Reflection – After the Call

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Many Christians are familiar with the veracity of a ‘Call of God’, and although this idea may be interpreted sometimes differently by the various wings of the church, most groupings would view it as a bona-fide spiritual experience; albeit one that requires further checks by wise and mature confidantes. I myself would say that I have experienced such a phenomenon.

What’s harder to deal with is the prospect of failure when following such a call. Fear can so often remain as a continuing reality. It feels that there is still the possibility of being laid low or being set aside.

Yet we remain open to God. He is the Lord. He is committed to His call. So too must we be. We continue to be confident in God even when our path seems blocked. Sometimes we receive glimpses of the way ahead, only to be frustrated and cast down again.

The solution in such times is a resolute trust in God.

Church window, Sardinia

Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Psalm 43: 3-5 are key to this:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Send out your light and your truth;

    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (ESV)

There is always the danger of looking other than to God for our solutions. It’s quite a natural reaction – and therein lies the problem and the point. It’s natural, not spiritual. True trust occurs deep within our spirit: ‘Has God said?’ We can soulfully answer, ‘emphatically yes’. Such clear and certain knowledge is crucial to our ‘resting’ in His sovereign call. If God is for me, who can be against me? (Note my emphases).

Sometimes the call of God is to oblivion in the eyes of the world. Even the Church aspires to the cult of personality and lifts its heroes high – Pastors, musicians, evangelists, music leaders, organisations et al. It wrongly equates calling and vocation with worldly success and influence. These are not Kingdom values but just more of the world inside the church. Care needs to be exercised as such occurrences can be insidious and appear perfectly fine at the time. They are not, – and they will be found sadly wanting in due course. Even very recent church history shows us this quite clearly.

Those of us blessed with a sense of a divine calling must show great care. Ours is a holy calling and one not to be taken lightly, even when the way ahead seems dark, confused and unclear to us. I’m reminded that Romans 11:29 says,

’For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’

And in I Corinthians 1: 25-27,

‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’.

This Scripture is quite clear – to give it Richard Rohr’s expression – ‘the upside-downness’ of the spiritual life and its values. The juxtaposition seems contrary to everything we aspire to and is very hard for us to accept, let alone practise – but live it this way we must.

Social History – Alfred Thomas King in August 1914

August 22, 2014 Leave a comment

The BEF during August 1914: In at the start

My Grandmother, Ethel J. Kerry lost her first husband, Alfred Thomas King during the Great War. He was 32. Alfred deployed with the BEF at the outbreak of the Great War, leaving for France from Southampton on 22nd August 1914. He was a Driver in the Royal Field Artillery, 32 Brigade RFA, 4th Division Ammunition Column. This comprised originally numbers 27, 134 and 135 Batteries RFA.

The Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) was responsible for transporting munitions from the divisional parks to the brigade dumps. The Brigade Ammunition Column (BAC) then moved the ammunition forward to the horse lines and gun batteries.  The DAC and the BAC were amalgamated in May 1916.

The Ammunition Column (w/c, gouache & chalk on paper)

In 1914 the Regular British Army was made up of six Divisions and one Cavalry Division. Four were sent to France in early August along with the cavalry but two divisions (including the 4th) were kept back on the southern coast of Britain for fear of an invasion.

The 4th Division eventually sailed to France between 21 and 25 August and joined the BEF at Fontaine-au-Pire. It came under the III Corps on 31st August. It fought at Le Cateau but without the DAC and other support units which were still en route from England.

The 4th Division sailed from Southampton to Le Havre on the SS Rowanmore, a steam transport cargo ship built in 1900 on the Clyde.  This ship was eventually torpedoed 128 miles off the west coast of Ireland on 26th October 1916 by the German U-boat U57.

The SS Rowanmore is also mentioned in Sydney Giffard’s, ‘Guns, Kites and Horses’, a book of three war diaries mirroring much of Alfred King’s experiences in the Royal Field Artillery, in particular the retreat from Mons in some detail (p 44-49).

Guns, Kites and Horses

 

Extracts from War Diaries 1914

4th Divisional Ammunition Column

Source: National Archives WO 95 / 1468 – Closed until 1965

This is the official army record of these events, copied from the hand-written DAC WW1 War Diaries, now housed in the National Archive at Kew, London. I read the diary of the actual day the 4th Division (including the Ammunition Column) left for France from their barracks in London. The numbers of involved are staggering – note how many horses they took with them to the western front.

All place names were printed in capitals. The diaries were all written in pencil by an officer.

DAC War Diary 22 Aug 1914

Saturday 22 August 1914

Strength: 15 Officers, 557 other ranks, 728 horses, 110 four wheel vehicles, 8 two wheel vehicles and 6 bicycles

Between 5.45pm and 3.45am on 23rd August

Eight trains conveyed IV Div. Am. from Park Royal Station to SOUTHAMPTON – last train arriving 0.50am

Sunday 23 August

HQ + 4th Sect (Heavy portion) embarked on S.S. Rowanmore

9pm sailed for HAVRE – delayed by fog off ISLE OF WIGHT

Monday 24 August

5am Left ISLE OF WIGHT

12 noon Arrived HAVRE – Infantry kit unloaded all day

12 midnight Personnel and horses disembarked and remained on wharf – unloading of vehicles commenced

Tuesday 25 August

2am Vehicles unloaded on wharf

4am Entraining commenced. Very heavy work, manning vehicles up ramps from the level of the rails and then cross lifting them on the trucks. No assistance from railway staff. Took four hours to entrain HQ + 4th Sect (heavy portion)

8.30am Train left HAVRE

12.45pm Arrived ROUEN. Watered horses. Coffee provided for men.

6.30pm Arrived AMIENS

11pm Arrived ST QUENTIN and detrained

Wednesday 26 August

4am Marched through ST QUENTIN to bivouac at the Couvent de la Croix Rouge, in a stubble field

7am Orders received to move onto the ROUTE NATIONALE 44. Moved there and formed up vehicles on both sides of the road under the trees, picketing horses between them. Here the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th (How) sections all joined up.

3.30pm Marched for HAM

9pm Arrived HAM. Bivouacked on road south of railway station. Damp night.

Thursday 27 August

6am Marched for NOYON. Heavy thunderstorms on the road. Got into communication with the 4th Div. Am Park.

3pm Marched through NOYON to SEMPIGNY, bivouacking there in a field

8pm HQ of 3rd Div Am Col arrived

Friday 28 August

9am Marched for COMPIEGNE, bivouacking on the road south of the town, near the new barracks on the RUE DE PARIS. A comfortable bivouac for men and horses. Water in the village

Saturday 29 August

10am Went into GHQ at COMPIEGNE and motored out to BEAURAINS getting in touch with the 4th Division.

Major Smith posted to 14th Brigade RFA via England, killed

Sunday 30 August

11am Received orders from the 4th Division to move at once to EMEVILLE

12 noon Marched via ST JEAN AUX BOIS. No water on the way.

6pm When a mile short of EMEVILLE, received orders to go onto PIERREFONDS.

Marched via TAILLEFONTAINE and (10pm) bivouacked on road south of PIERREFONDS.

Horses exhausted. Heavy portion of 4th Sect got detached and went to EMEVILLE

Monday 31 August

10.15am Marched with the 4th Division via ST JEAN AUX BOIS and ST SAUVEUR up on the high ground south of that town and (9pm) bivouacked in the field.  Water at LAPERRINE.

Retreat from Mons 1914

 

BEF Retreat 1914 Map

Book Trade – Church House Bookshop, Westminster, London

August 13, 2014 Leave a comment

An award winning Bookshop set at the heart of National and Church Government.

Church House Bookshop - external view

The recently refurbished Church House Bookshop, situated near Westminster Abbey in London is a delight to visit. It’s bright, light and airy with high ceilings and distinctive semi-circular metallic feature windows. The deep red armchairs are inviting and the book range is both wide and deep, reflecting a broad churchmanship whilst understandably and rightly centering on its historic Anglican market. I spied a signed copy promotion and a number of well stocked promotional tables.

Church House Bookshop is just off the main tourist drag, adjacent to the Church House conference centre in Great Smith Street and right opposite the Department of Education. The shop began life in 1936 as an Anglican library and resource centre, and then branched into bookselling as a Book Room in 1946. Mark Clifford, now of Sarum Books was a previous manager. Since 2006, the shop has been owned by Hymns Ancient and Modern and is part of the Norwich-based company that publishes the Church Times. In these uncertain days, it’s good to visit a shop with a secure and stable future, located in an important part of central London, particularly now that so many of the larger city centre Christian outlets have closed.

Church House Bookshop - Interior

I met with Aude Pasquier who, amongst her company responsibilities, oversees the shop. Aude joined HA&M in 2011 from DLT and SPCK. Events are increasingly important and the team look after the Greenbelt shop and are involved in their own Bloxham ‘Festival of Faith and Literature’. The shop is the ‘public face of HA&M’ but is left very much to its own devices.

This is a destination shop for a market comprising clergy and church professionals, teachers visiting the DOE, civil servants from the nearby Ministry of Justice and a tiny, mainly elderly local community. Thursday and Friday are the busiest trading days, Thursday being publication day for the Church Times. Opening hours are often extended for the synods and conferences held next door at Church House (the legal link between the two ceased in 2006).

The shop statistics are impressive: a five member staff team with over 60 years of bookselling experience between them (Hatchards, SPCK, Wesley Owen and Mowbrays), a turnover in excess of £750k per annum, and the appealing summer 2013 refit at a cost of £70k. The challenges facing the shop are two-fold: remaining competitive on price and availability and keeping the ‘right’ range of titles in stock. Good links with their own Norwich warehouse ensure that customer orders can be turned around quickly.

Michael Addison, Sales & Marketing Director at HA&M says,

‘Whilst Church House Bookshop has a wonderful, loyal customer base – we are doing what we can to broaden this out … especially to a younger audience at events’. 

Church House is an outstanding bookshop with an evident and proud commitment to range bookselling.

Church House Bookshop - Interior

This article was written in early June for publication in Together Magazine (July to August 2014).

Book Trade – No one has to visit your bookshop today to buy a book

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

The seminars at London Book Fair are often tucked away in an obscure location but are worth seeking out. Perusing this year’s programme, I noted the ‘International Retail Seminar: The Bookshop of the Future’. Sure enough, the room was tortuous to find and when I did so, it was absolutely packed with booksellers … from Sweden. Then I caught the beaming face of Dave Lock from Manna Christian Centre, Streatham across the room – and relaxed!

London Book Fair 2014

Ably chaired by Philip Jones, the insightful editor of The Bookseller, three retailers from Europe, Asia and the USA shared their thoughts of the physical bookshop of the future. This was a fascinating session; wide in scope and exceptionally positive in its view of the sustainability of bookselling. The session explored the current rebirth of the bookshop. It underlined clearly that physical bookshops continue to have a future. Viability remains possible. This positivity obviously comes with caveats. The ‘shopping experience’ model as advanced by these three speakers is unlike much of what we know today. Changing the way we have always operated is a given, as customers will no longer put up with either mediocre service nor second-rate shops.

Sion Hamilton, Retail Operations Manager of Foyle’s London, spoke of his work in delivering one of Europe’s largest and newest bookshops, which opened on Charing Cross Road in June 2014 (pic below). He highlighted the importance of making physical space work for your business and of the imperative to learn from the customer. Hamilton stated that providing storewide public WiFi is a growing customer requirement. Without it, they will go elsewhere.

Foyles Charing Cross 2014

Hiroshi Sogo is Director of Kinokuniya Bookstores Ltd, started in Japan in 1927 and with shops now across Asia and the UAE. He commenced by saying ‘real bookshops still exist‘, stressing that establishing viable bookstores remains eminently do-able. The key to Kinokuniya’s success is ‘events, events, events’. For Sogo, ‘Big Data’ alone is not enough. Human interaction remains at the heart of the business: In-store hospitality, politeness and customer care are a must.

My top ‘take-away’ of the day came from Steve Bercu, President of the American Booksellers Association and owner of the Book People in Austen, Texas. His photo-session was an eye-opener; a testimony to an amazing business full of extraordinary energy and remarkable innovation; in short, Bookshop Theatre. Events, festivals, school fairs and birthday parties all help to provide the opportunity to extend the brand and grow the business. Interestingly, he maintains that store blogs should be used to promote books, not the company.

Buried within Bercu’s presentation, given at breakneck speed, was this one telling but vital truth, ‘No one has to visit your bookshop to buy a book today’. We have to earn that custom.

Ask yourself – Why should anyone decide to visit me today?

This article was written in early June for publication in Together Magazine (July to August 2014).

Social History – Alfred Thomas King: National Roll of the Great War

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Whilst engaged in further research of my Grandmother’s first husband, Alfred Thomas King’s service during World War 1 with the Royal Field Artillery, I came across this fascinating entry (below) from the National Roll of the Great War.

I didn’t realise it immediately, but I am told that we are indeed fortunate to have found such an entry as they are quite rare in the case of those who perished during the war.  The entry simply confirms many of the details already known, but one interesting fact did emerge that adds to our knowledge, that of the confirmation of his mobilisation with the army reserve in August 1914.

The entry also makes it clear that Alfred did indeed die as a result of German aerial bombing in June 1917. When he left Britain in 1914, it was still the era of the cavalry regiment, but by the time of his death only three years later, tanks and flying machines had taken over as the future instruments of death and destruction.

Alfred King witnessed first-hand that extraordinary change in modern warfare that has carried on until today, one hundred years after he left these shores for the uncertainty of life (and death) on the Western Front.

You can read more of Driver Alfred King (RFA) story here.

I’ve uploaded much of Alfred King’s story to the on-line Lives of the First World War project

The National Roll of the Great War

Section 1: London – South West and North

Top Left on page 95

King, A. T., Driver, Royal Field Artillery

National Roll of the Great War AT King downloaded 08 2014

What was the National Roll of the Great War?

Here is what I’ve pieced together from various sources:

‘Shortly after the cessation of hostilities in 1919, the National Publishing Company sought to publish a brief biography of as many of those participating in the Great War as was possible. The vast majority of entries refer to combatants who survived the World War 1 and the National Roll is often the only source of information available. The scale of death and destruction of World War I was terrible and unprecedented: claiming the lives of over a million British and Commonwealth servicemen.

The National Roll of the Great War was published in 14 regional volumes. The volumes themselves are very rare and now command high prices. The valuable information stored within them is not widely available. Although the publication profiled ‘only’ around 100,000 of the people who served in World War I, of these approx 16% were participants who died. This would be one of the motivating forces behind the project, to precisely record the contribution of those who survived, with many entries referring to injuries sustained and men discharged early.

This is one of the most sought-after sets of reference books of the First World War and the Naval & Military Press has reprinted the complete work of fourteen volumes. The National Roll makes no claim to being a complete book of reference – in fact such a record could not be compiled. Yet, if you are lucky enough to find that your relative is among these, you will find a fascinating snapshot of their experience of the war which might not be readily available elsewhere.

The format of an individual record is fairly constant. The header line gives the surname, the person’s initials and their rank and unit, or other qualification for being included. After the header line, there is a paragraph of on average eight or nine lines of text summarising the individual’s contribution to the war (often giving a potted service history and mentioning wounds, medals and/or demobilisation) and closing with an address. Finally, each entry has a reference number. The significance of this reference is no longer clear but presumably referred to a card-index or other filing system used by the publishers to track contributions to the book and published entries. It is thought that the information came not from official sources but from the subjects themselves or their families’.

Book Trade – ICRS, American Christian Publishing and UK Distribution

June 29, 2014 2 comments

A view from CBA’s International Christian Retail Show 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia … Evangelical Christian publishing in the USA is clearly not in great shape …

After a gap of well over 10 years, I returned to what I knew as CBA, now called ICRS, and was shocked by what I found. This was the 65th anniversary of the show but it’s a shadow of its former self. The rump of an industry that once covered several exhibition halls rivalling the Frankfurt and London book fairs, is now reduced to a few aisles in a single hall easily covered in one day.

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To me, the booths were smaller, the visitor numbers lower, the aisles seemed quiet and the delegate ‘buzz’ felt decidedly restrained. However, products did appear a little less ‘trashy'; perhaps suppliers are more focused as a result of the downturn.

ICRS Atlants 2015

Such major industry shrinkage is salutary.  Publishers Weekly reported this year’s attendance as ‘flat’ with 3,722 delegates (against 3,739 in 2013), 1,520 of whom are classed as ‘Buyers’. To put this year into context; at CBA’s 50th anniversary only 15 years ago, there were over 15,000 attendees!

ICRS 2015

What has happened since the heyday of CBA in the late 90’s, when the turnover of American Christian publishers hit $3bn?

Well, for one thing, the States are now a vastly different place to that of even five years ago. Evangelical churches are haemorrhaging numbers especially from its younger demographic. Churches are extremely exercised by how many young people are leaving. Barna Research suggests that 61% of ‘once churched-youth’ are now ‘spiritually disengaged’.  Politically, evangelicalism is not the force it once was (for good or ill, depending on your point of view), and as Philip Yancey observes in his forthcoming book, ‘Vanishing Grace’, American evangelical Christianity find itself on the back foot culturally.

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The largest Christian product market in the world is clearly struggling to make the numbers work. This year ICRS was held in Atlanta, and next year in Orlando, Florida (28 June 28 – 1 July 2015). But where then? Those close to the decision-makers predict a much reduced fair with a smaller and possibly more relational format. A reinvention along the lines of the UK’s CRT event would seem sensible.

The plus point is that ICRS presents a really good networking opportunity and continues to work for the international community. I counted well over 20 Brits present in Atlanta and there were a good number of other nations represented. The weather’s better as well!

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Several US houses were celebrating their own special anniversaries this year:

Baker Publishing Group; 75 years, Send the Light Distribution; 40 years, Harvest House; 40 years and Gospel Light; 80 years.

American Christian Publishing and UK Distribution

One publisher told me the talking point of the convention was the distribution situation in the UK.  US Christian publishers are in a state of considerable flux following the recent  upheavals in the UK, with the demise first of STL and more recently of TMD. Distribution infrastructure is therefore hugely reduced, and many US publishers currently find themselves without a home.

Those left – IVP, CLC, Marston, Norwich and JTD – have only so much capacity and the days of easily finding a UK distribution partner are gone. This is a disrupted market and likely to remain so for a while. What to do?  Ingram and Send The Light Distribution have been a good ‘second string’ for UK retailers for some time. This solution is likely to develop further, pulling in an even wider range of shops. However, for US publishers this is not the best solution, as it does little to satisfy their very real demand for wider title visibility and full range availability.

In the UK, distributors and wholesalers are still scrambling to cope with the continuing disruption caused by TMD’s closure. It’s unrealistic to take out around £2-3m of USA turnover from the supply chain and expect everything to sort itself out in a few weeks! In my view, the current situation has a long way to run, and it could be well past Christmas before anything remotely resembling stability returns. I sense that this approaching autumn sales period will be very challenging indeed. I further suspect that some well known American names will not actually find a home in the UK.

This market has changed so much in such a short space of time. However, let’s not kid ourselves as even in the TMD days, too much imported product was already chasing far too few buyers. In some ways, the new non-exclusive model of distribution may only make matters worse, resulting in a false sense of security. More product is being brought in, but the danger is of larger unit numbers simply sitting on even more UK warehouse shelves. These arrangements are unlikely to solve the broader problem. Traditional retail has contracted and online retail is far more demanding of the supply chain.

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At the same time, we are experiencing HarperCollins Christian’s introduction of their New York mandated 360-supply programme, requiring that their Christian titles (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson) are sourced via the Glasgow warehouse. Those of us with longer memories will remember something similar from some while back; a move which resulted in the then HarperCollins Religious titles moving to Carlisle due to Glasgow being unable to cope! The jury is out on whether this will work again second time around. For our niche trade, with its requirement of the long tail of titles, especially from the Thomas Nelson Bible range, somehow I have serious doubts but I’m willing to be proved wrong. Anyway, it’s yet another piece of unhelpful trade disruption for bookshops and their customers to navigate at a time when all of us need as many sales as possible.

What does this all mean for the trade, whether publisher or retailer? In my estimation, further consolidation here seems highly likely, as well as even more upheaval to the status quo. We cannot under-estimate the scale of the unprecedented industry and market changes that we are presently living through. Retailers have been coping with this particular storm for years and now it seems its the turn of the publishing community to feel the heat. At the same time, suppliers have to deal with an increasingly bellicose Amazon demanding ever increased terms for doing business in the UK.

As many readers will know, I continue to remain positive about the future of the printed book despite the onset of digital product. The key risks to print sales rest with quality and content. For the retailer, selectivity is the name of the game, together with an ability to curate relevant books to appeal to a specific customer base. Long gone are the days when retailers, wholesalers and distributors would take everything a publisher produces.

Good relationships with customers, stock availability of key lines and fast, same day despatch are what count now.

The game has changed completely. Marketing and promotion remain the Holy Grail. Title discoverability is key. It is one thing getting a title into a warehouse; it’s another matter entirely to get that same title into the hands of the consumer. This point requires far more attention from all aspects of the trade; the Christian trade in particular has a way to go here. A total rethink to advertising and promotion is required.

I look forward to navigating the next set of rapids that lie ahead. Years ago, I particularly enjoyed canoeing through white water – which is just how the book trade feels at present.

Eddie Olliffe is Consulting Editor for Together Magazine.

Book Trade – New Foyles bookshop opens in London

June 13, 2014 2 comments

Wow @Foyles. A major new bookshop opened in London’s Charing Cross Road last Saturday.

Foyles at Charing Cross Road, London

Now this really is a bookshop! It was still a bit rough around the edges when I was there due to the earlier move and has no cafe yet (this will open shortly on an upper floor).

Foyles London

The range of titles is tremendous, as is the easy access to eight levels.

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If you’ve seen this brilliant new Foyles shop, you’ll appreciate that good bookshops are not dead yet. The shop was heaving at 7pm in the evening with customers buying armfuls of books.

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The Christianity section is good with a decent range of Bibles, but I’m not sure it’s quite as extensive a department as in the previous shop? Anyway, well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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A month long ‘Grand Opening Festival’ is due to start this weekend. ‪#‎Foyles107‬

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