Thursday, 4 January 2018

Captain's Blog January 2018

Well here we are in 2018 and I am playing in ‘extra time.’ My original contract ended in December but I have been offered an extension. I am hopeful this will take me up to my 68th birthday and I can make the Staffordshire County Show 29th & 30th May 2019 my ‘swan song.’

County Shows have been a feature of my ministry for the past thirty two years, so that would seem a fitting end on which to retire.

Like many people across the country here in Staffordshire we were affected by the snow in early December.  I was due to take the Service and preach at St Anne’s, Brown Edge, but decided it was too risky.

However I did make a trip to London for the National Missioners Gathering & Lunch.  We had some short presentations that were very encouraging.  These included ‘Mission Academies’ part of HOPE18. We also had an update from Roy Crowne on HOPE18 with some great stories coming back after folk had distributed the ‘Christmas Hope’ magazine around their area both rural and urban. William Nye who is the General Secretary for the Archbishop’s Council enthused about the structural changes in the CofE with a greater emphasis on mission, Church growth and making Jesus known. We had an update from Nick Shepherd, the newly appointed director for ‘Setting God's People Free,’ and who will be leading on Discipleship in the new Evangelism and Discipleship department.

For the Report see…

I also ventured out to spend some time with Janet Arnold, a Priest and Church Army Officer recently appointed to St James,’ Newchapel.  We have scheduled in several dates to help the Church review its programme, particularly focusing on evangelism and also to create a MAP.

I had another great Review Meeting with my line manager, George Fisher who is so supportive and full of encouragment.

Another London trip, but this time to talk about housing in retirement, including housing provided by the Church of England. The big question – do we rent or do we try and buy?  And then ‘where?’

Carol Service in HMP Stafford – what an amazing talented group of people they have in the prison. A fantastic choir and a funky rock band who had written their own Christmass song as well as offering some very upbeat rendition of some of the classics.  We now have four members of the Stafford Prison Fellowship and hope to grow this and develop an increasing level of support for ministry in prison.  It would also be good to see a more coordinated effort by the various churches currently doing ‘their thing’ in the prison.  Prison Alpha is one of the initiatives that does bring the Churches together in their engagement.

Carol Singing around the Wards – was great fun as around eighteen us in two group went around the Wards at Stafford General and sang carols.  It brought some tears, many smiles and was much appreciated by all. 

Check out the dedicated Facebook Page - NHS Prayer Partners  

Carol Singing in the Community – St John’s, Littleworth had a Group out singing Carols around a ‘new build’ where two valiant stalwarts had battled the winter snow to deliver an information package to all the new houses. We did have several people from the houses come and join us. We then went on down to  a local pub called the Knot & Plough and sang more Carols with the customers joining in.  We found the Hope Carol Book and Christmass Magazine were great giveaways.

We said farewell to our Curate Becky Richards on Christmass Day. She has been appointed to six parishes in her home setting of Cheswardine

The year ended with Church@4 at St John’s with a time of worship, prayer stations/crafts and food with the Methodist Covenant Prayer as a focus to take us into 2018. I really liked this presentation of steps we can take as we enter into a New Year - I took the 'Greatest Step' 42 years ago making a New Years Resolution to become a Christian! 

Some appointments, activities and engagements in January 2018

Thursday 4th
Meeting with Alan Betts to discuss presentation of ‘Frontline Discipleship’ course (one year) to St Lawrence Biddulph. (LICC) 1

Monday 8th – Wednesday 17th Holiday

Thursday 18th
FCN Staffordshire Group meeting and in particular getting to grips with new recording system so that we can be compliant with new GPDR legilsation.

Friday 19th
A trip to Rugby to pick up HOPE18 resources.

Sunday 21st
Leading (along with Celebrant) Holy Communion at St John’s, Littleworth. I am also Leading and Preaching Morning Prayer (BCP) at St John the Baptist, Tixall. (Part of the United Benefice)  In the evening there is a major ‘Love Stafford Celebration’ when Stafford Churches come together. Alongside the celebration there is a ‘Mission Market’ and I have both a Church Army stall and a HOPE18 stall (side by side!)

Monday 22nd
As Spiritual Companion – JC is visiting me in the morning. Lunch time ‘Chew & Chat’ at Rising Brook Baptist.

Tuesday 23rd
Personal Quiet Day at The Hermitage

Thursday 25th
As Spiritual Companion – JM is visting me.
Hospital Chaplains Meal (I am a Locum Chaplain for Stafford General)

Friday 26th
Joining the Lancashire FCN Group for a Reflective Extended Lunch at Whaley Abbey

Sunday 28th
Preaching at HMP Stafford on the Feast of the Presentation

Monday 29th
Stafford Group of the Prison Fellowship meet for Prayer & Update

Tuesday 30th
Meeting with my own Spiritual Companion

Wednesday 31st
Rural Mission Team meeting. Making plans to set up two ‘Conversation & Consultations’ days in June 2018.  We are really trying to beef up our Rural Mission presence and have recently set up a dedicated Facebook Page.
We also have the ‘Mission Team’ New Year Lunch following the mornings meeting. 1 In the evening it is the first of our Presentations for Frontline Discipleship at St Lawrence, Biddulph – Preaching for the Frontline.

Other news...

Jane is very much involved with St John’s and even more so with the Vacancy.  Our Rector left us in August, our Curate in December and we have recently heard that one of our Readers is also retiring leaving us very understaffed. We do have a Youth & Children’s Minister at St John’s,  Cathy Short. Please can you pray for our Churchwardens – Littleworth, Dave Blake and Ann Scott, Ingestre, Sue Haenelt, and Tony Stubbs, Tixall, Anne Andrews and Robert Collier. Our next Rector Interview date is set for the 16th March.  

There are also big changes as Jane and I settle down to life without Tabitha living with us.  Since the Wedding in November life has been a tad manic so ‘ordinary life’ has not yet settled in.  As we move into the year I will need to be canny about succession issues and making preparations for retirement.  Plus we have our house in Cornwall to sell and make some decisions on our retirement home.  (And ‘dispose’ of the Church Army Mission Caravan along with other resources.)

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Ex-Mass (a poem to ponder over!)


Christmas parties,
Mince pies,
X number of shopping days to Christmas,
School nativity play;
And out of a dark and dusty corner of the church
             the crib is found.

Baby Jesus (the plastic, white faced, blue eyed variety)
Is placed once more with ‘dignity’
In a place of honour surrounded by tinsel,
Fairy lights and Father Christmas.

The babe of God slips into the world
And into the hearts of all who love babies
(Even Herod’s are kept quiet today)

Then back goes the representation of Jesus,
Along with all the other trimmings,
Back to a dusty corner in people lives.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, Perpetual Babe,
    save us from our madness!

© Gordon Banks 08/12/1983

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Captain's Log December 2017

As the Honorary  Chaplain to the Staffordshire & Birmingham Agricultural Society Jane and I had an invitation to their Annual Dinner, a black tie affair.  Although formal in one sense in another it was quite relaxed and as we know the President and Chairman and their respective wives through our church contacts it was a very pleasant evening.

 More FCN engagement this month with our own Staffordshire Group meeting. Also a ‘training event’ with the three counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire coming together. And then the FCN Christmass Tree at the Christmass Tree Fair at St Mary’s, Stafford.

 Also linked in with FCN was attendance at the Young Farmers Club AGM.    

I had a great time with the Mothers’ Union at Trentham talking a little about my own journey to faith but then getting them to share their own stories.  So important that we encourage people and give them confidence in their story of coming to faith whenever and however that happened.

I had an excellent Review Meeting with Bishop Geoff and Archdeacon Matthew and we are now running on past my contract date of this December and looking towards May 2019 for retirement.

Rural Mission Solutions Webinar – because we had a few gremlins in our presentation in October  we decided to run this one again.  We only had small numbers but we did get a better video recording out of it.  The subject was ‘Winter Season Mission Ideas’ and it’s available to view on 

A number of trips out of County for various Conferences.  The first of these was for the National Rural Officers 24 hour Gathering at Stoneliegh. (The Arthur Rank Centre).  Due to The Wedding I only went down for one day. I had a trip to Sheffield (The Wilson Carlile Centre) for a Day exploring Rural Resources Churches and then another trip down to Woodstock for the AGM of the Association of Festival Churches

 Well worth checking out their web site – lots of great resources and helpful advice…

I also had another trip to Sheffield for the Church Army AGM. We had an excellent address given by the Chairman of the Board, Bishop Stephen Cottrell who gave us a very strong encouragement to slow down and spend time reflecting, in particular during the forthcoming Advent Season. 

The Prison Fellowship Staffordshire Group met for their regular monthly Prayer and Gathering.  There are still only four of us but we are getting better known and have good links with the HMP Stafford and their Chaplain, Jo Honour. (I have two preachment's at HMP Stafford booked in for next year)  The Prison Fellowship have also got a Tree at the Christmass Tree Fair, near to the FCN Tree and so I have been there a few times keeping an eye on both Trees.

CPAS Thrive – our two year journey with four rural benefices drew to a close with one final Thrive Community day and a Sending Ceremony by Bishop Geoff.  One of the Benefices has moved into Vacancy, the Mid Churnet Benefice and another is about to enter into a Vacancy,  the Trent Valley Team.  Prayers for both Benefices would be welcomed.  I am walking alongside the Mid Churnet Benefice during their Vacancy.

My ‘under the radar’ ministry answering emails questions sent into the ‘Search for Jesus’ web site, part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, UK has kept me busy this month with some very challenging questions.

Showboxes – only managed a couple of session helping to sort and sift shoeboxes at the Warehouse. But everything appears to have gone well with around 9,500 boxes sorted and sent on their way to Bosnia. 

Captain Log December…

Suday 3rd
Christmass Tree Fair concludes with Carol Service.

Monday 4th
(Tree down) ‘Chew n Chat’ – informal lunch time gathering at Rising Brook Baptist Church. In the evening the Staffordshire Group FCN Social – sharing a nice meal together.

Tuesday 5th
Lichfield Church Army Cluster. In the evening I am leading our Growth Group, reflecting on Advent.

Wednesday 6th
Meeting with D.C. who is an Ordinand and we are exploring my being his Spiritual Companion.  Stafford Chapter meets for Christmass Lunch. In the evening a meeting with Archdeacon Matthew and the Mid Churnet Team.

Thursday 7th
‘Chewing the Cud’ – this time we are meeting down at  The Butcher, Baker Farm Shop  Mercia Marina Findern Lane Willington. In the evening out helping with RDA, my last engagement of the year with them.

                      'Chewing the Cud'

Sunday 10th
Preaching and Leading Service of the Word at St Anne’s, Brown Edge.

Monday 11th
Missioners Christmass Gathering in London in the day. In the evening Littleworth, Tixall and Ingestre Benefice Vacancy Prayer Gathering.

Tuesaday 12th
Meeting with my own Spiritual Companion. (Also taking the Caravan in for a Service) Following my meeting with my S.C. I am going on to join Janet Arnold who is fairly new in post. We are exploring how I might be able to offer support and in particualr to help with  focus and creating a MAP for St James’, Newchapel.

 Thursday 14th
Jane and I are in London to meet with someone from CHARM to discuss retirement housing. We are staying over so that we can enjoy something of London the next day.

Sunday 17th
In attendance for the Presentation of the Queen’s Award to The House of Bread.

Monday 18th
Stafford Prison Fellowship Group going into HMP Stafford for their Carol Service. In the evening Carol Singing around the Wards at Stafford County Hospital. 

Thursday 21st
Lunch meeting with Alan Betts to discuss Connect2, St Anne’s, Brown Edge and working with St Lawrence, Biddulph on a year long course from LICC – exploring Frontline Discipleship.

Clear the paths!

The snow fall prevented me from attending St Anne's this morning but I thought I would put up the transcript of my sermon anyway...
St Anne’s Brown Edge Advent Two 2017

 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
 Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ 

I came to live in Stafford in January 2015 and it seems that there has not been a time without some major roadwork's going on and causing disruption.

We are told that it is all very important work.

Isaiah told of another very important type of roadwork's, in a land that has plenty of mountains and valleys.

All of these roadwork's, filling in valleys and making clear paths, appears to be so busy and full of activity.

On November 18th our lovely daughter was married to Peter.

Tabitha spent hours and hours ensuring that every last detail of the wedding was taken care of, helped of course by her mum and Peter.

On the day of the wedding the hairdresser turned up at 6am to make up and style hair for the five bridesmaids, two young flower girls, the mother of the bride and the bride.

(I went and stayed the night in a local hotel where we had arranged for family and friends to stay)

Tabitha had a detailed list of who was to have their make-up and hair done with timings.

When we arrived at church (just a tad late) one of our Priest friends Kay, took Tabitha by the hands and told her to take several deep breaths and compose herself.
She said, “Tabitha you are now to forget all the planning and all the details and concentrate on what is about to happen.  The most important thing is that you and Peter are coming before God to become man and wife.” Then she prayed for God’s peace to settle upon Tabitha.

Last Tuesday night I was leading the Growth Group I belong to in my home church in Stafford. We were reflecting on Advent and I asked for a top of the head answer as to what came to mind when the word Advent is mentioned.

As I suspected several people mentioned being busy.

Although Isaiah and John give us a picture of hyperactivity and colossal roadwork's we need to hold in mind what this is all leading us towards.

Just as Tabitha was reminded by Kay, all the many preparations and long hours were leading towards this one moment.
It is only too easy in all the busyness of preparations, the endless rounds of carol services, the Christmass cards to send, the Newsletter to write and the meals and cakes to prepare – it is only too easy in all of this to lose sight of what it is all leading to.

Immanuel – God with us…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

It is delightful to see Tabitha and Peter with their shiny new wedding rings and their deep love for each other.

This will be my 41st Christmass as a Christian and I was reminded the other day of the message to the Angel of the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2. After a commendation for their hard work and faithfulness comes this…

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.’

I hope, pray and trust that Peter and Tabitha’s love will grow and develop over the ensuing years – I also hope, pray and trust that they will not lose something of that first love.

The love I have for God has grown and developed over the last 41 years. However Advent offers as good time to reflect back on not only how my love of God has developed and grown but also on whether I have lost my first love.

Maybe Advent is also a good time for you to lay aside some of your busyness to reflect on when you first became a Christian, that first love.

(If you are not yet a Christian I would delighted to pray alongside you today, that God might remove obstacles and make the road straight so that you can invite Jesus into your heart and life)

One of the things that Peter and Tabitha enjoyed and continue to enjoy doing is to point out the other to their friends and family. Things like pictures on Facebook, introducing the one true love of their life to their family and friends. 

Keeping with this analogy we might say that John the Baptist is if you like the Best Man introducing the Groom to the people of Israel.

He (John) proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

One of the dangers of losing our first love is that we stop being exited and wanting to introduce them to family and friends.

This season provides us with so many opportunities to introduce people to Jesus – the real Jesus, not the fake, blue eyed, blonde haired variety – so tender and mild, and not crying.

Wonderful maybe, but largely sentimental nonsense and utter mush.

Archbishop Justin Welby said in his 2015 Lambeth Lecture on Evangelism…

‘The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.’

Do believe that – do you know it for yourself – are you so in love with Jesus that you want to tell everybody all about him.

Are you willing to tear down mountains of misunderstandings and clear paths of problems so that people can come to know more about the Child in the Crib who became the Christ on the Cross?

As people come along to sing their carols and perhaps get all misty eyed at little ones portraying the nativity will you take the opportunity to ensure they don’t simple myth out on the true meaning of Christmass.

It could be something as simple as making sure that a web address is on all literature, Carol Sheets and like, you produce – something like

It could be getting hold of the wonderful books – ‘The Greatest Journey’ from the Bible Society for all the younger folk.

Or maybe the great Christmass special magazine from Hope Together featuring Miranda Hart.

And of course letting people know of what you are doing here – and maybe highlighting Connect2.

For many people seeking faith that could be an easier way to begin to engage with God’s people and make steps towards becoming a Christian.

So, Advent…

Busyness, maybe, but to what end and for what purpose?

And in all the busyness ensuring we take time to reflect on our first love of God. Hopefully that will create within us a passion to make Jesus known not just as the Christ Child but as God’s promised and long awaited Messiah, for the Crib and the Cross are inextricably linked.

Let us pray…

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Additional Collect

Almighty God,
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again
as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.