Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: What A Year!

2012 will be remembered by many as being a year of miracles and fantastic achievements. For me personally it will go down as the year Rachel and I got married and I got a new job. But it was also the year Felix Baumgarner broke the sound barrier without being in a plane or car, and where a UK Cyclist (Bradley Wiggins) wwon the Tour De France, where Lord Leveson brought forward some hard proposals for reforming the press, where the UK hosted the Olympics and we won a plethora of Gold Medals, where the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, where we have had someone with experience of the commercial world being chosen as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
Of course for some this will have been a terrible year. The floods, deaths of loved ones, and the sufferings people have suffered in Syria, Afghanistan, and closer to home in Northern Ireland must not go amiss. Let us hope and pray for a better year next year

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pope John Paul I. A Centenary

Two months ago saw the centenary of the birth of Albino Luciani, better known as Pope John Paul I, who reigned for just thirty-three days in the late Summer of 1978, before dying suddenly and unexpectedly.
Much missed and much love, many understandably cannot help but wonder what sort of Pope he would have been had he lived longer, but as touched on in this piece, I think we have seen enough to suggest what sort of Pope he was and what he would have been like.
Aside from his various pronouncements in Illustrissimi, and indeed in the few Papal pronouncements he made, Pope John Paul gave enough to suggest that he was a Pope who knew how to not only simplify important doctrines for a general audience, but to combine the Prophetic and pastoral in such a way as to catch interest from his listeners and readers. Writing as a Christian, but as a non Catholic, I find there is much to learn from Pope John Paul I, namely

*His readiness to show love and friendliness wherever possible (Important for any church leader, echoing 1 Corinthians 13)

*Being delicate but not finching from telling things as he saw them and as he saw as his duty (As seen in some of his prounoncements on family life, social welfare, and the Third World in Illustrissimi and at least one of his General Audience speeches as Pope)

*Reiterating what he saw as important but being flexible where needed (His choice of name in part showing his commitment to the Second Vatican Council, and his comments over the birth of Louise Brown, the World's first test tube baby, showing a readiness to listen and agree where possible)

Albino Luciani, lived and breathed the Gospel in a way that few do, unflinching from the prophetic and engaging with the pastoral side of the Christian faith and this is something all Christians, both Catholic and non Catholic, should see as an example of Christ-like behaviour

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm Back

Just a note to say I am now back blogging after getting married, returning from Honeymoon and settling into my new job. Many thanks to Stephen Glenn for helping to hold the fort and to my wife Rachel for her recent contributions
There is much I want to say but how to fit it in. I'd like to write about the recent shootings in the US, respond to the person who has tried leaving various comments on my pages saying I should be judgemental on my blog towards Gays (clearly this person is not Gay or knows Gays and knows the pain involved, or maybe he/she is and is self hating). Personally I want to be theologically correct but I would also like to be pastorally considerate, otherwise I am a clanging gong or a cymbal and have not love.
Which also leads me to mentioning that I am planning shortly to blog on the Centenary of the birth of Pope John Paul I and the Women Bishops/gay marriage issue in the Church of England, or maybe all as one post. Now that would be a real challenge!
Oh and PS. Welcome back to blogging Iain Dale!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns and God

Having lived through the Cumbria Shootings, every subsequent mass shooting has affected me deeply – and no more so than the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children and 6 members of staff were brutally murdered. Perhaps it was the age of the children and the memories of my childhood innocence, of attending a Primary School with no security gates or doors, where any member of the public could just have wandered into my classroom. When I was 5 years old I fell off the steps into my temporary  classroom and broke my collarbone. The school responded by putting vertical wooden bars on the handrails. That was about as high tech as it got.
As a Christian, such tragedies profoundly challenge my faith. It’s not that it makes me question the existence of God but it does make me ask questions of God. “Why here, why now, why these people inparticular?” At the time of the Cumbria Shootings it was “Lord, we’ve been through the Cockermouth Flooding, the Keswick bus crash and now this: what the heck are you playing at?” It brings us face-to-face with the problem of evil – and the problem of pain. For this reason I find myself unusually disturbed by Christian leaders who seem to be able to find the answers so quickly. Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee said, within hours of the shootings:
Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing. When we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability? That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us. But one day, we will stand in judgment before a holy God in judgement. If we don’t believe that, we don’t fear that.
As it happens, my Primary School was a Church School, but my Secondary School wasn’t – and it was no less safe. But that’s not why I think Mike Huckabee’s analysis is so misplaced. What I found most striking about the victims of the Cumbria Shootings was how diverse they were. Pillars of their local church, community and business stalwarts and sporting greats; the devout to the devout atheist. It was utterly indiscriminate – and I’m sure the same is true in Newtown.
Actually, I could have been amongst the fatalities but for some strange reason I decided not to meet up with my dad in Egremont for lunch: he had arrived early and we’d agreed he would meet up with me at my place of work instead. There’s nothing like “it could have been me” to really focus your mind. Jesus said that we do not know the hour or the day: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.” Just like Gary Purdham
The problem with evil is that it isn’t fair. Events such as these mass shootings demonstrate the depths to which humanity is able to fall but they can also demonstrate the heights humanity can climb when members of our emergency services or the teaching profession put their life on the line saving others – and in so doing, demonstrate Christlike love in the most graphic way possible. The shootings revealed in West Cumbria the depths of its community ties that had withstood many tragedies before as the Miners’ Memorial in Whitehaven stands testament to.
The Cumbria Shootings profoundly affected people living in West Cumbria – and the clergy were particularly affected. On the Sunday after the shootings I saw two clergymen not known for their emotional exuberance break down in tears mid-sermon. On the day of the shootings, a local curate with three boys under five sped into Whitehaven to collect them from activities before speeding to West Cumberland Hospital to comfort bereaved relatives. The haunting look in his eyes as he told me this evidenced the trauma he had witnessed.
The memorial services in the wake of the shootings were held at what remains of St. Nicholas’s Church – a church that burnt down in the 1970s but the community could never afford to rebuild. Poignantly, only a church without walls could contain the sheer numbers of people who turned out. Reports of over 1,000 – perhaps even 2,000 people – dwarfed even the capacity of Carlisle Cathedral some 50 miles away. Everyone – even the deeply irreligious – was asking “Why?” – as if there must be some purpose to the carnage. Nobody – not even the clergy – pretended they had clear-cut answers.
There can be some purpose in suffering if we learn from it – and learn the right lessons. When I broke my collarbone running into class, I learnt to walk more carefully, and my school learnt to make the steps more safe. When diseases such as cholera and typhoid spread like wildfire through our Victorian cities, public health was improved and cures were found. When there was a spate of fatal coalmining accidents in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we passed the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. When flooding blighted Cumbria, Flood Action Groups were established, flood defences were built and houses were flood-proofed. I believe that God can – and does – intervene in the world, but I also believe that God gives us the tools to mitigate suffering. He commands His people to fight for justice and defend the causes of the vulnerable. He does not call us to sit on our hands and blame the victims of suffering for turning against God.
Rachel Burgin (nee Stalker)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Mr and Mrs Burgin

Paul and Rachel are currently away on honeymoon, so here are some details of their big day on Friday.

It was a crisp November morning in Northamptonshire on Friday as guests awoke in various hotels or elsewhere in the country to make their way to the small village of Yelvertoft and All Saints Church. Various others who were not going to be present starting sending best wishes to Paul and Rachel on Twitter and Facebook.

Paul's brother Chris acted as best man in the church (of which more later) while two of Rachel's cousins Gina and Estellar performed the duty of her Bridesmaids. Six ushers were scattered around the church both inside and out to greet, help and assist all guests. I ended up with traffic direction duties to the rear of the church.

The Bride arrive promptly in an Austin Princess car with her Bridesmaids and father. Posing for the obligatory car arrival photographs before making their way into the expectant family and friends.

The marriage ceremony was conducted by Canon Andrew Edwards, who has a triple jumping son. He was  funny and relaxed during the rehearsal and that carried on during the service itself. The two mothers read the lessons, Mrs Stalker from Isaiah 25:6-9 and Mrs Burgin from John 2:1-12.

Dr. Phil Keates gave the address on miracles and how we should look at the lives of Paul and Rachel so see the presence of God. Although his radio mic remained on for the subsequent prayer and start of the final hymn until one of the ushers went to tell him it was still on, even though he was in excellent voice he was with his two young children.

While the register was signed there was a marvellous rendition of Ennio Morricone's Gabriel's Oboe by Rev. Tom Parsons. Then as the couple exited the church those of us left inside could see the bell ringers chiming out the happy news to the village.



Then it was off to Holdenby House for a sumptuous spread with a Cumbrian theme, before the speeches. Rachel's father did his best to wind up almost every group in the room, but had the room thoroughly entertained, but also adding that every table seemed to have been having a great time together. Paul managed to mention Leveson, use the word virgin and tell of the issue he had in finding the right place, time and packet of Hula Hoops to propose to Rachel. Then his other sibling Catherine gave the best man's speech, starting by listing all the stories that had been vetoed by parents from inclusion, before giving a witty and charming account of her brother's bachelor days. Finally, something that wasn't on my list of speeches, the Bride herself got up to say a few words.

Then we retired for coffee and the cutting of the cake. Various conversations were had, some of which may have been of a political nature what with all three of the main UK parties in attendance. Before we all departed into the rather foggy and frosty winding lanes to head to our respective beds for the night.

I think that is the last of my duties as chief usher complete, all here at Mars Hill wish them every happiness in their life together.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

...in which Paul and Rachel get hitched

As observed in the presence of the other writers of this blog and several of its readers 30 November 2012 saw Paul Burgin and Rachel Stalker becoming man and wife.

Congratulation to Mr and Mrs Burgin

PS I will write more about the event tomorrow when I am less tired.