Well, here we are at the beginning of a new year, looking over our shoulder at a Christmas period that took the choir on the 'Mall Tour', which included Beales in Tonbridge, Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells and Bluewater in north Kent. It was a most rewarding time and yet again we found people very open to the Christmas message that we proclaimed through Bible readings and singing. The dreaded health and safety rules raised their head at one venue, but in the end we were able to proclaim the Gospel and build good relationships with the management teams. Our first Bible School of the year got off to a very encouraging start, with excellent teaching once again from Mike Moore. We look now at the end of February to start rehearsals for the musical 'Majesty', celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation. Doors will open this year and doors will close. "That's life", as someone once wrote in a lyric.
I remember an occasion when I took part in a service in Maidstone prison. I shall never forget the sound of heavy keys and the firm click of doors unlocking and being locked as we moved deeper into the prison. Perhaps that's one way of looking at our work: Unlocking doors - the doors of circumstance and, most importantly, the locks on people's hearts. Freedom. No prison walls of guilt or fear. Like stepping out of the main door of a prison into the sunshine of liberty. That's our Gospel. I like the words of Jesus when he said: "I have come to bring them life, life in all its fullness". Marvellous, affirming words. Words to bring life and hope.
I also remember going in to Rochester prison and meeting a large number of Eastern European people, held there because they had fled from the fighting in Bosnia and had tried to find a safe refuge in this country. They weren't criminals; many were professional people, but they had nothing. All had been left behind and now their only home was a state prison, because the system couldn't accommodate them anywhere else. I often wonder what became of them. "Fear not, I go to prepare a place for you" says Jesus "so that where I am, you may be also". That's the Gospel hope and it is still an honour and a privilege to share it.
One particular memory stays with me from Christmas. At Tonbridge Baptist Church we produced a Christmas musical called 'Angels', which involved a children's choir of some 30 angels seated in an area representing Heaven. Two angels were talking and one said: "I think I'll go and sit in the choir". The other rebuked her, saying: "You can't go into Heaven yet"!
That's our task: Getting people out of their personal prisons and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Instant membership: No locks; no doors.