Wednesday, 9 May 2007

A time for meetings and a time for life

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.


  1. Finally - long and interesting. We never cease to learn.

  2. Your comments interest me. If god's hand was specifically guiding you not to end up in the train affected by the accident, what are you views on where he was for those who were caught up in it? Just curious...

  3. All I can say is that I perceived his guiding in my own life at that moment. I cannot then broaden that out to say that His guidance for those in the accident was that they should be involved. After the age of miracles, faith is subjective and not objective. It is always how we inwardly perceive God's power in our lives, with the outward church there to keep our understanding "mainstream". This is just one incident amongst several for me. I don't see tham at the time, but looking back ....

  4. I remember the Invisible Church, which I briefly was part of in Amsterdam. My experiences there resemble yours. I quickly discovered that "Nelson says..." was regarded as more important than what Jesus said.

    One of the leaders there, John W., actually laid into me when I sang some worship songs from outside the Invisible Church. He and other leaders also objected to me missing a meeting due to presented an after-midnight radio program.

    I was chided in one of the Nelson letters as well.

    This church managed to fool a lot of people, especially in England (where I attended one meeting at St. Jude's after getting out of the cult).

  5. The evangelical magazine "Buzz", which I read for some years, used to carry and full back page colour ad for the "Invisible Church" which was how I started going to it in the first place. "Buzz" was mainstream Free Church, so I thought that it if it was advertising this lot, then in some way it was a "recommended" group. I did note that the ads stopped about a year later.

  6. My experience in the late 70's with The Invis left me with a lifelong loathing of religion. (I still love God). I vividly remember the group that went to Amsterdam. I left because I didn't believe what they they were teaching. However, I met some truly beautiful people in that church and often wonder what happened to them and would love to get back in contact.