Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jesus died for the Jolly Green Giant

todays Inbox

The Yeovil Town Club Store are running an Easter drawing competition for all children of primary 
school age (and below).

The winning entrant will be selected by Manager Gary Johnson and will receive a Yeovil Town Easter Egg and signed picture from their favourite player!

To enter, entrants should draw The Jolly Green Giant with an Easter egg. He can be holding the egg, standing by the egg, balancing the egg on his top hat, or whatever you can think of! You're limited only by your imagination!

Yes folks, this is exactly what Jesus had in mind that morning he walked out of the tomb, after wrestling death to an early grave. 

Coldplay vs U2

Behemoth vs Leviathan: both have singles out in anticipation of full albums later in the year. Its fair to say that Coldplays offering has caused more surprises

Coplday fans are used to hearing 1-2 minute bursts of this sort of stuff before the real song starts, or as interludes between the main tracks (several examples on Mylo Xyloto), not extended to 5 minutes of health spa backing music released as a single. It could have done with the lyrics on screen too, as they helpfully did with Atlas, which was great. No doubt it will grow on me, and fair play to them for taking a risk - Leviathan does frolic after all.

(update: we have official lyrics now.)

U2 have stuck a bit closer to form, and if Coldplay are giving up on the stadium singalong songs (to be fair, it was mostly going 'oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh' but at least the lyrics were easy to pick up) then Bono is ready to step up. He's even borrowed Chris Martins dangly lamp from Fix You and stuck a microphone on it:

this one is really growing on me, it's not a radical departure, but when you're as good as U2 you don't need one.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Questions in Genesis

We've spent the last couple of months exploring the early chapters of Genesis (1-4 and 12) at our church, this Sundays sermon is given over to a Q&A on any of the issues that the series has raised. Here are a few of the questions sent in so far:

  1. If Adams family were the only family on earth, how did his sons find women to marry who were not from his own family? It’s curious that Adam didn’t have daughters.
  2. Why did God allow Adam and Eve the choice of good and evil when the world was already perfect?
  3. Why didn’t God make men and women equal (Eve was created to be a helper)?
  4. Why did God choose a rib to form a woman?
  5. What does the Church of England teach about man being a separate creation from the animals?
  6. Why were we not meant to have knowledge if we were made in God’s image?
  7. Why put the tree of knowledge and the tree of life there. You know the consequences of someone eating the fruit of either tree so put them somewhere else that Man isn't going to pick the fruit from them.
  8. If you really wanted to mess with God's creation, why pick the tree of knowledge to point Eve at to pick fruit from. If eating the tree of life would give them a lifespan that, when combined with what they'd gained from the tree of knowledge, would make them like gods, then getting them to eat the fruit from the tree of life would cause lots more problems because if everybody lived extremely long lives then the Earth would reach the point where it couldn't support everybody far too quickly and it would be a horrible place to live. Nobody dying but still having to feed and look after everybody. Think Torchwood Miracle Day
Great, I'll have to watch Torchwood as part of my sermon prep... 

What would you answer? What questions would you ask?

Still can't see the forest for the trees

I believe the sun will shine on you and me, my friend
I have learned to trust the turning of the seasons
Even now the sun is breaking through the clouds again
But I still don't know the causes or the reasons
and I still can't see the forest for the trees.

Lovely acoustic version of a brilliant song, The Choir are one of my all-time favourite bands, still going after 20 years. This is one of a series of acoustic versions of their best tracks, with a bit of commentary on the story behind it. See more here on Facebook, or Youtube

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Food Bank Britain & the Bishops

Good piece in the Guardian yesterday by Jonathan Freedland in response to the discussion prompted by the bishops intervention on welfare cuts earlier this week:

there has been something of a delayed reaction to the rise and rise of genuine hunger in this country. The unkind would call it denial. But it is becoming harder to deny.
This week the nation's most senior clerics told of what they are seeing every day, in the parishes where they and their colleagues live and work. Vincent Nichols, the newly elevated Catholic cardinal, branded the way the welfare system functions "a disgrace", while 27 Anglican bishops and 16 other Christian leaders blamed the government's benefits changes for a "national crisis" of hunger.
Predictably the coalition's defenders told the men of the cloth to back off, telling them they had no business poking their nose into such matters and should stick to "religion". Apparently they interpret the old Alastair Campbell dictum that politicians shouldn't do God to mean that God shouldn't do politics.
Perhaps they think churches exist to tidy up the hymn books and keep flowers in the vestry. In fact, the major faiths see their mission as nothing less than healing the world. So of course if they see people going hungry, they cry out. It is their duty.
It's their right too. Few institutions in our national life are doing more to deal with the return of a problem some might have thought we banished after the Depression, if not the Victorian age. Where do you think many of the more than 400 food banks run by the Trussell Trust operate? In church halls....
The Telegraph takes a different tack, pointing to a survey last year that showed that the 'majority' of Anglicans thought the welfare budget too high, and that it should be cut. 
2 brief points for Telegraph readers:
a) Thinking that the welfare budget is too high is not the same as wanting people to be destitute. I'd probably agree that the welfare budget is too high, but there must be ways to tackle it that don't force people to choose between heating and eating.
b) 83% of the Anglicans in the survey aren't active members of any church. Describing yourself as an Anglican isn't the same as being an active, worshipping member of an Anglican church. The Telegraph fails to mention this. 
Maybe they're miffed that the bishops wrote to a left wing rag like the Mirror, if their coverage of the story is anything to go by.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Simple Choices

Choose A or B

A: Wind turbine overlooking the land
B: No land as it's all underwater

A: Tidal power
B: Tidal surge

A: Jumping on a plane to get away from the bad weather
B: Having a home to come back to afterwards

A: Solar panels on the roof
B: Nothing on the roof as all the tiles have blown off

A: Get out of the car and walk
B: Get out of the car and wade

A: Change
B: Climate Change

Monday, February 10, 2014

New Bishop of Bath and Wells "Growth is important...we can't carry on as we are"

The latest 'Manna', the Bath and Wells diocesan magazine, has an interview with our new bishop, Rev. Peter Hancock. Carefully avoiding the subject of bishops housing, here's a few selected quotes which warmed my heart:

"The most important thing is to see flourishing churches at the heart of flourishing communities. We are called to share the love of Christ and to play our part in helping to build, support and transform our communities. A vibrant church can make such an impact."

in answer to 'what makes a vibrant church?'
"Growth is important - growth in terms of numbers, vocations and service. But above all it's a church that is consciously welcoming and hospitable and reaching out with the love of Jesus.

We need to find new ways to draw folk into our life who woulnd't usually come to a church service. So we need pioneering ways of meeting people..."

"We shouldn't become obsessed by our buildings...many churches are now also meeting in different venues... Where we meet is not the most important thing but there needs to be strong links between traditional and Fresh Expressions of churches. The DNA that runs through both has to be the desire to live the mission of Jesus and continue his work in the world today."

"This will need radical thinking, creative thinking and critical thinking. And it needs an honest recognition that we can't carry on as we are....we don't have the resources to continue as we are without making some fundamental changes."

"There are those that say you can't reconcile faith with a scientific view. I think we should stand up and say it is possible.... faith is not just about hearts and feelings, it's also about using our brains to discover the wonders of what God has created"

in answer to a question about the biggest challenges for the church and the diocese:
"We must recover our confidence along with our hope and our joy. We must have confidence in God... In terms of relevance, its about living the mission of Jesus wherever and in whatever way that's needed - a practical demonstration of His love. Not only preaching but doing."

"How can we know what God might be calling us to be and do differently unless we listen to him?"

"I want to undertake my duties as Bishop prayerfully, thoughtfully and with grace. I trust that when God speaks to me I'll have the courage to do what he is asking and if I don't do it well, courage to reflect and seek to do it better. I also want to be intentional about what I do and why I am doing it."

what will be your priorities?
"As a Bishop I am called to lead the diocese in mission, which means passionately, confidently and courageously sharing our faith.... Care for the most vulnerable, support for our young people and concern for the environment and the challenges facing rural communities are three strands of my personal ministry and will be reflected in my priorities..."

"the most important relationship is our relationship with God. If we don't attend to that through prayer, through listening, through thanksgiving, through celebration, we won't become the people God wants us to be."

"I'm striving to be the best husband, father, friend and bishop I can be. That's the journey I'm on but I don't walk it on my own. God inspires, leads and accompanies me on it."

I'm delighted that we have a new bishop who sees mission as central to his role. This hasn't always been so. We face a lot of challenges, not least a rapidly shrinking Diocese: for every 9 members in 2008, we had lost 1 of those 9 by 2011 (according to the latest official stats from the CofE).

In turn there's an increasing burden on those who remain. One of our 2 churches has grown in menbership by 32% during 2006-14. At the same time our Parish Share (amount paid to the diocese to support ministry across the county) has risen by 92%. Even if you add in inflation for the period (26%), parish share payments have still risen around 50% faster than ability to pay. That's not sustainable. Milking growing parishes and amalgamating shrinking parishes has an inbuilt slow self-destruct.

So yes we'll need, courage, confidence, and prayer. It's a while before we welcome Bishop Peter, but I'm encouraged that perhaps God has supplied the kind of diocesan bishop we need for the challenges ahead.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

'To keep the show on the road, the show will have to change'

Ultimately, what the figures reveal is the end of a decade of respite for the Church of England - thanks to Anglicans' offering to minister without pay. This is a decade in which the Church could have been planning for the predictable changes that are now in train.
Put simply, the Church of England is soon going to have to operate with far fewer ministers, both stipendiary and non-stipendiary. Women's ordination has helped a little, but women continue to be disproportionately represented in unpaid, part-time, and low-status jobs in the Church. It is unlikely that this situation can be sustained - even if conscience allowed it.
To put it bluntly, there are no longer enough troupers left to keep the show on the road, and the show will have to change.
from this article by Linda Woodhead in the Church Times this week. I blogged a while back on how the CofE is looking at a long-term full time workforce of 5,000 in parish ministry, compared to the 12,500+ the current system is based on. It's encouraging to whiff the aroma of smelt coffee getting as far as the Church Times. The CofE is understandably reluctant to close down churches or parishes, but that leaves us in a bit of a pickle if there's an ever reducing clergy workforce. As the Church Growth Research report notes, amalgamating parishes is a good way to accelerate decline, but with parishes outnumbering clergy by 2.5 to 1, there isn't really another option under the current system
The show will have to change. There must be a combination of fewer parishes (or a smarter way of running multi-parish benefices), or more authorised local lay leadership, or a fundamental reconfiguration of parishes, churches and the clergy role. Or a blend of all 3. Trouble is, a declining church is going to struggle with finding that lay leadership, we should have been doing this a generation ago. 
Ultimately it's God's gospel and God's church. It did pretty well in the early days without vicars and medieval buildings, and maybe it will again. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Time to Talk

Every night I would check my alarm clock 10, 15 times to make sure that I'd set it to 'on'. Every morning I'd wake with a feeling of dread about the walk to work, and I'd get on my knees to ask for strength. Relief that the working day was over would quickly be overtaken by anxiety about the next day waiting round the corner. Once on the way back from work I stopped in at the local co-op corner shop for some food. I just stood there, unable to choose what to take off the shelves, overwhelmed by the choice. I put the basket down and left without buying anything.

A few years later I sat in the corner of our front room in tears, trying to explain to the kids why daddy was sad. It took a couple of other work colleagues to notice I was looking rough and to sit me down for coffee and help me to talk about why I wasn't my usual self.

I'm blessed, I've not had any deep or longstanding issues with depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness. I've had the mental equivalent of bruising or a small crack. But I know that talking to people about what was going on was a massive part of helping me to get through it.

Today is Time to Talk day, 24 hours in which to start conversations about mental health, raise awareness and share the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it.

Is there someone you know who's been looking more down and upset lately. Who's taken to avoiding church, the school playground, their usual circle of friends. Who struggles with the greeting 'how are you'? Maybe they could do with a coffee too. 

Because mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something we don't talk about enough. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Vicars: Personality Type and Church Growth

I'm working my way through some of the material from last months Church Growth Research Programme report, and came across something quite startling, though so far little reported. The slides from David Voas presentation on numerical growth have lots of helpful charts on different factors in church growth. There are a couple on the personality type of clergy.

Most of us who've been through vicar factory have probably done a Myers-Briggs test or three. If you don't know it, the test explores 4 aspects of personality (here's my rough summary):
  • Extravert/Introvert - are you energised by the outer world and other people, or the inner world
  • Intuitive/Sensing - do you look at the big picture, possibilities, and process information with your imagination, or do you look at the details, the present and the empirical facts.
  • Thinking/Feeling - do you process information through logic and reason, or through relationships and how people will be affected.
  • Judging/Percieving - do you like to organise things and plan them, or take things as they are and go with the flow.
The startling finding is this: "Growth is associated with E(xtravert) and N (intuitive). The combination of E and N is particularly effective. I-S clergy are three times as likely to preside over decline as substantial growth, E-N clergy are twice as likely to experience substantial growth as decline"

Extraverts will tend to do more motivating and enthusing of people, and here is the correlation in the research between 'motivating' (generating enthusiasm and inspiring people to action) as a personality quality for the vicar, and how much their church has grown, or not.

And here is the chart for '"Envisioning" (having a clear vision for the future and being focused on achieving it" (which is principally an 'Intuitive' quality)

Alternatively, being 'empathic' and 'persisting' were identified as 2 qualities which don't make for church growth. Both are good qualities, but if 'persisting' becomes 'inflexible' and 'empathic' becomes 'don't do anything that will upset people" then its easy to see how a church can get stuck. 

They are also two qualities which link at a very deep level to the culture of the CofE and the way it has traditionally seen ministry. I remember a visit to a senior CofE cleric who suggested that if I wasn't motivated principally by doing house visits to the sick (pastoral care) and saying my prayers according to the daily office (persistence) then perhaps I didn't belong in the Anglican church. Do we have a serious cultural problem here?

I don't believe that these charts simply sanction lack of 'empathy' or 'persistence' - you need persistence to see a vision through, and you need empathy to love people. But perhaps the role of the leader is to make sure that good pastoral care is going on, rather than doing it all themselves. For the Anglican church to grow, so that we can keep saying our prayers and loving people, we need more leaders who don't fit the current mould.

As an extrovert (I blog, what did you expect?) intuitive, I find this all quite encouraging. But what does it mean for people who are wired differently? One of the other qualities strongly correlated with growth is 'reflection' - the ability to evaluate what you're doing and change/improve it. That's something introverts should be good at. And maybe it also encourages us to think about leadership teams, rather than vicars alone, and enabling lay leadership with the qualities which we ourselves lack. We have both a lay pastoral team, and visionary/motivating leadership on a new building project, also led by a lay member of the church. 

Final note of caution: the figures above are based on the leaders own reports of whether their churches are growing or declining. You'll notice that it looks like the majority of churches in the survey are growing, which clearly isn't the Anglican reality. So the stats may be less stark, but they're still significant.

update: plenty of debate in response to this on Twitter, if you can make sense of it!

update 2 good reflections from Jody Stowell on what constitutes good leadership. Makes the important point that a good leader is reflective, which is also made in the research, and that's not always what comes naturally to Extraverts.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Why Would Anybody Want to Go To Church?

Janet Henderson asked a number of folk who came to a special hospice service before Christmas why they'd come, and why they might think of joining in a worship activity. I thought it was worth reblogging the answers in full, and Jan's comment on them:

To take a bit of space out of my hectic schedule.
To participate in something that takes you beyond yourself.
To be able to share your concerns with people who will understand.
To be challenged about the things I know I avoid or get lazy about.
To learn about Christianity - to ask some of the really deep questions I have.
To be with people who are searching for God or love or something.
For a bit of peace.
To be close to our loved ones.
I think it's helpful to hear stories that make you think.
To find some strength to carry on.
As a resource for inner light and peace.
To help me find ways of explaining things to my children.
If I felt the other people wanted to get to know me I might go.
I'd hope to discover the wisdom I need to tackle things that are going on in my life.
I'd like to know more about how you can pray and what happens when you do.
I'd like to be able to go just for a bit - if you could come and go like we did here.
I need to see forgiveness - I need it for myself but I need to see it in other people's attitudes too.

If that's what some regular non-worshippers would come to church for, what shape would worship need to take, how would it look and what attitudes and behaviours would need to be in evidence? What language would be accessible?

Janet's challenge is to look for the reasons people want to come, rather than the reasons that they don't come. And then to work out how we connect with this. 

I spoke to someone this morning who came to one of our garden centre Christingles in December, and loved it. "This is what church should be like". I think she had a mistaken impression of what church actually is like, (at least, what ours is like), but it was a significant comment. It's maybe no coincidence that it's one of my favourite services of the year too, and that we were there because the garden centre invited us. 

The church isn't there to give the people what they want, because a lot of people want page 3, the restoration of the death penalty and a cut in international aid. But we have got to recognise that as culture changes, our forms of worship, meeting and community need to change as well.