Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Busy, busy, busy

Is it really only just over a fortnight since I returned from my holiday. It seems such a distant memory.
Much of the last week or so has been dominated by the important task of finishing my first year Portfolio for college which I have now done and have dispatched to Spurgeon's.
Amidst this necessary there has been the distractions of 'the flood' - a monsoon style downpour which closed the road in front of the church, flooded many homes and businesses across town and left us with a very soggy church lounge carpet. Thankfully this is now showing signs of drying out and our minor inconveniences have made us appreciate the enormity of the strife in Pakistan as they reel from their flooding.
A number of us spent a pleasant afternoon at the Community Picnic on Walmer Green arranged by the Parish Council and from our stall in the voluntary organisations marquee promoted our activities.
Our Knitting for the Needy group have also featured in a very nice article in the local paper -with a picture - as we sent Debbie back to South Africa with assorted garments for distribution amongst the AIDS orphans she works with.
We've had a double dose of Bloomsbury visitors, first with the Bowers and June Peat on Sunday. It was good to include Richard in our service as he helped us with our affirmation of faith. It was good too to have our local vicar in the congregation taking a break from his own flock.
Then we have had the big Bloomsbury invasion with the Tuesday Lunch crowd descending upon us and the people of Deal & Walmer for a summer outing. They came for tea which gave our ladies the opportunity to show their talents as only Walmer does best with a magnificent spread of sweet and savoury temptations. Doggy bags in hand the intrepid city folk boarded their train in good heart after a good dose of sea air and Walmer's hospitality.

This week sees the need to complete one final piece of work for the college - a reflective journal which must be in the post by tea-time on Friday!

We then turn our minds to Home Mission Sunday and our hosting of the East Kent SEBA Network Celebration on 5 September. Oh and I need to do a spot of training for the Friends of Kent Churches Sponsored Cycle Ride which looms on the horizon on 11 September.
Keep watching this space...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The wanderer returns

I'm back!

After the longest break I have taken in years I have returned home to the routine and busy life of running the church here in Walmer. Three days from my return the break all too quickly fades into a distant memory as life gets consumed by pastoral matters, planning for the autumn programmes and, of course, the need to finish my college Portfolio.

But what of Hawaii and the Baptist World Alliance Congress you may ask?

Well having spent two preliminary visits in Honolulu researching both hotel options and travel arrangements in and around Waikiki there were no real surprises on the logistics front.

Having secured accommodation in a hotel within walking distance of both the beach and the conference centre I was able to settle into the routine of long sunny, summer days very quickly.
With over 48 hours before the start of the Congress there was amply time to hit the beach and play 'Spot the Baptist'. It proved quite challenging at first to identify any Baptists although as the opening night of the congress drew closer some obvious groups from the Caribbean and Africa became more noticeable. American Baptists were less easy to identify and Brits were clearly in very short supply. All changed when the Congress identity badges were issued along with Congress bags and it was easy then to know who was who although of course the rebel in me kept folk guessing refusing as I did to add a new bag to my collection or to wear my badge unless forced to in the Congress Centre. That said, close contact when I was wearing my Walmer's Pastor t-shirt gave the game away but I was careful who I got close enough too to reveal that!

With all large scale events of this nature there were highs and lows. Whilst the Congress theme was 'Hear the Spirit' and we were enthused on the final day to believe how many had heard it I came away wondering whether we had given sufficient if any time to be still and actually hear the Spirit of God speaking amidst, when we were assembled, an almost continuous round of worship sessions, key-note addresses, Bible studies and Focus Groups.

That said, attending one of the Focus Groups on Inter-faith dialogue was refreshing, not least as it showed that in countries where there is a stereotypical view of hostility particularly to Muslims, on the ground there is reasoned dialogue building mutual trust and respect between those of the Abrahamic religions. (Less conciliatory tones were evident which is a worry but my hope is that those more conservative thinkers might 'Hear the Spirit'.)

According to Jonathan Edwards our own BUGB General Secretary, around 40 Baptists had registered from the UK. I think I saw around 12 including three retired folk from the north of England who joined me in regular seats at the back of the auditorium, happy to avoid the daily rush for front row seats to be nearest the platform and stand a good chance of being a face on the big screen when the cameras panned around! From the back it was possible to resist the frequent calls to stand and sing, clap, greet (even hug!) our neighbours and also beat a hasty retreat before the mass Exodus after each session.

The almost 400 strong children's choir from Korea was a memorable sight and sound, beautifully turned out and regimentally organised, singing in perfect dictionary English.

Informal conversations with fellow Baptists from around the world were illuminating even if Indian Pastors were at time a little pushy in their approach to wanting support for their ministries! 'Amen' affirming ladies from the Deep South who went around in packs were useful sidestepped and I have to confess at times were on the verge of affirming both negative and positive statements from the platform when they got into 'Amen', 'Hallelujah' auto-pilot.

On the whole I'm pleased to have experienced the event, proud to have been able to represent our small church in the South East of England and have that noted by both the General Secretary of BUGB and the Director of BMS World Mission and I shall make every effort to attend the next Congress in 2015 in South Africa.

Two days after the Congress and after most delegates had either left the Islands or slipped into anonymity without their land lards, I returned to the West Coast of the US and what is to me the familiar surroundings of San Francisco.

My hotel has had a make-over since my last stay and become Hotel Frank which reminded me of Bloomsbury and I half expected Mr Brown to appear from the lift at anytime. The four full days I had scheduled in San Francisco were 'Seyan time'. I know the city well enough to navigate without a map or guidebook. I know the weekday service times at Grace Cathedral and when the prayer Labyrinths are likely to be quietest. I know where to eat for good value food that caters for my diet and of course there's the opportunity to check-up on how Ryan and Amy Parker are doing.

It was good to spend an evening with them exchanging news and enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal (thanks Amy!).

All too soon the long flight home was called and although I'd not been successful in securing a place beyond the waiting list for a first class seat on any flight on the return trip I has an empty seat next to me which meant I could wriggle more and spread out although as is the norm any attempt at sleep proved impossible.

Now back home, here and elsewhere I need to report on my BWA experience and attempt to be positive and less cynical. More importantly right now the deadline for submitting my Portfolio for my first year looms as the end of the month fast approaches.

At church, today we have a photo call with our Knitters and the local paper, we are finalising our church outing plans for next week, I've started planning for Back to Church Sunday and Harvest and ordered banners and invitation cards. We also have a visit from friends at Bloomsbury, a Strawberry Tea and the East Kent Network Celebration we are hosting to enjoy over the next few weeks.

As ever, I hit the ground running fresh from my travels and will try and post an update here again soon.