Thursday, 28 July 2011

The faithful preacher/teacher

As a Christian teenager in the 1970s there were two writers who had a major influence on my discipleship, C S Lewis and John R W Stott. Over the years I have continued to read both authors’ works and greatly valued their wisdom, insight and passion to share the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ. Lewis died in 1963 but his influence is still profound and I am sure the same will be true for John Stott who died yesterday at the age of 90.

Many fitting tributes to John Stott have already been posted and many more will be published over the coming weeks. From a personal perspective I particularly valued his expository preaching which I was privileged to hear in various settings. What I most remember about this preaching was that I was challenged and inspired to go back to the scriptures and to study harder to mine the deep riches they contain.

John Stott wrote some 50 books and I mention four that had a particular influence on me at various stages of my own journey of faith and ministry:
  • Basic Christianity
  • I Believe in Preaching
  • Issues Facing Christians Today
  • The Cross of Christ
I also valued John’s Bible commentaries and the dialogue he engaged in with David Edwards entitled Essentials: A liberal-evangelical dialogue.

For me the most impressive aspects of John Stott’s life and ministry were his graciousness and humility. I remember John’s address at NEAC 3 in 1988 when, among other things, he responded to the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie’s address to the conference. John spoke with an authority that came not from a revered position of power but from a deep wisdom rooted in the Bible and with a profound grasp of the issues facing Evangelicalism and the wider church at the end of the twentieth century.

When I heard the news of John Stott’s death these words came to mind as a prayer of thankfulness:
Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

At all times and in all places…

Came across this prayer offered by a pastor before a NASCAR race and couldn’t help wondering what would happen if we had this before a Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone. I suspect it would be the end of Bernie Ecclestone but there’s always hope! (to avoid confusion I am referring to Ecclestone's involvement with F1)

h/t Robb aka changingworship

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Whatever happened to Camp Quest?

Quite a few of our young people from church are at various Christian holiday camps at the moment either as members or leaders. As I was thinking and praying about these camps I remembered all the fuss made a couple of years ago about Camp Quest, a secular summer holiday camp supported by the British Humanist Society and the National Secular Society. Camp Quest attracted lots of publicity and was heralded as a great step forward for ‘free thinkers’. I blogged about the first Camp Quest back in 2009, Hunting the Unicorn, and raised a couple of questions about how ‘free-thinking’ these camps might be.

Anyway, I headed over to the Camp Quest website to see what they were up to this year. I was interested to see that a Camp Quest was running in Danbury, a couple of miles down the road from my parish here in Essex, though I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything about it locally. I say was because when I went to the details for the camp I discovered it had been cancelled. I then went to the details for the other two camps. The one at Malvern takes 32 young people and has spaces left for 5 and the one at Somerset can take 36 and has 17 spaces left to fill. The camps are now underway.

I genuinely hope that the children who are attending these camps have a good time. However, I can’t help wondering, given all the publicity and the much hyped attractiveness of this opportunity for ‘free-thinking’, why Camp Quest hasn’t proved more popular?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Tour de Force

Over the last couple of weeks I've been dipping into coverage of the Tour de France which ended today and have been staggered at the physical and mental strength on display from the riders. I admit my interest has been mainly in the British cyclists and I enjoyed watching Mark Cavendish win the final stage on the Champs de Élysées to secure the Green Jersey (awarded to the best sprinter). What has been extraordinary is the refusal of the competitors to give up even when they have experienced horrific injuries.

I watched in amazement as Bradley Wiggins fell off his bike and smashed his collar bone only to attempt to get back on, even though it was clear he needed an operation to put his should back together. A few hours later two leading cyclists were side swiped by a camera car; one crashed to the ground and the other was thrown onto a barbed wire fence. Both the injured riders got back on their bikes and carried on despite the fact that they required medical attention. The rider who went into the fence needed over thirty stitches in his legs and his support team attempted to patch him up while he tried to catch up the main group.

Another quality on display from the riders that really impressed me was the unselfish team work. Each team worked tirelessly together to make sure that they gave the best advantage to their key riders. In the case of Cavendish this meant that one of his team, who stood a great chance of winning the final stage with all the glory that went with it, slowed to join his team to ensure Cavendish secured the win. Each member of a team knew their role and focussed on performing for the benefit of the team no matter what the cost personally.

There was also generosity of spirit as opponents worked together to overcome the challenges of steep hill climbs, the vagaries of the weather and energy sapping conditions. On occasions when a competitor crashed, others would go out of their way to help them get back to position. At the end of one stage of the race Cavendish celebrated his win but looked genuinely upset when he heard that Wiggins, riding for a different team, had been eliminated from the race by his injury.

So maximum respect to some great sportsmen. No swearing at officials, no rolling on the floor at the merest hint of a touch from an opponent, no complaining about the hardships of one of the most gruelling races on the planet, but a dedication and determination to get the job done, whatever the personal cost.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Learning really is for Life

A quick glance back at my diary for the last few days has reminded me how much of my ministry is involved with life long learning and why I think this is so important.

On Wednesday evening last week I took part in a service at Chelmsford Cathedral presenting certificates to students who had completed the diocesan Course in Christian Studies. I have organised this service for the last ten years in my role as lay education and training bod and had been invited back to participate as my successor Elizabeth Jordan was licensed by the Bishop of Chelmsford. +Stephen preached a cracking sermon on The Prodigal Son but that’s for another time. It was great to see another cohort of some 80 students from across the diocese receiving recognition for completing two years of study and I estimate I have been privileged to see over 800 lay people participate on the course in centres around the diocese over the last decade.

Last Thursday I welcomed the children from our local infants school to St Mary’s for an end of year service. The children led the singing and prayers, talked about their work and fully engaged with my short talk on the parable of the lost iPod. I’m not sure the same could be said of some of the parents who seem to treat these times as a performance rather than worship as they compete for the best place to take photos. Still the church was full and it was a great opportunity to celebrate learning in our community.

readers 11 On Saturday I was back to the cathedral for the St Mellitus College graduation service and my final public act as former Director of Lay Ministry Studies at SMC. It was a real joy to see our graduating students receive their awards from Middlesex University (SMC’s validating body) and especially the Chelmsford Readers for whom I had particular oversight. I estimate that I have overseen the training of well over 150 Readers in the diocese during my tenure. Again it has been a real privilege to work with such dedicated lay people serving God in ministry and mission as preachers, teachers, evangelists and pastors across the diocese.

I was taken ill Saturday evening so my first public duty once back on my feet was on Tuesday. Another service in church, this time for our church playschool. Once more the children did most of the work and given how young they were did a great job in singing, sharing their work and surviving the attention of paparazzi parents.

Then this morning I spent an encouraging hour continuing to plan our church holiday club Showstoppers with a couple of our gifted and enthusiastic children’s leaders.

A great few days working with children as young as three and adults some of whom are still studying in their eighties and if that isn’t the church engaging in life long learning I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Prophetic painting


This picture was painted by Alan Storkey over a year ago and the background to it is described by Alan’s son Caleb on his blog. I love Caleb’s description of the way his dad would turn the tables on Sky spam callers. I doubt if Alan, like most of us, can believe the speed with which the whole empire has begun to come crashing down around the feet of this latter day Ozymandias and his clan.

I posted some reflections on the News International and phone hacking scandal a few days ago in a post entitled The Thunderer Whimpers.

With thanks to Caleb for permission to post the painting.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Crisis, what crisis?

If like me you are struggling to get a handle on why European economies are in so much trouble then this might help, or not.

Friday, 8 July 2011

The real crisis

Not surprisingly, the shenanigans at the News of the World and News International have dominated news bulletins for the last few days. It took far too long for the story to gain traction in the wider media, save for a few diligent reporters and the work of The Guardian. The real tragedy in all this is that another story of crisis, which in other times would be dominating the headlines, has been squeezed.

Severe drought is threatening the lives of millions in East Africa and the situation in West Africa is also very serious.  I’ll let the video tell the story but urge you to respond by supporting the aid appeals. Yes, I know all the arguments about whether aid relief is a problem or solution to the issues facing large parts of Africa. At the moment what those dying of thirst, starvation, disease and exhaustion need is relief and we can save the intellectual handwringing for less pressing times.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Thunderer whimpers

I was wound up about the News of the World phone hacking story long before the latest acts of gross indecency erupted from the stinking sewers of the fourth estate. One reason was the apparent indifference of the media, with a few honourable exceptions, and the police towards blatant illegality until they could bury their heads no longer. Now everyone is suddenly appalled and journalists who laughed the whole thing off as part of the job have come to realise what a loathsome spectacle colleagues have made of their profession.

Earlier today one journalist tweeted a quote from an editorial in her paper which seemed to claim some kind of moral high ground over the whole squalid #hackgate affair. Here’s the tweet:
'Beyond reprehensible.' Leader article in The Times today #notw and Milly Dowler.
I happened to have read the Leader in The Times and ‘beyond reprehensible’ just about sums it up, the Leader that is not the overall scandal. I ought to put on record that I don't buy The Times or pay its tariff to view on line and the same goes for the rest of News International’s nasty empire of sleaze ridden rags. Like many football fans I remember the Hillsborough tragedy, The Sun’s disgraceful trampling over the bodies of the dead and I despised its commercially driven faux apology a couple of years later.

Back to that Leader: What a miserable piece of disingenuous self- serving apologetic it is. Here’s a taste:
Before today, The Times, which, like the News of the World, is owned by News International, has taken the view that it ought not to comment on the issue of phone hacking. We have sought to report the story straight, in good faith, without taking any editorial view…
The only thing that has a scintilla of sincerity about it in this statement is that The Times is a sister paper of the News of the World. The Times, along with the rest of the Murdoch owned press, has kept as far away from this story as possible, with the briefest of coverage deposited well inside the paper. Only when the story began to lead on bulletins across the networks and the globe did News International’s stable of British papers begin to grudgingly give it some prominence, but you still couldn’t find it on their front pages. At every stage these papers, including The Times, have parroted the party line about the odd ‘rogue journalist’ and there being nothing else to know. They assured us that internal investigations had been rigorous and all wrongdoing exposed. Their assurances were about as worthy as the initial statements spouted by the Metropolitan Police, whose woeful investigation has set back their reputation for decades. In short The Times didn’t report the story, wasn’t straight about it and showed as much good faith as a FIFA executive promising to support England’s bid to host the World Cup.

The rest of the leader is a pile of sanctimonious nonsense going on about how the truth must out and the police investigation be rigorous, though everything is tempered with the reminder that ‘these are all only allegations’. Yes, they are only allegations, but when has that ever stopped News International’s scandal sheets trashing someone’s reputation? And those allegations are coming thick and fast with virtually no repudiation from NI HQ, save for the pathetic utterances of a hapless chap called Greenberg who is a walking PR disaster every time he appears in front of the cameras.

The focus of the Leader is entirely on the journalists. Not one word about those in positions of oversight or management including Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. No mention of the culture engendered in the News International organisation that allowed or encouraged the disgraceful behaviour the Leader now fulminates against. Extraordinarily, Brooks has been put in charge of investigating the affair, in other words she has been asked to investigate herself and her colleagues. Can you imagine how The Times would thunder if any other body operated in such away? You don’t need to imagine, read their coverage of the MPs expenses scandal or the FIFA ethics committee.

‘Beyond reprehensible’ doesn’t only sum up the activities of the journalists and investigators who hacked the phones of the abducted and the grieving. The phrase applies to the newspapers who employed them, the editors who oversaw and funded their exploits, those who failed to investigate them, the politicians who turned a blind eye and cocked a deaf ear to evidence of illegality and the owners whose only concern is to sell their product whatever it takes.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Sunday, 3 July 2011


I find this painting by John Granville Gregory fascinating and it is an interpretation of Caravaggio’s masterpiece on the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Thomas. Titled Still Doubting, the artist captures something of the spirit of our age. I first came across the work thanks to Maggi Dawn’s Writing on the Wall session in Chelmsford. In the picture Thomas reminds me of David Tennant as Dr Who and I began to speculate about the Time Lord forensically examining the wounds of the risen Christ. Maggi has reposted an interesting reflection on Thomas as we remember him today.


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Last one out turn off the light.

It’s been a strange time in the blogosphere as one by one my favourite blogs have disappeared or at least gone a bit quiet, except for a certain Archdruid. It reminds me of one of those Dr Who episodes in which the stars go out leaving a black void in the night sky. I’m not surprised. After an intense period of blogging people are taking a rest and I think I’ll join them.

My own blog output has diminished in recent weeks due to pressure of work. Not so much lack of time to blog but lack of time to reflect which is the prep for blogging; to be honest I’m just too knackered. This is what I expected having taken up a new role and needing to get up to speed with the organisational and administrative aspects of the job alongside the mission/ministry/vision stuff which I love. The most productive time for chewing over a possible blog post is walking the dog but that is also a good time to mull over a sermon. So I’m really acknowledging what has already begun to happen. I’ll post occasionally over the summer and see how things stand after the holidays.

Thanks to all those who read my ramblings and especially to those who take the time to interact through comments, Twitter and Facebook. I stand by all I’ve said about the importance of digital communication and social media networking in the life of the church but in the words of Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles ‘I’m Tired’.