doing things properly

One of the things that has occupied a lot of my thinking recently is our EBA Gatherings. These are opportunities for us to get together from across the Association. (In case you were unaware the first one takes place in the Southern Sector this Saturday at Romford Baptist Church. You can find out details about all of them here – it’s not too late to decide to come!)

This year we are holding three Gatherings across the Association rather than one Assembly. We have started doing this in alternate years in order to seek to involve as many people as possible. Doing things this way allows us to develop different but complementary themes – “Rejoicing in the Gospel” and “Pass It On!” – which will be explored in different ways. It allows for the involvement of far more people in the planning and delivery of the events. This is also partly a response to geography: our Association covers about 6,500 square miles, so travelling to one venue for the Assembly, wherever it is, means that some people have to travel a long way. Having three Gatherings means that people don’t have to travel so far.

I believe that these will be wonderful events that will be a blessing to all who attend. We are immensely grateful to the churches who are hosting us and to everyone who is contributing in some way.

But there’s a niggling thought in my mind that feels that we are not ‘doing things properly’ by doing this. And I am not sure I can put my finger on why that is. It might be to do with not fully expressing our unity as an Association: you might suggest that this Trinitarian way of working reflects our experience of God but we are not God and this way of working does reveal more about our three-ness more than our one-ness. It might be to do with us not having a common experience. It might simply be that organising one event is easier than organising three. Or maybe it’s that we have not only done it this way once before and last time it looked very different.

I know from my conversations with some of you that this is also something with which local churches are wrestling. With the advent of things like Messy Church, Café-style services and other expressions of church within the wide circle of church life new congregations are emerging. Similarly there are some churches that have a thriving midweek youth or children’s work but see very few of them in attendance on a Sunday morning. And we try to work out whether these are routes for people to follow to join in with mainstream church life or whether they are ‘church’ in themselves. And part of what lies behind that wrestling is wondering whether we are ‘doing things properly’.

I’m not offering a definitive answer to that as it will vary from church to church. But I wonder whether a part of the answer to my niggles about the three sector Gatherings and the local churches wrestling with different expressions of church / congregations is the same – perhaps we should ask what those who attend think it is! There’s a danger that when those who are used to a more traditional way of doing things try to define the way things should be done we revert to our comfort zones and thus stifle what God is trying to do – in effect we tell him that he can’t do things that way. I think Jesus preferred to allow those he was reaching out to on the margins of life to define what ‘it’ was: he met them where they were and almost seemed to improvise (temporary) community in response to them.

So the Samaritan woman at the well, for example, finds herself in conversation with a male Jewish stranger – a conversation that leads to her becoming an evangelist and Jesus and his friends staying in the town for an extra few days. The joyful entourage on the way into Jericho finds that the star of the show leaves the party in order to eat with the collaborating, thieving tax collector Zacchaeus and as a result there is spiritual, social and economic renewal. A leaders retreat for Jesus and his disciples becomes a feeding frenzy of healing, teaching, loaves and fishes for 5,000+ people… I hope you get my point. Because it seems to me that what wound Jesus up more than anything was religious people telling him that things had to be done in a particular way. And I would rather not wind him up.locked

Perhaps we need to be less worried about whether we are ‘doing things properly’ and instead allow Jesus to improvise community with us: joining in joyfully with what he is doing.

view from my pew 11

Dear Internet

My writing seems to be more sporadic at the moment, for which I can only apologise as I know that there are many of you who look forward to my thoughts (or bloggages as Nick insists on calling them). I have been rather busy trying to make sense some events that have happened recently. I can’t see how they are linked except that Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker, our Minister, has been involved a lot. Let me tell you what has happened most recently and work backwards.

This Sunday morning Revd Phil (he insists we call him ‘Phil’ rather than Pastor or Reverend) gave me a large envelope. When I got it home it was a holiday brochure for Egypt. I don’t know whether he was suggesting that I need a holiday or that he is trying to get rid of me. When I asked him about it at the Sunday evening service he just smiled and said, “Have a think back over recent weeks…” I hate it when he goes all cryptic.

egypt

The previous Thursday we had our monthly prayer meeting. I attended, as I always do, and in my prayer I thanked God for all of the people who had played a part in me being a Christian – from my Sunday School Teachers, through Christian friends at University, previous Ministers, Deacons and others who I could remember. I thanked God for them all by name, which took some time. Then I thanked God for how full the Sunday School used to be (standing room only) when I was a boy and prayed that we would have the same experience again today and that we would return to the good old days of Bible exams. People said a loud ‘Amen!!’ at the end of my prayer, which I take to mean that they wholeheartedly agreed with my prayer not, as Mr Capel suggested, that they were expressing gratitude that I had finished.

So far I can’t see why that would lead Revd Phil to give me a holiday brochure for Egypt.

The preceding week had been our Church Meeting. I had asked for an item to go on the agenda for me to give a vote of thanks to everyone who had been helping with our children’s Holiday Club in the summer. When it came to that moment I pointed out how faithful those people had been in preparation and helping out each day so that all of the 27 children who attended enjoyed themselves. I also said that it was a shame that there were not more children – not like the 150 we used to have when I ran a Holiday Bible School when I was one of the church youth leaders in my twenties. In those days we used all of the modern technology available – flannelgraphs, film strips and reel-to-reel tape recordings of sermons. As I remembered these things I may have remarked that it’s a shame we don’t do those things now and perhaps if we did there may be more children coming along. I thought I was offering some helpful advice and being gracious (which is one of the things Revd PI-T keeps banging on about).

Still can’t work out what the Egypt holiday is about.

The Sunday before the Church Meeting I was asked to read the Bible passage in the morning service. I used my Grandfather’s old Bible – a proper King James Version – and read Numbers chapter 14.

14 And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?”

And they said one to another, “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, “The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.”

10 But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel. 11 And the Lord said unto Moses, “How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? 12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.”

13 And Moses said unto the Lord, “Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;) 14 And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou Lord art among this people, that thou Lord art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, ‘16 Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.’ 

17 “And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, 18 ‘The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.’ 19 Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

20 And the Lord said, “I have pardoned according to thy word: 21 But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.”

When I finished Revd Phil did give me a very funny look and said, “Thank ye Mr Grenville-Stubbs.” I was pleased that he was getting into the spirit of the reading. Later on Mr Capel asked me where I rent my clothes and I told him that I bought them from the local gentleman’s outfitters. Revd Phil did seem to look at me a lot when he preached about the Israelites grumbling, I don’t know why.

And I still don’t see the link with a brochure for a holiday to Egypt. Do you?

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs.

tweeting

Blackbird Chicks In NestMany years ago a chick in a nest noticed something. At the end of every day it got dark. But every morning, after the chick had started tweeting that it was hungry (through its beak not the microblogging site) the sky grew lighter and eventually the day arrived.

The chick was fascinated by this. Every morning it would tweet its little heart out and every morning the sun would rise. The chick told its siblings and encouraged them to tweet too – to ensure that the sun returned each day.

Chicks in other nests started to complain about being woken up so early by all the tweeting, but when the first chick explained that it was their tweeting that guaranteed that the sun would come back they joined in too.

Once the chicks had fledged and left the nests they all continued the tradition because they didn’t want to risk the sun not coming up. Everywhere they went they told other birds about it and the news spread far and wide. Migrating birds took the news to other continents and it was not long before birds all across the world knew that their tweeting in the morning was what guaranteed that the sun would come up.

Each new generation of birds was told that their tweeting in the morning awoke the sun from its slumber and each new generation of birds tweeted their hearts out each day. They believed that they were making a difference to the whole world – this was their contribution to life.

Different birds tried to outdo each other with the length, volume, quality and variety of their morning tweeting. Over time the real reason for the morning tweeting became less important than the tweeting itself. When asked why they tweeted in the morning they just shrugged their wings and admitted that they didn’t know why they did it – it was what birds did, wasn’t it?

Today, all across the world, birds tweet each morning. Many of them actually don’t start tweeting until the dawn has started to arrive, the sky has started to lighten and the sun has started to peek over the horizon. But that doesn’t matter to them. What matters is that they tweet because that’s what they do in the morning, isn’t it?

Do we ever stop to ask ourselves why we do what we do? We do it because we have always done it. We do it like that because we have always done it that way. We do it because we don’t know any different. We do it because that’s what we do.

Tweet, tweet, tweet.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(It’s been said that when Jesus returns the last seven words heard (uttered by Christians) will be, “We’ve never done it that way before!”)

the Columbidae conundrum

20150123_085617What is unusual about this picture? Don’t focus on trying to look into the windows.

You just did, didn’t you! But there’s nothing unusual to see there.

The unusual thing is the concentration of pigeons and doves on the roof. We can see this rooftop from our house. I don’t know if it is unusual to have pigeons and doves sitting together on a roof, so that’s not the unusual thing I am thinking of. No, what’s unusual is that this is usual. You will see this view on almost any day you care to choose. It’s the favourite place for these pigeons and doves to spend their day (they live such exciting lives don’t they?). And what I find more unusual about this is that they only go to that roof, and only to that half of the shared roofline. You can look at any of the other houses in the area and their roofs are pigeon and dove-free. But this one has some sort of Columbidae revival going on (yes that is the generic term for pigeons and doves and I did look it up online). But why are they always there?

Is it that the owner of the house has put some glue on the roof and the birds are stuck there? Nope, I have seen them strutting around there and occasionally some of them fly off – presumably to get food or to tell more birds to come. By the way, why do pigeons have to do the head move when they walk? Do they think it looks cool? Someone ought to tell them that the rest of the animal kingdom is laughing at them. But I digress. They are not glued on.

Perhaps the owner regularly goes up and puts out food for them. I suppose it is possible but I have never seen it happen and they never look like they are pecking at anything. And it seems like a lot of effort to go to just to have some birds sitting on your roof.

Is it possible that the pigeons and doves don’t know why they gather there? Maybe they happened to land there one day and did so the next day and it became a tradition that none of them understand but none of them are willing to break in case there was a good reason.

Maybe (and this is just speculation) this house is not as well insulated as those around it and the roof is warmer for the pigeons and doves. This seems like the most plausible explanation that I can come up with, but if any of you have a better theory I would love to hear it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

What’s that? You were expecting more? Oh, all right. The pigeon/dove mystery got me thinking about churches, as you would expect. It got me thinking about why people come to church. Do some come because they feel stuck there and feel like they can’t get away? Maybe some come because they get fed: literally and/or spiritually. Perhaps some come because they have always come but have forgotten why. And maybe some come because they like the warmth of the people.

It also got me thinking about why we do some things in church. Do we do them because we are stuck in our ways. Do we do them in the hope that there may be something in it for us? Have we forgotten why we do them but daren’t stop? Or do we do them because there is a good reason?

You’ve already had the sign off, so I’ll just stop now