Thursday, 31 December 2009

End of the decade, it's nothing special...

Ten years ago there was a big palaver over the end of the millennium. This end of the horribly named noughties seems all a bit low key in comparison. Remember the worry about Y2K and the millennium bug? Everything was going to stop and chaos would reign. Seems to be going okay, so far.

Ten years ago we had a real blast in a field in Kent. Friends thought (for some reason) that it would be a good idea to hold a Millennium party in the garden in a marquee, resulting in a four course sit-down meal for eighty people. All cooked on a Aga if I recall correctly, goodness knows how they managed it. Not my department, I was a waiter. It was hard work and at about 2am I recall saying how tired I was and my daughter, then three and a half and wide awake, laughing and saying "But you're the Daddy". Because, obviously, 35 year olds could never be tired. It was a great night and I think I'll always remember it.

Ten years ago I was part of the team to take down the marquee because (for some reason) the party hosts were going skiing the following day. I say, to my shame, that a hangover rendered me pretty useless for the task.

This New Year's Eve will be much more low key... some episodes of Outumbered, a game of Risk perhaps, food for just four and watching midnight fireworks over the bay from a cottage in Devon. Very different from 1999 but it'll still be good.

Have a good one yourself; here's to 2010...

Friday, 25 December 2009

A good one

So this was Christmas...

We sang our last carols of the season this morning, the congregation a little disappointing with less than we would have most Sundays but a good time had by us I think.

After coffee and lots of friendly chat together we went our different ways. We had a couple of single elderly people back for Christmas lunch with us and it was a great experience again. Elderly man who lost his wife in '96, very witty and sparky and easy to have around. Woman of 88 (I was surprised to learn) and as sharp as a needle, funny, self-deprecating and almost embarassingly grateful to be with what she describes as "a normal family" for Christmas. Hmm, I wonder if she thinks we aren't very holy.

I took them back the long way home at about 5pm, taking in the Christmas lights and came home reflecting how such a small effort seems to have made a big difference to their day. It was far from a hardship for us. The kids enjoy it as well and it's kind of exciting to see that becoming a part of how they think things are done. These people would have been on their own otherwise and we are grateful for wise people who showed us many moons ago that this is a part of being church family together.

I hope you had a great day too and you get a decent break over the holidays.

PS - The picture is for illustrative purposes only, our dinner was much nicer. And far bigger.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

How many?

The total number of carols sung this year (barring any late changes tomorrow) has been just 50. This is less than I thought it would be but is still enough.
I am coming down slowly I put the finishing touches to tomorrow's service by listening to a vintage XTC concert from 22nd December 1980. The picture is a bit earlier than that I think as I think that is Barry Andrews on keyboards and he had left by then to be in Shriekback.
Like you care!
Anyhow, MERRY CHRISTMAS - have yourself a merry little one!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Carols by Candlelight

Well, despite the onset of carol fatigue we had a great day yesterday. The morning service was a good time, especially as we welcomed two couples into membership. One couple are already deeply into the life and work of the church but have taken some time to get to this point concerning membership. They are great people, really solid, and an encouragement ever since we got here - in fact they threw in their lot with us at the time we arrived, as did a number of other people; more than a coincidence, I feel.

The other couple are older retired folk who have been in churches all their lives. They described themselves yesterday as being comfortable when they got here but that they were less so as a result of being in the church (!) and that they had both re-dedicated their lives to God since being here. There's a good definition of effective preaching that fits - that the comfortable would be disturbed and that the disturbed would be comforted. The sermon looked at Christmas from a Child's Viewpoint and challenged us to be more like children in order to enter the kingdom. Child-like as opposed to being childish.

The evening service is perhaps our best of the year. We light dozens, perhaps hundreds, of candles and the whole thing has a wonderfully intimate feel to it. We sang favourite carols together with the best of the new ones; Underneath the Shining Star, Joy Has Dawned, and From the Squalor... and read the usual passages plus a couple from the wonderful Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. And afterwards we all came out of the service to see a light dusting of snow on everything. It was like being in a film. A good day.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Our local Ritz does a great deal on a Thursday morning where you see a film for £4-20 and get a free cup of coffee and a biscuit as well. It's a perk of having Thursdays off.

This week's offering was Nativity! I partly went because I was desperate for new Christmas talk illustrations but really enjoyed it. The previous week I had been to see the one about "The men who stare at goats" and this knocked it into a cocked hat.

If you get the chance then go - it's great fun and quite moving in a soppy sort of way. I certainly had something in my eye at one point. Will be going again next week and taking my family with me.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

(Not quite) all aboard

Today a whole lot of people from church are going on the Carol Train. A steam train makes it way up the line and at every station people get out and sing a coupel of carols, all pile back in and do it again at the next station.

I managed to shock someone from the congregation today who had dropped into the office and in parting he said, "See you tonight". His jaw literally dropped and he didn't know what to say when I told him I wasn't going. "But you...", he spluttered before being unable to finish the sentence. Because surely if there's one thing a vicar likes more than singing carols it's steam trains?

I went to a carol service last night and I have two more tomorrow. So far I have sung 32 this season. Why would I want to sing carols tonight as well?


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Joseph - a good man

Quickly trying to regain lost credibility (a scarce commodity as it is) after the last post.

I preached on "Christmas from a man's viewpoint" (idea from Hybels) last Sunday. In the course of my research I googled the phrase only to get, "Did you mean to search for: christmas from a woman's viewpoint". Says it all really. We looked at the stereotypical male who, like Jim Royle, sits in front of the TV rather than doing anything constructive to help at Christmas.

Contrasted that with Joseph who is described as being a righteous man. He was someone who left his fiance alone before they got married and then decided to do the honourable thing and go for a quiet divorce when he was devastated by the news that Mary was preggers. Also looked at him as a man who listened to God and obeyed him and someone who was fully involved in the business of raising Jesus. Amazing to think that Jesus would have learnt about God as a child from Joseph!

I then asked how we guys measure up to Joseph's qualities. Not so well I suspect. My conclusion? As a Christian I am supposed to become more and more like Jesus. I'm not sure I even look much like his earthly Dad.

The ladies loved the sermon. But next week it's their turn.

Anyhow, I only discovered this track today - too late to use in church even if it had been culturally relevant here. But it could be useful for a youth club talk on Friday. Don't know how I missed the song last year but there's a link here for those who are as out of touch as me.

Could be even better than the Wombles...

Wombling Along

Heard We Wish You A Wombling Merry Christmas in the supermarket today and, you know, it rocks! You don't believe me but listen to it on the internet and then tell me I'm wrong. If I were doing a disco this Christmas it would be one of those you slip in at the end of the night. The store followed that with ABC's All Of My Heart; I'll be going just for the playlist at this rate.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Joy Has Dawned Upon The Earth

During the season of carol singing I have a new favourite modern carol. Hardly a crowded field I know but this is a mere five years old, easy to sing and packed with good theology. Have I put you off yet? Joy Has Dawned is by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, who are responsible for much great music for today's church. Of the four verses I like the third best:

Shepherds bow before the Lamb,
Gazing at the glory;
Gifts of men from distant lands
Prophesy the story.
Gold, a King is born today,
Incense, God is with us,
Myrrh, His death will make a way,
And by His blood He'll win us.

The three gifts is a great sermon outline and I am blown away afresh by the image of the shepherds bowing before the Lamb of God.

Well worth looking out for on the internet or rediscovering if you have the live Stuart Townend double CD; it's tucked away at the end of side one.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Carol Count

I've decided to keep a count of the number of times I end up singing a carol in a service or at a meeting or gathering this year. I am only on 9 so far. What do you reckon the final score will be?
Hope you like the picture of the brother and sisters in their frocks.

Wine and Wisdom

We had our first (ever - probably) Wine and Wisdom event at church last night and I was very relieved that it went so well. Some of the guys here were very unsure about it (to put it mildly) but I feel that if we are trying to be user-friendly to people outside church then we need to take small risks like this. Afterwards people had clearly enjoyed it; no-one drank too much and everyone knew some answers.

There are a few that don't get it still. Afterwards one person said that it was a shame that there was no Scripture Round and someone else said we ought to challenge the church down the road. But lots understand that it's about trying to be a friendly entrance point into church for people who might want to come and see what we are about at other times. And those people invited friends who want to know when the next one is. Which is so cool.
It reminded me that I am working cross-culturally within my church here. Wine and Wisdom would not have been an issue in my old church but these are different people in a different place. The great thing is that while in my old church people might be a bit blaise about an event like this, for people here that embrace it they are thrilled at the liberation that they didn't realise they had and they are keen to do more. They are rethinking what the culture of the church might look like and they are getting excited about what it could look like. That's exciting for me too. Why should church be boring?
I think I need to keep working at broadening the culture of the church so that it's not so strange to outsiders and to be fair, lots and lots of people here understand and welcome that. But I also have to be careful not to be controversial for the sake of it and I need to understand why people feel the way that they do. We want and need to do the hard thing of taking the church forward together, not the easy thing of taking some of them and abandoning the rest.
I need a lot of that wisdom!

Fighting Talk

Was startled in the bath as I listened to Fighting Talk on Five Live yesterday and heard the name of a very good friend. He was being name-checked for supplying a gag for Tom Watt. Someone needs to - boom boom. No, I really like Tom, he's very funny on the show and the gag was pure Andy Chapple. Take a bow, sir! You can catch it on the listen again feature when the question is (quite early on) about sports people as trees.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Who's the Daddy?

I got a phone call yesterday asking me to play Father Christmas at short notice in school - which does nothing for my phone phobia. Lead me to wonder whether this is more motivated by my age or my carefully cultivated girth?