Prayer needed

May 2015 give you wide horizons and clear direction.

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Jonathan (right) & friend Matthew on top of Table Mountain on the 1st January 2015.

I think it was C.S.Lewis (known for his Chronicles of Narnia) who said: “Prayer is humility”.  It is a recognition that I (even we) can’t, but God can.  One of my favourite prayers is known as “The Breton Fishermen’s’ Prayer”:

The Sentinel at Hout Bay

The Sentinel at Hout Bay

“O God,
Your sea is so great
and my boat is so small.
Amen”

Well, as 2015 accelerates to full throttle, I’m dashing off a request for prayer cover…

  • from the 4th to the 17th January I will be “Padre” at The Annual Hermanus camp – which has run, with little adjustment, since 1908 and caters for boys from 11-15 years old, run by boys of any age beyond that (see hermanuscamp.org.za).  I hope to connect enough to enable the boys to encounter something of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jonathan will be with me on camp
  • On the 17th January, the family gathers in Port Elizabeth to celebrate Ron Southall’s (Judy’s father) 80th birthday (and it is Jonathan’s 18th)
  • Jonathan then starts his final year of school.
  • Sarah starts an Honours year in English Literature, but, before that, has a driving test!
  • Judy starts a new year teaching at Capricorn Primary School, and also aims to write a PhD proposal to research teaching Philosophy for children, especially those struggling or regarded as “ineducable”.
  • I’ve been challenged by some beloved people in severe personal and relational crisis – the needs are very big and my boat is so very small.
  • The movement of mission-shaped church is gathering pace, with 11 possible centres across South Africa hosting the mission shaped ministry course (see missionshapedministry.org).  I will be teaching on the launch weekend (27-28th February) in East London.
  • A small team (including me) plans to visit our mission partners in February (16th to 26th) in Tanzania: Robert Mloya and family in Mwanza (see crosslinks.org/projects/robert-mloya-with-build) and Katie Christie (senior midwife at Selian Hospital in Arusha)
  • Above all, may I stay in the heart of God’s calling and “keep the main thing the main thing”.

Thank you and God bless you!

New Year "selfie"

New Year “selfie”

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Crowther Christmas Letter

IMG_3710The main purpose of this simple note is to send loads of love to friends and family far and near – may you find the joy of God with you in 2015.

But also a quick update on us.

In January we will have been in Cape Town for 6 years. We live with a view of Constantiaberg in the Table Mountain National Park rising above Tokai forest and the vineyards of Constantia. But also not far from the new housing developments and informal settlements of this rapidly expanding city.

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Jon with Ollie & Pip on Table Mountain

 

There are 4 of us (and two labradors) in the house this Christmas, and we have never had so few!  After morning church celebrations we plan to picnic next to the reservoir at Silvermine, in the Park.

Sarah 2014

Sarah

Sarah, home for the holiday, sings around the house and leaves poetry, painting and reading books – all “works in progress”.  She has completed her degree with excellent results, so that she will return to Rhodes University for an Honours year in English Literature (and she’s pleased to have secured work as a Music Library assistant and as a tutor to English undergraduates). She is flying to Kwa-Zulu Natal after Christmas to spend time with Gareth and his family but we will see her again at Judy’s father’s 80th in January in Port Elizabeth.

Jon with Aleks

Jonathan will be celebrating his 18th at Grandpa’s 80th and he and Sarah have been persuaded to sing together. He has had a very good year, jam-packed with activity in sport, music, church youth and also Aleks, the girlfriend who lives over the mountain. He starts his final school year in January and the first term includes a part in a school musical (“Across the Universe”), Sports Day and a full athletics programme. He may be traveling in August to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the acapella group “Simply Blue”.

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Stephen at Lee Abbey, North Devon

Stephen is, of course, missing (and we are missing him). He is staying on at Lee Abbey Retreat & Conference Centre in Devon, leading activities for youth and children till August and has been encouraged to apply to start in September at the Worship Central Academy at HTB, London. We are so thankful for the way he is growing in all dimensions of maturity.

My parents are so happy in their home in Johannesburg and recovering after my Dad’s bad leg break. In fact they are now in England with my brother’s family.

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Judy & I with John & Andy Irvine in Cambridge

Judy and I had a wonderful time, during my 3-month sabbatical, in England and Wales. It was a gift to spend time with some special family and friends. We took Stephen with us to Cornwall to stay with Adrian and Elizabeth and then with the Jones’ family on holiday. Then to Hertford where we had a spit-roast with the Southalls and Crowthers there. It was so good to see them all looking and sounding very well.

Judy and I then continued north to Stoke and a very affirming night with members of Church Without Walls. The encouraging reminder was that “one plants the seed (of the gospel of Jesus Christ), another waters, but God makes it grow”.  After that we stayed in Sheffield with good friends met at theological college and went walking in the Derbyshire Dales.

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The hills above St Beuno’s, north Wales

My highlight after that was an individually guided retreat at St Beuno’s Ignatian Retreat Centre in north Wales. It was an oasis of prayer and reflection and I felt God breaking through (or me opening up) to that quiet still place with God. I came away affirmed in my identity and calling.

I then travelled to Cambridge where I met John, Richard and Warren.  We were on staff together, 25 years ago, at St Barnabas, Kensington. We travelled to a cottage in Holme-next-the-sea, Norfolk for a couple of days where we prayed for each other and swopped news of old “Barnabites”. Again so encouraging to hear many testimonies of Grace and growth in faith, ministry and mission.

Judy joined me in Cambridge after her own retreat at Stanton House, near Oxford, visiting a friend in Gloucester and attending a conference on Philosophy for Children in London. The conference was recommended by the professor at UCT who is encouraging Judy to pursue further studies in this area, based on her innovative work with children at Capricorn Primary School.
I was given the privilege of preaching at Holy Trinity, where Charles Simeon was Rector for 54 years. The place was full of new students arriving for the start of the academic year.

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CHS staff 2014

We returned to a happy church at CHS, a very competent staff team in place, the amazing development of the mission shaped ministry course (equipping pioneers of Fresh Expressions of church) in South Africa and plans for developing structures to resource and enable the growth. All this means that I am considering what my role should be, going into the next few years. In fact the book that I read through the sabbatical was “The Unnecessary Pastor” (Eugene Petersen & Marva Dawn) which is a challenge not to conform to what others (society and church), nor yourself, deem “necessary” in a church pastor.  A pastor is to help people to Jesus so that they can follow the Good Shepherd.

It’s been lovely writing this and imagining you reading it (with cup of coffee or mulled wine?). We can give many thanks to God for many blessings.  May our Father God continue to bless and keep you, make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, through Jesus Immanuel, Messiah and Melekh HaMelakhim (King of Kings).

Loads of love
Gordon, and Judy, Sarah, Stephen and Jonathan too.

shortly after one of the troop stole cheese out of our fridge!

Baboon!

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Re-entry

Poppies - remembering loss in the century after "the war to end all wars"

Poppies – remembering loss in the century after “the war to end all wars”

There is no-one else at home – unless you count the two labradors, but they are stretched out and breathing deeply.  I hear only gentle sounds, distant mood music from the iPod in the kitchen, chirping birds against the tidal traffic on the M3 (Blue Route) and some wind in the giant Strelitzia (Wild Banana) near where I write.  Solitude – my soul is breathing in and out.

I’m well aware that it’s a month since I posted.  Partly, with my sabbatical over, my commitment to stay connected ended too.  Partly I wasn’t sure I had anything particular to say.  But mostly it has been the intensity of re-entry.  After quietly drifting through space, I returned, plunging through the atmospheric heat to land with a bump at my terra casa (earth house).

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Re-entry was smooth – I spent some days with Judy and Jonathan at Pringle Bay.

Many thanks to all who read my posts – more than I realised – and for your encouragements.  I also realise now that blogging is a good discipline for me – an opportunity to creatively reflect.  But mostly, I realised that I live in strong currents, winds, eruptions and loud voices (some exhilerating, some disruptive).  I need the sanctuary that God provides and the power of the Peace of Jesus Christ (Messianic shalom) to hold my soul and to empower me to bring peace to the small corners of the universe where I am called.  I need prayer!

So I will continue to post.  Irregularly (a little nervous of expectations) and simply.

I am so thankful that our family is well (in the full meaning of wellness).  I am confident that all three children are set on a good course and can be trusted to make choices that lead to life.  I am so thankful for a wife (a spouse, a covenant partner) who loves me.  And I am thankful for the choices our parents have made, and continue to make, to ensure that the blessings they have received (which are many) are passed on to our generation.

I’m also thankful for CHS (Church of the Holy Spirit) and for Brendan and the whole team (including staff and Pastorate and their families) who oversaw the church to keep growing and going in the purpose of God for us (which is “Together in Jesus Christ, growing in God’s Mission to the world in the power of the Holy Spirit“).  Capricorn Missional Community is growing in an area of real challenge; Ladies Linking is reaching out in exciting ways to women who do not connect to “organised religion” (or perhaps even the disorganised kind!); the Book Club is flourishing, the Youth Alpha courses run for children at Westlake Primary and Capricorn Primary schools saw children encountering the powerful Grace of Jesus and led to a camp for 24 who are learning how to follow Jesus amongst the dangers of life in settlements ravaged by gangsterism and drugs.  All this is pursuing the vision of a church that is like a fleet of ships (some small boats) to bring God’s rescue.  Growing communities that reach diverse communities with the transforming story of God in Jesus.

Sunday worship together is wonderful, the preaching of God’s Word impactful and the diversity of relationships in Jesus, transformational.  I am so thankful that this is a church which pursues God and wants to love in his Name.

F_Expr_logo_SANationally, the movement to help the church re-shape for effectiveness in God’s Mission in our changed and changing context is also gathering pace.  It was a privilege to be part of “Training the Trainers” to equip leaders of the mission-shaped ministry (msm) course.  Over 80 have now been trained and 11 courses are planned for 2015 – in major centres of South Africa: from Polokwane to Strand; Bloemfontein to East London, and; KZN to Cape Town.  Pioneers are planting “fresh expressions” of church for those who do not connect with existing churches – in partnership with the historic expressions that are mission-shaped.  The diversity of those involved, across the divisions of race, denomination, background and history is a work of the God of miracles.  I am enlarged with Hope!

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“Perriwinkle” at Pringle Bay, so kindly and often lent to us.

Yet there are those raging storms and rip tides that are seperating marriages, families, communities, leaders – even to dividing body and spirit.  Today I’m weeping with the family of a young boy who lies in hospital, riddled with cancer; with the family of a childhood friend who was murdered this week (I go to take the funeral on Monday), with the young girl who was raped, with the man who broke down, weeping over his broken marriage and the many who, living within minutes of me, have no safe, hygienic toilet.

shortly after one of the troop stole cheese out of our fridge!

shortly after one of the troop stole cheese out of our fridge!

Within the institutional church I see petty power politics, self-interest, insecurities and pride that bring tunnel vision or total blindness. Also a loss of confidence in the Truth that sets people free – like losing the keys of the prison door.  And positional “leaders” who are not.  And some who can, but lead astray.  I am charged with frustration.  Yet I must accept that his is also the mission field of the God who loves and sacrifices to the uttermost to effect that love.

And who am I, but a child, thankful to be held in the hands of God.

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Passing the Parcel

Travelling Together

Travelling Together

I’m writing from Pringle Bay, which sits on the south coast of the Cape – on the opposite side of False Bay to Cape Town – an hours drive from the Mother City over the mountains of Somerset West.  Judy and I are here with Jonathan and the two dogs.  How wonderful it was to meet Judy again in Cambridge and to collect Jonathan (on the way home from the airport on Monday morning) after our month in the United Kingdom.  If I were to flag all my thanks, Table Mountain would be covered with bunting!

So thank you England and Wales and all we engaged with there, in person or by cable, satellite and prayer.  Thank you to South Africa and all who have (and are) blessing us here.  And thank you to the God who is Father to us all, protecting, guiding and providing far beyond the immediate and the comprehensible – yet in the character of Ultimate Love.

IMG_3504From the 2nd to 4th October I was ensconced in a beautiful cottage in the village of Holme on the North coast of Norfolk with three wonderful & wise men. We worshipped in song (mainly old choruses that we sang when we knew each other, about 25 years ago, at St Barnabas Church, Kensington, London – in fact it was exactly 25 years ago that I started as Assistant Pastor at “Barney’s”).  Each of us had a good session to tell our personal “story” (and be questioned) and then to receive prayer.  We also walked along the dykes over the flat marshes to the beach and ate great food at “The Lifeboat Inn” to celebrate Warren’s birthday.

I was last to have a turn “in the middle” and John had a picture of me sitting on a mountain “overlooking Africa” that exactly matched the scene of my conversion/commissioning in 1982 in the Katberg, Eastern Cape.  He sensed that God was “reminding me of my call to go down into the valleys”, but that God would be with me.  I remember so clearly God speaking to me (in that inner voice that I heard for the first time then) and telling me that I was to leave the mountain top and go, with the light of Christ, to where people lived in shadows, but that he would bring me back to the mountain top again.  For me this culminates and underlines the affirmation of God’s calling that I’ve received over this sabbatical.

IMG_3511In an age where there is much confusion and uncertainty (even in churches), I (we) are called to one thing above all others – to point people to Jesus.  And to lead in such a way as to lead others to him, so that they too can follow him to the cross and into the full life of God.

There are many other wonderful things that I have received.  I’m sure that we are all in a godly game of “pass the parcel” – receiving that which God has made available to us, and faithfully passing on everything we have received to others.  Till the music stops – or, perhaps for the one who is faithful to the end, properly starts!

IMG_3585The four of us returned to Cambridge on Saturday and we visitors had a walk around the colleges, watching returning (and fresh) students arriving and unpacking for the new year. Then Judy arrived – joy!  We had an evening stroll along the Cam river, with the swans, punts and pubs (romantic!) and then a lovely meal with John & Andy Irvine.  As a newly married couple, we moved in to the upstairs flat of their Vicarage.  They modelled Christian marriage and ministry, and mentored us, such that I will always be profoundly thankful.

IMG_3616Sunday morning, our last day in England, and John and I made our way to Holy Trinity Church (“HTC”) for the prayer meeting before the first service.  I preached at both 9.30 and 11.30 services – the second with many new students “testing the waters”.  I loved the worship and the prayers.  I enjoyed praying with several after the services.  As usual I felt my talks were humanly inadequate, but dependent on that Amazing Grace by which God chooses to use “jars of clay” to display the wonderful treasure of the Gospel and his extraordinary power (2 Corinthians 4:7).  It was a huge privilege.  And so good to connect with old “Barnabites” including Bruce (my brother) and Sally who drove up from Hertford.

wonderful hospitality

wonderful hospitality

After a delicious lunch at the home of Rupert (Vicar) & Liz Charkham, Bruce drove Judy and I to Gatwick where we boarded our flight for home.  We were met, at Cape Town International Airport, by Mark & Caroline Harrington, with a parcel of cooked chicken, salad and milk and a lift home.  Home, with the dogs cared for by the lovely Lucie and Emma.  Home, long with weeds in the garden.  Home, the place to unwrap and savour some of the many parcels of Grace.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you.

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Autumn Fruitfulness

IMG_3259Big landscapes and tiny seeds. Intense emotion and deep peace. The reality of battle around and the joy of victory within. These are my experiences of this part of my sabbatical journey. And the cornerstone, companion and hope is Jesus Christ:

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

I had gone into an 8-day retreat hoping to engage with God – to draw close to God and to be refreshed in spirit and soul. And I have been!

With guidance from a retreat director in a daily (half hour) review, I learned the following about listening to God in prayer:

  1. Find a place of prayer. I moved about and used different spaces – outside on a bench, on a hill top, in a small chapel, in my room – the place where I felt relaxed and able to give myself to prayer without distraction.IMG_3422
  2. Get into a comfortable position (I tried kneeling with a prayer stool early on, but my muscles were tight and started cramping, so I generally sat in an upright posture, though by the end of the retreat my body was much more relaxed and I was able to kneel comfortably).
  3. Set an alarm to go off after an hour (I used the alarm on my iPad. Early on I set it at 45 mins and progressed to an hour. But no more than an hour for a session or I start to get tired and distracted).
  4. Pray a short prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help me to hear; become aware that I am loved by God and that God wants to speak (let myself relax and become aware of this truth deeply).
  5. Read a chosen passage of scripture (with the help of my director I chose 3 passages for the day, usually a Psalm, a Gospel reading and another from Old or New Testament). Read it slowly and prayerfully, listening for the word that speaks to my heart.
  6. Listen for God to speak through the passage to me now, not recalling old sermons, hymns or songs from the passage or even other passages that come to mind. Stick with the passage.
  7. Listen for the answer to 3 questions:
    a. What word in the scripture most spoke to my heart?
    b. What did I feel as I prayed?
    c. What did I sense God saying to me?
  8. When I felt I’d read the passage and listened and was able to answer the 3 questions, continue listening… stay with the passage… listen further until the buzzer goes and the hour is up (amazing how I had an experience of “breakthrough” or “insight” or sense of God Present when I persevered through those last minutes).
  9. Review the time of prayer – jotting down in a journal the answers to the 3 questions (This helped crystallise or clarify what I heard and was so exciting to see how God led me from one session of prayer to the next over the days). It was helpful to review this with my director as she gave good feedback on what she heard me say – and was praying for me.
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The Rock Chapel, built on a little hill at St Beuno’s. Since I had to take the large key from it’s place in the “Boot Room” of the college and cross fields to get there, it meant I had it all to myself!

I am so thankful for the intense closeness to God that I experienced – “He restored my soul” (Psalm 23). And for the reaffirmation of my calling to be a minister of Jesus Christ. And for the renewed conviction that we listen to God in community and that, therefore, building Christian community is crucial.  In the middle, around day 3 and 4, there were also times when I faced the reality of my struggles, my hurts and my inadequacy.

I also loved walking or running through the autumnal landscape with apples, pears and loganberries ripe, the leaves turning to yellows, oranges and russets (as the sunsets), the lambs full grown and plump in the fields and the milking cows placid in the green fields before their winter enclosure in warm barns. I loved the large skies and patchwork fields that I saw from the hilltops of Moel Maenefa and Cefn Du. I loved the wide horizons of the coast from Chester to Llandudno and the distant mystery of the mountains of Snowdonia.

IMG_3348On the 1st October, the retreat was ended and I caught the train from Rhyl, via the vibrant rush of London at rush hour (contrast!) to historic Cambridge to stay with John and Andy Irvine. John invited me to join the staff of St Barnabas, Kensington (London), which I did in September 1989 (25 years ago) and mentored me in the most wonderful way – I give many and large thanks to God for them both.

Today I have come to the north coast of Norfolk with three wonderful men of God (John, Warren and Richard – all from that staff team).  We will each talk about our lives and receive prayer in turn.  On Sunday I will be united with Judy (so looking forward to that!) and am preaching at both morning services at Holy Trinity, Cambridge.  It is the church where Charles Simeon (a hero of mine) was Rector from 1782 to 1836 (54 years).  At first people so disliked his preaching that they threw things at him in the street and his church wardens locked him out of the building! But he went on, by preaching Jesus Christ and faithfully opening the Bible, to encourage people to engage in God’s Mission across the world with “much fruit” to the glory of God.

Please pray that I will clearly & compellingly proclaim Jesus and the Good News that he is – especially to the new students that are starting their academic year.  By wise planning, Judy and I avoid any negative response by leaving immediately to fly home from Gatwick!

Here, to finish, is a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877 at St Beuno’s – on the same scenes as I enjoyed, and with similar feelings:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

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Pregnant Silence

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North Wales. Looking west over the Clywdian hills towards Snowdon

I feel a little like a naughty schoolboy!  I am hunched over my laptop in the bowels of the Victorian Gothic pile that is St Beuno’s, next to the only router so that I can surreptitiously send a message to the outside world.  For the rest of the time, I am in silence.

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Autumn raspberries in the gardens of St Beuno’s

But it is a pregnant silence – a silence full of the love and life of God.  A silence that heals, forms and brings newness to birth.

I arrived by train from Sheffield on Monday (22nd September) at Rhyl on the coast of North Wales and boarded the once-daily bus that navigated the narrow lanes of the Vale of Clwyd (pronounced “clue-aid”) to St Beuno’s (pronounced “Bye-nose”) where I was shown to a cottage and an upstairs room that overlooks green fields of sheep, dry stone walls and high hedgerows under brooding clouds of cream and coal, with cobalt  vistures that wax and wane.

St Beuno’s College was built as a seminary for the Jesuit Order in 1848 by J.A. Hansom, (who also designed the Hansom cab) and Gerard Manley Hopkins arrived in 1874 for the final stage of his studies in Theology before ordination as a priest.  These lines of his speak to me:

Elected Silence, Sing to me and beat upon my whorled ear.  Pipe me to pastures still and be the music that I care to hear”

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The cottage where I am staying is the first on the right. And this steep hill is the start of a lovely run!

The rhythm of each day is simple.  I wake early, wash and walk or pray.  Breakfast is at 7.45 and at 9.30 I meet with my Retreat Director for about half an hour.  I write or read or pray (roughly three periods a day of an hour each).  Lunch is at 12.30pm.  Then I explore the hills or go for a run.  There is a eucharistic service at 5.45pm and supper at 6.30pm.  I get to bed around 10.30pm.

Each period of prayer is directed by a passage of Scripture, chosen together with the Retreat Director according to the way God seems to be leading, what is going on in me and what I need to hear.  I use the passages prayerfully, reading slowly, allowing the Holy Spirit to highlight a word or phrase, to remind me, to make me aware of how I am feeling or how my soul is responding.  Does this sound too pretentious, pious, alien?  Well I am, as of today, aware that God is speaking to areas in my life that need to be brought to him.  So that He can bring joy and peace to me, with hope in Jesus Christ crucified and Risen.  And overflowing to others.  I am being called to entirely trust in Jesus Christ.

A prayer that I am praying today is the one that was the theme of the large “Anglicans Ablaze” conference in July.  It comes from Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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St Beuno’s Ignatian Spirituality Centre.

Amen.  Sending my love.

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True North

IMG_3083We have entered the mists of the moors of Yorkshire after leaving the sunny south – but it is good.

Judy and I and Stephen loved our time in Hertford (just north of London) where we stayed with my brother (Bruce), Sally and Becky.  We were joined for a hog roast (cooked on a spit over a fire by my clever boet) by Judy’s brother Anthony (AJ) and Rachel, Hannah and Ben. Bruce also took me for a run through the by-ways and along the canal tow-paths of Hertfordshire – beautiful.IMG_2963

We worshipped with Christ Church, Ware and I like their stated values:

Worship centred; Prayer dependent; Word rooted; Spirit empowered; Grace based; Mission shaped; Community transforming.

God bless them with his Presence and much fruit.

Saying goodbye to Stephen was hard – he caught the coach back to Lee Abbey and we know not when we will meet again – but so thankful for great time with him. He and I recorded him singing the worship song “Your Grace Finds Me” by Matt Redman. I love it.

It’s there in the newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh such grace

Chorus:
From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me, yes your grace finds me

It’s there on a wedding day
There in the weeping by the graveside
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

The same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh such grace

There in the darkest night of the soul
There in the sweetest songs of victory
Your grace finds me
Yes your grace finds me

Judy and I drove to Stone (near Stoke-on-Trent) where we were hosted by Sean & Helen, who had invited some of the other friends from Church Without Walls for a feast of food, stories and prayer. They had to be patient as we had to navigate around an accident on the M6 but when we eventually arrived the gathering was so encouraging.   It affirmed that God can take mustard seeds of faith and grow them:  through times of trial; when growth is invisible to all but God; through the ordinary and the “silent whisper”.  Then, at an occasion such as this, the multiplication is glimpsed, the maturity revealed and the God’s Grace powerfully beautiful.  I am so thankful to God and to all my brothers and sisters.

The next day (too soon!) we left Sean and Helen and drove across the Staffordshire Moorlands and Derbyshire Dales to Sheffield.  The last time I stayed with Chris and Mandy (in February 2013) was with three colleagues who had come with me from South Africa to learn about the Mission Shaped Ministry (msm) course prior to us launching it in Cape Town and George.  It snowed heavily and the South Africans shivered, but what a strategic time it turned out to be!

This time we have enjoyed good country walks in autumn days and our long friendship. We met when Chris and I arrived at Cranmer Hall in Durham as ordinands (training as would-be priests) and our families were housed in Newton Hall, a stiff bicycle ride from the college. Both families have developed an easy friendship that has seen us share  stages and seasons of life.  Chris has been a model for me of faithful pastoral ministry and servant leadership – laying good gospel foundations for people and directing them closer to Jesus.IMG_3068

And now Judy and I are to part as I catch the train to St Beuno’s Retreat Centre in north Wales for an 8-day retreat. I am not entirely sure what to expect, but I am looking forward to solitude, silence and deeply engaging with God.  As I sign off, I do not know when next I will be able to post. The immortal words of Captain Lawrence Oates come to mind “I am just going outside and I may be some time”. Thank you for your prayers.

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