alliterativity

On 13th September churches in Colchester are hosting a Free Family Fun Festival in Castle Park (in the centre of the town). It promises to be a brilliant day with all manner of different free activities to bless the people of our town. If you want more information about what’s happening click on the link here.

I have been privileged to be a part of the planning team for this and I confess that the alliterative name came from me. I like lots of lovely (a)lliteration. There’s something about it that is appealing. I have read several explanations that include it matching synaptic rhythms in our grey matter; that it flows off the tongue easily (your mouth can revert to making the same shape at the start of saying several similarly starting words; and that it makes phrases more memorable (useful in preliterate societies) and mimics musicality.

Whatever the reason, alliteration adds another aspect to words, even if they are consciously contrived confabulations of coincidentally commencing comments. It is playful. And that’s my contribution to the canon of cognition about it: it appeals to our innate desire to play.

Of course, as you may have experienced in this bloggage, it is possible to overdo it. It is perhaps the unexpectedness of the alliterative episode that contributes to our enjoyment of it. If everything was alliterative we would soon grow tired of it. Would we or wouldn’t we?

To close this musing I would like to share with you the Melody in F from Frogs in Cream (a book by Nick Mercer and Stephen Gaukroger that is now out of print but is partly responsible for my love of humour).

Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings. He flew far to foreign fields, and frittered his fortune feasting fabulously with faithless friends.

Fleeced If by his fellows in folly, and facing famine, he found himself a feed flinger in a filthy farmyard. Fairly vanishing, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments.

 ‘Fooey! My father’s flunkies fare far finer!’ The frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure, and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family.

Falling at his father’s feet, he forlornly fumbled, ‘Father, I’ve flunked, and fruitlessly forfeited family fellowship favour.’ The farsighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies, ‘fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast!’

The fugitive’s faultfinding brother frowned on this fickle forgiveness of former falderal. But the faithful father figured, ‘Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! Let flags be unfurled! Let fanfares flare!’

His father’s forgiveness forms the foundation for the former fugitive’s future fortitude.

 

(See Luke 15 if you want the less alliterative version!)

Be blessed, be a blessing

there’s no such thing as bad publicity

newspapers“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Those words have been attributed to a few different people, most notably the American showman PT Barnum. But even though we might be tempted to agree with the sentiment (like Oscar Wilde’s “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”) in reality it is wrong.

Colchester is in the national news at the moment. Over the past couple of months there have been two brutal murders in Colchester. That’s definitely not good publicity. There has been a lot of speculation in the media about this. That’s definitely not good publicity. A local newspaper ran the headline “Maniac in our midst”. That’s definitely not good publicity.

It’s not good publicity when someone publicly falls from grace. It’s not good publicity when Christians make crass statements about the end of the world being on a particular (now past) date. It’s not good publicity when a footballer bites another one during a match at the World Cup (allegedly – it’s not proven yet despite what we saw on TV).

So what are we to do in those cases? We have a couple of choices: we can be interested as impartial observers. We can relish the details, especially if they are salubrious. We can become fearful, upset or angry. We can speculate about those parts of the events that we don’t know, filling in the gaps. We can spread the news (aka gossip). We can take the moral high ground, tut loudly, and denounce those who are (in our minds) guilty.

Or we can pray. I want to invite you to do that now for our town (even if you don’t live in Colchester).

Please pray for the families and friends of James Attfield and Nahid Al Manea – the victims of these savage attacks.

Please pray for the communities of Colchester and the University of Essex, particularly those who live near the places where the murders took place.

Pray for the police and those investigating the crimes.

Pray for those who are gripped by fear.

Pray for the perpetrators.

Pray for God’s peace and love.

How will you respond to the next bad publicity you hear?

Be blessed, be a blessing

and the winner is…

Woohoo.

Our church notice sheet has won an award! You can see details here or download the weekly sheet here by clicking on the image of the sheet and then the link on the following page. It is particularly encouraging because we have taken steps this year to improve it to make it easier to read, more attractive and blend with our ‘corporate identity’ (ie in line with our logo colour scheme, the website and so on). We took the decision to print it in colour each week because it’s the item most people take away from our church after attending a service and so will be part of the lasting impression for newcomers.

We have a small team of editors (on a rota basis) who work with our church office to put this information out each week and maintain the look of the sheet at the same time. Sometimes, because of the amount of information to include, they manage to squeeze a quart into a pint pot and still manage to make it look good.

Two things come to mind this morning (in addition to pride). One is that it is always really nice when someone recognises and appreciates your work, especially when you have worked hard to improve something. How did you feel the last time someone said, ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’? How can you pass that on to someone else today?

The second thought is to be reminded about how important communication is, especially in churches. Last night we had a special Deacons’ Meeting where we looked at some of the things that might potentially hamper people from coming to faith and growing in faith at our church, and how we might improve things. Communication came out high on the list of things we need to improve.

Now that we have an award-winning news sheet we need to make sure that we continue to put relevant and helpful information in it, but we can’t assume that we have communicated. We put notices on the screens in the church before the service starts, but again we can’t assume that we have communicated with people through them. For communication to be effective it needs to be well-presented and interesting enough for people to pay attention, relevant and (perhaps most importantly) received and understood. The problem we have is that the latter two are outside of our control!

We can do our best to ensure that we share information (and especially the good news about Jesus) as relevantly, engagingly and attractively as possible but if someone is disinterested, too busy to pay attention (or asleep) then we will not have succeeded in communicating effectively.

Is there a crucial tip to be able to do that? Well there are thousands of books that have been written on the subject, so it may be presumptious of me to suggest that there is, but I think (and it was reinforced last night) that there is. It’s this:

Personal communication is more effective than mass communication.

An invitation extended by a friend is more likely to be communicated effectively than a notice on a screen or a news sheet. An explanation by one individual to another is more likely to address the questions of the second person because it can be more accurately tailored to them than any sermon can (subject to God’s intervention through the sermon).

Good, effective communication is the responsibility of every one of us. If we leave it to screens, pieces of paper or even websites (which can all be useful) we will leave a lot of people feeling bewildered, unwelcome or disengaged. (I wonder how many of the people who clicked onto this page have left before they get to this point?)

Be blessed, be a blessing

A classic joke about sermons… (I may start a home for retired jokes soon)

A preacher, who shall we say was “humour impaired,” attended a conference to help encourage and better equip pastors for their ministry. Among the speakers were many well known and dynamic speakers.

One such boldly approached the pulpit and, gathering the entire crowd’s attention, said, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife!”

The crowd was shocked! He followed up by saying, “And that woman was my mother!”

The crowd burst into laughter and delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well.

The next week, the pastor decided he’d give this humour thing a try, and use that joke in his sermon. As he approached the pulpit that sunny Sunday, he tried to rehearse the joke in his head. It suddenly seemed a bit foggy to him.

Getting to the microphone he said loudly, “The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife!”

The congregation inhaled half the air in the room. After standing there for almost 10 seconds in the stunned silence, trying to recall the second half of the joke, the pastor finally blurted out, “…and for the life of me I can’t remember who she was!”

the toughest challenge

I am about to embark on one of the most challenging tasks of the whole year… putting all of the finishing touches to our Carols by Candlelight service (Colchester Baptist Church, 6.30 pm, 18th December). It is not technically that difficult. We have already chosen all the carols and the readings more or less choose themselves. Many people are already working hard to prepare different aspects of the service.

The reason it is challenging is that in the midst of all the familiarity and nostalgia I would like to be able to offer a fresh perspective on Christmas to those who come along. How can I come up with something original about the most familiar story that has been retold for 2000 years? Last year I reflected on some of the carols and what they reveal about the one who ‘came down to earth from heaven’. But this year, at the moment of blogging, I have nothing.

I am not worried. I know that God’s Spirit is full of inspiration and if I stop trying to think of things on my own and start listening more he will offer me some guidance. The problem for me is how people respond to what I offer. If it is poor people won’t blame God’s Spirit. They won’t suggest that he had an off-day. They will look to me. I don’t mind that as, realistically speaking, the blame is much more likely to lie at my feet than his. But if it is wonderful, people can make the same mistake and give me the credit. While it is nice for to get an ego massage it is entirely the wrong outcome as far as I am concerned.

I want people to leave the service (and all services) saying, “Isn’t God amazing!?” Our aim (whether preparing services or living our daily routine lives) must surely be to point people towards God. If you were given a free sample of toothpaste or soap you might use it and may be influenced by the experience. But you would not spend all your time talking about the free sample, you would go and buy the product. So it is with us. We, as free samples of Jesus, are the means by which people encounter him, and we pray will be positively influenced towards him through us. But never let us (or anyone else) think that we are the real deal.

At this time of year some people venerate St Nicholas (Santa Claus). You see effigies of him everywhere (although it’s unlikely he had a bright red suit). But even St Nick* is not the main event. Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas starts with Christ.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*In case you were under any illusions, the person creating this bloggerel is no saint – just ask my wife and family!