Tag Archives: Mission

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

One Christmas Day

Westgate Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Image credit: Geograph

Westgate Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Image credit: Geograph

One Christmas Day at the Mission and there she was sitting on the stone step at Westgate Hall’s side door. She had come to share the hospitality, a meal and entertainment, that the Mission provided for thirty lonely men and women who would otherwise spend Christmas on their own, with little chance of anything like turkey or Christmas pudding. The trouble was she did not have a ticket to gain admission. Tickets were distributed to prospective guests, a precaution to ensure we kept within the limits of our ability to cope. The lady with the bag on the doorstep was determined to beat the system. She was not going to budge. Well, it was the season of goodwill: we could not turn her away and she joined the queue!

A short time after arrival, our guests were invited to take their places at the tables – the time for feasting had arrived. Within minutes we could be excused for thinking a riot was afoot at the bottom end of one of the tables, shouting and gesticulations, noisy protesting women looking ready for a fight, all of them pointing at one of their number – can you guess? – the lady with the bag, by now an open bag. “Hi, reverend, this wumen is filling her bag with the grub on the plates; her bag is under the table, take a look mister!” Sure enough, you guessed rightly. “Pit her oot, Father.” But it was Christmas!

Westgate Hall Doors. Image credit: Geograph

Westgate Hall Doors. Image credit: Geograph

One of my menfolk acted as doorman. Early in the proceedings he sought me out to explain he had a problem, a situation which threatened to escalate. Two drunks were making a nuisance of themselves and were trying to join the party. Eventually, when powers of persuasion failed,  I got them to promise that if I let them in they would be quiet and behave. A vain hope really! I thought they would either sleep during the showing of the film or become bored and leave early. After all, it was Christmas.

At going home time it was my practice to leave the hall and await folks’ departure in the porch with a small gift (chocolate) and send them on their way with a seasonal greeting. I was surprised that our two inebriated brothers had not emerged and a brief look around seemed to suggest they did go early. “Aye, they slipped out before the lights came on again; you know when you spoke that nice wee prayer, minister,” I was assured by a passing guest. Task at the door completed, so I thought, I returned to the Hall to discover two of our male guests, obviously upset by something and one of our members trying to console them. “It’s they drunks that have stolen them.” They were not going home until they got their missing garments, one trilby hat (must be trilby) and one coat. The two were known to me, one a regular at our Luncheon Club, the other a regular at Luncheon Club and worship on a Sunday evening. Alas, our clothing store had been cleared out as was the custom at the end of each year. Anyway, we did not get hats or many coats. I must admit that thoughts of “glad tidings of great joy” were not uppermost in my mind at that point. I got into the car and hurried home to the Manse, where my family were waiting for me to get finished so that presents could be opened and a belated Christmas Lunch put before us on the table. When I got back to church I was able to bid a fond farewell to two “happy bunnies” – one with my rather smart green trilby, the other with the garment which was referred to as my funeral coat!

It was Christmas, was it not?

Gerard Van Honthorst: Adoration of the shepherds Image credit: Wikimedia

Gerard Van Honthorst: Adoration of the shepherds
Image credit: Wikimedia

A joyful and peaceful Christmas and a good New Year to you all

If there is time

English: Cross

A group of us were invited to supper by an ecumenical colleague to meet his visitor, a bishop in the Church of South India with whom he worked when he was also a bishop in the CSI. When we left the dining room we made ourselves comfortable in the lounge and listened to our CSI guest who spoke of the opportunities and difficulties that faced the Church in India. In the ensuing conversation someone asked a question. He wanted to know how many people were being converted and how difficult it was to make new Christians. Hindus, the bishop explained, were inherently a tolerant people and did not persecute so long as the church did not convert. Nevertheless, the church did baptise people from other Faiths but not in large numbers.

The bishop had some difficulty in saying how he thought the church impressed and influenced sufficiently to persuade people to change their religion and subscribe to a new view that God’s supreme revelation Himself is given in Jesus. In a multi-faith society like India, the bishop explained, there is not all that much to choose between the religion of the many and the religion of the few. All the more difficult where Christianity is a tiny minority religion. One thing the Church of South India must do if it is to make any impact, we were told, is to learn how to preach Christ and the Gospel. The bishop thought that would take a long time. Not the prognosis some might have expected who belong to a church which sent missionaries to the four corners of the earth to convert “the heathen.”

It would be difficult to argue that we are any more successful. Are we prepared to be as honest? The church in our country is set amidst an ever-growing secular society where Christian values are challenged; where Christians are not seen to be much different from the majority of unbelievers. And we spend much of our time arguing about structures, maintaining property, planning cosy church programs, conversation on the Work of God relegated to the last item on the Agenda – Any Other Business – in the hope there will not be time for it! What of the Gospel?

Galatians 1: 6–9