Vicar's Blog





So keep at it, even if no one notices

June 23rd, 2017

keep at it

So today it’s SIAMS!

Even as I type these words the Registered Inspector is getting into
his car to arrive at our church school for their first meeting at 8.15
am.

SIAMS?  The world of education more than any other I know is replete
with acronyms.  Here we have the “Statutory Inspection of Anglican and
Methodist Schools.”  Basically, how are we doing as a church school?

Our head teacher, David, and his staff –especially the SMT, have been
working hard to prepare for this inspection ever since they were given
due notice last Friday.

As chair of the Governing Body I know that Christ Church is a great
church school – and we can demonstrate this, certainly helped by our
extensive preparation for the diocesan Church and School Partnership
Award 2.

For me the main value of this exercise is to for the school,
especially our hard-working staff and volunteers, is be given
recognition for putting the “C of E” into the “Aughton Christ Church C
of E Voluntary Controlled Primary School.”

For we all need recognition for what we do.

It was John Harvey-Jones, when chairman of the now-defunct ICI, who
made it his aim “to catch employees out” doing something outstanding.
He once sent a bottle of champagne to the driver of a tanker he had
overtaken on the M6 for his particularly clean vehicle.

In fact, one of the reasons we went to Argentina was to offer support
and encouragement to Andrew Leake in his long, drawn-out ministry
supporting the indigenous people of the Chaco, a ministry does not
grab the headlines, even the endorsement of big names.  Few people
outside of Argentina know anything about the Chaco.

However, while we may value recognition when it comes, the important
thing is to keep at it, whatever.  And here I quote Abraham Lincoln no
less: “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be
worthy of recognition.”

The Church of England has a unique ability to produce excellence in
the most unlikely and unnoticed places.  And as such, to go
unrecognised.

I remember some years ago reading Andrew Brown (I think), the then
religious affairs correspondent for the Guardian.  On reflecting on
the sermons he had heard (and endured) over the years, he reflected
that one of the best sermons he had heard was in a small country
church in the Yorkshire Dales.

Here in the wilds of the Pennines some vicar was doing their bit for
the Kingdom, no doubt appreciated by their small congregations. They
deserved the best that this minister of the Gospel could offer.  Even
if no one else noticed.  Certainly no Times “Preacher of the Year” for
them!

But this is how the Kingdom of God works.

Jesus gave two parables about working for the Kingdom when your boss
is away in a far-away country.  In fact, there is every likelihood
that his eventual return is in the far-off future.  And what do you
do?

You keep at it.

In the parable of the talents in Matthew’s Gospel the master entrusts
his wealth to his servants. “To one he gave five bags of gold, to
another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his
ability.”  And then he leaves them to it.

Now the punch line is when the servant with just the one bag is caught
out for doing nothing with it. “You wicked, lazy servant!”

But is worth noticing that the other two servants, the one with five
bags who generates a further five along with the second servant who
was entrusted with just two bags of gold and who gained two more, are
both given the same commendation.

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a
few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share
your master’s happiness!”  (Matthew 20:21/23) Both were equally
fruitful, even with different results.

It seems that Jesus expects us to serve him in the long grind of
ministry without ongoing recognition.  Just be faithful – especially
if we have but one talent and appear to be outshone by others.

We may not be nominated for “worker of the week” award but we are to
stay true to our calling.   What Eugene Peterson memorably called  “a
long obedience in the same direction.”

But that is not to say that we do not get the recognition we need.  It
does come, from the person who gave us the responsibility to begin
with – and not just at the end.  For God does send signs of
encouragement – but often in the most unlikely of ways.

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.
Amen.

So keep at it, even if they don’t say “Thank you.”

Strange how God uses mistakes.

June 16th, 2017

Heswall GS

As soon as I walked in after all those years, I knew for certain that it was God who had engineered my move to Heswall.

At the time in 1979 it seemed a huge risk.  I even wrote to a friend: “I suppose the move could be the best move I’ve ever made or the most disastrous.”

So returning to the Church of the Good Shepherd last Sunday, after a gap of some 23 years, was a huge encouragement.

For we never wanted to go to Heswall.  Even the invitation to go there was as a result of a massive misunderstanding.  Strange how God uses mistakes.

But now looking back our move there could be the most significant decision in my ministry.  When I arrived the church was facing one way; when I left some five years later it was heading in a totally new direction.  A dramatic change of course.

It took another three ministries, back-to-back over 18 years to complete the transition but now the Good Shepherd feels like a very different church.

Even as we walked through the doors we could see that the church had been transformed – and not just the building.

Gone were the old pews packed tightly into this 1950’s building;  instead a carpeted worship space with a coffee serving area at the entrance.  And engaging all-age worship instead of BCP (1662 Book of Common Prayer) matins.

So many signs of spiritual growth!  A well attended young people’s congregation each Sunday evening, modern worship songs alongside the more traditional –and – the reason I was there – a decision to build a totally new church centre facing onto Telegraph Road.

When we first walked through those same doors in June 1978 you could never have envisioned such a future, no way.  Everything about the building said  “No change here!”  And so naturally I said No.

Canon Kenneth Lee had offered me the post of a second curacy as a result of a misunderstanding.  I was all set to become a school chaplain but somehow this information had reached him as “There is this curate in Liverpool looking for a job.”

So he wrote to me out of the blue.  I decided to go for an exploratory interview just to check out our decision to leave parish ministry.

Everything was wrong.  Ministry was liberal catholic, churchmanship was right up the candle and significantly Kenneth was about to retire.  He needed someone to cover the looming interregnum (the gap between one rector going and the new one arriving). And that was that.

But then God got involved – and we were to experience the most dramatic guidance to change course in order to change the course of this particular church.  Clearly there were some people who were praying.

It began with Kenneth sending us a Christmas card.  At first I could not work out who it was so firmly had Heswall disappeared from view.  But God was beginning to show his hand.

And time and time again over the following months Jacqui and I were shown the example of Abraham taking a significant step of faith. It seemed whenever we opened a book or turned on the television remarkably Abraham stepped out.

Unsettling to say the least – but that is exactly what God was doing, unsettling us, not allowing us to set our sights elsewhere.

One sermon in particular moved me – at St Andrew’s Litherland.  God seemed to be speaking directly to me, unnerving.  Strangely I was the preacher.

So to Kenneth’s delight and to the Bishop of Warrington’s disappointment we said Yes to Heswall.  It seemed at the time that I was the first evangelical in Heswall for eight centuries!

Even after moving I wasn’t sure.  And this hesitancy was confirmed when in preparing me, a retired priest showed me how to put on vestments.  Looking in the mirror I was horrified.  (This was 1979, a bygone age when everything you wore as a priest was significant).

But the Holy Spirit reassured me.  The Bible reading for that day was from Acts 21, the apostle Paul’s surprising decision to be purified in the Jerusalem temple along with some fellow believers. The Scripture Union commentary read:  “For the sake of the Gospel Paul gave up his principles.”

And that was me. Over the next five years I held on to two basics:  I would preach at every service and I would aim to explain the Bible passage as best I could.

And the Bible passage God gave to me as we “moved over the Water”:  “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
(John 1516).

Not surprisingly God keeps his promises.

In a word, we find ourselves in a muddle.

June 10th, 2017

stay-confused-and-muddle-through

“So where does that all leave us?”

The Thomas Cook flight from Holguin to Manchester slams on its airbrakes just 7000 feet over our vicarage at 5.35 this morning (as usual). But rather than go back to sleep, I reach for my Galaxy to see how the General Election is doing.

And as you know, it’s a hung parliament.

Mrs. May’s decision to ask the country for a mandate in the Brexit negotiations now seems a big mistake.

As Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld wryly tweeted:  “Cameron gambled, lost. May gambled, lost. Tory party beginning to look like a casino.”

But the big problem is what does this election result mean?

Clearly the Tories failed to win the support the early polls promised them – but they are still easily the biggest party in parliament with a projected 318 seats.  And Labour may be euphoric but they are still way behind with 262.

More to the point, regarding Brexit, the most urgent question facing our nation the voters, as far as I can see, sent no clear message. Both main parties in principle supported this radical break with our European neighbours, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

As I write this Theresa May is still our prime minister but it is not just that she has lost the confidence of the country and certainly of our party.  More to the point, she must have lost confidence in herself.

If she does stay – and she may well have a sense of duty to stay (even though it must be an ordeal for her), she is hardly equipped to lead tough negotiations with our former EU partners.

I guess the most sensible thing to do at this stage is to phone Brussels and ask them to pause the negotiations while we sort ourselves out.

The fact of the matter is that we are living during a time of massive change as those tectonic plates which undergird our nation are shifting all over the place.  Too many long-term changes are taking place at once – and relatively quickly. It’s an unsettling time.

In a word, we find ourselves in a muddle.

“The British are proud of their ability to create a muddle and then muddle through all difficulties.”  So observes social commentator and Hungarian immigrant, George Mikes.  And we haven’t failed to disappoint.

The children of Israel found themselves in a muddle for nearly 40 years.  Their loss of nerve meant they failed to enter the land promised to them by God:  they simply could not bring themselves to trust in the Lord to honour his word.

And so they wandered in the desert for an entire generation.

There were times when they longed to be back in Egypt.  They complained vigorously to Moses:  “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3).

At least life was predictable there, harsh but predictable.

But God did not abandon his wayward people.  He remained with them, feeding them where there was no food, giving water in barren lands.   Above all, he stayed with them.

At the time it felt like an ordeal.  Just wandering around, no clear sense of direction, no known way.

But later, looking back they began to appreciate what God was doing – although it was not obvious at the time.  For it is only in insecure times we discover where true security may be found.  For some of the prophets, even, it was a golden age.

We see this most vividly in Hosea’s message to God’s adulterous people, as their Lord promises “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”  (Hosea 2:14).

So it’s going to be a difficult time, not sure where we are going as a nation, unsure of the way forward.

Just like 1939 when King George made his now legendary Christmas broadcast:

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’

So we pray for our nation and especially for parliament, for those who would lead us as we tread into the unknown.

The Most Unforgettable Character I Have Ever Met.

June 10th, 2017

jc4u

“You have a lovely tan!”
“Yes, I’ve just come back from a week in Majorca.”

It’s 1975 and while on a month placement at St Mary’s Edge Hill I accompany vicar, Alan Godson, as he pays his gas bill at Radiant House in Bold Street.

So far, so good.

But then Alan, never one to miss an opportunity to present the Gospel,  responds to the startled cashier:  “And do you know the sunshine of God’s love in your life?”

Stories about Alan Godson abound;  most are true.   He even changed his house number in Towerlands Street from 4 to JC4U.

Altogether a one-off, he had a passion for sharing the Gospel in every situation and with anyone who happened to be around.  I always assumed that that part of his brain which registers embarrassment wasn’t in full working order.

The point about Alan is that you either loved him or the opposite.  He once told me that people would try to hide as he approached.

That includes me, incidentally, when Alan is preaching.  There is always that risk of being hauled to the front to be asked penetrating questions.

I recall one service at St Michael’s Blundellsands when he summoned a newly married couple to the front of church.  “Do you know the Great Lover in your life?”

A remarkable evangelist, the Bishop of Liverpool took a huge risk when he appointed Alan as Diocesan evangelist to “flare the Christians and surprise the rest.”  For Alan regularly caused havoc.

He caused havoc here at Christ Church on Harvest Sunday in 1998 when he came to speak at the 6.30 pm service and delayed the organisation of harvest parcels which in those days took place following the evening service.

I assume the Bishop had a large file of letters of complaint about Alan.  But more to the point, an even larger number of people became Christians through his idiosyncratic ministry.

And that included two people in my life.

Somehow, way back in 1970 he invaded my world, that of 800m athletics.

There were five of us in the rankings:  John Davies, Phil Lewis, Martin Winbolt-Lewis, Alan Carter (I think) and myself.  Phil and I were the only Christians.  He went on to be a missionary in Pakistan.

However, John and Martin – both excellent runners – were totally focussed.  You would say ruthless.  They simply had to win, even on those occasions when we ran together as a team.  I have stories to tell.

The kind of people you would think would never become followers of Jesus.  That is until Alan Godson got involved.

Himself a rugby blue (and one of the founders of Christians in Sport) he made a point of getting to know leading sportspeople, especially in the world of tennis.  Alan had the knack of simply breezing into a social event and presenting people with the claims of Jesus, usually in the  first 45 seconds.  He had a strong first serve.

So I remember being taken aback at the Ceylon Tea meeting in 1971 when Martin told me that he had become a Christian.  Somehow he had met up  with Alan who promptly challenged him whether his life was simply running around in circles.  (There are two laps in the 800m)

Martin’s was the only occasion I can recall of anyone announcing their acceptance for ordination through the pages of the Athletics Weekly.  He recently retired as a hospital chaplain in Leeds.

And John Davies, the best and hardest runner of all of us?   We were all a little frightened of John and yet through Alan’s ministry he too became a disciple.  I have no idea how but the last I heard John was a church warden.  I just hope his church members can cope.

(I have lost touch with John and so if you are reading this, John, please do get in touch).

The secret of Alan’s ministry?  He once confided in me – it was being grabbed by the love of God.

For Alan, like all evangelists, has a passion for Jesus, a passion which overruled social conventions.  For as the apostle Paul reflects:  “The love of Christ compels us!”  (2 Corinthians 5:14). Whether you finish up liking the messenger or not is simply besides the point.

Sadly Triumphantly his funeral service takes place this afternoon at St Mary’s Church, Grassendale.   Alan was 86.  Our condolences to Lesley and his three sons, Stephen, Jonathan and Andrew.

There used to be a regular feature in the Reader’s Digest – “the Most Unforgettable Character I Have Ever Met.” For me it was Alan Godson.