My good friend Alex Boudreau and I are playing a gig at the Bogani Café (2023-111 Street in Edmonton) on Friday December 13th at 7.30 p.m. It’s not specifically a Christmas gig, but I’m sure there will be some Christmas music! Admission is free but there will be a donation jar. Hope to see you there!
This event will take place at the Cha Island Tea Company, 10332-81 Avenue, Edmonton. The Eventbrite link is here.
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!).
Friday June 8th
St. Leonard’s Church
I’m delighted to be playing a gig in my old home church; my last concert there was nearly five years ago, and my repertoire has changed quite a lot since then. I’ll be playing some traditional songs, some originals, and a couple of covers.
Admission is £6 at the door, and all the proceeds go to St. Leonard’s Church funds.
I started going to open stages about six years ago next month. For the first couple of weeks I just sat and listened while other people played and sang. Then I plucked up my courage and took a guitar along with me, and the rest, as they say, is history. Six years on, I’m deeply grateful for the wonderful community of friends I’ve developed through the Edmonton folk music community, and for the opportunity to hear great music, and play my own stuff, on a regular basis.
When I first started going out to open stages I didn’t tell a soul that I was a Christian, let alone a minister. I had this idea that I would be judged and stereotyped if people found out about my faith and my job. I don’t think my idea was altogether wrong; there are some people who just can’t see you in quite the same light after they find out that on Sunday mornings you wear a clerical collar and a robe and lead a congregation in worship. It’s all the Father Mulcahey and Elmer Gantry images and the stories about pedophile priests and so on. So, for a while, I kept quiet. I also was careful not to play any music that was clearly identifiable as ‘Christian’.
I remember when I changed my mind. We’d been going to the open stage (it was at a pub which is no longer operating on the south side of Edmonton) for I think about three or four months, when one night we had a guest visiting from New York City. He told us that he was in town for a conference about working with children (I think he worked for some sort of special needs children’s organisation), and he had come along to the pub to hear some music and maybe play some of his own. When his turn to play rolled around, he asked the host if people would be offended by hearing some bad language in his songs, and the host laughed and said, “Hey, we’re in a bar…” or words to that effect.
So this guy (I remember that his first name was Joel) got up and proceeded to sing four of the most blatantly and offensively pornographic songs I have ever heard in my life. They were not just suggestive; they were explicit descriptions, not just of sex, but of sex in which women were used and abused and objectified and so on and so on. Marci was with me that night, and she felt so sick to her stomach that she wanted to leave. As for our host, he was hard to shock, but he said to me afterwards (his head shaking), “I couldn’t believe it was actually happening – I had no idea he was going to do anything like that!”
(At one point in the twenty-minute performance Joel mentioned that he had had to take on an alias on the internet because some of the children he worked with had been finding his web site and listening to some of his songs. As one of the old guys in the bar commented, “You work with children?”)
I went home and I thought about that, and I had one of those “I will say to my soul” conversations you read about in the Psalms sometimes. I said to my soul, “Soul, you follow a master who treated women with a respect and understanding far ahead of his time – who reached out across boundaries and included the excluded in his circle of friends – who taught us to care for the poor and love our enemies and make peace. Why are you hiding this? Because you’re afraid of offending people? Joel wasn’t afraid of offending people, for crying out loud! Why should you be?”
So the next week I got up to play and I said, “Joel’s not here this week, but I want to thank him for helping me to come out of the closet. I’ve been holding back on playing any of my more overtly spiritual or Christian songs out of fear of offending people, but I figure that after last week’s performance, nobody’s going to get offended if I sing a song that mentions God or Jesus occasionally! So – here we go!”
Ever since that day, I’ve never tried to hide my faith when I’m out at open stages or gigs or chatting with my musical friends. I’m not pushy or belligerent about it, but I’m not backward about talking about it either if it seems to fit in with the conversation. I think that most people in the circle I move in know that I’m a Christian and many of them know that I’m a minister. I’ve had many wonderful, respectful conversations about spirituality and faith in which I’ve had the opportunity to express a Christian viewpoint and also to listen to other people’s viewpoints. A few people have occasionally accepted my invitation to ‘Bring a Friend’ Sundays at St. Margaret’s. As far as I know, no one in my circle (which includes atheists, agnostics, new-agers, ‘spiritual’ people, the odd Wiccan, and a few Christians) has stopped being my friend because of my faith. Some of them read my blog, and I’d be glad to be corrected if I’m wrong on that point!
I didn’t start going out to open stages as an evangelising project; I started going because I wanted to find a way to relax in the city. I wanted to play music, hear music, and make friends, and that is still my major motivation. But I also begin every day with a prayer that God would make me a blessing to the people I meet and that he would open up opportunities for me to share the good news of Jesus with others. And I’ve decided that when those opportunities come, I’m going to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and put in my two cents’ worth, with a prayer that he will use what I say to help my friends get closer to God (as I myself also want to get closer to God).
I got thinking about this because of a post over at Lesley’s place on ‘friendship evangelism‘. Lesley seems quite suspicious of the idea.
There are some churches where people are encouraged to make friends with non-Christians so that they can convert them. This is called “friendship evangelism”. At one level this might be okay – we share with our friends what is most important to us, but at another level it totally sucks – friendships are manipulated because people are seen as conversion fodder. And they eventually know it and feel slimed.
This worries me. Not that I think it describes what I do very accurately. ‘There are some churches where people are encouraged to make friends with non-Christians so that they can convert them‘. No, I didn’t make my friends with that in mind; I made friends with them because I found their music interesting and enjoyable, or because we often found ourselves sitting together at open stages. Certainly, in some cases, we’ve since had conversations about Christianity, but that was not the motivation for the friendships in the first place.
Still, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some of my friends do feel ‘slimed’ by the fact that sometimes I talk about my faith in our conversations, and (in a few cases) invite them to events at our church. If so, I hope my friends will say so in the comment section here. I can’t deny that I want to share my faith, but I’m certainly not interested in ‘sliming’ people, so if that’s what I’m doing, I want to stop.
Somehow I don’t think it is, though. Personally, I like people who know what they stand for and aren’t afraid to talk about it, especially if I can see that they are people of integrity and are good advertisements for their beliefs. If an agnostic raises questions about my faith and challenges me about some of the difficult parts, I’m not offended by that – I respect them for it and appreciate the way they prod me to think through my beliefs. I don’t assume that the entire reason they became friends with me was to try to talk me out of my Christian faith, and I certainly don’t feel I’ve been ‘slimed’ by them. So unless I hear otherwise, I think I’ll just keep on doing what I’ve been doing (along with everything else, it’s just plain fun!) and see what the Holy Spirit does with these friendships that I enjoy so much.