Saturday, September 29, 2007
Rugby's not really my game. I'm trying to find a sports team to join at the moment, and was quite attracted by the new Mudford football team, who went down 27-0 to Westlands last Saturday, and even had the grace to let their photo go into the local paper. They only managed to field 9 players, I'm about 20 years younger than the oldest player, so maybe it's a team where there might be a place for me.
And maybe that's what people want from the church. Folk who aren't afraid to lose heavily in public and still smile about it. A team which has a place for people who aren't perfect, a team which plays for fun, a team with room for the old and the young.
On the train back from consuming lots of chocolate cake at a conference in Salisbury, I started reading 'The Provocative Church' by Graham Tomlin. It raises the vital question of why, with so many Alpha courses and evangelistic stuff going on, that most people aren't interested in what Christians have got to say. His thesis is that there isn't enough distinctive and different about the lives of Christians. If there were, people would be interested in what makes us tick. The church should be the kind of team that people want to join, just like the community of Acts 2, whose community life was so vibrant that God added to their number on a daily basis. So as we think in Yeovil about how to enable a missionary Christian presence in new (and existing) housing estates, this question of the quality of Christian community keeps coming back again and again. It's not enough to have a shared vision, shared mission, shared theology. It's the quality of our love, unity and community life - those things which Jesus prays for in John 17 - which are at the core of how we do God's mission in the world.
Tony Campolo (go to about 17 mins 30 sec in this vid and watch the story about Honolulu) talks about a Christian community that "...throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3.30 in the morning', (to which the Honolulu barman responds) 'no you don't! no you don't! I would join a church like that!' wouldn't we all join a church like that? I got news for you, that is the kind of church that Jesus came to create, I don't know where we got this other one."
What kind of church am I part of? Who would want to join it? Would Jesus?
Monday, September 24, 2007
The story is at http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr8607.html and at the end of a list of attention-grabbing things that bishops are doing is by far the most significant paragraph:
Canon Paul Bayes, the Church of England’s National Mission and Evangelism Adviser, believes the event is a key opportunity for churches: “The most important thing about Back to Church Sunday is ensuring that those returning to church get a truly warm welcome. Things like the length of services, the hymns and songs we sing and even the way we give out notices can all have an impact on the welcome people feel. It’s also critical that churches think though what they can offer people who have made that brave step to come back. I hope many churches will be setting up an informal course explaining the Christian faith, or perhaps holding special lunches over the next weeks for returning worshippers to meet each other.”
The thing is that if we gave a warm welcome to the folk who just dropped in on an ordinary week, and treated our worship as the 'shop window' it actually is to enquirers, that those 20,000 would turn up without any great advertising push, and they'd have a positive experience of the church. It's a marketeers way of talking about love, but 'customer service' is what people pay attention to. We love the newcomer by welcoming them, giving up the best pew for them, letting them to the front of the coffee queue, and forgoing our weekly chat with our best chums in order to spend time with them. That should be normal.
Besides, I'm too busy listening to Gordon Browns speech to the Labour conference and totting up the number of Bible references: suffer the children to come to me (slightly scary thought!!), and the parable of the talents are the main ones so far. 'No injustice can last forever' (he's just said that, in a section on human rights) is a profoundly Biblical thought. However, as with many politicians, and in fact plenty of preachers too, there's a question of whether Brown is expounding the meaning of the texts, or just using them as pegs to hang his ideas on. Probably both.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Yes I used to believe in Jesus Christ
And I used to go to church.
But since I left home and came to France,
I've been clean knocked off my perch.
For it seemed alright at home it did,
To believe in a God above
And in Jesus Christ his only Son
What died on the cross through Love.
When I went for a walk of a Sunday morn
On a nice fine day in the spring
I could see the proof of the living God
In every living thing.
For how could the grass and the trees grow up,
All alone of their bloomin' selves?
Ye might as well believe in fairy tales,
And think they were made by elves.
So I thought that that long haired atheist
Was nothing but a silly sod
For how did he account for my Brussel sprouts,
If he didn't believe in God?
But it ain't the same out here,
you knowIt's as different as chalk and cheese,
For half of its blood and the other half mud,
And I'm darned if I really see
How the God who has made such a cruel cruel world
Can have love in his heart for men,
And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies
And never comes home again.
With a series of harvest talks, where I'm called to account for Brussel sprouts (are they evidence for or against the existence of God?), it's easy to fall in with English romanticism about the countryside and just spout warm thoughts. But the poem, narrated by a soldier in the trenches, questions whether the God of the vegetable garden cuts any kind of ice at all in the grim realities of a suffering world. We serve people poorly if we let harvest become a day when we romanticise nature and God's place in it. All this does is give anyone with a brain the message that God is irrelevant, a warm thought for people who can't cope with messy reality.
Harvest connects to all sorts of things: climate change, foot and mouth, the struggles of the farming community, the toxic dominance of the supermarkets over food producers, these are all things which come naturally from talking about vegetables. You can even connect it to the Iraq war, because oil is part of the harvest of the earth. In fact, most wars are, in some part, to do with resources (water, oil, land, rivers, people) and who gets to control them. And we also need to remember that God didn't finish creation on the 5th day. People are part of it, the best part of it. Incredible but true.
But if that's all too much for you, just scroll down a bit more on his blog and there's lots of cute pictures of dogs and cats.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
In the midst of all this, and the almost weekly claims to 'defining moments' in the ongoing debate, it's hard to know where to start. Archbishop Rowan is in the US over the next few days, in advance of a 30th September deadline for the North American churches to respond to the Windsor Report. (The Windsor Report was the official Anglican response to the decisino by the US church to ordain a non-celibate gay man as bishop, and the Canadian church to begin blessing same-sex relationships). The reports has asked for a moratorium on these practices, and for discussion rather than churches taking unilateral actions.
Trouble is, part of the evangelical wing of the church has taken its own unilateral action. I've long since lost count of the number of bishops 'ordained' by African churches to oversee congregations in the US. The argument is that the US Episcopal church hierarchy has abandoned the historic Christian creeds and scriptures, and an alternative set of bishops is needed to provide godly and scriptural oversight. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how this could be extended to the UK, all it needs is one controversial decision by the Anglican hierachy and the Nigerian or Ugandan hierarchy will be over laying hands on a prominent evangelical Brit to ordain them as an alternative bishop.
Not much of this finds its way down to Yeovil, but if you read this and you pray, please can you pray for the Anglican church, that we seek first to glorify God, and second to love one another. Please pray for the politiking to stop so that we can get on with the mission we've been given.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
an information/taster event for the
CHANGING LIVES FOR MISSION ‘Mission Shaped Ministry Course’
at St James Church, St James Street, Taunton, TA1 1JS
Monday 5th November at 7.30 till 9.00 pm
Tuesday 6th November at 2.30 till 4.00 pm
A one year course over 4 Saturdays and 9 evenings
Specially designed for all those in any way involved in the mission of the church and how we may prepare for the future.
There will be lively presentations from:
Canon Roger Medley – Bath & Wells Diocesan Missioner
Rev Dave Martin - Methodist District Evangelism Enabler
and The Archbishop of Canterbury's Missioner, Rev Dr Steven Croft, will be present to contribute and answer questions about ‘Fresh Expressions’
- what more could you want?
Send a brief e-mail to say you will be attending, or just come.
comment: I'm hoping to take a group from Yeovil to this, the training will probably run from February next year, and if we've started to identify people interested in being on the mission teams to the new housing estates, this would be an ideal form of preparation. More information about the full course can be found here. There's also a leaflet on the Taunton course - email to the above link or post a comment here and you'll be sent one.
Monday, September 17, 2007
For Yeovil, the date is February 08, which could mean stakeholder conversations happening from November. Various national churches are talking to the post office about hosting post office services in church premises, especially in remote rural areas - 500 'hosted' post offices are planned as part of the reorganisation, alongside the closure of 2500 other branches.
The government paper responding to public consultation about the closures is here. No change was made to the planned 2500 closures.
A search for 'post office' on the Arthur Rank Centre website throws up a couple of articles about this issue. However the most recent, from their publication Country Way, isn't available online as yet.
The last two have been on Cafe Church, something I'm interested in as we run a monthly cafe service, and the next-door Anglican church runs a weekly one. He concludes the 2nd booklet with the following:
"I know of one case in the West country where a promising home-based cafe church that grew out of an Alpha group was eventually stopped by the pioneer leader because it became an event in which the style and demands of the Charismatic Christians made it no longer suitable for spiritual seekers or young Christians with a non-church background. It seems that the early church problems of the Judaisers are still with us. Paul's response is a robust rebuttal of this down-drag back into previous exclusive cultural expressions of church; made worse by the passion for this external form, they turn out to be the dead hand of law with the essential priority of grace abandoned."
The comparison to the early church Judaisers is a new one on me, but it rings very loud bells. It's pretty striking for charismatics to be called the 'dead hand of the law' - having defined themselves (let's be honest, ourselves) for a long time over against forms of church life and worship that are lifeless, but I think Lings is spot on.
It's a big issue in our own cafe service - all the more so as an increasing proportion of the regulars are those who aren't core members of the church, and for many the cafe service is their only regular 'church service'. We've consciously shifted the teaching content recently away from the (pretty random) set Bible passage towards looking at issues raised in the Sunday papers and media generally, in an attempt to make it more relevant, and to raise conversations that both Christians and not-yet Christians can engage with. We found that trying to discuss Elisha with some folk who'd never even heard of him put the newer folk on the back foot, and immediately excluded them from what was going on. The hope is that reflecting on media stories from a Christian viewpoint will not only make the teaching more accessible to those who know less of the faith, but it will also give the Christians some tools to relate their faith to the real world.
At the same time, we're also convinced that worship has to be central. But maybe we need to think more about what we mean by 'worship'. Just as a recent meditation (in place of the normal sermon slot) in a normal church service had a big impact on several people as a new way of encountering scripture, so we have to find ways of helping people encounter God without having to negotiate a set of cultural barriers first.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
But I don't see Jesus doing that. He committed himself to people whether they were reliable or not. He took risks with who he identified with, some turned out to be good calls, in another case the risk was a fatal mistake. (Or was it a mistake?) I see from this weeks Church of England newspaper that the McCann's local vicar has expressed his support for them. Good for him. It's a risk. But Christians have no place playing it safe, going with the crowd, waiting alongside the media to be judge jury and executioner. 'Do not be like them.' I support the McCanns because basically I believe in human goodness, because as a dad I can't imagine they could possibly harm their own child, because I hate the scapegoating that goes on in the media and which we all gorge on as a spectator sport, because I don't think Jesus would be sitting on the fence right now. May God give them peace and surround them with his protection.
Bitesized Books: Paul Bayes & Tim Sledge Mission Shaped Parish (Church House 2006)
Over the last year a torrent of ‘Mission-Shaped’ titles has flowed from Church House, on Youth, Children, Spirituality, and Rural church. Each is an attempt to put flesh on the bones of the ‘Mission Shaped Church’ report, and explore what it looks like in particular contexts. If you have anyone who oversees your childrens work, then ‘Mission Shaped Children’ by Margaret Withers is well worth getting hold of. (and if you are in a rural setting ‘Rural Children, Rural Church’ by Rona Orme is very good, also from Church House)
‘Mission Shaped Parish’ focuses on how a traditional Anglican Parish Church can do all the things it normally does, but with a mission heartbeat. Various chapters cover the origins of the parish church, occasional offices, worship, welcome, nurture and church structures. There are also specific chapters on civic churches, cathedrals, and the mission story of one traditional Eucharistic parish church.
From the start the book throws out any sense that it’s offering a new ‘solve everything’ technique: “there are no quick answers. Simply pinching a few examples of good practice for your own church is not recommended.” In fact, the authors argue that new initiatives are the bane of the church: “an anxious church is a church beset by initiatives…wise church people have learned to spot initiatives gathering in the distance, likes storm clouds… the response is automatic; keep your head down and wait until it passes”
Churches can fall into two traps in response to the mission challenge. One is a frantic scrabble for some initiative that will ‘get bums on pews’, the other is to do nothing. The authors argue for a 3rd approach, one which starts with getting our values right – working out what is vital to the life of the church, and then allowing our actions (and initiatives) to flow out of deeply-held convictions and values. Bayes and Sledge focus on 5 values found in mission-shaped churches:
- incarnation (being rooted in your community)
- transformation (shaping the community by the gospel),
- making disciples,
These may sound a bit strange to some, but are pretty close to what it means to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, just in different language. They also relate quite closely to our Diocesan tagline of 'Changing Lives, Changing Churches for Changing Communities'
The detailed chapters on various aspects of church life are very helpful, a good basis for reviewing and renewing everything from worship to baptisms to PCC meetings. I particularly like the definition of Deanery Synod as “A group of Anglicans waiting to go home”, but the book holds out hope that even our most turgid meetings can, with a clear mission rationale, be transformed into something dynamic and useful.
There is plenty of wisdom here, most of the chapters stand alone and can be dipped into, and it all seems grounded in the realities of parish life.
find the book here.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Looks interesting, though a shame to only get a month's notice. It's run by this lot:
http://www.outlook-trust.org.uk/ who seem to specialise in work among older people, there's some good stuff on their website. Considering how many of our churches (ours included) employ or would like to employ childrens workers, there's plenty of work to be done at the other end of the age spectrum too.
“It never seemed to have occurred to our biblical ancestors that they could deal better with God by escaping from history, ‘getting away from it all’, as we say. History is the medium in which God works salvation, just as paint and canvas is the medium in which Rembrandt made works of art. We cannot get closer to God by distancing ourselves from the mess of history.”
“God draws straight lines with a crooked stick.”
“The moment the moral life defines our way of life we turn our backs on most of what is revealed in our Scriptures.” we end up with 'moralism': “a way of life in which I have no need of a saving God. It works off a base of human ability, and arranges life in such a way that my good behaviour will guarantee protection from punishment or disaster. Moralism works from strength, not weakness. It uses God in order not to need God any longer.” Moralism also works with a distorted view of salvation: “what fixes the world is simply getting everyone forced or conditioned into good behaviour...we don’t need salvation any more, we need education and training.”
I hear resonances of New Labour in this, there are all sorts of religious and secular 'moralisms'. As Christians we are also living with the legacy of this sort of teaching in the thousands, possibly millions, who see Christian faith as about being 'good', see 'going to church' as a task to be done which doesn't make any real difference, and for whom baptism is the induction of their children into some vague moral code which they mistakenly think is the totality of the Christian message.
“The story in which God does his saving work arises among a people whose primary experience of God is his absence.” Peterson gives lengthy exposition of the Exodus story, the story of a people enslaved for centuries, for whom the absence of God is normal. The 10 plagues are necessary, not as a judgement for sin, but as a cleansing of 400+ years of mental geography which sees Egyptian ways as the way to be succesful, and an 8-month demonstration for every inhabitant of Egypt or the sovereignty of Yahweh rather than Ra.
The absence of God is part of the normal Christian life. It reminds us that God is not a puppy, at our beck and call, but a sovereign God who does not consult us on the timing of his activities.
there's lots more, but you really should read the book.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
On a similar subject, other good links on film and faith are:
http://www.licc.org.uk/ the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, updated regularly, click on 'connecting with culture' for stuff on film etc.
http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/ thoroughly American but normally a good range of articles on interesting films and DVDs
http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/ film review site which puts every review of a film on a single page, and cooks up an overall critics rating for the film. My first point of call when investigating a new film.
Well, being the cutting edge people we are, we're printing off a bout 3,000 black and white photocopied cards to shove through people's letter boxes. Worse, the shade of blue I ordered from the stationers turns out to be slightly darker than I'd pictured. I know that yellow is the best background colour for readability (and dyslexia apparently), but fancied a change from the colour of our Easter card. When I popped down to Yeovil Community Church to copy them last week I forgot to take both boxes of card, so we only had the first 1500 ready to go on Sunday.
So what do you know, I get a phone call from a couple in the church to say they're a few cards short for the (newly built) street they were covering. Later the same afternoon I get a call from someone on that street wanting to know more about the church, delighted to find we've got a Sunday school (though we call it something different), and saying she'll be along in the next week or two.
The only excuse the conventional wisdom might have is that, with lots of newer housing around, there's a chance that some people in those houses might want to find out about the local church as part of their process of settling in. Or maybe somebody prayed.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Initially found it through a v nice site with lots of prayer ideas: http://www.youthideas.co.uk/yw/blog/labels/Prayer.html don't let the 'youth' put you off, there are plenty of creative prayer exercises that could be done with all ages.
Whilst I'm on the subject http://www.crusaders.org.uk/praycreate.html has more creative prayer ideas, and links to good resource sites on the web.
http://www.prayerrequests.co.uk/CreativeArchive1.html is even better, some of the classic creative prayer methods (e.g. using the fingers as a cue for prayer), and more aimed at an all-age audience. They add a new creative prayer idea every week, which is quite handy.
Monday, September 03, 2007
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=439315&in_page_id=1811 a series of maps which show the 'shape' of the world according to different stats. The picture above is world military spending.
http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/212177.aspx is the text and video from a Christian broadcaster in the US about Muslims turning to Christ. Exciting stuff. Love the Coptic guy.
The full document is at
and if you've time, it's a very interesting read, especially the breakdown of the research into what reasons carry most weight in people's minds, and the differing reasons for marriage given by men and women.
In the final part of the document, the researchers identify 3 distinct groups of people who might want a church wedding:
1. couples who need most help and need to be given permission: who want a 'traditional wedding', are favourable to the church, but think that somehow they need to earn the right to be married in church because they aren't regulars or because their family arrangements don't match church teaching. They need the church to give them permission, without diminishing their sense of reverence for God or for what they are doing.
2. the 'don't want to get too involved' couple, who see their relationship as transactional, and don't want to engage with the church beyond getting the ceremony done. (In my limited experience, there seem to be less of these in Yeovil than in Darlington, but my research sample is smaller than the 1000 or so in the survey!)
3. a group which values flexibility and the chance to personalise. They relate well to the church, but are less interested in being 'conventional'.
The reports concludes that the church needs to communicate in different ways to each sort of couple. 1 and 3 will value more personal time with the minister, 3's will be put off by communication portraying the church as more traditional, 2's will be put off by the opposite.
There is an issue for me here about how far you meet people's expectations. We might think that no 2's have most right to have their expectations challenged, but the Church of England is particularly caught here, as they all have the 'right' to be married in the CofE (remarriage is also possible, but under conditions).
The other caution is not to categorise people too easily. Most of the couples I've married this year have a bit of 1 and 3, and many have come to church regularly, or come along to marriage preparation, far more than I would have expected. Maybe that reflects living in a more fluid community, rather than one where community and clan relationships are more settled and strong - in somewhere more rootless, people welcome the opportunity to meet with others and to feel like part of a community as they prepare for marriage.
“We do not know God by defining him, but by being loved by him and loving in return”
“ ‘spirituality’ is a net that, when thrown into the sea of contemporary culture, pulls in a vast quantity of spiritual fish, rivalling the resurrection catch of 153.” ....but..“By accepting Jesus as the final and definitive revelation of God, the Christian church makes it impossible for us to make up our own customised variations of the spiritual life and get away with it, not that we don’t try.”
“We know from long experience how easy it is to get interested in ideas of God and projects for God and gradually lose interest in God alive, deadening our lives with the ideas and the projects. This happens a lot. Because the ideas and projects have the name of God attached to them, it’s easy to assume that we are involved with God. It is the devils work to get us worked up thinking and acting for God and then subtly detach us from a relational aobedience and adoration of God, substituting our selves, our godlike egos, in the place originally occupied by God.”
“The fundamental inadequacy of codes of conduct for giving direction in how to live the spiritual life is that they put us in charge (or, which is just as bad, put someone else in charge of us); God is moved off the field of action to the judges stand where he grades our performance. The moment that we take charge ‘knowing good and evil’, we are in trouble and almost immediately start getting other people into trouble too.”
“If you want to look at creation full, creation at its highest, you look at a person… the faddish preference for appreciating creation in a bouquet of flowers over a baby, or a day on the beach rather than rubbing shoulders with uncongenial neighbours in a cold church… is understandable, but is not creation in the terms it has been revealed to us.”
the book is about how to live the Christian life in the way that God sets it out: in creation, in history, and in community, against a tendency in Christians to avoid all three. We are tempted to exchange the God-given settings of place, time and people for an individualist spiritual bubble detached in time and space from daily life and from others, and are also tempted by our pragmatic society to turn the spiritual life, and God, into something useful, predictable and practical (hence '7 ways to....' type books, and the obese spiritual market in 'buy this book, borrow this technique and your life/church/ministry will be sorted' kind of things.) But worship begins with a God we can't control - think of Peter's desperate attempts to domesticate glory at the Transfiguration - with awe, fear, wonder and humility.
As a pragmatist by nature, I've found the book immensely challenging, and therefore helpful. What, after all, is the point of reading a book where you agree with everything in it?
if you want to know a bit more about the book there are reviews at:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/march/26.42.html is an interview with Peterson at the time of the books publication in 2005.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
http://evangelismuk.typepad.com/evangelismuknet/ seems to get updated whenever there's any new information about mission conferences and events and that sort of stuff
http://starttheweek.typepad.com/stw/ returns from it's summer break on Monday, they update weekly with a whole host of helpful links, including events, research, online resources, jobs advertised etc.
when things calm down a bit, I'll get back to blogging more regularly. I had thought of something really good to say, but I've now forgotten it.