Blog October 19th – Memories of Alpha – Part One


Alpha meal at Holy Rood,Stubbington

Harbour Church, Portsmouth  – Alpha


“Father Let Your Spirit Fall Upon Me” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album I Look Up To The Heavens – recorded and produced by John Hodginson

We are now three weeks into the Alpha course – the featured pics show how my church of Holy Rood, Stubbington is set up for Alpha and also how it is set up at Harbour Church, Portsmouth which I visited on Sunday.

All this reminds me of my first Alpha course many years ago- 20 in fact! I thought I would share again with you how it all happened taking extracts from early editions of this blog posted back in 2014

I was not so much worried about how I died, although I did quite fancy being a hero and rescuing someone from drowning or from a blazing inferno (as long as it did not hurt too much) No I was worried about what happened after I died.  Some friends asked why I worried as I would not know anything about it – it would be the same as it was before I had been born or it would be just like switching off a light bulb. However the thought of no existence- just switching off to nothing freaked me out.  When I was  about 15 years old  I broke my leg playing football – it  ached and ached for about two weeks afterwards and then someone visited me who had previously broken his leg but who told me it stopped hurting after a couple of days. So dear mum took me back to the hospital to have another x ray and the bone was found to be still apart – I think they forgot to set it. So I had to have a “Denham Compression Plate” fitted which was screwed into the whole length of my tibia. The operation took about six hours but after they put the needle in with the anesthetic and I counted to ten I woke up straight away – of course I did not it just seemed that way- my brain had been shut down for six hours- I had no knowledge of existence and that is what I thought being dead might be like and that scared me to death (sorry)

That experience had such an effect on me that I have never had a general anesthetic since- even opting for a local when I had a hernia op.

On the other hand there was of course the possibility that death is not the end, in which case what comes next?  Reincarnation did not work for me so what about going to heaven or heaven forbid (sorry again) hell?  I had studied RE for O Level and also for A Level (on the few occasions I attended 6th Form) I had also been a choir boy and had been confirmed into the Church of England so I knew  the basics of the Christian faith although I could never work out how Christ being crucified could “save me from my sins” However  I would always say that  I believed in God but now I was beginning to realise that I had to decide whether I really did as He seemed to  be the only one who could sort  out this death issue for me.

My dear friend Bob Milliken (the legend that is Mr Mill) had, I later found out, been praying for me for eight years, not non -stop of course, but nevertheless showing real perseverance.  He kept putting Christian literature in my pigeon hole at school -for example testimonies of famous sportspeople who were Christians.  I never really read them, although because of my respect for Mr Mill I never threw them away.

One day at the end of term Bob invited me to go to his church in Paulsgrove.  As it was a Christmas Service I thought I would go and sing a few Carols and that would appease him. So I went with my son Chris assuring him that we would only have to sing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” listen to a sermon on the Wise Men and then we could come home.

You can imagine my shock when the Pastor (it was a Baptist Church) started talking not about The Wise Men but about death- he got my undivided attention and it seemed like I was the only person in the church and  so the only one the Pastor was talking to.  At the end of the service Bob introduced me to the old gentleman who had been sitting to my left – his dad.  Bob went off to talk to someone and I chatted to his dad, obviously also called Mr Milliken.  Mr Milliken told me that he had been a Missionary in the Belgium Congo and that he and his wife had evangelised the natives by singing hymns to them around camp fires; his wife playing a squeeze box. I knew that his wife, Bob’s mum, had died about two years previously and I found myself asking “Oh is Mr Milliken replied, not with a “God willing” or “That’s a nice thought.”  He simply replied with one word and it was the one word that began to change my life – “Yes”

Next blog I will tell you how I responded to Mr Milliken’s “Yes”

Blog October 12th Mustard Seed Songs update


“I Sing This Song Of Love For You” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album ” I Look Up To The Heavens” recorded and produced by John Hodgkinson

So what is happening in the world of Mustard Seed Songs?

Well a number of things- the full stage production and film of Risen! The Musical is being itranlsated into a number of languages so that subtitles can be added to the film- so far we have finished translations into Mandarin and Romanian with Vietnamese, Spanish and Farsi on the way.

We are in the process of producing a brand new Gospel CD with the Portsmouth University Gospel Choir who sang with Seal in the final of BBC One’s “Pitch Battle” featuring Gareth Malone. More of that soon I hope.

We have started putting together a sequel to Risen! which has a working title of Acts- as you may guess it is based on the Acts of the Apostles. Todays featured pic/video clip shows Joffy Girling recording vocals from Alex Knox at my house. Alex is singing all the parts for these guide vocals which we trust will later become another full blown musical or at least a musical concert.

At present most of our energy is directed to a tour of Primary schools of our children’s version of Risen! I am speaking with Head teachers encouraging them to book (we need 15 schools) Caroline Wethefelt, who played Mary Mother of Jesus in the Risen! film, is gathering 5 actors from the London Touring Cast – I am looking at Airbnb for a month’s accommodation for them. Also hiring a suitable van – looking at how to build a stage set etc etc. All great fun – oh and also applying for a grant from the Arts Council – here is our basic request to them- the full application is somewhat longer!! –

A pilot tour of a children’s interactive production of Mustard Seed Songs’ (reg. charity no 1077618) widely acclaimed Risen! The Musical, together with workshops on dance, singing and acting. The tour to encompass 15 Primary schools on the south coast between February 26th and March 16th 2018 reaching an estimated 3000 children aged 7- 11 with the vision to extend this to a minimum 6000 in 2019 and 9000 in 2020.

I wrote the script which is based on the Easter story and features a professional cast of 5 from the London Touring Cast who performed in the Risen! The Musical stage production and film. The aim is to foster an appreciation of musical theatre in children and to raise the profile of Risen! The Musical.

Blog October 5th Bear Grylls- 3


“Father Help Me Acknowledge You” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album “I Look Up To The Heavens” recorded and produced by John Hodgkinson

Last week I began to share an article “Unleash a Greater Power” that Bear wrote in the magazine GQ. Here is the final part:

For many years I tried to do without it (faith that is) I tried to be strong only in myself but the truth is that I I’m not – I need a helping hand, a peace within and a quiet assurance for my future. I have finally found the courage to admit that my longing for this life within me is stronger than the fear of what others may think. I am no longer too proud to admit that I need my Saviour beside me.

Does that make my faith a crutch? Maybe but what does a crutch do? It helps you stand and makes you stronger. So yes when I face overwhelming odds I need a bit of that. And when I look at my own heroes, like my late father or Nelson Mandela I realise that there aren’t many of them who at some time quietly bent their knee and looked outside themselves for strength, resolve and peace.

Personally I find faith in Christianity. You might find it elsewhere. The name we give it is less important that the outpouring that comes from it. Faith helps us to be kinder and more adventurous than we imagined, to care and encourage, to love and inspire. It’s about finding our mojo and I believe it is hard to do that without some spiritually.

To those who feel cynical about such a message, I hear you but just as it is easier to have faith in the Southern Ocean it’s also easier to be cynical when everything is going your way. To have faith in our everyday takes courage. All too often it is the tougher path, but life and the wild have taught me that the tougher path often ends up being the most fulfilling one.

Pioneers always take bold steps to explore new territory because they never know where it may lead them. Every fresh challenge offers new opportunities for you to develop your adventurous spirit and inner strength- so be brave, embrace faith wherever you may find it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Of course one question to come from this article is that although Bear is encouraging people to have faith in more than simply ourselves, and he himself has a Christian faith – does that mean that faith in something other than Jesus, for example another religious faith is sufficient- as long as it is faith?  I suppose the answer to that question would be, who or what can we have faith in that is more worthy of that faith than Jesus?

Blog September 28th Bear Grylls – 2


“I Will Tell” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album “I Look Up To The Heavens” recorded and produced by John Hodgkinson

Last week I shared a video clip of Bear Gryll’s promotion of Alpha called “My Greatest Adventure” and this week I would like to share an article “Unleash a Greater Power” that Bear wrote in the magazine GQ.

Sir Robin- Knox Johnson the famous round the world sailor is alleged to have said “There is no such thing as an atheist in the Southern Ocean.” I have also heard it paraphrased to include the “Death Zone” on Everest.

I am sure there have been plenty of atheists in both places but the point he made, and I agree is that when we are truly afraid and there is no one around to help us, to possess a quiet faith can give us persistence, light and courage that is so much greater than simply ourselves. In short faith can make us strong. Just look at how many inspirational figures of generations gone by, who gave and endured so much were sustained and encouraged by their faith.

But what is faith? Is it real and does it matter? Can it make a difference to the everyday grind of life? I can only talk from experience. For me having a Christian faith can be difficult to articulate. It’s like describing ice cream or swimming- it has to be tried to be felt. But in a nutshell my faith tells me that I am known, that I am secure and that I am loved- regardless of the storms I may find myself in from time to time, regardless of how often I fall and fail.

In my life I have yet to meet a man or woman not open to being loved and forgiven. Who doesn’t want to find peace or live with joy overflowing? But I meet so many people who do not want “religion” as such. I get it- I feel the same. And in fact so did Jesus, the heart of all Christian faith. Faith and religion are not the same thing.

The Jesus I read about in the Bible was fun, free and wild. He loved a party and he always hung out with the non -religious folk. The only people he ever got angry with were the overly religious types.

Faith does not mean you have to be overly “religious” and it certainly is not about churches or feeling judged for our flaws. To quote the man himself Jesus said He was all about life: living it freely and lightly and learning the unforced rhythms of grace.

For many years I tried to do without it ………………………………………………………………… TBC

Blog 21st September – Alpha and Bear Grylls


“We Can’t Set The World On Fire” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album “Uplifted” recorded and produced by Bob Ross

So Alpha starts in many churches this month – at my church Holy Rood there was an introductory evening last night. This year Bear Grylls has presented some words of encouragement for those who are considering attending an Alpha Course. They are featured in today’s blog. He also gave a Christmas message which I posted on my blog of December 17th 2015.

So what is Alpha ?

The Alpha website https://alpha.org/says that Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith. Each talk looks at a different question around faith and is designed to create conversation. Alpha is run all around the globe, and everyone’s welcome. It runs in cafés, churches, universities, homes—you name it. No two Alphas look the same, but generally they have three key things in common: food, a talk and good conversation.

Next week I will tell you the story of my first Alpha (if you can’t wait it was first posted on April 3rd 2014)

Blog September 14th “Hurricane Irma and Harvey”


Oh Lord Hear My Voice featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album Where Would I Be Without You? recorded and produced by Ross Gill

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma one question that will obviously arise is why? and another is how should people respond?

I read this message today from a Hurricane Harvey survivor and I felt it to be worth sharing:

Hurricane Harvey made me realise more that we really are nothing on this Earth and that the material things that we lose sleep over, we fight over, we lose friendship over is NOT worth it. The position, the status that we want everyone to know that we possess CANNOT save us. In minutes Barbuda lost 95% of its infrastructure, people lost their houses, their businesses, their crops. Thank God we have life. Let us be thankful that we have life and a chance to make things right with God, with family and with friends. Let us love more, smile more, help more and make peace with each other instead of fighting over things that are here now and could be gone in a matter of minutes. Our life is simply a breath, when that breath goes life is over. Whatever we have accomplished in life was permitted by God who can take it all back in minutes. Let us acknowledge Him. The only thing that lasts forever is salvation. Nothing else matters in the end.

Well you may not agree with all the sentiments expressed here but I for one would admit to placing too much importance on material possessions. Living in this country I am unlikely to lose them all in a natural disaster but I could lose them in other ways and then how would I cope?  I think the problem is that it is easy to believe that we are the owners of our possessions gained through our own hard work.  If this is our belief then to lose all that we have worked so hard for is bound to be devastating. However an alternative belief is that we are in fact, stewards rather than owners of possessions because they have been given to us by God.  Yes our own hard work is a factor but that work is enabled by the skills with which God has blessed us.  If this different belief is held then I would suggest ties to our possessions are looser and if they are lost the pain less severe.

Alpha starts next week! At my church Holy Rood in Stubbington that is 7.30 pm on Wednesday September 20th- more of that next week.

Blog September 7th – “Sid’s Story”


Be Set Free, from the His Story album, featuring the Mustard Seed Soul Band, recorded and produced by Ross Gill

Just back from a fantastic short break to Porto with my lovely wife Caroline.  What a beautiful city with such lovely people- We can highly recommend it.

Before leaving I read this story in “The Word for Today” and thought it would be good to share.

So these are the words of Sid O’Neil.

When I was 12 years old I went to live with my Grandmother. The house that we lived in had a lot of spiritual activity and as a child I used to hear and see spirits. That was my only experience of anything “spiritual.” Years later I was working in a print factory and one of the bosses, Neil was a Christian.  I think I made his life a misery, as I used to tease him and try to embarrass him- I thought it was really amusing. I wondered why he always read his Bible, rather than the newspaper like the rest of us.

Although I knew there was a spiritual world (because of my childhood experiences) the only thing I did religiously was to go to the pub on a Friday night. One night a group of us were heading off for some drinks when we were involved in a horrible car accident- one of my friends in the car was killed. I was seriously injured and spent a long time in hospital with broken legs and broken back. I had a lot of time to think and blamed God for what He had done to me and my friends. When I got better I took off to a job in the Middle East. I made a real mess of things there, started drinking and ended up breaking my contract in order to get back to the UK. When I returned, Neil the supervisor from my old factory was now running his own busy printing firm and he was printing this little booklet called “Word For Today.”

He offered my wife a job and one day when I went to pick her up the printing press was broken. Neil was distraught and at the point of tears as he could not find anyone to fix it and the “Word For Today” needed to be urgently printed. I don’t know how but I looked at the machine and was able to fix it…. and the printing continued.  Even though I was not a believer I believe that God helped me to fix that machine.

Somehow I knew that I needed to be there working for Neil. It meant a 50% pay cut but I was drawn back there and I used to read “ Word For Today” as it came off the presses. One day Neil gave me a CD with a man singing a song from Psalm 23 and as I sat there alone in the factory I raised my hands and I was crying. I knew that God was speaking to me and I knew that if I asked for forgiveness God would set me free and He would heal me of all my pain.

That was the day I stopped running from God and since then I have not looked back. Today I am working with the Christian Motorcyclists Association. I can’t say how thankful I am to God for all that He’s done in my life. He fixed my hurt and pain. He stopped me from running and He’s given me hope. In my life God has worked through so many different means- through Neil, through the bikers, through the UCB “Word For Today” and through everyone who prayed for me.

What a great story – I will tell you more of “Word For Today” next week.

 

Blog August 31st – The Risen! sequel


Joffy Girling and Alex Knox producing guide vocals for the Risen! sequel at Ken’s house


Featured song for today is Allow His Loving Arms – featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album “Uplifted” recorded and produced by Bob Ross.

I had the pleasure of Joffy Girling and Alex Knox stay with me for three days this week. Joffy, as I am sure you know, is the Musical Director for Risen! The Musical. He creates the arrangements produces the backing tracks and has done all the recording and producing – so yes Joffy is totally invaluable. Alex sang the part of John on the CD of Risen! He also sang at Holy Rood Church in a Risen! concert and the first stage production there. He featured in the blog of November 24th 2017 after starring in the West End play “It is Easy to be dead” – a performance for which he received an Oliver nomination – http://www.olivierawards.com/ Alex was introduced to me by my old friend Martin Connor (see blog August 3rd 2018) who is Head of Acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama; which is where Alex was trained in both music and acting.

Risen!- The Musical is doing extremely well – as I have previously mentioned the DVD has been broadcast on Revelation TV in the UK and on Alpha-Omega and Credo TV in Romania and Eastern Europe. It has also been translated into various languages including mandarin for DVD future sub titles.

We are also in the process of creating a Risen! The Musical theatre in education project to tour Primary Schools next Easter- that will require funding so more of that later. Also in the pipeline is a new CD featuring the Portsmouth University Gospel Choir -finalists in the BBC’s “Pitch Battle” programme with Gareth Malone- but again more of that later.

I just wanted to flag up today that Joffy and Alex were with me to put down guide vocals for the sequel to Risen! The Musical. It is based on the Acts of the Apostles and traces the growth of the church after the Holy Spirit empowers the disciples at Pentecost. It will be third in the mustard seed trilogy of musicals after His Story- and Risen!

Acts (working title) is going to be a long project but an extremely enjoyable one – Joffy and Alex are quite excellent and what they produced this week simply filled me with joy- we meet again in a couple of weeks to hopefully finish Act one – so watch this space.

Caroline and I are off for a short holiday to Porto tomorrow – hopefully enjoying a bit of sun and the local tipple! Should be back in time for next week’s blog though.

Blog August 24th Laurie Brokenshire


” I Love You Lord” (Laurie Klein) with solo from Emily Shaw and “Hallelujah Glory, Glory” (from the musical Risen! ) with solo from Lorraine Marsh. Introductory recitative from Alex Knox.


“My Jesus My Saviour/Shout to the Lord” (Darlene Zschech) with solo from Lauren Chappell and introductory recitative from Chloe Brokenshire.

Last week I attended the funeral service of a remarkable man and dear friend, Laurie Brokenshire. He did so very much for so many people and I do ask you to use this link to discover exactly how many lives he touched and in so many different ways.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Brokenshire

 

Holy Rood Church last Friday was filled to overflowing for his Service of Thanksgiving – standing room only and many, many, more unable to get into the main church. We heard wonderful tributes and brave words from his family – wife Ethel, sons Matthew and Phillip and daughters Sarah and Rachel. Also from Rev. Charles Overton, his long standing friend who conducted the Service.

 

As I say please click on the link to get a flavour of the amazing life of Laurie but even a Wikipedia account cannot do him any sort of justice, however the following extract does give a flavour of the man:

In early 2016, Brokenshire was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, which had overtaken his father some 20 years earlier. His response was immediate and typical – his family undertook a 30-mile sea swim off Plymouth in aid of various cancer charities, raising over £30,000 in under 3 weeks, and in excess of £45,000 overall.

The featured video clips show Laurie, who also had a great bass voice, singing at Holy Rood in a Risen! concert. He was playing the part of Cleopas. Even from these short clips I think you will be able to see how much he loved Jesus. His funeral service was as evangelical as it comes and I do pray that it has encouraged those present to attend the forthcoming September Alpha courses.

Laurie, you are going to be sadly missed but we can be assured that you are now receiving all the rewards of heaven for being “A good and faithful servant.”

Blog August 17th Wayde Van Niekerk and Romelu Lukaku


“Mustard Seed of Faith” featuring Lucy Rutherford from the album “His Story Live” (unreleased) recorded by Ross Gill

My dear friend Bob Milliken aka Mr Mill prayed for me for eight years that I would become a Christian- he would put articles on Christians that were famous sportspersons in my pigeon hole at Crofton School where he taught RE and me PE. I have to be honest and say that I did not take a great deal of notice of them and that it was meeting his father, Mr Milliken that really ignited my faith (see blog of March 27th 2014)

So despite those articles Mr Mill put in my pigeon hole I was not motivated to explore Christianity, however nowadays I do find it interesting when I discover great sportsmen like Jordon Speith, Usain Bolt, Jürgen Klopp and Maro Itoje are Christians. Last week I noticed from what they said or how they acted that there are two more famous sportsmen who are Christians -the Athletics 400 metre World Champion Wayed Van Niekerk and the footballer Romelu Lakaku who was recently transferred from Everton to Manchester United.

During a BBC interview I noticed Van Niekerk refer to God and in another BBC interview he said “I have dreamed of this since I was a little kid. The only thing I can do now is to give God praise. I went on my knees each and every day and I told the Lord to take care of me and look after me every step. I asked the Lord to carry me through the race and I am really just blessed for this opportunity.” He previously told sports media organisation Passion for Sport that everything that comes my way I thank the Lord. He said: “I leave every race and every step I take in his hands. I trust him in every movement I do.” Speaking of the importance of his faith he said he values it because God “is the one who blessed me with talent.”

I could not find any interviews regarding Lukaku, however he is known to be a committed Christian and will make the sign of the cross before every match and after every goal that he scores. In fact when he scored for the first time at Old Trafford against West Ham on Sunday he dropped to his knees and looked to the heavens in thanks before then crossing his chest. Being a Man United supporter I hope he crosses himself loads of times this season!