Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Spirituality Spectrum: 21st century believing

The University of Exeter published some research earlier this week on evolving attitudes among those born in 1970. Here's the analysis of their views on religion and faith, with analysis by Prof David Voas (who's also been involved in some of the CofE research recently). More details plus a link to the full research here.

Professor Voas concludes that it would be more meaningful to allocate people to one of seven categories:

  • Non-religious (28% of the 1970-born cohort): Does not have a religion or believe in either God or life after death.
  • Unorthodox non-religious (21%): Does not have a religion or does not attend services. Believes in God or life after death but not both.
  • Actively religious (15%): Has a religion and believes in God and life after death. Attends services.
  • Non-practising religious (14%): Has a religion and believes in God and life after death. Does not attend services.
  • Non-identifying believers (10%): Does not have a religion, but believes in God and life after death.
  • Nominally religious (7%): Identifies with a religion. But believes in neither God nor life after death.
  • Unorthodox religious (5%): Has a religion and attends services at least occasionally. Believes in God but not life after death (or, in a few cases, vice versa).
It's a fascinating spectrum, and a reminder that the UK doesn't have a simple Christian/atheist binary option (if it ever did). On first sight it reminded me of the current political opinion polls, a spectrum of identities with no one block claiming a significant or decisive percentage. 

What I'd love to see is some way of tracking how people end up at these points. The research suggests that the stronger your religious upbringing, the more likely you are to have a faith now, and be practicing it. No surprise there. But how do you end up as an agnostic who believes in God and life after death. Or a Christian who doesn't believe in either?

It's a reminder that we can't pigeon hole people, everyone's faith is part of their life story, not everyone in church will believe the same thing, nor will everyone at a Richard Dawkins book signing. People need to be listened to, rather than lumped together, 

The report also notes that men are much less likely to identify with a faith than women. Another challenge. Given that Jesus started with a bunch of blokes, the church has to ask itself what we've lost of authentic Christianity that the majority of men don't see Jesus as any of their business, or themselves as any of His.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Anthropocene or Neanderthal? Murdoch signals the end of an era

A few days ago, some geologists announced that we were living in a new global epoch, the Anthropocene Age. It turns out that the first nuclear tests marked the beginning of this new phase of global history, up there with the Triassic, the Cretaceous and the Audacious.

It turns out they had got slightly ahead of themselves. We are actually in the final few days of the Neanderthal Period, with the news that the Sun is about to stop publishing pictures of breasts on page 3.

However, there are signs that we may be simply entering the Dacre Age: most of the papers reporting on the Sun story are themselves putting up lots of pictures of women in bikinis, because their readers clearly need to be reminded what a woman in a bikini looks like.


This has been standard Daily Mail practice for years - x is so outrageous we have to show you a picture of it, just so you know how outrageous it is (wink wink).

Congratulations to the No More Page 3 campaign, even the Mighty Murdoch can be forced to change by people power. Now for Stop the Sidebar?

update: having said all that, the Neanderthals may not have quite given up yet...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mental Health - an election issue?

It should be, and on 'Blue Monday', a couple of the party leaders are highlighting it:

Nick Clegg is backing a pilot scheme in the NHS, based on results in the US, to reduce the number of suicides by providing better response and support.

Ed Miliband is focusing on child mental health, having had his own taskforce looking into this over the last 2-3 years, with a report launched today. I notice that the report on this says this will be funded by 'increasing the proportion' of mental health spending which goes on children. I.e. reducing the proportion spent on adults. The whole mental health budget needs to rise.

This is good, there may not be many votes in depression, but we don't want politicians who are hunting votes, we want politicians who identify the major issues our country faces which governments can address, and this is one of them.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

CofE Discussion papers and forums: a map of the blizzard

The blizzard of discussion papers from the CofE this week has been helpfully summarised over at Thinking Anglicans, I hope they don't mind a bit of cutting and pasting:
(updated Saturday, this is now a complete list of papers & links)

Paper 2 (Tuesday) is Developing Discipleship.
There is an accompanying blog and a video interview with the Bishop of Sheffield
There is an online forum to discuss this paper.
Paper 3 (Wednesday) is Report of the Simplification Task Group.
There is an accompanying blog and a video interview with the Bishop of Willesden.
There is an online forum to discuss this paper.
Paper 4 (Thursday) is Resourcing Ministerial Education in the Church of England.
There is an accompanying blog and a video interview with the Bishop of Sheffield.
There is an online forum to discuss this paper.
Paper 5 (Friday) is Resourcing the Future of the Church of England
There is an accompanying blog and a video interview with John Spence.
Paper 6 (Friday) is Church Commissioners and the work of the Task Groups.
There is a blog and a video interview with Andreas Whittam Smith.
There is an online forum to discuss the above two papers.

Useful in Parts has done a monster job of extracting the proposals from each of the discussion papers:
The online forums are a canny idea, there's always plenty of discussion on blogs about what the CofE is up to, but there hasn't been a CofE moderated forum for the same discussions. I'm also intrigued that at least one of the contributions links these papers to the next set of General Synod elections. The prime issue for the current Synod intake was women bishops, I think it's helpful to know the agenda that the next Synod will be working on. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This is what Feminism looks like

After centuries of struggle, lives lost, reputations put on the line, battle after battle for womens rights and equality, female empowerment has reached its natural peak today. Hearing primary school aged children singing a song they picked up in the school playground 'Oh my gosh, look at her butt'

Emmeline Pankhurst, Anthea Dworkin, Sojourner Truth, Germaine Greer, Millicent Fawcett, are you watching Simone de Beauvoir? Your girls took one hell of a beating.

Sadly it was from themselves.

Maybe I'm just an over-protective parent, but my daughter isn't going to find any decent role models in a pop culture dominated by women singing about their bottoms, waving them around, or both. And my son isn't going to learn anything about how to respect and value women as equals. Is it just me?

The Party Leaders Election Debate - full line up revealed

If you can improve on Nick Clegg as an orange poodle, then any suggestions welcome. If it's a foodstuff, even better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Developing Discipleship in the CofE: more words you never thought you'd read

"...We need set our reflection on discipleship at the heart of all we do.
The call to grow the Church is a call to make disciples, who will live out their faith in the whole of their lives.
The call to serve the common good is a call to every Christian disciple to make a difference in their home, in their workplace, in their wider community.
The call to re-imagine ministry needs to begin with the call to every Christian to live out their baptism, their lifelong commitment to Christ.
from Steven Crofts introduction to the new Developing Discipleship report, released as part of a batch of materials trailed yesterday by the 2 Archbishops, in their drive to renew the CofE as a community of missionary disciples. In what I think is a first, there's even an official comments thread on the report, it'll be interesting to see how that develops. 
The report is part of a process begun a couple of years back to look at the key priorities of the Church of England, and to explore how the CofE can make them a reality. It's designed as an introductory paper to a General Synod debate on discipleship, and a longer process of discussion and development over the coming years. The report is only 11 pages long, and quite a bit of it would make good material for small group study in the average church.
DD puts discipleship at the heart of the CofE Together as the Church we are the Body of Christ, a community of missionary disciples. This missionary discipleship is the foundation of every Christian’s vocation to work and service. Nurturing this sense of discipleship across the Church is therefore vital as the Church of England seeks to serve the common good through the life and service of every member. Nurturing discipleship is the very essence of promoting spiritual and numerical growthNurturing discipleship lies at the heart of re-imagining both lay and ordained ministry
the three bits in bold (my doing) are the three named priorities of the national CofE.
As with yesterday, it's worth taking a moment to think about how revolutionary this all is. A few years ago I asked around my Diocese, and various CofE bodies, to see if there were local churches like mine which had designed their teaching and adult learning around the agenda of 'making disciples'. It seemed a bit of a no-brainer, after all, Jesus devotes a large chunk of his time to it, and it's at the heart of his parting instructions to the infant church. I think I found one church that was wrestling with this. Whole-life discipleship goes way beyond imbibing the odd teaching series, it covers character, calling, gifts, skills, attitudes and experiences, and it's shaped by teaching, life, prayer, spiritual disciplines, training, learning and practicing new skills (e.g. how to listen well, how to pray for someone, how to share your faith), life in community, formal and informal learning experiences and the chance to reflect on them, mentoring, and being thrown in at the deep end. Traditionally the CofE has relied mainly on repeated liturgy/worship, and monologue sermons following a repeated rolling cycle of readings to do the job. It takes only a brief glance at the gospels to work out that this isn't a strategy based on the example of Jesus.
The report notes that we lack a 'coherent and concisely stated common understanding of discipleship'. (David Cooke could have told you that) Lacking this, we have reduced Christian ministry to the life of the church, and have lost the vision of discipleship as a 24/7/365 lifestyle as much to do with work as with worship.  there has been some reflection on licensed lay ministry but very little on the service offered by the majority of Christians for the majority of time through their discipleship. If we are not careful, the language of discipleship contracts to cover only those who have a recognised ministry.
The paper helpfully suggests some practical ways forward:
  • 'Ten Marks' which Dioceses are encouraged to adopt and promote, which can be applied at congregational as well as Diocesan level (see below)
  • new theological work on discipleship: long overdue, apart from LICC and Graham Cray, I can't think of many people writing in depth about this at the moment for the UK context. (But it has to be practical too: theology is great, but we also need to engage with how people's lives, characters, attitudes and habits are shaped, and how that can best be done within local Christian community)
  • a new catechism - a resource for developing adult disciples across the church. 
Here are the '10 marks' in brief, a fuller version is towards the back of the Developing Discipleship paper:

1. …A lifelong journey of discipleship and growth in Christian maturity is supported and
modelled by all.
2. …The importance of discipleship in daily life is affirmed.
3. …Gatherings for worship celebrate the discipleship of all the baptised.
4. …Disciples are equipped to help others to become followers of Jesus.
5. ..…Diocesan work on vocations is based on the principle that all the baptised are called
into God’s service.
6. …Good practice in facilitating learning and formation is developed.
7. ..…Gifts of leadership are recognised and developed among all the baptised. 
8. …Innovation and experiment are encouraged in mission, ministry and discipleship.
9. …Specific diocesan policies and plans promote discipleship development
10. …Diocesan resources are committed to the development of the whole people of God.

On the face of it, there's nothing controversial here, but just imagine what it would look like if this was the common everyday practice of your local church. 

These are exactly the right questions for the Church of England to be wrestling with. You wait 500 years for something exciting to happen in the Church of England, then it all comes along at once.... 

update Thinking Anglicans is keeping a rolling blog of the discussion papers as they are released. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Green Shoots? Archbishops introduce CofE to the smell of coffee

The background to the Green report is now a bit clearer, thanks to a paper by the 2 CofE Archbishops just published, in advance of next months General Synod:

(task) groups were asked to explore specific aspects of the institutional life of the Church of England, where on the face of it, there appeared to be scope for significant change.
The work of these four groups - on the discernment and nurture of those called to posts of wide responsibility, on resourcing ministerial education, on the future deployment of our resources more generally and on simplification - is now being published. It will be the main focus for the February meeting of the General Synod.
I.e. the Green report is one of several exploring how the CofE can be reformed. 
It gets better...
Renewing and reforming aspects of our institutional life is a necessary but far from sufficient response to the challenges facing the Church of England. The recommendations of these four groups have to be seen in a much wider context, as a means not an end. They will be considered at the Synod in the light of a paper that explores what it means for all Christians, lay and ordained, to be a community of missionary disciples.
Rub your eyes people, the CofE is a community of missionary disciples. That's the words of our two Archbishops. 
And they are refreshingly realistic about the direction of the good ship Titanic, sorry, Church of England:
The urgency of the challenge facing us is not in doubt. Attendance at Church of England services has declined at an average of 1% per annum over recent decades and, in addition, the age profile of our membership has become significantly older than that of the population. Finances have been relatively stable, thanks to increased individual giving. This situation cannot, however, be expected to continue unless the decline in membership is reversed.
The age profile of our clergy has also been increasing. Around 40% of parish clergy are due to retire over the next decade or so. And while ordination rates have held up well over recent years they continue to be well below what would be needed to maintain current clergy numbers and meet diocesan ambitions.
You saw it here first folks. And here. In that latter post, just 3 years ago I wrote:
"I don't know what it will take to provoke the necessary sense of crisis, the deepening of conviction that we need to tackle this issue, so that the CofE overcomes its sniffiness about 'bums on pews' and recognises that there's a reason the New Testament talks about the number of people being saved on a regular basis. It's because each of those people matters to God, and each of those people is someone we're called to reach with the gospel. The CofE is largely failing in that task, and until we have reckoned with that, we call into question our claim to be called a church at all. Are we actually doing the task our Master has set us?"
and if I was blogging now, based on this paper, I wouldn't need to write it. Hallelujah.
There's also a warning shot about church buildings and how clergy are allocated:
The burden of church buildings weighs heavily and reorganisation at parish level is complicated by current procedures. The Sheffield formula allocation of priests is no longer generally observed, while the distribution of funds has no emphasis on growth, has no relationship to deprivation and involves no mutual accountability. There is no central investment in reaching out into the digital and social media world. If the Church of England is to return to growth, there is a compelling need to realign resources and work carefully to ensure that scarce funds are used to best effect.
which in the best traditions of failing to get the point, becomes the headline in the Telegraph report on the Archbishops' paper. 
Here's another interesting one, given how much is not done in this area simply because people are intimidated by the quantity of paperwork and the length of the legal process:
The Simplification report identifies specific legislative changes which are needed to remove hindrances to mission in relation to pastoral reorganisation and clergy deployment, to streamline processes and to tackle redundant paperwork. The recommendations take account of a widespread consultation process.
and here's where it's all going.... these reports provide a basis for developing and delivering a major programme of renewal and reform within the Church of England as a matter of urgency. What's most encouraging is that the reports on systems and structures are being looked at in the wider context of mission and discipleship, not as an end in themselves. 
No zombie General Synods, now that we not longer have to talk about women bishops, here at last is the CofE getting to grips with reality, and with itself. Hang on to your cassocks folks, it's going to be quite a ride. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

In Praise of the Green Report

Nearly half of the Church of Englands paid employees think the CofE is 'Bad' or 'Quite Bad' at supporting and developing talent (full data here p9). You would therefore think that a report addressing how we could do this better would be greeted with delight. Not so.

The 'Green Report', an internal report which seems to have been intended for publication this month, was leaked/announced by the Church Times just before Christmas. To say the CT wasn't impressed was putting it mildly. A lot of vigorous discussion followed (links here, here, here, here,  and now a new set based on the report getting an award from the FT for opaque English)

The report addresses two unquestionable issues
1. The Church of England faces a time of massive challenge and change. Society is changing fast, and the CofE, on current trends and in its current form, does not have a long term future.
2. Training and development of clergy is inadequate, to put it kindly. For the report, the focus is senior leadership (principally bishops and cathedral deans), but this is a specific instance of a more general problem. (something the Church Times itself has recognised)

The focus of the report is the current training and induction of Bishops and senior clergy, and the development of generations of future leaders for the CofE. It looks at how to align this training with the stated priorities of the CofE (growth, reshaping ministry, and contributing to the common good), and how best to develop the senior leaders the CofE will need in the future.

Justin Welby explains part of the rationale, probably better than the report itself:
We talk much about discernment and do little as an institution. To leave the discernment of a vocation to the episcopacy to the brief moment of a CNC* is absurd. One cannot leave it that late. The process of the Green Report enables discernment to be carried out in a thoughtful and sustained manner over a period of a number of years, with excellent pastoral care for those who are not going to be appointed to senior posts. It is also absolutely essential that we have institutional structures that are seen to be fair and just. The experience of too many is one of profound rejection after a period of extreme crisis.

There's always a suspicion that some of those criticising the report haven't actually read it, so here's a few quotes to give a flavour:

the aim is to "develop clergy of exceptional leadership potential to make a significant impact in every area of the Church’s endeavour, and to be more open to the emergence of leaders from a wider variety of background and range of skills than is currently predictable... the church must be more intentional about drawing in those with high potential who do not appear to ‘fit in’ "

‘the goal is more ministry, not more bureaucracy’

“This generation of leaders faces a huge challenge in terms of balancing the development of their spiritual life and developing the skills needed to lead the Church through a period of profound change. These leaders have received little (or no) leadership training to prepare them for the challenge."

“the current MDR (on the job training for clergy) process is too fragmented and of variable quality to provide a suitable foundation for talent and leadership development processes”

The report states that internal trainers and theological colleges 'failed to provide sufficient challenge' for senior leadership development in the CofE, which may or may not explain why one former theological college principle has been a highly vocal critic of the report.

I was at theological college in the 1990s, and whilst the theological and some of the practical training was good, training related to leadership was non-existent. At no point did the college seriously address issues of character, holiness and integrity, at no point did we look at how you develop teams, identify gifts, lead change, set a vision or grow a church. Yes we could theologically reflect with the best of them, and we could empathise until some of us were past oral caring. It was only when I was invited to join the Arrow Leadership Programme at CPAS, 2 years into my curacry, that I discovered what was missing. The vague uneasiness I'd had at theological college that we were skirting round something fundamental turned out to be right. Here was a whole stack of perspectives, insights, personal challenges and skills that have turned out to be indispensable to me in local church leadership.

In identifying future leaders, the Green Report proposes a 'talent pool', a rolling 5 year programme of spiritual and leadership development (yes, spiritual development, it's not all business-speak) for people identified as having the potential for senior posts. Critics of this speak as though the 'talent pool' was being imposed upon a void. Far from it. Patronage societies, old boys networks, theological networks, there is an array of informal 'talent pools' already at work within the CofE. Look at the appointments made by Robert Runcie when he was ABofC. Do we want the best people in our senior leadership roles, or just the best connected?

It's also clear that those in leadership need more support and help with issues of integrity and spirituality. Chris Brain, Mark Stibbe, Mark Driscoll, and plenty of ordinary parish clergy: every year there are new additions to the casuality list of people who lost it personally, theologically, or spiritually and crashed off the road. The more demanding CofE ministry becomes, the better prepared and supported our leaders, and especially our senior leaders, need to be.

And what is better, a new bishop who has the role sprung on them, or someone who's already had time to think, learn, experience and prepare? Jesus is clear fairly early on with Peter that he'll have the foundational role in the early church, but he has a few years of apprenticeship to serve first. We face the same issue with any position of responsibility in the church - churchwarden, childrens leader etc. We're not great at planning ahead, and many of these roles are filled by the last person to say no, rather than someone who's been prepared and trained up. Lets face it, the CofE is poor at this across the board.

If we are to be good stewards of the gifts that the Spirit has given the church, then we should do our best to develop them. And this needs to happen all the way through the church. Talent spotting (or 'discernment' to use the churchy word) needs to be normal good practice for everyone from the home group leader to the Diocesan Bishop. And not only spotting talent, but developing it, supporting it, and making sure practical and personal gifts are deeply integrated with prayer and character. The Green report seems to me to be a step in the right direction.

*Crown Nominations Commission, which appoints bishops

Update: for a very helpful executive summary of the Green report, go to this post at Useful in Parts. also has a rolling list of links to comments and commentary.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


I have been hiding from you
For some time now
Through frost and rain
Snow and fog
Yet my green blade like
Surprised you overnight
For a while now
My blades will keep you
Until one day,when you are away

I will bloom without your blessing.

Someone sent me this poem recently, I liked it so thought I'd share it, especially with the daffs sprouting up all over Yeovil. 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Comedy Vicar

I've just signed up for a Comedy for Clergy workshop at next months Christian Resources Exhibition. Don't laugh. Actually, let me rephrase that...

Current bedtime reading is Saturday Night Peter, the 2nd part of Peter Kays autobiography, it's fascinating to read about another professional communicator, and the attention to detail which goes into his craft. The dynamics of a sermon are different to that of stand-up comedy, and not many of us preachers just have one talk which we take on a national tour each year (though sometimes it can feel like it). But there's a lot to learn - comedians are one of the few people we'll happily listen to for any length of time, up to and including the length of time it takes to develop a reasoned argument.

Comedy can be serious. There was a time not long ago when the only effective opposition to the New Labour government was Bremner, Bird and Fortune. The dog days of Thatcherism gave rise to a generation of political comedians including Ben Elton and Alexi Sayle. More recently Russell Brand, Mark Thomas, Mark Steel, Marcus Brigstocke, Jeremy Hardy, Adam Hills, etc. etc. all deliver a bit of the same. In the Christian 'world', Adrian Plass and J John, in very different ways, can deliver comedy and serious comment in the same sentence.

I'm surprised the workshop isn't called Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus. With jokes like that, you can see now why I need it...

Saturday, January 03, 2015

A prayer

Prayer of Bishop Thomas Ken,
Bishop of Bath & Wells 1685-1691

Thou, O heavenly Guide of our devotion and our love
by teaching us to pray hast showed us
that Prayer is our Treasury where all blessings are kept,
our Armoury where all our strength and weapons are stored,
the only great preservative
and the very vital heat of divine love.

Give me grace to call on thee at all times by diligent prayer.

Lord, I know my devotion has daily many
unavoidable and necessary interruptions,
and I cannot always be actually praying.
All I can do is to beg of thy love to keep my heart always
in an habitual disposition to devotion,
and in mindfulness of thy divine presence.

As thy infinite love is ever-streaming in blessings on me

O let my soul be ever breathing love to Thee.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Walk softly, as you go through Christmas,
that each step may bring you down the starlit path, to the manger bed.

Talk quietly, as you speak of Christmas
that you shall not drown out the glorious song of angels .

Kneel reverently as you pause for Christmas,
that you may feel again the Spirit of the Nativity, rekindled in your soul.

Rise eagerly, after you have trod the Christmas Path,
that you may serve more fully, the one whose birth we hail.