Some weeks since I posted to this Blog, and no excuse except that I’ve been busy. Post-Easter should be a time when things get easier, but with all the Annual Meetings to be held before the close of April, I was rarely at home in the evenings for the last fortnight of the month. Now these are all over for another 12 months, the pressure is off slightly, which is just as well as I have just begun a 12-week Open University course on “Writing Family History”. This is the first time I have studied with the OU, and I thought that a short course such as this would be a good introduction to their way of doing things and the commitment involved. I’ve managed to install the software required, have “logged on” to the OU course site, and made sure that I am able to successfully send my Assignments electronically. I’ve also looked in on the “Forum” as there are 5 “on-line” Tutorials that I should interact with, one every fortnight. I’m working my way through Block 1 of the material and am finding it quite interesting. If I complete it successfully I don’t get anything other than 10 points towards a Degree and the personal satisfaction of having kick-started my brain into studying mode again.
On the Benefice front, one of our churches is currently the target for thieves who are systematically stripping the lead from the nave roof. They have already paid us two visits and I suspect they will return again to this “soft target” which is somewhat isolated and with no over-looking neighbours. Not a lot we can do about this except leave it in the hands of the Lord and the local constabulary. Even if they are not brought to justice in the here and now, they will have to account for their actions at a later and final date. For us, it’s just a reminder that our buildings are but the outward visible sign of the invisible true church.
For a short time in the late 1970’s I attended a gathering known as “The Invisible Church” that met in Earl’s Court, London. At first sight it seemed a standard evangelical “free” church, and I enjoyed the worship times I managed to get to, but that little warning bells began to ring as the longer-term members started to talk about their pastor, Nelson. In conversation it was “Nelson says this”, and “Nelson says that we should…” Rarely were the phrases “The Gospel says …” or “Jesus told us that …” used. It became clear that Nelson was the final arbiter of what was said and thought for the members of this church, and so I left.
At the time I was working in Kilburn and commuting up and down from my flat in Brighton every day. I usually caught the 5.50 p.m. train from Victoria, but on the Tuesday evenings when I went across to the Invisible Church in Earl’s Court, I got the later train at around, as far as my memory serves, 10.15 p.m. This particular night in mid-December I was caught in conversation at the close of the church meeting, and consequently I was late arriving at Victoria. I ran onto the concourse to see my train just pulling out of the station, and I had to wait for the next one at just after 11.00 p.m. I got onto it and we set off down to the coast. About half-way through the hour-long journey the train stopped, and we sat there for about half-an-hour wondering what was causing the delay. Then the guard came through the compartments telling us that there had been an “incident” on the line ahead of us and that we would have to take an alternative route into Brighton. This extended journey took us to Lewes where we arrived at half-past midnight, to find a platform full of stranded travellers. They boarded our train and we got into Brighton station at about 1.10 a.m.
The next morning I woke to the news that a train from London had crashed at the Clayton tunnel, and there had been several fatalities in the front coaches. I realised that this was the train I had run for at Victoria, and missed. I usually sat in the front section of the train so that the walk down Brighton platform was shorter, and if I had caught that train I would have been involved in the accident.
Everything has its reason, and I look back on my fleeting involvement with the Invisible church with mixed feelings. If I hadn’t been going there in the first place, I would not have been catching the later train. But having gone, I could see there was a reason why I was delayed that particular evening. What this has done is not only give me a sense of the leading and provision of God’s care for us, but also it has taught me not to accept without question the underlying practices of any church, peripheral or mainstream.
Currently I am suspicious of the recent consecrations of hundreds of bishops in Nigeria, and the intention of that church to send 120 bishops to the next Lambeth conference. This will mean that their particular take on scriptural interpretation and human sexuality will be out of proportion to the voices of those who accept human difference as part and parcel of what it means to be human.
We’ll wait and see.