Thursday, September 13, 2018

Amazon: Time for the Welby Effect?

If you earn money from a community, you should pay your share of tax to that community. I was in business, and I know that, within limits, its right and proper for people to arrange their tax affairs, and for companies to do so. But when vast companies like Amazon, and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system. They don’t pay a real living wage, so the tax payer must support their workers with benefits. And having leached off the tax payer once they don’t pay for our defence, for security, for stability, for justice, for health, for equality, for education. Then they complain of an undertrained work force, from the education they have not paid for, and pay almost nothing for apprenticeships. Those are only a fraction of the costs of aggressive tax management.
Mary spoke of the God who gave us Jesus as the one who “has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty”.  
From Justin Welbys speech at the TUC conference yesterday. (Btw, he very cleverly tackled the anti-Semitism debate within Labour too, see if you can spot it)  Welby's comment about doing Wonga out of business in 2013 was followed by a series of revelations and disasters at the company. Amidst an avalanche of complaints, Wonga went into administration a few days ago. 
Biblical prophecy operates on the basis that as the prophet speaks God's message and God's verdict on human institutions, the act of speaking it out helps to bring that verdict into being. It may be my fevered imagination, but it has been downhill for Wonga ever since Welby publicly took them on. 
Amazon has so far remained untouched by every criticism and every revelation about its appalling record in paying tax. Will we see the Welby Effect on Amazon? Lets hope so. 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

'Come over to Yeovil and help us'

We're advertising for a new Associate Vicar, 0.8 in the parish and 0.2 working across the Deanery to encourage mission and development of lay ministry. It's an exciting job, and all the details are here.

If you want to find out more, please get in touch via our website, or message me on Facebook.

If you don't want to find out more, please pray for God to send us the right person for this next chapter in our life and mission.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

'my secret is that I need God'

This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn't...but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger. Maybe you yourself deal with this issue better than me. Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path--or maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don't feel sorry for myself in any way. I am merely coming to grips with what I know the world is truly like.

Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked--away from this became--either against my will or by default.

Now--here is my secret:

I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God--that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love. (Douglas Coupland 'Life after God')

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Fruit and Veg Christmas

Draft script for a Christmas talk involving 30 separate items of fruit and veg. If you have any other suggestions or suggested edits then please pop them in the comments, this is a work in progress!

Fruit and veg Christmas story
Do you eat healthily at Christmas? Yes me too. (not!)
But Christmas really is good for you.
So here’s a healthy Christmas message.

The bible starts with a garden full of good things. And just one fruit that the man and the woman weren’t supposed to eat. One apple, one small thing, but they thought they knew better than God and took it. Then they hid. Where did the woman go? Where did the Mango? And we’ve been hiding from God ever since

So God came to seek us. It starts with Mary, a young woman who loved God, meeting a messenger. An angel. It’s an amazing thing to meet an angel

Mary was a bit worried – well you would be - but the angel said Peas be with you. God has chosen you, you’re to have a child, the promised saviour. God is coming to find you.

Cool as a cucumber, Mary said ‘yes’ to God’s will, because she trusted God.

Now Mary was engaged to Joseph, and God had bean speaking to him too. In a dream he was told that this child was Gods, and that he was to look after Mary and the baby.

Soon after, everyone had to go to their home town to pay a tax. Joseph wasn’t very wealthy, he didn’t have a big celery, but the pear of them set off for Bethlehem. A journey of 80 miles or so. They didn’t avocado (have a car though), maybe not even a donkey – the bible doesn’t mention one. So just imagine on foot, Mary pregnant, walking at 1 melon hour, maybe two. A long, tough journey, it took plenty of thyme to get there.

They got to Bethlehem, but it was full. It was a really bad time to turnip. Sorry mush, room at the inn is all taken. People used to keep their animals indoors in winter, in a section of the house, so maybe instead of staying in a guestroom, the innkeeper actually had Mary and Joseph into his own home. And there Jesus was born, and placed in a feeding trough, with animals around him, some sat, suma asleep. They were too poor to have a blanket, so they wrapped Jesus in strips of cloth to stop him getting chilli.

On the hillside outside Bethelehem were shepherds, night security guarding the flocks. Suddenly, more angels! “Peas be with you. To you the saviour is born at last, down there, in Bethlehem”. When the angels had gone the shepherds said to each other: Lettuce go and see this thing the angels have told us about. So they left the sheep and sprinted down to Bethelehem. It must have been a bit of a squash when they all arrived

The Bible also tells of Sages from the East, who followed signs in the sky to find a newborn king, bringing herbs and spices. They first came to the king in Jerusalem, Herod, who was a bit of a bad apple. Herod had a complete ban on another person taking over from him. When Herod heard of the newborn king, he had a bad case of sour grapes, and turned orange, or maybe peach, or even radish (reddish) with rage. Go and find him, then come back and tell me where he is.

The wise men weren’t called wise men for nothing. They went straight to see Jesus to offer their gifts: incense, myrrh, 24 carrot gold – gifts to Jesus for a true king. But they didn’t want the news to Leek out back to Herod, so they took another route home.

Mary, Joseph, shepherds, innkeeper, kings, wise men. But the main person in this story is Jesus.

However you slice it, at the core of all this, is God in human skin, a segment of heaven come down to earth, God’s appeal to everyone, Whether you’re a kiwi, a mandarin or made in Britain, Jesus was born for you. Jesus pips every other Christmas present going. Jesus loves me from my head to-ma-toes, and he loves you too.

The only person who comes out of this story the same as they went in is Herod: he is angry, violent, proud and scary before Jesus is born, and he’s angry, violent, proud and scary after. Everyone else is changed – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men. God even changes, becoming one of us, becoming human, to sow a seed of new life into your heart and mine.

God made us to bear fruit, not to be a vegetable. We can be a couch potato, taking life in like we take in all the presents and the food and the tinsel and everything else, but never changing, never growing, never going deeper into love and joy and why we’re here. Or we can let this Christmas, this child, this God, sows a seed in my heart that will bear fruit.

So make Jesus one of your 5 a day, every day, and have a happy, healthy and joyful Christmas. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Barbarian Government

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the dark ages which are already upon us. ... This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

(Alastair MacIntyre 'After Virtue')

Written 26 years ago, this seems truer than ever, 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Church of England Attendance Change by Diocese, 2011-16

The latest Church of England attendance figures are out, and full marks to the CofE for producing them in Excel format as well as the usual pdfs. So much easier to play about with.

The good news, however, ends there.

You can always tell if it's been an iffy year, because the press release accompanying the stats is on something other than whats happening in a normal church on a normal Sunday. This year it's the social media profile.

I've been blogging for years on what's happening in the Dioceses, and whether we are, at last turning the corner. Sad to report that the answer is no: at least, not based on the official stats. If anything, it's getting worse

In the last 5 years, only two dioceses have seen adult Sunday attendance grow - London continues to be the engine room of the CofE, but many of the Dioceses that were doing well last time round have seen a sharp drop in numbers. For numbers, read people (see Acts in the New Testament, does it all the time). The rate of decline across the CofE has increased, and to have 12 dioceses recording losses in double figures compares with 5 for 2009-14. 

Maybe the next generation will save us? Maybe not. Again, London is growing, again, nobody else is, and the figures towards the bottom of the table are catastrophic.

Perhaps the hope lies in non-Sunday worship? After all, millions of people now work on a Sunday, and the competition with leisure activities etc. is intense. Adult attendance Mon-Sat has risen from 112,000 to 122,000, so it is both growing, and a higher proportion of overall CofE attendance. However childrens midweek attendance has dropped like a stone - I'm hoping that's to do with a different recording system, but fear that it might not be.

There is wider cultural change too, away from Christendom and the culture that supported an established church. Baptisms, weddings and funerals taken by the CofE have dropped by 15, 21 and 28% respectively in the last 10 years. This in turn reduces the pool of community contacts and means local churches have to work harder to engage with the community, and move beyond dependence on the 'occasional offices' as a way of connecting with people.

One glimmer of hope in the figures is on p10 of the full report. Churches were asked to report on 'joiners' and 'leavers' during the year, and 80,000 people were reported as joining CofE churches. 32% of the adults and 58% of the children had never been church members before. That's encouraging, or does it just mean that we notice more when people join than when they leave?

There is probably a lot more to say in the detail, but I hope these stats are actually used for mission - I blogged on a previous occasion how the only people who paid any attention to membership figures were the finance department. A vicar who's seen their attendance drop by 15% in a year is more likely to get a call questioning whether they've under-reported to save on parish share (contributions to the Diocese) than whether they are ok and if they need any support.

Many Dioceses now have a mission strategy, including even Bath and Wells (I know, it's hard to believe at times), and it looks like we need it more than ever. But it shouldn't be a preservation strategy, even though God has probably used the ghastly stats above to kick the recalcitrant CofE out of its sniffiness about evangelism. We now need to get over our complacency about prayer.

Update: final thoughts - the 4,000 smallest churches have an average weekly attendance of 12, i.e. small enough to fit into a decent size front room. On average, CofE churches have a worshipping community of 75, with 54 of those present on any normal Sunday.  This means that on a normal Sunday 1/3 of the congregation is absent. How does a church work and thrive and grow in relationships with this dynamic?

Also, each vicar costs roughly twice the average salary (due to housing, training, pension costs), so 40 people giving the 'Anglican tithe' of 5% to their church could support one. Bump that up to 50 for other central costs (our Diocese has over 50 support staff, sorting out things like training, finance, safeguarding, schools). Then you've got to find money to run the church - resources, building costs, etc. If some of those church members are fairly new, it's not long before you get to the point that the average local church only works if it's overseen by a part-time vicar. Either that or it loses the building (the other major cost centre). We have roughly 7,000 vicars to 16,000 churches, so it has to be that way anyway. Despite no longer being able to sustain the '1 parish 1 vicar' model, CofE structures and expectations are still largely based on it. We're like a fat man after a successful diet still trying to wear the same clothes. Buildings, parish boundaries, the expectation (indeed the law of the land) of weekly communion, committee structures, recognition of lay ministry (Lay Readers are the main accredited role alongside clergy, following 2 years theological training, Deacons get lip service and little more) etc.remain largely untouched from 20, 50, 100 years ago. And every few years, your parish gets blessed with an enforced vacancy, just to stifle any growth you might have managed to muster.

Either the system will collapse under its own wait (scroll up - maybe we're witnessing that already), or we need a decisive shift away from ancient buildings, paid clergy, or an over-clericalised theology and practice of church that stifles lay leadership. Or there'll be a miracle. I'd argue we need both.

update: a few more links at Thinking Anglicans.

PS if you're sharing this on Facebook, please could you tag me in, would be good to see the debate on FB as well as on the blogs.

update 2: At over 7000 views this is now the third-most read post on this blog (out of nearly 2600 posts). That is already more than the average Adult attendance in 2 Dioceses (Sodor and Man and, ironically, Hereford), and also exceeds the number of men confirmed in the CofE last year (6581). As a sign of the times, Facebook is the source for nearly 2/3 of the visits here, comfortably outstripping Twitter and other blogs. 9.50pm make that 9500 views, why so many visitors?

Update 3 Jeremy Marshall has some very perceptive analysis on his blog, worth a read if you are more interested in how we respond to all this.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Random Election Reflection

In no particular order:

The Conservatives don't deserve to win this election. Why not?
 - Calling the election was clearly an opportunist grab for a bigger majority, barely discussed within the party, and in nobody's interest but those of the Conservative party
 - May disappeared for most of the first week of the campaign, and has avoided any meaningful engagement with the public, running away from live election debate, appearing at ridiculously controlled local appearances, and providing insultingly trite answers in interviews.
 - The election was supposedly about Brexit and giving May a mandate for negotiations. But a mandate for what? I don't recall her saying a single thing about what she'd actually negotiate for. The sum total of her public statements on Brexit is "who would you rather have negotiating for you, me or Jeremy Corbyn?" Well, we already had her doing it before the election, so what was the point of calling it?
 - The manifesto: where do we start? Very little detail, even fewer costings, the magic money tree of economic growth providing any extra money that was promised, and policies which seem to have been put together with minimal thought and consultation. Yes we do need to deal with social care, but it could have been done by consensus, or by serious engagement with Dilnot.
 - Boris Johnson
 - 'Strong and Stable' leadership, which deserves a place higher than the Ed Stone for failed election pitches. For all Jeremy Paxmans failings as an interviewer, he summed up what most people were thinking by the time he sat down opposite Theresa May, and ran through a list of her u-turns, hesitations and changes of mind. She would have saved herself a lot of that by being open about things, rather than pretending that, for example, she hadn't changed the policy on social care, or trying to persuade us that the Lib Dems were such a powerful parliamentary force that she'd had to call the election simply to stop them blocking Brexit in the house of Commons.
 - Using Brexit as a pretext for the election, and for a personal vote for Theresa May: it's almost as though the Tories thought the electorate would happily write them a blank cheque for everything else, and so there wan't much point thinking through the other policies. That sort of contempt for the electorate doesn't deserve a reward.

Tim Farron: unfortunately image counts for a lot. Great line about Bake-off, but it might be an idea to cut out some of the matey grins
 - Maybe the UK electorate just isn't grown up enough to cope with someone who thinks gay sex might be sinful, but is still liberal enough to back a law which lets them marry. Or who thinks that maybe we do need to question UK abortion policy and practice, rather than cower to the 'choice' lobby. 200,000 abortions a year? That's a very big failure in other birth control methods (if you think abortion qualifies as birth control rather than an emergency medical procedure), potentially a big trauma for each of those 200,000 women, and a big cost in time and money to the NHS. And that's before we've got onto whether we're dealing with 2 lives or 1.
 - Going along with the Conservatives claims that this was the Brexit election didn't do you any favours. There are much better policies in the Libdem manifesto than the second referendum, but we never heard about most of them until last week. You should have challenged May from day 1 that she'd called the election on false pretences. The collapse of the Conservative campaign, lurching from 1 reactive response to another, the ditching of 'strong and stable', shows just how thin and poorly planned it was in the first place.
 - Cannabis? I thought the Libdems were the party who talked most sense on mental health, but maybe not.

- I wonder what Caroline Flint, Yvette Cooper, and Andy Burnham are thinking right now? Corbyn has had a storming campaign, visibly growing in confidence, pulling off some very savvy moves (the last minute appearance on the Leaders debate), and getting enough airtime that bypassed the right wing press to show people what he was actually made of. But just imagine Yvette Cooper instead of Diane Abbott with the home affairs brief. Just imagine having people with the experience of Flint and Burnham to send into bat  - Emily Thornberry has surpassed expectations, and almost managed to get Michael Fallon banished from the airwaves in case he is ambushed again. And again. Labour might even be ahead in the polls.
(update: Abbott is unwell and has stepped back, and there's a suggestion she's not been well for a while, which might explain a few things.)
- Full marks to Labour for producing a set of genuinely radical policies, which didn't just tweak the direction of government but wrench it round in a dramatically new direction. The question has not been over the popularity of the policies, but the competence of the team delivering them. Corbyn is a highly competent campaigner, but hasn't shone as a leader who can inspire confidence and build a team, and the quality of his team doesn't reflect well on the quality of the leader.

Meanwhile, 1 million children grow up with no contact with their fathers, and 2m more see their parents split up during their own childhood. Family breakdown is a cause of misery for the children and the adults caught up in it, and can be a major factor in low educational attainment, drug use, criminality, future relationships breakdown, poor mental health and poverty. Use the Search tool to see how many times terms like 'love', 'relationship' and 'marriage' crop up in the 3 main manifestos. It won't take you very long. Where is the love?

UKIP; cheerio.

Greens: the irony of British politics at the moment is that of the 3 most able political leaders at the  moment, one leads the SNP and the other two lead a party that very few will vote for. Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley are both excellent communicators (e.g. watch this from 41:50 in), but get very little time on air or in print.

All the small parties have been squeezed this time round, which reflects the ridiculous first past the post electoral system. Our politics is too short on experience, expertise and good minds to leave the governing all to one party. I was stunned to find myself debating on Twitter with an MP, who argued that having a bigger majority would enable the Conservatives to deliver legislation that was better thought through, and would give more clout to Conservative backbench voices. Huh? A majority of 100 will enable the Tory leadership to steamroller parliament. If the social care proposals are indicative of how well thought through the rest of May's policies will be, then her majority needs to be as small as possible.

If I could vote for a minority government, I would. Realistically, the best outcome would be the Conservatives just short of a majority, and needing to work hard to build consensus and work with the other parties to get legislation, and Brexit, through.

Aside from Farrons one-liners the other night, the moment of the campaign which most struck me was Jeremy Corbyn on the first of the two-header leaders nights. He spoke about listening to people, and directly challenged a small businessman who didn't like the captial gains tax rise or the prospect of VAT on private school fees. Rather than pandering to him, Corbyn challenged him about what sort of society he wanted to be part of, and whether he could have a bigger vision of being a citizen that included the needs of others. It was superb, and a reminder to me of when the church can be at its best: challenging people to aim for something higher than self-interest or narrow partisan politics To have a vision of others, ourselves, and community which we seek to serve, rather than a calculation of what suits me best which I seek to advance.

If you're reading this, please vote on Thursday, even if it's wincing and with gritted teeth. We have a great privilege. We don't always have great politicians, but maybe we get the ones we deserve, or pray for.

We can wonder how different history would have been if David Cameron hadn't botched both the Scottish, and the Brexit, referenda.  But this is where we are.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"On the edge of a significant crisis": the reality of schools funding

The chair of governors at a nearby primary school gives their take on school funding:

Our education system is teetering on the edge of a significant crisis. The policies of this current government have left schools in a dangerous place financially, having to reduce what they are able to provide for children year after year. Over the last three budgets, my primary school’s budget only increased by 1%. As our school roll increased during this time, our budget allocation per pupil increased by less than 1%. Teaching staff occupy around 48% of our budget, and their salary increases on average by around 6% each year due to national living wage, pension, national insurance, pay scales, incremental increases, and inflation. Support staff costs increase on average by 8% each year. 

This all means that just looking at staff, our budget would have needed to increase by £103k to cover costs, when in fact it only increased by £17k. Add to this an apprenticeship scheme costing £6k, being forced to manage our own building maintenance and indemnity, and the value of the pound rising costs of resources and trips – and the promised budget increase of £42k through the fairer funding scheme is far too little too late. In order to balance our books we’ve had to make redundancies of staff, reduce support to children, reduce budget for resources, and even stop providing all children at school with free fruit.

The finances are probably the biggest threat to education at the moment, but it isn’t the only threat. Good teachers are leaving the profession en masse, as curriculum and assessment policy changes (plus budget pressures) have increased pressure beyond many are willing to cope with. Newly qualified teachers are not staying in the industry as the gap between their training and the hellish pressure within actual teaching is a gap too large for many to leap. 

The increase of expectations within this government’s curriculum policy has also reduced the ability of children from less well-off backgrounds to engage with education because their progress depends on them living in environments that add to and support their education, like in increasing their knowledge of vocabulary. In order to meet the demands of the curriculum, teachers have had to reduce the amount of time teaching in more creative and fun ways, as well as not being able to teach subjects that children in other contexts would be getting at their home. This can surely only lead to the gap between the rich and poor in our country growing even more.

Behind all the talk of funding increases is a real terms cut. Many schools are having to find ways to generate income in order to balance the books. Making this a 'Brexit' election threatens to mask the huge issues in other parts of our society. We need to examine everything, not just who we want sitting at the table with the EU negotiators. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Teresa May Card School: Election Snap, and other games for all the family

This morning the Prime Minister was due to announce the launch of Election Snap, a new card game from the Conservative party. Should have gone to Specsavers. It is one of a growing range of games from the Teresa May Card School, many invented in the quiet hours of her childhood in a vicarage, waiting for her dad to finish writing another sermon.

Election Snap: a riotous game for all the family. Can you tell the difference between one middle aged, middle class, white privately educated male with no career outside politics and another? Neither can the electorate.

Bridge (Burning): which political leader can be quickest to resign at the first hint of bad electoral news? Usually won by Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn is struggling to understand the rules.

Patience: available in several different versions. The Libdem version takes about 100 years to play out, and even then it turns out to help the other players more than you.

Solitaire: Also known as Michael Gove's political career.

Go Fish: Robust UKIP response to any question raised in the EU parliament about quotas.

Texas Hold 'Em: mass penitentiary on the Mexican border for illegals.

Family Fortunes: in the US version the main aim of the game is to have a very large one, but make out that it doesn't affect the way you play in the slightest

Beggar My Neighbour: or in George Osborne's case, Beggar the Whole Country

Special editions: the Conservative pack comes with 2 knaves, the Jack of Goves and the Jack of Johnsons. The Libdem pack will deal with anyone, and the Labour pack is red throughout but with no Aces and is hard to reshuffle.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent Thought

"I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. 'I hope your stay is a blessed one' said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. 'If you need anything, let us know and we'll teach you how to live without it.' "

(Philip Yancey Prayer)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie: New Bricks, Old Message

Like any dutiful parent of a Lego-mad son, the fixed point in school half term week was the Lego Batman Movie. Less frenetic than the Lego Movie, and following a more conventional storyline, it was fun and occasionally inspired without being spectacularly brilliant.

In the movie Batman is prickly, anti-social, and doesn't want or like company, yet keeps a DVD library of romcoms and relationship movies. The 'redemption' of Batman is his discovery of his need of others - his 'family' of Robin, Batgirl and Alfred, and even his need for arch-enemy Joker.

Have we heard this somewhere before? Maybe in Ice Age, where the 3 misfits find their place in their new 'herd' of sloth, tiger and mammoth. Maybe in The Incredibles, where Mr Incredible discovers that 'I work alone' doesn't work. Maybe in Harry Potter, where Harry is repeatedly reminded by his friends (especially towards the end of the saga) that he can't do this all on his own and is stupid to try. Maybe in the annoying 'Everything is Awesome' theme song from the first Lego movie - 'everything is awesome when you're part of the team.' Or dig back to 'About a Boy', the Hugh Grant movie where Grants character is just as averse to company as Batman, but discovers along with the Boy, that 'we all need backup'.

What is it about this story that we repeatedly tell it to ourselves, and repeatedly hear it and find that it has traction? Our society is individualistic, dependence and commitment don't come naturally, and aren't encouraged. And in the place of the old gods, discovering a new-found 'family' is the nearest thing we can offer to a spiritual experience of communal identity and belonging. Maybe its an indicator of the failure of the church to provide genuine community, where people can belong, find purpose, acceptance and love.

It may be Robin who is formally adopted (sort of) but Batman is an orphan too, and just as much in need of family, perhaps more so, than Robin. The Bible speaks of adoption into a family where we are loved, where we belong, where we find our place in the team of the master builder. A consumer society is by nature transient, material things are given too much significance and relationships too little. The hunger for belonging reflects that primal part of our design: 'it is not good for the man to be alone'. It is the persistence of his friends which finally wears Batmans resistance down, and saves him in the process. Persist in loving, welcoming, accepting, there may be a Batman out there who needs you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Appointing a Vicar

over the next few days we will be mostly doing this.

Prayers appreciated, if you're that way inclined.