• - Solidarity with folk of every nation

    Dear Friends, At times like these, it is very easy to concentrate on one’s own personal circumstances. Of course, it is vital that we take care of ourselves, look out for ourselves, do all that we can to ensure that we stay safe, protecting ourselves as best we can. But we should also continue to be aware that this is a global pandemic during which no country on earth has been left untouched. This caused me to think about our own congregation, and the links we have, directly and indirectly, with the wider world……I came up with the following list of countries… …France, Italy, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, Greece, Sweden, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Irish Republic, England… As a Church, this is how far we reach across the world. And some of you will have links with people in other places. It does us good to be reminded that whilst what is happening is happening to us, it is also happening to everyone else as well. No one is immune from the impact of what is truly a global pandemic… …Of course, different countries have different approaches as to how to combat the effects of Covid-19. It might be argued that some countries have done better than others; that it is easier for some countries simply because of factors such as geography, or population density. Some countries will have well-established health care provision – although even then effects have been catastrophic – while others will have only a basic health service. It is easy to judge, and to be judged; to compare one’s experience with that of others, be it favourably or unfavourably. Whatever, in the end, no one anywhere has been able to avoid what is happening… …And wherever there are people in the world, the Christian Church is present. In some places, more prominently than in others. But it is thanks to the enormous effort of the Missionary movement during the last 300 years or so that the Christian Gospel has been able to find its way into every corner of the world. Many such missionaries went from this country. More recently we have been pleased to welcome missionaries from other countries… …And so, as we continue to confront the pandemic, we do so in solidarity with folk of every nation. And as Christians, as we continue to live faithfully under God, following as best we can in Jesus’ footsteps, we do so in solidarity with our Christian sisters & brothers across the world. It is good for us as a ‘local’ church to be able to engage through worship, prayer and practical concern with people from many other countries. Our fellowship is enriched accordingly.

  • - The Second Wave

    Dear Friends, And so, the ‘second wave’ has well and truly hit. Whilst for now we may not be as badly affected as those living in the North West, the North East, & the Midlands, the number of confirmed cases in our own Borough is rising steeply. We cannot afford to be complacent. ‘Hands, Face, Space’; we cannot be reminded too often of the need to ‘wash our hands’, to ‘wear an appropriate face covering when out in public’, and to ‘maintain social distancing’ wherever we are, whoever we are with… …For now, the proposed changes to the restrictions that have been applied, have not changed the situation as far as places of worship are concerned. Yet we still have to continue to be especially vigilant as far as the preparation, organisation and delivery of the Sunday service is concerned… …I have been delighted to see so many attending regularly. Thank you. But can I issue a plea. Because we broadcast the service via social media, it is only fair to those watching wherever they are that we start on time – not something we are that used to in the Free Church it must be said – and of course we have to record everyone’s details before the service starts. So, if you are coming next Sunday, please think about arriving 5 minutes earlier than you might otherwise have done. And if you are watching from afar, please be patient with us… …I want to say a special ‘thank you’ to Gary Blackman, our cleaner/caretaker. He has had to take on the onerous responsibility of ensuring that both the Church itself, and the hall are both kept clean enough for everyone who comes and goes to do so in relative safety. Gary is doing us all proud right now. And also, a big ‘thank you’ to those of you who are also working incredibly hard to make sure that the church is functioning efficiently in these difficult times. I Know we ask a lot of one another, now more perhaps than ever, and it is to everyone’s credit that we are doing as well as we can. We cannot rest on our laurels; we are likely to have to work even harder… …I’m also aware of the prayerful support that so many of you are giving. Of course, this is the one way that everyone can help. Our prayers don’t have to be elaborately crafted. As I suggested some months ago, if you have a church handbook, set aside half an hour each day to prayerfully read through the names of the members and friends of the congregation. Some each of us will know better than others, some will only be a name to us, but that will be enough… …And then go that bit further. Each day telephone somebody; send a couple of e/mails, a few text messages. Just so that we can make sure that nobody within the family of the church is left out of the loop. I know many of you are doing this already, and thank you for that, but maybe now is the time for doing that little bit extra…

  • - A spiritual kick in the teeth

    Dear Friends, I’d always hoped these weekly letters would be positive, upbeat and encouraging; but every now and again we find ourselves confronted by what is effectively a moral and spiritual ‘kick in the teeth’. Today has been such a day. The publication of the report of the Independent enquiry into child sex abuse concerning the Church of England and the Church in Wales. (even though it is ‘limited’ to that one tradition, be in no doubt that its findings apply to the ‘whole church’). We knew it was coming. We had a pretty good idea what it would say. It is damning, shocking, and accusing in equal measure. The scale of the abuse inflicted on vulnerable and impressionable children is breath taking. But if that isn’t enough, it is the extent of the cover-up which really hits home. Forcing victims to see their perpetrators’ behaviour swept under the carpet for the sake of the well-being of the institution. A hierarchy arrogantly assuming to itself the wisdom and the power to resolve such matters, quietly, and secretly. Even twenty years ago when as an Industrial Chaplain I would visit offices, factories, workplaces talking to folk about this and that; it was clergy sex scandals that was reckoned to be the reason why many people had lost ‘faith’ in the Church… …Today is one of those days when wider society held a mirror up to our faces and we are bound to confess we are ashamed at what we see. Hopefully, changes introduced in recent years to do with safe guarding procedures will mean that much of what has been commented on today is already ‘history’. But as has often be said, those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past will inevitably repeat them… …Today is a day for saying sorry. Nothing any of us says can undo the hurt experienced by the victims; many of whom have had to wait a life-time for their voices to be heard, their ‘stories’ believed, their claims vindicated. But that shouldn’t stop us from saying sorry. Scripture reminds us that God’s judgement begins with the House of the Lord. Today, public opinion judges us, in a number of cases perpetrators have been judged by the courts. But on this day, more than any other day, we remind ourselves that we stand condemned by God, the righteous Judge. Until we realise this to be so, there can be no forgiveness… …And so, if you are in the habit of praying, pray for the victims of clergy sex abuse; and for those who work with them, helping them to cope, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually; and also, for those brave enough to speak out in the hope that this evil might be rooted out from amongst us once and for all… …And so, a different letter from the one I might have written, but one I felt I had no choice but to write…I hope you understand…

  • - Just the Same, only Different

    Dear Friends, As you can see, we are back with Comic Sans M T as my ‘font of choice’. The truth is, I never meant to change. These last two weeks I had been sharing with you as a bit of fun an extended metaphor; a way of describing the difficult choices that confront us as a Church consequent upon the impact and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some change has been forced upon us, and we have had to adapt accordingly. Other changes have been made possible by our having to think about what we do in ways we never imagined we would have to. But in the end, if I was looking for a slogan to describe the present and future ministry and mission, life, work & witness of the Church it would be this… ‘Just the Same, only Different’ …Which brings me to this coming Sunday. For us in the Free Church it is our Harvest Thanksgiving Service. The date was fixed in the diary over 12 months ago. Harvest Festival is a vital and an essential aspect of the Church’s year. This year it is ‘Just the Same, only Different’. For one thing, we will not be able to sit down and eat lunch together as the family of the Church. Familiar hymns will have to be listened to as they are sung by others, rather than we sing them ourselves. But it will still be ‘Harvest’. We will still take the opportunity to say thank You to God for all the good things with which we have been blessed during this past year, in spite of everything else that is happening. Indeed, for the Suburb, this year more than ever. Enforced periods of restricted movement have meant even more time to work on one’s allotment. I’m hearing of ‘bumper crops’ all round… …But its not just about ‘food on the table’, it is also to do with saying ‘thank You’ to God for being ‘God for us’ during all that has happened, is happening, and whatever will happen. Our personal experiences during these last 6 months in particular may well have tested our Faith in God; and we should not be afraid to admit it, or be unwilling to acknowledge it. But Harvest tide gives us an opportunity to realise that God has not lost faith in us, even during those times when we have all but lost faith in God… …It may be that one of the unexpected consequences of having lived through this time is that our appreciation of what it means to ‘live by faith’ will be different from how it was: ‘Just the same, only Different’… …But be encouraged by this: The Writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says of Jesus Christ, ‘The same, yesterday, today and forever.’ The God who is revealed in Jesus to be a loving and forgiving God is ‘Just the Same, always the Same’… …So, this weekend, be thankful for every good gift, and give thanks to God for that ‘Inexpressible Gift’, God’s gift to us in Christ…

  • - Does a font type matter ?

    Dear Friends, In my Wednesday letter of last week, I announced my intention to no longer use ‘Comic Sans M T’ as my ‘font of choice’, but to switch to the wholly new and different ‘Perpetua’. I was amazed at the response. I had more replies to last week’s letter than to any other letter I had sent out since I began sending them out back in March. The responses were, broadly speaking, of two kinds. those who didn’t like the idea of changing from that which they had grown to love – It had to be Comic Sans MT or nothing; nothing could replace Comic Sans MT – and those who, while they were open to change, definitely did not want to change to Perpetua. Indeed, there were very few positive indicators as far as Perpetua was concerned. Then there were those who commented to the effect, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ Why change something, just for change’s sake? Whilst there were those whose only concern was whether or not they would be able to read it. In fact, any font would do, as long as it could be read easily and clearly. They weren’t concerned about what it was called, just as long as it was ‘easy on the eye’. And then finally, there was the frankly hurtful comment to the effect, ‘I can’t be doing with all this Font nonsense, Comic Sans M T / Perpetua, – If it isn’t worth reading (& I’ve not read most of them!) then it doesn’t matter what fancy script its written in!!’ …So, what should I do? Should I give in and go back to ‘Good old Comic Sans M T’, or should I stick to my plan, and persevere with Perpetua? It is not an easy choice. I feel as if I am at a stylistic crossroads, a literary fork in the road, or even a calligraphic roundabout… …But then there is another solution – another Font! Arial, maybe, Times New Roman perhaps, Elephant even, then again, Belin Sans FB, or Verdana…The list is endless… …In the end a choice has to be made. And I have to choose because I have to be comfortable with it. It has to do the job I want it to do. It has to be able to get its message across. It has to be easily accessible to everyone. It may not be everybody’s first choice, but that is only because each of us is somebody different from each other. Was I doing it just for me? That isn’t good enough. But neither is not doing it just because there are some who don’t like it. I’m going to carry on with Perpetua for now…But if I have to give in to the inevitable, so be it…As Scripture says, ‘Let the reader understand’.

  • - Sometimes things must change

    Dear Friends, Keen readers of my weekly letters etc will notice something very different about this one. I’ll give you a moment…Got it yet? No? I’ll tell you. Up until now everything I have sent out has been ‘written’ using the font, ‘Comic Sans M S’ – often regarded as the marmite of the word processing world, (you love it or you hate it) – but this letter is composed using the font ‘Perpetua’. Yet now that I’ve started using it, I’m not sure I like it. Its just as easy to use as any other font. But it just doesn’t ‘look’ right… …No, I’m going to change back to ‘Comic Sans M S’. There, I feel better now. It looks ‘right’. Not strange; but rather strangely familiar. Life can be a bit like this for all of us. How prepared are we to even try something new? How willing are we to explore the previously unknown, to experiment with the previously untried? We like to think we are, but when the opportunity presents itself, we all too readily retreat back into our already established comfort zone…But, should we be like that? Is that how life should be lived?… …No, I’m not going to give in. I am going to persevere with the ‘new’. It may not be ‘for me’, but how will I know unless I give it an opportunity to impress itself upon me; to prove itself to me; to convince me that this is ‘for me’. And so, I press on with ‘Perpetua’. Why? Because, in reality, I have to be able to engage with that which is presently unfamiliar but which over time is likely to become what people are calling the ‘new normal’… …Deep down, if I am honest, I want things to be as they were. I had hoped that what is happening would have been over more quickly. Difficult to live through of course, with a terrible price to pay in terms of lives and livelihoods, but nevertheless destined to be just ‘another footnote’ as far as human history is concerned. The longer it goes on the less likely that is. So, I have to accept that Comic Sans M S belongs to the past; a past interrupted abruptly by circumstances I never even contemplated. It falls to us to create a future that is every bit as life affirming, life enhancing, life fulfilling as it used to be… …One of my favourite sayings is: ‘If things don’t alter, they are bound to stay the same’. What this present experience is teaching me is this: ‘If things can’t stay the same, they will have to alter’. This is true for us as individuals, for us as a Church, for us as a community – locally, nationally, globally… …And so, for the final time, I get to sign off my Wednesday letter with Comic Sans M F… From now on, the future’s bright, the future’s Perpetua…

  • - Going back to reality

    Dear Friends, Where would we be without Midsomer Murders? Over 100 episodes and counting. Who would have thought that the population of a select few quintessentially English villages – modelled on those found in the Chiltern Hills apparently – could give rise to enough murder and mayhem to keep the programme going for so long. It is the sort of TV programme that everybody watches, but nobody will admit to it. Well, I can keep my secret no longer; I watch it, I enjoy watching it, I will never tire of watching it…even the repeats… …Mind you, Midsomer Murders is just getting started when compared with The Archers; Ambridge has been part of the fabric of British society for so long, it has to be real, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. Its appeal is that it isn’t real and everybody knows it isn’t real. That’s why we are addicted to programmes like this: Coronation Street, Albert Square, Emmerdale – each with their own public House at its heart, (The Rovers’ Return, The Queen Vic., The Woolpack), – the last thing we want is to discover that they really do exist… …All of us needs somewhere to escape to; some form of escapism that will take us out of ourselves if only for a short while, and allow us to leave behind the reality of the life we live, whatever that life might have in store for us…And of course, it doesn’t have to be a television series that does this – a good book, inspiring music, art of every kind, even a jigsaw puzzle – all of these have the ability to draw us into themselves until, just for a while, we find ourselves leaving this world behind and entering into the world of make believe…All of us has a wardrobe of the mind that is the gateway to our own particular Narnia… …And so, we thank God for the gift of imagination that is used for this purpose: for authors, script writers, artists, composers, entertainers, story tellers, actors, musicians, craftsmen and craftswomen… …In a strange way (or perhaps not so strange) believing in God brings with it an invitation to step outside of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves, to delve deep within ourselves, to see ourselves as God sees us. We are invited to enter a wholly different dimension; to leave behind the all too limited perspective that we call the ‘here and now’ and to embrace eternity. We are presented with the opportunity to set aside a purely mechanistic, materialistic, monochrome existence in order to be embraced by a spirituality that is awash with colour… …Just as with any soap opera, we can’t stay there forever. We have to re enter the so-called ‘real’ world. We have to leave behind such places. But when we have experienced this Divinely inspired spiritual reality; rather than leave it behind, we find it – God – becomes more real to us than anything else…Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourselves…

  • - Autumn is coming

    Dear Friends, And so, September breaks in upon us. Already the weather has that distinctly autumnal feel to it. The days are shortening in dramatic fashion. the leaves on the trees are beginning to turn from green to gold as watery sunshine does its best to break through the gathering gloom that is the grey ridden cloudy skies… …The 3rd weekend in September has always been a busy one for us in the Free Church. It is the weekend of what was called ‘Open House’, now renamed ‘Open City’; the occasion on which buildings more usually closed to the public are thrown open for people to explore. As a Grade 1 listed, Edwin Lutyens’ designed building, the Free Church invariably attracts good numbers of visitors. And in spite of Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s ‘Open City’ weekend is going ahead and again we are to be involved… On Friday, 18th September @ 1pm a Piano recital given by Masa Tayama… On Saturday, 19th September, the Church will be open between 10am & 5pm, and in addition we will be holding a car boot/table top sale in the car park… On Sunday, 20th September, following our morning worship service @ 11am we will be open to visitors until 5pm… …We will need volunteers to help with stewarding, refreshments, running stalls etc and so if you can help at all, please let me know asap so that we can finalise the arrangements for what will be both a challenging and an exciting weekend… …Anyway, back to autumn. I have a somewhat eccentric taste in music. My ‘all time’ favourite song is ‘Refugees’ by Van De Graaf Generator. It describes the 4 seasons as points on a compass. I will be posting the whole song on FACEBOOK as our hymn for today on Wednesday, but here is the writer – Peter Hamill’s – depiction of autumn… ‘…West is where all days will someday end; Where the colours turn from grey to gold, And you can be with the friends. And light flakes the golden clouds above all; West is Mike and Susie, West is where I love. There we shall spend our final days of our lives; Tell the same old stories: yeah well, At least we tried. Into the West, smiles on our faces, we’ll go; Oh, yes, and our apologies to those Who’ll never really know the way…’ Enjoy the autumn, it has a richness all of its own…

  • - Not a traditional holiday

    uch of the talk this past week has been to do with the development of a vaccine to combat Covid-19; especially the progress being made by scientists at Oxford University. Of course, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. It will be, at best, many months from now before the general public will have access to mass produced vaccination but nevertheless it is good to know that the efforts of those engaged in this work are beginning to bear fruit. They deserve every encouragement we can give them, not least in our prayers, that they would remain committed to the cause however many setbacks they may encounter. And we in turn have to be patient, safe in the knowledge that what can be done is being done, as effectively and efficiently as it can be…

  • - A Levels coming up

    uch of the talk this past week has been to do with the development of a vaccine to combat Covid-19; especially the progress being made by scientists at Oxford University. Of course, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. It will be, at best, many months from now before the general public will have access to mass produced vaccination but nevertheless it is good to know that the efforts of those engaged in this work are beginning to bear fruit. They deserve every encouragement we can give them, not least in our prayers, that they would remain committed to the cause however many setbacks they may encounter. And we in turn have to be patient, safe in the knowledge that what can be done is being done, as effectively and efficiently as it can be…

  • - Solidarity with folk of every nation

    Dear Friends, At times like these, it is very easy to concentrate on one’s own personal circumstances. Of course, it is vital that we take care of ourselves, look out for ourselves, do all that we can to ensure that we stay safe, protecting ourselves as best we can. But we should also continue to be aware that this is a global pandemic during which no country on earth has been left untouched. This caused me to think about our own congregation, and the links we have, directly and indirectly, with the wider world……I came up with the following list of countries… …France, Italy, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, Greece, Sweden, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Irish Republic, England… As a Church, this is how far we reach across the world. And some of you will have links with people in other places. It does us good to be reminded that whilst what is happening is happening to us, it is also happening to everyone else as well. No one is immune from the impact of what is truly a global pandemic… …Of course, different countries have different approaches as to how to combat the effects of Covid-19. It might be argued that some countries have done better than others; that it is easier for some countries simply because of factors such as geography, or population density. Some countries will have well-established health care provision – although even then effects have been catastrophic – while others will have only a basic health service. It is easy to judge, and to be judged; to compare one’s experience with that of others, be it favourably or unfavourably. Whatever, in the end, no one anywhere has been able to avoid what is happening… …And wherever there are people in the world, the Christian Church is present. In some places, more prominently than in others. But it is thanks to the enormous effort of the Missionary movement during the last 300 years or so that the Christian Gospel has been able to find its way into every corner of the world. Many such missionaries went from this country. More recently we have been pleased to welcome missionaries from other countries… …And so, as we continue to confront the pandemic, we do so in solidarity with folk of every nation. And as Christians, as we continue to live faithfully under God, following as best we can in Jesus’ footsteps, we do so in solidarity with our Christian sisters & brothers across the world. It is good for us as a ‘local’ church to be able to engage through worship, prayer and practical concern with people from many other countries. Our fellowship is enriched accordingly.

  • - The Second Wave

    Dear Friends, And so, the ‘second wave’ has well and truly hit. Whilst for now we may not be as badly affected as those living in the North West, the North East, & the Midlands, the number of confirmed cases in our own Borough is rising steeply. We cannot afford to be complacent. ‘Hands, Face, Space’; we cannot be reminded too often of the need to ‘wash our hands’, to ‘wear an appropriate face covering when out in public’, and to ‘maintain social distancing’ wherever we are, whoever we are with… …For now, the proposed changes to the restrictions that have been applied, have not changed the situation as far as places of worship are concerned. Yet we still have to continue to be especially vigilant as far as the preparation, organisation and delivery of the Sunday service is concerned… …I have been delighted to see so many attending regularly. Thank you. But can I issue a plea. Because we broadcast the service via social media, it is only fair to those watching wherever they are that we start on time – not something we are that used to in the Free Church it must be said – and of course we have to record everyone’s details before the service starts. So, if you are coming next Sunday, please think about arriving 5 minutes earlier than you might otherwise have done. And if you are watching from afar, please be patient with us… …I want to say a special ‘thank you’ to Gary Blackman, our cleaner/caretaker. He has had to take on the onerous responsibility of ensuring that both the Church itself, and the hall are both kept clean enough for everyone who comes and goes to do so in relative safety. Gary is doing us all proud right now. And also, a big ‘thank you’ to those of you who are also working incredibly hard to make sure that the church is functioning efficiently in these difficult times. I Know we ask a lot of one another, now more perhaps than ever, and it is to everyone’s credit that we are doing as well as we can. We cannot rest on our laurels; we are likely to have to work even harder… …I’m also aware of the prayerful support that so many of you are giving. Of course, this is the one way that everyone can help. Our prayers don’t have to be elaborately crafted. As I suggested some months ago, if you have a church handbook, set aside half an hour each day to prayerfully read through the names of the members and friends of the congregation. Some each of us will know better than others, some will only be a name to us, but that will be enough… …And then go that bit further. Each day telephone somebody; send a couple of e/mails, a few text messages. Just so that we can make sure that nobody within the family of the church is left out of the loop. I know many of you are doing this already, and thank you for that, but maybe now is the time for doing that little bit extra…

  • - A spiritual kick in the teeth

    Dear Friends, I’d always hoped these weekly letters would be positive, upbeat and encouraging; but every now and again we find ourselves confronted by what is effectively a moral and spiritual ‘kick in the teeth’. Today has been such a day. The publication of the report of the Independent enquiry into child sex abuse concerning the Church of England and the Church in Wales. (even though it is ‘limited’ to that one tradition, be in no doubt that its findings apply to the ‘whole church’). We knew it was coming. We had a pretty good idea what it would say. It is damning, shocking, and accusing in equal measure. The scale of the abuse inflicted on vulnerable and impressionable children is breath taking. But if that isn’t enough, it is the extent of the cover-up which really hits home. Forcing victims to see their perpetrators’ behaviour swept under the carpet for the sake of the well-being of the institution. A hierarchy arrogantly assuming to itself the wisdom and the power to resolve such matters, quietly, and secretly. Even twenty years ago when as an Industrial Chaplain I would visit offices, factories, workplaces talking to folk about this and that; it was clergy sex scandals that was reckoned to be the reason why many people had lost ‘faith’ in the Church… …Today is one of those days when wider society held a mirror up to our faces and we are bound to confess we are ashamed at what we see. Hopefully, changes introduced in recent years to do with safe guarding procedures will mean that much of what has been commented on today is already ‘history’. But as has often be said, those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past will inevitably repeat them… …Today is a day for saying sorry. Nothing any of us says can undo the hurt experienced by the victims; many of whom have had to wait a life-time for their voices to be heard, their ‘stories’ believed, their claims vindicated. But that shouldn’t stop us from saying sorry. Scripture reminds us that God’s judgement begins with the House of the Lord. Today, public opinion judges us, in a number of cases perpetrators have been judged by the courts. But on this day, more than any other day, we remind ourselves that we stand condemned by God, the righteous Judge. Until we realise this to be so, there can be no forgiveness… …And so, if you are in the habit of praying, pray for the victims of clergy sex abuse; and for those who work with them, helping them to cope, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually; and also, for those brave enough to speak out in the hope that this evil might be rooted out from amongst us once and for all… …And so, a different letter from the one I might have written, but one I felt I had no choice but to write…I hope you understand…

  • - Just the Same, only Different

    Dear Friends, As you can see, we are back with Comic Sans M T as my ‘font of choice’. The truth is, I never meant to change. These last two weeks I had been sharing with you as a bit of fun an extended metaphor; a way of describing the difficult choices that confront us as a Church consequent upon the impact and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some change has been forced upon us, and we have had to adapt accordingly. Other changes have been made possible by our having to think about what we do in ways we never imagined we would have to. But in the end, if I was looking for a slogan to describe the present and future ministry and mission, life, work & witness of the Church it would be this… ‘Just the Same, only Different’ …Which brings me to this coming Sunday. For us in the Free Church it is our Harvest Thanksgiving Service. The date was fixed in the diary over 12 months ago. Harvest Festival is a vital and an essential aspect of the Church’s year. This year it is ‘Just the Same, only Different’. For one thing, we will not be able to sit down and eat lunch together as the family of the Church. Familiar hymns will have to be listened to as they are sung by others, rather than we sing them ourselves. But it will still be ‘Harvest’. We will still take the opportunity to say thank You to God for all the good things with which we have been blessed during this past year, in spite of everything else that is happening. Indeed, for the Suburb, this year more than ever. Enforced periods of restricted movement have meant even more time to work on one’s allotment. I’m hearing of ‘bumper crops’ all round… …But its not just about ‘food on the table’, it is also to do with saying ‘thank You’ to God for being ‘God for us’ during all that has happened, is happening, and whatever will happen. Our personal experiences during these last 6 months in particular may well have tested our Faith in God; and we should not be afraid to admit it, or be unwilling to acknowledge it. But Harvest tide gives us an opportunity to realise that God has not lost faith in us, even during those times when we have all but lost faith in God… …It may be that one of the unexpected consequences of having lived through this time is that our appreciation of what it means to ‘live by faith’ will be different from how it was: ‘Just the same, only Different’… …But be encouraged by this: The Writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says of Jesus Christ, ‘The same, yesterday, today and forever.’ The God who is revealed in Jesus to be a loving and forgiving God is ‘Just the Same, always the Same’… …So, this weekend, be thankful for every good gift, and give thanks to God for that ‘Inexpressible Gift’, God’s gift to us in Christ…

  • - Does a font type matter ?

    Dear Friends, In my Wednesday letter of last week, I announced my intention to no longer use ‘Comic Sans M T’ as my ‘font of choice’, but to switch to the wholly new and different ‘Perpetua’. I was amazed at the response. I had more replies to last week’s letter than to any other letter I had sent out since I began sending them out back in March. The responses were, broadly speaking, of two kinds. those who didn’t like the idea of changing from that which they had grown to love – It had to be Comic Sans MT or nothing; nothing could replace Comic Sans MT – and those who, while they were open to change, definitely did not want to change to Perpetua. Indeed, there were very few positive indicators as far as Perpetua was concerned. Then there were those who commented to the effect, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ Why change something, just for change’s sake? Whilst there were those whose only concern was whether or not they would be able to read it. In fact, any font would do, as long as it could be read easily and clearly. They weren’t concerned about what it was called, just as long as it was ‘easy on the eye’. And then finally, there was the frankly hurtful comment to the effect, ‘I can’t be doing with all this Font nonsense, Comic Sans M T / Perpetua, – If it isn’t worth reading (& I’ve not read most of them!) then it doesn’t matter what fancy script its written in!!’ …So, what should I do? Should I give in and go back to ‘Good old Comic Sans M T’, or should I stick to my plan, and persevere with Perpetua? It is not an easy choice. I feel as if I am at a stylistic crossroads, a literary fork in the road, or even a calligraphic roundabout… …But then there is another solution – another Font! Arial, maybe, Times New Roman perhaps, Elephant even, then again, Belin Sans FB, or Verdana…The list is endless… …In the end a choice has to be made. And I have to choose because I have to be comfortable with it. It has to do the job I want it to do. It has to be able to get its message across. It has to be easily accessible to everyone. It may not be everybody’s first choice, but that is only because each of us is somebody different from each other. Was I doing it just for me? That isn’t good enough. But neither is not doing it just because there are some who don’t like it. I’m going to carry on with Perpetua for now…But if I have to give in to the inevitable, so be it…As Scripture says, ‘Let the reader understand’.

  • - Sometimes things must change

    Dear Friends, Keen readers of my weekly letters etc will notice something very different about this one. I’ll give you a moment…Got it yet? No? I’ll tell you. Up until now everything I have sent out has been ‘written’ using the font, ‘Comic Sans M S’ – often regarded as the marmite of the word processing world, (you love it or you hate it) – but this letter is composed using the font ‘Perpetua’. Yet now that I’ve started using it, I’m not sure I like it. Its just as easy to use as any other font. But it just doesn’t ‘look’ right… …No, I’m going to change back to ‘Comic Sans M S’. There, I feel better now. It looks ‘right’. Not strange; but rather strangely familiar. Life can be a bit like this for all of us. How prepared are we to even try something new? How willing are we to explore the previously unknown, to experiment with the previously untried? We like to think we are, but when the opportunity presents itself, we all too readily retreat back into our already established comfort zone…But, should we be like that? Is that how life should be lived?… …No, I’m not going to give in. I am going to persevere with the ‘new’. It may not be ‘for me’, but how will I know unless I give it an opportunity to impress itself upon me; to prove itself to me; to convince me that this is ‘for me’. And so, I press on with ‘Perpetua’. Why? Because, in reality, I have to be able to engage with that which is presently unfamiliar but which over time is likely to become what people are calling the ‘new normal’… …Deep down, if I am honest, I want things to be as they were. I had hoped that what is happening would have been over more quickly. Difficult to live through of course, with a terrible price to pay in terms of lives and livelihoods, but nevertheless destined to be just ‘another footnote’ as far as human history is concerned. The longer it goes on the less likely that is. So, I have to accept that Comic Sans M S belongs to the past; a past interrupted abruptly by circumstances I never even contemplated. It falls to us to create a future that is every bit as life affirming, life enhancing, life fulfilling as it used to be… …One of my favourite sayings is: ‘If things don’t alter, they are bound to stay the same’. What this present experience is teaching me is this: ‘If things can’t stay the same, they will have to alter’. This is true for us as individuals, for us as a Church, for us as a community – locally, nationally, globally… …And so, for the final time, I get to sign off my Wednesday letter with Comic Sans M F… From now on, the future’s bright, the future’s Perpetua…

  • - Going back to reality

    Dear Friends, Where would we be without Midsomer Murders? Over 100 episodes and counting. Who would have thought that the population of a select few quintessentially English villages – modelled on those found in the Chiltern Hills apparently – could give rise to enough murder and mayhem to keep the programme going for so long. It is the sort of TV programme that everybody watches, but nobody will admit to it. Well, I can keep my secret no longer; I watch it, I enjoy watching it, I will never tire of watching it…even the repeats… …Mind you, Midsomer Murders is just getting started when compared with The Archers; Ambridge has been part of the fabric of British society for so long, it has to be real, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. Its appeal is that it isn’t real and everybody knows it isn’t real. That’s why we are addicted to programmes like this: Coronation Street, Albert Square, Emmerdale – each with their own public House at its heart, (The Rovers’ Return, The Queen Vic., The Woolpack), – the last thing we want is to discover that they really do exist… …All of us needs somewhere to escape to; some form of escapism that will take us out of ourselves if only for a short while, and allow us to leave behind the reality of the life we live, whatever that life might have in store for us…And of course, it doesn’t have to be a television series that does this – a good book, inspiring music, art of every kind, even a jigsaw puzzle – all of these have the ability to draw us into themselves until, just for a while, we find ourselves leaving this world behind and entering into the world of make believe…All of us has a wardrobe of the mind that is the gateway to our own particular Narnia… …And so, we thank God for the gift of imagination that is used for this purpose: for authors, script writers, artists, composers, entertainers, story tellers, actors, musicians, craftsmen and craftswomen… …In a strange way (or perhaps not so strange) believing in God brings with it an invitation to step outside of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves, to delve deep within ourselves, to see ourselves as God sees us. We are invited to enter a wholly different dimension; to leave behind the all too limited perspective that we call the ‘here and now’ and to embrace eternity. We are presented with the opportunity to set aside a purely mechanistic, materialistic, monochrome existence in order to be embraced by a spirituality that is awash with colour… …Just as with any soap opera, we can’t stay there forever. We have to re enter the so-called ‘real’ world. We have to leave behind such places. But when we have experienced this Divinely inspired spiritual reality; rather than leave it behind, we find it – God – becomes more real to us than anything else…Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourselves…

  • - Autumn is coming

    Dear Friends, And so, September breaks in upon us. Already the weather has that distinctly autumnal feel to it. The days are shortening in dramatic fashion. the leaves on the trees are beginning to turn from green to gold as watery sunshine does its best to break through the gathering gloom that is the grey ridden cloudy skies… …The 3rd weekend in September has always been a busy one for us in the Free Church. It is the weekend of what was called ‘Open House’, now renamed ‘Open City’; the occasion on which buildings more usually closed to the public are thrown open for people to explore. As a Grade 1 listed, Edwin Lutyens’ designed building, the Free Church invariably attracts good numbers of visitors. And in spite of Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s ‘Open City’ weekend is going ahead and again we are to be involved… On Friday, 18th September @ 1pm a Piano recital given by Masa Tayama… On Saturday, 19th September, the Church will be open between 10am & 5pm, and in addition we will be holding a car boot/table top sale in the car park… On Sunday, 20th September, following our morning worship service @ 11am we will be open to visitors until 5pm… …We will need volunteers to help with stewarding, refreshments, running stalls etc and so if you can help at all, please let me know asap so that we can finalise the arrangements for what will be both a challenging and an exciting weekend… …Anyway, back to autumn. I have a somewhat eccentric taste in music. My ‘all time’ favourite song is ‘Refugees’ by Van De Graaf Generator. It describes the 4 seasons as points on a compass. I will be posting the whole song on FACEBOOK as our hymn for today on Wednesday, but here is the writer – Peter Hamill’s – depiction of autumn… ‘…West is where all days will someday end; Where the colours turn from grey to gold, And you can be with the friends. And light flakes the golden clouds above all; West is Mike and Susie, West is where I love. There we shall spend our final days of our lives; Tell the same old stories: yeah well, At least we tried. Into the West, smiles on our faces, we’ll go; Oh, yes, and our apologies to those Who’ll never really know the way…’ Enjoy the autumn, it has a richness all of its own…

  • - Not a traditional holiday

    uch of the talk this past week has been to do with the development of a vaccine to combat Covid-19; especially the progress being made by scientists at Oxford University. Of course, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. It will be, at best, many months from now before the general public will have access to mass produced vaccination but nevertheless it is good to know that the efforts of those engaged in this work are beginning to bear fruit. They deserve every encouragement we can give them, not least in our prayers, that they would remain committed to the cause however many setbacks they may encounter. And we in turn have to be patient, safe in the knowledge that what can be done is being done, as effectively and efficiently as it can be…

  • - A Levels coming up

    uch of the talk this past week has been to do with the development of a vaccine to combat Covid-19; especially the progress being made by scientists at Oxford University. Of course, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. It will be, at best, many months from now before the general public will have access to mass produced vaccination but nevertheless it is good to know that the efforts of those engaged in this work are beginning to bear fruit. They deserve every encouragement we can give them, not least in our prayers, that they would remain committed to the cause however many setbacks they may encounter. And we in turn have to be patient, safe in the knowledge that what can be done is being done, as effectively and efficiently as it can be…