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GOBBLEDYGOOK (Views from the Abbey 5)

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There is a (hopefully mythological) story of some graffiti that appeared on the wall of a certain theological college which went as follows: ‘Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”  They replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we find the ultimate meaning in our interpersonal relationships.” And Jesus replied, “Do what?”’

The Bible has lots to say about the inappropriate use of bad language, and for the most part Christians have understood much of this as to do with profanity? For myself, I think that there is a much more common, dangerous, and damaging use of bad language than uttering the odd swear word – it’s to do with our constant use of gobbledygook in worship, witness, prayer, proclamation of the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus, and so on. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘gobbledygook’ as ‘a language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms’. It is suggested that the word originates from the 1940s (in the USA) probably because when we speak gobbledygook, the reality is that we are simply imitating the nonsensical sound of a turkey’s gobble. When the Psalmist exhorts us to ‘Watch your language!’ (Psalm 141:3) he clearly has more in mind than vulgarity. He is concerned about the whole tenor of our language, words, conversation, etc.

There has been a lot written and said about preaching, teaching, witnessing and the like in recent years. In some quarters there has been a great emphasis on the importance of being theologically sound and true to the biblical record. In other quarters the emphasis has been on the need to know a certain anointing of the Holy Spirit, to be truly charismatic (in all the various meanings of that word) in order to be effective in these areas. I am ‘a bear of little brain’ but it seems to me that much of this stuff misses the obvious. Unless we are communicating our message clearly and concisely in language that others can understand, it won’t matter how sound our theology is, or how biblically accurate the message, or how charismatic we may appear to be, or what anointing we may claim to know – we will still be speaking gobbledygook for the most part.

I have long believed this language problem has been one the blights upon the face of the church (of all denominations and spiritualities) for many years and have tried, in my own way, to resolve this problem as much as possible both personally and in the various churches where I have served. The ongoing need, however, was brought home to me recently in several ways in a short space of time.   

I was shopping in our town centre recently where there was a street preacher giving it a good go, and I stopped and listened for a while. Now, let me make it clear right from the start that I am not against (what used to be called) open air work or street preaching – I have done it myself on occasions and used to enjoy (in my youth admittedly) going up to Speakers Corner in London on a Sunday afternoon to hear Dr Donald Soper (amongst others). On this occasion, however, I was the only one who stopped to listen even though the town centre was crowded with people passing by. I cannot fault the preacher for his enthusiasm (he certainly shouted loud enough) and he repeatedly quoted verses from the Bible (albeit as ‘proof texts’) to support his various arguments. The problem was the language. I understood what he was saying, but then I have been a Christian for nearly 60 years and have had the benefit of serious theological study for the last 50 years. Sadly, most of what he had to say was incomprehensible to ‘the man in the street’ because it was couched in what I call ‘Christian-speak’. Preaching at people is not the same as preaching to people. Endeavouring to communicate with non-Christians in this way must, at the very least, be done in a way that is both winsome and comprehensible. The real test of our effectiveness in terms of our preaching, teaching or witness is not found in reassuring ourselves that ‘I certainly let them have it with both barrels today!’ nor even in being able to say, ‘X number of people made a decision for Jesus today?’ but (I would suggest) in knowing that we did our best to speak clearly and warmly from the heart in a way that got to the heart of the issue. We must ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ when it comes down to communicating the good news of Jesus Christ. The UK is not a ‘Christian country’. Today, we live in a post-Christendom culture where most people are no longer interested in Christianity or church or the Bible … or sadly, even Jesus Christ. This is not to say that any of these things are irrelevant, indeed I would want to argue that they are more relevant than ever, but it does mean we have to work hard at getting the message across.

Personally, I believe we need to be more imaginative, as well as relevant, about the way we seek to communicate the Good News of Jesus in the market place. For example, making use of drama (in the style of the old miracle plays), story telling (in pubs and clubs), even buying into something like Prayer on the Streets where the vision is to take Jesus, and his church, out into the streets to pray for members of the public so they can experience the compassion and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I suspect that one of the reasons why we are so rubbish as church at communicating the Good News to the general public is because we are not very good at communicating amongst ourselves within the church. Christian-speak, holy gobbledygook remains the order of the day in many churches. The spiritual gift of ‘speaking with tongues’ (Acts 2:4; 1 Corinthians 12:10) should not be a controversial subject in today’s church because the reality is that we have been speaking holy gibberish for years! Listen to the language used so often in sermons, prayers, testimony, discussion at church meetings, contained in church constitutions and covenants, and the like. If you can’t hear the weird words, phrases, and expressions we all too often use amongst ourselves then it is primarily because you have become so accustomed to this holy gobbledygook that you no longer realise how nonsensical much of it must sound to non-church people.

I was reminded of this recently as when we held our annual Covenant Service at Abbey. As part of this Service church members are asked to recite together a shortened version of the original covenant drawn up by the church in 1779. It was revised in 1938 and again in 1949 and slightly amended in 1979 but essentially the language remains the same as when it was originally drawn up. It is very much a document of its day – rather long, wordy, inward looking, couched in 18th century jargon much of which (I suspect) makes it difficult for most of us to fully understand. Now let me make it clear that I like the idea of an annual Covenant Service in which those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus Christ, and to active membership in the local church, reaffirm those promises. The question of whether the first Sunday in the New Year is the right day for this we must leave to another time.

The point I am trying to make here is about the continued use of dated and largely incomprehensible language which is well past its sell-by-date in our churches. I love the theatre and have seen several plays by William Shakespeare, but I confess that I always try and read up on them in advance so that I get the gist of the story before I see the actual play because of the difficulty of understanding the language. I know that there are those who love Shakespeare precisely because the language is largely incomprehensible. They enjoy a play for the feelings it conjures up, the visual and sensory experiences it creates, even their own interpretation of the story being told that they have faithfully adhered to for years (which may or may not actually to be true). One suspects that for some people understanding the actual essence of the story Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote the play would be an absolute disaster. If you don’t believe me a quick internet search will convince you otherwise – everything from the Beatles and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Tempest and the 1950s cult sci-fi movie the Forbidden Planet, with lots more in-between. In much the same way too many of us professing Christians have become wrapped up in the deadly web of church speak … and if we are content to talk gobbledygook to one another what chance is there that we will speak anything other to those outside the church who really do need to hear the good news of Jesus?

Of course clear speaking is not the only thing required of us as Christians. We need to ‘walk the walk as well as talk the talk’ as someone once put it. Clarity of speech coupled with authenticity in life is a winning combination, however. As you would expect Jesus is our primary example in this. Matthew records in his account of Jesus’ wonderful Sermon on the Mount that ‘When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard’ (Matthew 7:28,29). No gobbledygook there then!

Jim Binney

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STEPPING INTO THE FUTURE (Views from the Abbey 4)

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A visitor to a class of seven-year olds was struck by the sad, worldly expression on the face on one little girl apparently labouring over a poem. Stopping by her desk he read her work:

yesterday, yesterday, yesterday
happiness, happiness, happiness
today, today, today
trouble, trouble, trouble
tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow
sorrow, sorrow, sorrow

Deeply moved by what the little girl had written, he asked what had inspired her to write such a beautiful poem like that. The little girl looked at him blankly and then replied that this wasn’t a poem … these were her spelling corrections.

Whilst many of us begin a new year with a determination to use it as a springboard to a brighter, more positive future, many others approach yet another new year in quite the opposite way. Their feelings reflect the little girl’s perceived ‘poem’ – the good times all in the past, the present rather complicated to say the least, the future full of dread.

So, how do you feel at the start of this new year? What might 2019 bring for you? There is so much uncertainty in our world and many face the future with fear and trepidation. We can have an over rosy view of the past and we can find the unknown nature of the future overwhelming, and both can bring a sense of inertia and stagnation in the present. How can we step into the future with hope and anticipate tomorrow with courage and positivity?

Herbert Butterfield, a British historian and philosopher of the last century, and a devout Christian wrote, ‘there are times when we can never meet the future with enough elasticity of mind, especially if we are locked in contemporary systems of thought. We can do worse than remember the principle which both gives us a firm Rock and leaves us the maximum elasticity to our minds: the principle: Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.’

Minnie Haskins in her poem, God Knows, quoted by George VI in his 1939 Christmas Broadcast when the country was facing an uncertain future, points us in the same direction:

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.’

As has been said, we do not know what the future holds but we do know who holds the future. The prophet Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, had been going through a tough time, ‘I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness … I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting rock bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love never runs out, his mercies never run dry. How great is your faithfulness!’ (Lamentations 3:19-23 The Message).

When we hold on to Christ and look to God, we find the hope to face tomorrow. When we put ourselves into the hands of God, there is no safer place to be. We can step into the future with faith and the assurance that he is with us, he will meet the need and make the way forward clear and plain. As our Motto text for 2019 tells us, our God is the God of Hope: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so much so that you actually begin to abound in hope through the Holy Spirit whom God has given to us’ (Romans 15:13). That word ‘hope’ in the Greek (the language of the New Testament) is a much stronger word than our English word. It literally means ‘guarantee’, that is, it carries a sense of certainty concerning things working out for the best in the future. Thus, Martin Luther translates Romans 15:13 as ‘the God of the guarantee’. As Mary Bowley Peters aptly reminds us in one of her hymns:

Through the love of God our Saviour,
all will be well.
Free and changeless is his favour,
all, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
perfect is the grace that sealed us,
strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,
all must be well.

Though we pass through tribulation,
all will be well.
Ours is such a full salvation,
all, all is well.
Happy, still in God confiding,
fruitful, if in Christ abiding,
holy, through the Spirit’s guiding,
all must be well.

We expect a bright tomorrow,
all will be well.
Faith can sing through days of sorrow,
‘All, all is well.’
On our Father’s love relying,
Jesus every need supplying,
in our living, in our dying,
all must be well.

~ Mary Bowley Peters (1813-56)

Julia Binney

 

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BEYOND THE FAMILIAR (Views from the Abbey 3)

New Year

I am really looking forward to receiving my congratulatory telegram/card from King William in 25 years’ time (when I will have reached the ripe old age of 100). Five years ago, when I was 70, I had major heart surgery. The night before the operation I asked God for another 10 years of active ministry – not just life but years of active ministry. I hope that I will have another five years or so on top of that so that I can enjoy at least some years of genuine retirement with Julia. But, having already had five years of enforced retirement down in Dorset (a most frustrating time since I didn’t feel ready for retirement) I was raring to get going for God again. I believe God answered that prayer positively and, first at Knaphill (where I became very involved in the community, eventually being appointed the church’s Community Minister because the church thought it was better to have me inside the tent rather than outside the tent) and now here in Reading (where the church haven’t got a clue what to do with me as yet) I have found opportunity after opportunity to serve God and others surrounding me.

Life is a journey and, as suggested by the story of the two on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35), a journey in which God himself walks alongside of us waiting for us to recognise him. When we walk this journey, unaware of his presence, life fails to make sense – we don’t know where we came from, why we are here, or where we are going. It is only when we bring Jesus into the equation that life begins to make sense. The Bible clearly teaches that we are all here for a reason – God has a plan, a purpose, for each one of us. As the Prophet Jeremiah reminds us: ‘I have plans for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you hope and a future’ (Jeremiah 29:11). The Apostle Paul follows up on this when he tells us that with God in the frame ‘everything ultimately works out for the best, for those who genuinely love God and determine to walk according to his plans and purposes’ (Romans 8:28).

Since being a Christian, and even being a Christian Minister, is a way of life and not a job so to speak, it is not something that we can ever actually really retire from in the accepted sense of retirement. We may step down from an active leadership role, or step back from being involved in a particular activity, because of age or infirmity or simply because we sense from God that he has something else for us – but there will always be a ‘something else’ even if that something else is simply to give ourselves to prayer and intercession. We all need to resist the temptation to compartmentalise our lives where God is concerned, for example by attending worship reasonably regularly on a Sunday morning yet living the rest of the week as though it belonged to us, or (as I have sadly known to happen) spending 40 years in Christian Ministry and then retiring at 65 and never going to church ever again?!

For me, every day is more exciting than the day before. Here we are, at the beginning of yet another new year, in a new church (well, new to us … Abbey has actually been around since 1640), and at the beginning of yet another adventure with God. I have spent my entire ministry going to churches who needed help, encouragement and the right kind of input that would help them recover from the lean years and move into a time of plenty. Abbey is much the same – a group of 30 or so, mostly elderly, believers who love the Lord but who recognise that unless something changes drastically over the next few years the church will cease to exist. Obviously, Julia and I (and our church members for that matter) believe that God’s plan and purpose for us at Abbey has exactly the opposite of that scenario in mind – otherwise we would not have come to Abbey in the first place. For us, therefore, beginning 2019 is beginning a new adventure – beginning this new chapter in the life of Abbey with the question: ‘How are you going to do it again, Lord?’ The one thing we can be sure of is not just that God will do it again, but that it will not necessarily be in the same way he has done it before. It will be a journey beyond the familiar for us all!

One of my favourite saints (if Baptist-Christians can have saints) is the Irish saint, St. Brendan the Navigator. Born in Kerry in 484, very little is known about his early life other than rumours that brightly shining angels hovered over the house when he was born. Ordained to the priesthood in 512 St. Brendan established several monasteries throughout Ireland. Of all the Irish saints, St. Brendan was the most adventurous. He loved travelling on the sea and was very skilled with the coracle (a small boat). On some of his earlier ventures, he visited Britain, many of the islands off the coast of Scotland and possibly even Iceland. He is best known, however, for his famous voyage, a voyage that lasted seven years and during which he travelled to Iceland, Greenland and maybe even America in search of the Island of the Blessed. The story of this voyage is told in a 9th century manuscript called Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot) and is a good read full of the adventures Brendan encountered on his journey tackling large sea monsters and the like.  St Brendan died in 578 and he is known as the patron saint of seafarers and travellers. He serves as an example of someone who never lost his vital relationship with the Living God, nor his sense of adventuring with God.

Amongst the stories and sayings attributed to St Brendan the Navigator is the following prayer which we need to take to heart as we enter this New Year ahead of us with all its challenges, and possibilities. May God help us to also ‘journey beyond the familiar’.

Lord, I will trust You,
Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me faith to leave the old ways and break fresh ground with you.

Christ of the mysteries,
Can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me?
Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?
 

I will show others the care You’ve given me.
I will determine amidst all uncertainty always to trust.
I choose to live beyond regret, and let You recreate my life.

I believe You will make a way for me and provide for me, if only I trust You and obey.
I will trust in the darkness and know that my times are still in Your hand.
I will believe You for my future, chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

Focus my mind and my heart upon You, my attention always on You without alteration.
Strengthen me with Your blessing and appoint to me the task.
Teach me to live with eternity in view.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven.
Feed me, and, somehow, make my obedience count for You.
 

Jim Binney

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TWIXMAS (Views from the Abbey 2)

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Twixmas is a British slang word used to describe the period between Christmas and New Year, typically the 27-30 December. It is used a lot in the tourism industry when advertising holidays or events during this period. Personally, I rather like the word because it somehow does describe that rather weird period when the key events of Christmas – Christmas Day and Boxing Day – are over but the festivities of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have not yet started. These few days have become a rather insane period in the yearly calendar with lots of cars on the road as people travel either home after being away visiting family for Christmas, or simply moving on to the next set of relatives to be visited for New Year, or off to the shops to buy those bargains on offer in the Sales.

For working clergy Twixmas is often a welcome break after all the energy sapping activity of Advent and Christmas with its numerous services, carol singing in the hospitals and old people’s homes, etc., etc., and before the start of another New Year with all its challenges and possibilities. Church-wise most activities are closed at this time – some churches don’t even meet for worship on the last Sunday in the year – so we can actually get some sleep, rest, recovery time (in between seeing family and friends ourselves, that is).

Julia and I like to use this time, not only to recharge our batteries but, to think prayerfully about where we would like to see the church go during the coming year. Although Julia is the Minister at Abbey (and I am just the BOGOF) we still operate very much as a team. Our specific roles in that team may have changed down through the years, and I have happily taken on board an amended version of John the Baptist’s words:  ‘She must increase whilst I must decrease’ (John 3:30), but we remain a team nevertheless even though I have no primary role in the leadership team at Abbey. This does not prevent me, however, from playing an important supporting role, especially when it comes to talking through our situation, prayerfully waiting on God for guidance as to the best way forward, encouraging each another in our respective roles and ministries, and so on.

Twixmas is also a good time to take stock. To look back and see what we have learned during the past year which is of value, but also to look forward to what might be in the future. We have been inspired in this by our Bible readings this week which have centered on the stories of Simeon’s Song and Anna’s Prophecy associated with the events surrounding that first Christmas time (Luke 2:21-40). Essentially, we see here Simeon looking back to see how God has been with Israel in the past and how all that God has done for his people during that time has culminated in this wonderful event, the birth of the Christ-Child, the Promised Messiah. Anna, by way of contrast, looks forward prophetically to what is going to be, the redemption of God’s people, not simply believing Jews but all who will in due course turn to God in Christ and commit themselves to him and his plans and purposes. And God is looking for a similar response from us. A looking back in recognition of the solid foundation on which we build, coupled with a looking forward in recognition of all that God is calling us to in the future. And what does that entail?

Perhaps it is best summed up in something someone sent me just a few days ago:

When the carols have been stilled,

When the star-topped tree is taken down,

When family and friends are gone home.

When we are back to our schedules

THE WORK OF CHRISTMAS BEGINS

To welcome the refugee,

To heal a broken planet,

To feed the hungry,

To build bridges of trust, not walls of fear,

To share our gifts,

To seek justice and peace for all people,

To bring Christ’s light to the world.

Of course, this is all very good on paper – the real problem comes when we have to seek to put it all into practice come the New Year? But putting it into practice is what we must do both as individual Christians and as local churches. This is the challenge for us at Abbey. It is not a challenge just to the Minister, Elders and Deacons but to all of us who name the Name of Christ.  Invariably we know what the will of God is … actually doing it, however, is an entirely different matter!?

Jim Binney

 

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BIG? (Views from the Abbey 1)

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‘So, you are leaving us to go to a big church then?’ said one of the members of our previous church when the news broke that we were moving to Abbey Baptist Church in Reading. ‘Glad to hear that you are going to a big church!’ wrote someone in an email to us when the news became public knowledge. We were greatly amused by both comments because (in the way these two friends understood ‘big’) Abbey was far from big. Numerically it was smaller than the church we were leaving, and the stipend they were offering was also less (although I am pleased to say that subsequently they have matched Julia’s previous stipend). Nevertheless, reflecting upon the meaning of ‘bigness’ subsequently, I have come to see that Abbey is indeed a big church … for a number of reasons!

Abbey is a big church because of its history! Dating from 1640 Abbey is one of the first Baptist Churches to be planted in the UK. During the last 380 or so years it has moved site several times and is now based in the historic Abbey area of Reading. It is not, however, simply important because of its historical longevity (although it is known and respected as such) but because of what it has achieved in that time. Over the years Abbey has planted somewhere in the region of 25+ congregations in and around Reading but also further afield. Not many churches have done that kind of thing. As a result Abbey is held in high esteem by many of the other churches (of all denominations) in Reading.

Abbey is a big church because of its location! Situated as it is in the historic Abbey Quarter of Reading, Abbey Baptist Church is right at the centre of the town with all the potential that that carries. Built as it is on the site of the old Reading Abbey precincts, one cannot help but feel (as many others do) that having a church, recognised even by non-Christians possessing such an esteemed heritage, at the heart of the town, is important. In some ways Abbey is a kind of sleeping giant waiting to wake up and achieve its potential, its destiny. And, sitting spiritually, as we do, in both the evangelical/charismatic Reading Christian Network and the Central Reading Council of Churches, we are ideally placed to encourage and facilitate meaningful cooperation in the cause of the Kingdom. 

Abbey is a big church … literally! Our buildings are a bit like the Tardis. From the outside the buildings do not appear to be as large as they are. Once you get inside the building, however, you discover that there are rooms galore spread over three floors. They are already being put to good use in several ways. We house four congregations on a Sunday – a Sri Lankan Tamil speaking congregation, a Ghanaian congregation, and a Portuguese congregation, as well as our own congregation. Currently we are four different churches, but we are already meeting together for social events, and sometimes shared worship, and hopefully this will develop more and more. In all over 200 people meet for worship in our building every Sunday, which more than many churches today.  Julia and I would love to see these four congregations start to work even more closely together in the future. Our buildings are extensively used every day of the week by various community groups and charities including U3A. In addition we rent out part of the building to a charity that works with ex-offenders, and we are also part of the ‘Bed for the Night’ scheme that provides overnight accommodation for the homeless during the excessively colder winter nights.

Abbey is a big church because of the opportunity it presents! Our friend Azar Ajaj (President of the Nazareth Evangelical College) never talks about ‘problems’ but always refers to perceived problems as ‘opportunities’! I want to say something about some of the difficulties we face in a moment but for now I want to underline the wonderful opportunities we have at Abbey. Situated where we are just off the main town centre drag, surrounded by tall buildings originally built as offices, has been perceived in the past as a major problem. But today, the historic Abbey Quarter of Reading has been developed into a tourist attraction, the office blocks are being converted into flats (including social housing), and our buildings (as my mother-in-law describes them) are a ‘hidden gem’. The premises (although in need of some updating) are both pleasant and useful. Lots of people know about Abbey. Over 60 local church leaders meet to pray for Reading every Wednesday morning from 8.00 a.m. for an hour. Baptist-Christians in Reading are strong with a good number of churches who work together well. The holistic needs of people in Reading are great, but we are in a position to meet many of them in Christ’s name. The future could be amazing!

Abbey is a big church in terms of vision! Julia and I come to Abbey with a vision for us as a church to become a Community Hub Church open 24/7 to meet the physical, mental, social, emotional and environmental needs of our community, as well as the spiritual. Whilst we understand the Gospel holistically, we also recognise the integral nature of the Good News and that primarily we need to help men and women come into a living relationship with God through a living, personal experience of coming to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Without this we have effectively done nothing to meet the real need of men and women. It is only when we become ‘new creatures in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) that we find the real answer to the meaning and purpose of life. Abbey is already well on the way in their journey along Community Hub Church lines – our role is to encourage and facilitate this aim and objective.

And finally, Abbey is a big church in terms of it being a big challenge!  Numerically we are a small church – around 30 or so members of the church and congregation. We are also largely an elderly congregation with most of us being 70+ in years. They are a great bunch of people who still work hard at enabling us to function as a church. Everybody, almost without exception, plays a significant part. But, the simple fact of the matter is that we need a spiritual blood transfusion if the church is to survive and continue to be a significant influence for good and for God in the future. We need new people, younger people, people who will buy into the vision for Abbey and who see its importance in terms of the Kingdom. Ultimately, we need conversion growth, and this is one of our aims and objectives, but we could also do with some mature Christians coming to join us. One of my bug bears (and I am not just thinking of Reading here) is the number of larger churches numerically where a huge proportion don’t really do anything other than attend on a Sunday morning. Here at Abbey we could do with some ‘dirty hands Christians’ – people who take the call of God seriously and want to get stuck in and see something significant achieved in God. Please pray for us, especially that God will send us some mature Christians to help us and add to our numbers those who are ‘being saved’ (Acts 2:47).

So, yes Abbey is a big church in a lot of ways. Most of all, however, we have a big God who is ‘able to do so much more than we ask or even think possible’ (Ephesians 3:20). Perhaps God is calling you to come and join the revolution – here at Abbey or if not here right where you are right now!

Jim Binney

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SAGA OF THE DROPPED COFFEE POT (Deaf in Venice 6)

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We are nearing the end of our wonderful holiday in Venice – just a couple of days to go. We have had another wonderful day today visiting various churches, museums and art galleries, and now we are relaxing back at our apartment. We have enjoyed a lovely meal in the apartment garden and are about to have some coffee and a glass or two of Limoncello. Julia is in the kitchen making the coffee when there is a sudden shriek accompanied simultaneously by the sound of breaking glass. Julia has dropped the glass coffee pot and it has smashed into numerous fragments!

We recall something in the instruction folder that told us what we should do in the event of such a calamity. Obviously, we are not the first guests to have committed such a faux pas. Sure enough there is a paragraph in the coffee pot section of the folder that tells us where the shop is in Venice where we can purchase a replacement glass coffee pot. Since we only have one more complete day of our holiday left that is tomorrow’s activity sorted because the replacement coffee pot shop is right over the other side of the Rialto Bridge and the Rialto market. Seemingly you can’t get a replacement anywhere else in Venice.

We set out about mid-morning the next day. Once again Julia has a map and a plan, and it looks like the day will not be wasted since there are various places to visit along the way, places we had not planned to visit but which look rather interesting nonetheless. We take the lid of the old glass coffee pot with us and make a rough guestimation of the height of the pot we will need. We still have some space on the tickets we bought at the beginning of our holiday to enable us to visit several churches and museums across Venice.

We know our way around Venice well by now and we soon arrive at the famous Rialto Bridge where the views are just as spectacular as ever and we take even more photographs to add to the ones we have already taken. We find a vacant shop on the Rialto which we think we should buy, reopen it as a butcher’s shop called ‘Shylocks’ where every cut of meat is sold for a pound! We carry on over the bridge to the Rialto Market where Julia (having once been in the fish business) is keen to see the fish market. It is great fun, full of strange looking fish (as well as the normal kind), and lots of people. We resist the temptation to buy some fish since we have an important task to complete first and we are also planning to go out for a final meal this evening.

Finding the shop that sells the replacement coffee pots turns out to be more difficult than we thought. Venetian house numbers are notoriously complicated, and we eventually discover that there are two streets with the same name in the same vicinity. Fortunately a nice lady in another domestic appliances shop helps us out by looking our shop up on the internet and giving us more precise directions. There is only one problem – the shop closes as 12.00 noon and doesn’t open again until 3.30 p.m. We make a dash for it and arrive at 12.05 p.m. The shop has closed for lunch! And we thought that it was only the French who took three-hour lunch breaks?  

This enforced delay has its compensations however. The shop itself is in a road just off the Campo Giacomo dell’ Orio, a square full of quiet charm, where we stop for a coffee and enjoy a picnic lunch. We visit the nearby unusual church of Chiesa di San Giacomo dall’ Orio with its amazing paintings and then take ourselves off to the 18th century Palazzo Mocenigo with its richly furnished and frescoed rooms, and a fascinating history of perfumes. Julia is in her element. Eventually I manage to drag her away as it is time to see if the coffee pot shop is open. It is not, but we hang around for 15 minutes and eventually the owner appears. He is very helpful even though he doesn’t speak English and we don’t speak Italian. He climbs up a tall ladder, roots around in various boxes, and eventually comes back down with a replacement glass coffee pot that looks about the right size.

We retrace our steps back to our apartment carefully carrying the new glass coffee pot. We don’t want to break it before we get home. Eventually we arrive back at our apartment, unpack the new glass coffee pot, insert it in the coffee machine … and it doesn’t fit! There is nothing for it but to take it back to the shop and see if they have another one. I am exhausted, so Julia insists I have a rest while she goes back to the shop, armed this time with all the details about the coffee machine we can muster. An hour later she phones me to tell me that the man doesn’t have a replacement glass coffee pot. Apparently, the coffee machine is so old they don’t make them anymore. He refunds our outlay and points Julia in the direction of another shop on the Rialto that sells new coffee machines at reasonable prices, and so we must buy a new machine.  Julia gets it home safely and it looks rather nice. We discover that the glass coffee pot that is part of it fits then old coffee machine perfectly?! Julia’s journey is not wasted, however, since (without me being in tow) she is able to make one or two other purchases for our new house back in the UK en route!

We decide that we will not use the new coffee machine but use another kind of coffee machine that is also resident in the apartment. It is somewhat complicated, but Julia eventually manages to master it. When we get back to the UK Julia confesses to Johanna (who owns the apartment with her husband Bruce) the saga of the dropped coffee pot. Johanna is appreciative of our efforts and kindly volunteers to split the cost of the replacement pot.   She also laughs and tells us that when she originally bought the old coffee pot she got it back to the apartment, took it out of its box, and immediately dropped the glass coffee pot on the floor and saw it smash into numerous pieces. No wonder she knew where the replacement glass coffee pot shop was!

Jim Binney

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CHUTZPAH (Deaf in Venice 5)

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One of the advantages of having an apartment in the Cannaregio area of Venice is that it gives us the opportunity to explore bits of this magical city that are somewhat off the well beaten tourist trail. Today we are walking through the narrow alleys, with surprises around every corner, that make up the huge crescent between the northern bank of the Grand Canal and the lagoon, to the old Jewish Ghetto. The former Ghetto is now a lively and popular district of the city where the religious and administrative institutions of the Jewish Community and its five synagogues still exist.

The word ‘ghetto’ originated in Venice, derived from getto (meaning ‘casting’) due to an old iron foundry once situated here. As of 1492, many Jewish refugees started arriving in Venice after expulsion from Spain. At first, they enjoyed complete freedom but in 1527 they were obliged by law to move to the Ghetto to live, to wear a sign of identification, to remain behind locked gates from 6.00 p.m. every night until 12.00 p.m. the following day. Their island home was circled by an armed patrol boat to make sure that they kept the night curfew. Many other onerous regulations were also included, in exchange for which the Community was granted the freedom to practice its faith and protection in the case of war.

There were various reasons for this move on the part of the Venetian authorities. Jealousy of the Jewish business acumen was possibly one reason. Banned by the Venetian Republic from practising manual trades, many Jews became skilled doctors or moneylenders. Most were refugees from other parts of Europe, and they are credited with introducing rice-based dishes to Venetian cuisine. Another reason for this move was to prevent Jewish fraternisation with ‘Christian’ Venetians. They were not allowed to build new houses on the island so, with typical Jewish ingenuity, they built upwards adding stories to the already existing buildings. Waves of new arrivals saw each language group incorporate its own synagogue on a floor in some of these buildings raising them to seven floors in height. After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Napoleon decreed the end of the Jewish segregation and the equalisation of the Jews to other citizens. This provision became definitive when Venice was annexed to the Italian Kingdom.

In September 1938, the introduction of fascist racial laws deprived the Jews of civil rights, and the Jewish community entered a difficult period. In September 1943, Italy changed from being an ally of Nazi Germany into an occupied country, and the Nazis started a systematic hunt for Jews in Venice as in other Italian cities. In November 1943, Jews were declared ‘enemy aliens’ which meant they could be arrested, and their property seized. Although some Jews managed to escape to neutral Switzerland or Allied-occupied southern Italy, possibly as many as 246 Jews were detained (including some 20 residents of a Jewish convalescence home) and deported to  the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only eight Jewish residents of Venice emerged from the death camps, and the Jewish population of Venice was halved to just over 1,000 because of WWII. Today only about 30 Jews still live in the Ghetto, while a further 470 Jews reside in other parts of the city.

We want to visit the old Jewish Ghetto for several reasons. Firstly, the walk there will take us through some very interesting places such as the Campo dei Mori, an odd funnel-shaped square with its three statues of Arabian-style ‘Moors’ – most probably medieval traders who made their home there – and a house by a bridge over Rio della Sensa (number 3399), once the home of the renowned 16th century Venetian artist Tintoretto. Secondly, however, we want to visit the old Jewish Ghetto because we have been told that it is both a very interesting and deeply moving experience.

Julia has a map, and a plan, and so we enjoy a fascinating walk to the Ghetto noting various interesting places on the way, enjoying seeing some of the locals out rowing their own boats in preparation for the upcoming races (there are a lot of rowing clubs in the vicinity), and stopping off for coffee of course. We know that we are nearing the Ghetto when we start seeing people in traditional Jewish dress. We cross the bridge into the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo and are immediately aware of the tall buildings, the Jewish Museum, and the powerful, prominent memorial plaque to Venice’s Holocaust victims. We want to join the tour of the various synagogues, but we must wait until after lunch for the next tour. We decide to have a look at the museum, situated between the two most ancient Venetian synagogues, first and then come back later for the tour. The museum is small but fascinating and we learn a lot about the Jewish Faith (that we did not know before) and the history of the Jewish Community of Venice. We still have an hour before the tour of the synagogues starts so we decide to have lunch and find a lovely little restaurant nearby where we enjoy Venetian liver – a local speciality – and a Venetian spritz or two.

After lunch we join the 30 or so other people on the tour. There are several Jewish tourists in the party including a man who is very knowledgeable about Judaism, most probably a teacher or Rabbi we suspect. He is very impressive and displays the kind of chutzpah associated with Jewish people (especially the men one suspects). Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (meaning ‘insolence’ or ‘cheek’ or ‘audacity’) describing a kind of supreme self-confidence, nerve, gall that can be used for good or for bad. It is a kind of ‘in-your-face-ness’ that I both admire and hate at the same time.  This man has bucket loads of it. I admire his knowledge but struggle with his know-it-all attitude. Whereas the rest of us on the tour ask questions this man gives opinions. He has opinions about everything including the place of women within Judaism. He obviously likes the idea that these synagogues follow the traditional pattern and that women are relegated to the galleries (even though the numbers at worship these days are very small).

Our guide on the tour of the synagogues is a youngish Jewish lady who knows her stuff. She is clearly very intelligent and gives our friend as good as she gets. She must have met a good number of his kind before and handles him and his opinions with an equal measure of skill, reason, knowledge and winsomeness. She displays a chutzpah of her own but a more attractive and impressive kind.

After we have looked at the two synagogues within the buildings housing the Jewish museum we go back into the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo so that our guide can show us from the outside where the synagogues are in the tall buildings we have just been in. She explains more about the history of the Jews in Venice, particularly the story of the war years in the 1930s and 1940s. We look at the impressive memorial in more detail and see how graphic and powerful a picture it portrays. Our final port of call is another synagogue just a stone’s throw away, opposite the lovely restaurant where we enjoyed our wonderful lunch. Whilst we are standing around in our group listening to our guide I notice some Jewish boys playing football in the square where we are standing. Suddenly one of the boys belts the solid leather football towards the makeshift goal near the museum, miss-kicks it completely, and sends it sailing towards our group. It strikes chutzpah man’s wife on the head. She is OK but very angry. She rounds on the boys playing football and gives them a real mouthful. Chutzpah plus! Julia and I look at each other and grin. So much for chutzpah man ruling the roost, being head of the family, keeping his wife and everybody else in their place? We know immediately who really wears the trousers in his house!

Jim Binney

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