Saturday, 24 March 2012

Three years in

Always ready to walk.

It was three years ago today that I adopted Penne from the Sarasota County Humane Society.  That was one of the best things I’ve done in retirement.

The County Sheriff’s Office licence says that she was then seven years old, and that she is a Labrador Cross.  Another document describes her as Retriever/Terrier.

Her previous owner/s stated (on the form they completed when they surrendered Penne to the Humane Society) that:

1. She is afraid of the noise of fireworks. ‘T’ain’t true.They do not bother her one bit, nor does thunder – thank goodness!

2. That she showed aggression in wanting to be dominate over other female dogs.  My experience is that she is very wary of all other dogs.

3. That she is loving and affectionate. You can say that again!  And again!

I am totally “nuts” about Penne.   She delights me every day.

I like it so much that she:

1. Wants to be near me wherever I am in the house.
2. Wags her tail when I do no more than look at her.
3. Issues a throaty “uummm” when I caress her head or her ears.
4. Delights in walking. We do between 4 and 5 miles each day.
5. Is a welcome guest in my friends’ homes.  They are always pleased to see her.
6. Is so well liked by the folks we encounter whilst we are on our walks. One man said “your dog is always smiling” - I know what he meant.

She’s been my “best pal” for three years.  

Now she is ten years old.

Yet she often has the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy, and will race around the house like a banshee when we are about to go walking.

The truth is that three years ago Penne adopted me!

In my pantheon she comes just after Wendy, Laura and Sam, and ahead of Martyn (family joke).

Penne resting on my bed in the early morning as I am checking my e-mail.

After a walk. Her tail is wagging though this photo' does not show it.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Sarasota Fl and Bristol U.K. - good enough, but not great.

This is an article about my home City of Bristol, U.K.   Since it was printed in the local rag, the Bristol Evening Post, please take it with a grain of salt.

(You will have to cut and paste this link)

The article caused me to think about other “Bristols”.  Wikipedia has the following

(You will have to cut and paste this link)


I was surprised to learn that there is a small area in Peru called Bristol.

Bristol, Rhode Island is the prettiest of the American Bristols.

(I own a cannon ball which was fired in 1775 by the British Fleet into Bristol R.I. )

The twin cities of Bristol VA and Bristol TN are fascinating.  The state line between Virginia and Tennessee goes right down the middle of the main street.  On one side of the street you are in Virginia, on the other you are in Tennessee.

I once drove through Bristol, FL.  If I had blinked I would have missed it.

In our local (U.K) Schools (1949 – 1955) the City and County of Bristol Education Committee issued “exercise books” to all students.  I remember the covers, on blue coloured “thick stock” paper.  The outside of the back cover had a diagrammatic map called “Fifty Miles around Bristol”.

That was my world between the ages of 5 and 11. That world was centred on Bristol and the towns and villages which were no more than 50 miles away.

In those days I believed that Bristol was the finest City in the world.

Now I have come to believe that Bristol is alright in its own way, but it is a bit high on itself.  I have concluded the same about Sarasota FL where I now live.

Both cities have a lot to offer in terms of history and culture.

Both cities tend to rest on their laurels.

And neither Bristol nor Sarasota has a sense of vision for the future.  Each of these cities is dominated by City Councillors/Commissioners whose viewpoint is decidedly parochial and small.

They are good places in which to live.  But they could be great!

Sarasota and Bristol have settled for the good instead of the great.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Great Blue Herons

Great Blue Herons on the ground can look a bit woebegone

They are gorgeous when in flight

But their call is wretchedly ugly.  It sounds like a score of claw hammers being dragged down a tin roof.

There were two Great Blues just outside my lanai yesterday.  They were engaged in some sort of territorial fight.

One of them was incredibly aggressive towards the other  (who took refuge on my roof).  The noise was horrid.

My dog Penne, and my junior cat Adelaide were entirely fascinated with the fight, and with the noise.  They rushed to the window and followed every move.

It was a sort of "reality show" for the benefit of a dog and a cat.

(But it left me wondering why some of my friends eschew Church because they "see God in nature".  I saw a very noisy and aggressive show - in which it was hard to discern God!)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Life amongst the Plymouth Brethren

There were those open air meetings on Saturdays and Sundays.

We would take to the streets, armed with tracts (gospel leaflets), bibles, hymnals (“Sankey’s Sacred Song and Solos anyone?), sometimes a very small and portable harmonium, strong voices and even stronger convictions,

Then we would form a circle, and the singing and preaching would begin.  A wee bit away from the circle some brethren would “lurk” to hand out tracts to passers-by.

I remember open air meetings at St. George’s Park (a mile or so from Chelsea Gospel Hall), at the new Lawrence Weston Housing estate, and on Abingdon Road, just down the street from Abingdon Gospel Hall.

The preachers needed strong voices, or the ability to bellow.  The message would always be the same.  It was the “message of salvation” – “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”.

The aim was honourable.  For the brethren (in common with most evangelical christians) believe that those who had not accepted Christ were doomed to eternal hell.  What better thing to do than to save some soul from perdition.

Who knows if any good soul heard and believed the message?

It’s more than likely that we were viewed as religious fanatics, or “bible thumpers”.

In the end that did not matter in the brethren scheme of things.  What mattered is that we were being faithful.

As a “keen young brother” I participated in such meetings in order to give witness.  Indeed when I was in my late teens I even preached (having then, as now, a strong and loud voice).

In the summer we would have Saturday afternoon open air meetings in villages near Bristol.  I remember being in Clutton, Pensford, and Wrington  (three villages in north Somerset).

In this “village ministry” the format would be a bit different.  We would begin by “tracting” - that is: visiting as many homes as we could and delivering a “gospel tract”.  (I cannot recall whether we rang door bells and asked if the resident/s would like to talk, or whether we simply shoved the tracts through letter boxes).

Then we would retire to the local gospel hall for “tea” - sandwiches, cakes and hot tea, followed by an earnest prayer meeting, and then the public preaching in the open air.

None of this did me much harm.

But  I  remember feeling a bit embarrassed or sheepish at those open air meetings.


P.S.  Please do not tell the Brethren, but I no longer believe in an eternal hell (and I am not so sure about an eternal heaven).

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Modern time/s

Also honoured at the Resurrection House dinner last week was the fabulous Graham Allgood  (yes that is his last name). 

 Like Anno Swain, Graham has been a volunteer at Res. House for 22 years (i.e. since its foundation).

Graham arrived very late to the dinner. He almost missed his own award.

He told us that his car was at an auto-body shop. The work should have been finished last Thursday in time for him to drive to the dinner.  But that was not the case.

So he called a cab.  And he waited, and waited, and waited. He is a very patient and gentle man.

In due course he called the cab company again.  “It’s twenty five of six”  (twenty five to six in the UK) he said “and my cab has not yet arrived".

The dispatcher responded. “That cannot be the case.  I am looking at the computer, and it’s only 5:35”.

Try as he did, Graham could not persuade the dispatcher that “twenty five of six” and “5:35” is the same thing.

Graham saw the funny side of this.  We laughed with him, and were delighted that he is a person of both good humour and dedication to homeless people. His award was more than well deserved.


I believe that there is a serious side to this (and I have written about this before).

Those of us who grew up with analogue clocks and watches were very aware of the passage of time. Old fashioned clocks told us something about the present, the past, and the future.

In the digital age we are aware only of present time.

If our world is shaped by present time alone might we not be in danger of

(a) An inability to learn from the past, and

(b) An inability to plan for the future?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Resurrection House and Anno Swain - a minister at and from St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, FL

Some 22 years ago Bob and Elaine Kilonen were leaving an evening meeting at Sarasota’s Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal).

As they walked out of the Church the irrigation sprinklers sprang into use.

A woman emerged from the shrubs- soaked to the skin. She was homeless.  The shrubbery around Redeemer was her regular sleeping place.

Bob and Elaine arranged for this woman to have a bed for the night in a local motel.

That was good for her.  It was even better for Elaine and Bob, for it made them think about the needs of Sarasota’s homeless people, and the challenge of the gospel of Jesus.

Thus was born “Resurrection House”, a day shelter for homeless people.

I am the honorary chaplain there.

At Res House we provide showers, laundry, food, clothing, basic medical care (thanks to two retired physicians), re-habilitated bicycles for those who have found work, and counselling towards employment and/or accommodation.

Most of all we offer friendship, a listening ear, a lack of judgment, an affirmation of human dignity, and the chance for homeless people to pray without being preached at.

Res. House has a budget of $600,000 per annum. That budget is supported by 33 religious bodies and many other local charities, individuals, and businesses.

We receive not one penny from city, county, state or federal coffers.

Last Thursday the staff at Res. House organised a “Volunteer Appreciation Dinner”.   I rarely attend such events, but was “drawn” to this one.

The food was good (thanks to Caragiulos Restaurant).

I was seated with most congenial fellow-volunteers.

I rejoiced to see that some long term volunteers were honoured, including St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key member Cynthia Weston (15 years). Cynthia was present at the dinner.  She was utterly surprised to be recognised and honoured.

Another St. Boniface honouree was the fabulous Anno Swain.  She has ministered as a volunteer at Res. House for 22 years.

Wait a minute – that means that Anno has been part of this ministry with homeless people since its inception. Wow!

It  happens that when I am in a pew at St. B’s I always sit with Anno Swain and her blessed and beloved husband Adrian.

And it also so happened that Anno was not present for the dinner at which she was honoured.

So I retrieved her “certificate of appreciation”, and with the encouragement and blessing of St. B’s interim Rector (Dean Taylor) arranged for it to be presented to her at the 9:00 a.m. Eucharist this morning,

Dean and I were cunning, and we “snuck up” this recognition of Anno and her ministry. We took her by surprise at announcement time.

It was a wonderful moment.  It was a moment which brought our congregation to its feet in a glorious affirmation of the ministry of Anno Swain -  a beloved sister in Christ,  a “teacher by example” and a mentor to so many of us.


And an Alleluia – even in  Lent.