life.

Light follows darkness.

Resurrection conquers crucifixion.

Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer God be praised.

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Dank u Nederland

flower-tulip-fields-netherlands-6Waking up and hearing the news from the Netherlands following their General Election, I feel proud to be European. Thank God for the Dutch people who have, in the words of the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, “said ‘stop’ to the wrong sort of populism”. The Dutch people have voted against extremists and halted the advance of the nationalist far right.

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While the UK continues to be beguiled by a popularist nationalism with some disturbing undercurrents, the results in the Netherlands provides some shafts of light in the dark clouds that have re-emerged over Europe and the USA in recent days. Whilst we continue to be obsessed with economics, the Dutch voters have demonstrated that politics is about more than the economy, it’s about the kind of society we want to live in, taking their part as world citizens, proud of our national identity but not to the exclusion of others. The election tested whether the country wanted to end decades of openness and centrist politics and opt instead for an anti-immigration nationalism, seeped in self-interest which was being heralded by Geert Wilders. Thankfully his popularist, anti-immigration, racist political party, whilst gaining some seats, slumped to just over 10% of the overall vote. The surprising and encouraging big winners in the election were the  pro-European left-wing ecologists who gained a significant number of seats which conceivably could see them entering into a ruling coalition with Prime Minister Rutte’s centre-right VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy). The losers were those on the far right and far left, with the Dutch Labour Party being  virtually wiped out, which should signal  another  reason for the Labour Party here in Britain to sort itself out to mount the only credible opposition possible to our present government.

Another interesting and encouraging feature of the elections is that the Dutch people, despite being bombarded by the media’s extensive coverage of Geert Wilders, were not beguiled by the clever nationalist rhetoric and ‘herd mentality’ that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche used to describe how people are influenced to adopt certain attitudes and behaviours. Would that we here in Britain would think beyond the lies and manipulation of so much of our own media.

So thank you Netherlands that you have ditched extremists, that freedom and liberalism has conquered over the politics of fear, sectarianism and division. What we have failed to do here in Britain, you have done, not only for yourselves but for Europe as a whole. Pray God, that France and Germany will follow your example.

Like your flowers that signal spring and brighten the day, you have lifted my spirit this morning and made me glad to be a partner with you, a fellow European.

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dank u.

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A Blessed St David’s Day

A Blessed St David’s Day

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Today marks the celebration in Wales of St David’s Day. Many will mark the day by wearing a leek or a daffodil, the national emblems of Wales, or by displaying the flag of St David, which features a yellow cross on a black background. Across the land there will be celebrations, festivals and in several places people will still dress up in traditional Welsh costume.

images  Territorial Army celebrates 100 years of service

It is claimed that St David was responsible for the custom of wearing leeks in memory of his spiritual discipline of fasting on water and leeks. Shakespeare popularised the idea by saying that wearing the leak originated as recognition of the Welsh soldiers bravery the battle of Crécy 1346 in his play Henry V. Wearing another symbol, the daffodil, was promoted in particular by former Prime Minister Lloyd George. Daffodil is cennin Pedr (i.e. Peter’s leek) in Welsh, easy to conflate “cennin” (Leek) and “cennin Pedr”.

But who was St. David, whose day we celebrate today?

He was a great Celtic saint who founded at least ten monasteries, establishing them in the ascetic ways of the Desert Fathers.

It was a tough monastic call for those who joined the communities. The monks did heavy manual labour and ate only bread and vegetables. They didn’t brew beer or produce wine but only drank water. David decreed that, “they should labour so hard that they want only to love one another. There should be no conversation beyond what is necessary.” He taught that anyone asking to join a monastery should be made to wait at the door for 10 days and treated in some sense with hostility. It was only if they were patient and forbearing through this treatment that they were to be welcomed into the demands of the ascetic monastic way of life. No “welcome in the valleys” for those who were seeking God in the Welsh monasteries at the end of the sixth century!

It seems incredibly harsh to us but there are some gems of wisdom to be gleaned from that early Celtic tradition:

  • A recognition that the call of God upon anyone’s life is challenging and demanding.
  • That sacrifice and simplicity should characterise disciples of Christ
  • That you have to work hard and renounce things to embrace a vocation
  • That love of God and love for one another is foundational to the Christian life.
  • That words matter whilst there may be a place for what CS Lewis described as, ‘conversational art’ – easy talking but there must be no place for gossip or endless and mindless chatter that fills the spaces but avoids depth.
  • That any call requires testing and when obstacles present themselves, the need to question one’s motivation, intention and commitment allied to perseverance and determination should turn those stumbling blocks to stepping stones.

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I thank God for Wales, its land and people and for the rich inheritance of faith that has been passed on down through the ages. A land of contrasts; snow-capped mountains, wild coastlines, beautiful green valleys, sleepy villages and energetic cities. To travel through Wales is to immerse yourself in the nation’s epic story, ancient scenery, historic landmarks and memorable characters. A land that was in many ways shaped by the Celtic saints, who laid the foundations of faith that has rippled through the centuries in the valleys, hills, towns, villages, farmsteads and cities from this small and compact nation.

A land that has witnessed several periods of revival as well as those times of languishing memories, entrenched traditions and moribund legacies that celebrate and commemorate the past but can cripple life in the present. A country, like Scotland, for better or worse, influenced and in many ways dependent upon the governance and policies of England and the Westminster Parliament that can seem removed from the realities of everyday life for people in these Celtic nations.

A country of contrasting landscapes where the beauty of its hills and valleys and coastline is contrasted with the ugly scars of post-industrial wastelands, ‘abandoned’ and ‘forsaken’ towns and villages where all that is left is memories, sport and the faint sounds of singing, spirits beaten by exploitation, neglect and disregard and all but a trace of aspiration disappearing.

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For my one year postgraduate studies at Cardiff University, under the wing of South Wales Baptist College, I give thanks to God. Nurtured in the godly but relatively prescribed and closed conservative evangelical environment of Bible College in Berwick-upon-Tweed, I found myself swimming in the waters of liberalism and contextual theology and dipping my toes into philosophy, sociology, psychology and education.

In other ways it was a very difficult year. We moved without a grant with our firstborn, ten days old, into a cold and inhospitable manse, where the church thought it was doing its student minister a great service by offering them a house free of rent in return for two Sundays, (4 services) some pastoral ministry and midweek prayer and Bible studies. I remember being awarded a £50 prize for an essay which enabled us to go shopping for a month and buy some second-hand lino from an indoor market stall to put down in our living room. Any request for some help with the house that was barely fit to live in was met with sympathy but no help. The fact that the roof of the kitchen and bathroom fell in just a couple of months after we left was either a consequence of neglect or an act of judgement, or perhaps both?… I was young, naive, liable to be ‘used’ and unable to adequately protest, petition or respond accordingly to a plight that caused my wife and young baby son to suffer. Whilst I enjoyed the comfort of a university lecture room and library, college chapel and sitting room, they were left to struggle and suffer in a cold, damp and inhospitable environment. By the grace of God we survived, not because of the situation but inspite of it.

Too many ministers spouses and families suffer inhospitable and intolerable situations at the hands of the churches they serve, many of whom are scarred for life and whose faith is impacted negatively by such experiences. There were some good and godly people in the church but the overriding culture of the place was one of ‘calculating meanness’ cultivated by some very un-godly attitudes and behaviours. I discovered that if they liked the Sunday preacher they would be given £10, whereas if they took a dislike to them the ‘gift’ would be halved. It was not that the church had no money. I discovered this just weeks before we left to return north and enter full-time church ministry and was able to dismantle the myth that the church had no resources. With the help of the church secretary we discovered that there was over £20,000 in the bank and that the church could well afford to pay half a stipend, the other half being offered by a mission agency to bring a full-time minister into the community. Needless to say the prevailing culture turned down the opportunity, held onto its money and the church continued to decline, believing that it could somehow get away with or even be blessed by God, whilst living with meanness and paying lip service to the faith that was once vibrant in the lives of their forebears.

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Another memory was that of driving our first car, a mini, bought for £150 having been pulled out of a hedge, put back together and hand-painted in British rail green carriage paint. When it rained the footwells filled with water. We needed a car to get out of the valley, over the hill and down into Cardiff for my three days a week at university. So little money, I drove as economically as I could and managed on most occasions to cruise down either side of the hill with the engine off. We hardly ever saw the fuel gauge needle get out of the red low fuel warning zone, apart from those occasions when we filled the tank and returned north to our parents for holidays, warmth and plenteous food.

I learnt a lot; mostly about how not to be church. I can barely remember anything of the lectures but I’m grateful to God above all else for the remarkable mentoring I received from a wonderful godly man and his amazing and hospitable family. T.J. Russel-Jones, renowned as a scholar and preacher throughout Wales was my mentor. Under his godly guidance, gentle influence and example I was schooled further in the discipline of spiritual formation. What had been the greatest contribution of Bible College, that of being inspired and mentored in how to love God, continued under his leadership. Like our Bible college principal Dr. ‘Doc’ Rigby, both men combined godliness with great grace and had those endearing qualities of strength with humility and abilities mixed with humour and self-deprecation. For all the hardships of that year in South Wales, the overriding blessing was that of being under the tutelage of T-J. His godly influence shaped and continues to inform my life and leadership to this day, nearly 40 years on. I learnt recently that he was a conscientious objector.

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Thank God for those older generation of leaders who see both the privilege and responsibility of mentoring younger generations and whose lives bear witness to the reality of their living faith in Christ that has not grown dim or become weary by the innumerable challenges and struggles that ministry entails.

I have forged some very good friendships with fellow ministers in Wales in recent years, both from the north and south of the country. I’m privileged to return on a regular basis to teach at the college, under whose wing I was for that year, the only Baptist College that in my training I had any connections with. It was with joy and a great sense of fulfilment that I was the guest keynote speaker at the Joint Welsh Baptist Assembly in Carmarthen a couple of years ago and I have enjoyed those occasions when I have preached and also brought Community teams to serve the churches in that great country.

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Of note, was a time when I led a Northumbria Community team as we spent a weekend in Bangor and presented Celtic Fire which I had written to tell the story of the Celtic saints which included the founding of Bangor and the monastic community there by St Deiniol.

Rehearsals over, within two hours of the performance I worked with Paul and Jill, two of our Community musicians and wrote a hymn which concluded the night’s performance. It was a fitting conclusion then and an appropriate way to thank God for Wales and to pray for its land and people today, on St David’s Day.

In the past our Celtic forebears

Brought the gospel to this land

Light and life dispelled the darkness

Lives and land redeemed by God

     God of Aidan, God of Deiniol

      Here the cry for this our land

      Here the cry for this our land

 We tonight have heard the story

Of their faith, their love of God

May like them, we live the story

Hold the faith deep in our hearts.

      Chorus

Here our cry, oh God we ask you

That our land might once again

See the faith of our forbearers

Realised in hearts and homes.

      Chorus

So to you our hope and future

We now live to sing your praise

And from here in the power of your Spirit

Go to seek and serve and share.

     Chorus

[Tune: Cwm Rhondda]

Celtic cross on Llanddwyn

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Snapshot of a few days in the life of a Pioneering Coordinator and Community leader

I was asked recently what a typical day looked like in my new part time role to which my answer was that there is no typical day or even a week. “Well, could you not give us a snapshot of what it might be like?” So, this is my response to that request with some reflections along the way as to what it means to be a Northumbria Community leader and a part time Pioneer Coordinator with the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

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Returning to work after a three-day break in the Scottish Highlands to celebrate my birthday I begin the week by ‘signing off’ the next edition of our Community Prayer Guide. A really important publication that I write with the help of a new team who help in its compilation, editing and proofreading. The rest of the day is spent making a few phone calls to people in our community and reducing the mountain of emails that had awaited my return. Having had a brilliant PA for fourteen years, her loss is greatly felt. I try to do some reading each day in addition to the rhythm of our Celtic Daily Prayer which has for many years and continues to inform and inspire my life and faith. I read Edwin Dowler’s excellent Grove booklet Inclusive Gospel? I find Grove booklets really helpful in keeping me informed and thinking about all kinds of topics covered in the areas of ethics, leadership, spirituality, biblical, pastoral and missional topics covered, see: https://grovebooks.co.uk

The evening saw me curling and whilst I returned home very satisfied with my own and the team’s performance in a creditable and very enjoyable draw, the tweak of my hamstring playing tennis on Sunday was not helped by my curling and I am now walking with a limp and requiring some remedial care and attention.

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Tuesday morning saw me driving down through the beautiful and emerging spring countryside of Northumberland to Durham to Cranmer Hall. Our Community Prayer Guide called us to pray for Trevor and Freda, “ giving thanks for the love, stability, inspiration and example they have set the Community and for their steadfast faithfulness throughout the many seasons of their own and the Community’s the life.” The 1.5 hours it takes me to drive to Durham allows me the time to not only give thanks for Trevor and Freda but to recall the many experiences of journeying together and the invaluable companionship and deep friendship that I have enjoyed for many years with Trevor as a fellow overseer. We’ve served through seasons of joy and pain, adventure and anxiety but as the older men of the community now, are able to rejoice and give thanks to God for the way in which things have developed, from early pioneering years to a good, still exploring, still seeking, yet healthier place for the growing community of Companions and Friends.

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At Cranmer I took a couple of tutorials and met with our Baptist discipleship group, comprising students training for ministry and others on the Free Church Missional Leadership course at Cranmer Hall. As I’ve said before they are a great group and if the future of church pioneering and missional leadership featured more people like these remarkably gifted and relatively younger leaders, my optimism and buoyancy would rise.

It was great to catch up with Andy my Missional Leadership course  colleague, the full time Free Church Tutor at the college and together with the discipleship group the issue of what it means to be Nonconformists, both in society and in a predominantly Anglican setting was discussed. I love my Anglican colleagues and friends and have been privileged to have been given opportunities to serve in many Church of England settings, including being made a Fellow of St John’s College but the experience, as well as enriching my own faith journey, only helps to serve my conviction that I am a monastic nonconformist! Bless them, I have to keep reminding many of the Anglicans who I am privileged to work alongside that they are not the only church and that their natural tendency to assume that they are, can on occasions, border on arrogance and a dismissing of those of us from other church traditions is a pain, hurtful and undermining of both the gospel and kingdom relationships. I’m weary of ecumenical conversations that talk the language but find it incredibly difficult to embrace true collaboration and mutual respect and honouring of one another’s differing traditions and expressions of faith.

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The journey south from Durham to Birmingham afforded the opportunity to think, reflect and pray and also take two very significant phone calls. One from one of my successors at Portrack in Teesside, where I was privileged  to serve as its first pastor back in the 1980’s. Drawing on many of the insights from the church planting movement of that era it was a pioneering situation on an urban local authority housing estate non book culture. Eight remarkably formative years that shaped so much of my thinking and  practice as a missional leader. It was very encouraging to talk with Linda, now leading the church, building new expressions of being a community church on the pioneering foundations of welcome, hospitality, compassion and service. Thank God we’ve moved beyond the confines and errors of failing to recognise the many women whom God has called to lead in both the church and society. Under Linda’s strong, strategic and nurturing leadership the church is growing and developing emerging leaders. I have been disturbed by the lack of leadership development in so many of our churches. Self preservation or a survival mentality has curtailed any notion of succession planning or recognition, training, releasing and resourcing new leaders. The second phone call came as a result of an interview I did for Radio Lancashire a few weeks ago. Someone who I’d never met inspired me in his sharing of how God had called him to plant and pioneer in Cumbria. Embracing the call to risky living which entails huge vulnerability he, with his wife and children had been led to both share the Good News with people beyond the walls of the church and serve with compassion so many people who last year had to contend with the trauma and consequences of their homes and businesses being flooded. He enlightened me to happenings in church planting, a ‘New Things network’ that would defy definition or categorisation but nevertheless reflects the creative chaos that is emerging throughout Europe of missional hubs and communities, plants and initiatives.

Driving through the busy Birmingham rush hour traffic and seeing people walking about on a mild evening, I am reminded again of the cosmopolitan nature of Britain. Not where I live in the countryside but true of so many urban and suburban areas of the country. A different world and missional context; exciting, enriching, challenging and opportune.

Arriving at IMC (BMS ~ Baptist Mission Society’s International Mission  Centre) I am met by good friends and hosts for the night, Mark and Claire. We first met on my Baptist Presidency travels ten years ago. Travelling with other Companions of the Northumbria Community, three Baptist ministers and a dance choreographer (sounds like the title of a great book) we did a road tour of Europe, taking in eleven countries in the space of four weeks. We started off as three middle aged men and a young woman but within days became three adolescents with a mother! In Italy we visited Venice before moving onto Genoa where we stayed with Mark and Claire and enjoyed their welcoming hospitality. Together we shared our Daily Office and formed a friendship that has lasted through the ensuing ten years. It was together again around a meal table that we met with two young couples, Simon and Sarah, Sam and Katie, along with two other good friends, Graham,  a Regional minister and Chris an ecumenical missional leadership enabler. Too busy sharing together and enjoying the Indian take away (Birmingham is great for its varied cuisines) and Italian red wine and coffee poured over delicious ice cream, I forgot to take a photo to record the meeting or even the meal.

We’d come together to encourage the two young couples for whom it was obvious that God was calling them to pioneering. Unconventional, radical and innovative, here were folks who had a heart to reflect God’s in reaching out to people beyond the walls of the church. For Simon, at present, this was being expressed in his work as the Bar Manager of a Sports Pavilion in Bournville which is run by the church. Among the many things that he is seeking to do is remove the wall that exists between the church community and ordinary folk who use the bar and sports and other facilities. At present the hatch in the wall that is located between the two groups of people is likened to when you are introducing a new pet into the home where there is an existing pet. You gently get them used to each other by keeping them apart but allowing them to see and sense, ‘sniff out’ and adjust to the change and new presence the other side of the wall that would be coming into a new shared space. I found the imagery that Simon painted both funny and provocative and also highly descriptive of the challenge so many churches and Christians face in simple being with people who are outside the church and its many subcultures. For Sam, his heart was in creating missional expressions within the business community. Finding ways of demonstrating how businesses can be operated and be a force for good in the world.

Two couples who were energising and passionate, thoughtful and insightful of how the world is seen through the eyes of the Millennial generation. The only sad and awkward moment in the evening was to hear how these two great missional leaders had not received the welcome, encouragement and nurturing from the institution of the church as they had hoped and were looking for.

It served for me the necessity of the ‘institution’ needing to reform itself to be a supportive, appropriately accountable, recognising and nurturing environment. It’s not that the institution, be it Association, Union or any other denomination recognition scheme is deliberately obstructive but given the issues of safeguarding, historic abuse cases etc, there is a necessary caution but this must never obstruct those whom God is calling and who have the character and gifting that is integral to that call to serve. When the pioneers, planters and entrepreneurs don’t fit, it’s time to look at changing the system and making it fit for present purposes.

We concluded our evening by praying for one another and our wider family that laughter and lightness, faith and imagination would be shared around tables wherever pioneers met to eat and drink together.

Up early the following morning, managing my sports injury and as a consequence trying to avoid walking far today, I drive into the centre of Birmingham and find a parking place just yards from the conference centre. An early morning taxi back to my hosts on the other side of the city lands me in a fascinating conversation with my driver, a third generation muslim, who only confirms my own and his fears that the way we are responding as a nation to the issues of immigration and refugees is stirring up racial tensions. He said he dreaded the elections this week in Stoke, for a “UKIP win would pour petrol on a simmering racism” that is being felt on the streets and in the neighbourhoods of Birmingham. I think as I hobble back inside the IMC for breakfast that whilst politicians and commentators talk about the economic consequences of Brexit, we need to be aware of a far greater threat to society, the unleashing and permission giving that has come as an unintended consequence by the Referendum result, a furthering and accelerating fracturing of society and the potential breakup of Europe, not just the European Union.

Returning to the conference venue, trying not to applaud my organisational efforts in securing a parking space whilst others are battling with time limited parking meters, I am met by friends from across the country, many of whom I have known for several years. Fellow pioneers and church planters, missiologists and missional leaders, most of whom are my age but there is also a good spread of younger folks and the ethnic diversity and mix of evangelical streams is heartening.

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Two good presentations highlight the work of Jürgen Moltmann on our understanding of the Kingdom of God and church planting and the practice of moving beyond established expressions of church which are stimulating. Likewise the coffee and lunchtime conversations provide opportunities for networking and the sharing of our hearts and hopes.

A chance conversation with a Salvation Army Major leads to the discovery, yet again, of the influence of Celtic Daily Prayer. Not only has he been using the Office himself for years but has passed it on to numerous fellow Officers. He takes great delight in telling me that the Office is now used at one of the Army’s training colleges in the States. Remarkable!

Each Wednesday is marked as a day of intentional prayer for the Northumbria Community. It is a day when I am often directed in my thoughts and prayers to Companions and Friends who are more alone them together in Community, geographically distanced from others yet is part of us. I’m drawn today to pray for those in Eastern Europe, for Oxana, Denys, Ruslan, Anton and his family,  Jean in Japan, Rosemary in Ethiopia and Bendang in Nagaland.

I am also remembering my mother who died eight years ago. Had she lived she would be 104 today. Precious memories of an amazing mother gave me the greatest ‘attachment theory ‘that any child could ask for. Her unfailing, unconditional love, encouragement and support along with my gentle, generous and loving father provided a stability, security and foundation for my well-being throughout life.

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Before the day is out I will return to the liturgy I wrote, In Remembrace of a Good Mother, for Volume 2 of Celtic Daily Prayer:

In you I was formed and given life. You cherished and comforted me; encouraged and enabled me, but now you are gone. 

In the absence of separation, where no voice breaks the silence,
in the abandonment that longs for comfort that only a mother can give,
I cry out to the same God who formed you in your mother’s womb,
the mothering God in whose image you were made and to whom I now, in pain and joy give thanks. 

Separated from you I cry out, in pain and in thanks, to God,
the mothering God in whose image you were made. 

Hear the pain of my heart and heal the wounds of my bereavement.
Turn my tears of sadness into tears of joy.
Rekindle within me the memories that gladden my heart. 

Comfort and strengthen me when I feel bereft,
when the child within me cries out for a mother’s love. 

Protect me as I wander through this landscape of grief without my
mother’s hand,
and soothe the bumps and bruises as I stumble onward through this
life.
Fill my memories with thanksgiving and my stories with laughter,
and may my life build on the gifts given me by a life that truly loved. 

It’s great to see some other Companions and Friends of the Community, Mary and Simon. The offer of a lift up to Leeds will give Simon and I the opportunity to catch up with one another. Still regarded in some circles as one of our younger leaders, Simon is now middle aged and the church he planted is 27 years old! But he remains an inspirational figure, theologically very astute and remarkably creative and its been a privilege to be both a friend of his and something of a spiritual director accompanying his amazing life journey, as amazing as his wife and children are.

The afternoon witnessed a great session with Andrew Vertigan who heads up the Salvation Army’s Fresh Expressions and Church Planting initiatives. His eloquent, engaging presentation about movements not falling on old ways but being prepared to move onto the new things God is calling us to and unleash a new creative imagining in our church planting.He quoted someone who was a formative figure in my early days as a follower of Christ, David Watson, the vicar of St Michael le Belfry, York who said over 40 years ago, Christian work is crippled by clinging to blessings  and traditions of the past. God is not  of yesterday. He is the God of today. Heaven forbid that we should go on playing religious games in one corner when the cloud and fire of God’s presence has moved onto another.

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The Salvation Army was called 125 years ago to pioneer with 17-25 year olds and particularly young women. Think of that; it was so counter cultural back in the late 1800’s.

The last presentation was from Emma, a young woman from south London who shared about table hospitality; simply inviting neighbours and others in the nearby area to a meal. Simple, at times challenging but so effective in forming friendships, bringing hope, healing, faith and transformation to individuals and improving relationships in a neighbourhood. I came to the conclusion many years ago that it’s when we do the simple things well that significance and transformation is realised. Her moving and honest story sharing only served to confirm my conclusion.

It was good to spend a few minutes with Ann part of the YBA (Yorkshire Baptist Association) team who I now work with in this pioneering role. She exercises both a role with the YBA and being the minister at Harrogate Baptist Church. The church that nurtured me as a very young believer when I came back from Outward Bound in Scotland in the mid 1970’s and where I was baptised, met Shirley and got married in the long hot summer of ’76. I turned up at the church with my old school mate Chris Brain, (yes, Chris of Nine O’Clock service fame that sadly went so badly wrong). We’d both just come to faith, were 17 and there was just a handful of other young people in the church. Ann told me that one of those young people, Lindsay, who has remained in the church, now married and with children, was asking after us. Her parents were fantastic folk; down to earth and so welcoming and encouraging of young people. They opened their home up every Sunday night after the evening service. In the next two years we were privileged to see a movement of the Holy Spirit that saw dozens of young people come to faith and who were baptised. We experienced ‘signs and wonders’ before we even had the language or understanding to articulate it properly and so many of us saw our lives propelled in new directions, including Chris and I into ministry. Would we have done so if we had not been welcomed, encouraged, given responsibilities as young people who were very young believers to take Bible studies, lead groups, take part in the services, etc Looking back on that time, the then minister of the church, Jack Pike, who was very conservative and traditional in his theology and character, took amazing risks in giving us the opportunities to explore God’s calling on our lives. Thank God for churches and leaders who are prepared to recognise potential and encourage young and other emerging leaders. One of the most concerning things I have picked up in conversations with current leaders is an absence of leadership development in our churches and a lack of commitment to succession planning.

The good day in Birmingham dispelled the miserable drizzle that accompanied our journey north. Simon and I had a great time of catching up and sharing and thanks to his navigational skills with google maps on his mobile we managed to miss two severe six mile tailbacks and gridlocks on the A38 and M1 due to accidents. We saw parts of the Shropshire and Derbyshire countryside that were new to both of us, particularly the ‘farm track’ that made that part of the journey like a car rally! Dropped him off in Leeds, popping in to see his lovely family and made my way over to my brother and sister in law’s for a relaxing evening, again enjoying the ‘sacrament’ of a meal and wine and good conversation. A catch up on the phone with Shirley on happenings with her and life at home, she alerts me to the prospect of snow on my returning home tomorrow. The absence of a 4×4 or winter tyres may for once prove a challenge. Driving my new ‘Superb’ car in such conditions will be interesting but having ‘rallied’ with Simon today it held the road well in near ‘off road’ conditions!

Over the last few days I have so appreciated the gift and opportunity to be able to have stimulating conversations about what’s happening in the world, mixing catching up on one another’s lives with  humour and some serious discussion. A component to life that is sadly often missing in our contemporary society.

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A more relaxed and leisurely start on Thursday morning, I feel encouraged that the reading in Celtic Daily Prayer for today includes, The first invitation of the Desert mothers to us is to stop and seek the space and time to listen. For some, this may take the form of the silent retreat. Brothers, it may entail sitting on the porch after the kids are in bed instead of listening to television. For others, it may mean not answering email getting on the Internet for half a day. Still others may discover it by being in the car alone, with no radio or music playing. The wisdom of the Desert mothers tells us that this way of life does not require a physical desert. It does require creating regular space and time to be still and to be silent. So I do not turn on my computer to look at emails until well after breakfast. Instead, I sit looking out of my brother’s window, observing the dark sky across the fields. The green of the earth carries with it the promise of new life and growth but the black sky is foreboding. Happenings across the world contain both signs of life and death, light and darkness, good and evil. I am thank God for Patrick, one of my grandchildren who is 9 today and wonder just what kind of world my generation has bequeathed him.

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I make my way to York to meet with Phil, one of our Regional ministers. For convenience we meet in the lovely hotel by the station but decide against eating lunch there given that my latte cost nearly £5! The nearby pub served burger and chips and whilst not a particularly healthy diet it did avoid us going bankrupt. The journey home, whilst not having to contend with snow, entailed driving on very flooded roads in very blustery conditions as Storm Doris wreaked havoc across the country. After the demands and responsibilities of the previous few days, I enjoy listening to the omnibus edition of the Archers, the world’s longest running radio soap opera. There was a lovely phrase that Miranda, the obnoxious, snobby wife of the city business entrepreneur Justin said when wondering why on earth they had ended up in Ambridge, a ‘godforsaken cultural wasteland…. There’s a dearth of restaurants, bars, culture. What do people do all day!?

It’s great to be back home with Shirley and the evening is spent relaxing and chilling out. Death in Paradise provides nonsensical and amusing entertainment on the TV before the realities of News at 10, Question Time and the prospects of the two by-election results emerge through the night.

I wake up pleasantly surprised that Labour held onto Stoke, defeating UKIP but any sense of satisfaction was quickly squashed when I learnt that the Conservatives had taken the Copeland seat. Gillian Troughton, a local woman, a former hospital doctor, now ambulance driver and devout Christian stood for Labour in the by-election and lost the seat. If Jeremy Corbyn is decent, honest and honourable I hope that those qualities will enable him to see that he is incapable of uniting a divided party and that he will never be given the opportunity by the public to serve as Prime Minister. I hope that he will stand down because the lack of a coherent and effective opposition to the present government it is not only undermining democracy here in Britain, but to my mind seriously damaging society and route marching us into some very severe and dark days ahead. A conviction that is only deepened by my Skype conversation call with one of our Companions  in Community this morning, who alerts me to the deepening crisis in so many parts of Britain as a result of Brexit. We spend time sharing about the changes and developments within the Community and the world and the implications we face to embrace and live out our Rule of Life,  Availability and Vulnerability.

I then turn my attention to emails (82 currently in my Inbox) and pulling together a Community team for this years Cliff College Festival in Derbyshire, I am doing so against the backdrop of enormous changes taking place in the church and wider society. The theme in today’s Community Prayer Guide is timely; Embracing Change ~ Europe. We pray for the peace of Europe, asking that the winds of change currently blowing may not trigger the re-emergence of nationalism and extremist political parties that fuel the fires of violence and war.

Much to think and pray about, thoughts to ponder, people to follow up with but to conclude this chronicle of a working week in the life of a pioneer and community leader, some words from Walter  Bruegemann: The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial and expresses hope in a society that lives in despair.

Have a good weekend.

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