When will the waiting end?

The last few weeks have been an interminable waiting. After our planning application was approved, the next step was for a legal agreement called a section 106 agreement to be drawn up by the lawyers. Only after this is complete is the consent issued and even then there is a further six week wait for any possible review. 

Last week, Colin and I signed our side of the section 106 agreement; another small step in the right direction. We still need to wait for another month and a half before everything is finalised and our builders start the conversion works. I confess I am not great at waiting. Delayed gratification, so often cited as the benchmark sign of maturity, is always a struggle. 

Yet the narrative of the Bible suggests that waiting is good for us. So often God's people are called to wait: wait for the promised land, wait for the temple, wait for Jesus as he prayed, and ultimately wait for the Lord. And we understand that the waiting is often as important as the destination, as a means of refining us. 

All good and right in theory, but I still hate it. Right now I am in an airport waiting for a flight. When will all this waiting end?

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A new thing, a new season

Life has been very full. There was the planning committee’s decision, then Jane and I heard that we are to become grandparents, and then just a couple of weeks later we were celebrating Easter. It feels like new life has been bursting out in all directions. All of a sudden I found myself being very orientated towards the future. For the last few years we have been living day to day, not being able to see far ahead and wondering what unexpected turn might happen next. But now a new vista has opened up in which we can start to think about the next few years of life at St Bs might look like. Plans have to be sorted out; plans for moving the church and for us personally: plans for welcoming a new baby. 

On the Saturday of the Easter weekend St Bs held an open-air celebration up on the High Road at Tally Ho. While there, we set up a table to present and explain our plans to move to Solar House to the community. A steady stream of people came enquiring about the project. Generally people were very interested in what we are doing and the majority were supportive. So we are now looking forward to getting going with the bricks and mortar and sweat and tears of the project.  There are of course still various legal processes to be concluded before our planning consent is sealed. However, at a time when so much in the world is becoming more uncertain, St Bs is bucking the trend. As the Lord said in Isaiah 43:19 - “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” The impenetrable mist, that for so long has veiled our future, is gradually lifting, and something new, fresh, vibrant and exciting beckons.

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The Planning Decision

The foyer of Hendon Town Hall was packed with members of St Barnabas in the minutes before the Planning Committee. There was almost a party atmosphere with people greeting each other with hugs and smiles. A couple of other groups, there to support or oppose the various applications due to be heard, hung around the fringes of the room, while the happy throng of St Bs chatted and laughed as if on a church outing. Nervously I prayed that the committee would not spoil the party.

When we went up to the committee room the atmosphere changed to that of a highly charged debating chamber. As it happened, whilst we were due to be heard first, the committee chose to start with an application for a new primary school. The school deliberation was rowdy and acrimonious; how different from the cheerful assembly just moments before. But eventually, after the decision was pronounced, the supporters and objectors left the chamber jeering or cheering - I couldn’t tell which.

Then it was our turn, and we were in for another impassioned wrangle. Eventually, after all of us who were called to speak had had our say and answered questions the best we could, the vote was called. Time slowed as the room went quiet. “Those in favour: six, against: four”. Approved! We had done it! The Lord had done it! A close call, but a clear decision: the project goes ahead. Waves of relief and joy flooded over me, as clapping and cheering greeted the announcement. 

Last night’s planning committee was an emotional, tension-filled episode in a long arduous journey. And that journey continues, no doubt with many ups and downs still ahead of us. We have the uphill task of winning the hearts of the many local people who opposed this decision, people who we want to reach out to and love, and no doubt it will take time for the neighbourhood to fully get behind what we are trying to do. But for now let’s cherish this moment. The words of Psalm 126 come to mind:  

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

If you want to see the moment go to https://youtu.be/VXr3p3Ei2BE




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What's important in life and death?

Last week Jane and I went to see a solicitor to redo our wills. Some of the questions that the young solicitor posed caught me ill-prepared. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Don’t you think you should sort things out so there isn’t a dispute after you’ve died? Somehow I naively hadn’t made the connection between a will and death.

But it made me think about what is really important in life. What are the things that, when I approach my own demise, I will be able to look back on and reflect that was really good and worthwhile, and conversely what things really don’t matter. I was chatting to a young professional and he was telling me about the super-charged atmosphere of the ultra-competitive professional world. One of his colleagues came to him and confided that she had decided not to get married or have children because her career required her full attention. Another is separating from her husband because he doesn’t “get” her career. And this attitude is by no means confined to women, being perhaps even more prevalent amongst ambitious young men. I find such attitudes alarming; no one ever lies on their death-bed and says: “I wish I had spent more time in the office”.

All this morbidity leads me to contemplate which side of the “worthwhile divide” does Go and Grow fall. Is it one of those things that when we finally go to meet our maker won’t figure as of any appreciable merit. Or is it something that, when we reflect on life, will stand out as being of genuine value. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. Church building projects are human constructs, of little eternal consequence. However what Go and Grow represents is the church breaking out of traditional introspection into a new missional opportunity in the heart of the community. This is something that has the potential to impact the lives of countless people and even perhaps affect community transformation. Now that would be something of lasting value.

Do join us if you can this Wednesday, 29 March: we will be meeting to pray for the project twice during the day: 7.30-8.30am and 1-2pm. And the planning committee meeting starts at 6.30pm at Hendon Town Hall NW4 4BG (it is a public meeting where anyone is permitted to come and watch the proceedings - please arrive by 6.15pm as space is limited).




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A pivotal moment

According to news reports Prime Minister Theresa May is due to trigger article 50, the formal mechanism for starting negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union, on Wednesday 29 March. On the same day Barnet Council Central Planning Committee will trigger something even closer to home for us at St Barnabas: our planning application. The Brexit direction is already set and the triggering of article 50 is simply an inevitable milestone on the journey. However the Barnet planning pronouncement will be both the decision and the triggering of the next stage for us.

All of us will remember pivotal moments of history: the day John Lennon was shot, 9/11, London being awarded the Olympics, Donald Trump’s election. For some of these events you can probably even remember where you were when you heard the news. It is rare that we get advance notice of a momentous happening, as usually such things catch us unprepared and surprised by circumstances shifting in a direction that we didn’t expect. But we already know that on Wednesday 29 March, irrespective of which way the decision goes, something will happen that will profoundly affect the life of the church for the foreseeable future. Just as the outworking of Brexit will change the course of our country, so will the ramifications of our planning decision determine the future of our church.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was preparing himself in prayer for the greatest ordeal of his life. His disciples spent most of his hour of anguish asleep. Finally the moment came. Jesus returned one final time to his disciples: ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come.’

In just over a week’s time, on Wednesday 29 March, the hour will have come.


We are encouraging as many as possible to attend the planning committee on Wednesday 29 March (it is a public meeting where anyone is permitted to come and watch the proceedings) to support our planning application. The meeting starts at 6.30pm at Hendon Town Hall NW4 4BG. Please arrive by 6.15pm as space is limited.


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Living up to our name

Our patron saint St Barnabas was one of those who  arrived on the scene early on in the Acts of the Apostles. His real name was Joseph the Levite, but he was given the nickname “Barnabas”. Barnabas means “son of encouragement” and he certainly lived up to his nickname. Throughout all the accounts of Barnabas in the New Testament we can see that he was constantly looking for ways of raising up young leaders, the most famous of which was the apostle Paul. He was very selfless always seeking to promote others before himself.

Barnabas is an inspirational figure for me and fantastic patron saint to have. Following in his footsteps, one of the things we have sought to do at St Bs is to be encouraging. But in the last couple of weeks we’ve had the tables turned on us, because numbers of our friends have been writing in to Barnet Council to support our Go and Grow planning application to convert and extend Solar House. I have had the privilege of seeing some of these letters. So I find myself in the place of recipient of incredible encouragement. People have written very kind words about our church; so much so that I read these reports and it makes me want to press on to live up to the confidence that has been placed in us. One of these letters described us as “a servant church seeking to resource community work and outreach”. Surely Barnabas himself would want to be associated with such a church.



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If you want a happy life ...

Last Friday Jane and I went for a walk in the Chilterns with our dog Flo. It was a glorious sunny day and after walking for a couple of miles we were getting a bit thirsty. At that point we happened to stumble unexpectedly on a delightful country pub. As I sat on the bench outside the front of the pub with a pint of beer in the sunshine, I thought to myself: heaven must be like this. I was sitting there for some while with a broad smile on my face, helpless to form any other expression; overcome with happiness.  And then I noticed that all the people who walked past me smiled back at me. Even the car drivers, as they passed, turned and looked at me and smiled. Happiness it seems is deeply infectious.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). I am so glad that it is not against the law to be happy! Of course revelling in life’s simple pleasures (like a country walk and a pint of beer in the sunshine) is a passing enchantment. But being caught up in the purposes of God – that is a real, immutable, transcendent joy. If you want a happy life, nothing comes close to serving God. When I think of all the setbacks, and challenges, and terrifying amounts of money, and difficulties of the Go and Grow project, I consider it pure joy (cf. James 1:2). Well… at least some of the time.


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Purpose for our lives

Today at St Bs we launched the “Great Big Fundraising Challenge” for the Go and Grow project. This is to fund Phase 2, Phase 1 having already been fully funded. Phase 2 is the building of our new auditorium. This is the place where we as a church will meet to worship God, to hear the word of God preached, and to pray for each other. It will be in this place that many people will come to faith in Christ for the first time. Many others will be healed, or encounter God in fresh and amazing ways. The new auditorium is quite simply the most important part of the entire building, where we will do the most important activities of our lives - what God created us for.

During the last week I’ve been away with my son, and we stayed in an Airbnb, in the spare room in a house of young professionals. It was fascinating, for a couple of days, to have a ring-side seat into other people’s lives. My thirty-something hosts were absolutely delightful and couldn’t do enough for us, their guests. But I was struck by the way they seemed to me to be drifting through life. Yes they had friendships and fun and jobs to go to and socialising in the evenings and weekends. But it was all rather directionless and without any great purpose. I guess the vast majority of people live life like that, rarely stopping to ask: “is there anything more?”

The answer is an emphatic YES! There is purpose for our lives. God made us for relationship with Him. Worship is the highest calling of our lives, and is what we will be doing for eternity. It can also be an experience of immeasurable joy, where we discover utter fulfilment. It is what we were created for. Go and Grow Phase 2 has the highest purpose we could possibly envisage.

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Good things come to those who wait

Over the last few weeks I have experienced a couple of things that are the very opposites of each other in almost every way. The first was the week of prayer and fasting, where I and many others at St Bs voluntarily deprived ourselves of food, drink, and other treats in order to seek God. The second was going to a Burns Night party. It is slightly baffling why the idea of Burns Night should have caught the public imagination, but it has. 

Many of us now go to parties around this time of year to celebrate this famous Scottish poet. But this is not because we love his poetry, which most of us find virtually incomprehensible. Nor is it because we want to celebrate the life of a wonderful man, because by all accounts Rabbie Burns was a womanising philanderer and probably not a very nice guy. But as my host at the party I attended said to the gathered throng, there is something about Rabbie Burns that captures the essence of Scotland. I would reflect further: the idea of zest for life and unabashed indulgence, that Burns epitomises, catches the spirit of the age. The Bible puts it: “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. And this attitude undoubtedly makes for a fantastic party.

Fasting is the opposite. It is not fun. Almost everything about it makes me miserable. I even find it very difficult to pray, with my pleadings drowned out by the rumbling of my stomach. However the end results are quite different. Time and again I have found that fasting shifts something in the spiritual atmosphere, both for me personally and for the church. Where an average Burns night party leaves behind a raging headache, horrific mess and the post-party blues, fasting, so difficult at the time, reaps a harvest of joy, encouragement and a renewed sense of the presence of God.

The idea of delayed gratification is usually associated with maturity. Children find it almost impossible to resist eating the sweet immediately, but as we grow older, as the Guinness advert so poignantly expressed: we discover that good things come to those who wait. On this point, fasting wins out over Burns Night every time.

With the interminable delays on the Go and Grow project, it seems that God is intent on growing our maturity. We continue to pray that good things come to those who wait.

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How long?

Today we started the week of prayer and fasting. I confess this is not something I look forward to; the process is grim, even if the end goal is wonderful. Feeling cold and hungry is not my idea of fun. And then there are the inevitable instances when I feel a bit down and want to cheer myself up with a chocolate biscuit and cup of tea. But for a week, all these psychological props are removed and instead we devote ourselves to seeking God afresh. 

But the week has come at a very apposite time from the point of view of the Go and Grow project.  We have just heard that, because of delay in the transport report at Barnet, our planning application won’t be heard at the January committee and now we must wait until 22 February before our case is finally determined. That’s not a long wait, but it is another frustrating delay. During the week we also heard news of certain issues around the sale of the North Wing. Whilst we hope these can be resolved, they are another setback. All of this leads me to cry out in quiet desperation “how long?”. 

Desperation, however, can be a very positive response if channelled in the right direction. I felt the Lord say to me: “Henry when will you become desperate enough to hand everything over to me?” Many of the most notable miracles recorded in the gospels involved desperate people: the four friends of the cripple were desperate enough to smash up the roof of a house (Luke 5:19), the woman with haemorrhage was desperate enough to push through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe (Matthew 9:20), blind Bartimaeus was desperate enough to shout above the crowd despite being hushed up by those around him (Mark 10:47,48), and so on. Perhaps this week of prayer and fasting is time to rediscover the extent of our need for the Lord and then to cry out to Him from those depths, rather than reaching for the chocolate.


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