A New Route

There are some words in the book of Joshua that have, recently, been coming back to mind.  The people of Israel are about to enter the promised land.  Joshua instructs the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with His people, as it is carried into their new land.  The reason why Joshua reminds the people to follow God is because;

Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

(Joshua 3 vs. 4)

As I looked at the verse, I couldn’t help but smile, Joshua instructs the people in social isolation!  But, in this verse, there is something that really spoke to me and to the situation many of us find ourselves in at this time;

…since you have never been this way before.

As I think back over my life, I remember the long hot summer of 1976 when there were standpipes in the streets.  I can remember times of industrial unrest, which led to power strikes and having to take energy saving measures. I can remember the bread shortage…… foot and mouth…..the miners strike and perhaps you can too.  But;

….you have never been this way before

Coronavirus has affected me in ways I could never have imagined.  Closing the Church building, even for private prayer.  Seeing all of the groups and clubs having to suspend their meetings has been difficult.  Around two weeks ago, I had not heard of Zoom. Now, it is part of my life (something I have had to learn very rapidly).  Over the next two weeks, I have to conduct 3 funerals where the numbers attending are restricted.  All the time, at the back, of my mind has been that nagging fear of “what will life be like once this is over?”

Life hasn’t been all doom and gloom.  Some good things are coming out of this.

I am enormously grateful to members of my family.  They are really helping with the services and sorting out my struggles with technology.  Communicating with the Church community would not be possible without them.

I am enormously grateful to those folk from the Church who are helping the vulnerable members of the community.  Our Homeless project has had to adapt to the current situation.  Visitors and volunteers alike have been a joy to work with.

I am really grateful for the on-line community of Baptist Ministers.  We are there to support, encourage and pray for one another.  A few of us met online last night for a “virtual pint”!  It was lovely to catch up with friends and realise that I am not on my own wrestling with the issues that coronavirus presents.

In all, the biggest message I would take from this is the importance of keeping our eyes fixed on God because, none of us have ever

been this way before  

Heart-broken

I wanted to share with you some thoughts from “behind the scenes” from, what has been, one of the most heartbreaking and difficult times of ministry that I have known.

I have been really privileged to be part of a wonderful Church community in Clacton-on-Sea since the end of 2007. I have a great team of Deacons, some very committed volunteers and helpers and a Church family that I love dearly.

I find myself looking forward to Sunday services and our Deacons meetings, can only be described as a gathering of friends. On the Sundays when I am not here, I really miss the Church family.

I take the writer to the Hebrews seriously when he says;

And let us not neglect our meeting together

(Hebrews 10 vs. 25 – NLT)

Over the past couple weeks, the world that I know, and love, has changed. Coronavirus has turned my (and many others) world on its head.

I cannot recall anything, in my lifetime, that I can equate with Coronavirus. I remember bread shortages and the 3 day week (but, only just). I remember the summer of 1976 and seeing stand-pipes in the streets. This is something different for us in modern Britain. Something that, it seems, we are powerless to control.

In the early days there seemed to be a lack of information and direction. I can remember one politician saying that we should “wash our hands whilst singing the national anthem”. It seemed to me that they were not taking it seriously and so, I too could treat it with humour.

As more details have emerged, however, I appreciated that this is something that needs to be sensibly dealt with. Again, a lack of information from Government made my task impossible. I was being asked to make decisions based on zero knowledge.

This has all changed this week.

The Government announcement on Monday and subsequent clarifications meant that we, like many Churches, we have had to make the difficult decision to, temporarily, close our doors. This was the advice from the Government, and the national Church.

This really goes against the grain for me. I like the fact that our doors are open most days of the week because, I have always believed that, the Church should be at the heart of community open and available as a praying presence. I am also aware that the church supports members of our church family and the wider community. If the doors are closed, how can we do this?

As I have tried to come to terms with the implications, I am sure I am not the only minister who has had a few sleepless nights worrying. There have been times when I have felt so out of my depth and uttered overwhelmed by the decisions I have had to make and I am still making.

I have read comments from some ministers who say “exciting times ahead” ; “time to stop doing church and start being church” and so on. I confess I am not feeling excited – I am heartbroken.

I don’t dispute with the decisions that national Government and denominational leaders are making. Painful though they are, ultimately, I think they are right. I agree that people should self isolate and take sensible precautions so that this pandemic is controlled.

I believe the measures we have put in place locally, are the only ones we can in light of the situation. We are offering practical help to folk who find themselves in isolation.

In addition, we will be live streaming a, shortened, act of worship. If you would like to receive the links for this, please let us know on info@pieravenue.org.uk.

The Church building will be open from 10:30 – 11:30 on Sunday morning for private prayer only. We will, however, continue to monitor the given advice and local events as I am not sure if we will be able to continue to do this. There are ways that we can continue to support one another and keep in touch. Phone calls, messaging, and texts. I would urge you to keep in contact.

Despite all of this, I am looking forward to the day when our doors are open again and normal service is resumed.

I continue to hold our fellowship, community, nation and world in prayer.

What’s it all about?

Have you ever felt like punching the air and shouting “yes!” when a writer presents something that has really touched you deep inside?

It happened to me this morning.

To be honest, I was avoiding some dreary admin form which was asking me the same question multiple times in multiple ways. I’d had enough. So, finding an excuse, I picked up a book that I have been reading for some time. This is what I read;

Once we get caught up in leadership roles of responsibilities and accountabilities, it is easy to lose sight of an all important question: what are we really inviting people into when we invite them to join us on our Spiritual journey? With all our emphasis on external signs of progress, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are not primarily into our plans and schemes. We are inviting them into a life giving way of life in God.


(Ruth Haley Barton – Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership)

I punched the air!

I shouted “yes”!

Now please understand this. I love the Christian Church. I love being amongst Christians. I love the things that we are engaged in but, there is a danger that we can become all about being an organisation rather than a radical disciple making movement.

I appreciate that there needs to be a structure and policies and so forth but, when these begin to take up so much management, I find myself wondering if the Holy Spirit is being squeezed out.

As Ruth Haley Barton progresses in her thoughts, she talks about community and the way that the Christian community is shaped by the flow of life around it.

As I look at the flow of life in our wider communities at the moment, I am more and more aware of how dysfunctional our world is. One glimpse at the news only seems to support this view. If you look at Social Media, you can see the depth of anger and fear that is generated. I read, in the news recently, more than 60 children per day ring Childline with suicidal thoughts.

What kind of world are we creating?

Jesus said;

I have come that they may have life in all its fullness
(John 10 vs. 10)

It’s obvious to me that the wider community are not living “life in all its fullness”. If I can be brave, I am not sure that the church community is living “life in all its fullness. As I look at my own life, I know I am not living “life in all its fullness”.

This has to change. But how?

Ruth Haley Barton provides some insight;

The process of crafting a life-giving way of life in community is led by leaders who are willing to make tough calls on concrete matters that affect our pace and our levels of expectation…… When making such decisions spiritual leaders ask, “how will this affect our quality of life, the quality of our relationships in community, our families, our attention to prayer and spiritual journeying, our ability to maintain sane rhythms of work and rest (particularly the Sabbath)?


(Ruth Haley Barton – Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership)

We have to be brave enough to name our present reality and recognise that it is unsustainable.

We have to be brave enough to recognise and stop unhealthy practices.

We have to be brave enough to build deeper community with each other

I don’t have any answers as to how we can do this. I just know that this is something we, at the fellowship I am privileged to be part of, need to start looking at.