Bird-watching doesn’t get much better than this! I was with a group of observers out on the Dumbles, the grassland next to the Severn Estuary at Slimbridge. We’d been led there by one of the wardens – otherwise we’d have had to be content with views from the Holden Tower – in order to see a buff-breasted sandpiper. This is a small wader which normally breeds in the Canadian Arctic, which had been blown over in the recent storms. It was a very obliging bird, preferring the edge of the grassland to the saltmarsh or mudflats which were further out, so we were able to get excellent views of it. Then it took off, flew straight overhead and landed on the other side of us – but as I looked where it landed, I thought “that’s not a sandpiper”. A moment later, the warden said, “Hang on, that’s a dotterel! The sandpiper has landed right next to a dotterel!”
It’s only the second time this species has been seen at Slimbridge, and was one that I personally was very keen to see. They breed up in the Scottish Highlands, and when they’re on passage they may occasionally drop down somewhere like Cleeve Hill. Suffice it to say that the 30 or so birders there suddenly became more excited by the dotterel than they were by the sandpiper which they had originally travelled to see!
Over the weekend I went on a couple of trips with friends. One was to a men’s event with the “Revolutionary Lions” in Wantage, generously hosted by Laurie Bath, and led by Roy Maguire. Since becoming a follower of Christ nearly 20 years ago I have enjoyed, and hugely benefitted from, being part of various men’s groups. Men enjoy the fellowship of other men – so that as they leave the church, more will follow through the exit. Thus it is exciting to be part of vibrant men’s groups like the RevLions, and to be with other blokes who desire to live radically for Christ.
One of the sub-themes of this and other groups is a general disillusionment, a feeling that ‘box-shaped church’ (to borrow a phrase from Joanathan Cavan) doesn’t work. As a wannabe vicar, I have a conflicting set of feelings towards this so that I end up wanting to ask: are we expecting Christ in the 21st century to do something other than church, or for church itself to become radically different? If it is the latter, do we change it from the outside or the inside?
On Sunday I went down to Cardiff with Matt, Jo, Phil and Shane, in order to hear Justin Abraham speaking. Justin is an exciting and inspirational speaker who was talking about the mystical realms. Some of what he spoke about was mind-stretching – but that’s partly why I went, in order to be challenged in my understanding about the realities of the spiritual world. If church is to be filled with radical followers of Christ rather than well-meaning social workers, we cannot afford to underestimate the supernatural dimension of our faith.