Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A good day to bury bad priorities

Today the government is expected to announce continuing benefit freezes and tax cuts. On Friday Comic Relief will be asking us to donate to projects which deal with poverty and financial hardship, homelessness, mental illness, and providing hope and a future for young people.

I wonder if these 2 things are, in any way, related?

If the government is officially outsourcing the welfare state to the charitable sector, I'd rather they came out and said it rather than did it by stealth.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Meaningful Vole

It turns out that all those statements which Theresa May has been reading from were written on a faulty typewriter with a broken t key. Here is what she will be offering the House of Commons on Tuesday

It may appear to be about to dive headfirst down a dark hole, but any similarities to the position of the Prime Minister, House of Commons, or indeed nation as a whole, are purely coincidental.

PS whilst we're on Brexit, I'm a Remainer but even I think the BBC's coverage of this stinks.  For example their '10 ways you could be affected by a no deal Brexit' completely fails to mention that changes in tariffs could mean prices go down, as well as up, and that reduced house prices will be good news to the people who have been priced out of the market since the 1980s. The housing market is vastly overinflated, with a ream of social, relational and financial consequences both for home owners (who are paying a higher slice of their income in mortgages) and non-owners (who can't get into the market at all). I'd rather we weren't leaving, but at least present the facts in a balanced way. I guess I should know better than to ask that of the Beeb by now...

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Booing the Bishop

Last week I watched a school performance of Les Miserables, a great performance and a powerful story of redemption, mercy vs justice.

It wouldn't be anything like so popular if Jean Valjean, after stealing silver from the Bishop, was simply sent back to jail to rot. Instead, the Bishop lets him go free, plus some extra silver candlesticks, with the lines

But remember this, my brother
See in this some high plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs
By the passion and the blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have saved your soul for God

We all applaud a story of mercy shown to an undeserving man, and redemption from a destructive lifestyle. Ok it's fiction, but it's also the gospel. What might happen to Shamima Begum if she encounters mercy, rather than strict justice? Or should we have applauded the implacable lawman Javert and booed the Bishop?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Split Ends

Who would have imagined that the Conservative Party would be the last to split over Brexit?

In December, 8.5% of the Libdem parliamentary party resigned the party whip over the issue. Ok, that's only 1 person...

Just over a week ago Nigel Farage registered a new party, and claims that 100,000 people have 'signed up', though there's some debate over whether that means they're supporting it, or have just subscribed to the live feed for a bit of political entertainment. This follows the resignation of most frontline UKIP figures over the last year.

Today the 7 Labour MPs  - at only 3% a disappointingly small split compared to the Libdems - handed in their cards. It's hard to see where they'll end up without some real heavyweights in the ranks (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn etc. - Burnhams Twitter feed has been strangely quiet today). But there are plenty of moderate Labour MPs facing deselection from their own constituencies due to Momentum infiltration. Like Russell Crowe's gladiators, they may decide they're better sticking together than being picked off one by one.

That leaves the Greens - who with only 1 MP can't really split - and the Conservatives as the only national UK parties still in one piece. For the PM it's a staggering achievement, in both senses of the word. I'm guessing that being in power is a key gravitational pull on some of Mrs Mays backbenchers, they all saw what happened to Douglas Carswell.

Update: ooops, spoke too soon. Still, they were last to split, even if only by 48 hours.

Update 2: no reference to the Conservative Party on Justine Greenings Twitter feed or homepage. It's quite an achievement to complete her whole biography with no mention of the Conservatives either.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Church of England - Evangelism on the Agenda

It would seem an obvious thing for a church to prioritise evangelism. Jesus parting words were 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28), and the outcome of Pentecost was that the first disciples would be witnesses to Jesus (not 'do' witness but be witnesses). After a serious finger burning exercise in the 'Decade of Evangelism', it's exciting to see the CofE picking the ball back up.

General Synod next week has a large chunk of time devoted to evangelism. I used to witter repeatedly about the failure of the national CofE to engage with mission, one reason this blog is a bit quieter than usual (apart from having 2 1/2 years without a full time colleague) is that I've less to complain about.

As well as debates on Estates evangelism, and growing faith in families and schools, Synod is also going to be asked to approve GS 2118. Calm down now, I know you're excited. If approved, the national parliament of the CofE will be signing up to 4 headline commitments
1. That every worshipping community makes evangelism a priority
2. That every parish gets involved in 'Thy Kingdom Come', a (now global) prayer initiative focused on seeing more people come to faith
3. That every diocese helps all their members to find more confidence in sharing and living the good news of Jesus in daily life
4. That the church be held to account for 1-3, plus a cluster of other recommendations (see below).

Readers of this blog from other church streams may be slapping their foreheads repeatedly at this point. Surely evangelism as a priority is a no brainer? Well a) not if you're Anglican and b) not if you're British. We've never been that comfortable talking about faith in public, and indeed when we do it puts a substantial number of people off.

There are several key ideas underpinning the report
 - The integration of evangelism and discipleship. I remember the stir caused by William Abrahams 'The Logic of Evangelism' in the 1980s, reminding evangelicals that we are called to make discples, not converts. The report therefore sees evangelism as an integral part of discipleship, not a separate activity.
 - The work of LICC and others in exploring 7 day a week discipleship
 - The word 'confidence', which keeps recurring - as a church, and as individuals, many of us lack the confidence to share our story, or even invite people to a church event.

The report sets out 6 'operational priorities' for the next few years. These are going to be challenging, but exciting, if we take them seriously
a) Every person equipped to be a witness - 'mobilising the million' CofE members to be more confident in sharing their story and Jesus' story, and developing a culture of invitation in the church

b) Every person released to live out the gospel 24/7 - which links up with the discipleship/setting God's people free agenda currently being rolled out nationally.

c) Every church prioritising children and young people in evangelism  - with the startling statistic that 65% of CofE churches have less than 5 members under 16, and half of these have none.

d) Every church a welcoming community, both as people and as places, and makes the most of 'life events' to connect with the community and build an ongoing relationship

e) Every church considers developing a new worshipping community. London diocese has traditionally led the way on strategic church planting, but it now looks like this will become a national expectation

f) Every leader trained and equipped to be competent to lead in evangelism and encouraging disciples. Though this is the last of the 6 priorities, this is the potential bottleneck. For many vicars, their gifts lie elsewhere than evangelism, and for many others, it's simply not on the radar. This will take quite a shift in culture, but it's a shift that's needed.

An appendix to the report picks up on specific areas - new estates, ethnic minorities, chaplancy and youth.

A few thoughts
1. There is a concern threaded through the report that this work will lose 'momentum' and not become embedded in CofE culture. This may have half an eye on the future leadership of the CofE - John Sentamu is retiring, and Justin Welby is 6 years into his stint as ABofC - most recent occupants of that role have managed about a decade.

2. Linked to 'confidence' is apologetics, which doesn't get a mention in the report. One of the things which gives Christians confidence in their faith is seeing that it answers key questions well and coherently. This work may be happening elsewhere, but it strikes me that the CofE needs to regain its nerve in the sufficiency of the Bible and its worldview to provide a framework for life, ethics, thinking, and spirituality.

3. 'Setting God's People Free', with its focus on everyday discipleship, does seem to be gaining traction, and has the potential to transform Dioceses and local churches. It's good to see the evangelism agenda linking up with this, but it will take excellent resources, prayer, and consistent leadership over many years to see these changes get to the 'average' churches. A small number of churches 'get' evangelism already,  small number will probably never get it, so it's good to see the report zeroing in on the thousands of 'average' CofE churches in the 20-60 membership range, and considering what this all looks like for them.

4. This is being driven/led from the top, to which I cry 'at last!' But at Diocesan level it needs to be broken down a bit, otherwise Dioceses could end up appointing a forest of advisors and facilitators. I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone in a Diocesan post needs to be part-time in a parish, so that they remain grounded in the realities and responsibilities of parish life. Advisors in spirituality need to be leading their churches in prayer, advisors in evangelism need to be equipping their own local church to share faith with confidence etc. That gives credibility and context to the people promoting this stuff, and also prevents them 'going native' into a Diocesan culture which becomes separated from the coalface realities of parish life.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Lightening Rod on the Irish Border

So Teresa the Relentless is off to Brussels again, to renegotiate the 'Irish Backstop'. Because that's the only real problem with the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexiteers, isn't it?

Um, no. It's only 1 of 8 things on John Redwoods list. Jacob Rees Mogg has several others, and lets just assume for once that Boris Johnson is consistent and still believes the stuff he said last month. Just as Brexit itself has turned the distraction levels up to 11 and prevented good and careful governance of the UK, so the Backstop has become a distraction from debating everything else in the 585 page Agreement.

If no other part of the Withdrawal Agreement is rewritten, Teresa May could come back with movement on the Irish Backstop, and still lose a vote on the Agreement to Brexiteers. This has the potential to become an even more colossal political mess than it is at the moment.

And if the Agreement somehow gets through, the 'May way or the highway' strategy of bringing the agreement to Parliament at such a late stage, compounded by the time lost on confidence votes and infighting, makes it possible that a huge bit of legislation will get through Parliament with almost zero scrutiny of the details.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A bit of press coverage

Goodbye St. Peters Hall Yeovil. After serving the local community for 50 years, it's now being pulled down, to be replaced with a new community centre. Between the the church, the community association, and partners from the local council and housing association, we've raised £927,000 of £945,000 required, and demolition started on Monday.

BBC Radio Somerset did a piece earlier in the week, fast forward to 1h 32m in and then again 2h 34m in. John Clark in the second clip is a local councillor, and is the tall guy at the back.

A few other news pieces, apologies for the duplication of news and photographs!

Diocese of Bath and Wells

Somerset Live (online version of the Western Gazette)

Yeovil Press

Yarlington Housing Group

It's amazing how God has brought together the funding, the team, and the vision for the project. It started with 4 people in a chilly back room in Jan 2014, wondering what a church of 20 elderly people and a fledgling community association could possibly do with a creaking old hall. It's notable how folk who aren't part of the church are regularly commenting how it's all come together, from the project team (with every skill we needed, and every job we needed doing had someone willing to do it), to the finances (£900,000 raised in 13 months).


Friday, January 18, 2019

Brexit - New Options on the Table

Lard Brexit - build a barrier made entirely of lard along the Irish border. This avoids a hard border (except in exceptionally cold weather) and ensures that Brexit is smooth, if not orderly.

Chard Brexit - a no-deal Brexit is piloted in a small town in South Somerset, and then rolled out nationally once teething problems are ironed out. Worked a treat with Universal Credit.

Irish Buckstop - leaders of the main political parties play the popular party game 'pass the Arlene'. Whoever's left holding the DUP when time is up has to come up with a deal which commands a Parliamentary majority. 

Toffed Brexit - Using a Parliamentary protocol last invoked in 1381, Jacob Rees-Mogg compels the entire Withdrawal Agreement to be translated into Latin, and commences negotiations with all the European states who still use it. Within a month, he and the Pope have sorted everything.

Yellow Lines - The red lines in Teresa Mays withdrawal agreement are replaced with parking regulations. All MPs are charged hospital car park rates for every minute spent in the House of Commons debating the Brexit deal. Agreement is reached within a week.

Taking Those Eels off the Table - Jeremy Corbyn comes up with an innovative but irrelevant proposal for fisheries policy.

Peoples Vole - in a British attempt to emulate Groundhog Day, a small rodent is held aloft on March 29th. If he casts a shadow, we stay in the EU, if he doesn't, we carry on holding the little blighter in the air until the sun comes out.