Saturday, December 31, 2011

Soul MOT

I defy you not to find at least several decent New Years resolutions from this list.

Monday, December 26, 2011

3 Dimensions of Discipleship: Great Grub from Dallas Willard

Fantastic piece from Dallas Willard. Here's a snippet

Living as Jesus’ disciple, I am learning from him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of the Heavens everywhere I am, in every activity I engage in. There are three dimensions of this learning.

First, I am learning to do the things which Jesus explicitly said to do. It is quite literally nonsense to call Jesus “Lord,” and not do what he said. “Lord” means nothing in such a case. (Luke 6:46-49) But because I do accept him as Lord, his instructions on behavior are my treasures for living life. Of course I cannot do what he said by just trying. I must train! I must, through appropriate courses of action, become inwardly transformed by grace to become the kind of person—in my inmost thoughts, feelings, attitudes and directions of will—who will routinely do the kinds of things he said to do. I will then not be governed by anger, contempt or lust. And I will be able to bless those who curse me, love my enemies, and so forth, because I am one in whom the character and power of Christ has come to dwell through the processes of discipleship to Christ.

Second, I am learning to conduct the usual activities of life—in home, school, community, business and government—in the character and power of Christ. Jesus himself, of course, spent most of his life on earth as an “independent contractor” or businessman. Jesus could have led the ordinary life of the ordinary citizen in all of its legitimate respects. He can show us how to live now, as a mother or father, banker or computer programmer, teacher or artist, in the Kingdom of the Heavens. His character and power and personal guidance will lead us into life as it should be in all of these areas of human existence.

Third, I am learning to exercise the power of the kingdom—of Christ in his Word and Spirit—to minister good and defeat evil in all of the connections of earthly existence. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) Apprenticeship to Jesus means that, in tiny steps, we learn to exercise this power seen in Jesus. Growth in character is primary, for power requires substance of character if it is to be used for Christ’s purposes. Christ had no character problems, but we do. Prayer, in its aspect of training for Kingdom life, is primarily a matter of learning to exercise power in a way that is both profitable and safe.

I've printed out the whole article, as, like Christmas turkey, it needs several days of preparation, cooking, chewing over and digesting. Ht David Cooke, a link well worth visiting in its own right.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All



I shouldn't like this, but I do. Leigh Nash has such a gorgeous voice.

A very happy and peaceful Christmas to everyone, thanks for reading & commenting, may God bless you and keep you, and guide your steps in 2012.

(Housekeeping note: there's a few scheduled posts going up in the next week or so, but I'll be offline until the new year, so all comments are going on moderation. )

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Carol Services: Fresh Expressions of English Heritage?

It struck me the other day that there's a few parallels between the Christmas Carol Service experience, and that offered by English Heritage and the National Trust. In some of the historic premises round the UK, as you walk into a room you'll find someone dressed in period costume, speaking period language, in a room set out as it would have been in Georgian/Victorian/Tudor/etc. times. The idea is for a more 'immersive' experience of the history of the place. And no matter how good or authentic the experience, it would be an odd NT or EH member who would go back every month, never mind every week, for the same experience.

So it's probably unrealistic of church folk to expect that the people who come for their 'immersive' Christmas experience -  period building, period costume, period carols, ancient readings - to come back any more than annually. The Christmas experience itself is so 'one off' that churches couldn't duplicate it the rest of the year, even if we wanted to.

Maybe more appropriate would be a guide book to explain all the period fittings and what they mean. In our case, a glossary for the language used in the carols would probably be pretty handy: begotten, seraph, abhors, 'God of God, light of light', strain, Messiah, Christ, etc.

On simliar lines, David Cooke asks 'who do we do our carol services for?'

Anyway, the final straight beckons: 2 Nativity services (we do it in 2 shifts because the church can't hold the 200-300 people who come along), 11pm communion, and then The Day itself. God with us. Have a wonderful Christmas, and may you be immersed in the grace and goodness of Jesus.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vicar Burnout

A new survey of 3000 Anglican clergy reveals that nearly 1 in 5 of us feel 'burned out' at least once a month or more. The survey also states that this is 'not high when compared to other occupational groups" (p6). Well that explains a lot. If 18% of bankers, politicians, journalists, clergy, social workers, teachers, parents etc. are experiencing that much stress, it's no wonder we're surrounded by the fruits of ropey decisions.

Sam Norton has recently posted on the stats of church decline in the CofE. I hope the fact that we're experiencing similar levels of stress to everyone else doesn't lead the powers that be to go 'oh, that's alright then'. There are some serious structural problems with the CofE, and the jury is still out on whether the parish system is an effective neighbourhood mission strategy or a doddering sacred cow which needs to be put out of its misery before it topples over and crushes us.

Update: for some thoughts on where and when churches are effective in mission, try this (HT Thinking Anglicans)
"•If you want Christianity to shrink, give it wealth and privilege and back it up with the power of the state.

•If you want Christianity to show surprising resilience, suppress its structures and persecute its people.
•If you want Christianity to thrive, drop it into a free market environment and force it to hustle."

There, that was cheery! Merry Christmas everyone!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sex Education and Carol Services

"Daddy, what's a womb?"
"Mummy, what's a virgin?"

Anglicans who worry about children starting sex education classes too early at school need to work out whether we should sing 'O Come All Ye Faithful' with children present. Mind you, at least it gets parents talking to their kids about sex in a Christian context.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Linebacker: This Aint No Sleigh Ride Baby!

Sure, I bring this one out every Christmas. But it's fab.

Clegg on Marriage Part 2: We'll Take Your Toddlers

Following on from yesterdays post about Nick Cleggs views on marriage, there's also a deep contradiction at the heart of Cleggs speech on how to spend government money. Take this:

...I have made clear that intergenerational social mobility is the principal objective of the Coalition’s social policy. And why I have been so determined to increase our investment in the vital early years, including, recently, by extending the new two-year old offer to an additional 130,000 toddlers in working families

and a reminder of what Clegg said about state finance and marriage:
We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.

Now I may be being thick here, but I can't actually see the difference between using state money to encourage marriage and using state money to encourage a particular model of childcare. Both are using state money to incentivise/encourage/nudge (pick your own) a particular family form.

In the first case, the family form is of two working parents, and the state picking up more of the childcare. This has various benefits for the government: a more flexible labour market, a chance to get it's OFSTED-regulated hands on the children of 'problem families' at an earlier stage, and some good headlines about spending money on kids. It also has benefits for families where both parents want to work (or need to work to pay for mortgage, student fees, fuel bills, you name it) it's less costly to do so with small children. It also extends the pressure on new mums to go back to paid work, and basically says that the government would prefer them doing this than the work of parenting.

So this isn't actually about whether the government should subsidise or incentivise a particular family form. It's politics: being sniffy about marriage puts clear yellow water between Clegg and the Tories, spending money on kids is like motherhood and apple pie. Unless your a mother of course, because you're being told that what you do doesn't matter as much as if you were on the checkout at Tesco. Clegg is simply continuing the social engineering begun under New Labour: let the state raise your children, now you go find your place in the economic machine.

If Clegg really wanted to be radical, he would make the offer of free childcare conditional. Not means-tested, but linked to some form of parenting support and training, such as Positive Parenting (used extensively by our local Sure Start centre). That would incentivise a social good (good parenting), whilst promoting the governments aim of early intervention in troubled families.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nick Clegg's Straw Bride and Groom

The much trailed speech by Nick Clegg this morning has this passage about marriage:

The institutions of our society are constantly evolving. Just look at the way the roles of men and women, and attitudes to marriage and divorce, have changed over the last century.

We should not take a particular version of the family institution, such as the 1950s model of suit-wearing, bread-winning dad and aproned, homemaking mother – and try and preserve it in aspic.

That’s why open society liberals and big society conservatives will take a different view on a tax break for marriage. We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.

As other people have already pointed out, this is a straw man and woman. I don't know of anyone who promotes marriage who is lobbying for the vision which Clegg describes here. It's not the marriage Nick Clegg has, and as far as I'm aware the tax break for married couples, small as it is, isn't means tested on the basis of ties and aprons.

More importantly, Clegg is sawing off the branch he sits on. The substance of his speech is an explanation of why a liberal vision of an 'open society' is better than either the conservative or the socialist vision. At the heart of the 'open society' is social mobility, the principal that a childs circumstances of birth shouldn't determine how life turns out for them. There are few things more destructive to a childs life chances than a fractured home life, and, for all its faults, marriage promotes stability.

The Centre for Social Justice points out that family breakdown among unmarried parents is much higher than among those who are married. This in turn has marked effects on poverty, education, mental health, ability to form successful relationships etc.
Liberals have been at the forefront of the campaign to recognise civil partnerships: a chance for people in committed gay relationships to formalise and mark their commitment to one another. It seems slightly odd that at the same time, Clegg is basically saying that this kind of ceremony doesn't really matter, and isn't something that society should value or promote.

If there is a family form which does the best job at promoting the kind of environment where both adults and children can thrive, then why shouldn't the government promote this? After all, it is promoting other social structures - the same speech mentions the extension of nursery education to more 2 year olds. That's using government money to promote a social structure: more 2 year olds raised in state/private education facilities and raised less in the family home.

Final point: there's a deep ideological problem in Clegg's speech. Whilst Labour saw the state as the answer to pretty much everything, in Clegg's 'open society', everything is about the individual. No merit is attached to social structures, even if they are ones valued and embraced by large numbers of individuals. The place of families, neighbourhoods, unions, charities, political parties, co-ops, churches is mentioned but ascribed to 'conservatism'. Maybe he wouldn't go so far as to say 'there is no such thing as society', but Clegg doesn't seem that far away. I certainly couldn't imagine him talking about the kind of mutual dependence and community life depicted in Acts and 1 Corinthians. Cleggs world consists of individuals and institutions (in constant need of reform by individuals), but very little in between. The liberal self sounds mightly lonely.

Define 'Necessity'

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Beatbox Nativity wins the Nativity Factor

Probably not too surprising, but Rev. Gavin Tytes superb Beatbox Nativity has won the Nativity Factor competition. BBC has picked up the story.



Full list of winners here, great to see The Greatest Story Ever Told and Three Kings amongst them.


well done to the competition organisers, and everyone who took part.

Yeovil Travel Survey - get that bus stop you've always wanted?

Peter Seib highlights a local travel survey to help the council plan better where to put buses, parking, cycle routes etc. If you live in the Yeovil area or come her for work/shopping/leisure etc., please do fill it out, and let other people know about it. You can find the survey at www.iontravel.co.uk/yeovil and you could win a helicopter flight if you fill it out. (If I win, I'll be auctioning mine, the idea of going up in a chopper gives me the willies)

Unfortunately the survey seems mainly aimed at people who travel to and from work. However, there are various comments boxes to add your own thoughts, so I've added mine about access from new estates, cheaper tickets for families (£10 for a family to get in and out of Yeovil at the moment) etc.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Christingles are Coming!

all ready for the hordes at St. Peters this afternoon.

Taking my temperature

"Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to.

They don't have to trust in God if the unexpected happens-they have their savings account.
They don't need God to help them-they have their retirement plan in place.
They don't genuinely seek out what life God would have them live-they have life figured and mapped out.
They don't depend on God on a daily basis-their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health.

The truth is their lives wouldn't look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God"

ht David Cooke

I hate the internet, life would be much more comfortable if I didn't keep coming across stuff like this.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It Aint Broke

48 school exclusions and now a community leader, gang leader to prison worker. The power of the gospel to transform lives.

It's 50 years since Ibuprofen first blessed our existence. It's great for headaches. But for any other spiritual ailment, I recommend a dose of Andy Hawthorne:



"It's aint broke!" absolutely.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Military Wives 'Wherever You Are': Community, Choir, Connections

"If you couple the positive effect of music with recent studies of happiness - which repeatedly show that it is our relationships with family and friends that make us happier than anything else - it is not surprising that choirs can have such remarkable transformative powers for good. Combining singing with new friendships is a potent trigger for happiness.

Christmas is one of the times of year when even singing refuseniks are tempted to belt out a tune; only a true festive humbug goes through the entire holiday season without mumbling a single carol. I am not religious, but I love Christmas music; there are few experiences in life that rival the exhilaration of communal singing in a  packed church or hall with an organ or orchestra thundering away, the voices and instruments united." (Eleanor Mills, from the Sunday Times at the weekend, on the Military Wives song below)



Questions & observations
1. Would choirs be so popular if it weren't for Gareth Malone?

2. If Mills is right, how come church choirs have been in decline for decades? Have we missed an opportunity for outreach and community connection, or does the fact that church choirs are there to lead worship, rather than as a form of recreation and community, mean this is difficult?

3. A local singing teacher has just formed a Community Choir which based at our church and under the St. James name. Within a month around 40 people have signed up, and they debut this evening at Brimsmore Garden Centre for our Christingle service there. The age range is 16-70. Enthusiastic and well-connected leadership is a key part of this, but I'm amazed at how quickly it's engaged people, and how well it brings folk together across the age spectrum. 'why didn't we think of this before?' is a question that keeps occurring, but maybe this is just one of those things that has to be done at the right time.

4. The Military Wives song is composed of words penned by the wives themselves, and is being hailed as an authentic alternative to the manufactured dominance of the X factor bandwagon. X factor itself works very hard to personalise the connection between the audience and the contestants - lots of stuff about 'story', and 'journey', carefully leaked stuff to the press about contestants and judges alike, so that in the end the song itself matters less than the connection made between voters/consumers and the show. The trouble is it's all fake.

Reflecting on churches, do we sing any songs with lyrics written by members of our congregation? Does the whole process of expressing our faith to music work best when it's contracted out via the royalties system to people who do it for a living?

5. Just to note in passing the lyrics of the song above: prince of peace, prayer, hope, light and darkness. All sounds pretty familiar. This isn't a calculated raid on Christian imagery to beef up a pop song (cf Coldplay), and there isn't a million miles between spiritual language and love language

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How hard can it be?

Struck by these words about John the baptist, longed for and loved by his parents

"Being loved and wanted was the best possible launching pad for the rest of John's life. Indeed, being valued and appreciated is rocket fuel for the future of any child.

We must be very tender with those who have not had this kind of start. It's all very well to say how fellow believers should behave, but if you've never been loved it really is ever so hard to be good." (Adrian Plass 'When you Walk')

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We See What We're Looking For

It could have been a pleasant hours drive across rolling Somerset countryside, but it wasn't. By the time I set off from Yeovil, it was already past the scheduled start time for my lunch meeting 2/3 of the way to Bristol. Trying to arrive less than an hour late was frustrated by a series of lorries, dreadful dawdling people going at 58 rather than 60 on the A37, a couple of farm vehicles, and then a pub half a mile from the village it claimed to be in.

Having arrived late, I didn't really want to leave early either, but had to so I could get back to ferry one of our kids to their tennis club. Cue cows on the road, more farm vehicles, a mobile speed camera (oops) etc.

All I saw on the journey was people in my way, things slowing me down, frustrations. And guess what, both journeys were very stressful, and I didn't enjoy either of them. In fact I resented them. And my mental state controlled what I saw - everything became an obstacle.

(Solutions:
 - become a sociopath who doesn't care about being late, missing appointments or letting people down. Then I can drive at my own speed and not get stressed.
 - leave earlier
 - do less stuff)

If I'm not careful, Christmas can get like that. Do I see a series of diary commitments, lots of jobs and tasks. Or do I see a celebration that everyones invited to where I get to play host in various locations (community hall, garden centre, church, school). Shepherd or Herod: is Jesus a joy or a threat? Can you tell it's December by the smile on my face, or by the furrowed brow?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nativity Factor Shortlists

Not really time for proper posting, so some more on the Nativity Factor. Now that votes have closed, there are two shortlists, the Adult top 10 here, and those produced in the under-16's category here. It'll now be up to a panel of judges to pick the winners.

The prize is some cash, plus a chance to watch a days live news at the ITN studios. Lets leave aside the fact you can already do that by switching on the TV...... The most likely winners seem to be Lego, who have a starring role in several entries. Winners are picked on 'creativity, style and story', though accuracy to the original Nativity account isn't thought necessary. Make of that what you will!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

U2 as Worship Leaders?

In anticipation of the launch of the U2 Studies Journal (I kid you not), try this article, on how U2 'lead worship' at their live gigs. Whether you think they actually do or not, it's still a good piece on what's involved in leading worship in the first place....

...well, that is if you think 'worship' means 'concert style event with audience participation'. There is so much more to it than that. But that's another post.....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Truth about Depression

I know, I keep going on about this, but the sooner we reach the day when we can as freely admit to depression and mental illness as we can to a cold, I'll stop. I promise.

In the meantime, please read Daydreamer

Yesterday I felt as low as at almost any time in my life and was very aware that somehow a way of climbing out of the pit was necessary before it became too difficult even to attempt.

After a night awake, to get ready for church was nearly impossible, but, knowing it might just make the difference I did so,

The church was empty when I arrived, decorated for Christmas and looking beautiful and I hated it. Felt like howling aloud but hearing footsteps quickly started to 'robe up'. As more people arrived, and we had the choir run-through I thought, "I know the anthem better than I thought".

A tiny, tiny glimmer of satisfaction, but enough to get me through the service to half-way......

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Vote Now for the Nativity Factor

The rather brilliant Nativity Factor competition run by ITN is now closed to new entries. Voting is now open, but only until midnight tomorrow, though it looks like you can only vote via Facebook.

There's around 70 entries, of which there's a selection of my favourites below. Expect to see some of these in a Christmas service around Yeovil in the next couple of weeks.









probably the best of the serious ones, apart from the example vid put together by ITN themselves -


what's your favourite?

An Apple A Day Gives the Gospel Away

ILoved
IBorn
IFall
IMmanuel
IKneel
ISaved
IGlad

All through one app (amazing prince of peace).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wikio/Ebuzzing most influential Religion Blogs for November

Update Lesleys Blog has the top female bloggers in the rankings, and some funky charts.

A major reshuffle in the rankings this month, and it looks like Wikio themselves have been taken over by something called Ebuzzing. The 'influence' rankings are based on links from other Wikio-registered blogs, so it's a blunt instrument. However the calculation now includes recommendations via Facebook and Twitter, so it's less blunt than it was. My stats tell me that I had 4 links from other blogs last month, but 100 tweets, which is quite startling.

1. EChurch blogs
2. Nick Baines
3. TallSkinnyKiwi
4. Islam in Europe
5. Thinking Anglicans
6. The BIGBible Project
7. Bartholemews Notes on Religion
8. Lesleys Blog
9. The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
10. The Freethinker last months no.1. It must be Christmas
11. The hermeneutic of continuity
12. is not a blog
13. Madpriest
14. Peter Saunders - Christian Medical Comment
15. iBenedictines which I just looked at for the first time, very good. Well of course it is, or it wouldn't be in this list I guess....

So the 3 Wise Men (sorry ladies) for this month are a lay Catholic (or to be accurate 'in the process of converting to Catholicism'), a CofE Bishop and an emerging church leader. They should teach them hip hop and call them Diversity.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Prevention of Young Suicides ('Papyrus') - a more deserving cause than the X Factor.



'Home' by Dave Hart. Great song, but it has a tragic backstory. This email arrived yesterday:

Our youngest son Dave sadly took his own life a couple of weeks ago aged 17. He had been depressed but had slipped through the net with regard to help from the medical services and we were not aware of just how bad he was - he we was the 'life and soul of the party' to his friends - and of course doctor/patient confidentiality meant we were in the dark. We are keen to try and help promote the cause of teenage suicide so that others don't suffer the same fate.


To that end we are releasing a song Dave wrote with a friend last year on itunes, amazon mp3, spotify etc in order to raise funds for Papyrus-UK (a charity dedicated to helping prevent young suicide - http://www.papyrus-uk.org/ ) It has been on youtube already and mentioned over the last week on BBC Somerset and Bristol. The song is called 'Home' - search for 'Dave Hart Home'


If you can circulate details of this and encourage people to download a copy (or copies!) of the song that would be great - the amazon link is http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-music&field-keywords=dave+hart+home&x=0&y=0 . It was released today (5th Dec) and we are looking for maximum sales this week to stand a chance of making the charts and therefore more exposure of the cause. So, any help much appreciated.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Rules for Reverends

Jeremy Fletchers blog is setting out the things we knew but dare not say. Very good. Worryingly, he's up to 30, and I can think of several more (e.g. there's always a point in a funeral service where your mind goes blank and you're convinced you've got an important name wrong)

(instant update: as soon as I clicked 'publish' an ad flashed up for a funeral business. Scary. Might have to go back to writing this stuff on small bits of paper and taping it to lampposts to stay off-radar)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How Bad Things Really Are


So, things are really bad. Average income is now back to what it was in those desultory, poverty-ridden days of, um, 2002. That explains why, in the block of social housing I was looking at the other day, the first sign that people have moved in is the satellite dish on the back wall. Yes things are bad for quite a lot of people, and some of us (but only a minority) are thinking about cutting our Christmas spending from the eye-watering sums of previous years to sums which make only one eye water.

There is still plenty of money to go round. Lets just not make the mistake of outsourcing all responsibility for justice and generosity to the government. Or of mistaking feelings of sympathy and angst for 'the poor' with actually doing something about poverty. It would be tragic if we persuaded ourselves that we were all so strapped that being our brothers keeper would have to wait for an economic upswing.

Ht Liberal Burblings.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Digital Nativity

After yestedays Social Network Christmas, looks like Mary has discovered Google Maps and Joseph has got to grips with some of the apps on his Iphone. I like the donkey at the car hire firm.



thanks to Dave on Facebook for this one. Shame it turns out to be an advert.

PS I'm sure there'll be a thoughtful post up here one of these days, hang in there..... But you may have to wait until after the Christmas Linebacker.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Social Network Christmas



From Igniter Media

Thursday, December 01, 2011

There's Already Enough Tat In the World

Update: I thought it couldn't be worse but it is. They're selling Henry VIIII decorations too, £8.95.

Dismayed to find this on sale at the York Minster Online Shop.

That's right, you can spend £6.95 on a doll of Rowan Williams to hang on your Christmas tree. Or, if you're one of the many Anglican pressure groups you can buy one and then squeeze as hard as you can to get it to say what you want. Or if you're a journalist you can buy one and put words into his mouth.

But why buy one at all? With the 7 skinny cows emerging from the Nile and no Joseph's stockpile from the years of plenty, I can't see any possible world where this is the best use of £6.95.

Thanks to Huw for the tip off.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent and Christmas Links

4 good collections of links and resources for your perusal:

Jonny Baker, including beach hut advent calendars, advent tweets, videos, art etc.

Christine Sine, always excellent, lots of good Advent resources, meditations, poems, videos

Internet Evangelism Day, all sorts of bits and bobs, including the splendid Beatbox Nativity

Evangelical Alliance has a compliation of Christmas quotes, research and statistics, including how much people plan to spend, attitudes to Christmas cards, including one survey which has the majority of respondents declaring that Christmas is overrated, primarily for children, and that Jesus is irrelevant to how they spend it. Also surveys on mental health, debt, and a startling mince pie.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Extra Mile

thanks to Gill on Facebook for this one

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stan Collymore on what it's like to have depression

If you've never had depression, then this vivid account by footballer Stan Collymore may help you understand a bit more about what it's like. If you have had it, then you might be able to relate to what he says. (update: Steve Tilley has drawn my attention to the blog Lets Talk About Depression, which is also worth a look)

If you're thinking 'oh no, a footballer trying to write' then don't. Just read it:

I'm typing and my brain is full,cloudy and detached but i know i need to elaborate on what i'm going through because there are so many going through this that need to know it's an illness,just an illness.Not bad,mad,crazy or weak,just ill,and that with this particular illness,for its sufferers,for family and friends who are there but feel they can't help,you can!

Patience,time,kindness and support.That's all we need.No "pull your socks up",no "get out of bed you lazy git",just acknowledge the feedback the sufferer gives,get them to go to the GP asap,and help them do the little things bit by bit.

That may seem simple but in my experience,and currently as we speak,having a bath,walking for 5 minutes in the fresh air,making a meal,all things that days before were the norm,seem alien,so friends and family can help ,just by being non judgemental,and helping in the background to get the sufferer literally back on their feet.

At an evening with Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass last week, two of the funniest Christian communicators in the UK, both spoke about their episodes of depression. It can happen to anyone, no matter how jolly or otherwise they appear on the outside.

which sets me thinking again about whether we need a 'Blue Christmas' service in the area this year, for people who find this season particularly hard and dark. I've posted about this before (see tags) but still not done anything about it, to my shame.

(this was originally written on Saturday, since when we've had this awful news about Gary Speed. I did wonder about removing the post, but it seemed right to leave it up.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Conspiracy: Death and Presents or........?


[AC] Promo 2011 from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

warning: sermon to myself follows.
40% of us are planning to spend less this Christmas. What if the other 60% could spend less and give away the balance? The average household spent over £600 on Christmas gifts last year. There's got to be a bit of slack in there somewhere, especially since that was the highest spend in Europe on Christmas gifts. That might just mean we're really generous, or it might just mean that we've forgotten how to express ourselves in any other way than shopping. Probably a mixture of both.

I was reading the story of the widows mite the other day: someone with virtually nothing, who gave out of her poverty, and is commended by Jesus. It would be wonderful to hear that divine 'well done' extended to a nation which chose life over Littlewoods. A nation which bailed out lives as well as banks. Because we will have to explain ourselves one day, and we'll look pretty silly holding a £350 Xbox surrounded by the graves of children whose lives could have been saved for a few quid.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back to Church Sunday - feedback from 2011

Initial responses from Back to Church Sunday this year are encouraging - the CofE is reporting roughly 14,000 guests at BCTS services among a sample of churches who took part in it*. Over 4,000 took part in it overall, and the report extrapolates the sample figures to estimate that nearly 80,000 extra people turned up on that Sunday. I imagine the actual figure is slightly less: churches reporting back are more likely to be those who had a succesful day (!) but that's still pretty good going.

I'd be intrigued to know if this is the kind of thing which works better when done every year, or more intermittently. It's only going to engage with people who once went to church (a sizeable, but shrinking number), but experience seems to show that if those people find a church which is relevant, accessible and welcoming, then many of them join it.

Here is one way to do BCTS, and do it well:
St Mary the Virgin, Yaxley, in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, is an example of a church where Back to Church Sunday is part of a successful mission strategy: regular Sunday attendance has nearly quadrupled from nine to a viable 35, thanks to personal invitations from church members, and the pioneering work of the Revd Tiffer Robinson, who knocked on every door in the village of 400 people to personally invite everyone back to church.


In fact, why save it for September. I'm sure there are plenty of occasions during the year which people could be invited to. Let me think, there's something happening in December isn't there?

*Can I commend whoever is behind the information gathering. The CofE is often painfully slow at gathering stats - I guess there are other things to be getting on with! - but it's good to have qualitative feedback in time for it to make a difference. In case this dizzying speed is all too much, don't worry, in January 2012 it'll be back to normal, when we get the attendance data for 2010.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Nativity Factor - The Christmas Preachers Dream Site

Thanks to Phil Ritchie for pointing out The Nativity Factor, an ITN competition to find a good modern retelling of the Nativity story. There are some really good ones up on the site, the one below is probably my favourite - it's been produced by ITN themselves, along with several other examples. There's also a dedicated Youtube channel: at time of writing there's something like 58 vids uploaded. The problem now is going to be choosing which one(s) to show, but with roughly 20 Christmas services to deal with, it's a fantastic little video library to have.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The One Question the Church Must Engage With

David Cooke is asking it:

"Ultimately, each church will be evaluated by only one thing - its disciples. Your church is only as good as her disciples. It does not matter how good your praise, preaching, programs, or property are; if your disciples are passive, needy, consumeristic, and not radically obedient, your church is not good." (Neil Cole)

Cooke writes:
I have been asking people/Vicars (who are people too:) that question of 'How' and have yet to find anyone who can give me an adequate answer to the question of what their plan is for encouraging and equipping disciple-making.

This is my experience too. We've been discovering that nearly everything we need to grapple with as a church comes back to discipleship. In my limited searching, I've not yet found another church which has calibrated its life to any great extent around the Great Commission 'go and make disciples'. The nearest is probably Exeter Network Church, whose 4mation groups look like a great model for mutual discipleship, and who manage both to engage with their community as well as to gather apart from it.

So if you're out there, and you've had a go at this question, then I'd love to hear from you...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to Save Money on Christmas Lights

This is doing the rounds on Facebook, and rightly so.


In the meantime, if you want to watch something guaranteed to put you off Christmas shopping, then watch the Littlewoods advert. I think I only found one thing there that costs less than £100. The slogan should read "Littlewoods, we'll bankrupt you before Cameron does." And this is the kind of thing I'd probably write about it if I wasn't a vicar.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Should I Quit and Become a Banker?

An Oxford ethicist is arguing that graduates who want to make a difference should look at a career in banking, rather than in aid work. With Ian Hislop's programme on ethical banking in the 19th century showing this evening, Will Crouch argues that an investment bank with a policy of philanthropy could make a bigger positive impact than an aid agency.

Mr Crouch says that when looking at careers choices, young people are missing the point if they see banking as a less ethical option.

He argues that someone becoming an investment banker could create sufficient wealth to make philanthropic donations that could make a bigger difference than someone choosing to work in a "moral" career such as an aid charity.

"The direct benefit a single aid worker can produce is limited, whereas the philanthropic banker's donations might indirectly help 10 times as many people," says Mr Crouch.

Looking at typical incomes in investment banking and the cost of treating tuberculosis in the developing world, he calculates that an ethically inclined banker who donated half their income could save 10,000 lives.

At time of writing there isn't much detail about this at the 'Uheiro Centre', the ethics institute where Will Crouch is based, but there is a bit more background here. Crouch is part of Eighty Thousand Hours, an ethical career advice service. It's a great concept - deliberatly pick a high earning career so you can give most money away. Or as John Wesley put it "make all you can, save all you can, give all you can."


eightythousandhours.org from Philip Panchenko on Vimeo.

The Sermon Burp

Excellent post by Steve Tilley on how to avoid indigestion in teaching settings:

A colleague of mine used to say that discussion groups after a talk were a good opportunity for people to 'burp'. He drew the analogy of a baby being fed - after a while the infant needs to be winded and then some more food can be inserted into the gap. Without being winded a small child will feel full before it is.

It said a lot about that teaching style. The speaker has the food and people need feeding; almost force-feeding.

I have always been a great enthusiast for teaching in a dialogue. I am not anti-input. I do have some resources, training and skills which equip me with stuff to pass on. But the assumption about dialogue (Greek: dia logos = through word(s)) is that I will be as helped by the listener as the listener by me.

Worth reading the whole piece. I find it very challenging as a preacher/teacher: there's usually far more material for a sermon/teaching slot than I've actually time to deliver, and it's hard enough sacrificing chunks of a sermon to trim things down to the usual 20 minutes. But maybe we need to be a bit more joined up, and instead of the traditional launch straight into the Nicene Creed, or whatever, to think about the 5-10 minutes after the sermon as processing time. Or even to split it into several chunks throughout the service, all-age style .

Monday, November 21, 2011

Round up of Roundups

Somewhere in the blogosphere is an exhaustive list of other people's lists. This isn't it. As someone who doesn't often do lists of links, I'm very grateful to those who do, and save me masses of time trawling the net in the process. Here's some links to recent roundups from the blogosphere I've enjoyed (or which, to be honest, I stumbled across because they linked here).

Mark Meynells Treasure Maps, from his Quarentia blog. They come out monthly, and have all sorts in. Great stuff.

Dreaming beneath the Spires

David Cooke's Saturday Blog Sweep.

Bible Gateway link roundup, for people into Bible-related stuff. And even people who aren't.

The Church Sofa weekly roundup.

Seekers Friday Five

If you like American leadership blogs where everything is presented in list form, then here's one from Perry Noble.

If you don't then you're probably hoping that Lesley will reinstate her Wednesday roundup, in between offereing a running commentary on all things to do with women bishops.

And for something completely different, try the Giants Shoulders Blog Carnival, a monthly round up of blog posts on the history of science. Latest one at Early Modern Experimental Philosophy (now that's a blog title), Octobers at Gurdur.

And whilst paying homage to lists, thankyou to Tim Chesterton and Vic the Vicar, who've both said kind things about this blog when listing some of the blogs they enjoy. Apologies to Vic that I've not yet taken up his challenge of dishing out my own 'versatile blogger' award. Maybe one day!

There must be dozens of others. If you know of them, let me know. I'm always up for a few more short-cuts...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sheep and the Goats and the Bishops

Church of England bishops have descended en masse upon the Governments Welfare Reform Bill, and its plan to cap household benefits at £500. A joint letter to the Observer spells out their concern at the impact upon children:

While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children's Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.

This is about as trenchant as the men in purple get, (though I can think of a couple of outspoken exceptions!) Five amendments have been tabled by the bishops, to be debated in the Lords this week. Here's the original response from the Childrens Society to the proposals.

It may just be that that good bishops have been taking their sermon preparation seriously this week. Todays set reading for CofE services is Matthew 25:31-46, the 'sheep and goats' picture of the judgement scene. The criteria for separation between the rightous sheep and the excluded goats is acts of compassion towards the vulnerable. Strictly speaking, it's acts of sacrificial service to fellow Christians, but the principle extends beyond the church (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan) to any neighbour in need.

As James says, there's no point talking about faith unless it issues in action. There's no point talking about justice unless you do something about it. At times I wonder whether bishops in the Lords is a bit of a luxury for the CofE and an anachronism for the state. But I'm happy to suspend that thought for this week.

At the other end of the age range, if you want to help older people, and have the means to do so, and are over-65, then donate your Winter Fuel Payment to the Surviving Winter appeal. Because it's not means tested, the payment goes to all pensioners, whether they need it or not, and this campaign is a great way to help to target this money at those who need it. "I was cold, and you paid my fuel bill."

update: the BBC has also picked up the story.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Church as Puppy Class - A Model for Unity?

A very good piece by Madpriest this week on church unity, and how to get along with those you disagree violently with but who (like it or not) are still part of the body of Christ:

The experience of the Church of England since the days of Elizabeth I has shown that people of, what amounts to, different faiths can exist together in the same church. Of course, there will be squabbling. There is squabbling in the dog club I belong to but this doesn't mean its members don't all love dogs (we may hate each other at times but we never stop loving our canine companions and if that is not a perfect metaphor for the Anglican Communion I don't know what is) and the arguments rarely lead to people storming off in a huff to set up their own dog club somewhere else. Different dog clubs have different constitutions, different priorities, different ways of doing things. But this doesn't mean that we are not all united by our affiliation to the Kennel Club. It doesn't stop us all competing at the same dog shows run under the auspices of the Kennel Club.

The same can be true for different congregations and provinces affiliated to the Anglican Communion. The same has been true for many years. There is no need to mend something that isn't broken, especially when such tinkering will lead to more damage not less.


There is a lot of energy being spent on what actually constitutes 'affiliation to the Kennel Club', because many Anglicans think that there has to be more to it than adherence to the Nicene Creed, recognition of your diocesan bishop, and a tradition of worship. But how much do we add to the basics before it becomes almost impossible for everyone to stay affiliated, or even to keep up with all the rules and regulations?

There's also a difference between organic and institutional unity. I'm part of the institution of the CofE, but in reality, on a day to day basis, work just as closely (if not more so) with non-Anglican churches who share the same values of worship, community, mission and discipleship. However, there are 'economies of scale' in an institution, but with those come the small print. Is it even possible to have one without the other?

Friday, November 18, 2011

#Occupy Christmas - a sermon idea

"The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us" (John 1:14)

For the #Occupy Christmas sermon you will need:

 - the above Bible text
 - a tent
 - a suitable banner ('what would Jesus do?' etc.)

and a sermon incorporating some or all of the following ideas:
 - the Incarnation as a protest camp
 - the Incarnation as a public conversation about change and justice
 - attempts to evict Jesus by the ruling powers as he was getting in the way of normal commerce and politics
 - Jesus' plan to Occupy everything and everyone
 - the question of how many of us have pitched our tent next to Jesus, but then gone back home because it's more comfy there.

I have the first two items on this list, still working on the rest. Any thoughts welcome!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ian Hislop: a modern Ezekiel?

For the 2nd week in a row, the Radio Times is asking questions about faith. Last week Tom Hollander, this week Ian Hislop. Hislop is following up his excellent series on the Victorian 'do-gooders' with a progamme on 'When Bankers Were Good'. With all the talk about putting a new ethical basis at the heart of banking, perhaps Hislops programme should be required watching in the Square Mile.

Hislop is also quizzed about his faith:

Hislop, who was at the helm of Private Eye when it portrayed the then prime minister as a trendy Church of England vicar, described himself as "an occasional Anglican".

He said: "I'm not sure that a lot of what I do is particularly charitable or Christian, so that worries me. I remember being in church and the vicar noticed I was there and included me in a rant in his sermon against those who bear false witness. That put me in my place. So I am pretty confused about my position. But I go."

I was wondering if Hislop is too hard on himself, and was put in mind of the prophet Ezekiel. Here is someone who cooks over dung to make a public point, graphically compares Israel to a prostitute, and repeatedly satirises and slams the rulers of Israel for their vices and sins. Part political commentator, part performance artist, Ezekial would have worried the lawyers at Private Eye, and been post-watershed material on Channel 4.

Though I guess if the CofE embraced Hislop too openly, that might devalue his currency as a commentator and prophet. After all, if you want people to hear you speak from the church steps, not the vestry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Place of Beer in Spiritual Warfare

Internet Monk caught my eye yesterday with this piece about Martin Luther and the devil. Luther had a 'robust' approach to dealing with temptation, possibly a reaction against being over-scrupulous in his younger life. Luther struggled with depression and intrusive thoughts, but taught that the best way to deal with these was to distract yourself by having fun and downing a pint or two with the lads:

Be strong and cheerful and cast out those monstrous thoughts. Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try to conscientiously not to sin at all.

So when the devil says to you, “Do not drink,” answer him: “I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” One must always do what Satan forbids. What other cause do you think that I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely and making merry so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me.

The Monk himself concludes

Once we truly grasp God’s grace toward us in Christ, we will not live timidly or refuse to relish our Creator’s good gifts. For heaven’s sake, life is hard enough, sad enough, stressful enough. The world, the flesh, and the devil exert their pressures on our spirits every day. The remedies that bring us relief are not always “spiritual.” How could that possibly be? Our Savior, who had a reputation among the righteous as a glutton and winebibber, a friend of “sinners” who loved to party and enjoy gaiety and laughter around the table, won’t stand for it. (my emphasis)

On a similar theme, here's a piece on the place of beer in evangelism. Sort of.

Cheers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Proost Advent Resources

There's lots of good stuff out there for Advent, Proost are one of my favourites, and they now have an Advent Calendar too, courtesy of Si Smith. Here's a few of their bits and bobs:

Advent Calendar - 25 images by Si Smith, plus a meditation for each day, available electronically.

Nativity Figures - these are really good, download the images then print them out on white card. Had great fun making these a couple of years ago in a Christmas service.

9 lessons and carols animations - by Jon Birch (ASBO Jesus), flash animations to show during the readings of the traditional 9 Christmas readings. Youtube preview here.

Silent night movie, also by Jon Birch.

nine - 9 artistic pieces to go with the 9 lessons and carols.

All available for download.

Or use the 'Advent' tab below to browse resources from other places.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Is It Wrong to Change Gender?

I missed this at the time, but a few months ago Channel 4 ran a series of short pieces about transgender people, from a religious viewpoint. You can see all 7 (very short) videos here: one is by a vicar, and they don't all agree.

This is something I'm trying to think through at the moment, and found Peter Oulds thoughts very helpful. He writes:

I have to be totally open and honest with you (and my other readers) at this point and admit that I am currently engaged in a rethink on this issue of transgenderism. When we lost our second son to a chromosomal disorder (in his case Trisomy 18 – Edwards Syndrome), I spent quite a bit of time exploring issues around chromosomal disfunction and other gender issues. I’m still in the middle of that exploration, but at the moment my position can be summarised as follows:

•If we lived in a perfect, Edenic, un-fallen world then issues of Transgenderism wouldn’t occur. That is to say, I am convinced that transgenderism is a result of the Fall.

•However, if transgenderism is simply one variant expression of the brokeness of all humanity, we cannot (as you rightly point out) make its experience in and of itself as disbar to ministry of any kind. We are in a sense driven back to the behaviour / orientation distinction in the issue of homosexuality.

•My current issue therefore is what “behaviour” in the life of those who have transgender issues is sinful and what isn’t. For homosexuality I think we have clear Scriptural guidelines on sexual expression. For those with transgender issues we do not.

•My key current concern is whether in assuming that the displayed sex of a person (i.e. that which they appear to be biologically) is the “correct” sex, are we actually missing the truth of the situation for some people? For example, I assume Susannah that if you are a male to female transexual, your sex chromosomes are XY. A traditional conservative approach would be to argue that since you present as biologically male that is your true gender and any attempt to deny it is to embrace fallenness rather than to reject it.

•However, might it actually be the case that your true gender is female and that the development of your sex chromosomes as XY is actually a result of the Fall (in the same way that my son having a third 18th chromosome was fallen, not “good”). If this is the case then helping you transit from male to female is actually a “good” thing rather than a “bad” or sinful thing.

•At the same time, I am aware of a number of cases where those who have presented with very clear sex/gender self-divergences have, through bringing areas of emotional and relational brokeness to God in prayer and allowing him to heal them, have seen their self-perceived gender realign with their biological sex.


I’m not decided yet on this issue, but I am in a position where I am not prepared to condemn those who have transited sex to their self-understood gender. Certainly, I cannot see the experience of transgenderism itself as a disbar to employment in a church, though I can understand why some churches would be hesitant to employ someone who has actually transited.

This whole issue is particularly hard when other people are involved, and (as the last of the 7 videos shows) it can have a devastating effect on family members. There has to be a limit on how far other people pay the price for individuals being 'true to themselves'. At the same time, it's not good enough to say that, because the whole issue makes us feel uncomfortable, there's no discussion to be had.
 
Channel 4 are currently showing a series 'My Transsexual Summer', which follows 7 people going through the process of changing gender. As someone who wouldn't want to be seen on TV making a cup of coffee, I admire the courage of people who let the cameras in on such a life-changing and intimate issue. I was worried that this would be a Channel 4 freak show (they do have a track record), but it isn't: these are real people, and its an uncomfortable education listening to their stories and experiences.
 
So, what would Jesus do? Are we made male and female, end of story? Does fallenness mess that up? Does the removal of the dividing wall between male and female have anything to do with this? Is it a symptom of an over-sexed and individualised society, or a hidden struggle that's always been there? Is it wrong to change gender, or does that depend on who else is affected?
 
Sorry to land this one on you on a Monday morning....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What the Church Mouse is doing now.

Ht Peter Seib on Facebook.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What To Do Today

The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done....The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remember

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Did We Used to Do Before Social Media?

Saw this graphic on BigBible. If we had this much time, information, creativity and computer power to allocate as we pleased, without preconditions, is this what we'd want to allocate it to? Anyway, on with the blog....
(apologies for the size, Blogger doesn't seem to want to let me make it any bigger. Never mind, not having to read all that small print will save you valuable time)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wikio Top 'Religion and Belief' Blogs, November 2011

Here's the latest top 15 from the Wikio rankings, which work by links between sites registered with Wikio, rather than traffic levels. Judging by one or two of these, they need to add 'Unbelief' into the category title:

1. The Freethinker
2. eChurch Blog
3. Islam in Europe
4. Phil's Treehouse
5. Thinking Anglicans
6. Anglican Mainstream (not a blog, it's a news aggregator)
7. iBenedictines
8. The BIGBible Project
9. Of Course I Could be Wrong
10. Nick Baines
11. Bishop Alan
12. Epiphenom
13. The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
14. Lesleys Blog
15. Peter Saunders - Christian Medical Comment.

The top blog here is 209 in the general rankings. As you can only be included in one category, there's no sign of Cranmer (36) in this list, otherwise that would be far and away the top ranking Religion blog.

For those interested in life outside the ghetto, the top 3 blogs overall are Liberal Conspiracy, Left Foot Forwards (politics) and Sticky Fingers (parenting).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

'Wounded Churches' Russ Parker healing seminar in Wells.

This recently arrived in the Inbox. Short notice I know, but I've heard good things about Russ Parker, so if you're in the area then it might be worth a visit.

“Wounded Churches: pain as a catalyst for life.”

Saturday 12th November  0930 – 1300  St Thomas Church , Wells

Led by Revd Dr Russ Parker, Director of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation. This event will be a combination of teaching and workshops. It will look at ways of transforming unhealed issues from the past which still impact our Christian Communities.

Revd Dr Russ Parker has been Director of Acorn Christian Healing Foundation (ACF) since 1995. ACF exists to resource and educate the Church in all denominations in the Christian Healing Ministry. Russ travels extensively around the UK and abroad, teaching and working in issues connected with Christian healing and healthcare, reconciliation and church transformation. He is author of ‘Healing Wounded History’, and his other books include ‘Healing Dreams’, ‘Wild Spirit of the Living God’ and ‘Healing Death’s wounds’.

You are invited to attend this open meeting and we look forward to seeing you.

The programme starts at 9.30am, and includes 2 main sessions:
1. How do the unhealed issues of our Christian communities affect our mission as a Church today?
2. A suggested model for praying into wounded history

Monday, November 07, 2011

Church of England Vital Statistics: Time to Call the Nurse? Or the Surgeon?

A few years ago, Bob Jackson, Archdeacon of Walsall, produced a minor earth tremor in the Church of England with his book 'Hope for the Church'. For the first time, the stark reality of the decline of the CofE was painted in painful facts and figures.

As the title suggests, 'Hope for the Church' wasn't all doom and gloom - in among the decline were signs of what the CofE could do to put things right, from smarter deployment of ministers, to better use of tools like Alpha and small groups.

The first two columns in the table above are taken from Jacksons book. The final one I've added myself, based on the latest Church of England statistics, published roughly a month ago.

In recent years, decline in attendance has slowed, but the above figures make pretty grim reading. Despite Fresh Expressions, a renewed emphasis on church planting, a plethora of Diocesan initiatives, mission fund money etc., there is no obvious and decisive turnaround in the fortunes of the Church of England.

The real danger is that the remaining pockets of health in the CofE are gradually eroded by the weight of the rest of it. Look at that 'churches open' figure. There are still around 16,000 Anglican churches, not far off the number in 1980, but run by 30% fewer clergy, and paid for and supported by 30%+ fewer adult members. With each church comes an obligation to retain a regular pattern of worship, the legal business of PCCs and AGMs, building maintenance etc. There is very little spare time and energy left for the average vicar after you've had to sort all this out for 6 churches.

In the meantime, those churches that are growing get hit with higher bills. Our Diocese has frozen its budget for 2011-12, which is good news. However, our church has grown slightly, and the vast majority of the other Anglican churches in Bath and Wells have shrunk. So any church, like ours, which holds or increases its membership, ends up paying more to compensate for those which have shrunk. There's a good principle there of the strong supporting the weak, which is fine. But how much weight can the healthy limbs of a tree support before they suffer damage themselves? There are plenty of good things going on in the CofE, hundreds of new church plants, lots of innovation, and the decade has seen a sea-change in attitudes towards mission, with a corresponding change in policies and deployment. But whilst the outlying vessels are going at a rate of knots, the main ship is looking very creaky.

Back in the summer, Andreas Whittam Smith of the Church Commissioners said this to General Synod:
“I have seen large companies perfectly and impeccably manage themselves into failure. Every step along the road has been well done.

“Every account is neatly signed off.”

Then finally they find they have “gone bust”, he said. “I sometimes feel the Church is a bit like that.”

He added: “I wish that all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this.”

At what point does the Church of England call time on a system set up in the Middle Ages, but increasingly no longer fit for purpose? At what point do we declare that the burden of maintaining 16000 historic buildings is no longer an asset to mission, but an impediment? At what point do we press the red button, and try to do things differently, rather than squeezing more out of less and hoping that somehow everything will get better?

Judging by these stats, the Church of England is a frog in the long slow process of being boiled. How hot does it have to get?

Update: if you need something slightly less depressing along similar lines, try this excellent post from David Cooke.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sentamu: Take Pride in your Tax Bill

Provocative article in the Yorkshire Post by John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, yesterday. It opens:

With renewed public outrage at the excesses of the financial sector and the huge inequalities in wealth it has helped to generate, we are being confronted daily with new evidence of extremes of wealth and poverty, demonstrating how scandalously unfair our society is. But how is this to be addressed? This is the urgent task for us all.

The news that Chief Executives (CEOs) of the FTSE 100 companies last year received average pay increases of almost 50 percent adds urgency to our cause. Typically these CEOs receive 300 times as much as the least well paid British employees in their companies. If they have a responsibility to their staff, it is hard to imagine a more powerful way of telling some people that they are of little value than to pay them one-third of one percent of your own salary. (emphasis mine)

Sentamu argues that a change in attitudes towards wealth and inequality will drive a change in practice, and suggests a couple of reforms that might help to trigger the change in attitudes. One is to withhold royal honours from those who've awarded themselves large salaries, or whose companies have a big wage gap between the best and worst paid. The other is making public the amount of tax we pay, (voluntarily) to encourage people to take pride in the contribution they make, through tax, to the country.

Behind both of these is a desire to change values, to see pay not simply as an issue of economics, but of the fundamental value we place on one another, and on what we do for one another with our money.

Why?

Because changes in public attitudes can take place quite quickly. Over the last few decades racism has lost its respectability and is seen as unacceptable. The same applies to homophobia (the irrational fear of homosexuals) and discrimination against women. My belief and trust is that a society which has shown itself capable of making such rapid changes to attitudes in these areas will also prove capable of recognising that our society will work best when we recognise that as human beings we are all, fundamentally of equal worth and members of one society.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Rev. trailers now up

and you can find them all here. If anyone can tell me how to embed clips from Iplayer into Blogger, that would be very helpful.

update: aha, here goes...



thankyou Banksyboy!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday St. Pauls Singalong



Ht The St. James Church Daily/Jonathan Bartley Think it must be U2 on the soundtrack. Best version of this I ever heard was by local Somerset band 'Why?' on their live album 'Jig at a Why? Gig'. If anyone knows what Ant Parker and the lads are doing now, I'd love to know.

For Friday afternoon, there appears to be a Fantasy St. Pauls Cathedral thingy going on on Facebook. When I last looked, someone was campaigning for me to be made Dean of St. Pauls, but I'm hoping there's been a coup and someone else is in line, otherwise I shall have to resign in anticipation of possible violence.