Tag: church

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.

one another

A while ago I created some visual clues to a series of phrases from the Bible that all relate to ‘one another’ – how we should treat one another and be with one another. I remembered this recently and offer them to you for your amusement and perhaps edification. The answers are at the bottom of the page and I apologise for any brain strain this may cause…

Enjoy!4-give

 

serve

lettuce-spray-4practice-hospital-teafellow-ship

bee-de-votedconfused-voleon-her

bear with.JPGharm-on-kneea-gry

forgive one another; serve one another; let us pray for one another; practice hospitality to one another; live in fellowship with one another; be devoted to one another; love one another (it’s a vole); honour one another (on her); bear with one another; live in harmony (harm on knee) with one another; agree with one another (angry with ‘n’);

 

links to a narticle wot I roted

A while ago I was asked to write an article for the Baptist Union magazine Baptists Together. They were putting together an edition about children, young people and families and asked me to write something a little bit provocative. So I did.
That magazine has now been circulated around Baptist Churches and you can download a PDF version of the magazine here. There are lots of excellent articles in it on the wider subject of church for all… and there’s my article too! The article has also been published in a shortened form by ethicsdaily.com and you can see part one here if you are interested.

Be blessed, be a blessing

salty light

A short while ago I wrote a bloggage about taking action against the apparent rise in racist abuse and violence  and I have been reflecting on that since then. You see I think it is really important that we don’t just tut and roll our eyes when we hear about people being threatened, shouted at, trolled or bullied because of the prejudice of a tiny minority of people.

Do read the bloggage linked above because it tells of some brilliant ways in which Christians have been acting to counter the hatred. Here are some more suggestions:

Some people have taken to wearing a safety pin on their clothes as a sign that they are a ‘safe’ person to talk to. That’s a start but I worry that those who have malicious intent could also wear a safety pin and do all those who are possible victims know what the safety pin means?

You can write to your local paper and express support for those who feel oppressed. Get everyone in your church to sign the letter too. Or even better get everyone in your church to write a letter and overwhelm the newspaper so they see it as an issue to address.

You can speak out if someone in your friendship circle speaks in a racist fashion and gently explain why you think what they are saying is wrong.

targetThe advice I have read which makes most sense if you are a witness to racist abuse in public is to go and talk with the person who is being harangued, ignoring the abuser. Don’t argue with the abuser because they are after attention. Instead love the victim. Find out if they are okay, offer to go and have a cup of tea with them (or whatever their beverage), offer to walk with them to a safe place.

If there’s already someone else with the person, go and join them and start to form a crowd. You could invite other passers-by to join you: “Please will you come and stand with us because this person is being racially abused and we want to show them that this is not how most people think?” The advent of mobile phones with video cameras means that it’s also possible (discreetly) to record the abuse and give the video to the police because an offence may well be in progress. And of course you can call the police.

All these things (and others) are prophetic acts – demonstrations that hate is not stronger than love – and free samples of the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so much about. They are saying that this is not how God want it to be.

It’s horrible that we are living in times where this sort of thing even needs to be articulated. It’s hideous that this ugly troll is raising its loathsome head.

And it’s entirely right that we stand against it. We must.

It’s entirely right that we do things to counter it. We must.

It’s entirely right that we make it clear that focusing on what makes someone different from us is heinous and repugnant. There is far more that we have in common which we can emphasise. We must.

But I want to ask myself why it is that welcoming ‘strangers’ is unusual? Why is it that letting people know that they are accepted and loved is strange and noteworthy? Why is it that some people feel confident enough to shout vile words and engage in acts of violence?

Is it because we (Christians) have not taken Jesus seriously enough? If you just read Matthew 5 (the first part of the Sermon on the Mount) you will see what I mean. We’re supposed to be salt and light in our society. We’re supposed to love everyone, even our ‘enemies’. If we really lived like that I have a hunch that our society would be so much better – well seasoned, better preserved, well lit and well loved!

Be blessed, be a blessing (no really, go on, be a blessing!)

 

 

view from my pew 6

Dear Internet

I read Nick’s article on the tennis courts at Wimbledon (for some reason he calls it a ‘bloggage’ – you can read it here). It made me think about my own sporting achievements which, if I am honest, were quite a few years ago.

When I was at Primary School I was entered in the flat race at Sports Day, when I was aged 5. My mother had said she would be there watching me but I had not been able to see her in the crowd of parents. I lined up with the other children and the teacher started the race. I started running as fast as my chubby little legs would carry me and, wonder of wonders, I was leading. I so wanted Mother to see me winning so as I ran I started looking in the crowd for her. Because I was looking around as I was running I was not watching where I was going and I fell over, tripping up the rest of the children too. Gradually we all got to our feet and the more enterprising of us ran to the finish. I sat there wondering what had happened until my teacher came and collected me. (Mother had been there and saw the whole thing).

On another occasion our Primary School engaged in a series of inter-school sports days with two other schools. I was not selected for anything in the first one and complained to my teacher. (I think they were worried I might look around for Mother again). My teacher tried to find something that I could participate in where I would not cause too much harm and noted that the tug of war team had not won anything. He put me in the tug of war team and I was thrilled to be able to wear one of our school’s gold-coloured sports t-shirts.

Tug O' War
(Not a picture of the actual event)

The next of the three sports days was at a school whose playing fields were on a significant slope and the tug of war was set up so that one team was pulling downhill and one was pulling uphill. In order to make it fair they tossed a coin each time to see which team would start off pulling downhill and we would swap places after each pull. I worked out that as it was ‘best of three’ it was definitely an advantage to start off pulling downhill. For some reason I was asked to call the coin toss each time and each time I called it correctly and chose to pull first downhill. Not surprisingly we won against both of the other schools (2-1 each time) but I didn’t care. I had won something as part of a school team! (As a post-script, the third sports day was at our school which had a flat playing field and our previously victorious tug of war team lost each pull).

As I reflected on these two occasions I thought that the first reminded me that God is always watching me, even when I can’t sense him there, so my job is not to look for him but to run life’s race to the best of my ability. I thought that the second reminded me that regardless of my ability God chooses to use me in his team and that I should be proud of that. There will be circumstances I cannot control, but all he asks is that I do my best.

Because his opening Devotions had been a reflection on England’s rather poor sporting performance in the European Football Championships I told Revd Phillip Inneck-Tucker (our Minister) about my sporting stories after the Church Meeting last night. He laughed and then he asked me to tell the stories in the first part of the service on Sunday, along with my reflections.

“No thank you,” I said, “I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of everyone.”

Revd Phil gave me one of his funny looks and asked me to think about my reflections again. I don’t know what he’s getting at.

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick insists I end these letters)

to vote or de-vote?

This week I voted. It did not take long. It was not difficult. It was an election for my local Police and Crime Commissioner. The ‘campaign’ has been very low key around here – no leaflets, no phone calls, no posters. I had to look up the candidates for myself in order to make a decision about where to put my ‘x’. If I hadn’t had a polling card I would not have known there was an election at all.

It was tempting to think that my vote won’t make a difference: why should I put myself out by walking around the corner to the local school that was hosting the polling station – it’s only one vote, after all. That thought did cross my mind this morning, but then I dismissed it. Not just because if we all thought like that then nobody would get elected, or even the thought that there are countries where the people are denied that privilege, and when they are given it they vote enthusiastically. There was a bit more thought than that. I have written to my MP several times recently: about the clearing of part of the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, about the way that our Government could do more to help those fleeing persecution, and most recently about the ‘Dubs amendment’ to the Immigration Bill. But if I don’t participate in the democratic process as fully as possible (with whatever flaws I might think it has) then it’s much more difficult for me to voice my opinion with as much integrity as I would like. If my voice is to mean anything then I feel that I should vote.

Of course democracy is not really mentioned in the Bible. Nobody voted for Moses or Joshua, or the Judges, or the absolute monarchs of the Old Testament. In the New Testament nobody voted for Caesar, or any of the Herods, or even Pilate, Felix, Festus or King Agrippa. And the appointment of the early church leaders seemed to have more to do with whether they had known Jesus and the length of a straw (or whatever ‘casting lots’ meant) than democracy.

I believe that democracy has no place in the church (even though it’s the best (or least worst) political process). Don’t get too hot under the collar just yet, please read on because, as we all confess as good Baptists, I believe that if we vote in a Deacons’ or Church Meeting we are not voting democratically (although it looks similar) we are seeking to express what we are collectively discerning to be God’s will. Deacons’ and Church Meetings, at their best, are places where we can disagree agreeably, discuss graciously and then seek to discern wisely what God is saying to us.

In the book of Acts there are two contrasting approaches to discerning God’s will. The first is from the mouth of Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin when they were working out what to do with Peter and the Apostles who had been arrested (Acts 5):

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’

I have often heard Gamaliel’s wisdom commended as a good example of how to deal with a tricky situation. But to me it seems like a cop-out. He did not commit himself to discerning God’s will, he hedged his bets: he uses ‘if’ twice in the last two verses. (As an aside I note that the Sanhedrin had the apostles flogged before they released them, just to make a point and the Apostles rejoiced because they had been considered worthy of suffering for the Gospel).

Then there’s Acts 15 – the Council of Jerusalem – where the Christians tried to work out how Jewish God wanted you to be to follow Jesus. People of opposing views shared their opinions and then they discerned together (we don’t know how) and decided:

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

I love the phrase “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” as that, to me, seems to capture the essence of how a Deacons’ or Church Meeting should come to a conclusion. Whether or not votes are cast in order to help us discern, at the end we should all affirm “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” and then work to put that into action – even if it’s not our own personal preference – because we believe we have collectively listened to God through each other and heard what he wants. And that’s where Gamaliel’s words, with a slight alteration, make more sense: “But because it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Be blessed, be a blessing.

view from my pew 3

Hello again to my growing internet fanbase. It’s Mr Grenville-Stubbs here again with another of my views from my pew.

Some of you will have heard of my highly successful late night radio show on our local radio station: Hymns On My Organ. I have had  my Hammond organ for 35 years and people write in with suggestions for me to play on it. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Lots of people ask for Amazing Grace or The Lord’s My Shepherd and while I am happy to play them occasionally I can’t play them every week. I prefer the really obscure suggestions, although some of the correspondence suggesting what to play on my organ baffles me because I have never heard of those hymns – I sometimes wonder whether people are having a joke at my expense.

organ
I suggest that if you do an internet search for ‘organ’ you exercise some caution!

I do struggle with some of the modern songs that we have to sing in our church. Some of them use romantic imagery about God that makes me feel quite uncomfortable. And others are so familiar with him – they lack reverence and awe. It doesn’t help that our Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker (or ‘Phil’ as he insists we call him) seems to think that we should repeat the same song twenty times*  so we can sing the words without thinking about them (really!!).

So you can imagine my surprise when I got a letter from ‘Phil’ asking me to play something in my show. At first I was suspicious but this is what he asked me to play:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain:
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain
I had to look it up in Sacred Songs and Sea Shanties, as I had never heard of it, but I was pleasantly surprised. Phil wrote in his letter that it was based on Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms”. Apparently it was written in response to the news that the wives of two of the writer’s former pupils had died. Phil didn’t explain why he had asked for it but I played it on my show anyway.
The next Sunday when I saw Phil after the service he looked like he had tears in his eyes. When I offered my hand for the post-service formality he ignored it. I was shocked… and then he gave me a hug!

Well, I can tell you, we never got hugged by our previous Ministers!

Shame, really.

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)

*I might have exaggerated about the twenty times a little bit.