Monday, September 15, 2008


A few folks weathered through the storm in Clear Lake and told us all was OK at our house. We called our answering machine and it picked up. We knew we had power at home, so we packed up from Conroe and headed south. We traveled across to Porter, Texas and took 59 south. All the feeder roads south of Humble were filled with water and the daily catch of cars that did not make it. We made it to 610, went east to the Gulf Freeway, then south to El Dorado and it was clear sailing to home.

It was eerie driving in. It was similar to driving home after the Rita evacuation, except this time there was damage. Billboards were snapped in half, the streets were vacant and wet, lights were down and dangling, trees down and branches littering every street, leaves plastered on surfaces and some looked as if they had been shredded and spewed out with a blower.

Driving in our neighborhood was like an obstacle course to avoid downed limbs. We drove up to our house and were relieved to see there was minimal damage – several shingles off, branches broken and debris everywhere. (My imagination had given me another scenario.) The first impression as we got out of the car was the overwhelming smell of pine. It was like walking in a lumber mill. The visual was like a landscaping company exploded in the street, but surveying our street; there appears to be no substantial damage.

We walked in the house and the AC was working, the television reception was good and the Internet was available. Who would have thought? Looking in the back yard, our chinaberry tree leans looming closer to the house and part of the fence is in the neighbor’s yard. We are hosting refugees, offering freezer space for orphaned frozen goods, and beginning to clean up – thankfully beginning to clean up as it could have been a different outcome.

Tonight, we will meet with a disaster relief group. UBC still has no power, but there is hope we will be a staging area for the months ahead.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Next Phase

The sabbatical this summer has been organized around the exploration of the missional church. I was at CBF’s General Assembly earlier in the summer to network with other US churches on the missional journey. (I have discovered that the term “missional” has no concrete meaning.) Then it was to study the founding of the Modern Mission Movement through the letters of William Carey and Andrew Fuller at the Angus Library. And now, the next phase, is to visit with UK missional leaders. The venue is the Greenbelt Festival.

Part of the global discussion (or at least in the US and the UK) has been centered on the engagement of young adults in the Christian journey. There are incredible facilities in the UK, but you open the doors and wonder where are the people? The old nursery song has a different ending these days. This has caused the Church of England to invest in new forms and fresh expressions. Most of these leaders refer to their work as building a missional community.

Last night I was invited to a gathering called Feig. Feig is a missional community out of Gloucester Cathedral led by Michael Volland and his wife Rachel. Michael is finishing his vicar training at Gloucester Cathedral and hosted the gathering. It was good to see some of my UK friends and make new acquaintances.

The evening was very “organic”. Dinner was in the Lady Chapel with only candles to illuminate the room – very medieval and appropriate since this section of the cathedral was built in the 13th Century. Afterwards, the group moved to the nave to walk the labyrinth as a prayer for preparation for Greenbelt. The church building is very beautiful and incredible. I don’t know many churches in the states that have a master mason on their staff, but one is needed for this church. (But then again, I noticed their coffee shop did not have chicken fried steak on the menu. Such is our heritage.)

I left with a couple of impressions. One was that the Cathedral of such influence has recognized the need for “fresh forms” to allow Michael to lead this new work is remarkable. As mentioned above, this is an incredible facility (and was used in one of the Harry Potter movies) and using the venue, there are many possibilities for utilizing the forms of the past to reach the population of the present. I admit, I was a bit envious of the atmosphere created for the dinner and then the expanse of the nave with a solitary light on the west window and candles around the labyrinth.

The other impression I had was that this type of work has moved beyond demographics to psychographics. There were many people younger than me in the room and that has been a common experience for the last decade of this journey. But, last night I noticed there were many people my age and older in the room and some had been commissioned by the Anglican Church to begin new forms work. I sought out these folks to hear their stories. I heard a different verse, but the same chorus of those who had felt far from “the church”. I think this is something new to consider. Rather than thinking demographic, there is something broader to consider.

The other impression came from being lost trying to get to the cathedral last night. (I am nothing but consistent with my driving.) Again, as I have seen in every city in Europe, there were many women wearing chadris walking the streets of Gloucester from the markets. Again, I cannot help but believe the discussion is moving broader and deeper.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Road at Oxford

Worship Sunday morning found me at New Road Baptist Church. It is where the Baptist assembled on the new road at Oxford. The “new” road was built in the 18th century, the first new road since the 13th century. (And it remains the newest road in the city center!) The newer roads today are on the ring road well beyond the city center.

There is evidence of Baptist in Oxford from 1653. Baptists met in houses until 1715. Baptisms took place in the river near the Hythe Bridge. One report of a baptism tells that hundreds of people gathered and would “shout and make it ridiculous.” (Dissenters were not understood!) Baptist would seek other places to gather until the 1798 when the current building was built.

The building looks the same as it was in 1798, except the graveyard has been relocated and the church has just finished an agreement with the city for “Bonn Square”. The church has allowed the city to create a park on their property. This is a very clever move as it opens up visibility and accessibility for the church to the community. The church is even considering a name change to Bonn Square Baptist Church, although the sign says New Road Baptist Church at Bonn Square.

Baptisms are no longer in the river with people mocking. In the corner of the church building is a baptistery. The local church is about 100 people, although their church planting work reaches more than 1000 people through other Sunday schools and churches started by New Road.

The service was similar to many in the US; Call to Worship, a contemporary metaphor for the biblical text, singing of Hymns (and one chorus), prayers, readings from the New Testament and another from the Old Testament, a very fine sermon from the former Principal of Regents Park, passing the plate (offering), passing the peace and the Lord’s Supper and a blessing. Following the Blessing, the congregation sat as the organ played a final piece for reflection after which the congregation departed. It was rather nice to have a moment before leaving the sanctuary to head back into the city.

I spoke with some of the church members about the “changes” in their church. They seem very agreeable with the arrangement with the city and are excited about the opportunity for renewed out reach to the community with what the new park venue will allow.

There was other discussion about having to create a new church constitution. They have had their confession since 1780, but because of changes in the government’s Charity Commission, the church must change their constitution to reflect the Commission’s template. It was interesting to read through their confession as it affirms both infant and believer’s baptism. I’m sure as they sought unity in centuries before, they will find it in this era as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Driving on the “other side” of the road has been interesting. The only terrifying moments are when I make turns. Inevitably, I head for the US lane rather than the UK lane. It has made for some interesting moments and so far, no tragedies. I find it easier to drive when I follow another car. Highway driving is pretty easy - unless you miss your exit. Once on a highway you are on the highway. In my experience the UK highways are not organized with get-off and get-on places next to each other as in the states. If you make a wrong exit, you get to enjoy the countryside for a while.

Driving in the UK is not as much a problem as is parking in the UK. There is a new program at Oxford that prohibits cars being parked in the city center. The longest you can park a car without a long-term permit is 2 hours. On the orbital or ring road (or what we would call a loop around the city) are parking lots. You park your car on the outer realms of the city and take a bus from the outer realms of Oxford to the city center and then a bus back out of the city center to the car. (The locals tell me the pollution is better since the institution of the “no car in the city center” policy.)

Another aspect of the European road is the roundabout. Roundabouts are terrifying when first encountering them. There are no lanes and once you have entered one, you have to watch for your exit or just keep going around again (and again) until you determine your exit. It is like going into a centrifuge and then being slung out to somewhere where you hope to go. Upon reflection, they really are a good idea, once you get accustomed to them.

I will add an addendum to roundabouts. The ones in Paris are quite interesting. While driving there I had to think a different mathematics of driving. In the US, we think in quadrangles while driving, though, in Paris thinking fractals and Tinker Toys made the experience more manageable.

The Arc de Triomphe roundabout was the most interesting encounter. The family marched up the Champs Ellysees to see the grand arc and watched 11 spokes flood into one hub. Some in our party were already saturated with French history and not too interested, until the fun began.

The best encounter involved a female bicycle rider. From out of nowhere, she flew into the roundabout with the rest of the traffic. There were motorcycles and cars and big buses and this one little bicycle. She did not hesitate, but with great gusto pedaled into the jumble of vehicles.

Her pedaling speed increased as she entered the roundabout. (She had done this before and knew how to navigate through the vehicular maze.) Armstrongian speed and endurance were her allies in this urban rite. She could have given the bicycling wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz a run for Toto and won.

Things were going fine. Well fine, until the big bus (see picture) began to bisect the roundabout. As the bus began to cut a path through the traffic, cars were slamming on brakes and the motorcycles were being cut off and everyone was giving way to the large motor predator. However, the bus came a little too close for comfort as it cut through the roundabout almost clipping the basket on the front of the bicycle. The audience on the sidewalk gasped in unison.

Then the most amazing thing happened. The woman bicyclist produced some French hand gestures (one handed, mind you), pedaled faster in front of the bus, cut it off and then continued on her way past the arc. It was astounding to watch her take out the T-Rex of the roundabout pedaling her bike in her pink tennis shoes. Cheers rang out from the onlookers, who had expected another outcome. Needless to say, I have a new respect for French women and chaos theory.

This one encountered enamored our party to “arc watch” for a good while. It was one of the best shows of the afternoon, but “Joan of Arc” was the best performance of the day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Do You Measure?

In the not so olden days, we used to measure some pretty easy things. Primarily, that would include just “number” things; budget numbers, people in a worship service, people in Bible Studies and well, you get the picture. It was what some folks called nickels and noses.

But then we started asking some questions about how the investment of time and money into UBC was making change in the community and the world. This question began to ask if what we counted really helped us approach our mission in the world. We still struggle with metrics (what to measure) and I think it is good to wrestle with these things. As a matter of fact, that was part of the conversation around the staff table as I was leaving for sabbatical.

One of the first things I did while on sabbatical was to attend a couple of conferences. The invitation to one of the conferences this summer came through another conference I was invited to attend last year. Last year’s conference was with the White House’s Faith Based Initiatives office. That conference was in Austin last year and I went. I did not know a soul in the room. It was a large convention center filled with people, so maybe the people I knew were across the room, but I doubt it.

The conference a couple of weeks ago was with the One Star Foundation, the Texas equivalent of the White House conference. Again, I walked in the room and did not recognize anyone. The conference started with the usual icebreaker around the table where you introduce yourself to the others at your table and then a person from the table introduces your table to the rest of the room.

As we got going, there were people from various state organizations at my table. One person was with the Texas Department of Youth Corrections and when I introduced myself, she turned to me and said, “I love your church.”

She had never been to UBC before, I had never seen her before, but she loved our church because of what we had been doing in the community. She worked for the boys home in Crockett, Texas, and she had heard from one of her colleagues who was bragging about what UBC was doing at the Youth Village on Clear Lake mentoring the students in that correctional unit.

As we talked, I was amazed. I had no clue about this woman and she had no clue about me, but she loved UBC because we cared beyond our campus. She then began to ask me if UBC would want to expand the ministry to her area. I told her I did not know at the moment and it would be a couple of months before I could get back with her, but I did know a former UBC family living in her area that might be interested in helping their church get involved. (I don’t know the outcome of that conversation, but the former UBC family expressed interest.)

After that exchange, it was on to introductions around the room. (FYI, this was like a karaoke gone bad. Some people took to the mic for WAY too long and the facilitator realized it was out of control!) I was elected to introduce our table, so I got up and introduced the people at our table and myself. After that exercise, it was break time.

At the beginning of the break, another woman that I did not know came up to me and expressed how happy she was that UBC had become involved at Whitcomb Elementary. She worked for one of the after school agencies at Whitcomb and went on and on about how much good UBC has done for the school.

I was pretty amazed. Here I was, again, in a room of people (although much smaller than the Austin meeting) that I did not know and out of the blue two strangers came to talk to me about UBC’s presence in the community. After that conversation, I headed out to the snack table like a good Baptist.

Upon returning to the conference room with snacky breath, another lady I did not know came up to speak to me. She was from an agency in Houston’s Third Ward and she expressed her pleasure of UBC. As I got her information, her agency works with the children from the Third Ward that UBC has hosted in Vacation Bible School for the last two years. She spoke of how it was a good experience for her children and she expressed her gladness that UBC opened the doors to the children as there had been other churches that “passed” on the opportunity.

Three conversations in one morning out of a room full of people I did not know. Back to the question of what to measure. I don’t know exactly what to measure, but I think these conversations are worth weighing. Most of our staff can attend religious meetings and UBC is a known entity, be it a Baptist or a non-Baptist meeting. However, to attend a non-religious meeting and have people come up and say “thank you” is something worth paying attention to, IMHO. As I think about it, I cannot recall thank you statements at the religious meetings, so maybe there is something else to pay attention to.

Thank you UBC for caring for the community. The light is being shown.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Home" for the Next Couple of Weeks

Shelley and Skyler departed from Paris a couple of weeks ago so Skyler could be ready for band, which started a month before school starts. (Go figure.) That left Weston and me to journey around getting some projects underway. It involved driving over 3000 km (almost 2000 miles) in northern Europe and several hundred miles in the UK.

Tonight, I unpacked my whole suitcase for the first time. I’ll be at Regents Park College, the Baptist College at Oxford, for the next two weeks.

The accommodations are your garden-variety dorm room. My room is on the quadrangle across from the library and most of the students are gone. The only students left are DPhil graduate students and many have this month to finish dissertations or they will not graduate. Procrastination must run in research arenas.

The only change to the room from when I was here in the late 1980s is that the fireplace in the room has been filled in and an electric heater fills the hearth. The weather is turning cooler and in the evenings a jacket is needed. (Cannot wait to get back to Houston’s heat and humidity!)

My days will be filled with reading the letters and documents from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The evenings will be filled with searching leaky wifi connections so I can get online and get caught up on what the family has been doing. (The only downside to this arrangement is that my family is not with me.)

I was able to read through some of the letters last week. It was exciting to read the letters of William Carey and Andrew Fuller. For those not up on their Baptist History, these two men launched the Modern Mission Movement. William Carey was the first Baptist missionary and Andrew Fuller was the pastor in England who raised the support to sustain the mission movement.

They really had no idea what they were doing. The theology of the day was not conducive to a mission movement, but Fuller, Carey, along with Ryland and Sutcliff were four friends who began to see things from a different perspective.

The documents are a little dusty and difficult to read as they are handwritten, the ink is fading, the writing style is a bit different from contemporary English and some of the portions of the documents are missing due to age and having been in a tropical climate. Also, they are dusty and there is a concern in the back of my mind that an inadvertent sneeze would wipe out a hunk of history. Thus could be my legacy to scholarship.

Over the weekend, Weston helped me think through a strategy for reading. Last week we organized the letters in chronological order trying to see which letters were responses to previous letters. The letters were sent on ships from England to India via the East India Company and the exchange could take up to 6 months or more. Also, it is apparent some of the letters are missing, so as Weston suggested, I’ll request Carey’s journal, as it may be the most complete accounting of his missionary career. Hopefully, it can be pieced together.

So what am I looking for? Well, I’m not sure. That is the beauty of research, you hunt. But I hold a belief that the days in which we live are transformational days and just as models in other industries have changed, the models for the modern mission movement will experience a change as well. I think the founding concepts of a movement are important. The concerns that brought about the conversations are the important seeds that can hold insight for transitions. That is what I hope to listen for in these letters. What were the concerns? What were the insights? And can those insights help to launch a post-modern mission movement? This is where I my head will be for the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weston Heads Home

It is Sunday night and Weston and I are in a hotel near London’s Heathrow Airport. I don’t know how we got here. I had Internet instructions to the hotel from Oxford. However, Maidenhead was not in the instructions. Somehow we got lost. Imagine that. (I’ve been lost all over Europe this summer.) Fortunately, there were some helpful people with very good instructions. The hotel manager says we are only 15 minutes from Heathrow. I guess we will schedule about an hour to get there given my record.

Weston has helped me navigate around the UK and all over northern Europe. I will miss his ability to get me to destinations, but I will miss his company much more than his navigation. I have had a great time just being with him. We drove from Paris to Marseille to The Netherlands with some great adventures collected along the way. (Did I mention I was driving and I’ve been lost?)

He has endured my picture taking, sitting in on meetings with missionaries as we make plans for trips next summer, sitting at the Angus Library at Oxford University while I went about organizing reading and he has been very patient through it all. He has been patient about getting his license, too. He turned sixteen while we were in Paris and has been waiting almost two weeks. The waiting is over on Tuesday!

I have trouble believing he is sixteen years old. Tomorrow morning, he gets on a plane to Houston by himself. In a couple of years, he will take the license he gets this week and get in a car and drive off to college to some destination towards his future.

These past couple of weeks with him has been wonderful for me to check in with him. I realized during this time how much energy the disease took from my life. The time it took to feel better (and then doing dialysis) was not only time stolen from my life, but also stolen from my family. I can get a little angry if I linger on it, but these past weeks have been good for reinvesting in the important accounts of life.