Sunday, 22 February 2009

Transforming Moments

I was leading worship at Denton this morning. Denton is a tiny village, about five miles from Bungay, in Suffolk. The United Reformed Church and the Church of England worship together, using the two buildings alternately. There were about 25 people there, including 3 small children - and we had a good service. The final hymn was Graham Kenrick's "Shine, Jesus, shine" - and we enhanced the music by giving the children some percussion to play. Two of them came out towards the front to play the triangle and a kind of tambourine. The little girl (about 2 or 3 years old) playing the tambournine came up the step on to the platform beside me and held the instrument out towards me. I took and gave it a few shakes before returning it to her. She played it a bit and then offered it back to me. It was clearly my turn again. Bearing in mind she had never seen me before, that was - for us all - a transforming moment which contributed significantly to "making" the service - and all very appropriate as the lectionary theme for the day was the transfiguration. Let us all be alert for those things in church life that provide us with little transforming moments, glimpses of the light and love of God.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Spirit Will Not Be Regimented

Walter Brueggemann offers some wise words about the Bible - “ .... God’s wind blows through and blows past all our critical and confessional categories of reading and understanding. That blowing force that powers and enlivens, moreover, pertains not simply to the origin of the text but to its transmission and interpretation among us. The Spirit will not be regimented, and therefore none of our reading is guaranteed to be inspired. But it does happen – on occasion” (The Book That Breathes New Life, Fortress, 2005, p. 33). What he says about the Bible applies similarly to the Church. We do like to try and pin God down - but it won't work. God is always breaking out of our categories. We cannot contain the Church. The Spirit will not be regimented.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Come Over To Macedonia

In Acts 16:9 we have recorded a vision received by the apostle Paul in which he saw an appeal for help - "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" I am intrigued - and challenged - by Paul's response which is desribed in the following verse: "As soon as Paul had this vision, we got ready to leave for Macedonia, because we decided that God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there." I can't help wondering how that compares to the responses that we sometimes offer to God's call. Mind you, a reluctant response is certainly in line with how many of those whose stories in the Bible reacted. Jonah actually set off in the opposite direction. Moses tried his hardest to convince God that he wasn't the right person. Isaiah and Peter were both unconvinced that they were sufficiently worthy. But even these reluctant characters ended up doing that to which they were called. How about you - and me?

Saturday, 14 February 2009


I have just finished reading Paul Torday's second novel "The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce" (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008). I enjoyed it a lot and see it as a well constructed read. The book's central character, Wilbeforce - and he is almost always known by his surname - inherits a large wine collection, having previously been introduced to the delights of drinking the stuff by the former owner. Wilberforce becomes totally addicted to the drinking of wine - no effort and no expense is too much. I think my favourite bit is when, in hospital, a nurse asks him how many units of alcohol he drinks a week. He doesn't know what a unit is, so asks, and, on being given the explanation, does some quick mental maths and comes up with the answer 'about 260'. She is sure he must have made a mistake and suggests he might mean 26 - until he explains that he drinks 4 or 5 bottles of wine a day! The wine has indeed become irresistible. I don't want to commend that model of drinking alcohol - but I do wonder whether our version and/or experience of church has the level of irresistibility that it ought?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Catholic - Missional - Monastic

Some more notes from Brian McLaren's "The Last Word and the Word After That (Jossey-Bass, 2005), p. 214-6 where he reflects on “the emergence of catholic, missional, monastic faith communities ..... Catholic – with a lowercase c – meant “ecumenical,” a post-Protestant celebration of the church in all its forms ..... Instead of protesting what we’re against, we’re pro-testifying: telling the story of what we’re for ....... .. Missional meant focused on the good of the world. We’re exploring the territory beyond both Imperial Christianity and consumerist Christianity .. beyond the Christianity that seeks the good of one nation or the Christianity that exists to satisfy customers. We’re pursuing a faith that seeks the good of God’s whole world. Our mission is to join God in God’s saving love for all creation. . .... monastic suggested an order of community or practice. An order is different from a denomination, which is a group defined by structure and doctrine. An order is defined by practice. ... there’s a lot of doctrine hidden in each practice, but ... the best way to get to good doctrine is through good practice, instead of the other way around .... .. our basic practice is to love each other .... ... our five queries help us focus on that one monastic practice of love. When we ask how it goes with our soul, we’re asking how our soul is faring in love. .. ... the term faith community helped them get around the baggage associated with the word church. ..... Wherever Jesus is at work, church is there. ... That doesn’t exclude the institutions, but it doesn’t privilege them either. It’s very all-encompassing, a deeper approach to ecclesiology.” (The 'five queries' is a system of mutual support in which a group get together and ask each other five questions.)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Deep Ecclesiology

It is important that church which really matters can happen anywhere and in a huge variety of forms. Brian McLaren - and others - refer to this as 'deep ecclesiology'. McLaren develops the point in "The Last Word and the Word After That" (Jossey-Bass, 2005) p. 195 - “There are many wild ideas associated with the word church. It’s like barnacles stuck on the hull of a boat, or maybe like those noodles burned on the bottom of your pot there. For some people, church is an institution of a modern society, right alongside government and the media and art and science and business and education, servicing the public or a segment of the public. For others, it’s a vendor of religious goods and services, servicing the needs and wants of customers. .... Deep ecclesiology .. means .. we honour the church in all its forms, from the most historic and hierarchical forms of church – Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox – through the middle range of more congregational or local Protestant churches to the low range of storefront churches and house churches and even below that. .... Some forms of church don’t last centuries or decades or even years. There are very ephemeral forms of church .... Jesus said, ‘wherever two or three are gathered in my name.’ According to deep ecclesiology we’re churching right now.” Church has happened in many forms, and will continue to do so.

Sunday, 8 February 2009


I went digging in the snow today. The frozen ground was a little hard for what was a very significant moment in the life of the church at Cambourne. Cambourne is a (relatively) new community, not far from Cambridge, with an exciting church development where the United Reformed Church are in partnership with the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of England and also engaged with the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the snow on the ground, around 100 people gathered this afternoon on the site of the future church building to break the ground as a symbol of the imminent start to the construction. It was good to be part of such an important point in the church’s life. In a brief service (c. 40 minutes) with a specially devised liturgy we celebrated this point. Hymns, prayers and readings surrounded thoughts about the past – “Do you remember the time when ... ? – a focussing on the present – “What I like about Cambourne Church is ... “ – and an anticipating of the future – “I would love to see a church where ... “ The minister of Cambourne, Revd. Peter Wood, reminded us of the importance of patience and yet encouraged us to look for what God is wanting us to do – and leaders from the denominations – including me! – stuck spades in the ground as a symbol of this part of the Church project in Cambourne. We summed things up with ‘the Cambourne prayer’ – “God, You have gathered us in this place at this time to be your church. May all that we do and are build your kingdom. Amen.” I am sure that there is ground that we all need to break, even if we don’t have such a significant moment to mark just now. Is your shovel ready?

Saturday, 7 February 2009


In "Sharing the Blessing" (SPCK, 2008), Kathy Galloway writes about visiting a church in the township of Guguletu outside Cape Town in South Africa. It is a church with a huge community programme, particularly focused on people with HIV. Above the door of the sanctuary, placed so that people see them as they leave worship are the words 'Never give up' - and the congregation have a song: 'Bambalena, never give up.' Such sentiments are especially pointed in such a situation of great need - but are they not something that ought to be part of the life of every church, whatever the situation in which we find ourselves. It is all too easy to give up - but very different from that to which God calls us. We all have tasks. We all have roles. Don't give up. Sometimes it might be right to move on. Some things do need to go - to make way for other things. But don't give up! BAMBALELA!

Monday, 2 February 2009


Today has been probably the most disrupted across the UK for a long time. Not everywhere, but large parts of the country have been effected by snow. Things have ground to a halt, with many people not getting to work, schools being closed etc. It all sets me wondering whether the church is as disruptive as it ought to be. I believe that we are called to make an impact - and I don't see how we can be doing that if folk don't notice us.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A Welcoming Church

Graham Cook, former Moderator of the Mersey Synod and former Moderator of General Assembly, once said that one of the key things in the United Reformed Church’s self-understanding is that it sees itself as a welcoming church. He said that, time and time again, he heard people describe themselves that way. And I have to endorse the comment. It is something I have frequently heard also. But Graham Cook goes on to question how accurate it really is – and he does so by posing the sometimes uncomfortable, but very necessary, question as to how ready we really are to welcome those who don’t fit in. At its most acute, is it not true that we are a bit alarmed if someone appears on the scene screaming and shouting (cf. Mark 1:21-28). You might want to say that’s justified, and maybe it is, but what about those whose not fitting in is not as extreme and vocal?