Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Vestry Prayer Easter 7

Son of God, eternal Saviour we come into your presence this morning/evening to bring our praise and adoration, we come asking that you would open our hearts and minds to your word as it comes to us through the words we sing, read and hear.
We pray Christ triumphant, reigning forever that you would reign in our lives as we try to follow you, bless our brother/sister as they bring your word and help us through your Holy Spirit to hear you through their words.
As we go into worship we pray that you will prepare each one present to enable them to receive from you. In the name of Jesus we ask.

Monday, 28 April 2008


I am in serious trouble and Rev George Walsh and Alex (see my last post) are talking about going on strike because I forgot to mention the very important role my son John-Mark had in enabling them to take part in the service yesterday morning. As readers will appreciate the puppets need a 'hand' to ensure they can take part and in this case the hand was provided by my son.
I hope this post will ensure that George and Alex do not join the refinery workers in Scotland!

A Less Positive Post.

I read FP's post earlier with some interest. I was present at both of the services described below (and was even the literal driving force behind Rev George Walsh and Alex) and I can't argue with how great both of those services were even though they were quite literally at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Unfortunately though both of these services still left me despondent and after reading blogs today and mulling things over I have even reached a point of mild anger. Why? Well, as FP said yesterday morning we went to Essington Wood to take part in their Sunday School anniversary. As FP has said though this was an anniversary for something that currently does not exist! The children that were present were all from or related to the choir that sang.

Last night there was a tremendous turn out to recognise the amazing achievements of three of our local preachers. Out of probably close to 300 people I was the youngest at 24. The next youngest person was probably nearly 40 and I would say that at least 85% of the congregation were over 60. As I sat looking round the congregation last night (a congregation that contained probably two thirds of the local preachers from our circuit) I stopped and asked myself what would have happened if any of the other local preachers from our circuit had gone to lead the service my dad lead in the morning.

Would the children have been the centre of the focus? I have to say I doubt it.

Would there have actually been anything in the service directed at them? Maybe, but I suspect not much.

Would the parents and the children who were there (and I suspect for 90% of the parents this was one of very few occasions they had set foot in a church) have left thinking that church is a boring, pompous place where you have to be quite and respectful and, ultimately, bored. I have to say I think they would.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that my dad is the best preacher in the world, although I do enjoy his preaching very much. And again I don't think he is the only person in the world who can communicate with kids, bring them lollipops or do something that is on their level like a puppet show. I'm not even saying that the service was wonderful just because I took part so it must have been. What I am saying though is that that service was tailored for the people who were there. It was light hearted, fun, relaxed, but still reverent and it got a message across without pushing it into peoples faces.

After experiencing these things, and looking round the blogosphere recently I can honestly say that I am disheartened. My view of Methodism has been altered and I honestly feel like I am part of a denomination of "old men" (an analogy only) who sit about complaining about how things are and disagreeing with each other. I see a denomination full of people who are willing to jump down each others throats because they hold differing opinions and often be very rude and abrasive in how they do it. I see people who are not willing to compromise or take others people views on board without taking them as personal offence. I see a group of lay workers (Local Preachers) who take upwards of 70% of the services in our circuit who would simply not know what to do if they had a group of young people in their service whether they were under 10 or under 25, and no training being offered to help them with this. I even see new Local Preachers coming onto plan who, after completing the Faith and Worship course have still really received no help in how to cater for young people as there is very little provision for this in the course at all.

I agree that I will quite happily have a moan about things, and yes that's exactly what I am doing now but the difference is that I have respect for the views of others and am more than aware that God can teach us things through encounters with those who are over sixty or under six alike. I'm ready to stop and listen to God if he puts someone or something in my path that has a message for me, whether it be a message of change or a message or reassuring and strength in my opinions.

I feel that at both of those services yesterday there was amazing sense of respect and a real presence of God. The problem is that I cannot see the two of them ever being compatible in Methodism as it is today.

There will always be people ready to jump up on either of the fence and yell about how the "other side" have got it all wrong. I appreciate both of those services yesterday for what they were, two totally different ways of expressing our praise and worship for God. The problem is that you will not bring new people into our churches if we cannot even accept each other. I respect all forms of worship that take part in our circuit and I know there were many people there last night who would have found the service a little too stayed and formal just as there would have been an even bigger number who would have thought the service yesterday morning was not even worship as they define it. I even know there were a few people there who, like me, would have enjoyed both of them. To me its the third group who have the right idea. The group that can be accepting of others opinions and even learn from them. A group who will stand up for their religion but are not so pompous, arrogant or power hungry so as not realise when God has a message for them "from the other side of the fence".

The only thing I have learnt so far from looking at these blogs is that, even more than I had realised before, we as Christians can be just as stubborn and vindictive as anyone else and until we can admit we are human and accept we are wrong with grace there will always be a fundamental problem in our churches that no amount of talking can fix. Let's get back to listening to God instead of listening to others on tender hooks ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

We are on the same side, lets act like it and then, maybe, once we have sorted our own "house" out we can actually start to invite others into it and fill the gap we so desperately need to address in our "dying churches".

FP was right, yesterday was a great day at church and I loved every minute of it. How many others would be able to have attended both of those services and honestly say the same? As I see it at the moment, far too few.

Positive Post

What a great day our family had at church yesterday in two very different services but two really good services.
For the morning service we went to Essington Wood for their 'Sunday School Anniversary' which was quite interesting in itself as they don't have a Sunday school. I was sharing the service with 'Jigsaw' and I had been sent an order of service but that is really all I knew.
It was quite funny because I had been in the vestry talking to the steward for about five minutes when he asked if I was a Local Preacher to which of course I said yes. He then said that was a good job then because the bloke taking the service hadn't arrived yet. I pointed out I was the preacher and we had a good laugh about it.
The service was really good, there was a pretty full house with a wide age range - even a teenager and 'Jigsaw' were a bunch of 15 children from another church who sang exceptionally well given the fact most of them were probably under 10. I heard evry word an thoroughly enjoyed their contribution. The Reverend George Walsh (puppet) and Alex (teenage puppet with bright red hair) was also there and Alex assisted me with telling the story of David and Goliath much to the enjoyment of the children of all ages (grown ups as well). I think there were one or two people in the congregation who were surprised how much fun they had as we all know church is boring don't we?

The second service while being very different was no less enjoyable and this took place at Central Hall where I had the privilege of leading a service of recognition and thanksgiving for three of our local preachers who had attained long service as preachers. The church was full and we had hymns by Wesley (And can it be, and Give me the Faith which can remove) Fred Pratt Green (The Church of Christ) Isaac Watts (When I survey to the tune Morte Christo) And Frances Jane Van Alstyne or Fanny J Crosby (To God be the Glory). We also had Gwahoddiad sung by the Shelfield Male Voice Choir and when they sang Morte Christi one of the preachers we were recognising was invited to join with them.
Certificates were presented to Fran Harper (60 years) Gilbert Rowley (50 years) and the late Mike Jackson's wife Pam received a certificate to mark Mike's almost forty years.
There was a real air of celebration as a very full church sang the hymns ably assisted by the Shelfield Choir and I think it would be true to say a good time was had by all.
Who says Methodism is dead? Yesterday I experienced two examples of it being very much alive! Praise the Lord!!!!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Yob Culture

Whilst helping to set the church up for the social event we are having tonight (Beetle and Chips, Don't ask!), the treasurer, his wife and myself got talking about the yob culture that seems to be gripping our nation.

I had a walk down to our local "purveyor of hamburgers under a golden arch" on Wednesday evening and on the way to the retail park I had to cross an open grassed area that is notorious for young people congregating. As I started to walk across the area I noticed three young men sitting on the wall of the raised flower bed in the centre of the area. They spotted me, said something to each other and started walking towards me. Preparing myself for some sort of altercation I raised my head high and stared at them as they approached. As they got a little closer they appeared to say something to each other, take another glance at me and then turn round and walk off in the opposite direction. I have no doubt that their intention was to cause some sort of trouble and it was only after they saw my size and my defying glare that they thought better of their intended course of action. Am I being unfair to them and maybe they just changed their mind about where they wanted to go? Perhaps, but then this isn't the first time I have been accosted in this manor and I am fortunate that the last time it happened I was in a particularly bad mood and the three young men who stopped me that time ended up feeling much the worse for wear. In any case whatever their intentions I think even the fact that I assumed this of these young men shows how we are affected by the increase in violence that plagues or society today.

Yesterday I had a doctors appointment and when I went to our local bus stop to catch the bus I found the window of the bus shelter their smashed. The information board with timetable and such sits on this window and this has obviously been damaged too. On boarding the bus and setting off I was even more horrified to find that the next shelter on the route had received the same treatment. There must have been close to a thousand pounds worth of damage done. Both of these shelters are on a main road with houses lining both sides of the street. Did anyone see anything? Probably so, but would they say if they had? Probably not through fear.

On our way to pick my girlfriend up from the railway station yesterday in the car with my family we were driving down another very busy road in town and three young boys, probably no older than 11 or 12 , threw a stone at the car as we passed them on the side of the road. I told my Dad to stop the car and gave pursuit but due to the time it took us to stop from around 45 mph and them scampering down the canal side they had too much of a head start for me to catch them, but they certainly looked worried hen they saw me begin to give chase.

These are simple examples of a culture that seems to be heading more and more towards violence as a way of life. There is no respect any more for either people, their possessions, or even the law. If I had caught those young boys yesterday, what could I have done? Nothing basically without fear of being arrested for assault or similar. If I had seen the people who broke the shelters what could we have done then? Rang the police? Would they have been able to attend before the culprits ran off? I'm not knocking the police as I think they have a very difficult job to do requiring more patience than I think I could muster but it is an unfortunate fact (and one that really proves my point) that a smashed bus shelter is really probably pretty low on their list of priorities when there are so many other, often very violent crimes to deal with. If I had confronted those young men who seemed to be heading to accost me would I have found myself facing a knife or even worse. Would I have been accosted the next time I walked that route but by a much larger group?

I know all these things sound like moaning and worrying abut things that haven't happened and many of you may even think I'm being unrealistic. The fact of the matter is I'm not. These things do happen, and worse, and we have to accept they do. The question is how do we reply to them as Christians. This is a subject I find amazingly difficult and some might even say the last time I was accosted I was wrong to stand and fight.

From my perspective the decline in Christianity is closely linked with the incline in crime and the lack of respect. Children who are bought up in Christian families get taught what is right and wrong and to have a respect for others and the law. There can be no doubt that we need to increase the numbers who attend worship to save our "dying church" but maybe even more to the point is that we need to do it to save out dying country.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Long service awards

We have a double celebration in Walsall this Sunday Evening (27th) when we will be recognising the long service of two of our Local Preachers. The service will take place at the Central Hall at 6-30p.m. and we will celebrate 60 years on plan of Fran Harper and 50 years of Gilbert Rowley. The service will also have items by the Shelfield Male Voice Choir and will be followed by tea and coffee. If you are doing nothing Sunday evening please feel free to come and join us.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Repent Ye Sinners!

Whilst walking through town on Saturday I encountered one of a number of very interesting fellows who seem to think that professing their faith means to yell very loudly about damnation whilst giving out little leaflets that warn of the dangers of sin. He had quite a large area of empty space around him as people made moves, in some cases akin to an Olympic gymnast, in order to avoid "getting caught". I was with my girlfriend at the time and as these sorts of things don't really bother me I ploughed on straight past the young man, and also past a small board he erected with sentiments such as "religion will not save you", "repent or go to hell" and "the wages of sin are death" emblasoned across it. As we neared the board and were about to walk past it he seemed to get very nervous and ran towards us saying "don't touch, don't touch." I took a deliberate step to the side, away from the man's board and continued on my way leaving the gentleman to continue his solitary test of his lung capacity.

Now, of course I realise that to ridicule this man would be very hypocritical of me after I professed in my last blog that it shouldn't matter how you praise as long as it heartfelt praise, and therefore I wont. But, I will say, that just because I don't necessarily agree with what this man was saying doesn't mean that he still didn't have a message for me.

The message: Maybe he has the right idea.

How often as a church do we step out in faith as that man does to go out and profess our religion? I'm not talking about us all converging on our local town centre to litter the streets with discarded tracts but rather, stepping out into our communities to show people we are actually still there. We support Christian Aid in our church and it is coming round to the time of year when our treasurer will be asking for volunteers to help him give out and collect the envelopes. As I helped to collect these envelopes last year it amazed me how many people wanted to stop to chat on the door step and the number of "It's good to see you"'s we got on the way.

Now I know a lot of churches have a great prominent place in their communities with Mother and Toddler groups, Prayer meetings and even soup kitchens all playing vital roles but, is this enough and are there enough of them? Do we, as Christians, do enough shouting for our faith?

If I was a male Sikh then every time I stepped out of my front door I would be professing my faith simply by wearing my turban or any other of the 5 k's. How often do we as Christians leave our religion till a third or fourth meeting before it comes up in conversation? And no, I'm not saying we should be accosting people we meet with a barrage of "do you know the Lord as your personal saviour" but, maybe as a church we need to step out more in the faith.

The discussion about the missing generation in our church is still as heated as it was when it started up on MP's blog last week and maybe this is part of the answer. Maybe as a church we need to accept that even if we make a radical change in our thinking (as I suggested in a comment on MP's latest blog) maybe this will still not be enough.

Lets take a leaf out of that man I saw in town's book and step out in faith. Let's take the good news we know we have into the streets and meet people on their level in their lives. How many of our churches have ladies who are great at baking, flower arranging, knitting. Why aren't we in town professing out faith by selling Aunt Bessie's fruit cake, Doris' flower arrangements or Ethel's jumpers? Yes, I know this might sound a bit twee but there must be so many things as a church we could be doing to raise our profile in our local communities and show people that being a Christian isn't a case of people eternally yelling at you about how bad you are, which, for a lot of people is the only contact they get with Christianity when they pass people in town as I did on Saturday.

Come on Church, lets show the world just how fun and life changing being a Christian can be, and sometimes you even get a bit of cake too!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Lost Generations!

Methodist Preacher has another challenging post on his blog and it made me think of my first foray into Methodism in the early 1980's. I cam in through the witness of a young lad who kept inviting me to go and hear a gospel rock band called Blazing Apostles. I eventually went along and then accepted a further invitation to go to the youth group at his church. This youth group had about 60 young people who were very much into contemporary worship and interested in the charismatic side of the church. Most of them had read 'Nine O'clock in the Morning' by Denis Bennett which was an incredible story of his awakening to the working of the Holy Spirit. In one meeting there was a message in tongues but before there could be an interpretation the visiting minister who I suppose either did not understand what had gone on or didn't want to rushed on to the next thing on the programme and the moment was lost. One of the girls from the youth group was almost physically sick because she said she really felt that she had the interpretation.
Going on from this point I attended synod and on my first visit to it got elected to go to conference in 1982 - at the time I was out of work and at some points in the week I really fumed as people in very expensive suits with posh accents pontificated on the topic of unemployment and I have to say I doubt if any of them had ever been without a job or struggled to make ends meet, or if they had it had been a long time away. I did at one point say to the minister I sat with for most of the week that I was incensed by these people - he suggested I should go to the podium and say something but of course as someone in their mid twenties attending such a huge event I did not have the courage to do so. If I were attending now I would have no hesitation but then I looked at all these posh people who appeared far superior to an ordinary working class Black Country lad and bottled out.
Having had this experience I can understand much of what MP is saying in his post about the lost generation - there are only a handful of that 60 or so young people who still have any connection with the church, Methodist or otherwise and it really is a great shame as there was a great deal of potential among these young people if they had been nurtured and allowed to develop without the strait jacket approach that seemed to prevail.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Odd Sinners!

I have been to synod today and my daughter asked once what synod was I told her it was a place for 'Odd Sinners'.
It was interesting in that we had a presentation about communicating from an advertising executive and after lunch we had some workshops where we looked at what we do now and how we might do something new to communicate. There were lots of excellent ideas.
We also agreed to send a resolution to conference after much discussion about the wording of the resolution it was agreed. It struck me that the important thing was the spirit of the resolution and we got bogged down in looking at the wording of what I thought was a pretty good resolution.
We agreed to ask conference to look at ways we might work more closely with our United Reform brothers and sisters.
As I am still new to synod I am not sure if Dave Faulkner is right about it being a chance for people to meet old friends or whether the loudest voices win the day but there were one or two who spoke quite forcefully on matters.
The synod ended with a singing group from Moors Methodist Church who surprised me by singing You Raise me up and two other sings before our retiring training person (Charles Worth) said some excellent words to encourage us.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Can I get an "AMEN" brothers and sisters!

When speaking to the Treasurer of our Methodist church whilst working on the allotment on Monday, he happened to mention that our minister was helping to oversee the funeral of an Afro-Caribbean lady at another one of the Methodist churches in our circuit. The PA equipment at this particular church isn't very good and the treasurer had been to help out at another funeral held there by setting up his own PA so that testimonials could be given from the floor of the church instead of using the old fashioned raised pulpit (daunting for many a local preacher never mind a bereaved family member!). Unfortunately the treasurer had another appointment to go to today but he asked if I felt I could go and set up the equipment and check everything ran OK. Of course I said I would and I have to say I'm very glad that I did!

The funeral was for an elderly Afro-Caribbean lady and when I arrived at the church to set up the equipment at about 12.15 there were already probably close to 50 people in the church for a 1 o'clock service. As you can imagine the number grew and grew, and more chairs were brought out and, in the end, when the funeral party arrived, there were probably close to 250 people in the church. An amazing sight in a church that I have only ever attended when there has been a maximum of fifty people present.

Our Methodist minister led the funeral procession into the church and then after a short welcome passed the service over to one of the three Bishops who were to oversee the proceedings. I have no idea from which denomination the three Bishops came but in the course of the service it became apparent that there were at least three others present and 2 of them even took part. The service ran almost self contained with people simply following "the programme" and standing to give their relevant reading, testimonial, song or poem at the allotted time.

In the course of the proceeding it became very apparent that one of the Grandchildren of the deceased has obviously felt the day would be easier to cope with under the sedation of what I would imagine would have been quite a substantial amount of Alcohol. He came in and out of the building two or three times and even gave an unannounced rendition of a song he said his Grandmother loved, apparently with some difficulty as splitting his concentration between standing upright and singing seemed to be causing him some difficulties.

I am of course in no way ridiculing this young man, or his actions. Dealing with the death of a loved one, and especially someone who is the pillar of a very tight knit family of 6 children, 21 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild and numerous nieces and nephews, as this lady was, is a task that is unspeakably difficult. My point though is that the service went on totally as though this hadn't happened, there was a feeling of the presence of God in the room and indeed there was a real sense of rejoicing for the life of one who has passed and the joy and love she had given whilst alive.

The service continued to move into realms which I had never experienced before as the lid was removed form the casket and the family all went to pay their respects to the loved one they had lost. One of the daughters of the deceased lady sang an unaccompanied gospel hymn as this happened and was joined by a self professed "rastafarian Christian" who proceeded to call out that God was in the place, that he could feel the spirit of the Lord with him and whilst he was a rastafarian he was also a Christian.

Again I must stress that I am in no way making fun of what went on at this funeral. Although what happened there was totally outside of my realms of experience there was still a feeling of respect for the dead and a real sense of joy at the life she had led.

This got me thinking as I walked home that I consider myself to have gone through the denominational mill a little. I have experienced a very solemn Anglican communion and have passed through the waters of full immersion baptism stopping off at speaking in tongues along the way. I considered myself to have seen most of the ways we as humans can worship God from chanting in Taize to expressive dance at my local Anglican youth service and yet the funeral service of that lady today has stopped me in my tracks. I experienced a totally new form of worship today and if I was told about what had gone on I have to say I might have been forced to titter a little and think it all sounded a bit strange and "far out". But, being in that service, I can truly say that although some parts of the proceeding were amusing, they were only amusing in that it was joyful amusement in celebration of a loving soul that had passed on.

How easily as Christians can we fall into the trap of thinking that our way is the "only" or the "right" way? How easily can we shun the practices of those we feel to be members of "Fringe" denominations? Even within our own denomination and very often (in the case of Methodism) districts, circuits and even churches, differences in how we approach worship can cause rifts that are so difficult to heal or bridge. And then, to consider those of other denominations or faiths when we find accepting the practices of some of those in our own church to be "not the way it should be done", is this really a Christian Attitude?

"Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself"

What does this mean to us, day to day as we encounter people and try to show Gods love through our actions towards them. Are we really as accepting as we should be as Christians of those whose views differ from ours or do we fall into the category of those who invoke Gods name to support our blinkered and unwavering views? Does our religion become more important than our faith?I honestly felt that I was very accepting of the views of others and adopted the approach of whatever way you want to praise, does it really matter as long as it is heart felt praise. The service today has made me move my goal posts a little on the playing field of how we express our love for God, my only hope is that my goal posts are not the only ones that are so easily moved.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Where have all the young folk gone?

Sounds like a folk song from when I was much younger but it is an interesting question that is being discussed over on Methodist Preacher and Son of the Prophet has given some useful input which made me think of something that had happened around 27 years ago.
The church I was attending at the time had a church anniversary weekend each year which started on Saturday with a concert and then a special speaker on the Sunday (usually a former minister or some dignitary) and then a tea and a rally on Monday evening at which the preacher from Sunday would speak. Part of the rally on the Monday would include the bringing of the gifts from the various organisations. The process for this was that each organisation would come up and put an envelope on a silver salver with the amount of their gift written on it. The person receiving the gift (the most senior local preacher on the plan) would then announce the name of the organisation and the amount they had given and the congregation/audience would clap. Inevitably the bigger amounts got the biggest clap and yet I always thought the brownies may have worked much harder to get their few pounds than the Christmas Fayre committee had to get their megabucks.
In the youth meeting a few days later the sixty or so of us who were there discussed this process and the general consensus was that it was like a lottery and we were very concerned about the level of clapping which seemed to be linked very much to the amounts given, Bigger amounts getting the louder claps and smaller getting quieter.
It was not long after that we had a church council meeting and as I was a representative on this I decided to stick my head above the parapet and raise the issue of the gift process. Was I a silly boy? How dare I challenge the process? I did try very hard to put forward the view of the young people that this event seemed like a lottery and was in our mind like the moneylenders etc in the temple prior to Jesus ejecting them. I then dared to ask why it was necessary to do it like this and then came those words which I believe are the 6 last words of a dying church 'We've always done it this way!' and of course that was the end of the discussion and I believe the beginning of the end for the youth group as people started to go to other churches.
Why is it that those words seem to be brought into play whenever anyone dares to challenge the status quo? Surely we should examine what we do from time to time, look at what we are doing and whether it is glorifying to God. Perhaps the introduction of annual reports will help us to focus and yes it may we develop a corporate plan for our local churches which will give us some aims and objectives for the next however many years. the business I work in has just brought out it's plan for the next three years.
There should as well I believe be room for some compromise from both sides - perhaps in this case a slight shift, perhaps not calling out the amounts but just the organisations and then announcing the total at the end of the evening would have enabled the older folk to keep the recognition of each organisation and let the younger folk see the removal of the lottery feeling. Who knows what might have happened if it had not been for those words - 'WE'VE ALWAYS DONE IT THIS WAY!'

The Lost Chord

As I am sure avid readers of fp's blog will know this Sunday evening is the monthly joint service between the Methodist church we attend and the local Anglican church. The Anglican church has recently had a new vicar take her place at the helm and in the services we shared together over the Easter period it seemed that the great relationship we have will continue to grow and get stronger.

One of the "quirks" of the last vicar was that although the monthly joint services are "run" and organised by the Methodists one month and the Anglicans the next, the little music group from the Methodist church (Piano:FP, Bass: Son of FP, guitar:Methodist church treasurer) would always play for the services and in fact would always choose the hymns, even if we had no idea what the topic of the service would be if the Anglicans were organising the service.

Whether it be due to the standing tradition being passed onto the new vicar, or maybe the hope that if we pick the hymns they might actually be ones we can play reasonably well, it seems that the new vicar wishes this to continue and we have been asked to pick the hymns for this coming Sunday evening even though it is an "Anglican" service.

Whilst we obviously have no problem at all with picking the hymns it did get me thinking, as I have a lot quite recently, about how so often we can miss out on just how effective a tool music can be in our acts of worship.

As fp mentioned in one of his posts, at the last evening service we had at the methodist church I led the prayers and we centered our thoughts around the Michael Card song El Shaddai, and particularly the lines "to the outcast on her knees, he is the good who really sees, and by his might he sets his children free." There was a real atmosphere that was created by just listening to the song and having the space to center our thoughts on those we felt really needed our prayers and needed to be "set free" from something, whether it be illness, loneliness, or even oppression and potential war as in the case of Zimbabwe. The atmosphere led to one of the members of the congregation speaking in tongues and there being an interpretation of the message given, something I have never experienced before in a Methodist church.

In the morning service that week the preacher who came to our church taught the congregation 2 new, more modern worship songs, although one of them was based around Amazing Grace with a chorus added that I had never heard before. The preacher had a run through of both of these songs before the service as fp was playing the organ and the preacher was leading from the front and playing guitar. After hearing them I asked the preacher if he would like me to add a bit of bass to the proceedings as I has my bass and amp in the car and he great fully accepted. I can honestly say that playing in that service was a truly spiritual experience for me and I am glad that I can use my God given talent to give glory back to God. It also made me chuckle that an acoustic guitar, an electric bass, and a church organ could create such an effective trio in leading those songs, the organ adding a real gospel feel to Amazing Grace that I found almost sublime. Who says that the old and the new are incompatible!!

So, why the lost chord? Well, I have to say that I so often find that preachers and worship leaders can brush over hymns and see them as almost a lesser part in their organising of a service. When the group that organises the acts of evening worship at our church get together to plan the service we very often spend longer picking hymns than any other part of the service.

Hymns and worship songs can be such an inspirational way to give our glory to God. The words and sentiments expressed in many hymns and songs are stunningly beautiful and potent and the emotion that can be created from a church really reaching up to sing out its glory to God can be something totally inspiring to be a part of. And yet, moments of softness and a real intimacy with God can easily be created with just the right music as well. The recent evening service still brings a feeling of God being close with me when I think back to that time of prayer. Sitting with 7 thousand other young people (and probaly quite a few not so young) in the church at Taize and repeating a simple chant as we sat with candles at the foot of a large wooden cross in the center of the church remains one of the life changing moments in my spiritual journey.

I know I may be biased as being a trombone and bass player means that music has always been a large part of my life but I feel I must say that maybe some preachers and worship leaders should be paying more attention to an act that often takes up nearly a third of services and can be just as effective a tool in worshiping God as a well written sermon or stunningly potent and meaningful prayers.

So, a plea, lets take our worship up a key by giving music the space it so often deserves and nearly as often does not receive.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Is there room on blogger for fat prophet and his equally well proportioned son?

After much playful ridicule over fat prophets delight at posting on blogger and his euphoria at receiving replies to said posts, son of the prophet earnestly proclaimed that "that sad old lark isn't for me!". The problem with making comments like that is that those are always the ones that seem to get turned on their head, and, low and behold, here I am posting my first post (and hoping my blogging lingo is up to speed!?).

I often sit downstairs in our family home, watching the five minutes of programming and fifty five minutes of adverts that sky schedulers seem to be able to squeeze into an hour, or reading the daily paper, when a gentle warble comes from the direction of the pc and I turn to find fat prophet quietly chuckling to himself. "What are you laughing at?" I ask, and of course the reply is normally "Someone replied to my blog" and off we go on a tour of the original post and all replies to it with a gleeful expression spreading not only over fat prophets face but slowly mine as well.

My point, other than to embaress fat prophet (As all good sons must), is that I find it wonderful that as Christians simply discussing topics, often really in a very brief way, and putting forward our opinions can serve to enlighten, uplift, affirm, challenge and even entertain others who read those blogs. Simple conversation can be such an important tool for any Christian to employ and the passing "How are you?" or "You look well!" can so often make such a big difference, never mind the more in depth examination that often goes on here!!

I come form a home where, whilst I was always brought up as a Christian, I was never spoon fed my religion. I was challenged to ask questions and to delve into subjects, to not take things on face value and to always seek for a deeper meaning to things. This continues to this day and my father and I will often sit and debate issues, often challenging each others views, just as we did today with the issue of father Charles.

I wont comment on what I feel about the issue as my views are very similar to those of fat prophet, what I will say though is that I'm glad that as Christians we can learn form each other, talk about some of life's most challenging questions, and still come out smiling and blessed from the experience. Oh how much better a place the world would be if everybody could do the same.

Coming Soon!!

Latest news is that there will be a new contributor to this blog soon! Watch out for 'Son of the Prophet' who will be bringing a younger viewpoint to this blog!

trouble at mill

Well not quite but it may be an expression that fits reasonably well. Driving back from Aldershot today I heard an item on the radio about a Vicar who has told people who do not live in the parish or worship at the church regularly that they could not marry there or have children baptised. A member of the church came on and from what he said it seems the issue was more about the fact that the Rector Father Charles was too high church for some of the congregation and the media seem to have caught on to the wedding/baptism issue. It is of course perfectly right for the Rector to do this as it is both the law of the land and the Church of England according to the commentators.
This item did lead to a discussion between my son and myself about the issue of baptism which is something I struggle with. I find it very difficult when people come along to church and ask to have their child baptised but have never been in the church and are unlikely to ever return but of course 'Great Auntie Maude used to be a member here' is the logic they apply. I have raised this issue before and of course I often get the response that it might encourage the family to come to church - it's a big might of course because in my experience no one ever has. I also find it difficult that people come and make the promises using the words 'With God's help we will' when in most cases they have no more intention of doing so than I have of flying to the moon.
I suppose too it is a bit like funerals - we had one at our church recently where the family said that the lady had been a lifelong member of the church and the minister waived the fees - trouble was no one at the church even those who had been coming for over 60 years had ever heard of this lady. We ended up thinking she may have been from the local Anglican church but we will probably never know.
We don't get many weddings so that is not a problem for us unlike the Vicar in the radio story whose church is very pretty and is in high demand - I do wonder if the Vicar was doing 7 or 8 weddings every Saturday what would happen to the rest of his ministry?
It really is a pity though that the media seem to have latched on to just one thing and blown it up out of all proportion - I say well done father Charles!!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

New Look

I have been trying to work out a way to collect all the vestry prayers I post into one spot as suggested by Methodist Preacher and rediscovered the page with the templates on for blogs - I decided it might be a good idea to look through them and found this one which really appealed to me so I have changed it. Hope readers will like it.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Vestry Prayer Easter 6

Heavenly Father we have come into your presence with a desire to worship you and to bring our praise and adoration to you the king of kings and Lord of lords.
We ask that you would help us Lord through your Holy Spirit, to worship you freely and in spirit and in truth.
Bless our brother/sister N... as they share you word with us and enable us to be open to your word.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen

Vestry Prayer Easter 5

Lord God as we gather today in fellowship, we are reminded that you sent your Son to be the way, the truth and the life. In our worship today may it be that we will hear you speak to us through the words we sing and read together, and through the words of your servant N... as they bring your word to us.
To you O God be all glory honour and praise.

Vestry Prayer Easter 4

Loving shepherd we come into your house today mindful of the way you provide and care for us like the shepherd of old. Help and guide us as we worship you today, enable our brother/sister N... to lead us and bring your word to a hungry flock. Help us to hear the voice of the shepherd in all that is said, sung and done in our time of worship and lead us into the coming week refreshed because we have been with you beside the still waters.
We ask all these things in the name of Jesus our shepherd, priest and king.

Vestry Prayer

I had an email the other day from someone asking me what happened to my idea of posting prayers for use in the vestry each week. The simple answer was there was no feedback so I thought people weren't interested and perhaps it was something there was not really any need for, although lots of vestry's I go in to have various old vestry prayer books in use.
I have had a think about this and decided to give it another go so in a little while I will post prayers for the remainder of this month and hope that someone out there will find them a useful tool.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

English Out?

Over at Connexions there is a post about some graffiti in Welsh and a discussion of what it might or might not mean and the old thought about people in Wales starting to speak in Welsh as soon as someone English comes along (how do they know who is English?).
I want to put another side to this thinking and share my experience of some wonderful Welsh people.
For a number of years now I have been involved with a beach mission in Borth during the summer months and about three years ago the Catholic church where we used to have our indoor events closed quite suddenly. This presented us with a problem until a friend put us in touch with the folk at the Welsh Chapel (Gerlan) who we approached about using their premises. They were happy for us to do this and we moved the indoor events there and decided that on the Sunday we would attend worship at the chapel - remember it is a 'Welsh' chapel. When we walked in (8 of us) there was what may have been called a sharp intake of breath as they realised that here were 8 English visitors. There was a hurried conversation between a gentleman who we later found was the pastor and two ladies (the organist and one of the elders) followed by a hurried change of numbers on the hymn board. The service commenced with the pastor welcoming people in English and then in Welsh and the whole service continued in a bilingual way including the sermon. The changes to the hymn board were to bring in two hymns in English while the remainder were in Welsh and the last hymn was 'What a friend we have in Jesus' which was sung both in English and Welsh.
Our experience was and is very positive as we have returned there three years running and on each occasion they have changed the service to accommodate the English.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Breakfast on the beach

That was the title of our Service this morning at Pleck when we looked at the appearance of Jesus to the disciples when they were out fishing. The preacher was a visiting preacher who used the church set out for cafe style worship and broke for refreshments in the middle. He also taught us two new songs as well as using some better known Easter hymns like Now the green blades rises and Low in the grave He lay.
This evening it was 'Praise and Worship' at Pleck which is a fairly laid back service led by the worship leaders and others. We used the data projector and showed some paintings from the Methodist Art Collection and discussed what we saw in the pictures. It was a very interesting service with some good comments made on the pictures. For our prayer time we listened to a recording of Michael Card singing his song 'El Shaddai'and were encouraged to focus on the line 'To the outcast on her knees you were the God who really sees, and by your might you set your children free'. There was also a message in tongues and an interpretation in a service that lasted almost 90 minutes and yet everyone seemed quite happy and in fact after the benediction the organist played 'El Shaddai' quietly and no one moved until he had finished. A great day in the presence of God and certainly a spiritual fill up.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Surprise, surprise!

No not the Cilla Black TV programme! It is my surprise following the installation of the new visitor counter. I realise that I am not among the big players from the perspective of the number of visitors unlike Octomusings (Olive Morgan) and Methodist Preacher and Dave Faulkner and others and yet I am amazed that folk from four continents have at least visited my blog once. I note there is Europe (UK), America, Australia and Africa (South Africa) so it would seem I have gone international so to speak. Only need Asia for the full set!
I must try to blog more often as I have been a bit slow recently and I have just received some work to mark for Faith and Worship (12 peoples submissions) so may be a bit busy, but may make some comments about the work I have been marking (No names though).