Pilot Light

Ah… The Gathering…

For years now, it’s been one of my annual highlights and I’m pleased to say that my second year with the RBC men was no exception. This year the festival was bigger than ever with nearly 2,500 men in attendance, the site was busier and better organised. The big top was full…. very full and very hot. The afternoon activities were bigger and better than ever. Programme wise the festival felt different too, more focused, purposeful and intentional. You’ll remember Carl Beech who visited us in January this year? Carl was clear from the outset- ‘I’m going to be preaching the gospel of my saviour and men are going to commit themselves to follow him- this is not an easy path to follow’.

Over the two days we saw hundreds of men respond, I can’t tell you how much it moves me to see tough hard tattooed, shaven headed men mixed in with middle aged (middle class) mixed in with young lads – the whole spectrum really, weeping as they encounter Jesus in a real and powerful way. Where else would this happen?

Testimonies were given, not wild amazing out of this world, don’t really believe it testimonies. Real earthy, sad, gritty testimonies about brokenness, addiction, crime, poverty, ill heath, bereavement and death.  One man told how having been infected with HIV through a blood transfusion has led to all sorts of complications now including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This man’s faith has not resulted in a miracle cure or recovery, he is still dying slowly, painfully and debilitatingly. But his faith gives him hope and purpose. Another man told us how he had life sorted, the prestigious job, model family, luxurious house, amazing car. But he was also riddled with the horrific back dog of depression that tried to rob him of everything he was. He stood in front of over 2000 men to tell us, its ok not to be ok, he still has depression, but he has faith and hope.

 Our group was pretty special, a microcosm of the diversity that makes RBC so special. About twenty of us camping together, eating, drinking, laughing and most importantly praying together. Those spontaneous moments of prayer and devotion, that if we had tried to plan just wouldn’t have worked. I feel closer to these guys after this special experience.

Lancaster Bomber Flypast TG19

At the risk of being controversial I am well aware of a certain profile of man at RBC who feels on the fringe of things, hanging on by their fingertips, faith wavering, feeling disconnected where Sunday attendance and growth group commitment is sporadic. In the past they used to be so involved in RBC life, exercised and motivated and full of life, and now the pilot light is on …. but only just and how long can it last like this? They feel overlooked and uncared for. Ideas and initiatives are viewed with scepticism – seen it and done it all before. They are shadows of who they used to be.

To these men, and partners, friends, family of etc I simply want to say: to spend a weekend with a group from church – who may not be your usual group, to pray, laugh, eat and hang out with; to be part of the amazing Gathering worship experience and to hear the gospel preached in a gritty, real direct, straight way, may just reignite your flame, re-vigour your passion, rediscover your drive, re- commission your life. Book your ticket and join us next year – there’s nothing else quite like it.

Oh, and why are we dressed in a vaguely medieval style…and how did Neil Bradshaw get to the semi-finals of the best costume competition? Ask the guys that came.

See you Sunday


Preparing for a funeral service is always an incredibly enriching experience. I feel I get to know the deceased person very well, through stories of their childhood, adult life and death. I learn about their personality, sense of humour, likes and dislikes along with their world views and politics. I arrive at the actual day of the funeral with a strong impression of their character, alongside a sense of loss that I never knew this wonderful, unique person better and now of course they have died and that opportunity is gone.

Edna Cleasby is someone of whom the more I hear, the more I am in awe of. She was actually one of the first people of RBC Mairi and I visited in the year prior to our move to Redhill.  Edna was a wonderful contradiction, physically frail yet of strong spirit and mettle, visually challenged with poor eyesight yet blessed with tremendous vision and insight.  Literate, learned and wise but humbly revealing gaps in knowledge she wanted to fill.. Respected, honoured and treasured yet not wanting to be a burden and defiantly not wanting to be ‘a woman in a wheel chair’.

Her face illuminated and her voice soared with elated joy when she spoke of music and playing the piano, whenever and wherever she could; and she spoke with deep love and pride about her family and her church.

She has been called the Godmother of Redhill Baptist Church, which feels so appropriate as the stories roll in of her tremendous contribution to the life and soul of our church.

Edna has died, but what an incredible legacy she leaves behind. I’ve found myself caught between laughter and tears as I read the tributes of her family extolling the exploits of their growing years. When I asked the family for a specific Bible verse for the funeral service, they responded without a flicker of hesitation: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34).

Edna knew she was loved, and she loved in return and those around her knew they were loved too. Her legacy lives on as her love lives on and subsequent generations of people who knew Edna are influenced by her service and example.

Edna came from a mindset of humility and sacrifice, rather than insisting on rights and privilege; she served and gave of herself humbly, willingly and the ripples of that lifestyle are far reaching as her influence and love lives on.

Following Edna’s thanksgiving service I am joining twenty or so RBC men at The Gathering (TG19) in a field near Swindon. This men’s festival has been very instrumental in thousands of men considering the legacy they are passing on to their family and friends.  This results in many men making drastic change of heart commitments and changes of lifestyle from being me-centred, selfish, my rights driven, to serving others in sacrificial living, creating legacies of love and service for those who will follow them.

The irony is not lost on me that a field of 2,500 men in Swindon will be challenged to live lives of faith like the 100 year old woman we are remembering and thanking God for on Friday morning. 2,500 men will be reminded that are loved and then challenged to live and share that love in response. Edna knew she was loved and she loved in return, what a wonderful legacy to leave

Milk Floats

Following the hard hitting, ‘War on plastic’ programme broadcast on BBC 1 last Monday, Mairi and I are trialling going back to having our milk delivered to our door in glass bottles. This is not a new idea, it’s what I grew up with in south London in the 70’s but the idea is gaining interest and traction. I can imagine with rose tinted nostalgia a happy Redhill with whistling Milkmen and Milkwomen clanking their bottles cheerfully as the early morning roads are full of the quiet hum of milk floats delivering milk to our houses again.

It’s not a new idea but (for us at least) it seems a good idea to return to: to make a positive difference in reducing our waste.

The writer of Ecclesiastes said, ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun’. Sometimes it’s good to revisit some older ideas and breathe new life and freshness into them.  For example, within RBC the idea of eating together is not a new idea for many, some people have been brilliantly generous at opening their homes and extending their dining table on a Sunday lunch time, it’s just what they do quite naturally. But for others, for many good reasons, this has become a rarer occurrence. I loved the community lunch we held last Sunday in the sports hall.  It was a tremendous opportunity to sit and chat and catch up with folks who I often see on a Sunday but don’t get round to chatting to. It was especially fun sitting with the kids outside for a while. We had a number of visitors with us who seemed really at ease and enjoyed being included in a very natural way. It was such a simple idea, everyone brought enough food for themselves and a little extra. It was all laid out on long tables and we just helped ourselves. People could stay for as long or short as they wanted to, and as is usual for RBC people stayed and chatted for a long time.

It’s not a new idea, it’s what used to happen in the past, and it’s an idea that feels right to be updated now as we explore how we can help RBC to continue to develop as a welcoming, warm and inclusive community; attractive and inviting to people outside.  And I’m really pleased it’s happening again.

On 30th June we’re having another community lunch to accompany our church meeting. Whilst we eat together we’ll be thinking about new elder nominations, new ministry coordinators, new members. We’ll be praying about our budget and finances and giving some updates on key mission foci for 2019/20. The meeting is open to RBC members, friends and anyone interested in getting more involved with the church community. The hope is that a Sunday lunchtime meeting will be more inclusive than a Thursday evening meeting for many people. Most of us eat lunch – let’s eat together on 30th June!

This Sunday is Father’s Day and we have an all-age Father’s Day service led by the creative and gifted Claudia Smith. I hope you can come along, we start at 10:00

See you Sunday