Presbyterians in Education

In view of the widespread debates and changes in education, one of my goals for my moderatorial year has been to bring some encouragement to Presbyterians who are involved in that important area of our common life. I have not been able to do that as fully as I originally intended, but with the help of the clerks of presbyteries, we managed to arrange three evenings for educators in Banbridge, Orangefield, and Ballyclare. I believe that these evenings were helpful and encouraging for teachers, governors and support staff, and I want to thank everyone who made them possible, especially those who provided the tasty suppers!

I am grateful to the choirs of Banbridge Academy, Grosvenor High School, and Ballyclare Secondary School for their inspiring contributions to those evenings. The quality of the performances was simply excellent. As well as the choirs, I was supported in these events by two other speakers who are well-qualified in the area of education. Continue reading “Presbyterians in Education”

Wycliffe Bible Translators

wycliffe-homestafford-carson-27apr10-001-13My visit to the Belfast offices of the Wycliffe Bible Translators revealed that there are many people, from many nations, who are fully committed to the task of translating the Bible into the mother tongue of millions of people in our world.  Their strap line is “The Bible: the Story everybody needs”, and they are enthusiastic about bringing that story to everyone.

stafford-carson-27apr10-001-10There are around 6,900 languages in use in the world today. Of these, almost 2,500 have part or all of the Bible available to them. But that still leaves a massive number of people waiting to hear God’s Word in their own language. Translation still needs to begin in over 2,200 languages, and those languages represent more than 300 million people. And Wycliffe have set themselves the audacious goal of preparing a Bible translation in every language that needs it by 2025. Continue reading “Wycliffe Bible Translators”

Phew! Ulster won!

ulster-players-celebrate-their-crucial-win-in-edinburghThere will be a collective sigh of relief among Ulster rugby supporters that their side won against Edinburgh.  And with a bonus point, they appear to have secured a place in the Heineken Cup competition for next season. That should encourage those supporters who had hesitated on renewing their season ticket membership to take the necessary action before the end of the month.

The past few weeks have been a depressing time for the Ulster rugby team and their supporters as their season appeared to have gone into free fall with no indication that they would ever start winning again. But with this win, and the prospect of being included in all the major competitions next season, plus the arrival of some new players, we can look forward to better days.

Spare a thought for our local Portadown rugby team who lost out to City of Derry on Saturday and have been relegated. There was a big crowd at Chambers Park, just across the road from the manse, and they enjoyed a spirited contest in warm spring sunshine. But it all ended unhappily for the home side.

Sport can be so enjoyable, but I need to remind myself that it is not the ultimate source of fulfilment or happiness in my life. Everyone connected with sport as player or supporter recognises that it can be desperately disappointing at times. But in spite of the disappointments, we always remain hopeful. There’s always next season.

Philadelphia Weekend

10b11134621We have spent a few busy days visiting friends and fulfilling engagements in and around Philadelphia. With the volcanic ash cloud bringing all trans-atlantic air travel to a halt, we had hoped that our trip might have been lengthened a bit. But the aviation authorities decided to get things back to normal before we could extend our stay, and we got home on schedule.

It was a privilege to preach at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia on Sunday morning and to spend some time with my friend, Dr Phil Ryken, who is soon to become the President of Wheaton College, one of the premier Christian colleges in the US. Phil is a good scholar, a fine preacher, and a man of great integrity. He is well-qualified to take on the leadership responsibilities at Wheaton College. We wish him well as he and his family move to Wheaton to take up his new post on July 1st.

It was great to see the church so well-filled for the 9am service and full to capacity for the 11am service. The music was as excellent as ever, under the direction of the superbly-gifted Dr Paul Jones. For any Presbyterian visiting Philadelphia on a Sunday, attendance at Tenth is a must.

On Monday I was the guest of my former colleagues at Westminster Theological Seminary, and it was wonderful to be with them again. Westminster Seminary continues to attract students from all around the world and offers a superb theological education.

Dr Tim Witmer
Dr Tim Witmer

Its main task is to prepare pastors for ministry in reformed and presbyterian churches, and my former colleague and good friend in the Practical Theology department, Dr Tim Witmer, has recently published an outstanding book on pastoral care, entitled The Shepherd Leader. I know that many ministers will benefit from the biblical and practical counsel which this volume contains. Already it is proving a popular book among north American pastors.

Dr Vern Poythress
Dr Vern Poythress

Another excellent volume coming from the Westminster faculty is Dr Vern Poythress’s Redeeming Science. Dr Poythress has doctoral degrees in both mathematics and theology, and he applies his creative mind to key questions in the area of science and theology. I may have more to say on this book once I have finished reading it.

Dr Poythress is also one of the key members of the team of scholars responsible for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and we had a good conversation together about the way in which that translation is being received by Christians worldwide. Vern is the author of the article “A Survey of the History of Salvation” which is in the preface of the ESV Study Bible and which gives a wonderful summary of one of the great unifying threads of the Bible.

All in all, it was a stimulating week-end, not least because of the travel chaos. But I came home with a few new books in my bag, which will keep me going for the next couple of weeks.

On the Other Side of the Cloud

Patricia and I flew to the US on Wednesday just before the cloud of volcanic ash erupted and stopped all flights across the north Atlantic. So here we are in Philadelphia, on the other side of the cloud, with many trans-Atlantic air travellers unable to get to where they want to be. We are quite content to enjoy the beautiful spring weather in Pennsylvania, and we will see how things develop by the time we are due to return next week. Maybe we will have to stay longer? For others, to be on the wrong side of the cloud will be very disruptive.

I had lunch yesterday with Dr Paul Wells, who teaches at the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence in France, and he left us to get an Air France flight to Toronto and then to Paris. The Paris flight out of Toronto was cancelled, but I believe Paul made it safely across the Atlantic on an Air India flight to Barcelona.

The last time trans-Atlantic air travel was so disrupted was immediately following the 9/11 attacks. On that occasion, Patricia and our eldest daughter had just crossed the Atlantic on the evening of the 10th September and I was in Philadelphia with our younger daughter. But all flights were restored within a week and Patricia and I were reunited on schedule.

This disruption seems strangely apocalyptic. One (relatively small) volcanic event has a massive impact on human activity and travel. It is another reminder that in spite of our successes and achievements in many areas of life, we are still quite powerless in face of the natural phenomena in the earth. I think the biblical writers made that point many centuries ago.