The moment Nic Jones fans have been waiting for for over thirty years

Yes, that really is Nic singing solo, on stage, for the first time since 1981. Accompanied by his son Joe, as part of the In Search Of Nic Jones concert at London’s Southbank.

The concert was originally conceived for and performed at Sidmouth FolkWeek in 2010. Nic sang with his old group Bandoggs at that concert, but saved this solo surprise for the London show, which was staged as part of Stewart Lee’s Austerity Binge.


What does it mean to be a Christian?

When I was in my early teens I remember having a conversation with a friend at school about the Christian faith; I had recently given my life to Christ and was very enthusiastic about sharing my faith with other people. I remember at one point in the conversation asking this friend of mine, “Are you a Christian?” He replied with some indignation, “Well, I’m not a Buddhist, am I?!” Notice the assumption in that reply – a Christian is someone who is not ‘something else’! I think most of us here would recognise that there must be more to it than that!

So I want to think with you this morning about what it actually means to be a Christian? Are you a Christian because you’ve been born in a so-called ‘Christian country’? Are you a Christian because you’ve been baptised as a baby, even if you’ve never given it a moment’s thought since then? Are you a Christian because you believe in God and live a good life? What exactly is a Christian, anyway?

Our first reading from the Bible this morning comes from a letter written by the apostle Peter towards the end of his life, probably sometime between 60 and 70 AD, to a scattered group of Christians living in what is now northern Turkey. I want to focus with you this morning on one sentence from our reading, in 1 Peter 3:15, which you can find on page 234 in the New Testament, where Peter writes:

‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’.

What I want you to notice in these verses is that Christians are people who have a primary loyalty, or allegiance, to Christ as Lord. In other words, Christianity is not just about some sort of vague ‘belief in God’. The vast majority of Canadians say that they ‘believe in God’, but many of them don’t have a very clear idea of what the God they say they believe in is like. And in Peter’s day, too, belief in God, or gods, was not the issue. Few – if any – in the ancient world would have identified themselves as what we would now call atheists. The issue was not, ‘Do you believe in God?’ but rather, ‘What is your god like?’ And we Christians would reply, ‘We believe that God is like Jesus’. So if you are thinking of becoming a Christian, the primary issue is, ‘What is my attitude to Jesus?’

Read the rest here.

Note: this is the fifth in a series of sermons on 1 Peter. If you’re interested, here are the others:

1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:13-25

1 Peter 2:1-10

1 Peter 2:11-25





What is an evangelical Anglican?

After my post about John Wesley a couple of days ago I thought I’d post a few more articles about the spirituality of the early Anglican evangelicals. I’ve excerpted them from a lecture I gave on the subject a few years ago, editing a bit here and there for clarification purposes. In this post, I thought I’d say a bit about what this term ‘evangelical Anglican’ (or ‘Anglican evangelical’, if you prefer it) means in its historical context.

Let me say immediately that ‘evangelical’ is not the same as  ‘evangelist’. Evangelists are people who have a particular gift for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and helping people to respond to it by putting their faith in Christ. Many of the early evangelicals did that, but so have many other people throughout Christian history who would not claim the title ‘evangelical’.

‘Evangelical’ is a description of a particular theological approach which claims to be rooted in the ‘evangel’, the New Testament Gospel, and especially in the Reformation interpretation of that Gospel. Evangelicals are children of the Reformation in their belief in two fundamental doctrines. First, they believe that the Holy Scriptures are the supreme authority for Christian faith and life. Secondly, they believe in the doctrine of justification by faith: which they understand to mean that we are accepted by God, not because of any good works that we do, but because of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which we appropriate for ourselves by our faith in him. Evangelical theology is therefore atonement theology: that is, it focusses on Jesus and his Cross.

But the eighteenth century evangelicals added a third emphasis: their belief in the importance of personal conversion. They lived at a time when Christian beliefs and attendance at Christian worship were widely accepted as part of the makeup of English society. However, they were well aware that the Christian experience of perhaps the vast majority of people fell far short of the New Testament vision of the normal Christian life. Their diagnosis of this problem was that many people had been formally and  sacramentally initiated into the Christian faith (i.e. baptised, and perhaps confirmed), but had never been challenged to make a personal response to the Gospel by putting their faith in Christ. Therefore, in their preaching and in their pastoral work, evangelicals then and now have called on people to make this response.

One more characteristic of these early evangelicals was their love for simple forms of worship. They had a distrust for what they saw as excessive ritual, and this caused them to be deeply suspicious of the Oxford Movement when it began a century later. They saw the  danger of an outward participation in ritual without an inward spirit of worship in the heart; they felt that too much ritual could be a distraction from the genuine encounter with God which is at the heart of true worship. G.R. Balleine, in his book A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England, talks about their kinship with all ‘who have learned to love a simple worship and a spiritual religion’[1].

In the next post on this subject, I’ll say a bit about the condition of the church in England before the eighteenth-century evangelical revival.

[1] G.R. Balleine: A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England; London; William Clowes and Sons; 1908, 1951. p.1.

Who would I like to see at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival?

I won’t be attending the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this year – Marci and I are taking a rare year off to go camping in Wyoming and Colorado. I have some regrets about that – I’m always glad to see James Keelaghan, I love the members of Danu whether they call themselves ‘Danu’ or not (sorry, I don’t know how to get that little ‘ over the ‘u’ in WordPress!), I’m always glad to see a good traditional Québecois band, I think Lyle Lovett is a genius, and I always enjoy the Command Sisters. However, I have to say that, on balance, I won’t be too disappointed. We’ve never been to the western States, I could use a good long dose of the outdoors, and, for a traditionally-oriented folkie like me, the lineup is rather underwhelming.

Yes, folks, I’m one of those much-maligned ‘purists’ who everyone loves to hate. I’ve got nothing against jazz, adult contemporary, and singer-songwriter music, and I can enjoy a lot of it (I think k.d. lang’s voice is exquisite), but when I go to a folk festival there are two things I’m looking for above all: a good solid dose of traditional music (including not just ‘world’ music and ‘Celtic’, but English traditional music), and some excellent fingerstyle guitar playing. This year, I think these two categories are sadly under-represented (there’s no one of the standing of Martin Simpson, June Tabor, Maddy Prior, Jon Boden – with or without Bellowhead – Andy Irvine, Christy Moore, or Eliza Carthy, nor are there fingerstyle guitarists of the calibre of the said Mr. Simpson, John Renbourn, Tony McManus, Brooks Williams, or Don Ross.

Also, quite frankly (and perhaps even more controversially), I think singer-songwriters are over-represented. There’s a widespread view in the music world that singing your own original songs is the most authentic form of musical expression and that musicians who sing and/or play other people’s work are somehow less true to themselves. I think this is a rather egotistical way of viewing the world, but I also think it’s antithetical to the meaning of the term ‘folk’ music. What is ‘folk’ music if it isn’t music sung by ‘folk’? If a singer-songwriter writes a song that is so personal to himself or herself that it really can’t honestly be sung by anyone else (even if SOCAN and copyright laws weren’t an issue – GRRR!), is that really a ‘folk’ song? In fact, is it possible to write a ‘folk’ song? I would say ‘no’. A song becomes a folk song when other people sing it – when it’s passed on to other voices. ‘Northwest Passage’ is a folk song; ‘Four Strong Winds’ is a folk song. But is ‘Constant Craving’? I would say ‘no’ (and I think k.d. lang would agree).

So, if I were giving my wish list to Terry Wickham, who would I like to see invited to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in the categories I enjoy? Here are five suggestions.

Jon Boden. The front man of ‘Bellowhead’ has been running a superb project all year called ‘A Folk Song a Day‘, in which he releases a daily podcast of a folk song (mainly traditional songs and mainly unaccompanied, although there are a few songs with guitar, fiddle, or accordion accompaniment). Jon has a great voice, a voluminous repertoire, and a real respect for the tradition and a commitment to passing it on to a new generation. Also, I seriously think he can play anything! Go listen to his podcasts at ‘A Folk Song a Day’ to get a sense of what he can do – or look him up on YouTube, either by himself, as part of Spiers and Boden, or with his big band ‘Bellowhead’ (this video by Bellowhead of the traditional folk song ‘Prickle-eye Bush’ is particularly entertaining).

Eliza Carthy. Yes, she’s the daughter of iconic English trad musicians Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, and yes, she sings and pays fiddle in their family band, Waterson: Carthy. But this is not just family togetherness; Eliza is a superb musician in her own right – a wonderful singer and a superb fiddle player, and a genre-straddling artist if there ever was one. Lately she’s been touring with The Imagined Village, and she’s had her own band in the past too, the Ratcatchers (I’d give a lot to have thought of that name!). Here’s a great sample of her singing and fiddle playing.

Maddy Prior. This veteran English performer was for many years the lead singer of Steeleye Span, but she has had a fine career as a solo performer as well, fronting various bands and ensembles including the Carnival Band (see this video), and more recently with Benji Kirkpatrick and Giles Lewin, with whom she recorded a superb CD of traditional folk songs called Seven for Old England. Here she is with Giles and Benji, giving her take on the old folk song ‘Dives and Lazarus’. Giles and Benji aren’t bad either, are they? And by the way, if you want an example of why Steeleye were one of the most brilliant bands on the planet, listen to this.

Jackie Oates. I’ve only just discovered this young lady and I don’t know very much about her, except that she’s a fine fiddle player and a wonderful singer, and she also seems to love traditional music. Her most recent album, Hyperboreans, seems to include a combination of traditional and contemporary numbers. Here’s one of my favourite YouTube videos of Jackie, playing the traditional song ‘Locks and Bolts’. Here she is with Belinda O’Hooley performing Annachie Gordon at the recent tribute concert to Nic Jones at the Sidmouth Folk Festival.

Martin Carthy. At seventy, he is the grandfather of the English folk music scene, and a fine example of a first class musician who has rarely written an original song in his life (although he’s done some pretty original takes on traditional material – here’s an example of a song he dramatically reshaped.); his name is spoken with affection and respect wherever people listen to English folk music. It was Martin Carthy’s version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ that Paul Simon ripped off and made into a huge hit for Simon and Garfunkel, without acknowledging either that it was a traditional song or that he had largely copied Martin Carthy’s guitar arrangement (have a listen to Martin’s version here). For over forty years he’s been producing album after album of traditional songs, alone, or with fiddler Dave Swarbrick, or with his wife Norma Waterson and their daughter Eliza. Oh, did I mention that he invented his own guitar tuning along the way – CDCGDA – a tuning that’s devilishly difficult to play in, but which he seems to handle with a sort of dextrous ease!

Well, there’s my five favourites, the people I’d hope to see come to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival to represent the English traditional folk scene. I could of course have mentioned a lot more names – Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, Bella Hardy, Faustus, Ruth Notman, Andy Irvine, Lisa Knapp, Benji Kirkpatrick, the Demon Barbers, etc. etc. Google them, listen to their music on YouTube, and discover more about the wonderful world of traditional folk music. Let’s see some more of it at our folk festivals!

“I felt my heart strangely warmed’.

273 years ago today, a discouraged Anglican clergyman grasped a spiritual truth that enabled him to ‘exchange the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’. It would be no exaggeration to claim that the experience of this clergyman – and his personal testimony to it – has had an enormous impact on Christian history since then.

In the year 1729 a very strange society began to meet in the rooms of John Wesley, a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. It became known as the Holy Club, and its members included John’s brother Charles, George Whitefield, and a number of other young men, all of whom were in holy orders, which was required in those days for Fellows at Oxford and Cambridge.  These young men began to meet regularly to study the Greek New Testament and the works of the Church Fathers, to pray and to encourage each other. They made strict rules of life for themselves, celebrated Holy Communion together regularly, and did work among the needy and destitute.

This disciplined way of life attracted much ridicule from other members of the university, and their methodical lifestyle gave the group the name which would stick to them in the future: ‘Methodists’. It would be a mistake, however, to see them at this period in their history as being a type of proto-evangelical; they had not yet come to understand either the Gospel of grace or the nature of Christian conversion. It is said of John Wesley at this time that, on being asked to go to speak to a man who was about to be hanged, he refused. His reason was that the man would not have adequate time for the amendment of life which was necessary for anyone wishing to become a Christian. Looking back on this period later in his life, Wesley described it as ‘the faith of servants, but not of sons’.

Eventually John and Charles Wesley, along with George Whitefield, volunteered to go to the American colonies as chaplains. While he was in Georgia, John attempted to enforce a church discipline which was far beyond anything the colonists had ever experienced before, a discipline based on his reading of the early Church Fathers. This aroused great resentment among the colonists, and there was also a badly managed love affair which did great damage to his ministry. After only a few years, John returned from Georgia in despair; he is said to have remarked “I went to convert the Indians, but who will convert me?”

On the journey home across the Atlantic, John encountered some Moravian Christians, and was deeply impressed by their sense of peace and serenity. When he arrived back in London he continued his conversations with the Moravians. His spiritual search came to a head on May 24th 1738. Let’s listen to his description of that evening:

‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death’.

Wesley soon began to preach this message, but it aroused great opposition in the Established Church, and very quickly he found church doors closed to him. Then George Whitefield, who had experienced a similar conversion, invited Wesley to join him in Bristol where he was preaching to huge crowds of miners in the open air. Reluctantly at first, but soon with growing enthusiasm, Wesley joined him, and so began his life’s work.

It is estimated that John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles during his lifetime, preaching many times a day in fields, marketplaces, and village squares. Crowds of people were hungry for this message of personal faith in Christ, and thousands were converted up and down the length and breath of England. He organised these new believers into small groups known as ‘class meetings’, where they would experience fellowship, teaching, and accountability. Members of these meetings had to agree to strict standards of personal prayer, Bible reading and Christian service. From these class meetings came the lay preachers who soon joined John in the work of travelling evangelism. John’s brother Charles was a talented poet who wrote thousands of hymns for the new movement. Hymn singing, by the way, was a radical idea in those days, at least as controversial as was bringing rock music into church in my youth!

The movement encountered a great deal of opposition, some of it, sadly, from the Established Church. There are stories of local clergy hiring drunken mobs to attack Wesley and break up his meetings. The Church didn’t know what to do with the movement; there is a famous quote from a meeting between Wesley and Bishop Joseph Butler in which the good bishop remarked ‘Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing – a very horrid thing’. There is not space in this post to go into all the sad circumstances which led to the break with the Church of England; suffice it to say that eventually the Church lost the movement that Wesley began, and it became a new branch of Christianity in England and around the world – Methodism.

However, not all those who believed as Wesley did left the Church of England. Many stayed, living and preaching their gospel message within the structures of the established Church. At first they took for themselves the description of ‘Gospel’ people, but later they became almost universally known as ‘evangelicals’ (from the Greek word for ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’).

So today I’m happy to recognise the anniversary of Wesley’s life-changing experience in Aldersgate Street, which should properly also be recognised as the spiritual birthday of Methodism. So happy birthday to all my Methodist friends! And we Anglican evangelicals are also glad to celebrate today, because we also include John and Charles Wesley in the lineage of our movement, which we trace back from people like Alister McGrath and John Stott today, through J.C. Ryle, William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect, Hannah More, Charles Simeon, John Newton, Lady Huntingdon, the Wesleys and George Whitfield, and back to Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and the other 16th century Anglican Reformers. But more on that family tree another day!

Seventy years ago today…

Rest in peace, crew members of H.M.S. Hood.

Story here.

The following song is my tribute to the men who died on the Bismarck and the Hood, and a hope for peace and reconciliation between all who war against each other.

The Bismarck and the Hood

My Dad was in the navy,
And a sailor’s death he died
When the Hood sank in the Denmark Strait
With all those men inside.
They had cheered for her in Scapa Flow
And called her England’s pride,
But the Bismarck sent her to her death
In the chilling Arctic tide.

Reinhold was a sailor too,
He was born in Hamburg town;
He was twenty-four years old the day
The Bismarck she went down.
He was last seen on her upper deck
With explosions all around,
But no one knows just how he died
And his body was never found.

As it turned out one warm May night
In nineteen eighty four,
I went with Reinhold’s oldest son
To a smoky German bar.
We were there to do our business
But our talk turned to the war;
“It’s been more than forty years”, he said,
“Since I saw my Dad no more”.

His Dad died on the Bismarck
And mine on the Hood,
And we stared each other in the face
And then in silence stood.
I drank to Reinhold Schäfer
And he to Albert Wood
And the thousands more who died with them,
All seamen brave and good.

So many men were lost that day,
So many children cried;
So many wives were left with only
Memories deep inside.
But it’s up to Reinhold’s son and me
Our future to decide,
And to honour by our friendship
The lives of those who died.

Lyrics: © Tim Chesterton 2007

Tune: Traditional (‘High Germany’)