Welcome to Alnwick Baptist Church and the blog page for Chris and Caroline Friend.

These periodic musings are designed to give an insight into our perspective on life as Co-Ministers of the church either written individually or from both of us. Hopefully they will challenge and encourage in equal measure. During the COVID-19 crisis, we did weekly Wednesday Reflections  until  March 2021.

And just like that, it's over. We didn't list it...we loved it. Was it ever in doubt?? Maybe I was having a midlife crisis after all. Like you, we watched it as scheduled on Wednesday night with no idea how 70+ hours of filming could possibly be condensed into 50 minutes. What was shown we felt was true to us and we were really thankful for the emphasis in particular on community throughout the process. For me, having seen the programme from both sides, there was both the seen and acknowledged community and the unseen community.

Watching the programme, you'd get the sense of the community round Caroline, me and the children here locally in our estate and also the wider community in Alnwick. Over the years, they have become more and more important to us based on that sense of belonging, support, compassion and shared lives not least when Caroline was poorly. It was right and good that they were acknowledged. But behind the scenes, a different community was at play. What you saw for the most part during the programme was Caroline and I interacting with Phil and Kirstie but of course you only saw that because of the team of people who never appear in front of camera but are integral to the programme being produced. Our builder Mick had about 30 seconds of airtime but in actual fact he was on site day in day out for 12 weeks managing the renovation.

And what about the crew? At any particular point, this team included up to three camera operators, a sound guy, director, researcher, producer and assistant producer. Over the six days of filming from March through September, Caroline and I spent time with this team over lunch and between filming to find out more about them, their own families, hobbies etc. In all honesty, whilst it was great to eat fish and chips in our back garden with Kirstie and Phil (both of whom incidentally we're down to earth and a joy to be around), it was as much a pleasure sharing life with this team and hearing their narrative. They weren't the only 'invisible' ones because of course beyond the film crew, lay the editing team holed up in a studio in Glasgow sifting through all that was produced and trimming it down for the final cut. 
What you watched was the time, expertise, patience and effort of all these people, without whom Love It Or List It just would not happen. They matter. They are essential to the process. They are an unseen but gifted community.
Why mention this? Because you matter. Every.Single.One.Of.You. Whether your profile is in the public eye and 'front of camera' as it were, or whether your role is quiet, unassuming, in the background and 'out of shot', you all bring something of worth to those you encounter. Not many may be aware of the regular meals you make for a neighbour but, your neighbour does and it matters. Not many may know of the regular weekly call you make to that person isolated and lonely but, for that person it's worth its weight in gold and it matters. 
Caroline and I may be your ministers but the church simply could not function unless everyone brought their gift for the sake of the church family and wider community. And yes there are some roles that immediately spring to mind because of their profile and we are so grateful for those on the eldership and deacons, or prepared to lead worship, preach, facilitate junior church or midweek groups, operate sound desk or projector etc. As and of themselves all are important but again not the complete picture of church life. 
Search deeper and find intercessors, hospitality providers, letter encouragers, listeners, prophetic voices, banner makers, people of peace, compassion bringers, welcomers, joy givers, hope restorers. The list goes on. What I'm saying is that you matter. You matter in the eyes of community where you live. You matter in the community of church family and you matter to God. You matter to God for the fact that you are the apple of His eye and also because you bring your gift in His service.
In the season of epiphany we remember especially what the wise men brought but, for me I'm also reminded of the final verse of In The Bleak Midwinter that we sang just last week. 'What can I give Him poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give him, give my heart'. 
Bringing your gift matters and doing so from a place of knowing who you are in Christ means that your heart is aligned with what you bring. Therefore your role when fulfilled raises the name of Jesus high, is pleasing to God and for the glory of His kingdom. May you feel God's hand of affirmation on you this week and sense His pleasure as you seek to serve in whatever way you're called.
It's not often I get predictions right but Saturday saw Rose Ayling-Ellis crowned the queen of Strictly Come Dancing. Since I forecast it all those weeks ago, her dancing has just gone to another level with incredibly moving performances that have left the usually unflappable Anton Du Beke in bits and the ice cold Craig Revel-Horwood having to put his critical comments to one side to lavish praise on her faultless performances. I also indicated how the profile of the deaf community has been enhanced by Rose's time on the show. Sign language classes are over subscribed and people signing (and singing) Christmas carols has gone viral on all sorts of media platforms. This is a good good thing. Rose has talked about how she hoped the deaf community would feel included by her time on the show and the legacy is obvious from the numerous plaudits that have been made since the weekend. Susan Daniels, the CEO for National Deaf Children's Society said: “This could be a new dawn for deaf children and young people everywhere because it’s clear for all to see that with the right support and the will to succeed, they can aim for the stars. Strictly may have come to an end, but we sincerely hope that this surge of interest in deafness and the desire to engage with deaf people continues long into the future.” The name of Rose Ayling-Ellis will not only go down on the glitterball trophy but her legacy as champion will live on for those who, up until now perhaps felt excluded from music and dance but now she has paved a permission giving way to give an opportunity which brings the deaf community in from the edge and say 'you too can be part of this'.
Legacy is an oft touted word and can be mis-used and mis-appropriated but our lives can and indeed should be lived with a legacy in mind. The legacy we leave may not be along the lines of the Rose Aling-Ellis's of this world but we can leave a legacy nonetheless. Right now, Euan, along with other older teenagers in their last year in the Juniors, is transitioning to the seniors at Alnwick Harriers and is benefitting from the experience and wisdom of some great runners who want to pass on what they've learnt to the next generation. This is just one example of people seeking to pass the baton on and leave a legacy. The same could be said of good teachers, mentors and of course volunteers, encouragers, bakers, letter writers etc etc. No-one falls outside the legacy category. No one is exempt, there is no 'get out of legacy free' card.
The end of the year is often a time to look back on the previous 12 months and think about what went well, what went badly and what learning can be taken where learning is needed. Questions such as: Have I left an impact for good this year even for just one person? Where I've made errors, have I sought to put it right in a constructive way that brings healing and better understanding? 
The very nature of our humanity means that we will all have to address both of those questions and, in the case of the latter, perhaps make calibrations based on a painful reality check which is essentially needed as we step in 2022. Most of us I'm sure would hope that over the course of our lives and not just the last 12 months, we will have been a force for good in the home, community or workplace. Just as an important side note, there will be times where we feel that our lives are futile and offer nothing and, at such times, God often has this uncanny ability through people, pictures, prayers etc to remind us of just how valuable we are in His sight even if we do not see that in ourselves. 
Of course Christmas is the time where God's legacy was demonstrated in the sending of His Son Jesus. I say 'was' but the reality of this divine incarnation in the Judean hillside two thousand years ago was merely the start. His ministry on earth followed by His death,resurrection and ascension were chapters, but the coming of God's Holy Spirit ensures that His legacy Is and Will Be. As we look ahead to 2022 and, as a church, think on: The Jesus I Never Knew, my hope and prayer is that a holistic focus on Jesus will help us to see through fresh eyes His love, compassion, wisdom, justice, forgiveness and hope. And as we do so, may our own lives reflect something of the Person of Jesus, the One we profess to be our guiding light and, may we be authentic followers of Him as a result, so that others may see Him in us. What better legacy is there than that.
It was a long way down and the wind was gusting, the tension in my upper arms to reach out and hang onto the rope was painful. For someone who has a fear of heights, this was not a situation that I would describe as 'comfortable' in any way shape or form. 
The 'situation' was Go Ape at Whinlatter in the Lakes and something I'd signed up to as the responsible adult for Biff. As an aside, it should be said that I did try and overcome my fear of heights by jumping out of an aeroplane - twice - but to no avail. Bizarrely, 400ft off the ground sitting in a plane looks a whole lot more tricky than 4000ft up in the air about to jump out of said plane and banking on a big sheet of nylon emerging from a bag strapped to my back to float me down to earth! It's strange the tricks that your mind can play on you when you're sat in the door of a Cessna at almost a mile above earth with the wind making your cheeks wobble...but feeling like an invincible James Bond exiting the plane followed by eleven minutes of sheer exhilaration as I'm sat in what feels like a suspended baby bouncer viewing Berwick to the north and Blyth to the south, gently pulling on the strings to get me back to the airfield.
Back on earth (and to the story in hand)...I still have a fear of heights. It is this fear that has made me a somewhat reluctant participant in this church family activity. The health and safety introductions were what you'd expect, explaining equipment including harnesses and carabinas. We were reminded - more than once - that the carabinas were 'our friend' but only if we used them correctly! So the mantra of the day was 'always be clipped on'. I recited it (with an increasingly dry mouth as I took to the first ladder that would take me onto the high ropes course. This would be my home for the next two hours. It would be a journey where I'd let go with the freedom of the zipwire and the contrast of holding on for dear life elsewhere.
Without question, it was the point at the top of this article where the acuteness of my fear was most felt. Emerging from the safety of the trees that had provided coverage from the elements, all of a sudden I had to negotiate a barrel crossing that involved looking down as you crossed, made worse by the fact that the barrel was getting blown about as I traversed. Having made that, ahead was a cargo net. This time for the first time, there were no bridges to walk over or even barrels to pass through, the only way to get to the next station was negotiating this rope puzzle. Going back was not an option as I was in the middle of a group of 8. Down below, Mrs my-job-is-to-film-the-fun Friend said 'smile'...I grimaced.  Ahead of me an exuberant 15 year old girl flipped her titian hair towards me and, grinning like a Cheshire cat called back 'that one's hard Dad, really hard, but you'll be fine'. Why did I teach her to be so honest!! It was time (as Knoxie from Aussie would say) to 'zip up my man suit' and get on with it. So I attacked it with the relish of 'the sooner I get over this the better' but found by halfway that the sheer instinct of hanging on was sapping the little reserves of energy I had left from the last 90 minutes on the course. At one point, the heart is shouting 'just let go' while the head was screaming 'whatever you do hang on'. I did manage to cross through sheer determination and a disproportionate disregard for the very mechanism that was there to save me - the carabina. For that carabina - when used correctly - was, is and forever will be the ultimate failsafe when weary bodies simply cannot hang on any longer. 
What a gift of an analogy for those of us wearied and overwhelmed in life. How many of us I wonder, when the going gets tough, the wind is against us, the options are limited and the path in front of us is treacherous, choose to rely on our own strength to get from A to B exhausting ourselves in the process and despairing of ever, ever getting to safety....when all the time a harness not three inches from our chest is clipped to the lifeline and at any point can take the strain. And yes, there is an innate mechanism in all of us that means we will not let go and we will fight the pain barrier for all its worth but...when we have a living relationship with our all encompassing God...there are times when we simply need to let go of our natural inclinations to battle on in life under our own steam and trust in His supernatural protection and dare I say it, fall into His embrace or, better put in Deuteronomy 33: 27 'The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you'. But it's not easy. As I write this I find myself saying 'doctor, heal yourself' because a mirror to my face tells me that I do way too much hanging on and not nearly enough letting go. 
Maybe that's the season you're in right now? My perspective on autumn has already been documented here - gloomy, cold, dying off - but perspective is everything and, as a wise person told me recently autumn is also the time to sow seeds. Those seeds may not emerge for a while but the intention is already happening when they hit the soil. For me perhaps it is sowing a seed of awareness to God's safety line all the time and not when my arms are slipping from the net. Your context will be different but all our harnesses are clipped to God who is our Rock and our Refuge.

This week, ask God by the power of His Spirit to bring to mind people who just need to know the truth of this. Don't be surprised if God nudges you with a name which you least expect, we may only see the surface but God knows the heart and the head. Many people are struggling right now and expressing that is hard for them. And if you're in need of prayer, please ask, we have intercessors and prayer warriors in the life of our church who want to bring your name before our Father God. So, whether the cargo rope ahead says Adventure or Anguish, let's be clipped onto the Ultimate Safety Harness. God's got us, He really has. 

To fuel or not to fuel...that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to leave one's car in the garage and walk, than suffer the slings and arrows of fuel starved drivers or, take one's vehicle towards a sea of forecourt troubles, and by turning up, suffer judgement. I'm sure that Shakespere would facepalm at this contextual revision of his lauded text but who cares. It's certainly been interesting to see how people have reacted to 'there's plenty fuel but not in the tankers' narrative that has played out this week. Many I'm certain have had good reason to need cars filled for essential journeys not to mention frontline emergency services and I'm equally certain that others have not, and their cars are now surreptitiously parked up in their garages next to the 1250 toilet rolls they purchased this time last year 'just in case'. 
Nonetheless, fuel or the lack of it has been uppermost in my mind this week. Yesterday I retreated to Barrowburn. It's nearly 6 months since I was last there and let's just say it was overdue. For those of you who've been, Barrowburn is the home of Scott and Catherine Iley and sits in the National Park towards Otterburn and is miles from anywhere. Even the journey there is helpful for just breathing in Creation and allowing the cares and burdens of life to slowly lift in the majesty of God's country.
Just like many of those drivers sat in forecourts, this was an essential journey for me, a time to come away and spend time with God in the quietness of deepest Northumberland and sit by still waters. Just like many of those regretting drivers, I wished I'd done it sooner rather than just about making the refuelling point on 'fumes'. Just like those drivers with sweaty palms, I headed to Barrowburn with a heightened anxiety because I'd gone too long between pit stops and a 'will I, won't I get there?' seeped into my subconscious. So a mindset change was needed and, as I spent time with Scott in the rhythm of Lectio Divina and spiritual accompaniment with Catherine, I was able to move from all those things in my head that I could be doing to concentrate on what should be done - or better put - as Jesus described to Martha, 'Mary has chosen the best part' as she sat at Jesus' feet.
It's not that I overfill my diary to the point of exhaustion, my boundaries are getting better in that respect; rather that there's not enough balance between 'the doing and the being'. I simply can't serve you or the community or God from an empty tank. If I am to convey more of Him to others then I need to allow more of Him into my schedule. It can't be piecemeal but needs to be about the quality of time. And of course, Jesus speaks truth into this in the gospels: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
And yes, this is for me, and it's for you and, it's also for the church. Why? Because emerging from the last 18 months and the enforced stopping of many activities means that we need to take stock about balance, learning to be programme lite but people and prayer focussed. Spending time asking God where and who He leads us to is good but/and we are better equipped for mission when we spend time at the Well of His filling, not downing frantic glugs like a marathon runner grabbing at a bottle from a water station but a proper sitting down in His presence, waiting on Him, hearing His Voice... Spirit filled. 

And to the oft-quoted 'I'm too busy to carve out time', believe me, I've had to learn the hard way. Busy lives do not always equal better or more productive, if anything, from my experience it's more detrimental. Elsewhere I've written about making space at the edges of our fields rather than trying to harvest to the max. The result is that growth occurs in the 'set aside' when we allow God space to cultivate.To get balance in our lives as followers of Jesus requires a culture change which, I'm not for one minute saying is easy...but it is good and it is right and it is essential.

Thursday 16th September 2021

'She's going to bottle it' I said. Mrs F stared at me across the sofa 'take your negative pants somewhere else...I believe in her'. Raducanu served. An Ace. She'd won the US Open. 'Never in doubt' I said. Mrs F stared at me once again, shook her head and said nothing. It was a phenomenal achievement. First qualifier ever to win a slam and she did not drop a set in ten matches. She's 18 years old. The plaudits will keep coming for this incredible sporting feat and the future is indeed bright. Andy Murray said of her: 'What she did in New York was very special, a huge boost for British tennis and gives hopefully the governing bodies an opportunity to capitalise on that and get more and more kids involved in the sport. It's great what she did and a huge opportunity for British tennis now.' Only 18 and already her legacy is being spoken of.
The match was played on September 11th and was a juxtaposition to the sombre mood of reflection of New Yorkers and millions around the world on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Rob Halligan, the singer/musician/songwriter who we have hosted in Alnwick many times, was one of those poignantly remembering; his own dad had been in the World Trade Center on that day and lost his life. Rob blogged about it and reflected on his journey: 'The day after 9/11 I decided that music was the one thing I had that I could use to make a difference in this horrific story and to make sure Dad’s death wasn’t going to be wasted. It was a journey to get there. Faith was an issue. The “Father Forgive” written at the front of Coventry Cathedral screamed at me, how on earth was I going to do that? It’s easy to bang on about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, but when the rubber hits the road, what do I really think and believe?......I chose to believe, yes. God is love – Love Is Bigger....And that’s how it started. Love is bigger than this mess of a world we live in. We hear about that mess all the time and so seldom celebrate the triumphs over that mess. And so, using music to make a difference became my thing. Singing the stories of people who don’t have a voice, raising awareness and money for the plight of some of the most vulnerable kids in the world. So this is the Legacy I want to celebrate. While the news talks about the horrors of the day and the destruction that followed, I’ll scream about hope until I don’t have a voice left. I’ll try and shed a little light while there’s still light to shed and I'll keep on singing. I’ll celebrate the 1000’s of kids in Bangladesh, Lebanon, Syria and Ethiopia that I’ve met. I’ll champion the little girl in Bangladesh we sent off at the 11th hour for life saving surgery and is now a young adult studying medicine. I’ll celebrate the love of a family who invited me into their shack on the Syrian border to thank us for giving them some hope, the kids who go to the school we built in Ethiopia who are helping their families climb out of poverty'. This is Rob's hoped for legacy and he's already seeing it coming to fruition in his lifetime.
Two vastly different stories on the same day conjuring up a huge range of emotions. Both speak to legacy.
I wonder if we think of legacy enough? Some are huge. The actions of Rosa Parks in refusing to give up her seat for a white man in 1955 turned the tide in apartheid immediately comes to mind. And what of our own legacy? We all have a sphere of influence, all of us. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with that, I passionately believe that we do. We carry the baton for our leg of the race. What we hand on is directly proportionate to how we've run, acted, spoken. What will we leave behind that speaks to the goodness of God in our lives that we want others to see? For all his failings, the Bible records of David that 'he served the purposes of God in his generation' and that 'he was a man after God's own heart'. Whatever time and place you read this, I pray that God will open your eyes to your sphere of influence and with open hands, ask Him to help you leave a legacy of grace, compassion, justice and love with those you encounter today. Who knows, your actions and words today could change the direction in someone's life for good and a journey towards Jesus.