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Saturday, 31 July 2010

Sunk down in the Mire

So half the vegetable garden is now down to leeks, and I needed to start work on the other half - and those now rather devastated areas where I dug up suggestive fruit trees.  My task has been given extra urgency from another letter from Marjorie, informing me that she has rented the house out and will be with me early next week.

So I've been working really hard all morning, wrestling by the sweat of my brow with thorns and thistles. By twelve o'clock the whole patch was cleared and I was receiving my order of manure from the farmer.

I note from another web page the appalling use of language in our modern-day workforce.  Sometimes they are so coarse as to approach the foulness of Eileen's language back in Husborne Crawley.  And I can guarantee that the Revd Phil Ritchie's friends' experience is one I shared this morning.  The farmer turned up with his lorryload of manure, and asked - in terms lacking in all politesse - where I wanted the - well, I shall paraphrase what he said. He asked where I wanted the "dung".

I was so disconcerted by his use of vulgar epithet that I stood to upbraid him. Surely, I said, this use of the language of the gutter is unfitting? Think of the power of the human language - the traditional beauty of the King James Version. What would St Paul think, I was starting to ask - when I realised that he had activated the motor and the entire load of his lorry was sliding rapidly toward me.

Truly, l once again was as one that had gone down to the Pit. My head sticking out the top of a pyramidal mound of horse refuse.  But I refused to lose my dignity. I refused to descend to foul abuse. I merely remarked that he would receive his just reward. To which he responded that he already had that, as I had paid in advance.

At this point, Maud and Elsie wandered past on their way to market. I heard the words "Up to his neck in it again", and the reply "Yeah, he's no better than the last one".

I've spent the last half-hour moving as much manure as can be moved, from the drive where the farmer dumped it across to the vegetable patch.  And now I must be off. The shower and the fragrant aroma of carbolic soap in my nostrils await me.

Friday, 30 July 2010

A late-nighter

It is unlike me to be awake so late at night.

I can hear the sound of the drunkards in the Crown and Cushion. They sound so happy in their sin. By what definition do we declare them "miserable" sinners?

I console myself that the day will come when they have to account for every pint of Everard's they have consumed. Then the smiles will be on the other sides of their faces - when they fall into the vengeful hands of a loving God.

Long and winding is the road

A good day's evangelism outside Asda in Thurmaston.

I say "good" as in once again I was treated like the prophets before me - moved on repeatedly, insulted by youths and generally ignored.

Although it is good to hunger and thirst after righteousness, I ended up in the McDonald's across the road, where a young man accosted me and asked if he could join our congregation. He said he was feeling like an outcast himself and thought I seemed like a kindred spirit.  Naturally I was delighted.

But it's only now I'm home that I realise the problem I've given myself.

You see, Arthur lives on the Melton Road. And he doesn't drive. So I promised that we'd pick him up.

We've found it's a great evangelistic tool. Quite often non-drivers who are fed up with walking to their current churches can be persuaded to join the BaptiBus, the old Transit we send round picking them up before the service.
Or that's the theory. In practice, by the time the Baptibus has been to Market Bosworth,  Wigston, Kibworth, Scraptoft, Melton Mowbray and Wanlip and got back to Frisby, we're already halfway through the second worship block of songs. If they have to add a call on the Melton Road, either Oz is going to have to set off at 7am, or  they're all going to miss the sermon as well.

The not-so-merry Monarch

There is in English history a king so evil that his name should live with Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler and Mr Blobby in the first league of sinners.  He died, syphilitic and hideous, and missed by none.
He murdered his wives, Catholics, Protestants, Baptists and the good people of Yorkshire in equal measure. The Protestants he burned as heretics and - as a means of a kind of via media - the Catholics were hanged, drawn and quartered as traitors.

His name, of course, is Henry VIII. But because the Church of England that he founded (so he could divorce one wife and marry another so he could murder her) has continued to this day - a church of old maids cycling to Communion through the autumn mists of burning heretics - and because a hatred of Spain carried more weight than a love of the Old Religion - and because the Book of Common Prayer sounds so lovely and traditional - he has somehow kept a good name amongst the people of England as a precursor to that truly "Merry Monarch", Charles II.  Although, on the whole, of course, I prefer Oliver Cromwell, who was not so attached to any pleasure except that of banning things.

But enough of this pretending that, though he killed Catholics, Protestants and Yorkshire folk, Henry was basically a good bloke. We must strike back - and in the way that would hurt him to the core.

We must ban Greensleeves.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Healing Service

I know I should say that we were blessed at the Healing  Service last night. After all, wherever there is prayer for healing there is blessing.

But it's also very disappointing. Fourteen people went forward for healing. But none were healed. Fancy out of all those people, not one having sufficient faith. I'm very disappointed in them.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Wages of Festering Sin

Jimmy is such a rebellious young man.

I saw him today and his eczema seems worse than ever. He tells me that young Arabella has left him, convinced that he has been unfaithful to her and this has caused his ailment.

I told Jimmy that indeed these were just the kinds of side-effects we can expect when we leave the paths of righteousness and follow after lust and depravity. I was going to tell him that, for his own good, I was going to have to bar him from Sunday morning worship for another fortnight, or until he repented publicly - but he'd walked off before I could say that.

The funny thing is that Arabella, who clearly has greater spiritual insight than Jimmy, has stopped attending St Swithin's and is now attending Salem Chapel with us. The vicar's not very happy.  But as I said to Mrs Gently (I hesitate to call her "Reverend") when I saw her in the town this afternoon, God doesn't want her doing that job anyway. She should leave spiritual guidance to her husband. She said quite a few things to me in reply, but none that I could reproduce on a family Blogsite.  No wonder she's losing her congregation when she swears like that.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Flip-flops, Shorts and Rock & Roll

I followed a comment on this blog back to the commenter - or is it commentator - intending to explain why my view on Creation is correct (i.e. because that's what it says in the Bible).
But instead I found myself musing on his choice of dress. Obviously, when I say "choice of dress" I don't mean frock. He's not an Anglican, after all. But rather he refers to attending church wearing flip-flops and shorts - and listening to Rock & Roll.

Which makes me wonder what our response at Frisby Independent Baptists would be if someone turned up wearing flip-flops and shorts.  I'll pass over Rock & Roll as clearly, with the exception of a few guitar-based combos on certain reliably sound Christian channels, that is beyond the pale. Although we might want to save people from Rock & Roll - as you would want to save them from Country & Western or even - whisper its name - Rhythm & Blues.

But suppose someone turned up at Salem Chapel wearing flip-flops. Firstly there is the likelihood that the person might merely be a visitor from the Baptist Union.  In which case we would treat them kindly, but would regard them as at the same level as our female worshippers - i.e. we wouldn't let them speak during the service.  We would also keep a watchful eye over them during coffee in case they started sharing false doctrines.
And if they were wearing shorts - well, clearly out of the question for a woman.  They would be ordered to remove them before being allowed in. No - let me rephrase that.  They would be asked to go home and change. And if it were for a man - well, that's a trickier one. I guess if he were an hairy man we might ask him to cover up. Such Edomish behaviour would not be tolerated. And if he shaved his legs - well, clearly we couldn't allow him in. Don't know why I even thought of it. Memories of Melton Mowbray all over again.
So what I'm saying is that I would allow a man in shorts to enter our place of worship, if he were naturally the possessor of smooth legs. I'm not sure who would be empowered to make such a decision at the front door before Divine worship - I, after all, would be preparing myself for the meeting with my two hours of silent prayer ion the vestry. So on the whole, I reckon that would be one for the Doctrine Sub-Committee.

I hope this is clear enough. God wants people to come to him as they are. But we'll make sure they're moving in the right direction before we actually put them in front of him.

A letter

I've received a letter from Marjorie.

"Dear Drayton
I've been wondering where you got to since we - or I should say - I moved house.  So I am delighted and surprised to have found out your new address.  I can't understand how I managed to lose you in the move, but I'd like to reassure you that it wasn't just you - I also managed to mislay the second-best napkin rings - you remember, the silver ones?  You haven't got them, have you?
In the time that we have been married, I've always considered that your neediness, expressed as an anxiety for everybody to love you, has been matched only by your poor organisation skills and your need to push people around.  I'm therefore delighted that, by obtaining a job as a church leader, you've probably found something that matches your personality
 Since I discover that you are living in a house provided by the church, I reckon I can make some money by renting out my - I mean our - primary residence. I will therefore be arriving in Leicestershire with you shortly. Can you get the spare room ready.
Sincerely
Marjorie"


I can't express my joy. That my new calling in life should be supplemented by the return of the one I love! I am unsurprised by the apparently cool tone on the surface of her letter - Marjorie was never one to let great emotion show, except a certain amusement that day I trapped my hand in the car door.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Atheist who just wanted his Dad to like him

Who'd have thought, behind the blank eyes of the Door-to-Door Atheist - there was just a little boy wanting some approval?

I've had a busy morning, getting around the village and its surroundings.  I've been trying to visit various of my chapel members for their fortnightly spiritual audits. Unfortunately they were all out, which was quite a surprise. Not least because three of them were homebound. I can only cry Hallelujah! They must have been healed and risen from their beds. Which is quite a a blessing - especially for Mrs Hangem, who is 99 and hasn't left her cottage since the Beatles disbanded.

But I digress. I returned to the manse and made myself a refreshing cup of tea - not too strong, I wouldn't want to get over-excited and lose control of my passions.

And a knock came at the door.

I did what I always do in these circumstances. I opened the door - none of your post-modernism for me.  I have to mention that I was not dog-collared, as I tend to save such dressing-up and frippery for the Sabbath - and there he was. A little chap with greasy hair and an anorak. At first glance I assumed he was a member of our own congregation, but then I read the material he had in his hand.  "Evolution is real."

And I realised I was face-to-face with that mythical creature, the Door-to-Door Atheist.

Who would have thought it? I, a mere Baptist minister, granted by God's grace the chance to evangelise the Door-to-Door Atheist. Naturally I inwardly said the "prayer before going into spiritual battle" that I was taught on my three-week Independent Ministry Crash Course.

He's an interesting character. You think about it - you or I in evangelism, or a vacuum cleaner salesman or a door-to-door psychotherapist - we all adopt much the same technique. We try to establish that the person who opens the door has a problem.  Either they have a dirty soul, or a dirty carpet, or a dirty mind.  And we show how we can cure that problem - with the Jesus Prayer, or a new improved vacuum cleaner, or cognitive therapy.

Whereas the Door-to-Door Atheist starts by telling you that it's your solutions that are the problem, and if you'd give them up your life would be - well, less full of solutions, I suppose.

So we had a discussion about the evidence for evolution. He explained that the way in which fossils lie in the same sequence within rock strata shows that evolution has taken place. He spoke of the measurement of genetic change in modern-day organisms. He spoke of sickle-cell anaemia and malaria resistance, of the breeding of dogs, of the obvious flaws in the "design" of creatures. Of the shared DNA between many species, of mice and mitochondria.  And I read Genesis Chapter 1 to him, to explain to him what really happened.  And I patiently explained to him that fossils were put there by the Dark One, and he wouldn't accidentally put one in the wrong place to ruin the Theory of Evolution.

So he told me of the width of the universe - how it is expanding, and how maths and the Theory of Relativity prove the immense age of the universe. He told me of light from stars long-dead, still heading towards the earth. And I told him that 6000 years ago, God simply put those beams of light in the right places, and the expanding galaxies likewise, and told them all which way to go.

So he spoke of a plethora of religions - of dead religions and living ones - of polytheism and monotheism and henotheism -  and of each claiming to be right - and asked what made me think mine was the right one? And I told him - the Bible and the Holy Spirit tell me. So I'm right. So he could either repent or perish.

And then I changed tack - I don't know, something about him struck a chord - and asked him how he got on with his father.  And bingo.

I had to invite him in for a cup of moderate-strength tea with a sufficient but not luxurious amount of sugar.

Turns out his dad was a terrible critic of the Door-to-Door Atheist's talents - always telling him he wasn't good enough. And the Door-to-Door Atheist as a result had come to hate all patriarchal religions, with a father-god casting thunderbolts and judging people guilty for falling short of his divine standards.
And then he had discovered the One True Dawkins, and had forsaken trying to please his father, and had instead worked hard to try to make himself the sort of sceptical scientist that Prof Richard Dawkins would be proud of. But no matter how hard he tried to write scathing comments about Flying Spaghetti Monsters and Sky Pixies on the atheist forums late at night, he still didn't feel good enough and so he turned to Door-to-Door Atheism as a way of channelling his energies productively.  And how all that walking around having doors slammed in his face had been a way of burning off the sexual frustration that built up from knowing that girls don't fancy geeks in anoraks.

So, now that trust had been established, I opened up a little myself. I told him how I too had always felt myself a disappointment. Hearing my surname, people have always assumed I'm a relative of the great hamster breeder, Percy Parslow. And when I tell them I'm not, they always look like I've let them down slightly. And maybe, in some way, this is what has driven my need to have people look up to me as a pastor and respected preacher.  Maybe even led to my stress upon God as a Judge, and not Jesus as our boyfriend.

So poured him another tea - I'd already had enough - and we shed a few tears, and then I let him out and shook his hand and he went on his way. He has not changed his views. He is still marching towards oblivion, one door at a time.

But for just a few minutes, I like to think that he and I shared something special.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Joshua

I feel I have to ask this.

Some might say it's sinful even to ask this question. Some might say I should not test the faithful. Some might say I have no right to ask it. But then some might say that there's no heaven - and go and tell that to the man who lives in hell.

Some might say I should just preach on being bold, being strong, for the Lord Your God is with you.

But it's this.

Joshua - a paragon of faith, bravery, dedication to the Lord. He is told to cross the Jordan, go and find out the various tribes of the Canaanites - I would list them all, but we're due to have another service next week, and I'm not sure I can get through them all in time - and he has to...

There's no easy way to put this. He is told to kill them all. Mostly just the males, but in some instances - Jericho, for instance - everyone. Man, woman and child. And destroy their belongings.  And, in the case of Jericho, obliterate the place.

Some might say that I'm just a bleeding-hearted old liberal. But I have to ask myself - how does that work? How can a loving God do that to people that He created?

And I've thought hard about the answer. And this is what I have concluded.

He did it because they deserved it.

I mean - what other answer can there be? There they all are - men, women and children - living in the Land of Canaan. A land that they may have thought was named after them - after all, they were  the Canaanites. Joshua turns up, blowing his own trumpet, as it were. The walls fall. The Israelitest kill them all.

So they must have been guilty. It stands to reason.  Baal-worshipping, Asherah-pole-building, Molech-stoking. What else could they expect? Genocide was too good for them.

But it still seems a bit rough on the children.

And now we sing that great old hymn - "Troops of Midian Prowl Around".

The Power of Prayer

I'm afraid we had a terrible conclusion to our prayer-themed service this morning.

I see it as, in large part, my own fault. It was I who suggested that, instead of the usual time of open prayer - which always runs the risk of somebody "praying" a thirty-minute sermon - we break everyone into small groups to share their own prayers.

I should have spent more time in prayer over this idea myself - maybe I would have been granted the word of wisdom I needed, that this was a bad idea. I should have listened intently.

In the event, Barry prayed for a resolution of the West Bank settlements issue. But in my sermon on the subject, I had advocated being specific in our prayers. Barry was so specific in how he wanted resolution that Gerry disagreed on theological and geopolitical grounds. Gerry therefore prayed for the opposite. Barry prayed his point of view more strongly, and added in some comments about Moshe Dayan that may well have been slanderous had Mr Dayan still been alive. Gerry prayed something rather stronger and said some things about Yasser Arafat that were not strictly compatible with Christian charity. And the next thing we knew there were punches and chairs being thrown. 

Given the state that Barry and Gerry were in after receiving a couple of blows each, and the collateral damage to a number of other members of the congregation, we moved swiftly into a time of prayer for healing.

Truly the Lord moves in mysterious ways. We have seen friction and aggression within Salem, our place of peace. But on the bright side, I have two more people to visit in hospital.

A period of worship prior to the Service

I cannot help but wonder at this sentence from a local Baptist church:


"There is sometimes a period of worship prior to the start of the service: we invite you to join in."


I presume that when the service starts, the worship stops?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

No place for melons

Having cleared the garden last week, I've made a really good start on the vegetable patch, and I'm starting to get an idea of what I'm going to plant and where. But I'm acutely aware of the potential sexual connotations of my choices.

Being of a sober disposition, I'm not inclined to see ribald amusement in common or garden fruit and veg - not that I should call "common" anything that the Giver has blessed. But I find such frivolity common in my fellow men. I remember in my teenage years, my granny rolling around laughing at some particularly deformed parsnip or turnip on the popular BBC TV programme "That's Life". I would have to leave the front room, ashamed of the depths of sin to which my family had sunk, and read the Book of Proverbs to calm my raging thoughts.

And so I am currently planting leeks in part of the vegetable patch. They are an upright vegetable, if I can use that word without causing excitement among the more vigorous of my readers, but the general floppiness of the tops prevents any unfortunate comparisons.

So I have compiled a list of approved vegetables without jocular or carnal connotations, and will be issuing it to my congregation as follows:

Leeks - YES
Cabbages - YES
Onions - YES
Pumpkins - YES
Peppers - YES
Radishes - YES, just about
Butternut squashes- NO, probably not
Turnips - NO
Carrots - NO NO
Cucumbers - NO NO NO

So having disposed of the vegetable morality issue, I turned my attention to the fruit already in the garden - acutely aware that even the word "fruit" has certain connotations.  I have to be careful that I do not lead my congregation into sin through an inappropriate choice and so certainly the fig tree had to go.  There's something so Song of Solomon about a fig.

It was after I had cut the fig tree up, and was washing the sap off my hands under the garden tap, that Mrs Collins looked over the garden fence. Mrs Collins is a lady of rounded figure who has a habit of hanging out the washing while wearing only a dressing gown over her nightgown - not that I look that closely, you understand. Should I be out in the garden when Mrs Collins appears, I do my best to raise my eyes to the heavens and engage with our Creator in prayer.

But on this occasion she caught me unawares, as she pointed over to the remaining fruit trees, and commented,
"Oh - what a lovely pear."
So that was the fate of the Conference sealed. And I cut down the plum tree down as well, to be on the safe side.

On the whole, I've decided it's best if I just turn the whole garden over to leeks, onions and cabbages. It'll be a dull and monotonous diet, but at least it will be without temptation.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The road less travelled

Privatisation clearly did nothing to improve the godliness of our nation's Public Transport system.

Today I was led to travel to another local market town to bring the Good News.  It's ridiculous for a small church such as Frisby Independent Baptists to attempt to evangelise a whole county on its own - even deep faith must have its limits.  And so I have drawn a zone of 40 mile radius around the Leicester Space Centre, and defined that as our sphere of influence.

Technically it's not a sphere, it's a circle - a circle being a 2-dimensional body, whereas spheres are possessed of 3 dimensions - but that need not worry us for the purposes of evangelism.
So today I brought the Glad Tidings to the benighted souls of Melton Mowbray. A race that sojourns in perpetual darkness, chewing on pieces of pork pie and Stilton Cheese in a doomed effort to haul themselves to the end of each day that dawned without hope, and will see the sun set without meaning.  Except for when they get excited, once a year in the summer, and take the kids to Twin Lakes for the day.

So it was with the thrill of sharing the Good News that I spent the morning at various places around the Town Centre. I was using my new replica car number plate that says "J35US", which I think is particularly witty - it is important to share the Gospel with humour, breaks down barriers. And yet, no matter how times I told people that their lives were sinful and licentious, and only Hell awaited them, I barely made any contact. In fact, when I was at the Cattle Market someone assumed I was trying to sell novelty number plates, and tried to get me arrested for trading without a licence.

Shaking the dust from my feet, and clutching a large - but not gluttonous - slice of pork pie, I boarded the bus and headed off back to Frisby-on-Soar. But truly all my ways had traps set on them by the Enemy, even on the return journey. About halfway home, a ticket inspector climbed on.  As the inspector neared my end of the bus - I sit at the back, on the principle that those that are last shall be first - I became aware that said operative was a woman.

You can see my dilemma. Clearly, in those circumstances the woman was assuming headship over the driver - a man who was innocently steering the bus in accordance with its appointed route.  I stood up.
"Young lady," I stated in a clear voice, "you appear to be assuming headship over this fine vehicle, and its male driver, in direct contradiction to Holy Writ. I must insist that you either stop, or I will be forced to forgo the services of Arriva and trust to the Good Lord for my journey home.

Truly wide and easy is the street that leads to destruction. But the road that leads to Frisby is narrow, and windy, and full of cars that will not give you a lift but will tear past you at 80 miles an hour, missing you by inches.  And the Church's Portable Evangelism Apparatus, although convenient and easy to use, becomes rather more cumbersome when you have to walk twelve miles home.  Especially the car battery. That really starts to hurt.

So enough for today, I need a shower, and to apply a liberal quantity of Vaseline to an area that I cannot describe on this family blog, but that suffered terribly from chafing. And I shall not be asking any of my flock to lay on hands for healing. But to the stars in my crown will be added the blisters on my feet as the marks of the martyrdom that we suffer daily, and that is a reward that will last forever.

Finally moved in

It's all dumped in the garage for now, because I'm due out on missionary work shortly. But I was glad to receive the last of my book collection and the spare bedroom furniture, which Big Bob just delivered for me.

An interesting man, Big Bob. When he's not helping to relocate people in their new homes, he has a sideline producing 19th century-style New England nonconformist furniture.
I guess you could say he's a Mover and a Shaker.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Frisby Holiday Club

I've just been for a walk around the village, and it is nice to see the posters for the Holiday Club going up all over the place. Every year the chapel has held this event, which combines moral instruction with cheap baby-sitting for the parents. And this year I think we're onto a winner, with our special theme - the punishment of a famous evil-doer every day. I attach the poster, in the hope that it may inspire other churches to a similar ambition in preaching the Good News to the young!

Melancholia

It's been a sad morning.

Normally, the day is not long enough for all the good I would want to do. I want to be preaching the Good News in season, out of season and close season. Carrying other's burdens. Shouldering my cross. Generally fighting the good fight.

But I decided that it was better for my physical and spiritual health to take a day off. After all, I have two deacons, and Oswald and  Basil can do any emergency pastoral work that does not need the official minister. And the need for Sabbath - especially when one works on the Sabbath, as I suppose technically I do - is built deep into Man.

And so I am going to take Thursdays off.

So this morning I rose at 5.30 am. I felt a lie-in would be a good start. Then an hour's prayer in my spare room, and then an hour of singing Psalms in the garden, until the neighbours asked me to desist. Indeed, Prov 27:14 has it about right, at least in Sandy Lane. So I spent a couple of hours in quiet contemplation of the Good Book, and then sorted through the post.

A couple of leaflets from various Baptist Missionary projects. A gas bill. A letter which seems to have been delayed, asking me to sign a petition against a slurry pond at Willow farm. A Next Directory addressed to my predecessor.

It must have been seeing the young couple yesterday that put me into a melancholic mood. They obviously, despite their sinful jumping of the nuptial gun, loved each other dearly.  I fell to musing about Marjorie, and how I lost her.

Surely it was just a terrible misunderstanding. We'd put our house in Milton Keynes on the market, planning to buy somewhere smaller now the children had moved out. I was called away on business - a week-long Underarm Deodorant Industry conference at the NEC.  When I came back, the house's new owners had moved in and of Marjorie there was no sign. We'd not even exchanged contracts when I left on the Monday morning.

I'm sure she must have left a message for me, but somehow it was lost. And maybe her mobile phone memory was wiped so she couldn't find my number.  And she'd never taken much notice of my job, so maybe she just didn't know exactly where I worked.   And it could have been just a misunderstanding that led the buyers to think she was single.

And so I had been musing for a while there in the kitchen, thinking about Marjorie.  Then I realised I had  absently-mindedly flipped my way through the Next catalogue, drawing lines across the legs of all the female models to indicate the length their hemlines should have been to preserve the appropriate amount of modesty.

God is a help in trouble, our refuge in ages past.  The Spirit is my guide.  But I'm really missing Marjorie.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Wedding Preparation

It's been a lovely evening, with young Agnes - the lady who phoned me up last week - and Robert, her fiancĂ©.

They're not chapel-goers, but they told me that Agnes' mother is very keen they not be married at St Swithin's. Not least because the vicar is a woman. Agnes' mother thinks that women ministers are wrong - I felt myself to be warming to the lady, absent as she was.  But then Agnes said,
"In fact, she thinks even a Baptist is better than a woman vicar."
I collected myself, However you look at it, this wedding is the chance, next summer, for a great witness to the families of these two young people.

I'll be honest, this will be my first wedding - or at least the first I've conducted, I've been to loads.  So I really wanted to make the preparation thorough. I covered off the Scriptural basis - Adam and Eve, Jesus' commandments on divorce - and then I went on to the details of the promises and the ceremony itself.

It was when I moved on - tentatively, and sensitively - to the matter of the wedding night, and the activities associated with it.  I obviously wasn't going to draw any diagrams, or any detailed description of the - for want of a better word - obligations  of the marriage bed. But I felt it was my Christian duty to set the scene, so to speak.
So imagine my surprise when they made it quite clear that they were fully familiar with all the activities of the bridal suite, before the event.
I wasn't sure what to do. That the young couple before me were heinous sinners was quite clear. And yet I am the one able to set them on the path to redemption. But inspiration fell upon me, as the dews upon Hermon.

The young couple agreed that a period of repentance and abstinence was necessary, before next year's nuptials. Moving back in with their parents is apparently out of the question, in the interim - who would have thought that both their families have had to seal off their rooms due to anthrax infestation?  But they have agreed that they shall inhabit separate bedrooms until they are united, legally and in the eyes of God. I don't like the compromise, fearing that temptation will be in their way, but if they can overcome that temptation they will be equal to the strength of many.

Before they left I offered to pray for Robert's healing from what seems to be a nasty affliction. He developed, later in our conversation, a tendency to wink repeatedly and apparently in the direction of his betrothed. I suspect it may have been merely the nervousness and guilt associated with the disclosure of their situation, and he assures me that he's sure it will clear up once he's sufficiently forgiven.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pastoral Planning

A good tea-time meeting with Basil and Oswald, my deacons, this afternoon. I am a great believer in holding meetings earlier in the evening if possible. It allows chapel members to get off to their evening prayers nice and early, ready for a refreshing and godly sleep.

Today we held a planning meeting for how we will approach pastoral care. Clearly, as the minister of a chapel with a congregation of fifty or so covenanted members, I can't devote a full evening each fortnight to visiting each one personally, as I might hope. But between the three of us this can be done, provided we make additional visits on Saturday mornings and afternoons. In order to assist the process of keeping our flock spiritually healthy, I have prepared a short checklist with which we can carry out a devotional audit.


FRISBY-ON-SOAR INDEPENDENT BAPTIST CHAPEL
SPIRITUAL AUDIT

Warning - under no circumstances are Chapel members to attempt this audit themselves. Self-auditing might lead to outbreaks of pride or spiritual depression.

1. On the average day, how sinful do you feel?
a) Incredibly sinful (+4)
b) Rather sinful (+2)
c) Unable to sin (-3)
d) Sinful and yet so utterly forgiven (-1)

2. Who is your perfect woman?
a) Sarah Palin (+2)
b) Sarah Jessica Parker (-3)
c) Delia Smith (+1)
d) I'm a woman and that's an outrageous question. Get thee behind me (+6)

3. The Church of England has announced it is to appoint woman bishops, and may even consider gay ones. How far has it sunk in sin this time?
a) About 6 inches (-2)
b) Between three and four feet (-1)
c) Buried under several miles of rock  (+1)
d) Deeper than the deepest reaches of the Dark Place (+4)

4. How many times have you considered your unworthiness of salvation today?
a) Five times or more (+4)
b) Maybe two or three, when I'm feeling down (+1)
c) All the time. In fact, I'm not even sure that I'm worthy to consider the question (+7)
d) Nope, not once. Whatever I may be like I reckon God actually loves me (-5)

5. What is your idea of heaven?
a) Like one of Pastor Drayton's sermons, but lasting forever instead of just an hour (+5)
b) Like a big party with drinks and music and everything (-10)
c) Singing rousing hymns forever (+1)
d) Like a quiet evening in (+4)

6. What hobby have you become most interested in lately?
a) Praying (+5)
b) Sitting quietly (+3)
c) Tutting at unworthy things (+4)
d) Piercings (-6)

7. The Bible is:
a) The story of people losing God, and then God finding His people (-2)
b) The infallible word of God, pure and incorrupt as directly dictated to his prophets and apostles (+3)
c) The word of God, which can be understood clearly by any man - or possibly even woman, if her husband helps - that reads it in the Spirit (+1)
d) The word of God, infallible pure and incorrupt - but too spiritual for a sinful person like me to understand without the guidance of my sincere and holy pastor (+6)

8. How are you?
a) Fine, blessed and in the best of spiritual health. God is so good - especially when you consider how rightfully angry he is with me (+5)
b) Filled with the Spirit, thanks, Pastor - Hallelujah! (+3)
c) Well, a bit down, I... why are you leaving so soon? (-4)
d) Worn out after a week in Brighton (-10)

9. How often do you pray?
a) All the time (+5)
b) When I remember (-2)
c) Three times a day - religiously. But not religiously like it's an obligation. Oh no, it's definitely the overflowing of a grateful heart. Although I know God would be angry if I didn't. (+2)
d) I light a tea light from time to time (-10)

10 How do you feel about sex?
a) Well, it's a bit late, but then my husband is working shifts this week.... (-100)
b) It's a gift from God but that's no reason why I should let my husband enjoy it (+5)
c) Well, if it was good enough for Our Lord... oh - it wasn't? (-5)
d) I suppose it's necessary if we're going to fulfil our duties in child-production (+10).

Among those who go down to the pit

A gruelling afternoon, visiting those who have suffered in Lower Lane after the slurry incident.
Poor Jehu Thomson. Busily shovelling the muck out of his house and into the skip.
And Roger O'Boyle. All his bean plants buried under four feet of agricultural effluent.
Or old Mrs Grey. Eighty-three, and moving all her belongings and furniture upstairs to avoid the rotting effects of the fluid filling her downstairs rooms

Of course, I took instant action to help them out.

Falling to my knees (I made sure I was on a clean patch of grass, of course) I called upon the One that can help to give them all strength in their endeavours.

Well, I couldn't just stand there and do nothing.

Cross Incontinents

I don't often tune into the BBC. It strikes me as a liberal, anti-Christian and generally aggressively secular organisation, dedicated to all that was worst about the so-called "New" Labour.

But on this occasion I was looking for a weather forecast. and I heard a trailer for a programme called "Cross Incontinents".

Now, don't get me wrong here. I know that people suffering from this affliction are as entitled to a hearing as anyone else. And while I do not necessarily agree with the BBC's all-inclusive liberal agenda, on this occasion I'm happy to applaud it.

But surely getting these people into a studio and making them broadcast while cross is going to be terribly counter-productive? I can't see how they could ever hope to get to the end of a sentence before having to be excused. Bad one, BBC! Give the afflicted a break.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Sydney Carter (1915-2004)

I was flicking idly through the hymn book in preparation for next Sabbath's divine worship, and I came across a hymn by Sydney Carter.
I note that in a long career of destruction, Carter managed to write not just "Lord of the Dance", but "One more step along the world I go", "When I needed a Neighbour" and "Every star shall sing a carol".
Maybe nobody in history inflicted so much suffering, drivel and liberal gibberish on so many with so little compassion.  Surely, sometime, somebody should have stopped him?

Manbags and Hashtags

I was shocked. I went down today to a special "Baptists on the Move" meeting in Essex. I had been excited to receive the invitation, and had been looking forward to meeting fellow-minded, evangelical and Biblically orthodox Baptist ministers from a range of churches that were as godly as can be expected from people who don't attend Salem Chapel, Frisby-on-Soar.

Now I hadn't realised that some members of the Baptist Union were going. Or I'd have thought otherwise. Indeed, some of the ministers were actually women.  I can only hope and pray that they are the pastors of special women-only churches, where their ministry would be acceptable, but I somehow doubt it.  And to make it worse, I met a Baptist Union minister who told me that in his church "manbags" are all the rage. According to said - I can only say - person, you can convince people that you're actually carrying a Bible in there, when in reality it's a bag of Werther's Originals, some spare cash , a Vic inhaler and your house keys. I noted that he was also wearing - and I can only shudder again - sandals.

Manbags. Just think of that word again. Manbags.

I look into the Holy Scriptures to find out what God has to say about Manbags, and I find it in Dt 22, as I expected:

22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. 


Strong words? I think so. But abundantly clear. All cross-dressing is forbidden - indeed, an abomination - encouraging towards licentious behaviour and acts of a potentially unisexual nature. So we shrink from men in blouses, dresses or skirts - or those skirt-like things that trendy German theology lecturers bring back from the South Seas. We don't have much of this sort of thing in Frisby-on-Soar but I can imagine it in Market Bosworth, or Melton Mowbray.  Indeed, sometimes I wake in a sweat in the night, imagining transvestitism in Melton Mowbray. Women in "slacks", or shirts that button as a man's shirt does. Any man wearing a shirt in subtle pink or topaz shades, or particularly a tie in such colours. For myself, I'd include any man wearing a kilt. Not to mention men wearing anything as effeminate as face-cream, bubble bath or going about with pierced ears.


And as for a manbag- which is just a lady's handbag with word "hand" replaced with "man" - clearly this comes under the prohibition. It's a handbag.  Just admit it.  And putting the holy Scripture into such an abomination - well, words fail me. Had I known that members of the Baptist Union had been attending the conference - I would never have attended. In future I shall read the invitations more carefully.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Martha and Mary

We meet this morning on a challenging day.  The unusually high levels of rainfall this last week left the slurry pond on Willow Farm at an abnormally high level, and I'm afraid that it broke its banks this morning just as I was leaving for chapel.

I give praise that the builders of the Manse built it like a house on a hill, that its light might shine upon the surroundings. And therefore though the slurry may rage and pour down towards Lower Lane, my manse, built on the rock of solid sandstone, will stand firm.

Not so for those who live in Lower Lane, many of whom now have to look forward to an afternoon of clearing slurry from the lower levels of their houses and wondering what they will ever be able to do with their gardens. It is not normally my way to offer words of worldly wisdom in sermons but on this occasion - firstly I am sure that the Lord won't mind if you break the Sabbath just this once in these circumstance, and secondly the authorities have made it quite clear you can't clear the slurry out of your houses straight into the brook. You'll have to hire some skips and pay for it to be taken to landfill.
I see on the faces of some from Lower Lane a gathering realisation. You left for chapel early this morning, to prepare the tea-making equipment, hand out the hymn books and Bibles, arrange the flowers and ensure that all was in order and ready for this morning's Divine Worship. You had no idea that a flood of slurry was even then preparing to sweep all your belongings out of your lower-floor windows. But consider.

What would Mary do?

Imagine that same tidal wave of slurry were rushing towards the little house in Bethany. Martha - practical, silly, worldly Martha - would be rushing around, boarding up the windows - putting sandbags round the door - in short, worrying about all the things the Gentiles worry about. And where would Mary be? At the feet of her Lord. Listening to his words. Knowing that she was safe there, in his presence, even though her sister at that point was up to her waist in the most hideous fluid known to Mankind, beating about her helplessly with a shovel in an attempt to keep the house clear.

Only one thing is needed, and we will pray for the people of Lower Lane, considering the hideous afternoon and evening they will face, during our Intercessions for the World, even Though it Doesn't Deserve it.
For the avoidance of doubt, the doors to the Chapel are locked, and will remain so until Divine Worship has completed. And now we sing our next hymn, the one with 27 verses that we all love so well, Trust and Obey, For There's No Other Way, Except Condemnation for Harbouring Evil Doubt in our Hearts.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Poured out as a Drink Offering

I have been busy in the garden all morning, in between dodging the showers.  The Revd Syston Whyte-Plumb seems to have filled every inch of the ground with buried bottles and cans. I am told this was an attempt to hide his "habit". He received his drinks orders from the Tesco Internet service, but was too embarrassed to take the empties to the bottle bank or put them in the recycling bin. So he buried them at night.

After a couple of hours of digging I had a pile of bottles and a pile of cans, each as high as Goliath's navel and probably rather less appealing. And by this stage I was feeling quite tired. I sat down on the bench in the porch for a moment to have a short rest, and must have fallen asleep.

I was woken just a moment ago by two of my chapel members - the ones who saw me outside the Crown and Cushion last Friday night. Maud has rather a loud voice, and what dragged me out of the dreamless sleep of the innocent and godly were the words "No wonder he's asleep - look what he's got through already this morning." To which Elsie responded "Yeah, just the same as the last one."

I care not for the good favour of Man, but at this rate nobody's going to take the slightest note of my sermon on the dangers of intoxicating spirits in a few weeks.

A damp day

And so the day dawns drab and gray.

I was planning to dig over the vegetable plot in the Manse garden this morning.It is the wrong time of year to start thinking about planting much now but I feel I need to make a start. Mr Whyte-Plumb, my predecessor, appears to have used the garden to bury all the bottles and cans of alcoholic beverages that he consumed during his tenure. As Lemuel was instructed - it is not for those in authority to find oblivion in wine, that is the comfort of the poor and perishing.

No wonder that the congregation eventually used Rule CXIX of the constitution to remove him. A normal vote of no confidence - say for heresy, immoral living or damaging men's souls through boring preaching - needs a two-thirds majority of an Extraordinary Church Meeting, followed by a simple majority of trustees. But because it could be established that Mr Whyte-Plumb was damaging the garden, the issue became a matter for that most feared and powerful of all bodies of the Frisby-on-Soar Independent Baptist Church - the Property Committee.  They passed a motion banning him from entering any church property - in other words the chapel and the manse - and in those circumstances he had no choice but to resign forthwith. First he had to work his notice, living in a tent on Frisby Heath, so he was a cold and beaten pastor by the time he finally persuaded them to give him his furniture and clothes back.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Taking it to the People

Once again I've been out and about spreading the Good News.

Frisby-on-Soar is a quietish place during the day. So I've been targetting (I hate to use the word, but that's what my "Non-conformists' guide to Holy Evangelism" said) the town of Market Harborough. Now I know it's a way across the county, but consider - it's very posh, for the Midlands. Just the sort of people we need to hear the Gospel.
So I caught the bus down there with the new Gospel Proclamation apparatus that has been put together by Basil, one of our deacons. In essence, it's a Citizens' Band microphone, with an amplifier with built-in speaker and a 12V Car battery. Quite handy to lug short distances, but you'd not want to go a long way with it.

So I'm standing outside the Sugar Loaf, trying to enlighten people to how they are in danger of perdition. But truly they were as the brazen serpent, which does not hear no matter how wisely it is charmed.
"People of Harborough," I called, "repent - flee from the coming wrath of the loving Mighty One, enthroned among the cherubim above the Holy Ark."

No response. So I went outside the Museum and attempted to dissuade people from entering.  Did you know that Market Harborough is the home of the Liberty Bodice? The thought that the men going into the Museum were enjoying the quick thrill of a glimpse at ladies' undergarments chills one to the core. So I reasoned with them, and they ignored me.  Eventually one of the assistants moved me on.

Shaking the dust from my feet, I returned to the town centre and was calling out a warning like that of Jonah when I saw young Jimmy walking out of Zizzi with his girlfriend. I mentioned to him that his eczema was looking much better, and clearly he had been refraining from whatever heinous sexual sin he had been engaging in.

In retrospect it was a mistake. Talking to Jimmy wasn't the mistake - that was my pastoral responsibility. No. It was not switching off the microphone that was a mistake.

Jimmy went quite pale, and his girlfriend landed a punch smack in my face. At which point I decided my day's evangelism was at an end. Once you're being persecuted, surely your witness is complete.  And also, all the blood from my nosebleed went over my guide to evangelism.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Churches Together in Frisby

That was quite a nice meeting of Churches Together in Frisby this evening, I feel. However ungodly the other members of the group may be.

I feel that I made a helpful contribution on my first visit. They kindly invited me to lead the opening devotions which, aware of the packed agenda, I kept to a brief fifteen minute prayer.
The main discussion point was the proposed "Frisby Youth Together" activity day.
A good idea I thought. The idea of a day-long prayer session, suitably supervised and - to use an old-fashioned word - chaperoned I felt was fine. In fact I offered our own chapel for the meeting.

But apparently the other members of CTIF had other, less wholesome ideas. Yes, they had intended some prayerful times, but there were other things much less suitable. Including a discorama. I ask you. What kind of behaviour is it for young Christian people to be jiggling up and down in time to music of the sort provided by the so-called "Snoop Digg" or "Boney M"?
And they were proposing to offer a pool table - the sort of game associated with Americans, late-night wagers, and unhealthy competition such as can be seen, I am assured, in the film "The Hustler" starring Paul Newman. They said that these diversions were to enable the flower of Frisbian youth to get to know each other. What depraved insanity! Since when was it part of the church's remit to let people get to know each other? Until they are at least twenty-five years of age, we should be trying to keep them apart.

So I made my final offer. A 12-hour worship session with - and I was forced to compromise here - some guitars in the music group. But while I am happy to work with Churches Together in Frisby, I refuse to allow our youth to receive teaching incompatible with the Gospel. I therefore proposed that we should keep the young people at our Salem Hall, to receive teaching from members of Frisby Baptists only. The young people would be restricted from unmonitored discourse, to prevent heretical thoughts from being passed on to the Salem young folk. In fact, on the whole, I suggested it was better if we kept the other church's young people in the main chapel, but kept the Frisby Baptists in the church hall for their own protection.

Oddly enough the other members of CTIF did not see the good sense of my suggestions. And the planning of the Youth Weekend has been put back to a meeting next year. The "chair" of the group - I hesitate, on account of her gender, to accept her headship - hinted that possibly they would have "someone else to deal with" by then. Perhaps they are hoping that another church, hopefully one of a more godly nature, like my own, may join and be able to offer support with my plan.

Marriage Rites

Now I understand. After a kind reader emailed me a suggestion, I watched a few back-episodes of Vicar of Dibley and realised the misunderstanding I had had with the young caller yesterday. So when her mother phoned me today, it took me almost no time to understand her request. With the result that I only accused her of offering her daughter around like a piece of meat once, then quickly recalled how it works. The young lady and her husband-to-be are coming to visit next week. They're hoping to hold the wedding next August, they've booked the Crown and Cushion for the reception, so it looks like the job's a good one.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Marriage Rights

I received a phone call today. A young lady asking if I would marry her. I said that was very sweet of her, but I hardly know her and in fact I'm already married. I went on to explain that while I can't discover my wife Marjorie's current whereabouts, we're very much still married and as soon as the Private Detective gets back to me with her location I'm sure we'll be back together again. But then the young lady told me that she didn't want to become wedded to me, she actually wanted to be married to her boyfriend, who wasn't me.

Well of course I didn't take this personally. After all, I'm already married. And, by the sound of it, old enough to be her father. But I'm in a position of moral authority. So I told her that she shouldn't go phoning up pastors in the evenings making these kind of propositions, dangling proposals and then letting them down. All I could hear was silence at her end of the line after I said this. So I wished her good night and hung up.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. The same girl. Saying I didn't understand - she wanted me to marry her and her boyfriend. I informed her that, even after the previous 13 years of ungodly New Labour rule, polyandry was still illegal. I thought it was highly immoral and had no Biblical precedent. Once again, silence at the other end. So again I wished her "God bless" and hung up.

I hope I don't have a stalker.

More rain on the righteous

A shock early this morning.

You may, like the people of the East Midlands, have received a welcome but rather heavy dose of rain over the last twenty four hours. This blessing has been poured out upon my manse without stint.
But it was this morning that I woke from a dream in which I was Noah, ferrying my little Ark of holy people through the floods of modern life. And discovered that I was indeed flooding.
Emergency calls to the local plumber and jobbing builder and we have discovered the truth. My predecessor, Mr Syston Whyte-Plumb, appears to have left with all the lead flashing off the manse roof. In the sunny days this went undetected - and I daresay no-one bothered to check when he left. But how truly it is said that it is not sunny days that test our character, but rainy ones.
My bedding, bed and all the clothes in the bedroom are now all soaked, as are the carpet and the ceilings. In a manner that reminds me of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, my former spiritual refuge that I don't talk about, I am now taking refuge in the shed, while the workmen do emergency work or - to use their technical term - "bodge it".

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Godly Decision-Making Apparatus

The events at the Church of England Synod have had my flock pondering. Not over the rights and wrongs of male headship as against a direct disobedience of Scripture. No, to Frisby Independent Baptist Church that much is clear.

But just let us suppose that, against the clear teaching of Scripture, somebody in the chapel congregation wanted to try to get the rules changed so there could be a female pastor. What would happen next? What mechanisms does our constitution provide?

My first step would be to attempt - in love - to get him (or more likely her) defellowshipped. This would take place within a meeting of the Holy Obedience Sub-Committee, which meets quarterly to determine who has been ungodly lately.

But if the Holy Obedience Sub-Committee decided that the case against the proposer was not proven, then I would have to act against the Holy Obedience Sub-Committee. My first step would be to refer them to themselves. That would take place at their next quarterly meeting, of course. And being as sunk in sin as they clearly would be, we can assume that they would refuse to decide against themselves.

At which point I would be obliged to let the proposer take his (or her) case to the Ecclesiastical Order Sub-Committee.

The EOSC meets six-monthly, directly before the HOSC. So it would be at least three - and possibly six - months before the EOSC could meet. If they met and decided the proposer had a case to answer, I'd refer the EOSC in turn to the HOSC. But although the HOSC meets straight after the EOSC the matter would not be on the agenda. So it would be another three months before the HOSC met.
If the HOSC then decided that the EOSC had no case to answer, then the proposer could refer it to the Church Meeting proper.

The Church Meeting could agree to approve the suggestion straight away. But for such an important matter it would be more likely to propose setting up a Constitutional Matters Sub-Committee to report back. In line with the chapel constitution, sub-committees can only be set up by the Annual General Church Meeting. However once this had happened, things would happen quite quickly.

Supposing the CMSC, having been set up then want on to approve the proposal, I would of course refer it to the HOSC. Supposing they were not defellowshipped at this point, they would then refer the proposal to the Church Meeting for consideration. At which point the constitution is quite clear - it would have to be referred to the AGCM for full approval.

If - and I have to emphasise this is all conjectural - the AGCM heard the proposal (at its three-yearly "special" meeting, not the annual "ordinary" meeting which does not have the same constitutional powers) - then it could approve the proposal.

This is where it gets complicated.

I could not refer the AGCM to the HOSC to attempt to have them defellowshipped, as the HOSC is a sub-committee of the AGCM. So I would have to refer each member of the AGCM - individually - to the HOSC. Assuming none of them were at this point disfellowshipped, and bearing in mind that the HOSC meets quarterly and can only consider one proposal for unfellowshipment (individual or corporate) at each meeting, then it could take up to six years for this to happen.

If after all this no member of the AGCM had been counterfellowshipped, we would have to refer the whole matter to the trustees for approval. Which they would consider at their quinquennial meeting, which, unusually, happens every four years.

Clearly if they approved the proposal as well, I would have to refer myself to the HOSC. And if they disfellowshipped me, the process would be at an end.

Although I could, of course, appeal.

I hope this makes the matter clear, and everyone can see how the streamlined decision making process enabled by congregationalist governance is far superior to the Byzantine complexity of synodo-episcopal rule.

Monday, 12 July 2010

He has lifted up a horn for his people

This morning I went out for a walk bright and early. I always find that going for a walk between 4 and 5 am is just the thing to enliven my spiritual state - especially at this time of the year when the sun rises so early.

Now, I have a rule. I never take a map or consider my route in advance. I trust in the guidance of the Lord alone, confident that "your word is a lamp unto my feet".

And in this I have never been let down. Today, for example, I strode on in a westerly direction until I fell the Lord telling me to turn. Turn I did and after a distance that I would estimate at only three or four miles, I came across the canal. I followed the towpath as I felt the Lord was guiding for another five or six miles, until I came to what appeared to be an empty field.

At this point, I fell into a mistake. For I now realise that I was engaging in disobedience, as it is written - "you cannot read the signs of the times". The sign in question that I did not read said, among other instructions, "Beware of the Bull". In the event, I left the field somewhat faster than I entered it. But as it is written, "they will lift you up in their hands, so you do not strike your foot on a stone". True indeed. For the bull's horn was indeed lifted up, and I sailed over the hedge without striking my foot on a single stone, as I sailed over the towpath and into the canal.

At this point I felt I was being called home.

The spiritual darkness that fell upon me at this point, as I realised I had no idea where I had to go, I blame on my disobedience in not reading the sign. And for the rainstorm that blew up and soaked me for the four hours it took me to walk back, I bless the One who causes it to rain on the just as well as the unjust. I consider it a blessing that I was counted no differently to the others, who struggled through the rain like me, with only the slight advantage that they were driving cars.

And so it has been a long day. Truly my blisters are as the grains of sand on the sea-shore, and I feel a cold settling heavy upon me. I do not know what spiritual lesson I am to learn from this, but I am sure I will at some stage find it out. At this point some would trust in Lem-sip, and some in Halls, but I will trust in the One who has lead me this far to heal me.

Now, aaatchoo! I'm off for a hot bath and an early night. For the day has truly been full of spiritual blessing. I just have to work out just how blessed I am.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Inaugural Sermon - the Good Samaritan

Firstly, can I say how blessed I feel to be here with you as your new pastor. My dear wife Marjorie would no doubt be equally blessed to be with you, if only I knew where she was. But be assured that she is no doubt only mislaid, and as soon as we get back in touch I'm sure she will be only too pleased to meet you all in person.
I'd especially like to the think the Ladies' Bright Hour, who've organised the welcome lunch for us. Without spoiling the surprise for you - I think I can honestly say that the cakes they've baked would make any Christian think twice before engaging in carnal sins of an energetic nature.

And so to our text. And what do we see here? Our Lord teaching through a series of allegories.

The Man - clearly Everyman. On his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. We can see the plain sense here - he is heading down from the Eternal City of Salvation to the City of Blood - the city that was overthrown through a prostitute's treachery. The city that was rebuilt at the cost of two lives. The city of thieves, liars, blindness and death. He is heading the wrong way. Oh - can he not see? Can he not see that he's heading down from the cool of the Judean heights to the heat and oppression? Can he say that he is walking indeed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death - heading away from all that is good? But onward he relentlessly goes.

And the thieves are those that would steal all goodness from humanity. The purveyors of popular beat music. The Disk-Jockeys. The chat show hosts. The Women who Get Above Their Station. The adulterers and the pool-table hustlers and the people who work in Morrisons.
So the man lays there - beaten down by the evils of life. But where does he look?

The Priest goes by. And in the Priest we see symbolised the Roman Catholic Church, that home of priests, Cherie Blair and Anne Widdecombe. And the Priest sees that the man - battered, bloody, bruised - might die, rendering him ceremonially unclean. So he passes by. He has to keep his holy robes clean, for the "sacrifice" that he will be performing.

And the Levite goes past - like unto the Priest in descent, and in his reliance on the handing down of his holy privileges. But he is no real priest - his inheritance is inferior, and he can only be a pale shadow of the real thing. The Levite represents the Church of England. But he too goes past. There's probably a Synod to get to.

And the Samaritan comes along. Richer than one might expect of such a despised race, he puts up money to look after the man. He cleans him and pampers him and then clears off about his business, no doubt in the meantime forgetting all about him, and yet leaves the Inn Keeper with a blank cheque to waste as he sees fit. The Samaritan represents the Taxpayer, and the Inn Keeper - the Welfare State.

So where, you are no doubt asking, is the True Church in all this? The place where the Gospel is proclaimed in its glory and simplicity? Where the Rock of Ages is clung to while we shelter beneath the shadow of its wings?

Obvious. Back in Jerusalem, worshipping the Lord. Where it is supposed to be. If the man hadn't gone off to Jericho he would have been fine. It was straying from the Lord's presence that did it.

What more need we say? Here we have truth. The Gospel preached 4 Square. Out there is strange, scary, dangerous. Feel for those out there. And let's all pray they find a Samaritan, so one day they may find their way here.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Bible Translation

I've been sitting in my study this afternoon, musing over the inaugural sermon I have written and the process by which it is created. Of course, when I say "I have written", that might obscure the truth that the entire thing was inspired in me by the Holy Spirit. And therefore if anyone disagrees with it, they are disagreeing not with me, a mere conduit of heavenly truth, but with the One who gave me the message.

I have read a few times, because they still amaze me, the thoughts of Eddie Arthur on Bible Translation. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think that teaching everyone English will obviate the need for translation. After all, in some nations it would be more culturally sensitive to get them all to learn French, Spanish or even German.

But if we could save the considerable time needed to learn unimportant languages, often spoken by only a few million people, then we could concentrate on the important job of producing more English versions. I currently only have seventeen different translations, and I find that when I'm trying to express what the Spirit has given me, it's useful to be able to find support for my - sorry, the Spirit's - opinion in some obscure translation or another. It impresses the people in the pew, and helps me to sound learned.

And it's not just a way of crow-barring my own opinions in against the plain reading of Scripture, whatever the cynics may say. To take an example - 1 Sam 25:22 in the New International Version just appears to be just another example of our loving God's occasionally genocidal tendencies. But read it in the King James Version, and it becomes quite obvious that what God is really condemning is the antisocial behaviour of some drunkards wandering back from the Crown and Cushion on a Friday night.

Coffee Morning

I just popped in from another of our successful evangelistic programmes, the Coffee Morning. I've always been very worried about the use of coffee. It's not in the Bible and therefore I have no idea whether God approves or disapproves of its use. I know the latitudarian view would be that if it's not forbidden it's allowed, but I'm not sure that's such a wise maxim. I prefer to take the middle view that if it's not forbidden it's suspect.
In any case, I was hoping to talk to some of the other local Unsaved that I hear attend for the excellent economy-level fair-trade instant coffee. But Jimmy was there with his girlfriend.
I've heard rumours that young Arabella is some kind of Anglican. Therefore I approached the two of them discreetly, to find out whether Arabella is the sort of namby-pamby pinko-liberal equal-opportunities Anglican that might be just the sort of person to lead Jimmy into the kind of sexual sin that I am convinced lies behind his eczema. However on closer inspection Arabella herself appears to be clear of infectious skin diseases of any kind. So I mentioned to her that on balance, it would appear Jimmy's hidden depravity was either confined to Jimmy himself or that he was going elsewhere to satisfy his appetites.
When I left a few minutes ago, Jimmy was sitting, his coffee untouched, with a kind of strained look on his face. While Arabella was glaring across the table at him with pursed lips - and not pursed in such a way as to be preparing to kiss.
A nice girl, Arabella. I'm sure she'll sort him out.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Bridging the cultural gap

It is often said that the Church has a cultural gap when "reaching out" to the World, that unredeemed and unlovely mass of unsaved Mankind* condemned to eternal purgation. Generally in my experience the True Church can be recognised by the joyous outpouring of a heart that knows the love of God, expressed as an outward sign by a fixed and yet spontaneous grin at all times.
But to bridge that cultural gap, the church Music Group has taken to playing at Friday Nights at the Crown and Cushion in Frisby on Soar. And today I took the opportunity, in my first week in the new role, to introduce myself to the "locals".

So while the Music Group repeatedly played "Our God Reigns", which is the only song they can currently play (and even then Erbert is at Capo-8) I made myself known to the quaffers and diners.

It was a joyous time of sharing the Gospel. I told those who were drinking that alcohol is the effluent of the Horned One, and that every additional millilitre was bringing them closer to the Dark Place. And I cautioned the diners that on the day of reckoning, the Entrecotes and Fillets on which they were gorging themselves will turn to ashes in their mouths, just as the world itself will dissolve in ashes.

Having prepared the ground so well, I was about to share with them the Good News that, if they would only turn and rend their hearts and repent, they would be as full of the Gospel and Holy Spirit as I myself. However before I could do so, the landlord threw me out into the street. I bounced off the pavement a couple of times before landing in the gutter. At which point a couple of members of my own congregation, wandering past on a prayer tour of the neighbourhood, looked down at me and said,

"Typical minister. Just as plastered as the last one."

I will remember to expose these people for the unspiritual hypocrites they clearly are, when I preach my sermon on Sunday. In the meantime I will rejoice in my persecution by the landlord of the Crown and Cushion, remembering that in the same way as he treated me, he treated the prophets before me. Truly I have become a fool for Christ.

* I use the term "Man" and "Mankind" rather than the more trendy modern terms "Person" and "Hupersonity", to make it clear that while women are just as prone to be hell-bound as the male of the species, being the weaker gender they're not so much to blame, poor things.

Pastoral Duties

Every Friday, the ladies of Frisby Independent Baptists hold a "Mums and Toddlers" Group.
When I heard this I approved. A form of evangelism, meeting people at the place where they have need. What could be better? So when Mrs Forbes invited me along for tea and buns with the mothers and toddlers, I was delighted.
But I was less sanguine about it after I visited the group. On close questioning of a number of the mothers, I discovered that not all were actually married to the fathers of their children. A few were divorced, some had never married, and several were actually living in a state of unmarried, blissful unwedlock.
Obviously when I realised the situation I withdrew rapidly. I knew I must pray and consider before doing anything rash. Clearly driving a dozen or so young ladies and their assorted children out into the street for their promiscuous behaviour would be wrong, however deserving of such treatment they might be. So I explained that I was in need of a period of prayer and left.
I've taken a few cold showers since this morning, so I'm feeling clean again now. And I'm still wondering how I'm going to deal with situation. Just as soon as I've sacked Mrs Forbes for running such a group of ill-repute, I'll put my mind to the problem properly.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Festering Sin Continues

Saw young Jimmy again today, down in Frisby-on-Soar Building Society.
Eczema looks worse.
I blame the sin.
I told him so, and I gave him a list of particular sins - particularly sexual ones - that might be causing this issue.
Odd. He didn't thank me. Just apologised to all the other people in the queue.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Counselling

My first visitor for Pastoral Counselling.
Jimmy, one of the members of the Young Adults Group, is suffering from awful eczema. He wondered whether I'd pray for his healing. Apparently the previous minister, Mr Syston Whyte-Plumb, had prayed for him but without success.
But I sensed that the healing Jimmy needed was much deeper than merely physical healing. I suggested that he is suffering from unconfessed sin - that his physical manifestations are in fact caused by some filthy, unmentionable, unspeakable sin. One that must be brought to the surface and named before it is healed.
I told Jimmy that, to be on the safe side, I was banning him from attending Divine Worship until the sin is repented of and forgiven. I suggested he go away and pray - on bended knees, and with the trembling fear of Eternal fire - that this sin be revealed to him, so we can resolve it through prayer.
Clearly, he was greatly moved. Pierced to the heart, some would say. But he still wouldn't tell me what sin he is concealing. But he did say he'd go off and pray about it.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Broken

I was sorting through some more worship materials in the chapel when I found the words of "Morning has broken" laying around the shelves in the narthex. "Morning has Broken"?
I've no idea what my predecessor was playing at.
"Morning has Broken" is a hymn saying that the world as it is, is good. As good - indeed - as in Eden before the Fall. But it is not true. The world is - Broken. Broken. Broken. There is no good in it. That we must see before we can rise. Before we can see that the way ahead is to leave the Broken and cling onto what Will be Whole. Flee the city, looking not back, for fear we turn to salt. Cling not onto the sunlight, the dew and the morning - it's not just like the first light that Eden saw play. It's broken.
Come away, brethren. It's all Broken. Your hope is not here. It's elsewhere. Where things aren't Broken.

Service Planning

A day of great blessing in the chapel, sorting out which direction I want to take the worship in.
The hymn book seems generally acceptable. A strong line on the need for repentance, together with the overflowing and glorious grace of our ever loving God - slow to anger, swift in love. And plenty of reminders of the fiery fate that awaits those who fall away. Indeed, my eye was taken by a rather beautiful setting of Hebrews 6:4-12. A stern, yet loving, reminder indeed.

For much the same reason, I've decided we're going to introduce the use of a creed. The Frisby Independent Baptists aren't keen on liturgy. However I feel that the use of the Athanasian Creed on special occasions will help impress everyone with the importance of not sliding back into condemnation. I particularly like the beginning and the end, although I've had to expunge any references to the "Catholic" faith, or substitute the word for something more acceptable. Best not confuse the faithful. So the key passages for me are:

"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Reformed Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly .... And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire."

I think everyone will know where he (or even she) stands now.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Frisby Independent Baptists

I've surely been blessed in this sudden appointment to Pastor of the Frisby Independent Baptists.
Situated in the beautiful, undulating countryside of Leicestershire, the Frisby Independent Baptist Church has been fighting the forces of modernism, liberalism and decidedly suspect Anglo-Catholicism for four centuries.
For most of the congregation's history, the converts to our particularly austere and biblically-based creed have been baptised in the well outside the chapel. But with the coming of heating, and a general dislike to being pushed into icy water in the middle of winter - all baptisms are held at Christmas - there's a growing desire amongst the congregation that we should build a baptistry. I heard all about this suggestion at my selection interview, but I'm keeping my powder dry. Partly because I've only been in the post for the last eleven hours, partly because I'm not sure whether the finances of the assembly are strong enough to bear such expense.
But mostly because I'd rather we stuck to the old way. We will not bow down to the forces of modernity, no matter how many people are struck down with pneumonia.