Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Enjoy the Silence

all going quiet here until Easter, hope you have a holy and renewing Lent. Enouraging to see Carlos Tevez getting the penitential season off to a good start.

Free eBook: Unintended Consequences

There's a superb free ebook on offer at Andrew Brims' blog, which is really worth a look. It's very well written, with some great stories and illustrations, and lots of uncomfortable analysis. It's based on one question: what are the unintended consequences of the way we organise the church? I'm part way through it at the moment and all sorts of things are already sparking off.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fresh Expressions: 'the task has hardly begun'

Fresh expressions are here to stay – for two reasons. First they are now a proven part of the mission of the churches in this country. The movement is making a substantial numerical difference, and helping hundreds of local church to engage in new ventures of creative mission. It is part of the emerging mainstream.
But it is also here to stay because the task has hardly begun. Six percent of Church of England parishes are involved. If they can engage 40,000 people, what would happen if 20% of parishes were to be involved – and the same with all of the participating denominations. There is a lot of work to do to help more local churches understand the possibility.

Graham Cray


Adrian Chatfield at the Simeon Centre has some excellent thoughts to get started in thinking about how to
mark Lent this year.

Tear Funds Carbon Fast has a daily action for each day in Lent. Living simply, so that others may simply live.

Si Smiths superb cartoon meditation '40' is still available from Proost. Recommended for any Ash Wednesday events you might be involved in.

and a motivational cartoon from Dave Walker. The old ones are the best.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Forget Iraq

Andrew White, the 'vicar of Baghdad', paints a frightening picture of life in Iraq in this disturbing article on Christian Today,

"There are times when we ourselves face great danger. Our people have been slaughtered, massacred and murdered, but now we have nobody to turn to. There has been much talk about the security needs of our people. The Iraqi Government has tried to do what it can, but we do not live in a ghetto. The Christians are based all over Iraq, but especially in Baghdad and Nineveh/Mosul. 2,700 years after Jonah, Nineveh is still the place where all Christians come from. So the Christians and all minorities are less safe than they have ever been," Canon White said.

" 'Nothing' is far more than security though. Employment is far more limited, not least for women. The main industry is now security, and for the Christians -- educated women -- things are more difficult than ever in an increasingly orthodox Islamic state. A state where the rights of women have sadly diminished," he said.

"No employment means no money, and that means no ability to buy food, pay rent for housing, or even possess proper health care. The health care system here in Iraq has seriously collapsed. The hospitals are falling to pieces and many of its leading doctors have been killed, kidnapped or have fled from Iraq."

There may not be US or UK troops there any more, but we still need to pray and keep Iraq on the international agenda. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Queens Speech

Here's what the Queen said

Prince Philip and I are delighted to be with you today to pay tribute to the particular mission of Christianity and the general value of faith in this country.

This gathering is a reminder of how much we owe the nine major religious traditions represented here. They are sources of a rich cultural heritage and have given rise to beautiful sacred objects and holy texts, as we have seen today.

Yet these traditions are also contemporary families of faith. Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives, and for the way in which we treat each other. Many of the values and ideas we take for granted in this and other countries originate in the ancient wisdom of our traditions. Even the concept of a Jubilee is rooted in the Bible.

Here at Lambeth Palace we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.

It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.

This occasion is thus an opportunity to reflect on the importance of faith in creating and sustaining communities all over the United Kingdom. Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.

Your Grace, the presence of your fellow distinguished religious leaders and the objects on display demonstrate how each of these traditions has contributed distinctively to the history and development of the United Kingdom. Prince Philip and I wish to send our good wishes, through you, to each of your communities, in the hope that – with the assurance of the protection of our established Church – you will continue to flourish and display strength and vision in your relations with each other and the rest of society.

Brief thoughts:
1. Did Prince Charles write this? It's a clear exposition of the CofE as 'defender of faith' - an established church which doesn't rule and exclude (as it used to), but has evolved into one which holds the ring for all faith voices to be heard. Is this the kind of 'confidence' that Baroness Warsi was calling for, the kind which doesn't need to be right all the time?

2. The 'sense of belonging' bit is important. There are some aspects of Christian faith which are hard, maybe impossible, to put into words, no matter how well worded the survey questions.

3. And I just found it encouraging to read, as a very undemonstrative, British affirmation of the church and its role in society.

good Guardian editorial here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Late Valentine: A Win-Win Gift

Spent Valentines night doing our marriage preparation course, which seemed like an appropriate way to spend Feb 14th. Must be the recession, that they'd all rather be at a free evening in church than an expensive restaurant.

In the meantime, God and Politics has some good stuff on National Marriage Week and the up and coming National Parenting Initiative, which is encouraging local churches to offer more in the way of parenting support.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God in unusual places

James Corden talking on Desert Island Discs about a hug and a prayer from his dad, which helped him change direction and avoid going off the rails.

A church in the Rhondda Valley which is taking over the Conservative Club. That's the Big Society for you. The refurbished building will become a base for the Rhondda Foodbank, one of a national network of foodbanks which fed 60,000 people last year in the UK.

Warsi: Europe should be more confident in its Christianity

Baroness Warsi has written a piece for the Telegraph today, which is an interesting new angle on the secularisation debate. Writing in advance of a trip to the Vatican, she says

I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity.

These values shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. And, as I will say today, you cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.

Quite striking, coming from a Muslim. Someone reminded me yesterday that there's part of the Lords prayer (I think) inscribed on the walls of the House of Commons, so to eradicate prayer from Parliament you'd have to repaint the place as well as rejig the timetable.

BBC summary here. And linking to the Bideford case, a piece from the Guardian which argues that the NSS may have shot itself in the foot, and that the case is a victory for religious freedom.

The British Humanist Association response to Baroness Warsi is oddly out of touch:
The British Humanist Association (BHA) described Baroness Warsi's comments as "outdated, unwarranted and divisive".

"In an increasingly non-religious and, at the same time, diverse society, we need policies that will emphasise what we have in common as citizens rather than what divides us," said BHA chief executive Andrew Copson.

well, yes, but there are some issues in our society which just affect women: is it divisive to focus on them? What about tackling stigma on the mentally ill, or youth unemployment, or children with special needs? Being a diverse society doesn't mean a lowest common denominator humanism, it means affirming and valuing people in their diversity, and valuing what that diversity brings to the common society. It also means that the whole values the parts in their diversity, rather than trying to eradicate them all. And part of what we have in common is a Christian heritage in our society, whatever you happen to think of that. So the BHA response  makes for a good quote, but rapidly unravels.
And be careful what you wish for: the USA has a much more rigorous separation of religion and state, whilst at the same time having a much more publicly confident Christianity, right up to Presidential prayer breakfasts. Imagine the stick Cameron would get for holding one of those in Downing Street? 
We are a post-Christian society, and I'm all for a debate about what's appropriate from our past and what isn't. But it should be a renegotiation, not a land grab by one side or another.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Flying Spaghetti Monster banished by Planning Authority

In news that will come as a blow to atheists everywhere, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has made a public appearance. Sick and tired of being trundled out for the 10,000th time on Guardian threads and Dawkinsnet as a fictional deity, the FSM was briefly sighted in Chichester Cathedral recently, as the photo (right) reveals.

Unexpectedly translucent, the FSM was soon banished by the church planning authorities. This is a common occurence for anything combining church contents and imagination. Frank Field MP uttered the 2nd Subclause  of Power (the first is Health and Safety) and the vision promptly vanished.

In other planning news, a large LED display is to be erected above the stone bridge in the middle, which will show, live, the running costs of a wedding as it actually takes place. As each multiple of £100 is passed, a small bell will sound from the vestry, at £500 a chip and pin machine is passed to the father of the bride, at £750 all the lighting is switched off, and at £1000 the entire wedding party is forcibly ejected.

Credits: don't blame me, blame Alastair.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

General Synod: What You Might Have Missed

In between deciding nothing in particular about women bishops, and spannering the Weddings Project, there were some good initiatives announced at General Synod this week:

Worship Workshop, a new website for schools and children to use to create their own liturgy. Also worth a look for harvesting the links - some good ones under the 'engaging resource' section. Press release here.

How2Help is a new community action website, arising from a motion to Synod in 2010, which seeks to catalyse and resource local churches in serving their communities, and spreading ideas about what works, and how to do it.

from the press release:
The Church of England has a wealth of experience and skill in serving local communities, built up over decades of Christian witness and action for stronger bonds between people and for supporting the lonely and vulnerable. People can now go into the website, starting with the question or issue that motivates them, and find answers, ideas and examples. They can learn from the mistakes of others and discover what approaches work best

and finally, I hadn't realised the Queen was ill. The Synod opened with the National Anthem and prayers for HM The Queen and for members of the Synod who were unwell.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Praying is Fine, Just Don't Put it on the Agenda: Bideford Links

Update: with spectacularly good timing, a new form of prayer for use in Council meetings has just been published.

Lots of pixels spilled over the Bideford judgement in the last 24 hours, here are a few links:

The original court judgement, finding that making prayers part of official council business is 'not lawful'

Heresy Corner: good piece, noting that the judgement was based on what powers a council does and doesn't have, and not on any supposed violation of human rights. The judge was also careful to spell out that the judgement doesn't automatically entail similar conclusions on other Christendom legacy events (e.g. Remembrance Day)

Steve Tilley isn't too flustered, "it is a matter of common courtesy to ask permission before you pray"

Cranmer quotes Eric Pickles at length, who opposes the judgement and argues that new localism powers would enable councils to overturn it.

Thinking Anglicans has a good roundup of the main news coverage.

The Beaker Folk note another problem closer to home.

The BBC report makes it plain that the NSS failed to get prayers declared as a breach of human rights:
The NSS, which said prayers had no place in "a secular environment concerned with civic business", argued the "inappropriate" ritual breached articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect an individual's right to freedom of conscience and not to face discrimination.

However, the case was not won on human rights grounds but on a point of statutory construction of local government legislation.

So whilst the National Secular Society are bouncing up and down in public, their 'victory' is pretty minor. Change one line of the 1972 local authority legislation, and we're back where we started. It's this argument that has the most implications, and the fact that it didn't carry in court is a major setback to the NSS.Me? This is clearly part of the wider campaign by the NSS to exclude religion from public life, a point well made by Michael Langrish as he toured the news studios yesterday. In the end it turns on a point of process, rather than of rights. Councils can still pray, they just shouldn't put it on the official business to which all members are summoned. I remember being pleasantly suprised to find that our local town council had a chaplain and had prayers at the start of meetings - but I'm with Steve Tilley, it should be voluntary, as prayers are in the House of Commons.

I don't know if the NSS have the cash to bring cases like these to small district councils across the country, or whether the police will have better things to do with their time than descend on councils waving illegal agenda papers to arrest them half way through the Lords Prayer.

In the end, surely councils should be free to decide whether they pray or not? It shouldn't be for a judge to hand down a judgement for them all to follow. Hopefully the localism stuff from the government will allow a bit of common sense.

On other local stuff, there's more on the continuing saga at Somerton Town Council, local blog here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jubilee Cartoon

A cracker from ASBO Jesus. I laughed until I realised I had a savings account.

In other news, how about having a Big Lunch on the Jubilee Weekend. Or opening your church for people to write their own Big Thankyou?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

What the Church of England Needs

If you want one explanation for London Diocese 'outperforming' the rest of the CofE when it comes to church growth, then it's here. Over the last 10 years London has commissioned 2 substantial reports into the reasons for church growth and/or decline, and fed them into Diocesan policy. Other Dioceses will need to do their own work (not every Diocese has a Holy Trinity Brompton accounting for 25% of its growth), but if we are serious about reversing the trend of membership decline, then this is a key part of the solution.

It's interesting to look at the conclusions drawn in the most recent report. Key factors in growth include:
 - church planting
 - investing in childrens work
 - being a smaller church (the bigger you are, the less likely to grow)
 - short vacancies between clergy
 - a big investment in welcome, in an area which sees a lot of population turnover.

Some of these lessons will apply in any Diocese, and maybe to any church whether Anglican or not.

One of the other things we need is a serious engagement with the reasons people leave. Here was what one commenter posted here a few days ago:

I left the church 12 months ago, for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons include a real lack of spiritual help in the church, poor quality preaching by people who although mean well, lack the ability to get the facts right when preaching, the failure of general synod to make public the millions of pounds lost in an unethical property investment in New York recently... There is more ....

Pastoral care, preaching, integrity, ethics, and that's just one person....

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Weddings Project vs Church Economics

Only last month, the CofE was celebrating the rise in church weddings, on the back of the Weddings Project and the relaxation of rules on where people could get married. We seemed to be getting something right. The CofE has an excellent weddings website, and is starting to identify and spread good practice on how to help couples through the marriage process.

It's lasted less than a month. Yesterday General Synod voted through an increase in wedding fees of 40%, (and of funeral fees by 50%) to £402 from the start of 2013. This was rejected back in July, but adopted this time round. The explanation is that the new fees level include various 'extras' that used to be charged for separately, or in an uneven pattern across parishes. This includes lighting and administration. It costs in use of buildings and clergy time.

Thinking Anglicans has the background papers for the debate. It may make sense financially, but the message that it sends is the exact opposite of the welcome extended by the Weddings project.

Even the idea that it will lead to a rise in income is questionable. If it reduces the number of weddings, we lose both the fees, and the cash collection from the service.

On Monday I met with a couple who wanted to be married in 2013. They asked what the fees were likely to be, and foolishly (?) I replied that there was likely to be a slight increase, but nothing drastic. Now I have to explain to them why the bill has gone up by over £100. It's me, and thousands of other vicars like me, who have to explain this to couples in our parishes. It's not a job I look forward to, and I feel that General Synod has placed me and my colleagues in a very difficult position. But if someone can explain it better to me, then that would help.

PS there are some good things in the measure, such as the abolition of any funeral fee where a child is involved. That makes sense on every level.

Alastair Campbell: Put Mental Health at the top of the policy agenda.

Alastair Campbell on mental illness 'the public and the media are a lot more understanding than you might think'. Well done to This Week  for giving this an airing. (hope the embed code works, if not, view it here. )

I agree with Alastair.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

General Synod: Rearranging the Dog Collars on the Titanic?

Sorry to go on about this, but....

This week General Synod has 4 debates about women bishops. Now ok, this is a biggie for the CofE, but we seem to have let it take over. This Synod has access, for the first time, to comprehensive data on the Church of England for the first decade of this century. It shows that our average weekly numbers have dropped from 1,203,000 in 2001 to 1,116,100 in 2010. That's a drop of 9.3%, or, if you prefer, 186 people a week.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but that's the problem. It never does.

And General Synod isn't even registering that this data exists. I can't see the point in us collecting all these stats when our main leadership body doesn't even discuss them. Unless we start to understand why people are leaving (and everyone will assume it's because the CofE isn't more the way they like it: liberals because it's illiberal, evangelicals because it doesn't preach the gospel, Catholics because we're straying from the ancient faith - I caricature, but you get the point), and why the few growing churches and Dioceses are actually growing, we will never seriously address what's going on. Sure, some may be leaving over the issue of women bishops, but I don't recall the ordination of women to the priesthood in the 1990s leading to widespread revival, and there's no reason to assume it will be any different now.

Andreas Whittam Smith called in the previous synod for 'a real sense of crisis' about the falling membership of the CofE. Judging by the agenda to this synod, he's been ignored. Ok, we aren't the only people with a membership crisis - the political parties make the Church of England look like a success story. But, as Andrew Brown wrote yesterday, we seem to be very good at avoiding the kind of leadership and decision-making that's required.

Because these stats aren't a blip:
Adults attendance 1989-2010 for those not of a nervous disposition
Childrens attendance 1989-2010 ditto, but more so.
2001-2010 breakdown by Diocese: adults, all-age

My own Diocese is nearly 1/3 smaller than it was 20 years ago. I've been on our Diocesan Synod for a while, and can only remember membership figures being mentioned when we discuss the Budget - fewer people means higher parish share per head. So we're just as good at the ostrich position as everyone else, and I'm currently working out how to get a motion to our local synod that can prompt a discussion at the Diocese. We either have to plan for being 1/3 smaller again by 2030, or make some deliberate changes aimed at reversing things, but at the moment we are doing neither.

There are plenty of good things happening in the CofE, some of them initiated by General Synod. In the last fortnight I've come across this on Bishops Mission Orders, the excellent Parish Buying website, a new web resource dedicated to community action projects, how2help.net and a theological college that's established a church growth centre.

But it all seems to be happening around the fringes. General Synod - and Diocesan Synods too - needs to spend less time rearranging the dog collars, and more time inspecting the ship.

Update: ....like London Diocese, which has done 2 major studies on church growth/decline and the reasons for it in the last 10 years, and, crucially, this informs policy at the Diocese. And guess which Diocese has grown the most? It's not rocket science....

Coldplay 'Charlie Brown' Video: Is Petty Crime Peanuts?

Stole a key
Took a car downtown where the lost boys meet
Took a car downtown and took what they offered me
To set me free

It's a bit odd that, not so long after the riots, the most succesful rock group in the UK can pen a tribute to petty criminals, and then celebrate it in video. Not so long ago Coldplay were the best thing this side of OK Go when it came to creative videos for their singles, and there's probably a whole lot worse in a lot of other songs. But the story here is: hoodie gets up, does some parkour, smashes window, steals car, gets girlfriend, goes to rave, vandalises car with spraypaint, snogs girlfriend, watches sunrise. So romantic, unless you happen to be the car owner.

Is this a celebration of petty crime, or just 'art'? And are we really convinced that 'Charlie Brown' is a reference to a Peanuts character, and not to drugs?

I don't really want to have a go at Coldplay, they're a household favourite, they write great songs, and some of their stuff has got a real spiritual edge. But I really don't like this.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Ebuzzing/Wikio Religion Blogs - February top 10

Ebuzzings 'most influential blogs' list has just been updated for February. Here are the top 10 blogs in the Religion and Belief category.

1. Thinking Anglicans (must be a General Synod coming up)
2. Islam in Europe
3. Krish Kandiah (the Driscoll effect?)
4. Echurch blog (has replaced Church Mouse for me as my most regular read, good source of links, news, opinion from a wide range of topics)
5. Peter Saunders
6. The Freethinker
7. Tall Skinny Kiwi
8. The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
9. iBenedictines
10. Anglican Mainstream, even though it's not a blog. Andrew Brown has some interesting thoughts.
11. The BigBible project (of course I can count: see 10)

Points of order:
 - Church Mouse has sprung back into the top 20 on the basis of just one post.
 - you'll find this blog in the top 20 if you can remember what it was called 2 years ago. That seems to be mostly on the strength of Twitter - on average over the last few months there have been 3-4 links from other blogs and around 100 retweets. Makes me wonder where the traffic came from BT (Before Twitter).

and I'm going to link to The Vicars Wife (65) for no particular reason, but just to see if it helps her ranking next month. Actually, we could all do it and see what happens.....

Baby Boomers and Church

Baby Boomers have left churches because they find them to be too much like other institutions, lacking authenticity and credibility. They sense that their values and life-style are not welcome at church.

They feel stunted by church in their spiritual and personal growth; and they look in vain for their church to be genuinely concerned for the wide social and global issues. As I type I imagine cries of ‘our church is not like that’ from across the country, but the research indicates that these are the perceptions of Boomers who have left in large numbers, and should therefore be considered seriously. Boomers generally mistrusted the motives of leaders regarding the power they exercised, and although they may have mellowed, ‘leaders’ still have to earn their respect and trust, even in the church.

Now is the moment for us to grasp the opportunity of re-engaging Baby Boomers with Christianity. Now is the time when Baby Boomers are starting to grapple with the life-changing experience of retirement. For many, loss of identity comes with giving up a paid job as well as new economic challenges and there is always a process of change to negotiate. As a group, Boomers are healthier, wealthier, more educated and travelled than any preceding retiring generation. They are also more separated from the church and have the potential to be dealing with more moral issues and regrets than previous generations too.

from the latest Mission Scene e-bulletin from the Baptist church, which is the only newsletter in my inbox which I make sure I read thoroughly.  There are several articles on Boomers and the church, I particularly like the idea of churches offering Gap Years for the newly retired.

There's plenty of other training, events and ideas there too, from the Jubilee and Olympics to childrens work, the retired, leadership, cafe church, etc. etc. Worth a browse.

Update: see the comment below from Steve for a first person insight into what this means.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sad Stats for Synod: Childrens Attendance 1989-2010.

Following on from yesterdays figures for adult attendance, here's the stats on childrens attendance at CofE churches from 1989-2010. I hope that Synod this week can take time away from rearranging the dog collars on our cruise liner, and the usual tittle tattle about Rowan Williams, to ask what this data means for us.
The same riders apply to these figures as to the adult ones: it's 2 different measures for the 2 decades (usual Sunday attendance, then average weekly attendance) and theres a gap for comparison between 1999 and 2000.

The good news is that 15 Dioceses saw childrens numbers grow in the Noughties, which for all except London was a reversal of decline the previous decade. So it is possible to turn things around. Remarkable as it seems from the stats above, Carlisle actually saw some growth from 2000-2010. Yes, the 90s were that bad.

Further good news, 42 out of the 43 dioceses have a better figure for 2000-10 than 1989-99. The bad news is that for the majority of those it still had a '-' in front of it, but at least that's going in the right direction.

And that's about all I can do to cheer you up. At every other level this is catastrophic. If any other sort of organisation had these sorts of stats, we'd be debating a lot more than bonuses. It leave it for others to print off this chart, leave it on every seat at General Synod along with yesterdays stats, and ask at what point Synod will give some concerted energy to talking about the future of the CofE. And no, the solution is not more church schools. The state education system cannot, and should not, do the church's work for it. And it's obvious from the data above that, even if it is, it's not doing it very well.

It's times like this when union with the Methodists seems like a good idea. Here is what their equivalent of Synod was discussing and endorsing a few months ago. A church shaped for discipleship and mission? Are we?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Major Minus: Church of England Adult Attendance change 1989-2010.

In case anyone at General Synod gets bored of talking about bishops, here's some important information about the rest of the Church of England.

The table above shows the change in adult attendance by Diocese from 1989-2010. A couple of explanatory notes, then some comments.

Explanation/Health Warning.
1. The data above is taken from Bob Jacksons 'Hope for the Church', which covers 1989-1999, and the Church of England's published statistics on attendance.
2. Jacksons data is based on 'usual Sunday attendance', and the CofE stats on 'average weekly attendance'. There isn't a massive difference in the two measures - the latter is higher, and has declined slightly slower than uSa, which isn't available for the whole of the 2000-2010 period. So the table above isn't scientifically precise, but if it's out, it will only be by a percentage or two.

1. The majority of Dioceses are doing better than they were. 16 had a worse figure in the noughties than the 90s, and 27 were better. Also those that improved saw much bigger changes: e.g. Manchester, Newcastle and Durham all had a percentage change which was 20 points improvement or more on the 1990s. For the first two, this saw a decline of around 20% turned into moderate growth.

2. And that's where the good news ends. It's a sea of negative numbers, North and South, urban and rural, pretty much wherever you look. The majority of Dioceses have lost over 1/5 of their membership in 20 years. That's 1/5 of the income, 1/5 of the ministers (because everyone's a minister), but strangely, not 1/5 of the parishes. In 8 Diocese the figure is higher than 30%. This is arterial bleeding, not a minor scratch.

3. I wonder if there are any Dioceses which have cut the number of parishes, church buildings, or central overheads, by the same number? I suspect not. The reality of decline is that we feel duty-bound to maintain the parish system and the local church building until it kills us. So the burden is never reduced, but it falls upon a smaller and smaller number of people.

4. Who is accountable for all this? Can we, will we, ask our bishops and clergy what they've been doing, and what they're doing now? Who is learning the lessons? Or are we (in Einsteins definition of madness) continuing to do exactly the same as before in the hope of a different result?

5. General Synod has 4 debates coming up on women bishops, and none on church growth/decline. I'm sorry but that's bonkers. Anyone who thinks women bishops is the biggest issue facing the church at the moment hasn't woken up or inhaled the coffee. There is no point re-arranging dog collars on the Titanic.

6. I have the figures for childrens attendance and they are even scarier. If the church is relying on children as 'the future of the church' then we're looking at a church 60% the size of what it is at the moment.

7. The CofE has only two realistic options. The first is to start strategic planning for a church which will be 20-25% smaller in 2030, based on the continuation of current trends. The second is to shift significantly towards leadership, investment and structures which are focused on growth. There are currently incremental steps towards the latter (Fresh Expressions, mission funding, Bishops Mission Orders etc.), and a vast amount of 'make do and mend' towards the former.

I don't know what it will take to provoke the necessary sense of crisis, the deepening of conviction that we need to tackle this issue, so that the CofE overcomes its sniffiness about 'bums on pews' and recognises that there's a reason the New Testament talks about the number of people being saved on a regular basis. It's because each of those people matters to God, and each of those people is someone we're called to reach with the gospel. The CofE is largely failing in that task, and until we have reckoned with that, we call into question our claim to be called a church at all. Are we actually doing the task our Master has set us?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Prayer Spaces in Schools

Prayer Spaces in Schools Teaser from Prayer Spaces In Schools on Vimeo.

An excellent new website, packed full of ideas and information about how to set up prayer spaces in primary and secondary schools. It's emerged from grassroots practice, and seems to be catching on all over the place. From the site:

In the UK, prayer spaces are spreading, and they're spreading fast.

Schools and youth workers are finding that these creative, prayer/reflective spaces provide a simple, effective way to communicate and to welcome children and young people into an experience of the Christian faith. They offer an invitation to 'belong' without requiring any particular 'belief'.

"I’ve never seen prayer displayed or experienced like this before. It’s made me realise how many different ways prayer can be appreciated. it’s opened up religion into my life. Thank you!"

Teachers and other educational staff are finding that prayer spaces (or 'soul spaces' or 'sacred spaces' or whatever other names they're being given) fit well with different curriculum areas - R.E. and Citizenship being the most obvious, but not the only ones - as well as with wider aspects of school life.

"Thank you for the amazing prayer experience that you have given us as staff, parents and for the students. It will have a totally transformational effect for many people. We are so appreciative of all that you have done for our school community, for all the unsociable hours, for the energy and strength you’ve injected to our spiritual life."

There are separate sections with ideas on prayer stations (interactive places for prayer), lessons and curriculum links.

And because they can be used by children, they can be used by adults too, so if you're after some creative ideas for prayer in regular worship, Messy Church, all-age worship, in the home or for your cell group, it's worth a browse as well.
A full version of the video above is being posted on 8th Feb.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

How are Bishops Mission Orders being used?

The latest Resourcing Mission bulletin from the Church of England has a paper summarising where the CofE has got to with Bishops Mission Orders (BMO). A BMO is a way of legally recognising a new mission initiative that either doesn't relate to a geographical parish, cuts across them, or simply works best as a freestanding initiative rather than something answerable to a parish leadership/vicar.

BMO's came into existence in 2007, as part of the emerging mission agenda in the CofE, and following the experience of several 'Fresh Expressions' which didn't naturally fit into a system based on geographical parishes alone.

A few headlines:
 - there are now 22 BMOs in operation
 - a further 22 are being considered
 - 27 out of the 43 Dioceses either have a BMO in operation or are thinking about it.
 - the vast majority are in urban or suburban areas.
 - 5 are focused on youth/students, 6 on new housing areas, 3 on networks, and 2 on central business districs in cities. 8 have a wider remit across a town, area or deanery. So there's quite a bit of variety.
 - there's a variety of worship venues - 5 use a parish church belonging to someone else, several use hotels, pubs, schools or cafes, and there are cell churches too.

The paper gives a few examples:
Sorted  - youth congregation in Bradford run by a Church Army evangelist
Emmanuel Bristol - mission community planted by Christ Church Clifton, has grown from 50 to 180 adults in 4 years.
Glo - mission project from a church in Stockport based on community development on 2 large housing estates.
The Order of the Black Sheep - deserves a BMO for the title alone. Mission community for folk on the margins.
Exeter Network Church - reaching hundreds of people in Exeter through a variety of networks, like sport, prisons, debt counselling, youth, social projects etc. ENC has been running since 2005, and the BMO has given it the legal equivalence to 'parish status' that gives it an extra sense of legitimacy and 'proper church'.
Kairos - a network of small missional communities within a Deanery.
York Community Chaplaincy - a business/city chaplaincy in York, also involved in Street Angels.

As well as showing how BMOs can be used to creatively reinvent the CofE at local level, each story is also an encouraging account of mission in various settings, so even if you have no interest in Bishops Mission Orders, its exciting just to see what people are doing.

Mathematical Geek Day

Later today it will be 12:12 on 1.2.12. I'm beside myself with excitement. But it's only a dry run for the 12th December.

If only the CofE would publish a special prayer for the occasion.