Friday, November 30, 2012

Contemporary Advent Candle

Calm down and don't shop
Thanks to Cake or Death.

Well, this is post no. 2000, so I needed a candle of some sort. Anyone who manages to blow it out gets a free copy my unpublished (and indeed unwritten) memoirs.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

the Nativity Factor: No Pressure

Excellent entry for this years Nativity Factor competition, to tell the nativity story in 3 minutes. See some of the others on the Christmas Channel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mental Health double standards - new findings

So, you go to A&E with a potentially life-threatening set of symptoms. You've had to wait since the previous evening, since A&E was shut overnight. It is well over 4 hours before anyone talks to you, when they do the staff are rude and unhelpful, and when you are finally treated it doesn't actually help.

A&E isn't great, but it's not usually this bad. Yet according to new research from Mind, the experience above is normal for patients with mental health problems. Here's some of the findings:

  • Services are understaffed: Four in ten mental health trusts (41 per cent) have staffing levels well below established benchmarks.
  • People are not getting the help they need: There is huge variation in the numbers of people accessing crisis care services and one in five people (18 per cent) who came into contact with NHS services in crisis was not assessed at all. Only 14 per cent of people said that, overall, they felt they had all the support they needed when in crisis.
  • People aren’t assessed quickly enough: Only a third (33 per cent) of respondents who came into contact with NHS services when in crisis were assessed within four hours, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
The Mind Chief Exec made this startling comment Good services can make a huge difference to whether someone recovers from the crisis, yet Mind often hears from people who have been turned away because they ‘aren’t suicidal enough’ or who have been made to wait around for hours just to be seen by someone who can help them. An emergency is an emergency.

Just imagine being turned away from the doctors because 'your leg isn't broken enough' or because your chest pains haven't yet turned into a full-blown coronary. I was hopeful that this government, having talked a good game about mental health during the election campaign, might actually address the health apartheid that exists between physical health services and mental health services. It sounds like that revolution is still a long way off. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Centre for Social Justice - watch this space

The Centre for Social Justice, the thinktank set up by Iain Duncan Smith, published a poll yesterday to flag up a new project which could underpin future Conservative social policy. The headlines from yesterdays press release point to possible areas of policy focus, for example:

Family breakdown and the decline in the importance of marriage are cited by the public as key causes of the serious social problems facing Britain, according to a new opinion poll.

The survey found that 55 per cent of people – the equivalent of 25 million people across the land – say at least one of their local communities is plagued by broken families, crime and poor schools.

Some 60 per cent say that over the last few decades, marriage has become less important to society and that is having a damaging effect on the country.

And with 89 per cent agreement, the public identifies better parenting and stronger families as the key to mending the broken society.

We haven't seen that phrase 'broken society' for a while, I'm glad it still has some currency because it's still true, perhaps even more so in some places since the Coalition came to power. I also wonder why the CSJ needs to report again on families and parenting when it's already done so in a fairly meaty way, and only seen a few of its recommendations taken up.

Christian Guy, (his name, and who knows, perhaps a personal description too?) the head of CSJ, also flags up poverty as a key focus:  we have brought together a genuine team of experts with frontline poverty-fighting experience to help us draw up a new social policy blueprint to tackle the challenges of the 21st century."

A longstanding CSJ theme has been, in line with Conservative (and Libdem) policy, that local/voluntary/community solutions are better than those delivered by the state. The government is starting to  promote and support 'community franchise' approaches in key areas of social policy. Remember David Camerons 200,000 'problem families'? The money for that is going to local councils, who have to identify local providers who can deliver results. The local contract in South Somerset has gone to a church-based initiative, who are now fielding requests for information from other parts of the UK. Chris Graylings' ideas for mentoring recently released prisoners are based on the same model, and Sure Start is about to head the same way. At the same time organisations like the Cinnamon Network are promoting 'franchise' models of community engagement for churches - projects set up in 1 place, but which can be replicated in many settings without reinventing the wheel.

Update: this is all the more significant as a report today shows that one of these projects, using charities and businesses to get the long term unemployed back into work, has failed quite badly

This is a bit of a brave new world - it's been a long time since we looked elsewhere than the state to 'sort things out'. It's an interesting model - comparisons to the US and Victorians are wide of the mark, provided the state remains in place as a guarantor of quality and resources, even if delivery is left up to the voluntary or private sector. Labour co-opted many charities as arms of the state, throwing funding around with gay abandon, thus making many voluntary groups just as state-dependent as the people they were trying to help. Ironically, the Conservatives are actually taking this further. I hope this is as far as they go: devolving funding and activity may work better, but lets hope this isn't a step towards the state withdrawing completely, leaving the voluntary sector with all the caseload and none of the funding or policy leadership.

I hope the CSJ are going to be truly radical, and challenge everything which brings poverty and family breakdown. 24 hour opening, deregulation of Sunday trading, increasing shift work and unsociable hours all limit the time which parents and families can spend together. Extending parental leave at the beginning of life is good, but that's then rather undermined if, once little Johnny/Joanna is 1, the parents never see each other, or their child, because they're both working daft hours and the kid is in childcare from 7.30am to 7pm every day (the opening hours of our local nursery). When asked to draw a picture of the most significant person in their life, how many 3 year olds will draw their childminder or key worker?

And why are the parents both out to work? Because the average house costs 9x the average wage, compared to the 3x it did back in 1990. Everyone who got in on the property bubble? We did that. Yes, the state could have held things back, built more houses, told the banks to be more responsible about mortgages. But there's no way out of this without substantial pain, and at the moment new buyers are getting most of it. If the CSJ can find a solution for this (and make sure that all new homes have space for a family to eat together round a table, rather than the TV) then they'll have done something really radical. If we're serious about family breakdown, then the economic and 'free market' factors have to be brought to heel: not everything that business wants is good for families. There is no such thing as a free market, someone always has to pay. Part of the governments job (and ours too) is to identify the vulnerable parties in that equation, and protect them.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quit Stirring

Tomorrow is 'stir up Sunday', due to the following set prayer:

"Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded."

but in one of those God-incidences, it's the other set prayer for tomorrow that I'll be praying with gusto:

"Eternal Father
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace...."

plenteously. That's almost a Miranda word.

Women Bishops: the Dave Walker Plan

David Walker cartoon on women bishops
Dave Walker, as reported in the Guardian.

For an even less serious angle, 10 reasons why men should not be ordained.

If you need something more theological, this is pretty good. Rachel Marszalek considers the arguments put forward at Synod for rejecting the measure. You'll need a few minutes to read that one too.

Tina, a pioneer ministry in the north of my diocese, has written an 'elegy for the light spectrum', which is great.

The Ugley Vicar has drafted a 'parish magazine' article trying to explain what went wrong. It's from the conservative standpoint, but it does highlight how almost impossible it's been to find a form of words which commands enough of a majority.

My guess is that, if you're a conservative evangelical or traditionalist catholic, the next few months is your only opportunity for finding a suitable settlement. There are suddenly plenty of energised and passionate laity up and down the country who are in favour of women bishops and want to find a way to get onto General Synod to sort this mess out. There are even petitions calling for the entire Synod to step aside now, or for it t be abolished. That might be cathartic but I think General Synod needs to lie in the bed it has made, and take responsibility for sorting this out in the next 6-9 months. If it's left to the 2015-18 Synod, I can't see many Reform candidates being elected that time round.

It would be ironic if traditionalists found themselves looking back on November 2012 as the best provision they could have had. In the meantime Deanery and Diocesan synods can already start clearing their agendas for 2013 for the motions which are going to come before them.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Online Mental Health Resources for Churches

One good thing to come out of the recent synod was a new online mental health resource called Mental Health Matters. Echurch blog has a helpful summary of what's on the site, and it looks good. In a brief browse I came across papers on mental health and the healing ministry, and examples of local engagement with mental health, overcoming the stigma of mental illness etc.

Also worth a look is Mind and Soul, which has regular conferences, and there is lots of helpful stuff on there. I was most interested in a course they've developed 'Living Life to the Full With God', a course for those with anxiety and depression, which can be run locally or online. There seem to be an increasing number of nationally produced, locally deliverable courses available to churches, but this is the first one I've come across that deals with Mental Health. Holy Trinity Brompton have a 'dealing with depression' course, but as far as I know that's not available as a resource pack for other churches.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Advent Virus Alert


Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:

A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
A loss of interest in judging other people.
A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
A loss of interest in conflict.
A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
Frequent attacks of smiling.
An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Now What?

I assume that from now on, every Reform church will be paying its parish share in full, and there'll be no more talk about opting out from Diocesan structures. No representation without taxation. After the vote today, it would be outrageous for Reform parishes then to opt into and out of church structures as they saw fit. Having played a full part in the legislative process, and hobbled the CofE's witness in the process (check Twitter if you doubt this), to then withold support would be deeply unjust. It would be like kicking someone in the shins, and then fining them for limping.

Had I the key, and were I in the vicinity of Church House, I would lock General Synod in there until they found a way to sort this out. It's clear that some of the processes before today have been badly flawed, so much as I'd like to I can't just blame the lobby groups. (update: a vicar on our local news in Somerset was making the same point - he argued that Synod could have found a motion that would have commanded enough votes, and managed to accomodate people like himself who were opposed.)

In the end it comes down to whether we trust each other. Traditionalists want stronger guarantees, but the stronger the wording is, the more it betrays the fact that Christians don't trust each other to act like Christians, and are resorting to law to regulate their relationship rather than grace. If that's where we've come to, I can't see how those Christians can share communion, or claim to be in fellowship with one another. We belong to the same institution, but how much more is there to it than that?

I Was Out of Prison, and You Visited Me

In this Prisons Week, The government is about to announce plans for a mentoring scheme for those recently released from prison, to help them get their lives back on track and reduce reoffending rates.

In his speech (Chris Grayling) is expected to say that when an offender leaves jail they should be met by a mentor who would help them find a place to live and arrange training or rehabilitation from drug or alcohol issues.
Only those who are jailed for more than a year are currently given rehabilitation, but the prime minister wants all but a small number of high-risk prisoners to be supported by the end of 2015.
Mr Grayling will say everyone has a vested interest in "an enlightened approach to reducing reoffending" as "we can't just keep recycling people round and round the system".
He will say: "I want [released prisoners] to be met at the prison gate, to have a place to live sorted out, to have rehab or training lined up, and above all someone who knows where they are, what they are doing, and can be a wise friend to prevent them from reoffending.

And who will do this? 'Private and voluntary sector groups', according to the report. This seems to be a repeat of the approach to 'problem families' - the government has announced a headline figure, released a certain amount of funding, but has left it up to local authorities to identify who can make most progress on the issue in their area. Interestingly, our local 'provider' for supporting troubled families is a mentoring scheme, Yeovil4Family, based at a local church. There is some wisdom to this approach: a voluntary sector group doesn't represent 'the authorities' in the same way, and can be on the side of the client, rather than being seen as a big stick or Big Brother.

But released prisoners need more than just job training. Work is the solution to some things, but not all: a mentor programme needs to go further than that, and help people to change behaviour, to work through damaged relationships etc. Private training agencies which might be drawn to the rehab scheme will have part of the picture, but being a 'wise friend' is going to involve a lot more than lining up an apprenticeship or a work placement.

The deadline of 2015 is a worry - yes, the sooner ex-offenders can be supported well the better, but it will take time to get 'results', and this sounds more like a deadline set to coincide with an election than anything else. There will also be a lot of volunteers needed: locally the church has been a dependable pool of volunteers for all sorts of things, most recently family mentoring, debt counselling, a food bank, alongside a whole stack of groups for parents, preschoolers, youth groups, lunch clubs etc. But how much water is left in the pool? Is the government getting carried away by the level of volunteering for the Olympics, and assuming that time and dedication is available 24/7/365, rather than just once in a lifetime?

Jesus would want us to be the first in line to work with those released from prison, and I hope this scheme might be the trigger for some creative, imaginative and significant work. It might even be a natural cousin to the family support work that's just starting. But I worry that it's too fast, too quickly. What happens after 2015? It takes a long time and a lot of dedication to change a life.

update (11.15) the proposals are currently being discussed on 5 live, it sounds like the Grayling plan is to involve as many ex-offenders in mentoring as possible. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

You Want Pioneers? You Can't Handle Pioneers!*

 In many places the church is saying loud and clear that we need pioneers, which is great and true and I'm sure it is genuine. Pioneers then respond and often take risks in the process. But it sometimes turns out that perhaps the church didn't quite mean what it said, or there are some big 'buts'. In other places it is clear she's not interested in pioneers at all -  some dioceses still don't recognise pioneer ministry or they suggest that everyone is a pioneer and allocate no resources while their DDOs do their best to steer people away from pioneer ministry as a vocation. We have shed tears, expressed frustration, prayed a lot, and reflected that every journey to the new in the bible - and probably elsewhere - involves going through darkness, letting go, or experiencing wilderness on the way. It's unavoidable.
It seems that the kind of pioneering understood most readily by the wider church involves an outcome that looks something like what we have already; namely a community of disciples with worship, singing, preaching and money being paid back into the centre - preferably all happening within a very short space of time.
Jonny Baker, reflecting on his time leading training for pioneer leaders in the CofE. 
It's worth reading the whole of his article, very challenging and thought provoking. It needs to be heard both by pioneers, and by everyone else in the church. I still sense that pioneer ministry is something happening in a corner, that the central structures don't know what to do with it, and that it risks, like Fresh Expressions, becoming diluted currency by being applied to too many things. I hear of Pioneer curates in settings where hardly anyone else in the parish, including the training incumbent, really understands what they are about. This work is hard enough without the church at large providing additional headwinds. 
(*for those not versed in the movie portfolio of Tom Cruise or Jack Nicholson, the title of this piece is inspired by a line from 'A Few Good Men', which I think is on TV sometime this week.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

'How God changes your brain for the better'. Neuroscience and the Spiritual Disciplines

I once heard J John happily claim that Christians were brainwashed - because if you knew what was inside most people's heads, it certainly needed cleaning up. Browsing the Baptist Times (as you do), I stumbled across this fascinating piece, an interview with a neuroscientist researching the effects of spiritual practices and faith upon the brain.

here's a snippet

Can you talk about some of the evidence for how God changes your brain for the better?
Most of the current scientific literature shows that people who are more religious - often measured by church attendance or self-report - have lower levels of stress and anxiety, lower levels of depression, and better overall health.
Our more specific research has pointed to specific changes in the brain that are associated with being religious/spiritual, or doing certain practices. For example, we showed that doing the Rosary reduces anxiety in people.
And a meditation practice, called Kirtan Kriya, increases the function of your frontal lobes, which in turn helps to improve memory and reduce anxiety. Of course, there are examples in which religion and spirituality can be bad for people, but that is also my hope to help identify the potential problems so that they can be avoided and turned into something more positive.'

I'd be intrigued to know more about whether it's practices, beliefs, or a combination, which makes the most difference. The examples above are all in religious practice: prayer, churchgoing etc., rather than in the sets of beliefs which people hold.

Being in the more word-based, left-brain Protestant stream of things, we're less into practice and more into creedal truth. But an increasing number of writers (Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, John Ortberg) have pointed out the dramatic gap between knowledge and character which exists in many Western Christians, and called for a revival in spiritual practice - the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, confession, solitude etc. - as the means of grace for God to change us more into Christlikeness. It now looks as if this is backed up by science, as well as theology.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Inquiry into Charities Commission: Public Benefit and the gospel

A Parliamentary Committee is currently looking into the working of the 2006 Charities Act, and specifically the work of the Charities Commission. This has been ongoing for several months, but hit the headlines earlier this week after evidence from the Plymouth Brethren was published. 

Here's some of it:
the Commission recently refused to register the Preston Down Trust (the Trust), a Plymouth Brethren gospel hall, as a charity. The decision stands to have wider ramifications; out of the blue, the gospel halls, including registered charities, are suddenly facing an uncertain future. The decision arises directly from the Act (and the Commission’s interpretation of it).

10 The decision was the more surprising as it came without warning. For over a year the Commission had been considering a reference to the tribunal to help it interpret the law regarding the Trust’s status. Then, without notice or consultation, the Trust was informed that the Commission had decided not to refer the matter and had refused registration. There was no offer of dialogue with the Commission; the Trust was given no opportunity to respond other than to appeal to the tribunal.

11 This volte-face raises serious concerns over the way the Commission administers its statutory functions and objectives. Does it now see it as its duty to drive to the tribunal any question of public benefit which, following the Act, it (perhaps alone) perceives to be in doubt, for hard won clarification at charities’ expense?

the rest is here, starting at p100. The point at issue is whether the church satisfies the 'public benefit' criterion for charitable status. This is despite earlier assurances about the Act that there'd be no problem for faith groups with this. The Brethren are now having to use the courts to appeal the decision, so some money that could have been used for the public benefit is being spent on court fees. 

There's also the question of tactics: it's no accident that the National Secular Society picked a relatively small and poorly resourced council to begin its legal campaign against local council prayers. The Charity Commission appears to have done the same:

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and chairman of the committee, said that the commission appeared to have picked out the brethren as a test case to find out exactly what was covered by the public benefit laws.
Jenkin said he felt that this method of establishing exactly what the law meant was not satisfactory.
"Picking a relatively vulnerable organisation and putting you through huge time and expense is a rotten way to decide what charity law means," he said

The 2006 Act left up to the Charity Commissioners what 'for the public benefit' means, and removed a presumption that this covered religious activity, along with assurances that it wouldn't really have much effect. I must admit that the more 'closed' Christian groups like the Brethren night find it harder to demonstrate public benefit than most other churches. Scientology has previously been refused charity status because, as a cult, it didn't have a sufficiently public element, and I'm sure Mr Qatada's advancement of Islam has no public benefit element either. 

MPs on the parliamentary group are claiming that this is the thin end of the wedge, and asking whether the Charity Commissioners have an agenda that will end up with all churches being excluded from charitable status. The Commissioners have certainly left the door wide open to extending their judgement against the Brethren to other churches. 

I've recently been involved in setting up a couple of local Christian charities, and there's a requirement to prove 'advancement of religion for the public benefit', i.e. to show how your form of Christian mission and service is going to help people beyond the church. I think its probably good for us to have to think about in what ways the gospel and the church is 'for the public benefit', and we only have to read our history to know that, whilst Jesus is always for public benefit, the same can't always be said of his followers. 

It's good that the Charities Commission is being held to account over this, but if it makes the church look to its laurels too, then that's not a bad thing. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prophet of the Day: the President of Uruguay

Think of a world leader, politician, or indeed anyone in power that you know, who gives away 90% of their income.

Tricky. But there is one: the President of Uruguay. He has personal wealth of just over £1000, which takes the form of an old VW Beetle, and living off 10% of his official salary means that his regular income is about the same as that of an average Uruguayan.

I was struck by this quote, from his address to the Rio 20+ summit earlier this year, on development.

 "We've been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty.

"But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left?

"Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet."

So though I'm as mystified as the next person about how we're managing to create jobs in a flatlining economy, it's actually good news. We have to find a way to prosper that doesn't involve ever increasing consumption. One day, the Chinese will stop making cheap tat for people to market to us, and then what will we do?

And full credit to the Uruguayans for electing a guy like that to be president. We might indulge someone who gave away 90% as a harmless eccentric, or a funny story for the end of the news, but would Brits ever elect someone that radical and challenging to be PM?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

PCC Elections

No, not that sort of PCC, though there are probably more people who vote in annual elections for C o fE Parochial Church Councils than are forecast to vote tomorrow.

Here are the candidates for Avon and Somerset, for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner. Here's the official national website, and the local bit for our area. Sorry about that, but I've now taken away any case you had about not being sufficiently informed.

This may be the most bodged election since the Libdems AV campaign - date, publicity, concept etc. But it's still an election, and it will have an effect on policing. The more we engage with the process, the more we'll get the kind of policing response we want. I'm planning to vote, and will be voting Independent. It's a nonsense otherwise: this is an attempt to put policing more into the hands of local communities, and I don't see how that can be done if the PCCs are there to represent a political party. It immediately gives them someone else to answer to - they are only candidates in the first place because of party approval.

There were lots of complaints on the radio today about lack of information, from people who, with a bit of effort and poking around on the web could have found out all they needed to know. Whose responsibility is it, the states to inform us, or us as electors to become informed? It's a very odd and depressing form of dependency.

Or maybe we are getting tired/bored with democracy. I guess we've had it too long and it's far more exciting to vote for some leggy blonde on X Factor whose name we won't even remember in 3 months time, just to see Louis Walsh get all wound up again. But we can't admit to being tired or bored, so we'll blame the state for making it hard for us. Or we dress up being too apathetic to vote as a 'protest vote'

If you want somewhere where the state makes it hard for people to vote, try North Korea, Iran, or most of the former Soviet states.

Here's the polling stations in South Somerset for tomorrow. See you there?

Cray: 5 key principles for mission leadership.

Some very simple and helpful stuff from Graham Cray on the leadership qualities required in Fresh Expressions and mission

a number of principles will ensure that the leadership is appropriate.

Fresh expressions are both birthed and sustained, through discernment, and obedience to the missionary Spirit who is always ahead of us. So prayer and attentiveness to the leading of the Spirit must be central. Whenever you are not sure, stop and pray. Even more important whenever you are very sure, stop and pray! 

Be a vision bearer. Help the fresh expression to remain true to its founding vision and values. Above all accept the responsibility to keep it missional, rather than settle into a pattern of life that is self serving. If possible ensure that serving others, beyond its own membership, is a regular and constitutive part of belonging to the fresh expression.

Don't mistake leadership for control. Hold it lightly, encouraging others to exercise gifts you do not have, and create space for those who develop gifts similar to your own. Invest in people so can one day do better than you, because they build on what you have established. Always be on the look out for the next generation of leadership, rather than always trying to fill vacancies. There is only one person in overall control of a fresh expression of church. He is called Jesus and he is present through the Holy Spirit.

Have the courage to challenge inappropriate behaviour by team members, if it is damaging the ministry of the fresh expression, but never forget how patient God is with you.

Above all, set an example. We never expect people to do what we are not prepared to do ourselves. In the New Testament authority in leadership comes by the power of personal and corporate example, rooted in the example of Christ.

Reading that list, it looks like pretty much the same list of leadership qualities that are required in any church. Because the CofE is being forced to think again about church, mission and leadership by the Fresh Expressions movement, the thinking from that should be informing all of the CofE, not just those bits that are involved in mission.

And none of these 5 qualities require that you have a dog collar.

Monday, November 12, 2012

If the cap fits....

Bishop Justin Welby gets into the mood for a bit of riot control.

Christmas & Advent - ideas, resources and donkey rides.

One of todays tasks is putting together a Christmas leaflet for the neighbourhood. Even though Advent isn't upon us yet, there are over 20 Christmas 'specials' to start getting ready for. Here are a few places I go for help, and a few ideas to keep things fresh:

1. Cartoon Church has a Christmas section, pay Dave Walker the very reasonable license fee and use can use his cartoons in publicity, on service sheets etc. Far Side inspired Inherit theMirth is more pricey, but some of them are superb

2. Beatbox Bible's reading of Luke 2 did a lot of service last year as a Christmas reading in services

3. For a fresh stock of visuals, it's worth repeat visits to the Nativity Factor site. The competition is running again this year, for 2 minute interpretations of the Christmas story. All of last years shortlist are on the site, and the Christmas Channel on Youtube has all the entries. 

4. Christine Sine's website at Mustard Seed Associates is packed with advent reflections, art and poems, you may need a bit of time to browse it, but there's lots of good stuff there. 

5. If you need an Advent Calendar, try this one from Beyond Church, featuring the Beach Huts used in their 'live' Advent calendar. If you're anywhere in the Hove area, they're repeating it this year. There might just be time to organise something like this, and there are plenty of ways to do it - using shop fronts, garages, garden sheds etc. 

6. Or try a Posada, where Nativity figures are taken from one house to another throughout Advent, and each host household can mark the evening by doing something special (party, carols, decorating). There are some resources for this at Church Army, including a family board game, cut out and make Nativity set, scripts and resources for all-age Christmas services etc.  

Some local ideas, and things that have worked:
 - our 9 Lessons and Carols was uncomfortably full last year, so we've got an 'alternative' on this year, on a Friday night featuring our new Community Choir. The set list will mix traditional carols with choir pieces (Lean on Me, Fix You, Price Tag) to tell the Christmas story. There's more wiggle room over poems and readings too.

 - donkey rides. A variant on 'Get in the Picture', which gives people the chance to dress up and have their photo taken. If you've some nativity dressing up clothes and a local Christmas fair going on, do donkey rides for the children, a chance for folk to take pictures of the Mary/Joseph/Donkey combo, and have something to give away that explains what Christmas is all about.

 - Christmas services in 'secular' venues. Local garden centres have been a regular feature for several years, and they've often rung us to get the date in the calendar. Christingles seem to work well, and we get people to make their own, which is great fun for the kids, and saves a lot of prep work!!

 - Leaflet drop. Boring, boring, but if you're not going to let local folk know what you're up to now, then when are you? Nothing quite so good for the soul as pushing leaflets through snappy letterboxes in the cold. We use 160gsm card - easy to fold but robust enough to survive most letterboxes. Or you can use CPO's nice publicity materials and overprint your details.

 - Chocolate Christmas - a very popular idea for a talk I used a couple of years ago, here's the original, some other ideas (see the comments), and an absolute monster. It works best if you've got the actual chocolates, and there's usually a queue (mostly boys) at the end who want to help you eat them.

 - giveaways: Why Christmas? is a good one, and the Philo trust have several from J John, including What's the Point of Christmas? If you like Adrian Plass's writing style, try this. Some childrens ideas here, or several booklets/ideas on the CPO site plus childrens themed comics, and more comics,

Finally, if you're after a few good Christmas jokes and stories, J Johns Christmas Unwrapped message is a great place to go, very funny.

Update: got to add this superb DIY Advent Calendar from the Mothers Union.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

No More Page 3

I've signed this petition, which asks the editor of the Sun to stop putting pictures of naked women on page 3.

you shouldn’t show the naked breasts of young women in your widely read ‘family’ newspaper.
Consider this a long overdue outcry.
Dominic, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects.
Enough is enough.
Thank you.
The 'No More Page 3' campaign also has a Facebook and Twitter presence. Lucy Ann Holmes explains her reasons for starting the petition here, though why the Independent felt they needed to use that particular picture..... well, it just proves her point.

Holmes writes: The page 3 girl image is there for no other reason than the sexual gratification of men. She’s a sex object. But when figures range from 300,000 women being sexually assaulted and 60,000 raped each year, to 1 in 4 who have been sexually assaulted, is it wise to be repeatedly perpetuating a notion that women are sexual objects?

or in the words of the late lamented Somerset band 'Why?'
Naked woman on page 3
Page 4 the story of a sex offender
Somewhere down the line we miss the point....

The campaign is now asking major supermarkets to boycott the Sun until it discontinues the practice.

It's very difficult in 2012, unless you have very poor eyesight, to keep to Jesus teaching: "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Culture is riddled with the message that women are sex objects, from page 3 to pole dancing being marketed as exercise. I'm reminded of Douglas Couplands observation that marketing is feeding our own waste back to us in such a way that we don't realise it's real food (he uses stronger language than that). Fashion, music videos, magazine covers, you name it, there are plenty of things out there which make it difficult for men who want to keep their thought life pure.

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a life. Holmes is right, what we sow in a tabloid photo we reap in misery.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Not a Great Start

Ladbrokes yesterday stopped taking bets on who'll be the new Archbishop of Canterbury, after 'a sudden run of bets' on one of the candidates. William Hill swiftly followed suit, reporting the same pattern.

If the betters turn out to be right, I hope that Ladbrokes insist on them turning up in person, and then passing on their details to the relevant authorities. It's pretty sad that the tenure of a new Archbishop of Canterbury might start with gambling, greedy people trying to take advantage of insider knowledge, or (if the gamblers are not insiders) individuals leaking details from what's supposed to be a confidential process.

The twittersphere consensus was that it was most likely to be someone in the loop on the Criminal Records Bureau checks, rather than Crown Nominations members. I would certainly hope so. If someone on the committee making the choice is responsible then it raises big questions about their personal judgement and character, and by extension the judgement of the committee they are part of. If it's from inside the CRB, or another government department, then I would expect resignations or sackings.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Blast from the Past: Women Bishops

Partly because I'm slightly troubled by the lack of any proper theological argument in favour of women bishops on the new 'Yes2womenbishops' website (though I can understand why), and partly because it saves me writing anything new, here's my two-penn'orth on women bishops from way back in 2008. My views haven't changed, though I'd be interested to know if those of WATCH have.

Of course, that piece doesn't address whether the impending vote has 'proper provision' for people who can't agree with women bishops. I would hope that the 'proper provision' is the fact that we're all Christians, and can all deal with one another as Christians. If we can't do that, we're stuffed. Any relationship that has to resort to legal solutions to sort out differences is in serious trouble.

(update: link fixed now!)

Remembrance Video Clips

2 good video clips for use this weekend, the first from ReelWorship, simple and powerful:

the second is U2's Peace on Earth, as used in the Lincoln U2charist last year