The end in sight

I’m starting writing this blog entry during the AGM of the chaplaincy church in Cahors where I have ended up at the end of my slower and longer trip through France. I planned to visit this English speaking congregation after my last visit and have been invited to someone’s home for lunch. It turns out to be their AGM week which reminds me of something from 30 yrs ago in its formality and concern with minutiae.  I missed the vision 125 gathering in Hazlemere so maybe this is my penance. 

The trip through France has been from business to solitude. The long miles have been accompanied by either my own playlist on my phone or a series of podcasts from some of the churches I listen to regularly. Alongside this I’ve been in wonderful scenery, crossed beautiful bridges and walked along wooded banks. The Gorge du Lot was rugged and deep with a cascading river and dam and lake. My accommodation in small hotels in lovely riverside towns was great and I’ve been in total French speaking company until getting to this church today. This has taxed my French but been fun. 

Once again I can only testify how helpful it is to take time, to listen and to think. Unheralded thoughts and inspirational images come to mind in unexpected times and places. Over the next few days I’ll be back in our little house in Puy L’Eveque with opportunity to continue to read, write and formulate thinking. 

I’m seeking to avoid a sense of urgency as the end of my sabbatical draws near. These months have gone quickly and been so varied and full it’s absolutely amazing. I’ll write later about some of the key aspects of this last three months but for now I’m happy to continue in the way I’ve become accustomed over the last period. 

Thank you for positive support and warm encouragement. Thank you also for those who have started to comment on my return to parish ministry. 

For now a few images from the Lot Valley. 

Your friend. Clive

   

     

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Exploration

So it’s the last two weeks of my sabbatical and I’m boarding a ferry to France to spend these last two weeks reflecting on and reviewing the last three months as well as continuing a couple of areas of  very stimulating thinking. Some of this time I’m alone but Helen and Tim my son and his wife Ella join me for Easter.   This is a journey of exploration in several ways. 

Firstly it’s wonderful to take space and time to think, pray and explore the world around me from a Christian perspective and try and work out what my priorities should be! What our priorities as a church should be? What are those things that rise to the top when you let the water stand still for a while. At this stage in my life and ministry I would want to focus on those things, not the urgency of need or importance that we so often encounter. Ive been encouraged to focus on some areas and feel that doors have now opened on those for the future. Some of the encouragement has come unexpectedly through conversations and informal meetings which has been really helpful. 

The second exploration is purely physical as I’ve chosen a route through France that will take me three days rather than the normal one. The house I’m going to is on the Lot River. This major river starts high in the mountains and gorges of the central massive. I’ll be following the path of the river from there down to the house.  Why? Cos it’ll be fun. In a previous life I was a civil engineer and rivers and dams were very much part of that. Also because it gives a sense of journey. Something we need for our lives as well. 

For now I’m in a cosy cabin about to set sail so it’s Bon Nuit et Bon Voyage for me. 

A bientot. Clive. 

  

Fun with the family

This weekend marks the close of an interlude which involved a great holiday away and culminated in a whole family weekend here at Center Parcs. This is a place with memories for us as we used to come here with young children for a cheap midweek deal for fabulous fun swimming and enjoying ourselves. This weekend was an opportunity to celebrate my wife’s 60th so we were here with children, partners and grandchildren for quality celebration, food, fun and activity. 

The next few weeks are the final stage of my sabbatical with a focus on several aspects. During this time I’m back to France for some time alone to read and write – those helpful opportunities. I’ve a couple of books to feed into this. One is about mindfulness – an intriguing current cultural focus. The other is about being on the verge – exploring what it means to be church in this changing culture. Is also time to review and see what lessons I’ve learned, truths I’ve discovered, vision for myself and for the church. 

Altogether I can’t believe the value of stepping back for a while and thinking, talking, reading and praying. I am also so glad I’ve been visiting churches around the world to see what God is doing. It’s been immense. 

For now I’m excited to refocus my attention of these things for a bit longer.  So thank you for the opportunity. 

With affection. Clive. 

  

Death Valley and Spiritual Life

Movie names such as Leaving Las Vegas and Saturday Night Fever come to mind. We left Vegas after two nights and a full day courtesy of a lovely daughter and her hubbie. This included the show Love – the fantastic Cirque Du Soleille extravaganza which was simply amazing. As was Vegas in all its overwhelming exhibitionism. We had a great time and are really well, walked miles along the strip and saw so many shows along the way. 

But we were happy to leave by this point and the drive south towards LA through Death Valley was great with temperatures climbing towards the nineties. Our trip brought us to Saddlebacks primary church site in Orange County to attend the 4pm Saturday afternoon service. They run another at 6pm then 4 main services on Sunday plus two other special events in Spanish or for those who prefer “hymns”. The auditorium holds 3000 and it was 2/3 full for the event we attended. This really is a great church and after strong worship there was excellent teaching. Great welcome, nice coffee, plenty of opportunity to meet folk and a well presented and planned event. There’s a lot of life here and for the many thousand people who are part of this church it’s a centre of encouragement and vision. We loved it and found it inspiring and exciting. 

On to the beach and a final night in a hotel before flying back tomorrow to the UK. This has been a great holiday with so much variety.  Amazing beauty, great road trips, spectacular events and shows, excellent churches but most importantly for us – some great space and time together in the midst of busy lives and ministries. 

We return – Helen to work and a bit of normality – me to a final phase of this sabbatical which includes some more time and focus on the whole area of how to build church in the current culture. The weekly visits to churches across the world has been wonderful and a real eye opener about churches of all sizes and their vision and practices. The opportunity to take this time is very special and I can only be thankful and grateful. 

So thank you everyone. Clive





Significant Insignificance

So I’m writing this sitting looking down 4000ft into the Grand Canyon as we are here as part of this holiday section of my sabbatical. Although we are tying in a couple of church visits it’s mainly time for recreation and relaxation. But here I am actually becoming reflective. 

At this point the canyon is 12 miles across and over 3/4 mile deep. It has taken 6 million years for the Colorado river to erode this canyon out of the plateaux. The rocks at the bottom of the canyon are 1700 million years old. (Recent creationists will need to forgive me) This, seen from space, valley was formed before any of us existed and it was only a few years ago, relatively, that this was discovered. It is immense, significant and overwhelmingly awesome. (Sorry!). As we stand on the edge of it we have no impact on it, have no significance compared to it and it is utterly timeless whilst we live in a tiny bubble of time on the edge of it. 

And yet of course. We are immensely significant. We all realise it and know it and the detail of our lives is immensely important to us. A broken relationship or a loved ones death breaks our hearts. We will give our lives for worthwhile causes and give up everything for our families. Such is our own self awareness. Of course – mine and millions of others – conviction is that this is because God created us this way. In his own image the bible says. 

So a few reflections. The immenseness of our wonderful world accentuates just how significant we are. Someone has bothered with us. 

We need to take care of what we have – obviously this creation but also those precious and frail lives, relationships, hopes and aspirations. 

We get one go at it.  A few short years to raise a child. For me – so far a 40yr marriage which is a speck of dust alongside the Grand Canyon.  So we need to focus and give it our best! 

This place is great and so are we. Humankind – God’s idea and his friends. 

With affection to all. Clive





Recreation.  And some renewal. 

Returning to the original 4 r’s of a sabbatical of rest, renewal, recreation and refreshment then we have without doubt slipped fully into the recreation mode. This is the holiday part of my time out and as we are here stateside I must say this is no hardship. We are staying in a hippy area of LA called Venice beach where all life is lived under a warm sun alongside a cool beach. My first experience of the U.S. is so far very good with warm hospitality and welcome and lots of fun in the city of angels. Holidays are good times and can’t be for too long because it’s all about us and our pleasure. This one is about 40 years of marriage and celebrating each other as the love of our lives, a family who love us and a sense of living in the favour of a God we love and love to serve. So we are enjoying the change of life style, the freedom from requirements and the enjoyment of taking every day as it comes. Today though that brought the opportunity to visit a church I have long admired and seen as a source of spiritual life and refreshment. Saddleback church is currently only 35 years old but has become a significant voice for faith and godly purpose and is making a difference in the nation. It started life here in California hence one reason for making this part of our itinerary. The lead pastor Rick Warren is a well known speaker and author who presents a clear, rational and eloquent faith with a honesty about life and circumstances which makes much sense. I have found his teaching and approach very helpful and as churches we would share much common ground. He was at the service we attended today in the Hollywood church plant so that was a helpful opportunity. 

The LA church meets in the Palladium theatre and, like so many of these churches, runs two morning services back to back.  Life and growth necessitate this and it seems to be working well. This is a one year old church plant from the much larger church in Orange County – a church we are planning on visiting next week. We arrived as the first service was finishing. Free coffee and warm welcome and – because of our wonderful English accents – we were introduced to the assistant pastor who filled us in on the church. Worship was big band with songs we had sung in Bangalore and Derby. The talk was a video of an accomplished speaker from another venue the previous week. Rick Warren was here in person visiting and he spoke briefly and was personable, warm and encouraging. Several points to ponder. The video was remarkably engaging. Good speaker and it seemed very “present”. The building was poor and so led to a poor environment and atmosphere. Dark, bit dated and feeling grubby. They made the best of it but hard to overcome. Finally – lots of talking and less than enough worship/ministry. Generally, a bit disengaged! Not the very best experience but it’s obvious from discussion this is an effective and energised church.  They have a strong volunteer culture with strong lay service each week which leads to high levels of ownership. 

Finally. A brief word about being on holiday with the lovely Helen. 40 years of marriage, the love of my life and the joy of my heart. She’s my best friend and holidays are full of fun together. This is something very much on my heart over this sabbatical as this is often very rare and couples struggle to maintain healthy relationships over the longer haul. I’m working on something to address this – particularly something for the generation of my children’s peers as they seem to be a bit cast adrift by the neglect of those of my generation who don’t seem to have passed on any skills in this area. Who knows if something will result but I’ve already a reasonably long list of people who want to read whatever is written because they see the need for something. More to come. 

With warmth. Clive





A cheeky weekend in the UK

Great weekend with two main elements. One to catch up with friends who live Lecester way who were just a delight. Great thing about a sabbatical is finding time to spend with people the normal busy lives don’t allow. Lovely time with lovely people. 

The second was to visit another in the list of churches around the UK and the world. This week it was Derby Community Church which tied in well with Leicester. So below is another summary of a purely personal view of another Godly church. 

East Midlands Christian Fellowship Celebration
Derby Community Church. 

What was the name of the service?
10.30 regional celebration. 

How full was the building?
Full. Around 700

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yep. On door. With coffee and leaflets. Then in the auditorium. 

Was your pew comfortable?
Padded seats. Very comfy

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Warm, welcoming and fun. All ages

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Good morning. Welcome to our celebration.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. All up front on the big screen

What musical instruments were played?
Good band with keyboard and guitar. 

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Lively, informal, vibrant and full of faith. 

Exactly how long was the sermon?
38 mins

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7. Good teaching and good engagement. About 10 mins too long. Got to his point rather late in the process and missed an opportunity for ministry. Most likely due to the clock.  

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God has done it. So go and do it. Don’t ask God to do it but let God do it through you. Let’s rise up and fulfil his calling on our lives. Also about learning to live in the light personally. Open, accountable lives. Encouraging and motivational. Swedish speaker delivered in pretty good English. Quality. 

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Sense of fellowship and breadth of church. Translation facilities for some converted asylum seekers from Iran. Plenty of children and kids. All good and significant. 

And which part was like being in… er… the other place?
None. Great church. Clear vision. Growing and expanding with lives bench changed. 

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Lots of people saying hello and making introductions. Invited for a coffee. 

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good. We knew the wife of the leader so jumped the queue!  We were then able to watch a very brave girl having all her hair shaved off for charity. Amazing. 

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8.  One of many churches I could happily be part of, serve in and seek to grow. 

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. Lots of mutual joy and encouragement. 


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days’ time?
Live in the light. Love an open life which is accountable to others and step into what God is doing. 
The church is great. Doing a great job in Derby and a joy to visit. 

All part of the fun of a sabbatical
Best. Clive. 






Damp but cheery

So the end of my week away took a downturn weather wise but looked up very nicely. Coinciding with the arrival from UK of three of my colleagues from the church staff the weather came in cold and wet. However they brightened my solitude nicely and we have enjoyed a great mix of social interaction and some very helpful times of talk and fellowship at this midpointish stage in my sabbatical. We avoided the day to day and concentrated on the future and some possible options for the church. I can’t stress how helpful it is to get away from home and work environments for even short breaks to reflect and review. I also very much appreciate the friendship time which you get over meals (including the 8 course lunch yesterday in a very local traditional French restaurant – see the pics below)
I travel back with the chaps and will be glad to be home. It has been a good time for me personally and for us as staff. This coming weekend we are in Nottingham and Derby visiting a church we have known for many years and picking up then next week we have the next big adventure and trip as we visit Saddleback church in U.S. With that comes a sneaky peak into the Grand Canyon as we stay in a lodge on the south rim for a few days. Which R is that? Recreation or Refreshment – surely one of these. A mile deep and up to -6 c at night just now.
So a few days of home base. Wash the clothes and get out the guidebooks. Then onwards and westwards.
To all. My best. Clive

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Solo Sunday

So I went to church today. There’s a review at the end. It was good and I imagine a return visit in the future. First though a few thoughts about this week so far.
Several things I’ve discovered. I am not very productive on my own. I most likely need deadlines and deliveries in order to work effectively. So I have often not been as disciplined as one might hope.
Secondly I have discovered that I am a nice guy and happily have long conversations in my head with myself (sometimes out loud as well) about the stuff of the day and seem to agree with myself most of the time.
Finally. And most significantly – when you have open space and time and no strong imperatives – it seems that the stuff that filters through to the surface is the stuff that matters most. So this has been a helpful time in that respect where a reordering and prioritising has occurred. Actually I think it’s more significant than that – I think that into this space God is free to speak. I sense those things that are now floating at the top are the things on Gods heart.
Church wise I looked for a local English speaking church and found this one.
Chaplaincy of Midi-Pyrenees & Aude
10am Holy Communion Cahors

This is primarily for expats living nearby or with regular holiday homes. It’s an Anglican chaplaincy which stretches from Toulouse up to Cahors. They have a great website which I found easily.
I arrived 10 mins before to what looked like a formal setting and was given various books. There were around 40 people – my ageish.
The service was a rather formal Anglican communion with robed vicar and included hymns, songs, sermon, intercession and liturgy. I was aware how much this is not the normal pattern of worship for me now although all the words are familiar. I’m not sure it was for everyone there but – as usual maybe the Anglican service is a good common denominator for those from different backgrounds. The 10 min sermon was biblical and themed for the beginning of lent and called us to turn again and have faith. I was warmly welcomed afterwards and joined what was obviously a clear group of regulars for coffee. I was invited to lunch at several places and encouraged to come again. I was also asked if I wanted to be part of a choir – such was my enthusiastic singing!!!
I sense this is both an opportunity for worship and fellowship but also a social hub for many Christians living here away from UK church life. Faith in France is a dilemma and not easy to find and engage with outside of cities.
These were good hearted and welcoming people. I am invited when I come again later in March and I would be happy to come when “en vacance”
Final comment. I felt I could worship freely especially during a couple of special songs which are part of my journey of faith and saw how important these can be. The songs: as the deer and and can it be. A simple song expressing a hunger for God and a classic hymn declaring the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ. I guess that’s where I am.
Cold weather but open skies. My best.
Clive.

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Space and Time

So I stepped off a plane this afternoon into bright sunshine here in the Lot valley. I’m taking a week out on my own for several reasons.
One is to think, pray, read and write. All good stuff and in busy lives something we don’t have much time for. The time in India was thought provoking for many reasons. The whole issue of the work my wife has been doing was immense. But it’s other areas that quicken my interest. The way in which the same great stuff is happening across culturally different large churches. God is at work. And the way in which couples are hungry for input into how to actually make a relationship function and grow whatever the cultural background. In the words of my new friend Sheba “Yes it is helpful for me. The content that you dealt upon was beyond cultures and so there was no cultural barrier. I think unpacking the suitcase happens all through the life 😊” so some time to think about these in a space we have grown to love – Helen’s little house here in France.
But the other reason for taking off is to see what’s it’s like to live with myself!!! Normally my life is full of talk, people, events and activities. I certainly use my daily quota of words. But here there are 12-15 long hours with only a bonjour and mercy to the Boulanger at some point in the early morning. What will I think about moment by moment. What will I do when I’m eating.
People tell me I’m a nice guy. Let’s hope I find that to be the case.
A couple of photos to make you jealous.
Best. Clive

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