Saturday, October 03, 2015

London: Lessons for the Church of England

A couple of days ago Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, delivered a lecture on the remarkable turnaround in the Diocese of London. For the last 20 years, London has been just about the only place in the CofE which has been growing, whilst all but 1 of the other 42 Dioceses have been shrinking, some at an alarming rate.

In terms of England, London is an exceptional place, but there are other Dioceses (Southwark, Chelmsford) which also cover parts of the capital, and there are particular things that London Diocese has done that others could learn from. Some will be more controversial than others.

Here's a few of them, with some quotes from the lecture.

The mission of the church is to all sectors of society, not just the most vulnerable: We can regret this now, but at the time it seemed to be inevitable and even meritorious that the Church should retreat from what could be regarded as imperial over-reach to associate itself with the voiceless in the back streets. Sympathy with vulnerable local communities also led the church into sustained opposition to major new developments, notably Canary Wharf where no attempt was made to establish a Christian presence in what was effectively a new town with a working population which now exceeds that of Leicester.

Scrap the boards: there was an energy-sapping superstructure of boards and committees for Mission, Unity, Ministry, Social Responsibility and the like, all of which had been established during the period of decline with the professed aim of widening participation in decision-making and stimulating action. The result, of course, was the very opposite as I discovered as Chairman of the Board of Ministry. Over-worked members of the Diocesan staff found themselves discussing the same issues over and over again in slightly different forums. There were ideas in plenty and not a few “initiatives” but little energy left over for implementation..........No one has ever said to me “if only we had a Board of Mission we would have done some mission”. Instead a black hole of energy was closed and, as a result, effort directed to supporting those individuals and places which signalled life and possessed the missionary gene.....We significantly reduced the number of Diocesan advisers in the belief that financial resources were better deployed in local mission initiatives.
If a Diocese doesn't have a focus and a vision, everyone will do their own thing, and internal divisions will increase: a sense of drift and consequent fragmentation as people identified with their own parish or Area over against the “Diocese”..... introduction of Mission Action Planning focussed attention on growth rather than on the various divisive issues.

Back the missionaries, even if they aren't your type: The local hierarchy was unwilling to see HTB as much more than a conventional parish in the Area, and in particular was keen to restrict the numbers of curates that the Church could employ, even though there was finance available to enlarge the staff. The restrictions were fuelled by a liberal distaste for charismatic evangelicalism and a conviction that the supply of curates should be evenly spread throughout the Diocese, irrespective of the capacity to pay

parish clergy need to be held to account: in one parish which sociologically offered good prospects for the Church of England, an elderly single- handed parson was replaced by the standard bearer for one of the extreme churchmanship factions. The new man was given two able curates financed by the London Diocesan Fund, and within two years the electoral roll which had stood at 110 had been reduced to 75. It apparently occurred to no one that this was a scandalous situation. What right had any outsider to criticise parochial policies?

Technique is no substitute for holiness: The one thing that cannot be delegated is one’s own prayer and study of the scriptures. An MBA in ecclesiastical administration is no substitute for the development of a beginner’s mind and acquiring the teachability with which the Spirit can work.

Find new purposes for old buildings: Chartres gives several examples of redundant churches which were given a new focus - e.g. as a centre for reconciliation. Not every building has to be used to house a congregation, but neither do they all have to be sold off. 

Abolish the 'tax on growth' system of collecting funds from parishes to finance the work of the church: We reduced the mysteries of the old formula by inviting each parish to pay for its ministry costs .... Well-financed parishes were encouraged to pay over the odds to support Christian ministry in areas of need. The effect was to abolish the fine on growth and release money to be spent close to where it was raised. It proved to be possible to support the work of the church in less affluent areas although, as so often, parishes which had been subsidised proved willing and able to rise to the challenge of greater self-sufficiency. 

Reform Diocesan structures so that people are accountable for their actions, and pursue a shared vision: Unity in the Diocesan team and in the structure of the Diocese has been an important ingredient in being able to pursue consistent policies addressed to growth. 

The current way of ever more thinly spread clergy is not sustainable: The healthier financial situation enabled the diocese to avoid the widespread formula of reducing clergy numbers by multiplying the number of churches for which an individual cleric is responsible. This may be an effective cost-cutting strategy but it is not an effective mission strategy and is calculated only to maintain congregations rather than growing them.

The parish system is good, but it's not enough: It is obvious that, while there is huge virtue in the parish church ideal, the parochial system in the Church of England, with its excess of law, is open to being manipulated by small groups who wish to frustrate unwelcome mission initiatives. In an urban setting, while flexible agreements about areas of pastoral care for each parish church are clearly desirable, mission to networks that are not principally defined geographically argues for an unfreezing of rigid parochial boundaries that have long since ceased to correspond to sociological realities. 

criticise well, or don't criticise at all: Publically expressed and constructive criticism should always be welcome, but subversives, “weevils of the commonwealth”, those who damage morale by cynicism and gossip have to be weeded out.

Invest in church planting: ....our pledge of establishing 100 new worshipping communities in London by 2020 ...My prayer is that it will be possible to learn from our experience -- and especially our mistakes -- so that other places will be able to surpass our successes.
Recognise where to engage: The need for greater clarity and a confident response to the incessant propaganda directed against so called “faith schools” has been recognised in the Diocese, and is one of the themes of Capital Vision 2020 which has risen to the top of the agenda in the current year.  
Prayer and vision are fundamental: The Christian community will continue to thrive as long as it is vision-led and not problem-led. Prayer of the persevering kind that marks the 24/7 prayer movement really does open the door to God’s future while the Holy Spirit never leaves himself without witnesses.

sorry about the uneven formatting! Good old Blogger....

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Unholy Statistics: British Humanist Society and Schools

The British Humanist Association has published a report on faith schools, 'Unholy Mess', claiming that As many as hundreds of thousands of children have been unlawfully denied access to religiously selective state schools in England

That's a big claim, there are 4700 Church of England state schools alone, with over 1 million children attending them. According to the BHA "almost all of (them) are failing to comply" with the official Schools Admission Code. 

Ok, just imagine this. A village of 4700 people. 70 people are interviewed. Some of them don't even live in the village, but are from a similar village down the road. If 43 of them had a significant weight problem, would you deduce that 'almost all' of the people in the village are fat?

Church of England schools were only 1/3 of the schools in the 43, yet the results are extrapolated to every CofE school, primary and secondary.  There are clearly some practices which need sorting out, but it looks very much as though the evidence has been interpreted to fit the BHAs agenda. 

The BHA's solution is not to recommend that the schools get in line with standard admissions criteria, but that they be scrapped completely. As a VW owner, I'm just glad they're not in the used car market, or they'd be calling for 1.2m German motors to be melted down tomorrow.

Update: a couple of responses
 Reverend Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said: “We would strongly refute any suggestion that our schools have a near universal noncompliance with the code. The OSA annual report tells a very different story to this over-exaggerated report, which equates small administrative errors or minuscule technicalities with major systemic failure. If schools were able to focus more time on getting on running their schools, rather than responding to these sorts of campaigns, children would be better served.

“The majority of Church of England schools do not prioritise their places on the basis of church attendance, and most of those that do still make places available for children in the school’s immediate community. Our secondary schools have an average of 10 per cent selection by religious criteria – this is based on church attendance only. We also have as many pupils on free school meals as the national average, some much higher."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We want every child to have access to the best education possible, and where there is evidence a school does not have fair and transparent admissions arrangements, swift action will be taken.
"We will consider the findings of BHA's report carefully. All of the objections they have listed have now been resolved."
i.e. all the issues can be sorted within the current system, rather than by scrapping it.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Blessing of Service

...strangely, we ourselves are being blessed. Individuals whose lives had been relatively comfortable, discover that by offering mercy and grace to someone who has lived on the edge of life, they themselves receive mercy and grace. Communities which had been caught up in minor internal squabbles, forget their differences in the face of a greater challenge. And denominations are together discovering a common mission in the service of Christ.   

from this account of how churches are involved in helping refugees in E and SE Europe. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Question for General Synod Candidates

I've just posted the following to the 'e-hustings' for our diocese, for the candidates for the new General Synod of the CofE

The Church of England is currently losing 10-15% of its adult members every decade, the figures for youth and children are worse. Projected full-time clergy numbers are 5,000, in a system designed to work with 3 times that number. What is the role of General Synod in a) promoting growth in parish churches and b) restructuring the national and local church before the CofE collapses under its own weight?

Background info
Attendance: recent, long-term
Clergy numbers.

Justin Welby is grasping more nettles than most of his predecessors put together, so I'm hopeful that we have the leadership in the CofE to engage with these issues. But we can't afford to faff about the way we did with women bishops. We have to have a Synod that makes engaging with these issues its top priority.

I'll be very interested to see what the answers are....

Monday, September 28, 2015

Northern Power Failure

1700 jobs are to go in Redcar, with the closure of the Teeside steel works. The response from the government is a 'taskforce' and a 'steel summit'. I can see the long grass from here. It doesn't help that there isn't a single Conservative MP in the urban NE of England. Biblical justice sees power being excercised on behalf of the vulnerable, not simply wielded by the strong. A 'Northern Powerhouse' worth the name wouldn't let Redcar go to the wall.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Preaching/Communication - not 1 thing but 5 things.

"It is one thing to say something
quite another to have it listened to
a distinct third to have it understood
a different matter again to have it remembered
and a frequently unattainable fifth to have it put into practice"
(Paul Edwards 'The Practical Preacher')

Monday, September 21, 2015

On not speaking/singing in church

A further thought on the Jeremy Corbyn/national anthem 'incident'. Each time I take a baptism service, I make a point of saying that if we come to some words in the service people don't agree with, that they should feel free not to say them. There are already plenty of people who don't join in the songs anyway, and I don't want people to feel compromised, that they're being asked to say things they don't really believe. 2 things prompted this:

 - Sitting down for a pint after one christening with a godparent who informed me he was an atheist. Work that one out.

 - Getting a trenchant email from someone who'd attended a baptism at our church and accused me of brainwashing people and imposing religion on them. (As an aside, the Anglican church has such an effective record of brainwashing that 90% of people who attended Sunday school aren't adult members of any church, so that's gone well. And my personal record in brainwashing is so stunning that 99.8% of baptism guests never return).

I don't want a repeat of the email, but more importantly I'd like people to think about what's actually being said and to speak with integrity. So guests at a baptism are encouraged to choose the Corbyn option: supporting the family and the occasion in a respectful way, without feeling they have to join in with words they don't agree with.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

National Anthem Shocker

appalling, if they won't sing the National Anthem how dare they represent our country? Almost as bad as the woman on the left in this photo.

Embedded image permalink

Why I no longer go to sporting events

discovered on Facebook, clever. People do have genuine reasons for leaving/not being part of a church, but most of them aren't the ones on this list.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Who's the Mummy?

“I am not a biological parent, but I am a parent. I have young actors and actresses that I mentor, I have nieces and nephews that I am very close to,” she tells host Jane Garvey.
“There is a way to become a mother in this day and age which doesn’t include your name on the child’s birth certificate. You can express that maternal side, very clearly, very strongly. It feels very satisfying.
“I didn’t change nappies, which is okay with me, but I did help my niece get through medical school. I did sit down with my nephew when he was [going through] a very tough time to join the army. And those are very motherly things to do, very nurturing things to do.”
Thus spake Kim Cattrall on Womens Hour. Is anyone else reminded of Rachel Dolezal, the white American woman who 'self-identified as black'? Kim, you are a mentor, and an aunt, and I'm sure you're very good at both. That doesn't make you a mother, just because you don't like being described as 'childless'.
At what point do words cease to mean anything, because the arbiter of meaning becomes our emotional response to them, rather than their factual content? If I self-identify as thin, because despite the fact that my BMI is 26.9, telling me I'm fat upsets me, then am I thin, or fat? Do I describe my body as thin, my parenting status as a mother, my relationship as a marriage and my tax dealings as honest, because that's how I like to think about myself? Or is there an actual measure outside of my narcissistic little world that gives either an agreed meaning, or an objective standard, to these words? If not, then we may as well go back to grunting at each other, because that would carry about the same amount of shared meaning.  
Does this mean anything to you, or only to me?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Inappropriate Clergy Awards

International Buy a Priest a Beer Day has passed without incident, and indeed without beer. On the same day a CofE vicar was reported as winning 'Funeral Celebrant of the Year', and I wondered if the beer had just found its way to the wrong place. Maybe it's just my British wibbliness about death that makes me slightly unnerved by a 'Good Funeral Awards'. After all, why not recognise excellence in this vital vocation?

There are so many awards going around now, and so many 'days' for different things (world sparrow day anyone?), half of them invented by someone on t'internet with a spare couple of hours. So I figured, why not enter the market?

Dishy Bishop Award presented by the staff of the Daily Mail, because what someone looks like is always far more important than what they think or believe.

Fullest Immersion: national competition for churches to see how many baptism candidates can be fully immersed in 5 minutes. Regional dunk-offs, followed by a national final in the Thames. Usually won by Vineyard, CofE churches often run out of candidates before the time is up.

Formation Thurible Swinging: troupes of altar boys and girls compete, bringing increasingly complex routines to tunes by Rutter (junior) and Bach (senior). This year, a new individual heavyweight contest, adult servers compete in an endurance test with a 20 kilo incense swinger, to see who can cense the most side chapels in Canterbury Cathedral during a sung Latin mass.

Most Tenuous Use of a Bible Passage nominations accepted from parishioners nationwide, though the winner is usually a speaker at New Wine.

Shortest Meeting: there has been an unofficial competition happening in village Church Councils for many years. Under the CofE's Simplification programme, PCCs are now offered a pro rata discount off their Parish Share (money paid to the Diocese) for finishing before an hour is up, whilst still discharging all their legal obligations. To date no-one has managed it.

Worst Lyrics to a Chorus there have been joint winners to this for as long as anyone can remember.

Vicars Voice Award for the vicar whose pulpit voice varies the most from the voice they use in everyday conversation. Congregations of 100 are blindfolded and asked to identify their own vicar from a lineup of 6 speakers. Several vicars have emerged pointless.

Sunny Side Up Award: presented annually to the people who compose the press releases about CofE attendance.

Action Song Leader of the Year: for the person who can most enthusiastically lead 100 repetitions of  'Our God is a Great Big God'

King Key Vicar: subcategories for Most Keys on a Bunch, Biggest Key to a Church Door, Most Keys that Don't Fit Any Locks in the Building and Nobody Knows What They're For, Worst Thought-Through Title For an Award.

Biggest Timewaster on Social Media who put that there?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Chrissie Hynde nails it

"would you say young women should take more responsibility?"

"well I think everyone should, men should too. I don't think sexual assault is a gender issue as such, it's very much, it's all around us now. It's provoked by this pornography culture, it's provoked by pop stars who call themselves feminists but they're actually... maybe they're feminists on behalf of prostitutes, but they're not feminists on behalf of music if they're selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear on videos. That's a kind of feminism - you're a sex worker, that's what you are...that's provocative in a way that's nothing to do with music. Captain Beefheart wasn't making videos like that, and I would say that those women are responsible for a great deal of damage."

In the sexualisation of young people, Hynde is right, pop culture has a lot to answer for. Madonna, Britney, Jessie J, Nicky Minaj, yes we're looking at you. Though to be honest we'd rather not have to.

“A study of 458 young adolescents showed that while girls were less accepting of sexual harassment than boys, exposure to music videos reduced their resistance…For both boys and girls, frequent TV viewing and exposure to pornographic material led to greater acceptance of sexual harassment.” (source)

We could do with a new set of names for a start. 'Glamour' model? Porn 'star'? What's glamourous about parading yourself as a piece of meat for men to drool over? 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Refugees: Head and Heart

Now we've had statements, petitions and an outpouring of 'something must be done', the question is 'what'? David Camerons 'something' is to offer sanctuary to a few thousand refugees from the camps around Syria, a tricky thing to do politically whilst trying to project an anti-immigration stance for the nation. However going to the first point of sanctuary in the journey is a good way of cutting the people smugglers out of the equation.

Already Calais is filling up with donations from UK citizens: the compassion is great to see, but as that link reports, not everything that's sent over is useful, and Calais needs people with time as well as people with spare blankets. As one church leader put it at the weekend "we need to be careful that we act well and not just out of a sense of panic". The wave of compassion needs to be harnessed to good information, or it will break on the beach and leave a flotsam of unused aid and unkeepable promises.

Being alongside refugees is hard work, here's one summary what the asylum process involves. If you're offering a spare room, then you will have to support an individual family through all of this:

Feelings of loneliness, anxiety and despair are often evident in the people we meet through Restore. Many asylum seekers have left family behind and crave word from them. For some, there is no knowledge of their whereabouts and we encourage them to turn to the International family tracing service of the Red Cross, though this takes courage when there is fear that the missing person may be dead. 

Asylum support is granted by the Home Office to those in the asylum system. Known as section 95 support, this amounts to accommodation, usually in a shared house, and approximately £37 per week. 

Section 4 support is granted when an asylum seeker has been refused asylum but has made a fresh claim and is awaiting the outcome of this new submission. Such support is cashless and amounts to £35 being topped up onto a plastic Azure Card, which can be used in mainstream supermarkets. No money is given for travel fares. 

Those who are refused asylum and unable to submit fresh representations have their Home Office support terminated and become destitute without recourse to public funds. Destitution is the plight of many an asylum seeker in our country. 

Asylum seekers are prohibited from working and are not allowed to attend English language classes in the first six months of their asylum claim – the rationale being that their case will be determined in six months and if refused, they will be removed from the country. Invariably the case determination takes much longer than half a year and only a small percentage of those refused are removed or return voluntarily to their home country. Asylum seekers are required to report to a regional Home Office centre. People often attend these reporting sessions with great trepidation as it is the place where they are most likely to be detained and sent to a removal centre. 

Quality legal advice and representation is essential if an asylum seeker is to present a case with substantiating evidence, expert reports and relevant case law. Sadly, legal aid for asylum work is limited to a few hours and representatives tend to drop cases when they perceive a case is unlikely to be successful.

Three other pieces that are worth a read:
Ian Paul on 'thinking about migration'. Challenges some of the simplistic responses to the crisis, and recognises that the media have an agenda in this too.
A local blog on what Yeovil should do about immigration and refugees. Argues that being better informed is part of our moral obligation to the migrants.
The Archbishop of York on the opportunity we have as a nation to offer a generous welcome.