My good friend Ken Stead is a fine songwriter and a very clever guitar player too. Here’s one of his own compositions:
After a few months of slow blogging (we all go through that from time to time), it’s great to see that my blogging friend Malcolm French is back in the saddle, giving us food for thought every day (and I mean every day; he’s taken up daily blogging as a Lenten discipline this year). As he said of me in a recent post, our journeys have been different and we disagree from time to time, but I usually find good food for thought in what he has to say. I particularly enjoyed a recent post on ‘Experimenting with Prayer‘ as I’m currently doing some experimenting myself; after years of a fairly individualistic prayer life, I’m now into my second year of sharing my morning prayer time each day with Marci, and we’re both really enjoying it.
Malcolm is pretty passionate about some of the causes he believes in, including socialist politics (which I agree with) and the movement to stop the Anglican Covenant (which I’m less enthusiastic about). But he’s also pretty passionate about his ministry as parish priest of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Malcolm’s blog is called Simple Massing Priest, and I’m glad to point some traffic in his direction.
Today would have been Joe’s 50th birthday.
I suspect that many of us who love and miss him will spend a bit of time today reading and reflecting on Felix Hominum. Ideally, this should be combined with a cup of strong coffee – or, perhaps, a pint of good beer or a glass of single malt.
God bless you, Joe. Rest in peace and rise in glory. I will especially miss your presence in the back pew of the chapel at clergy retreat at the end of this month.
So the day of my Dad’s funeral has come and gone. It seems strange, somehow; I’ve lived with the impending reality of this day for two or three years, since the day Dad asked me to preach at it, and now it is a past event. Somehow it seems as if it should be a permanent event, existing continually outside of time.
This morning I find myself remembering the words of an old Bruce Cockburn song from the 1980s:
I don’t mean to cling to you my friends
It’s just I hate the day to have to end
Never enough time to spend
I haven’t done enough for this to be the end
There must be more… more…
More songs more warmth
More love more life
Not more fear not more fame
Not more money not more games
That’s the way I felt yesterday. I was the preacher at the service, so I had the best view of who was there. Many, but not all, of the faces were familiar to me. Mum and Dad returned to England from Canada in 1978, and from that day on their circle of acquaintance diverged from mine; I know some of the friends they’ve made since then (especially over the past twenty or so years in Oakham and Ketton), but not all. Still, there were lots of extended family members there, and friends going all the way back to our Southminster days. We had the service at St. Mary’s, Ketton, which was Dad and Mum’s home church for the past few years, and the vicar, Andrew Rayment, did a fine job with the service and the prayers. We sang some fine hymns that Dad loved – ‘How Great Thou Art’, ‘To God be the Glory’, and my personal favourite, ‘Thine be the Glory’, with those great lines:
Make us more than conquerors through thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.
My brother Mike read the reading Dad had selected, 1 Peter 1:3-9, and my niece Ellie read the gospel, John 14:1-6. I preached, and people were kind enough to tell me that they had appreciated it afterwards. When the service was over we went to Grantham Crematorium for the cremation, and then back to Oakham for a reception.
That was when I had my Cockburn ‘It’s just I hate the day to have to end’ feeling. The love of people was palpable in that room – their affection for Dad, and their affection for Mum, and Mike and me. It’s funny, but I haven’t really felt of myself as being a ‘mourner’ yet. I’ve officiated at so many funerals and tried to provide support and comfort to the bereaved, but until yesterday it hadn’t really sunk in that I was in that category. I guess people seem to feel that clergy are somehow above all that; I don’t know why, but I know it’s true. But yesterday at the reception in Ketton I was in the midst of cousins and aunts and uncles and friends I’d known since long before I had any idea of being a clergy person, and they were united in love for Dad and Mum and in wanting to provide support for us. And it was all the more poignant in that some of them were the family of my Uncle John, who died three days after my Dad, and whose funeral is tomorrow.
‘Cling onto these relationships’, I found myself thinking. ‘Make no excuses for not keeping in touch with them. Do all you can to let them know you love them and appreciate them. These are the most important things in life. The gospel of Jesus Christ – which gives my life meaning and gives me hope for the future as well as strength for the present – and the love that human beings share with each other – in the end, this is what matters’.
I said to my old friend Steve Palmer afterwards that since Dad died I find that my patience with the bullshit that often happens in churchland has been at an all time low. That may not be a good thing – impatience is rarely a good thing – but I find myself thinking about things in the light of my Dad’s death and wondering why we’re bothering with so much that isn’t really important in the light of eternity. I’m not pointing fingers at my congregation or diocese, or even myself; I’m just making a general observation about the tendency of Christians to get worked up about the latest fad or fashion in ‘church health’ or ‘congregational development’ or whatever the latest trend is (I’ve been around long enough to be seeing most of them come around for the second time now), all the time doing our best to avoid the thought of actually asking someone how they are doing, and really wanting an answer, or actually talking about Jesus with a non-Christian friend.
My Dad’s life counted; that was obvious yesterday. There were people in that church who became Christians through his ministry, and at least two people who are in ordained ministry because of him. Dad was far from perfect, but he knew how to share the gospel, how to love people, and how to encourage people in their Christian calling. He and Mum also did a pretty good job of bringing up Christian sons, and that wasn’t just luck, it was also prayer and hard work and, at times, sheer cussedness!
I really hope that I will remember, from now on, to major on the things that will really count, and not to get caught up in fascinating side roads and the latest fads and fashions. This blog post is my reminder to myself: make your life count, and refuse to allow either other people’s opinions or your own laziness and inertia to cause you to settle for less than that.
Many years ago I was out walking one day beside the Peel River in Aklavik. I was pondering what it was that God wanted me to do, and I got an answer. It wasn’t an audible voice, but somehow three words impressed themselves firmly on my mind, and I have never doubted from that day to this that they were God’s guidance to me (and I very, very rarely experience what I believe to be clear, unambiguous guidance from God). The three words were ‘prayer’, ‘love’, and ‘evangelism’. Ever since then, I have felt most at peace with myself when I have made these three things the centre of my life and ministry. When I’ve gotten diverted from these things, I’ve felt that my life was off centre and everything was somehow out of place.
So, as old Thomas Ken put it,
Redeem thy misspent time that’s past
Live each day as if ’twere thy last.
This I will do, The Lord being my helper.
I hope that all my readers make regular trips over to Reed Fleming’s blog. Reed is an old friend of mine – we first met in 1978 – and we served together in the ‘Church Army in Canada’, which is now called ‘Threshold Ministries‘. He currently works in Saint John, New Brunswick, where he serves in a ministry to inner city people called ‘Street Hope Saint John‘ as well as pastoring a small congregation for inner city folk.
Reed writes one post a week, on Fridays, and the posts often grow out of his experiences ministering among inner city people. Here’s today’s post, ‘Buffeted Closer’:
Years ago when I was ministering in First Nations’ communities I fell into the habit of modelling many of my conversations after Aesop’s Fables. The way he personified forces in nature in order to demonstrate moral lessons for humans seemed to suit the context very well. I often would tell the story of the competition between Sun and Wind. They were disagreeing about who was more powerful when a they spied a man walking below. The man had a coat wrapped around his shoulders. Sun challenged Wind to see who could disrobe this man as a test of power. Wind confidently took up the challenge and blew a gale upon the poor man, but the harder Wind buffeted the man, the more tightly he clutched his coat. Finally, Sun took a turn and gently shone on the man until the man willingly took off his coat and thus Sun proved his superior power.
We were chatting about one of our favourite topics at Street Hope, God’s grace. We talk about it often because life often reminds us of our utter need for it. We also talked about not trying to use grace as a licence to continue to sin.
Paul talked about his ‘thorn in the flesh’ which was a messenger of Satan, to buffet him and though he sought God to remove it (whatever it was) God assured him that His grace was sufficient.
If when we are ‘buffeted’ we cling all the more tightly to God and his grace we can trust that his grace will suffice for us. Things come our way through our own poor choices or through the fallen nature of this world. These things appear as severe tests perversely designed to drive a wedge between us and God but as we choose to let these circumstances drive us to God rather than away we will find that what may have been intended for evil God can turn to good!
As we struggle with addictions and lifestyles and brokenness we first must recognize our impotence. We are powerless, but when we are weak He can be strong if we choose to be buffeted toward him! The free gift of God though only comes to those who choose to receive it. The grace is not meant to be only forgiveness, though we desperately need that, it is also meant to be our strength so that we can stand in the test that buffeting brings. Actually we can do more than stand we can become ‘more than conquerors’ through Him.
At Street Hope we all struggle to be recipients of grace during the storm rather than after. This requires reprogramming a life time of ‘stinking thinking’! We are choosing to be buffeted closer to Christ.
The previous post, ‘Fraught with Opportunity’, begins like this:
Some days I feel like I’m in a ‘time loop’ I have the same conversation over and over again. It begins with someone bemoaning the ever shrinking church population. It often moves on to pining for the ‘good old days’. These ‘good old days were when the church as an institution was respected and a time when people in desperate straits would turn to the church for aid in a time of need. The church is no longer respected in this way and people turn to a myriad of other things instead of calling on the church. The conversation begs for an answer to how we can turn back the clock, but that ship has sailed. The days of an institutional church attracting seekers have passed.
If that is true, the conversation continues, how are we ever going to ‘fill these empty pews’. People no longer look to institutions for help when they are desperate they look instead to people. They do not want to ‘fill’ our empty pews but are seeking people who may have found an answer to the vicissitudes of life.
The challenge then is not how can we be a better institution but how can we be better people, and then how we can befriend those who may be in desperate need of meaning, purpose and hope, so that we might be sought out.
Read the rest here.
‘Thank God it’s Friday!’ some people say, because they’re looking forward to the weekend. Well, as a pastor, weekends aren’t time off for me, but I still look forward to Friday because I know Reed will have something good and nourishing for me to chew on each Friday morning. I hope you’ll become regular visitors to his blog too.
I’ve been having a very quiet and peaceful time in the English midlands with my Mum and Dad, who live in the town of Oakham in Rutland.
My Dad is quite frail, having lived with Parkinson’s Disease now for about eleven years. Basic tasks of life take up the vast majority of each day for him, and my Mum spends most of her time caring for him. So we haven’t done a lot of tripping around as we might have done on visits a few years ago. We have, however, managed a little trip to a nearby garden centre for lunch, and we enjoyed a lovely visit with my Mum’s cousin Ruth on Friday. Each day I have walked down to All Saints’ Church to join the small group (from one to six people) who assemble each morning and evening to pray the Daily Office together. This has been the anchor for my prayer life on trips to Oakham for the last five years or so, and I’m thankful for it.
This past weekend my brother and his family came down from Manchester for a visit. I don’t get to see my brother Mike very often so it’s always a pleasure to have time with him. We went to church with my Mum and Dad Sunday morning (for reasons too complicated to go into, they don’t go to All Saints’ but to St. Mary’s in the nearby village of Ketton), and enjoyed a couple of meals out at one of the local hotels, the Whipper-Inn. Of course, this has also been the Queen’s Jubilee weekend, and this fact was marked during the service at St. Mary’s. I must say my feelings about that are very mixed. I’m a big fan of Her Majesty and pray she will continue healthy enough to serve her people as Queen long past her hundredth birthday! But I’m also enough of an Anabaptist to be uncomfortable with national flags and national anthems in church.
This coming week will see the ‘working’ part of my trip go into high gear. On Tuesday I’ll travel down to Rochester to spend some time with the Rev. Jean Kerr and the parish evangelists of the Diocese of Rochester, learning about the ministry of the evangelists, how they are trained and used and so on. On Thursday I’ll move over to the Diocese of Chelmsford where the Rev. Charlie Kosla will host me on a similar fact-finding mission. While in Chelmsford diocese I’ll be glad to stay with my old friends Kath and Ken Dunstan in the village of Southminster, where I lived as a teenager, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to play a gig in my old home church, St. Leonard’s, on Friday night (June 8th).
Here’s a photo of my Mum and Dad, my brother and his family taken Sunday afternoon at my Mum and Dad’s home in Oakham.
And that’s it from me from central England (which was lovely and sunny for a few days when I arrived but has now turned wet and cold!).