All posts by Gareth

Methodist Minister in Romsey Circuit, Hampshire. Award-winning hymn writer, guitarist, Fresh Expressions Associate, hopeful collaborator.

The Walker

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As the new year dawned, The Walker came across an old woman carrying a massive collection of boxes. Some were gold, others were silver. Some were rainbow-coloured and others had ribbons flying from them.

Some boxes were so battered they looked as though they would fall apart if anyone hit them too hard. Others had tape over long rips and still others had knotted string linking them to other boxes, turning them into a chain. One or two of the boxes looked almost brand new, as though they had been gifts at a recent birthday party.

The woman looked weighed down by her load and The Walker was concerned. “Are you all right, old woman?” he asked.

“Well, I’m used to it by now,” she answered, “although I’m trying to work out where to put this new box.”

The Walker looked where she had indicated with her head and there was a silver box about six inches long and four inches wide. It was covered in paper and held together by glittery gold tape.

“Could you just tuck it under your arm?” he suggested.

“Well it’s alright at the moment but, in a couple of weeks, it won’t fit at all and then I’ll be finding a new place for it. It really needs a permanent home,” said the old woman, bent almost double by both the weight of her load and the awkwardness of the sheer number of things she had to carry.

The Walker didn’t understand but, in his concern for the old woman, offered to carry some of her burden.

“Oh no,” she laughed. “I can’t let go of a single one of them. They’re mine and I have to carry them.”

“You’re going to have to explain this,” said The Walker, “because I don’t understand.”

The old woman smiled gently. “Here’s a clue. I’ve just entered my 83rd year and this little silver box is my 83rd bundle. I carry the reminders of every moment I’ve lived in these bundles.

“The most battered are for the most difficult years and the shiny ones represent the good years. As each year progresses the box for that year grows – that’s why I can’t tuck this new one under my arm. It’s all my burden and I’ve carried them all my life.”

It was The Walker’s turn to smile.

“It’s a good job I came along. This burden has become far too much for you to bear but you don’t believe help is possible. What started out as a bit of an inconvenience has taken over your life. Sit down.”

The old woman looked puzzled. “How can I sit with all of these boxes on my back?”

The Walker reached out and lifted all of the boxes from her shoulders. “Sit there,” he said, pointing to a chair which had appeared by their side. The old woman sat and fell asleep instantly. Quietly, The Walker carried the boxes away and burned the lot.

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Waiting in hope … a hymn for Advent

I posted this some three years ago. If preachers are looking for a contemporary Advent hymn this may fit the bill. We sang it in Romsey last week to O Waly Waly and it went really well.

All Creation Sings

For preachers and worship leaders who are beginning to think about Advent services, here is a hymn which may prove useful.

I wrote it with the tune Deep Harmony in my mind, but the editor of Singingthefaithplus suggests Niagara as a more upbeat option. O Waly Waly is another lovely Celtic tune which would add a different dimension to the text.

We wait in hope for hope to come:

promised of old; the righteous one.

Help us to watch, expect and pray

and then to greet Messiah’s day.

We read the story of your plan:

this world redeemed by heaven’s Son.

Grace breaks upon the present time;

mercy and hope through David’s line.

We hear the prophet’s voice ring clear:

‘changed hearts and lives are needed here’.

So, when the Spirit fires your Church,

make us a sign for all who search.

We go to share this great Good News:

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BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: FRIDAY

RCA Studio B sign
The signpost outside RCA Studio B

I’ve been talking this week about our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee – and one of the places we knew we had to make a pilgrimage to was the historic RCA Studio B on Music Row, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.

The studio was opened by RCA Records in 1957 and played a major role in establishing Nashville as a premier recording centre. The list of hit records that started out there is mind-blowing. Elvis himself recorded more than 250 hits in this one small building.

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The ‘Elvis board’ inside the studios.

As well as the King, there were Floyd Kramer, the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Bobby Goldsboro, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves … I could fill my time just listing musical stars.

Dolly Parton was so nervous on her way to record at RCA Studio B that she crashed her car but didn’t tell anyone until the recording session was over!

Everthing in the place reeks of history and musical quality. The grand piano has been there since the day the studio opened. Jerry Lee Lewis has played it. Dean Martin has leaned on it!

RCA studio B grand piano
The grand piano, played by all of the stars who recorded at RCA Studio B.

As a writer, just to stand in the same room and think of the catalogue of hits was almost enough to make me hang up my notebook and guitar, but then I remembered an encounter from the last days of Jesus.

The disciples had lived through the crucifixion and then met the risen Jesus who told them it was their job to keep telling the world of God’s love, just as he had done. It didn’t matter if they thought they weren’t up to the task – he believed in them.

“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he told them.

If we have a God-given gift we are called to use it. Make sure not to squander your opportunities today.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: THURSDAY

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Top left: Joy with the Elvis and Roy Orbison guitars on Music Row; top right: the Carter Family and Johnny Cash guitars; bottom: Joy sitting at the Buddy Killen piano statue.

During our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee, we had a wonderful highlight – thanks to the BBC and the long-distance kindness of strangers.

Nashville is known as Music City, USA, and the home of Country Music. The downtown area is alive with bars and streets areas that simply rock with country. If you’re not a fan when you get there you surely will be when you leave.

We visited the Grand Ole Opry, of course, and we went to the Ryman Auditorium, known as the Mother Church of Country but which actually was built for a revivalist Methodist preacher who hated, among other things, alcohol, low-cut dresses and bicycles. Yes, I know!

Beyond that, we didn’t have much of a clue, so before we flew out I sent a cheeky email to legendary BBC DJ Bob Harris who I knew regularly visited Nashville. While we were in the astonishing Country Music Hall of Fame, a series of texts and emails from Bob’s office resulted in an amazing evening.

The one place we had really wanted to see was the iconic Bluebird Café where songwriters play, often singing in the round. But it’s such an intimate venue and tickets disappear so quickly we couldn’t get in.

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The Bluebird Cafe with Ben and Crissie from The Shires in the centre and Sam Palladio on the left (white shirt).

Suddenly, after being on the outside, we were not just on the inside – we were on the guest list for an evening which included British Country duo The Shires and Sam Palladio, the star of the TV series Nashville. Sam grew up about 10 miles from where we used to live in Cornwall.

It was a glorious evening, made possible by someone who didn’t know us and didn’t need to be generous but chose to. Acts of spontaneous generosity make such a difference. Maybe you can offer somebody your generosity today.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: WEDNESDAY

I mentioned yesterday that I had the gift of a sabbatical earlier this year. As part of it Joy, my wife, and I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

One reason was to meet a man I had only ever known on social media. Dean (pictured) had for 17 years been a champion of the hymns I write. As the head of worship for the United Methodist Church in the US he had put them on their website and helped get two of them into a church hymnbook.

Version 3Three years ago, I had been due to speak at a hymnwriters’ conference in the US but was unwell and had to cancel so this trip was our first opportunity to finally meet.

He was a generous tour guide, taking us around Nashville in his car and introducing us to his city, even though he was struggling with a heavy cold. Then, on the last day he insisted on taking us to our airport hotel and inviting us to share a family meal to celebrate his father’s 98th birthday.

Although we had never met, there was something precious about being part of the worldwide family of 80 million Methodists while we were in Nashville.

In the Bible, when Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission tour, telling them that wherever they went they should learn to be good guests: to accept the hospitality people offered, eat whatever food was set before them and learn to be comfortable in unusual places.

Dean’s welcome certainly made Nashville a good place to be and made me reflect on how I could be a better host to those I encounter.

BBC Radio Solent Daily Thought: Tuesday

Earlier this year I enjoyed a three-month sabbatical: a break from the pressure of a daily diary with space to think and be a bit more creative.

For a number of years, I have been a published hymn-writer and it’s not always easy to marry writing with the usual work of being a church leader but the sabbatical was a real blessing because those creative juices began to flow again.

I have a picture that I treasure from that time. It’s of a bench in the corner of our garden where I used to sit in the sunshine with my Bible, my songwriting notebook, a commentary on the Psalms and a cup of tea – of course!

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Sometimes, because I had time and space, I sat there for ages and wrote nothing. Sometimes I managed to work out a troublesome rhyme or half a verse. Sometimes I simple fell asleep!! But, because the church had given me the gift of time all of that was OK.

One of the Psalms – possibly the oldest songbook in the world – says: Truly my soul finds rest in God.

I know that not everyone has the luxury of three months’ paid leave and I don’t treat it lightly. However, finding a little soul space in your week is a really valuable discipline for all of us: a moment of rest in a frantic world where we always seem to be hurrying from one thing to the next.

Now I’m back in work I need to remind myself to do the same … now, what’s the next thing in my diary? Oh yes, must rush …

Aberfan documentary wins award

dadThe winners of the 2017 Sandford St Martin Awards were announced during a special ceremony held at Lambeth Palace on 7 June 2017.

 

 

My father-in-law, the Rev Irving Penberthy (left), featured prominently in All Things Considered: Aberfan 50 Year Anniversary the programme which won the prestigious Radio Award for the Religious Programmes Department, BBC Radio Wales.

The citation read:

On the morning of 21st October 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, an avalanche of colliery waste slipped down the mountainside, swept through houses, and overwhelmed Pantglas Junior School. It killed 144 people, 116 of them children. In a region familiar with colliery tragedies, the disaster at Aberfan represented a peculiar horror – by its scale, and more by the ages of most of its victims. It ripped the heart from the community, sparked huge controversy, and prompted practical support from around the world. To mark the 50th anniversary week of the disaster, ‘All Things Considered’ reflected on what the event did to the faith of people caught up in it. Some who found their beliefs shaken to the roots became atheists. For others, faith became more firmly rooted and it’s shaped their lives ever since.

It was a joy to work with producer Karen Walker to set up the interview she and presenter the Rev Roy Jenkins conducted with Dad. He had not spoken previously publicly about his work as the Methodist minister in Aberfan and they were very helpful in their approach.

The resulting programme is moving but ultimately hope-filled. You can find it here.

Manchester: When the waves are crashing

Reflecting on the events in Manchester, it seemed that a Blues piece may be an appropriate response.

How should we be when everything we cling to is shaken? What do we cling to when all our certainties are under threat? What about when even our faith feels shaky? If we can’t hold on our only hope is that Jesus will hold us.

This hymn When the waves are crashing is in the United Methodist Church’s Worship & Song hymnal with a tune written by Jackson Henry. It was a great delight last week when Jackson and I managed to meet up in Nashville for the first time.

Waves crashing

A Word in Time: Saturday

This is my final Bible study in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series for this week. You can join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


“They devoted themselves … praising God and having the goodwill of all the people…” (vv. 42, 47)

Background

At the end of the Day of Pentecost, Peter found himself the leader of a new community of more than 3,000 people who were learning together how to follow this risen Jesus (Acts 2:41).

Groups could decide to align themselves around a set of rules, say the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or find a new Covenant built on a gracious agreement to build relationships (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Here the people of Christ develop a set of ‘holy habits’* designed to strengthen the community.

So, as they meet every day, they work at:

  • biblical teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread
  • prayer
  • sharing resources
  • service
  • eating together
  • gladness and generosity
  • worship
  • making more disciples

As they devote themselves to each other and the flourishing of these habits, the community around them spots that there is something positive about this new group. They care for each other, their generosity spills out and becomes infectious.

A group that was by now numbering in the thousands was becoming more significant, but rather than cause alarm, we read that they had the “goodwill of all the people” because of their habitual practice of behaving like Jesus.

Luke tells us that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47). It was not just that people were keeping an eye on what the developing group was up to, but that new converts were joining in.

Faith in Christ is attractive when allied to a convincing change of life.

Holy Habits, a book by Methodist minister Andrew Roberts, is being used by churches and circuits throughout the Connexion. It explores the ten habits as a model for discipleship.

To Ponder

  • “Evangelism through being like Christ can be more effective than ‘speaking at’ people.” How far do you agree with this statement? Why?
  • How would you develop these holy habits in the life of your church? Which is the most difficult habit for you?

A Word in Time: Friday

This is my Bible Study for today in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series. You can also join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:36-41


Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (v. 41)

Background

This verse is one guaranteed to make preachers either jealous or sceptical. Wow, 3,000 converts in one sermon. That’s old-school Billy Graham territory without any of the pre-planning. Or is it Luke (the writer of Acts) getting carried away with his story?

What we do know is that this is the culmination of an extraordinary movement of God’s Spirit in Jerusalem as promised by Jesus (Acts 1). The disciples had done as they were told, and waited faithfully. Then, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they had poured out from their meeting room and begun telling the story of God’s grace (Acts 2:1-11).

Jerusalem, packed with crowds for festival-time, was ripe for a holy experience and they got it. Peter, newly fired up, preaches what we read in Acts 2 and much more, it seems: “… he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them …”.

The question that comes at the end of Peter’s sermon already suggested the crowd had been blindsided by their experience. In verse 37 we read, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?'”

Then comes the first altar call, a challenge to repentance and baptism, and 3,000 respond. Luke says they are added – but to what? There’s no church yet. There have been about 120 previously in the disciples’ group so where they have been meeting is clearly not big enough for this lot.

Suddenly Peter is the leader of something unexpected. And why shouldn’t it be 3,000 people? The Holy Spirit has moved in the kind of extraordinary way foretold by the prophet Joel and a whole new response is called for.

What will become the Christian Church is beginning to flower: tentatively and with many hurdles on the way, but it begins here.

To Ponder

  • How can we help people when they ask ‘what should we do?’ as a result of being impacted by the word of God?
  • How effective is public preaching today? Are people likely to respond as powerfully as the people of Jerusalem did? Why?