All posts by Gareth

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

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.

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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?

A Word in Time: Thursday

This is my Bible Study in today’s A Word in Time series on the Methodist Church website. You can join in an online discussion there too if you like.

Acts 2:14, 22-35

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death,because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
35   until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”


“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (v. 32)

Background

The picture of Peter we get in the Gospels is of a man who wanted to match up to the example of Jesus but kept missing the mark. In his enthusiasm to speak he didn’t always think. His passion to walk with his master led him often to put both feet in it.

But significantly it put him in the front row.

The picture we get in Acts is a completely different one. Set on fire by the Holy Spirit, Peter is now a confident advocate of a new reality: “this Jesus … raised up”.

The way he begins his address, generally understood as the first Christian sermon, is in itself a testament to the change brought about by the coming of the Holy Spirit: “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say” (v. 14).

If we follow Luke’s narrative, Peter had been waiting in the room barely an hour ago for the promise of Jesus to be fulfilled (Acts 1:8) and now he is addressing a mass of people in the Jewish nation’s greatest city. He is not just appealing for their attention, he is commanding it.

If his manner is bold, then the content is staggering. Peter tells them that their hero king, David, is nothing more than a mouldering pile of bones in a grave (verse 29), but he and the disciples have been witnesses to something far greater.

He knew that to prove his case he needed witnesses – his own testimony would not be enough. He calls Scripture to his defence, indeed the very King David he has dismissed as a dead corpse: not as a king but as their greatest Psalmist – using Psalms 16:8-11 (in verses 25-28) and Psalm 110:1 (in verses 34-35).

Peter tells them that what they were witnessing had been God’s plan from the start, King David had been in on it and the disciples were witness.

To Ponder

  • How can the Church tread the fine line between boldness and arrogance when preaching the resurrection of Jesus?
  • The change in Peter and the disciples was evidence of the Spirit’s coming. How do people see the change in your life?

Joey Barton, football and betting. Maybe the sport itself is addicted.

fun stops

800px-JoeyBartonThe news that Joey Barton’s football career appears to be over after an 18-month ban for betting irregularities may be irrelevant to many but it probably says as much about the sport as it does about the player himself.

The news is being reported as the latest tragedy to befall an undoubtedly intelligent but flawed man. Even Barton himself says, in his statement accepting the FA charges:

“I accept that this is one more mess I got into because of my own behaviour. This episode has brought home to me that just as I had to face up to the need to get help to deal with alcohol abuse, and with anger, so now I need to get help for my issues with gambling, and I will do so.”

The report on the BBC website by football reporter Phil McNulty is analytical about Barton and his many weaknesses but glosses over the fact that the whole professional game is in hock to the betting industry.

Indeed it almost accuses Barton of trying to pass the blame by his reference to this. McNulty writes:

Barton has divided opinion throughout his career – and he was at it again in what was effectively his retirement statement when he said: “If the FA is serious about tackling gambling, I would urge it to reconsider its own dependence on the gambling industry.”

He was referring to the links between betting chain Ladbrokes and the FA Cup.

It was a view that, yet again, polarised feelings. Was Barton making a valid point or simply trying to absolve himself from blame for breaking clear FA rules?

Seriously? Just Ladbrokes and the FA Cup?

You can’t watch football on any pay-per-view channel without being subjected to invitations to bet in every advert break – even in some cases with the very channel’s main football anchor popping up.

As Guardian writer  put it in his piece:

Barton’s ban comes at a time when football has never been more closely intertwined with the gambling industry. Eleven of the 20 current Premier League sides wear the logos of betting companies on their shirts, while the Football League itself is sponsored by a gambling company. The growth in online or ‘remote’ gambling has meant that not just every match but most of the elements within them can now be gambled upon. Recent estimates at the amount of gambling losses accrued in the UK put the total at around £300 per person per year.

I’ve always had a puzzled liking for Joey Barton’s intelligence and tweets that equalled my exasperation at his outbursts, violence and stupidity but I’m gobsmacked at how anyone can place 15,000 bets in 12 years. He says the average bet was just over £150 and many were for only a few pounds but there were 15,000 of them. Staggering. But then he is an addict and addicts do stupid things.

It seems to me, however, that football itself is addicted to betting. Perhaps if the whole business was weaned off there would be fewer Joey Bartons in the future and our children wouldn’t have to see the logos on their heroes’ shirts.

Since February 2013 the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has recruited 26 counsellors and launched a nationwide network to support current and former members who have gambling addictions.

The players’ union has been addressing the wider issues of emotional well-being and addiction for more than 14 years and this is an extra service for current and former PFA members: a safe place to get support and counselling. There is also a 24-hour helpline.

Clearly, players have to be responsible for their actions but there comes a point when the industry itself needs to recognise that its own financial systems are contributing to a problem. If football relies on the betting industry and allows the companies to trumpet themselves on shirts, around pitches, in every advert break and sponsorship opportunity then how long before it recognises that betting is just as harmful as smoking – it’s just that the destruction manifest itself differently.

What does the slogan say? When the fun stops, stop. It stopped long ago.