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The Diary of a President, August 2016

Back from my holiday so I can start to share things with you. The last thing you will want me to post on this blog is my holiday photos. But some of the photos I took brought home to me how great our God really is and how much he cares for his people. These pictures capture the sunset over the water outside Malaga. The rays display God's power and the beauty of his creation.

The holiday club for the children saw them making boats out of plastic water bottles. The challenges included - would the boats float? Would they stay upright? Would they carry the weight of a mug of water? Which boat would sail across the pool? Ideas for our holiday clubs? A scriptural opportunity for work with our children.

Our journeying took us to the interesting city of Ceuta. This is a Spanish enclave within the country of Morocco! (interesting concept!). From Ceuta we travelled by coach into Morocco to the city of Tetouan and viewed the King's Palace. This was a beautiful cultured city with the minarets visible on the skyline.

But this country is proud of its religious tolerance. Christian churches, synagogues and mosques share the squares and go further than tolerance into cooperation. What an example this is to us where faiths can happily coexist without any tension or difficulty.

August 2016And so we moved on to Lisbon! I have never seen such a variety of means of transport as exists in this Portuguese city. There were red and yellow trams of various vintages, eTukTuks (eco-friendly little people carriers rather like London's rickshaws but electric!) as well as open-top buses, red, London-type buses, coaches, taxis, cars, motor bikes, scooters, mopeds and hordes of bicycles, not to mention horse-drawn carriages and carts.

As we left the harbour at Lisbon, I looked back at the dockside of that busy city. But then my attention was drawn to what is called the "Flying Bridge". This is an extension of the main bridge on both sides of the main bridge and is used by the Captain when he is maneuvering the ship out of harbour. The vessel is so big and the controls look so simple. The Captain has such responsibility for the ship, its passengers and crew.

But look closely. Leaning casually on the rail is a man in a white shirt - the pilot! He is specially brought on board as a ship nears harbour and takes over the ultimate control of the speed and direction of the ship in order to bring it safely into port.

We might think that we carry all the responsibilities and cares of our lives, but just there, in the background, it is good to know that we have our God who has the ultimate control of our lives.

No ! Our holiday did not take us to Rio even for the Olympics!

But this statue overlooking Lisbon harbour is also called Christ the Redeemer. As we sailed under the bridge the statue dominated the skyline just as we should allow Jesus our Redeemer to be the Lord of our lives.

Marrakech! A long drive from the Atlantic but a fascinating city mixing African and European culture into the original Berber traditions. We visited the Bahia Palace built for the Vizier, his wives and concubines. As we stepped through the gate set in a thick wall, the bustle of the city was replaced by birdsong and the smell of Seville orange trees.

Our guide went to great pains to explain to us that the walls had no windows so that the women could not look out and be seen! Traditional Marrakech. The souk was "interesting" with over 5,000 tiny "shops" crammed inside the maze of the medina - the old city.

The main square is full of traditional activity - snake charmers, street musicians, monkeys, and many forms of transport, both old and new. Grand horse-drawn carriages mix with motor bike taxis. But everywhere, especially through the narrow lanes of the souk are the scooters, motorbikes and mopeds all being driven at break-neck speed.

The barbary apes of Gibraltar. These fascinating animals roam completely wild on the rock but are quite friendly (most of the time!). They have a liking for M&Ms and can get a bit aggressive if you are willing to "share" with them.

Folk law says that, should the apes ever leave Gibraltar, it will cease to be British. The troop was getting a bit thin in the past so Winston Churchill brought in another 25 breeding pairs, Sounds a bit like ravens and the Tower of London.

We can have confidence in the fact that our God will never leave us or desert us.

Our final day - spent in Gibraltar. The lighthouse is at Europa Point, the southern-most point of the rock. The view out over the sea shows Morocco in the distance - shows how close Europe and Africa really are.

As I stood there to take the picture, my mind went to the temptations of Jesus. He was taken to a high point and shown the whole world which could be his if he would but bow down and worship Satan. He resisted and stood firm. When we are tested and tempted, that is just what we should do with God as our helper.

Visiting Newport Churtch on the Isle of Wight from 19 – 22 August to spend some time with the Minister, Deacons and leaders. Newport IoW is a very interesting Congregational Church. Its foundation dates way back as it is a 1662 church - (not the present building!!). They have some challenging opportunities that they are coping with in a positive way. They have wonderful premises for the community - a large community hall, coffee lounge and kitchen. They have all the mod. cons. The only thing they lack is a chapel for worship having run out of cash at the present time - but they have plans. They have the footings for their dodecahedral chapel (12 sides) marking out where the building will, one day, stand, the Lord willing!

Sharing worship with Newport, Isle of Wight Congregational Church in an Open Air Service. The music was led by the Salvation Army Band and musicians and the service was shared by Mark , the Minister; Rodney, the Army Lieutenant, and I gave a short word. In celebration of the Olympic games, we included a short demonstration "speed-walking" race around the congregation. Mark demonstrated an excellent "wiggle" and the race began. There was no hope that I might win --- so I cheated!!!

This wonderful community service was followed in the afternoon by a community BBQ on the church forecourt with everyone welcome.

This weekend was a marvellous opportunity to share time with the people from the church and the community, to listen to their hopes and fears and to learn what this lovely church is all about.

28 August and I joined the congregation at Hutton Free Church and brought a message based on Hebrews 12 and Revelation 7 - so great a crowd (cloud?) of witnesses, running the race set before us, and perseverance. I spoke of the uplifting power of the the "home crowd" as was obvious in the case of the Brazilian pole-vaulter, Thiago Braz da Silva. In our case, it is our Christian family, alive and in glory, who are the "home crowd" who will uplift us and sustain us in the efforts we make.

Summer breaks are over and the pace of Presidential visits is increasing. It was my pleasure, on Sunday, to lead worship and preach at Orsett Community Church in South Essex. We looked at the story of the potter and the clay this Sunday. I don't know if it counts as "Messy Church" but everyone, whatever age, made a pot from play dough. We realised that our God is a God of Restarts, Renewal, Remodelling and Recycling - even the most mis-shapen of us can be made fit for purpose by the Master Potter.

I was pleased to be invited to speak at a Songs of Praise service on Sunday afternoon 4 September at Elstow Bunyan Church. This lovely, welcoming church hosted the event sharing with Shillington, Litlington, Roxton, Guilden Morden and Mill Street churches. Each church chose a song or hymn and shared why this meant something special to them. The music was fantastic (thank you ladies) and the refreshments were delicious (thank you again!).  This was a really enjoyable service, well prepared and very well attended. Thank you for the invitation.

This brings me to the end of the blog to the end of August. The summer season is ending and a new “term” is starting. September promises to be busy. More news next month!