Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Addressing the Moment

Paulo Coelho's Manual of the Warrior of Light (HarperCollins, 1997, 2002) is packed with words of wisdom. For example (p. 133), "A responsible warrior is not someone who takes the weight of the world on his shoulders, but someone who has learned to deal with the challenges of the moment." We can't do everything, and we shouldn't try.

Monday, 26 July 2010

What Kind of Church?

I have just finished skimming through the Study Guide that accompanies Ian Morgan Cron's Chasing Francis and was struck by a couple of the questions posed near the end. -- If you could stand in front of your church and speak from the heart about anything you wanted related to its mission, what would you say? -- If you could design and start a church, what would it be like? What would its mission be? Whom would you try to reach? How would you do it? What would worship look like?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

God Welcomes Our Prayers

Often we are not sure whether our prayers are hitting the spot, but so long as they are freely offered, we can be sure that they are. I like the way Richard Foster expresses it in his book entitled “Prayer”. He begins by quoting someone else: “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” But then he goes on to comment: “We today yearn for prayer and hide from prayer. We are attracted to it and repelled by it. We believe prayer is something we should do, even something we want to do; but it seems as if a chasm stands between us and actually praying. We experience the agony of prayerlessness. We are not quite sure what holds us back.” Foster goes on to say: “Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or motor mechanics,” and he goes on, “We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying. .... What I am trying to say is that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are. In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.”

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Chasing Francis

I have just finished reading Ian Morgan Cron's Chasing Francis (NavPress, 2006). It is a fascinating account of how the pastor of a large successful (whatever that means) American church has a crisis of faith which sends him on a trip to Italy to visit his Roman Catholic uncle. Uncle Kenny is a Franciscan and he and his friends introduce Chase (him of the crisis of faith) to the delights and challenges of the way of St. Francis of Assisi. To begin with it is all so strange, but gradually it begins to make sense. Chase returns to the States to present a new vision of church and see if his former congregation (which, incidentally, he founded) wants him back. But he doesn't want the job unless it is going to be very different from the one from which he was asked to take leave of absence. Francis may have lived in the thirteenth century, but he certainly places some very twenty-first century challenges before Chase. And I guess we, too, need to consider what type of church we want to be. What are our priorities in being church? How are we going to use our resources?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

God gets there before us!

Another quote from Donald Eadie's Grain in Winter - "The craft deployed by Jesus was to help people discover in their own circumstances and events God's presence and goodness. This is evangelism." (p. 27)

Monday, 19 July 2010

Eucharistic People

I have been reading Ian Morgan Cron's book "Chasing Francis" (NavPress, 2006). It is a novel in which the main character loses faith and goes off to rediscover it in a a very different context. He leaves the large American church he has founded to go and spend time with his Roman Catholic priest uncle in Italy - and Uncle Kenny takes him in search of Saint Francis of Assisi. It's a great story, but also a story with a message. At one point the central character, Chase Falson, is writing in his journal, addressing St. Francis. He comments on a book he is reading about the Eucharist: "The guy who wrote it says we're not just Homo sapiens (knowing people) but Homo eucharistica (Eucharistic people) as well. In other words, we need more than reason or information to nourish our faith; we're built for firsthand experiences of God through things like the Eucharist as well." Another comment in that particular journal entry that I like is: "Some time back I heard someone say that the Bible is less a book that tells us what to do than a story that tells us who we are." (p. 96) That's a thought that's well worth pondering.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Vive la Difference

I have been reading more of Donald Eadie's "Grain in Winter" and was struck by a section in which he recognises the value of difference - and makes mention of the damage we do when we pretend it's not there. We are not all the same, and how boring life would be if we were, but we do share a common humanity. As Eadie writes: "I have been slow to learn that we are not all the same, despite having been exposed to people whose experience of life is so different and whose language and culture and educational experience is so varied. We are profoundly different yet we are held in the hands of God. And in a polarizing environment this is gospel. The testimony is to more than tolerance, it is to an openness to search for truth, an openness to generosity and an openness to rigour within the roots of the common life. The craft is to seek the common good within our acknowledged differences." (p. 75)

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Vitality of Prayer

Prayer is so crucial to all that we do. We cannot help but use it, and rely on it. Donald Eadie reminds us how vital it is when he writes: "Prayer is much more than withdrawing into a corner and screwing ourselves up to think godly thoughts for as long as we can manage! Prayer has to do with seeing deeply into things, paying attention to where our creativiy lies: what we experience in life that brings us to life. Prayer is about engagement as well as disengagement, about wonder as well as failure." (Donald Eadie, "Grain in Winter", Epworth, 1999, p. xvi.) Prayer is not just for emergencies, but a crucial part of every situation.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Evangelism Matters

Yesterday we had a Synod event taking the theme 'Evangelism Matters'. We wanted to stress that evangelism important and to offer some tools for engaging in it. When we talk about mission, that usually offers a much broader canvas - and the church is called to mission in all sorts of ways. That's important, but we should not use other parts of mission to evade the challenge to evangelism. Our guest speaker was my predecessor, Revd. Liz Caswell. Liz challenged us to consider the how, why, when, what and who of evangelism. She stressed that everybody is valuable to God. Liz told us a little us a little story about something that had happened to her, and then got us - in pairs - to tell each other about something interesting, amazing, important, whatever, that had happened to us. She then asked us how readily we would tell that story, whatever it was, to folk we encountered. Next she asked us to consider how equally, or not, ready we are to tell those we meet something of the story of Jesus and how we have engaged with it. It is interesting to consider how readily we share our faith stories.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Mission and Discipleship

Mission is what the church is called to do. We are supposed to engage with other people - but what we are about is bringing them in to full particpiation in (and enjoyment of) kingdom things. As Stephen Cottrell says: "Mission .. can never be reduced to proclamation; it overflows into discipleship. It begins with our longing to share with others all that we have received in Christ, but it cannot end with initiation. .... The missionary church is the church that participates in God's mission, by enabling all people to become disciples of Christ. And by disciples I mean people who work toward the building of God's kingdom by responding to human need in loving service, and seek to transform the unjust structures of society. Therefore, the first task of a mission-shaped church is to ask how it can serve and be a blessing to its local community." (Stephen Cottrell in his chapter "Letting your actions do the talking" in "Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition" ed. Steven Croft and Ian Mobsby, Canterbury Press, 2009, p. 70). Going and telling is important - and it is the starting point; but we are not about something superficial. Jesus said, 'go!' But he said, 'go - and make disciples!'

Thursday, 1 July 2010


The United Reformed Church General Assembly starts tomorrow - so I have actually been reading the Book of Reports. I am, of course, biased - but one of the best bits is the report from the Synod Moderators. This Assembly's report takes the theme of 'accompaniment'. It recognises the challenge of life in today's church and that a wide variety of styles is needed in the accompanying. It recognises how vital it is that Christ accompanies us - but suggests that we, in our turn, are called to a ministry of accompanying. So much of what we do is, or should be, working alongside.