Dear Friends,

                   As I write it’s approaching Harvest again, and with it the chance to dust off some of those classic hymns we’ve come to know and love. ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ and ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’ both rightly emphasise our need to be thankful. But as I do my yearly scan of these timeless classics one line sticks out like a sore thumb. The line; ‘all is safely gathered in’. It begs the question: ‘is all really safely gathered in?’

     The trainloads of refugees and miles of camps serving those fleeing from Syria starkly tell us that this line of the hymn just isn’t the case. For these desperate people, all is most certainly not safely gathered in. And for others, the image of a successful harvest that the hymn depicts may be a distant memory, whether the lack of harvest is a barren African field, or someone struggling to find an affordable place to live in these uncertain times. All is most certainly not safely gathered in.

Dear Friends,

I've had three lovely holidays recently: a week with my father in Wales, a few days on my own in London and, this last week, a sort-of-holiday at home (though catching up with church events!), sharing the Manse with two families I've known for a long time. The house has been full to the gunnels, with every bedroom in continual use, not to mention every bathroom. And it's this last week, shared with three adults and two boys (one teenage, one nearly so) that has enabled me to reflect a bit on the mysteries of family life.

When we're little, we assume every family is like ours. That's what the word family means: our set-up at home. Then, when we go to school and the world widens a bit, we see that not every family works the same way. That can become painfully obvious when two families play a game together and discover that not all the same rules are observed! Some of the habits of other families will come across as weird or downright idiotic. But the experience of living differently can introduce more possibilities into our own lives.

Dear Friends,

Even though the General Election was only a week ago (as I write) it already feels like a distant memory. Instead, the fallout from the various resignations and reorganisations is now hogging the limelight. And yet fleeting though Election Day was, I wonder whether we really appreciate the significance of our right to vote? At times, I too feel like my vote doesn’t have much significance in the grand scheme of things, and yet I have always taken pride in exercising my right and responsibility to vote.

Dear Friends,
'I could have danced all night...' sings Eliza Doolittle in the musical My Fair Lady. Until I came to Southampton, I'd certainly have left her to it. I was born with two left feet, figuratively if not practically, not to mention the ability to confuse left and right in moments of stress. And I can't say I was too unhappy with my lack of ability. Some people can dance, I reasoned, and some can't. But since I came here, there seem to be so many occasions where dancing is the only possible response, and not just our Theatrical Inspiration Stage productions at Freemantle. I was lured into the first one because I was assured of a non-dancing role in the wings. Then when rehearsals started, they broke it to me gently that there was no such thing as a non-dancing role. By then it was too late - I was hooked on the friendliness of the cast, and they were stuck with getting me through the routines. But even though the process of learning was traumatic, I ended up loving the whole experience. Return to the Forbidden Planet* involves even more dancing - thankfully, most of it by our principals - but now I'm getting more used to the feeling of only just being in control of my limbs.

Dear Friends,

When people who don't know me find out I'm a minister, they have two reactions. Firstly, they look surprised. Apparently, I don't look the way a minister should (either a bearded man wearing black or Dawn French). Secondly, they ask: 'So what is it you actually do?' Some of you may also wonder - though I know you're too polite to ask. So welcome to a week in the life of one minister!

I know Sunday is the first day of the week - but a ministerial week begins on Monday. And in the case of a minister serving a group of churches, it begins with the question: Where am I on Sunday? Am I leading worship at 9.30? At 11am? Both? If the latter, how close to each other are the churches? If the former: is there a church meeting after the service? Am I prepared for it? And is there a sneaky afternoon or evening service that I forget to my peril and everyone else's irritation?