Tuesday, 25 October 2016


I have a bit of a thought dilemma when I go to church on a Sunday morning. Let me say at once that I love the tuneful (apart from people like me) singing of 150 people.  I love the sound of the organ. I listen with attentive ears to what is offered to us in reading and homily.. I also love the happy chatter that speaks of a community wanting to welcome, share news, make enquiries. The problem is that like two tides there is a conflict. I love to sit and listen to the organist leading us into, and preparing us for worship. In a very real sense it is part of the worship. But I cannot hear it clearly because of all the talking!

I think what might be helpful is making it a request that when the choir enter the congregation fall silent. Yesterday the choir entered 6 minutes before the 'official' start of the Service, but the happy conversations continued unabated. 

I think there may be something a little more complex than simply habit. There is a sense in many of the chapels I have known where religious duty and observation is clearly 'walled'. It has a starting point and a finishing point. After that we return to our secular ways. I see something different than this- I will call it spirituality in which time before the Service and time afterwards are part of a seamless whole. In my last (full time) ministry I never took my diary with me on a Sunday. True, it would often have been convenient to have it with me, but I did not want the afterglow of a holy time to be overrun by busy-ness and detail.

On a quite different matter I have been reading a report about mindfulness and back pain.This recent research is known as 'mindfulness stress reduction'. The experiment involved 342 patients and found that 61% showed improvements in the "functional limitations" Participants were encouraged to accept their pain and concentrate on improvements. To be quite honest the report made little sense (given that it was in The journal of the American Association I am sure the fuller reporting would make sense. The one line that impressed me was the line "as recent  brain research has shown, the mind and the body are intimately intertwined, including how they sense and respond to pain"

This brings us back to where we have been before- the mind/body connection. When speaking last week about being positive I omitted to say that every thought (once again thanks to recent research) sends positive and negative messages to our physical bodies. At the simplest level  I refer to my painful knee and how it felt the impact of an enjoyable walk yesterday. When I walk I say (silently) 'you will very soon be completely well'. At least it is better than its opposite don't you think?

Sunday, 23 October 2016


Today has been the occasion for an afternoon walk with son Stephen. We met in Garstang and walked by the River Wyre, reaching the point where trains passed at high speed and slightly slower the hum of the M6 traffic. Yet we were in every other sense so far removed from it. The sun shone on us, the countryside very attractive and the trees just about ready to shed their lovely russet leaves. It was very pleasant but reminded me of how rich the countryside choices are out of Garstang- both river and canal. We do not have such choices here.

The length of days continue to shorten, a time of year dreaded by many, especially those locked up at home. And next Saturday the clock changes when the darkness comes even earlier in the afternoon. I take comfort from the fact that two days later we have November 1st when I start my countdown to the shortest day. 50....49...That may seem a long time but consider this: the days have been getting shorter for about 130 days (i.e. since June 21st) and we will only have 50 to go. Perhaps this is no more than mental gymnastics, but if it helps..

I always think that this time of year makes me think of loneliness of so many people. Mother Teresa once said that in India poverty was the big problem, but in the West loneliness was. I am sure many of you will be able to remember some of your own most lonely moments. One of mine comes to mind. The last Sunday in 1975. A tiny, largely cold, chapel. Winter darkness. Evening Service with 6 or 7.. Then going home to the family aware how the heart of 4 people's happiness would soon be torn from them. The promise of a brighter future not yet revealed to me. I recall feeling so lonely, unable to share it with anyone but God. Loneliness.

We cannot cure the problem for people, but we can make our lives open to others, warm in friendship and glowing in faith. It may not seem much but there is always something we can do or be.

In these days we have been thinking about that disaster 50 years ago. People -then and now- are bound to say 'Where was God? We need to remember this- He is Love. Love is God. So on that day He was everywhere in the hearts of those who sorrowed, those who watched, those who rescued. Of course there are huge questions and vast mysteries but for now we must hold on to that.

Saturday, 22 October 2016


A busy morning was followed by a quieter afternoon. This morning was the coffee morning when my team had to take their turn at serving the drinks.  One of several  interesting aspect to it is the way it attracts people from the town who are not members of the church. This means it is a useful bridge to people outside, reminding me of the suggestion that there are three different sorts of people- people of the pew, people of the porch and people of the pavement. The distinctions are interesting not least because the edges can become blurred making us on occasions in one 'place' different from our usual ones.

The coffee morning, and indeed the daily coffee shop, are places were people from all those three places can meet. If nothing else it shows the church offering unconditional care and hospitality. This morning a young mother came in with her little girl who had been sick. Could we offer a glass of water, which we happily did offering Mum a cup of tea. She declined, explaining that any moment they were to set off back to Glasgow. She had one other request: given that her daughter might be sick in the car had we any suitable bags to give. This necessitated a successful hunt in the kitchen causing one of our helpers to say that they had been asked for many things but never this before. It was unconditional hospitality and care.

People think that churches are often out of date but any entry into our church premises would quickly convince them otherwise. Bright, modern, comfortable and warm is the essence. I would not want our premises to be a throwback to a previous age. By contrast a trip to the local theatre on Thursday saw a production, excellently performed which was in its humour (much coming and going, near misses and opening and shutting doors) quite dated.

Talking of theatre we have two more productions on our near horizons. A play about World War One and the comradeship it showed and one called 'Simeons Watch' (by the well known  Riding Lights Theatre Company from York) with reflections on dementia within the drama. All different but all with a story to tell.

Friday, 21 October 2016


One of the favourite phrases used by the television Dragons when questioning a would be entrepreneur  is the need to 'drill down' into the details of the proposal. I take drilling down to mean further examination of a topic. This is what I try to do when thinking of an issue like fair trade. It is more than a name. More than an ethical principle; more than simply looking for a label in the shops. The drilling down process goes all the way back, at least as far as we can, to the products, the climate, the soil, the people involved.

In this same matter I received some good news as many other fair trade supporters will have done this week. After some years of campaigning the National Trust has agreed to serve fair trade tea to its visitors. There are 200 places involving 22 million visitors each year, so that is a large amount of tea.

Drilling down means travelling by magic carpet (often called 'imagination') to Tamil Nadu in India., in particular the Burnside Tea Estate where one lady who is a tea picker has received money from the fair trade premium to send her son to college to gain a diploma in computer engineering. If she had not received this her son would have had to stay at home or she would have gone into debt.

This is a great victory for fair trade, and should remind us that every time that label appears before us that far away- the opposite end of the process- someone will benefit. May I once again quote a verse I once wrote:

Somewhere in the world, someone waits for you
And you're the only one who can make one dream come true.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


I have long been a supporter of Fairtrade as I am sure many of you are. Because I am attempting to put together a board game, based on the scrabble principle, I have been looking into the fair trade premium. This is that vital 10% of the purchase price which goes to the community fund of the village where producers, farmers and growers live, or to the association to which they belong..My research revealed an impressive list of benefits as a result of us buying these particular products: school classrooms built; clean water supplies installed; a village pharmacy; a micro health and dental service; community transport; the employment of teachers and nurses; the building of village libraries; various means by which to improve production. The list goes on and is inspiring.

I think those who believe in the fair price principle would do well to talk of these matters. I know it is about a fair price to those who grow and produce these vital resources for sale in Western supermarkets, but the premium is impressive also. I really think consumers would feel a sense of satisfaction if they really knew what they were part of.

If you read yesterday's blog you will recall why I have a preference for a physical book. One reason given was the sometimes fascinating inscriptions in the front of the book. Well, purely by coincidence, I lifted a book out of the shelves, thinking it was something else. When I looked it was an old volume entitled 'Sketching Grounds' and subtitled  'With Numerous Illustrations in Colours & Mono.Tint by Eminent Living Artists' The book contains sketches and paintings from places as varied as Arundel Castle, The River Thames, The City of Fez, the Pyrenees, The Cliffs of Capri, North York, Tarbert and North Wales.

More interesting is the inscription written in the cover; "With best wishes to A H L on his 21st birthday. January 1912" This has its own bit of fascination, but added to that me trying to recall who gave it to me and on what occasion. You see, part of the fascination. If it had been in kindle form there would have been no such mystery.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

ON BEING A 'STICK IN THE MUD' (With pleasure)

I have three reading matters to hand at the moment. A book about the late one legged ocean sailor, one a novel I first read years ago set against the background of the Second World War. The third is a book about the brains way of healing itself which is proving very complex- too much so for me, although I have skimmed some interesting facts from it. One such are the anecdotes about a medical practice in the United States where visualisation is proving to be a powerful means of healing. This is about the mind impinging on the brain, which in turn sends healing messages back to the physical body. At least I think that this is what it is about !

The first two mentioned above are what I call proper books.. The third is on kindle and however hard I try I cannot get quite used to it. Feeling it in my hands, turning pages, liking the cover, remembering (as I often do) where something is on a particular page, having an easy index to refer to, pages to highlight and writes little notes on. I have a book by a writer called H V Morton about St Paul's travels, written in 1935. There are little notes on some pages by the original reader, many quite illuminitive and interesting. Then- in the case of second hand books I love to see the greetings written on the cover.

I know the advantages that come with the kindle and how this medium suits some readers best. But for me, for the time being at least, I will stay with paper!

And since I have just given away the fact that I am an honourable member of the society of 'Stick in the Muds' I should go on to say that in church I much prefer a physical copy of the hymn book to seeing the words on screen. On Sunday morning last there were over 150 people present and I think I was the only one holding a copy. I like to see more than the screen reveals- all the verses, of the hymn or  another hymn which we suddenly associate with the one we are singing. The tune perhaps, but not much use to me. And what about the little old ladies sat or stood in front of a six footer? She doesn't have much chance does she? Besides, is not the hymn book not the Methodist equivalent of the prayer book? Why then should they not have it fondly with them for an act of worship?

This little lady reminds me of a story my late father told of attending a football match when most spectators stood. There was so many there that one very small man came in very near kick off and was facing the wrong way, unable to turn round, so he saw nothing of the match. Perhaps a bit of exaggeration but the point is the same.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


I think that there is some wisdom in the description that some folk are 'jack of all trades and master of none'. There will be occasions when it is better to be jack than master and other times the reverse. But do we have to choose one model or the other? I rather like the idea of master of two trades and jack of the rest. This is leading to my main thought today and this concerns those situations when two themes or activities are embraced at one and the same time.

I am thinking about  previously reported in past posts the work of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and a particular campaign to save the sarus crane in Cambodia.The WWT puts human welfare and development ahead of the conservation issues they are mainly set up for. The success of both groups depends on the wetlands, in which there should be an adequate supply of water. The good news is that despite the drought, the water was kept at reasonable levels because of the environmental work that has been done. But this has also meant fresh water for the communities of people living near the wetlands. Success by aiming for two targets rather than just the one.

The WWT also planted rice and other crops to help retain water and provide an income for 20,000 people living nearby. Fish stocks were being depleted by illegal fishing of young fish, but this has been stopped so the 20,000 people can benefit directly from this also.

So hurrah for the cranes, as their numbers increase and hurrah  for the people who live better lives because of an environmental charity far away.

This dual approach could find expression and application in many different areas. Take business, clearly existing to make a profit. But is there anything to stop such enterprises supporting private and public welfare? Unrealistic you may think, but do remember that nearly all big idealistic and social enterprises began in the so called ridiculous.