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Sabbatical, Day 12

Yesterday, Olivia Newton-John. Today, the Rolling Stones. Mixed emotions, that is.After breakfast today, I helped another minister lead a communion service for the college body in the chapel. She had found some excellent material in Andrew Pratt and Marjorie Dobson‘s book ‘Nothing Too Religious‘, including a powerful retelling of the institution of the Lord’s Supper that we used as a thanksgiving prayer.

An intriguing morning either side of coffee with Nick Helm, the Bishop of Sheffield’s Advisor in Spirituality. He lectured us on spiritual direction. Quite a lively debate ensued about the similarities with, and differences from pastoral care and Christian counselling. The second half was less lively, being a rather protracted history of the movement. That could have been shortened and we could have got into more meat, I think. But stimulating.

This afternoon, though, Phil Meadows once again led us into powerful and painful places, spiritually. His subject was Anabaptist Discipleship. He emphasised just how radical their rejection of infant baptism was, because it also conferred citizenship of the state. Rejecting it in favour of believers’ baptism was an act of civil disobedience. Hence, given the (unholy, in my opinion) alliance between the Magisterial Reformers and the state, vicious persecution followed. This was the first example of Protestant persecution of other believers. Phil shared with us two stories, including that of Michael Sattler. To hear the details of the persecution reduced some of us to tears: me for one. Hearing about their children just did for me.

Phil’s point was that we don’t have tongue screws attached to prevent us preaching the Gospel, so what are our metaphorical tongue screws? What things have colonised our minds and hearts to prevent us sharing the Good News, at the risk of lesser persecution? Clearly, the Anabaptists held strongly to believing that Jesus was Lord of all creation, way above all earthly rulers.

I was relieved we had a coffee break followed by the MA students having tutorials and library time. So I wandered out of college into the nearby village where I found a craft and gift shop. I shall be returning tomorrow with little presents for the family.

This evening, a session in which Stephen Skuce argued that what he called ‘evangelism in the power of the Holy Spirit’ – namely, evangelism where there is a clear demonstration of God’s power (for example, healing) – is the normative form of Christian evangelism. Another debate on that one. Nobody here seriously doubts that God can and does work in that way, but an interesting and passionate discussion about the relationship between evangelism and signs and wonders, also bringing in the question of large-scale missions versus one-to-one sharing. We covered a lot of ground.

In between all this, I seem to have earned the reputation as the techie on the course for the week. I have been in demand to help people with what to me are simple tasks, but which to others are daunting. Installing a Java update and uninstalling earlier ones for security reasons. Discussing phishing emails. That kind of stuff. I’m only too conscious of those friends who know far more about this than I do, but I’m glad if I can put my moderate knowledge of the area to use in helping others.

I shall be leaving here after coffee tomorrow. The MAs have a final question and answer session, but there’s no point in me staying to that if the consequence were to be hitting the M25 at Friday rush-hour time, so I’m looking for an earlier getaway if I can. I shall be said to leave behind the teaching and spirituality of this place and the people I’ve met. However, I’ve missed Debbie and the children, and I’m looking forward to a happy reunion.

Sabbatical, Day 11

First of all, a bit of techie stuff: late last night I finally succeeded in installing Ubuntu Linux in a separate partition on the hard drive of my laptop. Previously, I’ve managed to install it within Windows using ‘wubi’ on our desktop, but that PC always protested regarding a separate installation. Anyway, I saw a suitable hand-holding article in Computeractive magazine in a newsagent last week. I bought it and it came in handy yesterday evening. So now I can have some fun.

Or so I thought. Ubuntu doesn’t recognise the wireless receiver in the laptop, so I can’t connect to the Internet through it while I’m here. Windows Vista only for that task. I’ll be able to use it when connected via an Ethernet cable to our router at home. Not exactly the flexibility you hope for with a laptop, but at least there is an operating system that will to some extent substitute should Windows ever fall over or crawl in RAM.

Anyway, to change the words of Olivia Newton-John, let’s get spiritual. The lectures have been extraordinary today, right from the get-go. Phil Meadows could hardly read a quote from Samuel Chadwick at the beginning of our first session this morning without weeping. A lecture that began in prayer ended in prayer, with some overcome by the power of the Spirit. A constant theme today has been pain at people in church not receiving Gospel basics. It hasn’t been the judgmentalism of such people that can be found in some evangelical circles: it has more been an agony. And the recurring response has been that we are just as free to proclaim the Gospel as we always have been, but with it we are free to be persecuted. There is a constant historical thread that people who have initiated reform or renewal in the church have done so from the margins (how postmodern is that? If you’ve followed my Starfish and the Spider posts, you’ll have seen it recurring there) and have suffered for doing so.

After lunch we had the coffee and cakes I mentioned yesterday. I ended up sitting again with Stephen Skuce, talking about all sorts of things from family to church life to – yes, the question of a PhD again. I shared a particular misgiving I have about the idea. Not the money: we’ll pray about that if it’s right. But I’ve been deeply concerned about motivation. I don’t want to explore this if it’s just an ego trip to get more alphabet soup after my name. Stephen encouraged me that there might be a number of worthy reasons for pursuing one. I really wasn’t ready for these conversations. Suddenly these ideas are accelerating and I’m thinking ‘Oo-er’. Clearly, I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth on Monday!

Well, I’m going to draw this to a close in a moment. I’m typing this whilst taking part in a chat with three other students about children’s openness to God and other aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Also, someone wants to find the Lego Gospel on the web and have a look. There are a few possible sites she might mean: The Brick Testament, this YouTube clip

or maybe this site.

See you tomorrow.