• During this last year, many things we might have done never did get done. For many different reasons. One thing that I didn’t do that in more ‘normal’ times I would have done without thinking was to renew my passport. I imagine there will come a day when I will get round to it, but for now its not very far up my ‘to do’ list. There has been a lot of talk about ‘passports’ this last week. Or to use the proper term, ‘Covid Status Certificates.’ …

  • - Deserving of equal dignity

    When we read of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, we find that each Gospel tells it differently. Some people find the accounts to be contradictory, others read them as complementary. In the end, each one of us has to decide for oneself. But there is one thing that each of the four Gospel writers agree on, that it was a woman …

  • - ‘Line of Duty’

    So, were you, like me, one of the 9.6 million viewers who tuned in last Sunday evening to watch the first episode of series 6 of ‘Line of Duty’? I have to admit that I’ve been hooked right from the very beginning: Superintendent Hastings (Ted), DI Fleming (Kate), & DS Arnott (Steve) – AC 12’S finest – they are family.

  • - The year of ‘lockdowns’

    Next Tuesday, the 23rd March will be the anniversary of when we first went into ‘lockdown’. At that time none of us quite knew what lay ahead of us. But we did have a sense that this was serious. Well, now we know. And having lived through it, each one of us, nothing more need be said. But it may be that for all of us, there is a need to think about just what this last year has meant for us…

  • - Racism is a sin

    o, did you watch ‘that’ interview? What did you make of Meghan & Harry? Did it change your mind about the Royal Family? I confess that I did not watch it. But whether you did or not, none of us is immune to the issues raised, most especially that of alleged racism. Paul says that ‘all have sinned’ – which means that all of us, at some time or another put ourselves first at the expense of others;

  • During this last year, many things we might have done never did get done. For many different reasons. One thing that I didn’t do that in more ‘normal’ times I would have done without thinking was to renew my passport. I imagine there will come a day when I will get round to it, but for now its not very far up my ‘to do’ list. There has been a lot of talk about ‘passports’ this last week. Or to use the proper term, ‘Covid Status Certificates.’ …

  • - Deserving of equal dignity

    When we read of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, we find that each Gospel tells it differently. Some people find the accounts to be contradictory, others read them as complementary. In the end, each one of us has to decide for oneself. But there is one thing that each of the four Gospel writers agree on, that it was a woman …

  • - ‘Line of Duty’

    So, were you, like me, one of the 9.6 million viewers who tuned in last Sunday evening to watch the first episode of series 6 of ‘Line of Duty’? I have to admit that I’ve been hooked right from the very beginning: Superintendent Hastings (Ted), DI Fleming (Kate), & DS Arnott (Steve) – AC 12’S finest – they are family.

  • - The year of ‘lockdowns’

    Next Tuesday, the 23rd March will be the anniversary of when we first went into ‘lockdown’. At that time none of us quite knew what lay ahead of us. But we did have a sense that this was serious. Well, now we know. And having lived through it, each one of us, nothing more need be said. But it may be that for all of us, there is a need to think about just what this last year has meant for us…

  • - Racism is a sin

    o, did you watch ‘that’ interview? What did you make of Meghan & Harry? Did it change your mind about the Royal Family? I confess that I did not watch it. But whether you did or not, none of us is immune to the issues raised, most especially that of alleged racism. Paul says that ‘all have sinned’ – which means that all of us, at some time or another put ourselves first at the expense of others;

  • - Budget Day

    Today, Wednesday, is Budget Day; one of the great political ‘set piece’ occasions of the year. It used to be that everything in the Budget was kept a closely guarded secret until revealed by the Chancellor during his actual Budget speech. Nowadays it is as if it is ‘open season’ on what the speech will contain. Its not for me to comment on any particular proposals. Each one of us will reach our own judgement about such things. But it does serve to remind us that whilst the Pandemic is primarily a human tragedy –

  • - A Church Anniversary during Covid

    Dear all, This coming Sunday, February 28th, will be our 111th Church Anniversary. Ordinarily we would expect a large(ish) congregation for the service itself followed by a splendid ‘bring & share’ lunch for everyone. With Covid restrictions in place in won’t be like that this year. And it reminds us that these past 12 months have seen us denied many opportunities to celebrate special occasions in life. Birthdays have come and gone (mine is coming up soon by the way). Whilst we not all wish to be reminded just how old we are, for those with a special, one-off, never to be repeated birthday – e.g., one with a ‘naught’ on the end – it must have been very disappointing. Similarly, those celebrating notable wedding anniversaries. For those who were due to be married – we have one couple who have had to postpone their wedding date 3 times! – it has been a frustrating year. And then more poignantly, for the families of those whose loved ones have died during the year, being denied the possibility of organising the funeral, the thanksgiving service that would have been appropriate. Much loved and highly respected members of the church and community for whom a full church would have been a fitting tribute but only a handful of family and close friends being able to attend. Then there are those waiting patiently to be baptized. And of course, we were denied the opportunity to have our usual ‘Christmas’ programme of events. Perhaps, just maybe we will be able to hold Holy Week and Easter services in the church with a congregation actually present…It is a rather sobering thought that even though during two World Wars the Church never closed its doors, for over half of this last year we have been denied the opportunity to gather together for worship as a congregation. But while the building has been closed we have been able to ensure that every Sunday an act of worship has been ‘broadcast’ in the name of the Church and I am grateful to those who have used their particular talents to make this possible…And also a big thank you to everyone involved in the wider life of the church who have ensured that we have been enabled to ‘stay together’ throughout this year…The Suburb was a very different place 111 years ago: indeed, it was only just beginning to be built, a green field site slowly but surely being developed into what it is today. The world was a very different place 111 year ago as well. Much of what we take for granted had not even been dreamt of all those years ago. We have experienced a century of change; increasingly rapid change. The industrial revolution of the C19 – although immense in its own time – has been dwarfed by the scale of the technological revolution that we are continuing to live through and benefit from. But then came Covid, and it is as if the brakes were slammed on hard. Yet in these last 12 months the scientific community has come together to create vaccines that hold out the prospect of at least controlling the spread of the virus and the effect of its most ‘critical’ symptoms. And who knows, maybe the ‘longer term’ effect of this enforced ‘pause for thought’ might just result in a reappraisal of priorities at every level of society, including at the level of the local church. Happy 111th Birthday to the Free Church, Hampstead Garden Suburb…

  • Dear Friends, (And yes, it is a different font – I discovered it by accident – Segoe Ul. And so, it’s good bye, for now at least, to Comic Sans MS. But please don’t think I’m trying to convey a subliminal message by doing this. Don’t try to read ‘between the lines’ just read the lines themselves!). I’m writing this having just eaten more than my fair share of pancakes. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. The meaning of which has been subverted, even corrupted by the invitation to ‘give up something for Lent’ – usually something trivial, or trifling – as an end in itself. In reality, it is a time to be set aside during which we seek God’s help to rid our lives of any distraction that would prevent us from properly entering into the celebration of Easter Day. It is very easy to be distracted. Indeed, given the time we are presently living through, we would probably give anything to be distracted from the daily grind imposed upon us by lockdown. And yet as time goes on, I am finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on any one particular thing. ‘I’ve started, so I’ll finish’ – the much-loved catchphrase made famous by Magnus Magnusson & Mastermind – I find impossible. This letter, which I sat down to write a while ago now, will be ‘punctuated’ by various distractions, all of which have proven to be very welcome distractions. And its not just ‘other things to do’ that provide the distraction. My mind wanders off into places that, even if I did have the complete freedom to go anywhere, I could never actually go to. ‘Fantasy Island’ is very real right now!! ‘We read to know we are not alone’ is a quotation attributed to C.S. Lewis in the film, Shadowlands’. To which we could add any other medium such as radio, television, film theatre etc. A good ‘book’ draws us into itself. Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia wherever. As we read, it is as if we are ‘relocating’ in our minds so that even if we are ‘alone’ we are not because we have a cast of characters for company. It is why reading, cultivating a passion for reading, is so important. Reading should never be allowed to become a ‘lost art’. (At this point, I should, as a minister make the obvious point that no Book does this better than the Bible, and that is why is it is vitally important for our own spiritual well being that we develop the habit, the discipline, of reading a Bible story every day, but that’s for the pulpit on Sunday). I have just finished binge watching series 7 of ‘The West Wing’ – I’d already seen series 1 to 6 – and just as with any good book, I found myself totally absorbed as the drama unfolded. I was there, right there. My favourite character, the one with which I self-identify more than any other is Toby Ziegler, played by Richard Schiff. Toby had revealed state security secrets in order to save the lives of stranded astronauts. As a result, he was sentenced to prison, a fate which he was determined not to avoid. As the final episode unfolded, President Bartlett signed Toby’s executive pardon and he was spared a punishment he knew he deserved. Watch it for yourselves, its great TV, and its free courtesy of ALL4. Anyway, that is Easter for us, in a nutshell, the signing of a pardon, none of us deserves. However distracted we might be, our God, ‘neither slumbers or sleeps’. Never distracted…

  • - The comfort of one’s own armchair

    Dear Friends, Yesterday (Tuesday) began early. I dragged myself out of bed around 6am so that I could watch the last couple of hours of the 1st cricket test match between India and England in Chennai, the ground bathed in beautifully bright sunshine, – and a fine win for England it was too. And the day drew towards its end with me watching my beloved Cardiff City playing away at Rotherham, South Yorkshire, the ground almost obliterated from view by an increasingly violent snowstorm that might have caused the match to be abandoned, (it didn’t) – and a fine win it was for Cardiff as well. Of course, whether in Chennai, or in Rotherham, reminders of the ongoing pandemic are there for all to see. Stadia empty of supporters, creating a very surreal atmosphere, especially at the football, with either ‘fake crowd noise’, or else silence punctuated only by the managers and their staff bellowing instructions to the players on the pitch often using ‘colourful’, even ‘industrial’ language to get their point across. The point I’m making is that ‘lockdown’ has provided opportunities to watch sport 24 hours a day, from all around the world, and all from the comfort of one’s own armchair. And as I get older, given the choice between dragging myself out in the cold and wet to actually go to watch the match or staying at home to watch it from home, I may well be tempted to forego the ‘live’ experience in favour of watching from home…And of course, it’s not just sport. The ingenuity of many churches and congregations has made it possible for us to experience ‘wall to wall’ religion. FACEBOOK, YOUTUBE, TWITTER et al provide opportunities to watch services broadcast from wherever, at whatever time we choose to watch. There is a sense in which one can ‘go’ to a different church each week, listen to a different preacher, experience worship from different traditions, denominations, locations. And again, all from the comfort of one’s own armchair. Indeed, I’m aware that there are a number of people, who live away from London, who watch our services regularly, or from time to time. The longer ‘lockdown’ persists, the longer we are denied the opportunity to meet together for worship, the more likely it might be that for some at least the ‘armchair’ will prove more attractive than the ‘pew’…Of course, be it a football match, or a church service, we won’t know until circumstances change sufficiently to allow crowds and congregations to return. One way to deal with the dilemma is to take away the choice. That is what will happen with football. When crowds are allowed back, the matches won’t be broadcast at the same time. Is that what we should do as church; remove the either/or, or continue with both/and? Anyway, while you are all deciding where to ‘go’ to church this Sunday, us sports fanatics will be in a heaven or our making. Tennis from Australia, or 6 Nations Rugby…Spoilt for choice in every respect…

  • - Unsung Heroes

    Dear Friends, And so, Captain Sir Tom Moore has died. To reach 100 is a good effort, even by today’s standards, and yet the suddenness of his passing has shocked the nation. We had immortalised him. His fantastic achievement in raising so much money for the NHS during the 1st lockdown was phenomenal in itself and he was rightly honoured for it. But he also became something of a ‘poster boy’ on behalf of the many other ‘unsung heroes’ who gave of themselves with equal endeavour; to raise money, to collect and distribute food, clothing and other necessary consumables, to organise community support activities, – I was particularly struck by impromptu choirs that sprung up in blocks of flats as people took to their balconies to join in to sing with each other – to create contact support networks via telephone, text, e/mail, letter, and there are many other examples…In our own local area, we had the poignant example of Arif Hossein who just recently died from Covid. During the 1st lockdown he would produce large numbers of home made Pakoras which he would then deliver to anyone who wanted them…It will be interesting, to say the least, to see just how much of this ‘community spirit’ is sustained when we do eventually return to something like what we used to know as ‘normality’. Will it be such that what we have experienced during these last 12 months, with more to come, has so profound an effect on us that we cannot but be ‘different’ in our attitudes, our priorities, our relationships, our social, our political, even our religious involvement. Or will we breathe such a huge sigh of relief when it is finally all over that all we will want to do is draw a line under it, forget all about it, and get back to living life as we used to…And we should not forget that while all of this has been happening, there have been many people who have had to continue to work regardless, just to ensure that the rest of us were not too inconvenienced by having to be ‘locked down’. To take one example, bus drivers have been very affected by the pandemic, with a sizeable number becoming infected, a significant proportion of whom died as a consequence. To them, you can add shop workers, home carers, delivery drivers, posties, plumbers, electricians, and other similar tradespeople all of whom, even when the pandemic was at its height, were still expected to be there when we needed them…to say nothing of health service personnel, teachers, and the Police…Sir Tom stirred the conscience of the nation; indeed, he shamed many of us into realising that there was more that we could do/should do/ought to be doing to support each other. And I do hope that he will not have ‘laboured in vain’. That will be up to us. We will have to decide for ourselves. We used to talk of creating ‘a land fit for heroes to live in’. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the likes of Sir Tom we have the opportunity to make such a vision a reality, but only if we dare…