1795 days

In praise of teamwork

I have never quite got my head around the concept of ‘light years’ – although I think it is a way of measuring enormous distances in such a way as to seem accessible. Thus an object which is 100 light years away is the distance which it would take light 100 years to travel. Given that light travels ‘at the speed of light’ that would be a very long way. The other day I met a (relatively) new dad who was still measuring the age of his infant son in days. At a point where most people would have switched from weeks to months, he was still counting in days. Somehow, it registered just how precious every day was in the presence of this little person.

Today, it is 1795 days since Littlest Star was written – at first scribbled on a bit of A4 paper, then typed up for me to read from, then made into a little booklet. You can find the details here. After that came the Slovak translation, the fuzzy felt depiction, the German translation, the radio appearances – and eventually the introduction to Lion Children’s. Today, the book goes on sale.

I have written extensively elsewhere about the story of the story. Today it is time simply to say ‘thank you’. I am grateful to every gifted hand and every generous spirit and every fine mind which has helped this story on the way. May it find its way to many a child’s heart this Christmas. Like the new dad -if I am counting in days, it is a way to remember how precious they are, and to marvel at how this little one has grown.


You did what to your Bible?

A review of the Hodder Journalling Bible for colouring in

I was brought up in a household with books. Often to the amazement of my school friends – there were shelves and shelves of them. There were new paperbacks and old embossed hardbacks. There were novels and guidebooks and history books and natural history collections and everything in between. Growing up in such an environment, there are certain rules which go without saying:

  • Never turn down a corner to mark a page – use a bookmark!
  • Never write in a book, unless to write your name neatly on a flyleaf.
  • Never, ever write on the pages of a book.
  • Do not draw, or colour on the pages of a book.

The experience of studying for three degrees and almost 30 years as a Pastor has relaxed some of those rules. I often pencil notes in a theological book which I can then ‘hoover up’ afterwards to summarise its contents. I have owned a string of increasingly messy Bibles – and encourage others to mark them with notes, underlinings and dates. That said, to take coloured pencils and colour in a Bible is a new thing entirely.

With some degree of unease, I bought a box of coloured pencils and set to work:


With a children’s talk to give on Ruth, I decided to start with an illustration of her story, and was quickly absorbed in the task.


In some ways, the absorption is the point. Ever since artist Johanna Basford was asked in 2001 to switch her talents from designing wine labels to designing colouring books for adults a right-brain revolution has started. Colouring books for adults are a huge marketing opportunity, so maybe it was only a matter of time before somebody brought out a Bible which could be coloured.

The Hodder Bible has 32 plates which can be coloured, and its ivory pages have wide margins to allow for notes, annotations, or even doodles on the pages where the text itself is printed. Whilst this necessitates a very small 7.25pt font, the text is clear – and I suspect that most people who own this Bible will have access to others anyway if they wish to study the text.

This is not a Bible to study, though. Rather, it is a Bible with which we are encouraged to interact. Those wide margins are just crying out to be written upon, and Stu McLellan’s illustrations have enough charm to intrigue without dictating how they should be completed. His illustration for Colossians 3 v.17, seen below, is typical. Where else would an artist think about bringing glory to God but…on a desk cluttered with art materials?


Much of the emphasis in contemporary communication is on speed. Those who can provide the quickest transfer of information and those who can accelerate the speed of downloading it are winning the communications game. As a man who spends his life encouraging others to absorb what God has to say to them, I have been looking for the handbrake! This Bible will encourage all who use it to go a little slower, absorb a little more and think a little more deeply – which can only be a good thing.


More than a rainbow

A moment of glory

There is something inexplicably captivating about rainbows. A couple of days ago I was privileged to see this one arcing majestically across the Vale of the White Horse:


CLICK for full size

A little later on I was in the lobby of the local cinema – surrounded by all the artificial glitz and glamour of movie-world. Without exception ,every head was turned away from the popcorn and flashing lights to gaze at the rainbow against a darkening sky from the upstairs lobby window.

Every time I see a rainbow my thoughts go back to Scottish Minister George Matheson. Ever since the age of 18, his sight had been declining. Despite the odds, he gained his degree, graduated from Glasgow University, and went on to serve as minister at parishes in Clydeside and Edinburgh. At the age of 40, his proposal for marriage was turned down as his fiancee felt that the obstacles imposed by his blindness were just too great. It was in that year that he wrote his great hymn, O love that wilt not let me go’. In its original version it reads ‘I climb the rainbow though the rain, and see the promise is not vain – that morn shall tearless be’

Like the rainbow below, such words of faith can illuminate the darkest landscape:


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Fruit and nuts

A foraged sermon on forgiveness

One of the elements which we have lost from the preaching and storytelling of Jesus is the extent to which they were drawn from his immediate setting in time and space. Thus, for instance, he uses the moment when a child is thrust at him for a blessing to talk about childlike faith. He uses a shouted question from the crowd about the latest news story to talk about the brevity of life and the need for repentance. Some commentators would have us believe that he used the nickname of a narrow gate in Jerusalem’s city wall to talk about rich men entering heaven like a ‘camel through the eye of the needle’

Yesterday morning, I preached on the subject of ‘forgiving one another’, and went foraging in the church car park for my visual aid. A heavily laden walnut tree, some of whose boughs currently adorn the pulpit, gave me plenty of scope.

I love walnuts – but to bite into the hard outer hull would be bitter at best. If I were to pierce it successfully with my teeth, the resulting juices would stain my skin indelibly. Even if I succeeded in removing that hull – I would still be faced with the unyielding walnut shell.  Inside very Christian man or woman there is goodness, God-ness and the rainbow-coloured grace of God to rival the sweetness of any nut. The trouble is, it gets overlaid by layer after layer of unforgiven slights and resentment. Each adds to the last – until a hard shell is formed disguising the beauty of God underneath.

Walnut to one side, I could then talk about setting habits of forgiveness and giving that goodness inside a little more chance to shine. Click here for more details

Years ago, there was a poster in the Youth Lounge at my church reading ‘God want spiritual fruits, not religious nuts’! Hopefully these particular nuts may lead to some fruit.


Fruit or nuts?

Out of the mouths…

The story of a mini-induction

Yesterday was my induction service as Senior Minister of Newbury Baptist Church. It was a lovely occasion – joyful, humbling affirming and visionary all in one. To stand there, surrounded by members of my own family, my new church family, the wider church and those from other churches where I have served was a moment whose joy will linger for many months to come.

However, perhaps the most special moment of all was being ‘put on the spot’ by representatives of the children and young people of the church. I had especially asked that they should play a role in the service, since I am as much their pastor as anybody else’s. Below is the text in full of my ‘mini-induction’:

Young person: We give you this plant to remind you of today and we have three questions for you.

Child 1: Please will you teach us all about Jesus by telling us lots of stories?

Richard: I will

Child 1: This pot has all our names to remember who we are and that we will listen and learn

Child 2: Please will you help us to get to know God as our Father by answering all our questions?

Richard: I will do my best

Child 2: Please take this plant to remember how we want to grow, we promise to ask lots of questions.

Young person: Please will you lead us and guide us in the spirit that so we can learn to have all the fruits of the spirit?

Richard: I will

Young person: Please accept this Olive tree and its fruit as a reminder of the fruits of the spirit we will use together

Youth person: Now we want to pray for you….


Of all the promises I made yesterday, I’ve a feeling it is these ones which will challenge me the most in the years ahead.


To believe, serve and lead

On the eve of an induction

It is now 11 months since I first began negotiations with Newbury Baptist Church about the prospect of becoming their new minister. In between then and now a river has flowed under the bridge. In its flow it has carried the challenges of relinquishing a 19-year long pastorate, the upheaval of moving house, the joys of a new home and the exciting possibilities of a new calling. I have been welcomed in my new church by the youngest and the oldest, and other local church leaders have embraced a new colleague with warmth and faith.

Tomorrow, the whole thing becomes official. Of course, I am the Minister of Newbury Baptist Church already. However, tomorrow at 3 pm, witnessed by members of former churches and of this new one, I shall take my solemn vows. I shall answer questions about what I believe, about my willingness to serve this new church, and about my charge to lead it. Like the vows at a wedding service – they change everything and nothing. All these things are true already. Vowing to keep them before witnesses, though, is an important acknowledgement of the hand of God in all that has been and all that will be. Keeping these vows is impossible without God’s help. With it, though, they are just the beginning.

The young people and children will be asking me to make vows too.  They involve stories, questions and an olive tree. More about that next week on the blog.

In the meantime I leave you with a beautiful banner which will gaze down on tomorrow’s events. I pray that they, like the banner itself, might reflect a little of God’s beauty. If praying is what you like to do – then your prayers tomorrow would be hugely appreciated. Thank you.

CLICK for full size

CLICK for full size

Hand-stitched narrative

A review of ‘The mountain in my shoe’ by Louise Beech

In other hands, this book would be a disaster. It would be a gritty and depressing read slipping into the grey mists rolling off the Humber. In the hands of a tabloid writer it would be full of wasted kids, bad mothers, faceless social workers, tarts and a string of foster homes. In Louise Beech’s hands it becomes something else entirely. It becomes a narrative of exquisite intricacy where tension and tenderness are stretched like an Aeolian harp across that same river. Plot then plays across those strings with a haunting melody which keeps you listening and listening.

In some ways, Louise’s fiction reminds me of a Brueghel painting – a canvas inhabited by all sorts of people who are somehow connected. The difference, however, is in the sympathy with which they are portrayed. Sometimes there seems to be a cruelty to Brueghel’s work which is entirely absent from Louise’s. Look hard in these pages, but you will not find a single two-dimensional character. Each is shown in a warm light which appreciates their humanity.

Other times Louise’s work seems more like tapestry than fiction. Her characters stand out from the page, like those embroidered onto a tapestry. Like the seamstress behind the tapestry, she has worked hard to put those characters in place. Every word-stitch has made them more vivid, believable and engaging.

I feel I should apologise for the picture below. A book cover should never be shot against such a ‘busy’ background. In this case, however, the ‘busyness’ is just the point. In a world of tabloid-ized cliché and lazy stereotyping this book stands out. Not only that, but I have every reason to believe that it will do some good for those who find themselves serving in a social-care system more often vilified than appreciated.

Thank you, Louise.

CLICK for details of the book

CLICK for details of the book


Cleared for launch

To catch your star

Exactly one month from today, almost five years after it was first written, Littlest Star launches. Various review copies are already finding their way across the country.

You can ‘catch’ your star by pre-ordering it here or here. Better still, why not speak to your local bookshop and ask them to order it in? Times are tough for independent booksellers, and your custom could make somebody’s day. The Littlest Star makes a number of friends on his journey, and you might well do the same.

In the meantime, here is a little bit of sparkle from Lion Children’s to whet your appetite…



The calculus of prayer

More multiplication than addition

I have now been in my new role as minister of Newbury Baptist Church for twenty days. There are at least 150 people in the church I need to get to know. There are services to be planned, small groups to visit, key players in the town to greet, a host of users in our building to meet and 101 things besides.

You might be forgiven, then, for thinking that the hour I took yesterday to assemble a large map of the town from 36 sheets of paper was ill spent. Would you feel that more, or less if I added in the time taken to plan the subject matter of the meeting and source 24 electric candles for those who came? Whilst you are at it, would the fact that about a dozen people attended make it seem a better or worse use of time?

CLICK for full size

CLICK for full size

The thing is, the value of prayer is not measured in numbers. The value of time spent in prayer, surely, is not to be found in the numbers of people either attending or praying? It is not as if we can add up the combined lengths of all their spoken prayers and use them to tip the balance of God’s favour in our direction.

CLICK for full size

CLICK for full size

On Sunday morning I was telling the congregation the tale of Peggy and Christine Smith – two elderly ladies on the Isle of Lewis whose faithful prayers played such a key role in the Hebridean revival in 1949. It would take a very skillful mathematician to equate the prayers of the two with the bent knees of the hundreds who were affected. Prayer, it would seem , is more about multiplication than addition.

That said, I am praying for addition upon addition to the numbers as one prayer meeting leads into another. Care to join me?

New broom

Old role

In the three weeks since I started in my new role at Newbury Baptist Church, there have been a number of small, visual changes. Two old hymn boards, no longer used, have come down off the walls. One has been replaced with a gorgeous banner no longer needed in the church for which it was originally made:

 On the walls, five out of six noticeboards now carry a large poster depicting a local scene and a Bible verse. Rather like the Biblefresh photo competition, they are designed to show the word in the world and the world in the word.

 Essentially, neither of these things are new. The church where I now serve has been following the path of Jesus and discerning the word in the world for well over 350 years. The essence is the same, but sometimes a new presentation of it makes it seem fresh once again.

It is in this spirit that the Preacher’s Blog has undergone a renewal. The contents is the same, and the purpose is the same . It is differently packaged, that is all.

Hope you like it..