REFLECTIONS 40 Years Ordination Anniversary.

It’s an anniversary; 40 years since I was ordained to the ministry. Prayed for under the shadow of Aidan’s statue on Lindisfarne before going on to the formal ordination service at Castlegate Baptist Church in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Later that summer I was inducted as the Minister of the newly formed Portrack Baptist Church in Stockton-on-Tees. 

I still find it quite ironic that somebody from an unchurched background ended up as a church minister. I struggled in the early days with some aspects of church life and if anything, the struggles have intensified through the years but it has been a remarkable privilege and joy to have sensed a call from God and to have given expression to that calling as a minister of the gospel, the Good News of the Life, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It’s been a journey of blessings and buffetings; times of enormous joy, pleasure and satisfaction, challenges overcome, opportunities taken, and lives touched and transformed in both ordinary and extraordinary ways. There were also times of great difficulty, painful periods of pressure and failure and worse, the experiences of being misunderstood, maligned and misrepresented. There have been many seasons of hope as well as some permeated with fear; illuminating periods and the contrasting episodes of struggle. 

Reflecting on the factors in the formation and the outworking of my ministry, I am thankful to God for Shirley who has been and is an amazingly supportive wife, and to have had an understanding and great family. I am also profoundly grateful for a whole host of people, places and experiences, that include:

Some brilliant lifelong friends, colleagues and Companions of the Northumbria Community. I am deeply appreciative of Janet Elizabeth my spiritual director, soul friends Rob and Gayle-Anne, the godly example of a former ‘abbot’ and close friend Trevor and the many wise mentors and inspirational people through the long haul of many years of ministry.

Going to Lebanon Missionary Bible College in Berwick-upon-Tweed, which was brilliant for someone who was fairly new to the faith. Although not the greatest academic institution in the world, it was there I learnt from the staff and some students what it meant to love God and allow that love to spill over into mission. This was expressed in carrying the compassion of God for his world and sharing the good news of the Christian faith, encouraging believers and opening the pathways and sharing life with all for whom an awareness of God and his love seemed closed or distant. Etched deep into my soul are the memories of Doc Rigby, our college Principal, who was so moved with compassion that when he spoke about the ‘least, the lost on the lonely’ tears would trickle down his cheeks, not for effect but flowing from a heart that cared deeply.

For the opportunity to do some postgraduate studies at Cardiff University when I was introduced to philosophy, sociology and psychology, alongside familiar theological studies. This laid a foundation for me to later do my Masters in Applied Theology at Newcastle University. 

The gift, challenge and opportunity of what would now be thought of as pioneering with some amazing people in the urban, council estate culture of Portrack in Teesside in the 1980s. From small beginnings, statistically, we were the fastest growing Baptist Church within the denomination, seeing an increase from 18 members to 96 in 7 years, baptising over 50 people, sending 10 people into various forms of church ministry. We also initiated engaging with the local community in a job creation scheme, weaving the rich threads of social justice, charismatic renewal and mission into a Kingdom tapestry that created something beautiful out of brokenness. We were (and the church remains) a remarkably innovative and creative bunch, in a permission giving, risk-taking, down-to-earth and very adventurous community of people. 

It was whilst there that my interest in politics became more focussed. Seeing unemployment rise from 18% to 52% in our ward over four years and witnessing the ravaging of Government economic policy, damaging good people, hard-working people, where many skilled and semi-skilled workers were discarded to the dole queue, resulting in dire consequences for peoples wellbeing. My belief was that to fail to engage with the institutions and political structures would have been failing as a minister of the gospel.

I had always felt slightly confined by a belief, still prevalent in many church quarters, of the expectancy that the pastor / teacher model of ministry would be the one adopted, whereas Portrack allowed my apostolic calling and prophetic edge to flourish and grow. A wider ministry, the forming with friends within and beyond Portrack of Northumbria Ministriesdeveloped. The wider ministry led to receiving a call to come alongside and succeed Frank Cooke at Andover in Hampshire, a church with a vision for planting other congregations from the town all the way down the Test Valley to Romsey. A large healthy, growing church, it was a natural step for somebody who was seen to be ‘successful’ in ministry. However, in considering my response to the church’s invitation, a journey up to my parents’ house in Northumberland, caused me to pull over by the side of the A1, shedding tears as I looked out over Bamburgh, Lindisfarne and the Northumbrian coast and over to the Cheviot hills and the realisation that not only was this the place of my calling to the ministry, it was to be at the heart of that calling to Northumbria. 

In trying to work out what that calling would entail, the developing of a wider ministry continued but with a Northumbrian emphasis and an invitation to join the ministry team at Enon Baptist Church in Sunderland. One of the larger charismatic, evangelical churches in the north-east, its growth was principally from attracting people from other churches perceived to be less attractive. 

The church invited me to help in their engagement with mission. I had hoped that this would have sat alongside my growing commitment and emerging vision for Northumbria. Sadly, things didn’t work out as I had envisaged and within 18 months, I became the Senior Pastor and found myself running the church, feeling the pressure, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel, of trying to keep the customer satisfied. I also needed the space to ask the questions that accompanied my disillusionment with the power and control mechanisms, the narrow confines as I experienced them of a dominant combination of reformed and charismatic spirituality. This bordered on fundamentalism and certainly had traces of narrow, confined judgementalism which I found difficult to live with. I was respected as a Bible teacher and caring pastor but the apostolic gifts of creativity and innovation were difficult to exercise. I was good at what I did, and I could do the ‘stuff’ of ministry, but I had lost the heart of what faith is all about; relationship with God, self and others. 

The discovery of monastic spirituality with its contemplative heart, the rediscovery of the Celtic Saints and the rekindling of friendships led to the merging of two groupings: Northumbria Ministries and the Nether Springs Trust, which formed the Northumbria Community. This was then and remains to this day, my place of vocation and up until recently has been the primary vehicle through which my ministry has been exercised. Embracing a Rule of life, of Availability and Vulnerability, has provided the foundation and framework for my life and faith, for my calling and ministry. I have never seen it as incompatible with the promises I made before God and the congregation assembled at my ordination service. For me there is no incompatibility between being part of a new monastic Community and being a nonconformist minister. The three questions that are at the heart of the Northumbria Community, our ‘raison d’etre’; Who is it that you’re seek? How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? and How then shall we live? remain as true for me as an ordained Baptist minister as they do as a Companion of the Northumbria Community. 

Pioneering with the Community in those exciting, exhilarating days, when new ground was being broken were scary and thrilling at the same time. Many mistakes were made, but the joys of the journey far outweighed costly pains, so even with reserves exhausted and bank balances impoverished and our struggles compounded, we nevertheless, by the grace of God, saw something birthed that has gone on to bring life to hundreds and thousands of people now across the world.

My role and responsibilities within the Community have evolved over the years and I am no longer one of its leaders, having handed the baton over to three gifted successors, on this day last year at Old Bewick in Northumberland, a sacred, ‘thin’ out of the way place that holds so many special memories for us as a Community. For many years, people described me as the public face of the Community. This was because of my wandering for the love of Christ, speaking and leading teams throughout the UK and across Europe, networking and connecting and encouraging people beyond our Mother House to embrace and live out the Rule of life ‘in every place where they are.’ 

Alongside this apostolic, ambassadorial role, linking people and forging partnerships with the Community, my ministry saw me establishing the Renovare Board, with its founder and my good friend Richard Foster. I spearheaded a partnership with Bible Society and was very involved with another friend, Neil Crosbie, and people like Martin Robinson and Colin Greene, in seeing the Society moving from a Bible distribution agency to that of a missional organisation radically engaging within the public domains of the arts, politics, education and the workplace. Out of that partnership emerged the Telling Place, a storytelling initiative that was a remarkable creative way of engaging and sharing the Bible in schools, festivals, theatres, churches and communities, while at the same time bringing our Northumbria Community ethos to the project. 

The unexpected invitation to stand for the Presidency of the Baptist Union of Great Britain was met with incredulity upon discovering that I had been elected! One year officially as President but in total three years, combining my role within the leadership in the Community with the apostolic / ambassadorial role of the Presidency. Seeing how the impact of the Community had touched the lives of so many people within and beyond the Baptist denomination was humbling and a privilege to see. 

I loved the opportunity that the Presidency gave me of travelling through Europe and being involved in hosting the Baptist World Alliance Centenary Congress in Birmingham. Meeting and ministering among such diverse groups, preaching and teaching and working with BAME ministers and their churches is something that I have taken great pleasure in doing. 

The partnership with the Community that we were able to forge with the International Baptist Theological seminary in Prague was delightful for both parties and deeply enriching for me. The partnership helped me personally to see the world from a European perspective and my annual lecture trips and a six week study break before the Seminary moved to Amsterdam, forged friendships with people across the continent. Many of these new friends, like me, have become disillusioned with events and happenings here in Britain and are devastated by Brexit and its implications for the United Kingdom and the European Union as a whole. 

These European journeys enabled me to share something of the life of the Community with individuals and groups in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ukraine, Croatia, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Russia, Kurdistan and Lithuania.

My connections with the Baptist Union have continued throughout my many years in ministry. Over these years I have received many invitations from churches, encouragement from others to teach at one of our Colleges or become a Regional Minister or apply for one of the various departments. I was able to turn them all down, even though some of them were appealing  because I knew they would have diverted me from my calling and leadership of the Northumbria Community, where my spiritual home and true vocation lies. 

Having latterly worked for the denomination part time as a coordinator, I’ve come to realise that I can best serve the Baptist movement from its margins, speaking and ministering as I do into the life of individuals, churches and missional communities, associations, colleges, council and the national core group. 

I’m hugely encouraged that as a denomination we have slowly come to recognise that there are ministries beyond that of a pastor / teacher that need to be encouraged and resourced. It is not the only model of ministry but part of the fivefold ministry as outlined in Ephesians 4 which is at last finding some mileage within our Baptist movement. In my opinion we have still a considerable way to go in renouncing and repenting of some of the attitudes that have discriminated against people, notably on the grounds of colour and gender. I’ve encountered people who are bigots, bullies, manipulative and abusive in their attitudes and behaviour; controlling people, lacking in accountability and humility. I believe it is a weakness of our system that we don’t deal sufficiently with such behaviour. Perhaps the recent debates and fallouts may precipitate some positive changes that truly contribute to our desire as a Baptist movement to create healthy churches.

I’m encouraged that we are more and more seeing the need to train and develop leaders, including missional leaders. It is right to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go, but we are beginning to recognise, for example, that pioneers are a gift from God, and have something to contribute by way of challenge, creativity, and encouragement, bringing much needed change and transformation to a movement ‘for such a time as this.’

Building on the above, I long to see a greater emphasis on missional leadership within our local churches, associations and in our colleges. Some of the most dynamic and fruitful people that I have met in ministry have been those that have trained outside of our denominations colleges, equipped in many ways more suitably for the changing post-Christendom context in which we find ourselves. 

It’s been a joy to see organisations like Rural Ministries develop and play an increasingly significant role in the recognition and resourcing of significant ministries within rural contexts.

I’ve always enjoyed the company of people younger than myself. They help me to keep in touch with the world that they understand far better than I do. They keep me fresh and alert to the changes that we are undergoing as a society and as a church. Having pioneered the opportunity for people to train for Baptist ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham in partnership with Northern Baptist College, I now have the joy of mentoring 17 pioneers and missional leaders, all of whom, (actually most of them) are considerably younger than me.

T.J. Russell-Jones, my amazing mentor when I was a student pastor at Bedwas in Wales, who was the preacher at my ordination service took his text from 1Timothy 3:16, Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young but set the believers an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. I have endeavoured, not always with great success, but nevertheless with genuine aspiration, to embrace the challenge and encouragement of those words. It’s my prayer and hope to continue to impart to those who I am now privileged to mentor, even though I am no longer a young man myself. 

In all these contexts I see the traces of our Northumbrian spirituality weaving its giftedness and life to individuals and the places where God has called them to be.

So in conclusion, as I reflect upon the past 40 years since that hot Saturday in the summer of 1980, I am indebted to God for his grace and goodness and the opportunity that people have afforded me to follow that calling.

For all those who I may have unintentionally hurt and offended, caused difficulties or any distress, I am truly sorry. For all those who have intentionally or unwittingly wounded or sought to undermine or destroy my ministry, I forgive you. Where there has been any malediction, in any quarters, I pray that God in his transforming grace will bring about benediction.

As I journey on into a fairly uncertain future, I echo the words of the hymn that was sung on the occasion of my baptism as a believer, back in Harrogate Baptist Church in 1975;

How good is the God we adore!
Our faithful, unchangeable friend:
his love is as great as his pow’r
and knows neither measure nor end.

For Christ is the first and the last;
his Spirit will guide us safe home;
we’ll praise him for all that is past
and trust him for all that’s to come.

I am currently furloughed by the Northumbria Community since lockdown began and my other part-time consultancy work includes a few days each month working for the Baptist Union as a Pioneer Ambassador. I also have some mentoring, advising, lecturing, spiritual direction, coaching and writing, all of which is now exercised within a very changing environment in a changing emerging new world era. 

I’m delighted to be partnered by six churches throughout our denomination, north and south of the country, with whom I do some work and who in return support me. This enables me to offer mentoring to younger leaders and pioneers who cannot offer any remuneration for my working with them. 

Coming full circle, one of those churches is Portrack, where Shirley and I have continued to keep our connections and in a limited way, our involvement. It is a church we love dearly and remain committed to. What I, with others, were privileged to serve, develop and shape in forming its DNA of welcoming hospitality, of being adventurously missional, and creatively imaginative, expressing an incarnational, generous community, is still evident. The child has grown up and flourished!

As I enter my 41st year of ordained ministry, I am still positive about ministry and whilst letting go and laying down a number of things in this stage of my life and ministry, I remain energised at those things that are becoming more clearly focused and are emerging as priorities for the coming years, not least an emphasis on writing. 

On the same occasion as my baptism, we were presented with a verse of scripture, one that has become a life text for me throughout all the years of my ministry; Proverbs 3:5,6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths straight.

Roy Searle, Northumbria Community, Baptist Union Pioneer Ambassador and Free Church Tutor, Cranmer Hall, Durham, Associate Tutor, Spurgeons College, London.

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The Celts and Lockdown

Transcript of a talk given today for a Baptist Union of Great Britain webinar.

I’ve become very weary of the term unprecedented times, not least because they are not unprecedented or unpredicted. I have ecently returned to a book I first came across in the late 1970’s.  A Distant Mirror The Calamitous 14th Century is a narrative history book by the American historian Barbara Tuchman. The book tells the story of the crisis of the late 14th century and the suffering experienced throughout Europe.

Every century has had its notable, world changing events; from the advent of castles and defence systems in the 11th century, to law and order and judicial systems in the 12th century, from markets and minting in the 13th, the Great Famine in the 14th century including the Black Plague, to the Renaissance through the 14th and 17th centuries, the French Revolution in the 18th, the 19th century communications discoveries, to the 20th centuries technological revolution and a 21st-century, no doubt characterised by pandemics, global economic recessions, famine, terrorism and war. The idea that what we are facing is unprecedented is nonsense. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Eccles 1:9

There is nothing new under the sun and the world has known things like pandemics before and there are lessons to be learned from such experiences.

Today we are looking at the Celtic saints who for people like Lesley and me and, hundreds, possibly thousands of folk like us associated or influenced by the Northumbria Community and other expressions of Celtic spirituality, there are some parallels with our times and those of our Celtic mothers and fathers in the faith from the 4th to the 7th century. 

The context both then and now was one of a significant changing world. A world that lived through the decline and collapse of the Roman Empire. Celtic spirituality was forged on the anvil of struggle and cultural change and I sense that we are on a journey of discovering what faith looks like in a changing Post Christendom society.

For us today, we are witnessing a diminishing of Western democracy, the emergence of populist movements, autocratic, authoritarian dictators and governments and the rise of China as the worlds major superpower. 

There is no going back to normal. We are entering a new era. As people think about the post war years, history, I believe, will record the post-pandemic world that began in 2020. 

The Celts response in the midst of change was the same ethos that was found within desert monastic spirituality, the primary influence upon the Celtic Saints, and that response was to first, to seek God. lets response in the midst of change

For the desert fathers and mothers it was a withdrawing to the desert to seek God, to pray, reflect, find wisdom, ask how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, and to discover a way for living in the new world context.

So in relation to where we find ourselves today, the Celts would encourage us to seek God.

Seeking God in the place of the cell, the place of exposure to the love of God and to a deeper encounter with ourselves. The call to solitude, to more silence than the frenetic activity that has so dominated too much of our contemporary western society. The call to listen, to wait, watch and wonder.

Inevitably given any crisis, our first response was a classic trauma response; to do something, be brave, heroic, to be rescuers and while there is a place for practically responding to the obvious needs, to miss the deeper call is to miss the significance and signs that are found in the midst of any crisis.

I think the Celts would be horrified by the amount of noise that has been generated by the current crisis. It seems as though everybody has an opinion, something to say, post on Facebook, host a webinar, comment on Twitter, with our 24/7 news coverage and no shortage of armchair commentators and critics. Pastors who instead of preaching once a week have become overnight amateur, (some very amateur!) radio presenters, finding an outlet for their many words, and who have become unwittingly, like priests administering daily mass, not the eucharist but daily messages, podcasts, talks and prayer liturgies. 

I am mindful of those words of W. H. Vanstone in his book, Loves Endeavour, Love’s Expense – The Response of being to the Love of God that in a swimming pool all the noise is usually found in the shallow end. It’s quieter in the deeper end. It’s in the subsurface, landscapes of the heart, that we touch the deeper truths about ourselves and the world we live in. It’s where wisdom, as opposed to the accumulation of information, is found.

I think the Celts would remind us that our first call is to seek God and to wait upon him in that deeper place.

In that place of seeking, in the context of learning to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, it would entail an awareness of loss, lament and repentance. 

Contemplation engages the heart and mind in prayer and reflection and exploring the depths not only of the human heart and the impact of happenings upon our own lives but gives the space to discern and critique what’s happening in the world. Not only events and happenings but what’s going on in the psyche of the nation. I sense when I pray that there is a great deal of frustration, anger and anxiety that is fuelling responses and reactions to what we are living through.

And surely any waiting upon God at this time has to call us to lament and repent of those things that we’ve either ignored or failed to see. For example, the poisoning and polluting of the planet. How deep an irony that as we have been locked down, trying to cope with a virus that inhibits our ability to breathe, the rest of creation, the planet has breathed easier. For the abuse and exploitation of the planet – Lord have mercy. For our failure to recognise the key workers in our society, those we are dependent upon, not just the obvious medics but the care workers, the 1.6 million who work in the care sector, many of whom are on the minimum wage, some on zero hours contracts, most without Social Security benefits, those who work the land, pick and pack and distribute the fruits of the harvest, the delivery drivers, the refuge collectors, many like modern day slaves – Lord have mercy upon us. 

The endemic racism, not only on the other side of the Atlantic but in the hearts, homes, attitudes and policies here in Britain. The blindness to white supremacy, privilege, opportunity and power wielded often by the few and rarely for the benefit of the many – Lord have mercy. 

These and other evils, sins and wrongdoings we need to repent of and change our hearts, minds, attitudes and actions to address injustice and right wrongs that we have committed, intentionally or unintentionally.

It has been said that Celtic spirituality, with its down to earthiness, encouraged adherents to play the five stringed harp, not a musical instrument but the employing of all our senses; seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting – deploying not only information of the mind but intuition and the deep feelings in the heart to discover and discern what is happening in the world. e.g. listening. I observed Midsummers day with the birdsong in early morning dawn, yet the day after and since, it’s quieter, the birdsongs have disappeared. Creation knows the summer is passing.

For the Celtic saints, it was out of that place of contemplation, seeking God, out of lamenting that there emerged a reimagining of a different way of living. 

Like the prophetic tradition, there is the acknowledgement of sin and wrongdoing, waywardness and the need to repent, a renewal of love for God and his ways and a commitment to walk in them and out of that comes a reimagined future. Hope is born, a way for living is found.

There is no return to normal, there mustn’t be a conformity to the prevailing culture, which is wayward and contrary in a whole host of ways to the ways of God’s Kingdom. As Baptists it should be second nature to us to be nonconformists, as the Celts were, not for the sake of being odd, which some Baptists seem to excel in doing but rather nonconformity for the sake of the gospel, living out and sharing God’s Good News, as Bede the historian said of the Celts, They lived what they believed.  Thomas Merton said when commenting on the Celtic saints,  We cannot do exactly as they did but we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break off all spiritual chains, to cast off the domination of alien compulsions and find our true selves; to discover our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build on earth the kingdom of God. 

It’s the contemplative calling, that is foundational to Celtic spirituality, seeking God, the one thing necessary. Whatever the season, whatever the circumstances, seek God. Embrace intentionally the rhythm and patterns, habits and practices, appreciate the value of things like a Daily Office, eg. Celtic Daily Prayer.

And it is out of that calling of seeking God, upon that foundation, that the Celts actions and engagement with the world was shaped and formed.

So, for example to seek God, a God who loves the world, who in his mercy reaches out to a broken, bruised and wayward world, inevitably should lead those who love God to love their neighbour. For the Celts this found expression, in their welcome and hospitality towards friend and stranger. They also passed on the skills that they learned within their communities; cultivating the land, looking after the animal stock, fishing, weaving, construction and educating.

The fruits of Celtic spirituality as the Good news of Christ impacted and transformed lives was that things like tribalism, nationalism, sectarianism, sexism were dismantled and the discovery of kinship, friendship, community was realised. 

In every monastic settlement, community, small or large there was welcome, as one would welcome Christ in the strangers guise, wherever a person known or unknown, friend or stranger would come from. There were few demarcation lines and no exclusion zones or people who suffered discrimination.

In periods of plague, Celtic communities would often be the only place to which the suffering would find a place of welcome and healing. Celtic communities had the equivalent of our hospital wards or hospices. When the contemporary world abandoned those in distress, the Celtic monks would welcome or journey into plague villages and hamlets, often at the cost of their own lives, to share and care in the name of Christ.

You don’t get an impression that the Celts primary concern was for their own well-being. There is no record of counsels, meetings, papers or proposals to discuss how they could get back to normal, how they could safe distance, how they could keep their buildings open.

When people today ask when will the church be open again I want to proclaim loud and clear that the church was never closed. In fact the church has been turfed out of buildings and into the neighbourhoods and world and in many quarters the church is alive and well and serving the Kingdom in the world, not locked up in some holy huddle or religious cul-de-sac. The Celts would remind us that it is not about preserving or conserving but proclaiming and sharing the Good news. They began with the Kingdom and the Good News which then shaped the faith communities; churches and monasteries that were formed and established. To begin with church is the wrong starting place and to think first about what the church needs is for us the wrong starting place. Lockdown has provided a great opportunity to think again about what being disciples of Jesus and the church is in a changing world. Many of those things that we, for various reasons, of have been reluctant to let go, have gone with lockdown and perhaps God is asking us not to restore them but to discover the new things that he is wanting to do in and through us. 

I’m part of the Fresh Expressions Pioneering Development hub which gives me the opportunity to meet with other pioneer ambassadors and coordinators of other denominations. When we met recently somebody had the image of the church being like a bike that has had its stabilisers removed; for some churches, the stabilisers are their building and meeting together as a congregation and it’s as though God has removed the stabilisers. I’ve been out this morning trying to teach and encourage my 2.5 year old granddaughter to learn to ride her bike without stabilisers, to discover the freedom of new ways of riding that are not dependent upon those external stabilisers and support mechanisms. Likewise, we, as the Celts had to do, have a great opportunity to learn what it is to be disciples and communities of faith, whether in established, traditional, emerging, fresh expressions, pioneering, missional communities, experimental mission initiatives, with the stabilisers, the structures and supports that we have become so dependent upon, removed. Like the Celts, we are called to, what my Pioneering Ambassador colleague Simon Goddard has initiated, a Missional Adventure. To seize the day, to see the opportunity, of rediscovering something that is there within our Baptist DNA, missionary adventurers, people not trapped by institutionalism, not governed by past protocols or out of date systems but free to be open and responsive to the movements of the Holy Spirit, to take us out of our church buildings.

It was persecution in the early church that caused the church to obey Jesus command to Go and his commission to move out of Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth and it’s a pandemic that has thrown the church today out beyond its walls and into our communities and discovering, as the Celts did, that the Kingdom of God is to be found in the streets, in the world. When they wandered for the love of Christ they discovered that God was ahead and at work in the life of believer and unbeliever. 

Their task, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was to discover and discern God’s presence in the world of which church played a secondary, not primary role. 

They had little concern for building the church, the kingdom of God was their primary concern. They formed faith communities, churches without walls. 

In the early years of Celtic monasticism, if buildings in their settlements were required, they were intentionally constructed in wood. There was plenty of stone around but by building in wood, nothing was made permanent. God was not confined to a building, He could be known and discovered, encountered among friend and stranger, in the midst of every day, ordinary life, in the home, at the hearth, at the roadside, in the workplace, on a hilltop and beside still or raging waters.

Community was a really important component within Celtic spirituality, relationships mattered. As people covenanted together within the love of Christ they lived out their faith, inspired and informed by a monastic rule of life. Organised not on hierarchical grounds or in geographical territories but an organic, spontaneous, haphazard and rather chaotic connectivity between people and places existed within the Celts as they journeyed, formed and founded monastic communities, centres of learning and bases for mission across Europe, shaping the Continent and laying the foundations of the Judaeo-Christian tradition for centuries to come.

Their models of leadership are really interesting; the abbot or abbess of the community were primarily concerned about guarding its ethos, teaching, training and imparting to others a monastic rule of life, discipling. 

The bishops were more apostolic figures, missional, taking the gospel and sharing with people everywhere and speaking truth to power. They were risktakers, adventurous, pioneers, apostles more to culture than the church. In both the monasteries and on the road, they brought blessing and benediction to where there had been curses, fear, superstition and malediction. The beauty and creativity they brought through their appreciation of the arts helped bring light and life, transformation to the Dark ages. With the exception of those who are called to an eremitic a life of prayer, (and even those were connected to some community or other) the Celts did not live in cloistered, closed communities but had that wonderful balance and rhythm of solitude and engagement, prayer and action, withdrawal and involvement.

So, in conclusion, what would the Celts do in Lockdown? 

They would in the words on the sign by the side of the Main East Coast railway line:  Stop… Look… Listen…

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Pentecost Reflections

Waking early and witnessing the dawning of a new day, the heralding of birds summoning songs of praise and the warmth of the sun emerging and beckoning new life and the blossoming of fruit and flowers in the garden. 

Our Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer’s Invocation of the Holy Spirit providing the liturgy of the day.

Most powerful Holy Spirit,
come down
upon us
and subdue us.

From heaven,
where ordinary
is made glorious,
and glory seems
but ordinary,

bathe us
with the brilliance
of your light
like dew

Celebrating the birth of the church, a movement born of the Holy Spirit, an empowering of ordinary men and women, who had come to know, love and follow Christ to be his witnesses, to bring his Good news to the hearts and minds of lands and people throughout the earth. The birth of the church and a world revolution, a movement that brought life, liberty and freedom to the oppressed, good news to the poor and a way for living that was heralded on that Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.

And how the world means that revolution today. A world scared by its brutality, abused and polluted by its greed and exploitation, divided by its conflict and attrition, poisoned by its toxic politics and dangerous dictators, a world divided by poverty and wealth, injustice and polluting consumerism, arrogance and deceit. A beautiful world being ruined by our failure to respect God and neighbour, lives and land. In the words of the 60’s song, ‘what the world needs now is love sweet love….oh, not just for some, but for everyone”. 

The advantages of social media enabled us to be reminded of the church worshipping God, witnessing and engaging in mission across the world. Messages to friends in Germany, Belgium, Nagaland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Canada and the States. Oh, the States! – hearing further reports of the riots there, I logged onto to see how friends and fellow Companions of our Northumbria Community were in Minneapolis. Margene wrote of waking up to more pain and destruction in her city following the murder of George Floyd and the domino effects of racial injustice. “There are different layers of protest. Those from the black community and their allies are trying to grieve and call to account the injustice of George Floyd’s death. It is for the most part been peaceful. But there is another sinister layer of protesters. They are anarchists and are using this event as a way to destroy. Their pyro supplies are so sophisticated they are burning down banks and post offices. They are using George Floyd’s death as a cover to create anarchy. Pray for our city”. 

The presence of white supremacists, including members of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) in the city and other cities where there are riots is deeply disturbing. I watch another Companion, Ben Tucker singing and praying to God for his city, read about Peter Wohler and Source Ministries holding a Prayer Vigil and an outdoor Pentecost service in the troubled city.

I reflect on the Easter, Ascension and Pentecost stories and reflect that the words of Jesus and the tongues of fire that fell upon those first disciples is such a stark contrast to the incendiary political rhetoric and fires burning in the streets of America today.

I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s words in 1968: “But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

I pray for peace on the streets of America but pray also for the States and for us here in Britain to wake up to the reality of racism in our society and the injustice, evil and oppression it creates that leads to anger and outrage which malevolent groups can exploit to fuel further unrest and deepen racial hatred. 

Here in the calm of our home in North Yorkshire the internet enables us to log in and say hello to the church at Portrack, (where I was the first minister back in the 1980s), greet friends old and new and then join with New Life Baptist church that we are a part of here in Northallerton. A relaxed, creatively curated service was beautifully led and included uplifting worship by gifted musicians, myriad voices, praying, reading, sharing , including an artist talking about the painting he had been commissioned by the church to do for Pentecost. An inspiring sermon by a Jane, a very gifted woman preacher that was insightful, challenging and encouraging. There were crafts and activities for all ages to do at home and Trevor and his puppet made an appearance. At which point, and not because of, we returned to Portrack in time to be part of the link up with Pattaya in Thailand, an orphanage of up to 200 children and a deaf school that the church is actively supportive of. Run by a Catholic Order a very spritely 84 year old Thai priest shared and prayed for us and we were taken on a live video tour of the orphanage where the smiling, happy faces of children and adults touched the hearts of all who of us who were privileged to watch and brought a tear to many. 

The DNA of Portrack evident throughout; a Church made up of a very diverse group of people; young and old, single, married, families, asylum seekers and refugees, barristers and pastors, civil servants, lorry drivers, retired folk, medics and educational workers, unemployed and self-employed. The DNA seen today, as in its founding years, in the church’s heart for the poor and the marginalised, near and far, The generosity of spirit and sacrificial giving way beyond the expectation of a relatively small, urban, housing estate church. Small church, big heart. Like New Life, it’s well led and develops leaders and both fellowships, move out beyond the walls of the church, to share the love of God with believer and unbeliever alike.

Church buildings remain closed but the church is out of the building and alive and at work in the world. 

It’s interesting that it took persecution in the first century to turf the church out of its domesticity. Jesus in commissioning his followers to ‘Go into all the world’ promised that at Pentecost they would receive the Holy Spirit and the power to become his witnesses in the world. However, then as now, it’s easy for churches to have a tendency to create a religious huddle into which the world is invited, where the church acts as host and invites guests to join. This is contrary to the way in which Jesus shared the Good news and intended his church to be. We are called to where people are, where we are more the guest than the host, where instead of doing things for people, we do things with people and discover the kingdom of God is to be found in the world. 

As my friend Glen Marshall discovered in his preparation to preach today these powerful words; “The Spirit blows the disciples out of the house, out beyond the confines of their own language, out into the world. The wind of the Spirit is no whirlwind sucking up everything in its path into some irresistible vortex, never to be seen again. Instead the Spirit is more like a whirlwind in reverse, a centrifugal hurricane, flinging all it touches ever outward. This is not religion for us – a keep it to yourself, consenting adults behind closed doors kind of religion – this is on the streets, in yer face religion. This is the Spirit of prophecy enabling disciples to open their traps, not to become Trappists.”

The Spirit of God is not contained within the walls of any building but at work bringing an antidote of transforming love, healing and reconciliation, light and life to the darkness and disease we are experiencing in the world today.

The Lord be with you… and with your Spirit. 

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A Welcome Voice in Parliament

Thank goodness we now have the emergence of a more effective Opposition. The bluff and bluster politics which has dominated the present government and its leadership over the few years, not least the rhetoric used in the Referendum and Brexit and which continues to be deployed in the present pandemic crisis is at last coming under appropriate scrutiny. 

It was good to see Boris Johnson, recovered from coronavirus, back and taking his place in the House of Commons. Watching yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament it was also good to see the UK Government being held to account. This is not a time for recrimination but it is a time for scrutiny. I believe Keir Starmer exercised grace, respect and razor sharp skills in his conduct and questioning of the Prime Minister and from a genuine concern for the common good. I appreciated his ability  to forensically examine the Prime Minister with calm but deadly efficiency. As one commentator put it, “He offers diligence and expertise, not bellowing and finger-pointing. In a crisis this seriousness will be an asset.”

I hope the Labour Party can get its house in order and appreciate, as I hope the public will in due course, an Opposition leader who can cut through the bluff, bluster and frantic jabbering that has been allowed to beguile too many people for too long. There is no longer a hiding place for Government ministers as Starmer himself and the formidable Opposition front bench he has appointed appear to be a force for good and one to be reckoned with. Starmer reminds me a little of John Smith, a former leader, who I believe would have been a great Prime Minister, who sadly died before the opportunity to serve the Government as its leader. 

Starmer is, as was Smith, a gifted forensic barrister. In 2005 he won the Bar Council’s award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work to eradicate the death penalty in the Caribbean, in Africa, and Taiwan and was named as QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007. He was a human rights adviser to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland, monitoring compliance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with the Human Rights Act. In 2008, he became Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions holding these roles until 2013. In this role, he brought the successful prosecution against two men accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

He was knighted in 2014 for ‘services to law and criminal justice’ for the work he undertook as head of the Crown Prosecution Service and said on receiving his Knighthood that “the one thing that defines my career is a passion for fighting injustice.”

He had earlier co-founded Doughty Street Chambers in 1990 and advised David Morris and Helen Steel during their marathon legal battle with McDonald’s which eventually became known as the McLibel case. He has also represented organisations like Amnesty. 

Starmer’s intellect and ability is unquestionable and his motivation for entering politics reveals somebody who operates out of some very good values. People will perceive and attack him for being another wealthy, white, privileged man who can’t relate to the majority of people in the country. In his defence, Starmer’s background is not so detached from ordinary people. Unlike the vast majority of the Tory Cabinet, Starmer’s father worked in a factory as a toolmaker and his mother was a nurse. His mother was in and out of hospital with a rare illness which eventually forced her to stop working. Keir was named after the first Labour MP, Keir Hardie and was the first in his family to go to university. 

In 2005 he won the Bar Council’s award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work to eradicate the death penalty in the Caribbean, in Africa, and Taiwan and was named as QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007. He was a human rights adviser to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland, monitoring compliance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with the Human Rights Act. In 2008, he became Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Services  holding these roles until 2013. In this role, he brought the successful prosecution against two men accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

I have an innate fascination with how people behave and what motivates them. I like to discover the influences and experiences that have shaped their lives and led them to do what they do. It’s why I love reading biographies and am currently enjoying reading Steve Richard’s excellent book, ‘The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to May’.

We all know this is an incredibly challenging time and the Prime Ministers claims about heralding ‘our achievements and success’ were exposed yesterday by Starmer at PMQ’s. Thankfully we have a political leader who can effectively challenge the bluff and bluster, which borders on propaganda, the undertones of which are disturbing. 

It is not good for democracy to have an ineffectual opposition. Constructive criticism in the course of good governance should be welcomed.

Starmer was introduced to the Labour Party at Leeds university back in the 1980’s and was described by a fellow member of the party then as “a non-aligned, conscience-driven leftie” – something akin to political Methodism.” I wondered what the term ‘political Methodism’ meant and discovered the following on the Methodist Church’s website:

” The Methodist Church has long associations with political life. John Wesley was much concerned with the poor and marginalised in 18th Century Britain, many of whom were excluded from participation in the established Church as well suffering from economic deprivation. Many of the early trade unionists, including the Tolpuddle Martyrs, were members of Methodist churches. The Methodist Parliamentary Fellowship has met for many years and holds an annual Parliamentary Methodist Covenant service in the chapel at the Palace of Westminster.
The Methodist Church has stated that ‘the commitment of individual Christians to work for social and political change should be recognised as a fully legitimate form of Christian discipleship’. In a society where self interest, acquisitiveness and individual happiness are often seen as the over-riding interests, the Church, and Christians within it, are called to witness meanings, values and purposes beyond ourselves, whilst recognising our own self-interest and hypocrisy.
People sometimes argue that involvement in political life involves getting our hands dirty, so is something Christians should avoid. But we believe in a God who is present in everything, including political institutions; a God who is heard throughout the Bible calling for justice for the widows, orphans and aliens who were oppressed by the powers of the day; and a God who seeks to transform relationship with and between people. If politics is about how we choose to live together and to treat one another, there is surely a place for discerning the activity of God in politics”.

Sounds good to me, not only good, but necessary given the state of the world today.

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Christ is risen

May the risen Christ be known this day, as on that first Easter; in the unexpected places of our hearts and minds; in gardens and workplaces, at breakfasts and barbecues, as we walk and talk, in our wondering and weeping, in praying and waiting, in lockdown rooms and homes, among believer and seeker, sceptic and doubter, the bewildered and broken, to those at sea and all who feel at sea, to the confused and weary, the anxious and afraid, in the breaking of bread and in the unexplained, paradoxes, mystery, questioning and exploring.

Risen Christ break through the walls of all that keeps us from encountering and recognising you. Speak your peace and breathe upon us that we may breath your peace into a troubled world.

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Spring is in the air. Snowdrops and aconites are carpeting the ground, daffodil shoots are emerging and the birds are busy in nest making mode. Signs of new life are all around.
I appreciate living in a country that witnesses the four seasons, if not always in equal measure! I also appreciate the liturgical calendar with its seasons of feasts and festivals, Saints days and ordinary days. Advent helps me to journey through the dark days of winter in anticipation of Christmas and Epiphany, where, in the coming of Christ, light dispels the darkness. I love the Ordinary days; a reminder that life is to be lived and celebrated in ordinary, everyday times. And now on the eve of Lent, Shrove Tuesday, I make plans to observe the season and prepare for the greatest event in history, the resurrection of Christ, celebrated on Easter Sunday. As I journey through the coming weeks I will seek to observe some of the disciplines that I trust will help me reflect, prepare and deepen my life and faith.
We shall be in Ireland for Easter, renewing our vows as a Companions of the Northumbria Community, and I shall remember my own beginnings of faith on Easter Sunday in the Cairngorms of Scotland back in the 1970s and re-dedicating my life to the One who I seek to follow, the radical, life transforming, Christ.
Last night, with another pioneer, we joined friends, neighbours and other residents on our estate for a delightful, friendly and relaxed Shrove Tuesday Pancake and Prosecco party, our simple North Yorkshire token of a Mardi Gras event! 
Tomorrow being Ash Wednesday I will be coming off most social media for Lent, with the exception of some necessary sharing of information to do with my work. I will once again be journeying through Lent with the help of Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone books, this year through Matthew’s Gospel. I’m looking forward to reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2020 Lent book, ‘Saying Yes to Life’ by Ruth Valerio which explores what it means to be compassionately human and in particular to be a follower of Jesus.
I approach this season with a mixture of emotions; encouraged and excited by happenings and developments within family, the Northumbria Community and among the pioneers that I am privileged to work with, serve and mentor. However I saddened and disturbed by a whole host of things happening to some of my closest friends , (illness , bereavement, the break up of relationships , struggles with debt, depression, stress and anxiety) the incredulous behaviour and deceit of lying and bullying politicians and their advisors here, in the States and elsewhere and the reality of the terrifying effects of climate change that threatens the planet.
Lent is associated with the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, praying and seeking to discover what God intended of him.
The 40 days he spent in the wilderness have become an image that has influenced the idea that Lent is a season of preperation for Easter. During this season it was common for some churches to strip away some of the decorations and religious ‘trappings’, as a way of expressing an inner austerity and desire to get back to basics and be a bit simpler, yet deeper and profound in relation to faith. In Medieval times, many of the hangings and decorations were replaced with cloth, sackcloth. Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent, is marked by a ceremony where ash is placed on people’s heads, a stark reminder of our mortality.
Sombre thoughts, solemn moments but it’s important to remember that the word ‘lent’ comes from the old English word for ‘spring’ and with this image comes the reminder that Lent is not about feeling miserable or gloomy for 40 days. It’s not primarily about giving things up but rather it is a time of preparation. 
Lent is springtime! It’s a time to prepare for the celebration of new life bursting through death, of celebrating the fact that love overcomes evil, that hope dispels despair, light conquers darkness. Lent is not about denying oneself as some sort of punishment. It’s more about reminding ourselves of those things that really matter in life, and so it calls us to take stock, clean up our lives and prepare our hearts and minds so that we may be ready and make room for the new life that comes through loving God and following Christ.
May Lent be a season of reflection that leads to a meaningful and joyous Easter for us all.
Bless you and take care 

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Winter Solstice Reflection

“And that of course is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the worlds seemingly most indifferent” Taylor Caldwell

It’s winter solstice, the day with the least daylight and the longest night. A day to reflect on this past year. As Winston Churchill once said, “Christmas is the season not only of rejoicing but of reflection”. 

A time to look back with thanksgiving but also with sadness over many of the happenings that we witnessed throughout our nation and the world in 2019. 

It’s the words of the prophet Jeremiah 6:14 that resonate with me more than most biblical passages as I think of this year. “They act as if my peoples’ wounds are only scratches. They say peace peace, all is well but there is no peace. All is not well”.

We live in an increasingly conflicted and divided nation and world. A world where nationalism, tribalism and racism, allied to poverty and injustice is fuelling conflicts. A world where the gap between rich and poor widens. A world dominated by a wealthy elite, the power of multinational corporations. For example, in Britain, more than a fifth of the population live on incomes below the poverty line and nearly one in three children live in poverty and the use of food banks is rising. The six-fold difference between the income of the top 20% of households and those of the bottom 20%. Nearly 50% of the UK’s wealth is owned by less than 10% of the population. According to the charity Shelter, at least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain and over 7,000 people will be rough sleeping tonight. 726 people dies on the streets of England last year, a rise of 22% on the previous year.

This year has seen the rise of demagogues and dictators, undermining and demolishing the liberal democratic systems of the western world as we know it. 

The world is changing.  

A scorched and polluted earth which is revealing before our very eyes, changes and a crisis that has not been seen before. 

We live in a world where Human Rights are denied to millions, where believers of all faiths are persecuted, including nearly 250,000,000 Christians who suffer persecution for their belief. Let’s not say peace where there is no peace.

However loud people sing or deceive themselves with a fictitious fundamentalism or naive, head in the sand spirituality, defining reality, will tell us that we are living in turbulent and troubled days. It feels more like exile than any notion of revival, days not of light but what feels like the emergence of a new Dark age. 

So where, if anywhere, is hope to be found? The Advent reading from the prophet Isaiah, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” speaks powerfully to our present darkness. Amidst the darkness, we celebrate the God who loved the world so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem, bring hope and transformation. Christ’s coming was and is “Good news for all people”. Darkness can be transformed by his light and enmity erased by his peace. That love, not hate, would rule and one day the ways of his kingdom would be fully realised and in the meantime is prayed and worked for.

As those who follow Christ, the light of the world, we must not despair but burn like candles, holding his light before us as we live through these dark days.

As we journey through this Christmas season and anticipate the dawn of a new decade, 2020, my prayer is an adaptation of one of the meditations in our Northumbria Community Celtic Daily Prayer. A prayer that I have adapted from Paul Field’s song, Go peaceful:

Lord help us to live peacefully in gentleness through the violence of these days. Help us to show tenderness in all our ways. Through darkness in troubled times we pray that the beauty of you, our God, may be upon us in all our ways; in our hearts, minds, words and actions. We pray that we may seek your wisdom and allow your faithfulness to burn like a flame. Help us to speak truthfully in the world of lies, fake news, propaganda and deceit. Help us to show kindness and to see everyone through heavens eyes.

This is my prayer for you and all those whom you love and care for. 

I will not be back posting on social media until January 6th Epiphany, on that great Christian Feast day that celebrates God’s coming to us in Christ, the hope, peace and light of the world. 

In his name, be blessed and take care.

A person holding a sign

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Remembrance Day Reflections

I travelled back to my cousins farm in Norfolk last night after preaching at a Portuguese speaking service, listening in the car to Radio 2 broadcasting from the Royal Albert Hall, a poignant and moving occasion. 

This morning 14 years ago I gathered with other denominational leaders and representatives and met with Members of the Cabinet and Opposition parties and Ambassadors prior to standing by the Cenotaph, observing the two minutes silence, and the laying of wreaths watched by the large assembled crowd representing Allied Nations, the Armed Forces, Military personnel, past and present and their families. A moving, solemn occasion of commemoration and remembrance mingled with thanksgiving for those who gave their lives sacrificially that we might have our lives. 

As we gathered this morning, at the war memorial in the town, following the service where I preached at Dereham Baptist Church, the remembrance ceremony that was being held throughout the country ending with the words penned by John Maxwell Edmund in 1916, “When you go Home, tell them of us and say, For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today

Tomorrow back home in Northallerton I will attend the laying of a memorial stone dedication on our housing estate to remember the life of Ben Hyde, a young man, an only child, from the town, who was one of six Royal Military Policemen killed on 24th June 2003 in Southern Iraq. A Lance Corporal, a peacemaker who lost his life so others could live in peace.

I remember standing with my younger son Joshua back in 20006 as we visited the battlefields of the First and Second World War and reading the thousands of names of young men who had died, like lambs to the slaughter, in a war that was meant to end all wars but didn’t.

I remember watching those remarkable scenes from Berlin back in 1989 as the wall dividing East and West Germany came down and the nation was re-unified, the fruit of which was to see, in due course, a remarkable German Chancellor, the daughter of an East German pastor, Angela Merkel, at the forefront of European life. Her words yesterday so needing to be heard for the times in which we live. See:

Angela Merkels’ speech:

In the midst of disturbing, turbulant and dangerous times, a Day of Remembrance and Reflection during which I read this evening my friend,  Malcolm Duncan’s poem that he wrote in 2014, on the centenary of the First World War.

Remember Me” by Malcolm Duncan

Ten decades ago

the World went

to war

in the War

to end all wars

but the problem is

it didn’t.

16 million lives

lay poppy-strewn

on fields drenched in blood.

Futures stolen.

Dreams lost.

Lives seeping

into soil

at Ypres,

the Somme,




A quarter

of a million

boys went

to war,

‘For King

and Country.’

They went

to change

the world.

Those who returned

came back

hollow eyed.

Their hope

eaten by

the teeth

of the trenches.

Such a



of life.

That Great War

was not

a great war.

It was a Great Slaughter.

Aren’t all wars?

Isn’t slaughter

a better word

even if it is more


So I stand

holding a poppy.





in it’s simplicity.

Blood red….

birthed in fields

where once young men

became old before

their time.

Its leaf

pointed to 11

to remind me

of the moment that it stopped.

I want to meet the parents

who lost their children

and tell them

I admire them.

I want them to know

they had more courage,

more valour,

more everything than me.

What would I have done?

Saluted my boys as they walked away?

Stood proud and tall?

Or would I have

Gripped their sleeves?

Begged them not to go?

Pleaded with them to stay?

That war

made heroes

of mothers

who lost their boys,


who lost their friends.

It did not

matter whether

you were


or German

or British

or Australian

or Italian.

Humanity trumps nationality,

at least it should.

The enemy lines reached into

homes from Derry to Dusseldorf

From Sydney to the Seine.

The world was shrouded in sorrow,

Drenched in blood.

What then

of the hope

of Christ

that swords

would be ploughshares,

that chains

would be broken,

that peace

would reign?

That hope lay buried

in the dark soil of men’s hatred.

But look further back.

Not ten decades

but ten times ten

and ten times nine

and see the answer

to this blood-letting there.

Another young man’s blood

seeped into the soil.

It soaked the ground,

saturated the earth,

changed the world.





Loved by His Father.

Cherished by His mother.

Betrayed by His friends.

Butchered by His own.

Bearing a weight

not His to bear,

He sank His love

into the soil

and cried

for forgiveness.

He carried the very hatred

that we have held onto.

He emptied the gun.

He defused the bomb.

He took the bullet

for us,

for the world.

The darkness

was absorbed

by Him

but we

have loved

the dark


than the Light,

so we


to plunge

the world

into darkness.

We do it with our words.

We do it as nations.

We do it as people.

But God has borne this pain.

He has carried this weight.

He has cracked the seal on our hatred.

It is us that will not let go.

So today

if you remember

the sons

and daughters

that died

remember this Son.

This beautiful perfect Son.

This One who bore it all

and offers His life

to you and

to me.

Let your tears

be offered

at the foot

of His cross

because His suffering,

His death,

His pain is deeper

than anything

we have seen

or known.

And in it

we find hope.

His pit was


than Ypres,


than the Somme,


than Verdun,


than Cambrai

deeper than  the

trenches at Marne.

His love

is the only love

that can break

this curse of hatred.

His cross



Offering life.

Offering hope.

Offering peace

to all.

‘Remember me.’

‘Remember me’

‘Remember me’

© Malcolm Duncan

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Words Matter

Words Matter… Saying our Northumbria Community Morning Office, (Celtic Daily Prayer), I affirmed my belief and trust in Christ in the words from our Declaration of Faith, “You have the words of Eternal life“.
Words of life, words of blessing. Such a contrast from the words of malediction; destructive, damaging and despicable words heard in our UK Parliament this week, including those uttered by our Prime Minster and the Attorney General.
Words are among the most powerful forces available to us as human beings. We can use them to bless or curse people, to encourage or destroy, to heal or harm, help or humiliate.
The Bible reminds us that words have real power; they convey more than information. They can bring life or destroy life. They can speak peace or stir up conflict, hatred and violence. The gift of words, a unique ability possessed by humans, is something we do well to use wisely. “The tongue has the power of life and death” Proverbs 12:6 
As I contemplated and reflected on the words used in Parliament this week, they were words bathed in bitterness, hatred, loathing, resentment and revealed an absence of any semblance of honour, respect and dignity, that perhaps in my naivete, I expect of those who hold a Government post.
Politicians of all sides and amateur, armchair pundits and ‘experts‘ and all those who engage in the seemingly unaccountable social media would do well to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:36, 37, “I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Yes, words matter! 
It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29). 
Appreciating that consumerism and hedonism, (the pursuit of pleasure) anaesthetises us from the realities of what’s happening, any thinking person will surely come to a greater realisation of the crisis that we are facing here in Britain. 
This weeks happenings with the Supreme Court ruling, the government‘s response and the terrible scenes in the House of Commons only illustrate further the terrible situation that faces us. 
The language that was used, predominantly by Government Ministers was incendiary to say the least. Words that were deployed by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Words that pit the population, beguiled by lies, manipulation and falsehoods, against Parliament. 
This is such a dangerous precedent for democracy and will lead to ruin, just as it did when Hitler, deploying the narrative and tactics of Goebbels and Göring brought down the German Reichstag government. Göring’s concern was to dismantle the democratic system and pave the way for dictatorial power. 
Former cabinet minister Amber Rudd, who now stands as an independent after rebelling against Mr Johnson’s Government, urged the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, to “cease this language of pitting Parliament against the people”.
Germay in the 1930’s saw a dismantling of democracy, fuelled by nationalism, racism and the idea of supremacy that demonised any opposition. Goebbels, one of Hitler’s chief aides, was the Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945. He was a brilliant orator, could stir up and motivate vast crowds, (a man of wealth purporting to be on the side of the poor) sowing the seeds of anti-semitism and discrimination towards anyone who questioned, challenged or deviated from the party line. 
I am not accusing the present government of committing such atrocities as those meted upon the world by Hitler and the Third Reich but I am seriously worried about the irresponsibility of those in Government who have resorted to such abysmal language and damaging methodology to pursue, for some, personal ambition and for others, political ends, at whatever cost. 
However things are played out, the task before which every party or parties govern in the coming years, is immense. 
The task of rebuilding civic society is a daunting and challenging one and will require all of us, men and women of good faith and public goodwill, to play our part. 
Pray that God will raise up more men and women of peace to govern our nations; we are going to need them!
With such task it does not help in any way to use the destructive language that we have heard this week. 
Some words of life would be very welcome and are much needed.
May God enable us to use our words as an instrument of His love and peace.

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Why Post on Facebook?

One of the primary reasons why I post on Facebook, apart from some sharing and reading news, is to provoke and stimulate thinking and discussion among friends and followers on some of the issues that we face as a society. 

I do so as a fellow human being, to think, reflect and prayerfully consider as someone who seeks to love God and follow the radical Christ, whose power to transform and affect for good life here on earth, has shaped my own life and faith. 

We are all influenced by our background, culture and experiences of life, all of which play into our perceptions and interpretations of happenings in the world. It is my desire in writing posts and sharing others to get readers to think about the issues that we are facing, serious issues that affect not only us but our children and children’s children and our neighbours here at home and abroad. 

Our ability to discuss and debate, hold differences of opinion, respect and recognise diversity is one of the characteristics I believe are essential for a healthy society. 

On the whole I have been encouraged by the responses to the posts that I have written or shared. It is obvious where my own persuasions, outlooks and views lay but I have welcomed those comments and critiques from those who hold, sometimes, very differing views. We have been able to discuss with respect. 

However, a recent post only illustrated to me one of the most disturbing aspects of the current situation we find that has arisen with Brexit. A resorting to vitriol in response to somebody’s post did little for the points that were being made because the anger, disrespect and name-calling on behalf of the writer drowned out whatever arguments they were putting. When those points were challenged it triggered even more vindictive language, and this sadly from someone who seeks to be a follower of Christ. The Christ who calls us to engage in the work of reconciliation in the world. The same Jesus who said that the world would know that we were his disciples by our love for one another. We do nothing for the cause of the faith or the values of the kingdom of God, let alone make any contribution to a society that is seriously conflicted and divided, by hurling insults at others or not listening to one anothers opinions and views. 

The European Union has not divided us. The Referendum has merely revealed the deeply held divisions, prejudices, intolerance and racism that reside in the human heart and has been kept at bay superficially by our alleged British tolerance and unloosed unintended consequences that are very disturbing.

I don’t claim to be an expert about anything but just someone who is trying to find a way to think through, in my case, as a Christian, how we live in these troubled times. 

I do have the privilege of knowing many good friends across Europe, the majority of them men and women of faith and I’m mindful of their perspective on what is happening in Britain. Most of them are dismayed by what they are witnessing here. They would strongly refute some of the lies, distortions, myths and false claims made by some Brexiters and the ways in which the EU is portrayed by some of our popularist demagogues. 

I am no great advocate of the EU. I am aware of its many flaws and failings, as well as our own and many other so-called democracies and political systems. I am however a committed European, someone who has valued the contribution of Europe, rooted in its Judeo Christian values, that has shaped and influenced so many good things across the world. Of course, history is littered with good and evil and Britain is no exception to that fact. 

I am mindful that most wars are triggered by trade conflicts and so I am obviously concerned about the implications of nations falling out over trade deals or no deals. We have been very fortunate in my lifetime to live through a period that has been free from war on a global scale. Something that most of our current politicians have not lived through and are therefore unaware of that which my parents generation lived through.

One of the greatest achievements of the European Union, for which it received the Nobel Peace Prize, was for keeping peace across Europe for over 60 years, something that should not be taken lightly. 

Most people I speak to are oblivious of the contribution that the EU has made to peace and justice. I am dismayed that Christians in particular are unaware that the vision for the European Union came from Christian statesman, like Robert Schuman back in the 1950s. He with others, in the light of the bloodbath that saw millions killed across the continent in World War II, determined to find ways of uniting the nations of Europe through trade agreements and working together.

The EU has moved a long way from those early foundations but please let’s not be ignorant about its noble aspirations and whether we work for its reform, leave it and no doubt with Brexit, contribute to its demise and eventual collapse, whether we are Brexiters  or Remainers we need to be mindful of attitudes and actions lest we trigger further conflict not only at home but with our European neighbours. The language that has been deployed, eg. ‘war cabinet’ is desttuctive and disturbing.

There is nothing more satisfying for more menacing superpowers in the world than seeing Europe fragmenting. We need to be careful that we do not add to the malign forces and sow the seeds of division that could lead to serious global consequences. 

I’m writing this post looking out over the Irish border, celebrating a 40th birthday, mindful that during those wonderful days celebrating the birth of our first born son, that here in Ireland Lord Mountbatten, his grandson and two others were killed by a bomb hidden aboard their fishing boat in Mullaghmore. On the same day just a few miles from here near Warrenpoint, eighteen British soldiers, a British and Irish civilian were killed and six more were seriously injured in the Narrow Water Ambush during The Troubles

I have family and many friends over here and I listen to their concerns over Brexit, the backstop and the potential consequences of a no deal exit from the EU. 

I remember coming to Northern Ireland during the Troubles and subsequently meeting people whose lives have been scarred by the experience of conflict as the toxic fires of sectarianism fuelled the atrocities committed by both sides in The Troubles. Thankfully those fires have been dampened or put out, largely as a result of the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement. 

I do pray for the Government and all those involved in negotiations over Brexit that they appreciate the severity of the task that is before them to secure an agreement that will not trigger a return to violence and unrest across this amazing land and its peoples. 

Lord have mercy

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