Wednesday, 23 December 2009

48 hours to go...

Not long now before the Christmas morning service and then the opportunity to pull up the drawbridge and hibernate for a few days!

Christmas has been the all consuming focus of the last week or so in a variety of forms.

Our Christmas Dinner to raise money for 'Crisis at Christmas' was a great success. Over 40 diners tucked into traditional fayre of turkey and roast potatoes, pudding and custard and we raised £225 for a very worthy cause.

The local primary school chose to gather around the bandstand for their Carol Service this year which was a great community event and of course the children sang out the carols with great enthusiasm.

With an assignment to turn in I took a day to visit London, have lunch at Bloomsbury with the Tuesday gang, visit the college and also get a haircut (cheaper at Mr Toppers than anywhere here in town).

The end of last week saw much of the country grind to a halt because of snow but our little corner of England appeared to have missed out until early on Saturday morning when several inches of snow covered roads and houses to create the popular Victorian Christmas card scene.

Up early as usual I had completed two large and almost a dozen small 'gatepost' snowmen before the neighbours in the road threw back their curtains. The grandchildren staying at No. 6 and little Lily at No. 4 came out to lend a hand and very soon nearly every house in the road had its seasonal decoration.

Treacherous, icy roads and pavements prevented all but the faithful and perseverent worshippers joining us for our All-Age Nativity service on Sunday morning but we were able to assemble a living tableaux with all the necessary characters - Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Angels, Wisemen and of course a doll in the crib.

To the twinkling of candles over 70 young and old brave souls slipped and slided their way into church for our Carol Service and each left glowing in the darkness with their glowstick gift in hand.

Our shut-ins have not been forgotten each getting a visit with the gift of a plant and the opportunity to have Communion if they desired.

We have also turned our thoughts to others by dedicating our Christmas collections to the work of the London City Mission which to-date exceed £200.

Christmas Eve sees us experiment with an 'It's nearly Christmas' service for families at 7pm and we of course will celebrate together on Christmas morning. (I hope to make the Midnight Service at the Parish Church too.)

As the snow melts away there will be little to prevent folk coming to celebrate Christ's birth with us. We've delivered over 1000 invites to local homes. Who will come we don't know but we are expectant...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Ssshh! It's nearly Christmas.

The word on the street is that Christmas is coming...
As I gaze across the street the bungalow twinkles with fairy lights from its roof and a flashing santa in the window. For my part the artificial tree in the porch is adorned with a small set of lights that cost 97p from the hardware store and my lovely black borbel that says 'I hate Christmas'.
The church on the other hand is getting very festive. The sanctuary windows are now all filled with Poinsettia plants, candles are ready for next week's Candlelight Carol Service and the hall is laid out ready for our Christmas Dinner tomoorow night when we have 42 diners booked to enjoy festive fare and help us raise money for 'Crisis'.
College is finished for the Christmas break although I plan to spend sometime in the library next Tuesday as part of a London day which includes Christmas lunch at Bloomsbury, a much needed haircut at Mr Toppers and some retail therapy.
Last Tuesday offered an opportunity to join friends at Bloomsbury for their annual Carol sing under the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square with members of Crown Court Church of Scotland. For me this kick starts the 'official' start of Christmas celebrations or at least forces me to engage with the reality of the season gathering pace around me.
Here in Walmer we continue our Advent journey both on Sundays and at our studies on Thursdays exploring the theme of 'Advent Angels'.
We have delivered over 1000 invitations to our Christmas services and activities to local residents and hope some may join us over the coming weeks as we celebrate Christ's birth.
Monday sees an open-air Carol Service led by the local school for parents, children and friends at the Bandstand. It promises to be a cold, dark night - even possibly snowing - so we will need to wrap up warm to share our Christmas cheer.
A round of Christmas Communions to our shut-ins is on the agenda too for next week along with the necessary preparations for our all-age Nativity next Sunday morning and the need to find readers for the Carol Service.
As the gritter lorry passes by my window I'm prompted to think that there may be some truth in the rumour that snow is on it way but for certain Christmas is coming and I think I'm ready.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Blogging on the train again...

Now the London side of the Kent Coast line tunnels there's a window of opportunity to update the blog before the long tunnel under the Downs at Sevenoaks, so here goes...

It has been a different week having had two reflection days at college in place of the usual lectures. Monday afforded the opportunity to finalise another assignment for the Introduction to the Bible module which is now in my case ready to hand in tomorrow (a week ahead of the deadline!). Tuesday saw a structured retreat day led by Rev Ian Stackhouse of Guildford Baptist Church. These two days were punctuated by dinner at the Walters' - my London hosts - in the company of three of their friends and Will. (Will had been Bloomsbury's summer intern from the US and it was good to see him again as he spent Thanksgiving in the UK.)

Returning to Walmer we met in Church Meeting on Wednesday which was a positive time both dealing with the business of the church and also spending time refelcting on the first 'few' weeks of my Pastorate. It was very encouraging that in our though shower exercise the list of positives grew and grew on the flipchart pad whilst no-one could come up with a negastive and so we changed 'negatives' for 'aspirations' and then were able to come up with a number of suggestions.

Thursday saw a visit to one of our oldest members now confined to bed in a care home in Broadstairs. Although she may not have fully comprehended who I was or why I was visiting, she did seem pleased to have had a visit and it was good to report to the church she was OK.

Friday heralded a visit from my Spurgeons Field Placement Tutor and my Supervisor to check all was progressing well. We had a good session and hopefully another round of boxes have been ticked as the Ministerial training process continues. The day ended with time spent decorating the church for Advent before Friday Night Pizza.

Saturday saw a modest indulgance with a shopping expedition to Canterbury the nearest one can get to anything like my London retail experiences although it must be noted that on this occasion no further additions to my wardrobe were added.

Sunday, dodging hail and torrential rain to get next door to the church, saw the official beginning of Advent with the lighting of teh first candle on our advent wreath. The sermon took the form of a period of 'waiting' as we watched images on the screen of a variety of people and situations where individuals were waiting and thus reminding us that we too need to wait - wait upon God.

Monday, 23 November 2009

That was the week that was!

Last week was a hectic week which kept me away from Walmer for 4 days. The usual two study days at Spurgeon's were followed back to back with two days at Didcot to learn the inner workings of Baptist House.
A three line whip was in place for all first year BU students at the Baptist College's in South Wales, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford and London which brought together a group of around 75 ministerial candidates.
It proved a revelation that a number of the group had very limited knowledge of the way both the Union and BMS operated and the benefits that both coudl offer to churches in supporting ministry in our Baptist Churches.
The BUGB day afforded the opportunity to publically praise Graham Sparkes and his team in the Faith & Unity department for all their work especially raising public issue debates and prompting Baptist responses. It was also good to ask whether the annual Assembly format might be looked at to increase grass root participation from local churches.
BMS World Mission offered slick and 21st century presentations including two live link-ups with Missionaries in the field.
David Kerrigan did not warm to the question as to whether our 'Baptist' identity might be asserted more overtly in the mission societies title.
Many of the group noted with regret that the hospitality offered by BUGB departmental staff was almost exclusively confectionery - none of it Fairtrade - and much of it be Nestle. Not a very ethical witness!
Returning home it was good to find the local paper had chosen to report our Armistice Day remembrance in the town's cemetery and also included a photo of our recent presentation of Bibles to 60 pupils at our local school in partnership with our Anglican neighbours.
Our Advent and Christmas cards are now available for distribution and hopefully will be well used by the congregation to communicate with our community what we have planned for the next few weeks.
We rounded of the church year with Christ the King Sunday and a sermon prefaced with the National Anthem being played - it was fun to see the 'Mexican wave' ripple across the pews as the congregation responded and stood.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Between Lunch and Lectures

Catching five minutes of relative quiet between lunch and the start of aftrenoon lectures it seems a good time to post an update on the blog.

After the storms that blew across the south of England at the weekend it is good to be still for a few moments.

Looking back to last week, it was good to mark the two minutes silence on Armistice Day at the graveside of Pte William Bennet buried in our local cemetery after drowning at the sinking of HMS Formidable on New Year's Day 1915. William was one of 9 church members whose names are recorded on the memorial in church. It seemed right to remember him and all the fallen of conflicts in this way and 8 of our present congregation accepted the invitation to join me.

The hail storm on saturday was more than a little scary as golfball size hailstones rebounded off my study window. Unfortunately these and the accompanying gale force winds appear to have damaged two sets of sceondary glazing on the church which gives the treasurer a new headache to enage a galzier and see whether our insurance cover might help defray this additional expense.

We continue to attract new faces on Sunday and a family -probably from a neighbouring fellowship - added to our number this week.

As we begin a process of updating our contacts list and encourage the sharing of time and talents to support the work here, it is good to see 2 folk have ticked the 'want to know more about becoming a member' box.

College started with a fire drill to interupt the quiet and calm of the library and morning lectures but the sun is shining which bodes well for the day at least.

This week promises 'the joy'of two days at Didcot which is compulsary for all students. (It's a shame this clashes with the Ukrainia Choir visit to Walmer.) Watch this space for news of how the week goes...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Blogging on the train...

This week's update comes to you as I endeavour to fill my time usefully as I travel to London on the train. The journey this week is subject to a diversion to avoid engineering works which gives me even more time to type away.

It has been a good week which started with positive feedback from Dr Pieter Lalleman, the Academic Dean, on his visit to Walmer last Sunday to hear me preach. As the first 'victim' of our college reflection group to go through the experience my fellow students were pleased to note the experience, for me at least, had been positive.

Returning to Walmer the routine of the week quickly fell into place with study time early each morning and then the usual round of paperwork, prayers and Seeing Jesus sessions.

This week's Friday Night pizza gave way to our Spud and Sparkler evening, the first major outreach event we've run. As it was raining hard we were glad to have our firework fun in the warm and dry where we could enjoy our jacket potatoes in jovial company.

After a mildly frustrating day getting the technology set-up the youtube videos of both a bongire and the Madrid Firework Spectacular (17 minutes long) kept everyone entertained.

Almost 40 people shared in the fun; several fringe folk anf family members and a few 'old faces' from the past.

Research into the names listed on our war memrial revealed that one young lad who died in 1915 was buried in our local cemetery prompted the basis for the children's talk on Remembrance Sunday. (It also gives folk the opportunity, if they want to, to join me at the grave on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.)

The service was many said 'very moving', 'the best Remembrance Service for years'.

Now I journey to London to meet my support group at Bloomsbury which will, I hope be an encouragement to me and to them.

After my two days of study I return to a meeting early on Wednesday with my supervisor, a meeting of the local Ministers Fraternal and later on Friday with the local Baptist Ministers Newtwork.

Another busy week lies ahead...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Half Term Break

This has been a college free week although the necessary reading for forthcoming assignments has continued.
The extra days in Walmer has meant opportunities to do some extra things most significantly the 'great move' shifting the church office to the vestry and the vestry to the office. The end result is very pleasinga nd meant it was possible to work in the church office and keep the side door of the church open all day to attract visitors.
Thursday was a singnificant day too - having decided to make use of a free hour over lunchtime to head into town for essential supplies with the space of that hour I met half of the church membership who had also taken the opportunity to get out in the sunshine.
Admittedly we are a small membership but it was really quite remarkable to see half of them in an hour.
The scaffolding needed to remove a wobbly chimney stack has now been removed - we await the builder's bill for the necessary work and also a reply to the brick manufacturers who supplied substandard bricks in 1904. Hopefully they might make a 'goodwill gift' to help our funds.
Tomorrow the Academic Dean from Spurgeons comes to hear me preach so I'd better check my notes once again to ensure I make the grade.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Moving Again...

It felt a bit like moving home again as I spent the morning moving furniture and setting up office space but this time it was all done within the church building as a small band of willing workers set about swapping the Church Office and Church Vestry from opposite sides of the building.

For a while the front of the Sanctuary looked like a removal firm's store with sofas, desk and office supplies all of the place.

After some valiant service from 'Henry' on the carpets and a good dust in some corners everything found a new home in its new room.

Seizing the opportunity that willing hands has provided we've done so preparation work in the vestibule in readiness for a 'painting party' to brighten up the area, and, we hope, open up the space to make it more inviting and welcoming.

Having unearthed the rogues gallery of framed photographs of former ministers, we've re hung them where they can be seen outide the 'new' vestry.

Half-term from college is supposed to be a welcome break from the pressures of study but it looks as though its going to be just as busy this week as any other - only in a different way.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Week 3 - Shhh1 Don't tell the college

Week three is now almost a distant memory as Week 4 dawns tomorrow very early.

Having been a bit negative about collehe worship, a surprise presented itself. The worship hour led by a third year student began with a time of reflection as we listened to 'Comfort ye my people' from Handel's Messiah and then we sang 'We are blessed' by Andy Flannagan. It was great to sing something I knew (thanks Tim for introducing me to it) which clearly many in the chapel has not encountered. Words with meaning work for me and it lifted my spirit and I was keen to report this to my reflection group who it seems had not heard of Mr Flannagan before.
Anyway, three assignments have been submitted to date. How soon they will be marked and returned I don't know but perhaps my pigeon hole will reveal all tomorrow.
1500 words on the authorship of Deuteronomy is the next challenge!
Here in Walmer it has been a good week. We've has the local school in to fill the church with pupils and parents for Harvest. Our Friday Night Pizza evening hit the spot with some frank and honest sharing which is the aim for the group.
Oh, and by the way, I was once again on the losing team at the Quiz Night.
We had visitors at morning worship to boost our numbers and complied with the swine flu guidelines by not having a common loaf.
Tonight we join with our friends at Mongeham for a united Baptists service with folk from Deal too at which I'm the preacher. (Don't tell the college I've exceeded the 4 sermons a month rule already!)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Week Two

It's raining! Having abandoned the idea of cycling to the library to return a copy of the Qur'an and to buy Pizza from the supermarket for the teenagers tonight. I've ordered Dial-a-Pizza and now with some unscheduled free moments I can blog for a while.

College has passed off this week without any major traumas although I did bravely confess toi our reflection group that 'Chapel' was not working for me. Too much guitar stumming singing about how much 'I love Jesus' several times over! Oh, for some quite reflective time or a song or two to remind me of what God is seeking to do for me.

Anyway, thanks to the efficiency of the Church Manager at Bloomsbury service recordings have arrived on disc that I can submit as Assignments 1 and 2 for the Worship & Preaching module. With my dictionary entry on Thomas - Assignment 1 for Introduction to the Bible - done too that's three boxes ticked for this semester already.

I've submitted my timetable for the week to the placement co-ordinator. She's funny - sending a reply 'keep an eye on your day off' - clearly she doesn't know me. I've told her 'day off' is not a description I understand.

We've had our Baptist cluster fraternal today - this needs some work to encourage greater cohesion but my colleagues talk of a willingness to try and work at it. Walmer is going to host the larger Network Fraternal in December.

Harvest looms at the weekend and I'm holiding an 'Open House' tomorrow afternoon so folk can come and see the Manse after its make-over. We're also decorating the church in the morning. The start of our 'landmine' display is very impressive thanks to one member's inginuity.

Although it is still raining I need to go and set up my Wii for tonight so the blogging stops for now!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Week One

Well, the first week draws to its close. We are in good heart and greatly encouraged by the support shown to us by so many friends last weekend for the ~Induction Service. It was wonderful to see smiling faces filling the whole sanctuary for this special day.
Even more heartening was the sight of new and returning folk in the pews for our 'Christmas' celebration on 'Back to Church Sunday'
Throughout the week support has been encouraging too for our Simply Prayer and Seeing Jesus sessions both in church and in the Manse. Finishing the week with four young people tucking into Pizza was a real blessing on which to draw the week to a close.
We've also committed ourselves in Church Meeting to new mission, vision and value statements which puts us on a firm course for the future.
Of course, important though it is, the life of the church is just one aspect of my role as I grapple too with studies at Spurgeon's which have begun well and for which I have an assignment already drafted and two more underway.
So, the new chapter begins both for me and the church and the opening pages are full of expectation and promise...

Friday, 25 September 2009

The eve of a new beginning

One wonders what God was feeling the night before the great work of creation began or before deciding to intervene in our world in human form or even before coming to earth as wind and fire?
Knowing you are about to do something can be exciting or fearful or even a mixture of both. Despite the planning you may have done in the end are you really in control of the outcome, its success or failure.
Gazing out of my study at the clear night sky lit by twinkling stars million, billions of miles away I wonder what tomoorow will truly bring.
As a church we turn the page of history to begin a new chapter. What will be written, how the pages will fill up and how it will end none of us know.
For me, there is both excitement and fear - very real questions about success or failure.
But I turn to God for support, wisdom, guidance and energy... watch how the story unfolds or even become a part of it.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Day One of next Three Years

Day one of Orientation Week at Spurgeons College and the first day of the next three years study for my Theology degree has almost ended. The sun has shone all day, the people have been very friendly and the information shared been helpful in getting all of to understand the workings of the college and our future activities of the coming weeks, months and years.
We appear to be an interesting and diverse mix of students from a variety of church backgrounds and those of us on the church-based course have our own rich variety of challenges and opportunities as our placements lie before us.
Having left Bloomsbury yesterday with a generous package of support and parting gift I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the faith that congregation have put in my future.
Remaing, as ever, God's humble servant, I hope I can match the belief they clearly have.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Chance encounters

It has been a funny old week as I've continued to settle into the 'new' community that is to be home. Already as I've wandered or cycled through town I've bumped into familiar faces and new ones. Everyone seems to have heard either that I'm back or I'm the 'new man at the church'. It has all been very affirming for me that this most unexpected and unplanned move back to Walmer is really what God has planned.
As yet, and perhaps they are waiting, no one has expressed surprise, merely interest in what I've been up to for the last dozen or so years since I left. Some have asked about the church and what we are planning for the future which is tricky to answer. Encouragingly many have said they are planning to come for the Induction but even more positively others say they are going to come on a Sunday.
Firmly of the opinion I am called here to grow the community I am optimistic and I hope that optimism can be shared and built upon.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Sermons 'R' us

Well, a quiet few days and resisting the temptations of the garden have made for good progress on the sermon writing front. 'Back to Church Sunday' is sorted as is Bloomsbury's Harvest and that with slight modifications can become Walmer's Harvest. Thoughts for Baptists Together service on 18 October based on Joshua 4.1-9 are coming together. So with a full week at Spurgeon's looming for next week it seems that I'm comfortably ahead of my target which is a comfortable position to be in. Can it last?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

What a difference in 24 hours...

Yesterday I was sweltering in high humidity and temperatures nudging 100 degrees and saying farewell to friends settling into the new surroundings of their Manse in Hong Kong. It had been good to have a break from the stresses and strains of my own move and to see how the relocation from Germany was going for the new Pastor at the Community Church of Hong Kong.
Briefly back in London to tidy up the loose ends of my time at Bloomsbury; to say farewell to our regular Tuesday Lunch Club diners and to see the results of a week's makeover on my former flat transformed for the new residents Vilem and Alena - I'm now in Walmer.
Its a balmy September evening - the Manse feels not dissimilar to the humidity of Hong Kong -but here all is quiet. A surprisingly large pile of mail demands attention and still there are the boxes stacked about the place awaiting my patient unpacking process to begin.
So, its been a strange day beginning and ending several thousands of miles apart and what of tomorrow? Another day of surprises and unexpected encounters...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

I'd forgotten what stars were like. Living in the centre of London one has become all too easily content at the 24 hour glow of the city. Gazing out of my bedroom window in Walmer the night sky revealed the countless twinkles of distant stars.
The simplicity of these little flickering lights reminds of the wonder of the created world we live in which all too often gets taken for granted, not even considered, in the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Returning to London for a few days before finally settling into the gentler pace of life in Walmer, the contrast is stark. Doubtless, over the coming months, I shall get used to this as I commute between Walmer and college in London but it will I hope serve as a weekly reminder that for many people in our society there is little time or opportunity given to wonder and marvel at God's creation.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Living out of boxes

Well the shipment made it from London to Walmer. Now surrounded by what appears to be hundreds of opened boxes the muddle that was packing is being undone. Slowly, order is being created as books find their way to shelves, the computer gets connected to the internet, the birds nest which is the wires behind the tv manages to create a picture and joy of joys, there is space for a bed to be assembled in the bedroom - although I doubt i'll sleep in it just yet.

So the great Walmer adventure begins - having cycled to Sainsbury's wandered across the park, bought the local paper (what a scary photo) and settled down to my first microwave supper in the Manse.

Quite where this adventure might ultimately lead only God knows, but faithful to His call the journey has begun...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Moving Times


In less than twenty four hours the main event will happen. After weeks of tireless effort and preparation, the endless packing of boxes, and the disbelief of where so much accumulated stuff could come from the move takes place.

Hopefully, in the careful hands of the removal staff from Minters of Deal, the boxes will be first loaded into the van, driven the 70 miles to the coast and then unloaded into their new surroundings of the Manse in Walmer.

Assuming the carpet fitters have done their stuff and the newly painted walls are dry then all should be well.

The planning has been done, the timetable meticulously gone through, now faith comes into its own. The success of this next phase is out of my hands.

Watch this space for further developments as the story of the NEW Pastor at Walmer Baptist Church unfolds...