Tag Archives: Bob Holman

Back to the world

John Mitchell 1929-2015

John Mitchell 1929-2015

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that John Mitchell, my father, died suddenly on 31st May. He had sent me his last blog post the previous day, the third in a trilogy on conversion, which I am now publishing below in his memory.

The regular reader of this blog will be alert to the fact that the last two editions have pondered over two of three aspects of Christian conversion. It follows this must be the third and final presentation of our chosen topic – a matter of relevance and significance in the undergirding of our evangelism. There are three conversions to a Christian man or woman’s life. First, to Christ, then to the Church and then back to the world. Or, put another way, there are three ways in which an alleged conversion may be incomplete and imperfect. This exercise introduces itself thus: a conversion is incomplete if it does not leave us with a sense of overwhelming responsibility for the world. The sisters and brothers we are bidden to strengthen and support are both outwith the church and within. A temptation for the church is for us to become a holy huddle, cosying up to one another for warmth. Yes! I know! I know! I have pleaded in the second post on this theme for us to create the warmth of a loving, caring fellowship. At the same time, a church must never become a closed shop, drawing its blinds to the world outside; lost in praise and prayer; connoisseurs of preaching and liturgy; busy congratulating itself on the excellence of its Christian experience and Christian fellowship. Although in recent years the church has accepted its responsibility to serve the present age, sadly in my view there are still some Christian folk who see the church’s sole role as securing the soul a space in heaven.

The name Bob Holman may be a familiar one to some if your newspaper is the Herald or the Guardian. There was a time when he regularly wrote for both those newspapers. Although not all of his readers always agreed with him, his columns were popular as they were stimulating and challenging. I may be wrong but I would credit him as an ardent, evangelical Christian by conviction, with a strong measure of socialism surging through his veins. What is more, he practised what he preached. He was a professor at Bath University, from which post he resigned to launch a community project among vulnerable residents in a deprived area of Bath. After ten years there, he and his wife moved to Easterhouse, a suburb of Glasgow with a reputation of deprivation and its accompanying social problems, and there he became associated in the social and community ministry of the pastor of the Baptist Church he attended. He not only worked in this greatly disadvantaged and much publicised community, he lived there, side by side with his neighbours, identifying with them, helping in their personal and family crises, supporting and encouraging them when they were in conflict with the authorities. And in between, he wrote to newspaper editors and politicians on matters of political concern or social injustice, championing the cause of the poor and inadequate.

I have on my shelves a book by Bob Holman entitled Ordinary Christians. He writes: For nearly fifty years, everywhere that I go God gives me friends, ordinary people with whom I feel comfortable, whom I care for and who care for me. The book tells the stories of twelve ordinary people who became Christians and shows that God still calls such people to serve Him. Like Bron, a converted agnostic, who, in spite of personal difficulties and disappointments, raised funds, supported and visited as a volunteer a ministry in El Salvador. Even in her fifties and in retirement she lived frugally and bought all her clothes from charity shops. She said: As a socialist I gave 10% of my salary, as an Anglican I gave 30%, when I became a Catholic I thought it should be all for the Lord. The stories of the others are similar, converts to Christianity, joining the church, sustained by the fellowship and following in the footsteps of the Lord, loving, caring and working for those who are among the world’s born-losers.’ Converted to new life; converted to serve; back to the world. A worthy response to the Good News of Jesus.

65 years a preacher

65 years a preacher

John Mitchell

3rd July 1929 – 31st May 2015

Rest in peace

He does not answer

O you by whom we come to God, the Life, the Truth, the Way!

The path of prayer yourself have trod: Lord, teach us how to pray.

James Montgomery (Singing the Faith 529)

Woodbine Willie by Bob HolmanOne of the things we need to learn about prayer is that God does not always appear to answer. “Many prayers reflect the mistaken Christian notion that prayer is a magic cheque upon the bank of heaven only needing the formal endorsement with Christ’s name to make it good for anything.” (Woodbine Willie, Bob Holman.) Sometimes there is no apparent answer to prayer because prayer is not the magic wand some folk imagine it to be. Prayer is not so much God doing things for us: prayer is God helping us to do things for ourselves. I do not think it is stating it too strongly, that God will never do for us that which we can well do for ourselves. Think back to schooldays and homework. In my day, if you did not do it or get it right, you might get the strap (happy days!) I did not get much help with homework at home. When one was struggling help would have been welcomed. It did not take me long as a parent to discover that I was of little help to our children. In Primary days – yes, but they soon got ahead of me! Still, when they got entangled with a problem I wished not only that I could offer suggestions, but that I could say to them, “Look, let me do it for you!” That would have been little help to the child. What a parent can do is to guide, support, encourage until the child can do for themselves. It’s like that with God. Real prayer does not release us or enable us to escape from the trials and difficulties of life. Real prayer does not promise or ensure that we shall live a trouble-free life. Prayer’s purpose is not to guarantee us a painless exit from an unhappy set of circumstances. Real prayer leads to a way through a situation; its promise – God will walk with us. And as we walk with him, each of us playing our part, together we continue to walk through the storm until ultimately we are walking in the light. Real prayer is the prayer not for safety but for courage. Courage to do God’s Will and, if not to conquer, the strength and the grace to endure – to get on with life.

Because of these promises, God cannot be accused of not answering prayer; all prayers have an answer, but not always the one we had hoped for. If there comes to life a need for help – for prayer, it is never easy to accept that God has said nothing, done nothing, that our prayer appears to have gone unanswered. It is just one of the reasons why, even formerly committed and loyal believers turn away from the Faith and the church to join the ranks of the prayer shopping list brigade with their trivial and selfish petitions. I have been challenged in pastoral ministry on occasion to respond to folk seeking a satisfactory and no-nonsense reply to their assertion – He does not answer!

I have referred above to the latest biography of Woodbine Willie (Chaplain to the Army in the First World War). Bob Holman, the biographer, added this strongly held opinion of Studdert Kennedy about magic wand prayers, “I believe we parsons are to blame. We have not told people the truth about prayer for fear of hurting their feelings.” There may be some truth in this, and for a long time I have tried to be careful in what I have included in the Prayers of Intercession at an Act of Worship. One thing is vital in our praying: prayer is not so much talking to God; it is not so much telling God what are our demands; real prayer is listening to God (why do we find silence so difficult and embarrassing ?) telling us what He wants us to do.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

Uttered or unexpressed,

The motion of a hidden fire

That trembles in the breast.

No need to be solemn all of the time! His mother, passing his bedroom door, heard Billy say his prayers: “Please God, make Tommy stop throwing things at me. You may remember I’ve mentioned this before. He’s still doing it.”

Johnny was praying in a loud voice before his birthday: “Dear God, I pray that I will get a new bike for my birthday.” His older brother asked him,” What are you shouting for? God isn’t deaf.” “I know,” said Johnny, “I know, but Granny is!”