Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Making White Weddings Green

Great story on Ruth Gledhills blog about the Christian couple who had a 'green' wedding at their local church in London.

Featuring a conflict-free diamond (in the news now thanks to the film Blood Diamond), dress bought from an Oxfam bridal store (5 now in the uk), gifts sent to the developing world, a low-emission bridal car etc. Great idea, and good for them for following through their principles. According to the Independent (who didn't mention the couple were Christians, despite a 2 page report on the wedding!), the average wedding emits 14.5 tonnes of CO2 (wonder how much of that is the speeches?) which is 40% more than the average annual carbon footprint of a British adult.

There is (correction, was, Jan 09, someone seems to have taken over the website) a Green Weddings organisation in the UK. Makes me wonder about trying to produce a church leaflet which we can give to wedding couples to help them make their weddings greener. Or even have a wedding planning consultancy linked to local churches with this emphasis? Hmmm...

mission creep?

I've been mulling over a comment made last week, that having a plan for the future of the church was starting to get into thinking like a business, rather than like a church. One or two musings:

a lot of the language we're 'borrowing' from business was actually Biblical language in the first place - mission, vision, purpose, plans (I know the plans I have for you) etc. It shouldn't be alien language to us.

However, whilst it's been away, the language has been mixing with all sorts of people, and so it's not the same as it was when we let it go. Mission doesn't just mean God's mission. Purpose isn't just about what we're here on earth for, vision isn't just about prophets. We can't just accept this language back wholesale without critiquing it.

But.... perhaps some useful things have happened to this language too. Human thinking has developed, and our thinking about leadership, organisations etc. has developed too. As long as we are discerning, there's nothing wrong in learning from the best of 'secular' wisdom, because when it comes to wisdom there is no sacred-secular divide anyway. All wisdom is God's wisdom. Also, it may give us ways of understanding the Bible which we didn't have before. I'm fond of Mark 1, where Jesus goes away to pray after a busy day of ministry, and comes back with a renewed sense of his goals and purpose (we must go to the other towns (goals) because I must preach the gospel there also (purpose)). Does thinking about that with 'business' eyes warp our understanding of Jesus or enhance it?

Monday, January 29, 2007


may as well get into practice for Lent:

I watch Top Gear. I enjoy it. I could never understand the lads at my school who bought car mags, and in fact I still can't. But I've yet to see a funnier bit of TV than the TG team going caravanning in the last series, though their attempt to resurface a road last night came close.

TG has community, fellowship, reviews, testimony, fun, 'teaching' of a sort. Sound familiar? ... Top Gear church, there's a thought.

statistics and mission

This last week has been a statistical flurry in the CofE - we've had to fill in our 'statistics for mission' form and send it in to the Diocese (membership, number of baptisms, weddings and funerals, Sunday attendance etc.) and at the same time the CofE published its membership stats for 2005, with accompanying press release.

The national stats aren't great. Average weekly bum on pew count is down 17,000, of which 4,000 are children, and average Sunday congregations have dropped below 1m for the first time in centuries.

The accompanying publicity has highlighted the good news stories - the fact that about 15 Dioceses have seen their attendance grow over the last year, and rising Christmas attendances. On the second of these, CofE folk have got very excited over the fact that Christmas attendance in 2005 was up 6% on the previous year, but nobody has noticed (or maybe they did notice but didn't want to say) that Christmas Day was a Sunday, and whether that made a difference.

One or two issues I'm mulling over:
- it's important to keep people's morale up, so I guess focusing on the positive is defensible, but then it also encourages people just to keep plodding on as they are, because the ship isn't sinking just yet. How can we encourage people, and get real, at one at the same time?

- it would be interesting to see if the Dioceses which have grown have anything in common in terms of mission strategy. There's lots of data on what individual growing churches have in common, and in recent history London Diocese has been the only growing Diocese in the CofE, a fact that was put down to it insisting on parishes having a thought-through mission strategy. Interestingly, London isn't one of the growing Dioceses in the last couple of years. I still think having a mission strategy is a good thing, and part of my job is encouraging churches to have and use one, but it would be interesting to get behind the detail and see what's happened where.

- about 1 in 3 churches are reported to have started a 'fresh expression' of church in the last 5 years. This is a routine question on the 'statistics for mission' form. I wonder if the currency is being devalued here: fresh expressions are supposed to be about new forms of church for people who aren't connecting with what we currently do. I wonder if people are just rebranding their family services as 'fresh expressions' because they think that's what the bean counters want to hear. Our church runs a cafe service, which I guess is a fresh expression, but I wouldn't say its a radical reworking of church.

- My diocese, the very nice Bath and Wells, continues to shrink. 900 adults and 900 children left between 2004 and 2005. Frighteningly, the figure for children represents 1 in 4 of the children who were going to church in 2004. That is meltdown. One of my goals as a Deanery mission facilitator (I do wish I could think of a less business-speak title, but haven't yet!) is to see our Deanery growing, after 5 years where membership has declined. It will be interesting to see whether there is any impact once there is a mission encourager in each Deanery.

The worry with all of this is that we end up focusing on numbers, instead of on Jesus, and on human strategy rather than the Kingdom of God. However, often we say we're focusing on the Kingdom when perhaps that's a bit of a smokescreen for not knowing what God wants us to do, or knowing but not doing it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Holy Trinity Yeovil

Good evening last night. My job is to be a 'facilitator' for the local churches in mission, something which I've never trained to be, and I'm still working out what it involves. 5 gold stars to Holy Trinity Yeovil for being my guinea pigs - we had an excellent evening on 'what is the purpose of the church', and they went away with sheaves of paper to process and work through. Good idea from Tim the vicar of having evaluation sheets - normally I hate filling them in, but as it was the first time I'd done anything like it, it was really useful to get some feedback. Even better that it was mostly positive. Came back buzzing, which at 10.30pm isn't great for getting to sleep!

And great biscuits too.

Update: if you're looking at this because you've applied for the post at Holy Trinity in 2012, or are thinking about it, then I'm happy to give you a more up to date picture - tweet me on @davidmkeen or leave a comment/questions, and if you want to do that anoymously that's understandable! It's a post with a lot of potential, church has a great site and great community contacts, lots of potential for mission and growth with the right sort of leadership.

Culture clash

Another week, another high profile clash involving Christians who want the freedom to express their faith. The Times reports here on the current gay adoption row, and notes that Tony Blair is in a bit of a dilemma, as a Christian with strong Catholic leanings.

The wisest bit of the current debate is part of the letter from the two Archbishops of the CofE, which warns that a climate is being created where it's no longer possible for someone with a strong faith to hold public office. Ruth Kelly has been sidelined because of her Roman Catholicism, and has found herself caught up in the current row, which has, all of a sudden, become Tony Blairs decision rather than hers. The issue is whether adoption agencies should be compelled to consider gay couples as equivalent to heterosexual couples for the adoption of children. It is one of a series of issues which the government has become entangled in as it tries to push its agenda of complete equivalence between all forms of sexual expression. With other public rows over crosses, veils etc., there is a high profile tussle over whether we are becoming a thoroughgoing secular state, where it becomes illegal to express faith and beliefs in ways which previously had been accepted. Mind you, slavery and apartheid have both had religious justifications in the past, so there's no point pretending the church always gets it right.

But I'm already nervous that if I use this blog to say where I stand, people will get upset and lots of emotive words will start getting thrown around...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Human nature laid bare on the beach

Anyone who thought that Big Brother showed Britain at its worst should have been on the Devon cliffs over the last few days. Despite being one of the worlds most prosperous countries, nothing seems to have satisfied our greed. Containers have been looted with abandon, including those containing personal possessions which were being shipped to a new home. The environmental damage done to the sea and coastline by human scavengers is awful. I'd didn't quite get round to visiting West Bay last week to marvel at the stormy sea - wish I had done, as now I'd have to wade through discarded bits of motorbike, nappies and other assorted trash. Channel 4, send your cameras to Sidmouth, and lets see if anyone there has the guts to go on TV and apologise.

Interestingly, it looks like Ebay aren't selling items looted from the beach, though you can get shells and shingle (from an address in Wakefield!). There's a good item for sale here, which made me smile.

BBC report here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

some links

http://starttheweek.typepad.com/stw/ updated every Monday with resources on mission, discipleship, emerging church etc. Lots of interesting stuff

http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/ worth a look on Saturday, when it links to stories in the weekend press about faith or the church. The rest of the time it seems mostly to focus on a blow by blow account of the various arguments raging around the worldwide CofE.

http://www.cricinfo.com/homepage/index99.html where I go for cricket scores.

http://www.slowleadership.org/index.html been in too much of a hurry to spend long enough appreciating this site! Lots of good reflections on leadership.

http://www.ciasa.org.uk/ a site exploring ‘spiritual seekers’ – people with some awareness of spiritual things, but who don’t relate it to Jesus. There’s a lot of them about

and a cartoon from www.cartoonchurch.com

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mish Bish 2.1

Sorry that these titles are getting repetitive. Bishop Mike Hills blog has a great post on cynicism and what's wrong with it. I've written and spoken several times recently on encouraging a culture of 'having a go', and it was great to read this:

Criticising everything and everybody is likely to stop people from having a go. We all need to do something and the sooner we start, the better. No one strategy is perfect, but a lot of imperfect attempts will make some kind of difference, which is what we need.

Of course it’s not just the corridors of environmental innovation that are haunted by cynicism. We are cynical about almost everything, happier to decry than celebrate. This is true in our churches and can apply to the “Fresh Expressions” stuff. Sometimes, I sense, people are quick to leap in and make their criticisms (e.g. “it’s only an old way of being church in a new venue”). I’ve done it myself.

The first rule of innovation is to give people permission to fail. God knows we need a group of out on the edge, entrepreneurial church leaders who are prepared to have a go. Of course they will make mistakes; of course they will create some ideas which won’t work; little they do will be perfect. But let’s get behind them rather than greet them and their outrageous plans with an unhealthy cynicism.

To that faithful, often exhausted and frustrated band of church leaders who, in their own way, are trying to make a difference, I simply say this: Thank you and please don’t stop what your trying to achieve!

His post started with comments about the environment, which seem all the more spot on after this evenings Attenborough programme on the BBC. It's ironic to see, on the BBC homepage right now (just after 9.30pm on Sunday night) a feature on winter sports venues. They could have added 'only for the next 20 years' - it's quite a weird thought that in a decade or two we could be giving birth to the first generation of Brits who will never see snow falling in their own country. At one stage during the programme I got the guilt thing and switched off the two lamps and gas fire in our lounge, and made sure I switched the TV off at the wall afterwards. Then I went on the internet......

Sorry, yet another post which started off being about one topic and ended up being about two.

Game Show God

Big Brother's racism row has been a big story this week. Heard an extract from a Jade Goody interview on the radio news this morning - the difficulty is that now every 'celebrity' (?) has a publicist, it's hard to know what is geniune contrition (it sounded genuine), and what is a line that people have been told to say. It would be great if we were seeing a geniune act of repentance, and I hope so, though it would be even more significant if we saw an act of repentance from Channel 4.

Got me thinking about the deities represented by different TV shows.
Big Brother: God the sadist: a God who knows your every word, watches your every move, and puts us in a lab experiment with the rest of the human race to watch us squirm. Not a nice guy.

Weakest Link: God the judge - answer the questions wrong, and you are thrown into outer darkness. Except that this judge hasn't the confidence to pass final sentence herself, and leaves it to the contestants. Isn't this modern morality in a nutshell? Aside from racism and child abuse, we determine right and wrong by opinion polls, not by conviction and clear morality.

Deal or No Deal: Fate - if you get lucky, great, if you don't, you don't. Noel Edmonds as a puny deity (frightening thought!) benign, powerless, with warm words at your elbow but in the end your destiny is in your own hands.

Ali G/Borat: God the fool. Sacha Baron Cohen takes on a number of alter egos to satirise social values, and by playing the fool in front of others gets them to expose their own prejudices and foolishness. The weakness of the stranger somehow has power to expose people's deep secrets and sins. At least, when the show is at its best that's what happens.

This feels like an incomplete list. Time to watch more telly...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mish Bish 2

Bishop Mike Hill of Bristol was in a serious car accident with his wife a few months ago, and set up a blog to keep people informed of their recovery. After getting 100,000 hits, he's decided to continue the blog, mainly on the themes (so far) of mission and football. You can find it here and it's worth a visit. It's easy for bishops etc. to lose touch with the grass roots, and this is a great way for those in the more rareified bits of the hierarchy to carry on a conversation with 'ordinary' Christians.

Mission and Culture

The following post is an extract from 'Biscuit Tin', a resource leaflet for mission in Yeovil area which hits the streets next week. The questions are aimed at church leadership teams, PCC's etc., but feel free to respond to them here as well!

Research by the Church Army’s Steve Hollinghurst offers a fascinating insight into the way our culture is changing.

In the early 1900’s, 9 out of 10 of children went to church and Sunday School. It was the social norm, so virtually everyone had a grounding in the Christian story, knew how to worship, and identified with their church.

At the start of this new century, roughly 1 out of 10 children are in Sunday School. A significant number go to church schools, but not all give children a good grounding in Christian faith, and often they are not closely connected to a worshipping church. (There is a chart I've tried to upload here, but it's feeling shy!) Each successive age group shows a decline in those who attended church as a child. For those over 65, churchgoing was the norm. For every younger age group, it has been the exception, and increasingly so. The other norm has been that the vast majority of those who have at some stage been involved in the church have left.

The stats, in the absence of the chart (rounded to nearest 0.5 - I tried to put these in table format but failed!), are:

Age 85+: 75% In Church under-15; 7% in church now; 25% no church contact
Age 75-84: 63% in church u-15; 11% in church now; 37% no church contact
Age 65-74: 55.5% in church u-15; 14.5% in church now; 44.5% no church contact
Age 45-64: 44% in church u-15 9%; in church now; 56% no church contact
Age 30-44: 33% in church u-15; 6% in church now; 67% no church contact
Age 20-29: 25% in church u-15; 4.5% in church now; 75% no church contact
Age 15-19: 17.5% in church u-15; 6.5% in church now; 82.5% no church contact
Age 0-15: 12.5% in church, 87.5% no church contact.

(I realise that going to a church isn't always an accurate indicator of living Christian faith, but even so the trends seem pretty clear. )

The Church relies on people with some Christian background for most of our outreach and growth. Most of our contacts for baptisms or weddings are people who went to church as children. Around ¾ of new Christians are from this background. Hollinghurst calls these the ‘churched’.

But, and it’s a big but, the ‘churched’ is an ever-decreasing segment of the population. The number of people who have no effective contact with church is 65% and growing.
Ø This group is more likely to see itself as ‘spiritual’ than ‘religious’, and it sees the church as ‘religious’ rather than ‘spiritual’.
Ø Most new Christians come from the shrinking ‘churched’ group, as do our occasional contacts for baptisms, weddings etc. and people who join courses like ‘Alpha’. We are fishing in a shrinking pool.
Ø The younger people are, the less likely they are to have any meaningful contact with the church.

What does this mean?
- About 1/3 of the population (higher in rural areas, and higher among the elderly), can relate to what we do in church. They have left church in the past for a variety of reasons. Some have drifted away, others have left because of a bad experience. The ‘drifters’ will be more open to returning than those who have had a negative experience. A number of Dioceses now run a ‘Back to Church Sunday’, some with great success.

- For the majority of the population, an invitation to ‘come to church’ will not work. There will be too many social and cultural barriers to cross in order for them to hear the gospel. To imagine what it must be like, imagine your average PCC member going to a mosque.

- To reach the increasing number of people with no church background, we may have to stop starting with the church. No matter how good our services, how relevant our preaching, how comfortable our pews, many will not come. They will only hear the good news about Jesus if we go to them.

Some Questions
1. How far does my local community mirror the research? Is it more, or less ‘churched’?

2. How much of the outreach in our church is based on a ‘come back to church’ model? Does it work?

3. Imagine someone coming from a completely unchurched background to your main Sunday service. What would their experience be? What would puzzle them? How much of the words, or of what they were expected to do (sing, kneel, shake hands with those around them, drink symbolic blood etc.) would be familiar? How much of it would be comfortable?

4. Given that older people are the majority of those who might ‘come back to church’, how might your church connect in fresh ways with this age group?

To explore this further try: George Lings ‘Encounters on the Edge’ 30: Discernment in Mission (available from the Church Army Sheffield Centre ).

Or go to this website to see talks and presentations from the Church Army which explore these findings further.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mish Bish

The Diocese of Bath and Wells has this account of Bishop Peter Maurice's welcome service in Wells on Saturday. I was so impressed with the singing of Youthful Spirit I hadn't picked up his line about enabling mission, which the press release quotes. We have a self-confessed mission enabler as Bishop. Praise God! Those of you outside the CofE are probably thinking 'duh? isn't that what leaders are supposed to be?', those of you inside it know that we're still learning.

The great thing is that because the CofE takes so long to change, if our Bishops really do see themselves as mission leaders and enablers, then they'll carry on seeing themselves that way for quite a while yet!

Monday, January 15, 2007

what mood are you in?

If you're in the mood for something provocative, click here for a rant from an American blog about how much Christians spend on marketing. It kind of continues the theme from yesterday about where the church's resources go. The blog argues that consumerism has become a normal way of expressing discipleship: instead of doing what Jesus did, we buy books about it, listen to CD's singing it, and go to conferences. Christian marketing fuels this - just look at how many different formats any popular Bible is available in, or series of books by popular authors which should have stopped several issues ago. Remember WWJD? Prayer of Jabez? The Power of a Praying wife/husband/teen/child/grandparent/baby/dog/garden ornament/chocolate fondue/anything really ?

As someone who has bought many more books than I've ever read, I found it quite convicting...

If you're in the mood for something practical, click on this link to the Exeter Network Church site. I discovered this today - it sounds like a really interesting and creative church. 2 things out of many aspects of their life which seemed really good:

- '4mation groups' - groups of 4 who meet for a limited period to help each other in discipleship. The link above takes you to a card which group members print out and fill in. It helps people to think about how they'd like to grow and develop as disciples, and provides an easy format for a) remembering what you're trying to do b) being accountable to others about it. In the jargon this is 'intentional discipleship' - i.e. setting about something with a deliberate end in mind. Good principle, applied too rarely perhaps?

- Blurred Edge Sunday: 4th Sunday of the month where no central events are held, and the church is encouraged to engage with the community. And I don't just like the idea because it gives me a Sunday off from running church services.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

evaluating church

Found the following on 'Marc's Messages', a blog from a Dutch guy involved in the emerging church movement. Copying other people's stuff is so much easier than writing my own.....

Evaluating church in 2006
"One New Year's Eve I asked my pastor a very straight forward question: 'How many adults came to faith in Christ at our church this year?' The pastor, a very diplomatic man, said, 'I am not sure. I'll have to get back to you on that.' But he and I knew the answer. It was zero. I added it up. That year our church conducted 104 regularly scheduled worship services, 7 special services, some 250 adult classes, 600 committee meetings and 1,000 small-group meetings and ran through a $750,000 budget to produce exactly zero new adult followers of Jesus Christ. We gathered. We worshiped. We loved each other. But we produced no crop. Our church was a contraption worthy of Rube Goldberg: lots of sound, motion, fury to produce a tiny amount of fruit."

Steve Hill quotes 'Why Men Hate Going to Church' by David Murrow, page 164, and adds his 2 cents: "What is interesting is the demand for results when a church gives several hundred dollars to a mission project in the second or third worlds. The unspoken reality is no results, no more money (and that is perhaps as it should be!). Yet that same group will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on themselves without any results and think nothing of it!"

I have no idea who Rube Goldberg is, but that money figure bothers me.

So why don't we evaluate what we do at church? Is it because we suspect we already know the answer, so the idea of evaluation frightens us because we don't like coming to terms with bad news? I'm not sure we have a culture in the church that allows us to face failure with courage and honesty. We're good at reporting good news, but when something fails or doesn't come up to scratch we tend to get a bit embarrassed and not mention it. The fete raised £1000? - hurrah! The fete raised £36.14? - relegated to 1 line on the notice sheet. On another level, I have lost count of the number of Christian leaders I've heard saying that this generation/year/movement/work of the Spirit was going to be the decisive event in Christendom. Then when it wasn't, nobody puts their hand up. Charismatics are the worst at this, because we're good at confusing enthusiastic optimism with the gift of prophecy.

As a church leader, when did I last apologise to the church for a poor bit of leadership? As a preacher, when did I last invite feedback on a sermon which was bad, rather than the ones I thought went well (so I go fishing for compliments)? I'd love to encourage a culture of experimentation within the church, and it's something I've spoken and (I think) blogged about, but such a culture needs people who can make failure 'safe', who can show that it's ok to try and fail.

Otherwise we will cover our failure with 600 committee meetings, a full programme, lots of optimistic noises and lots of signs to the outside world that we really are doing rather well, just to convince ourselves that all this effort is worthwhile.

How many adults came to faith in Christ at your church last year? Not being afraid of the answer may be the first step to having a different answer come January 2008.

young vicars

With just under a month to my 38th birthday, it's still gratifying to be called a 'young vicar' occasionally, as I was on Saturday morning. Trouble is, I'm not a young vicar. 38 is not young. It's younger than the average vicar, but I'm aware of increasing age (altogether now, aaaaaah), and quite worried about the lack of folk younger than myself in church leadership.

Earlier this week was in conversation with another church leader about the difficulty of bringing younger leaders through, especially if you have an established leadership with established ways of doing things. Yesterday morning I was in Wells Cathedral for the welcome of Peter Maurice as Bishop of Taunton (since Peter Price is Bishop of Bath and Wells, it's getting a bit confusing already). Great bloke, and he'll be a fantastic bishop. Reflecting on the age of leaders - among all the copes, mitres and CofE notables assembled at the front I don't think there was anyone under 40.

Then yesterday afternoon at St. Peters hall there was 'Urban Warrior' Stacey, calmly organising the Youth Cafe development and it feels that the project is in safe, and young, hands.

I'm not campaigning for an overthrow of people with more skill, wisdom and experience just for some cult of 'youth'. But I am concerned that we don't move the goalposts on what constitutes 'young' leaders. The Anglican Church has done this with membership, in an attempt to keep our figures above 1 million - the original goalposts were the number attending on any given Sunday, now its the number attending on Sundays, plus any weekday services, and soon it'll be the number of individuals who attend at any time in the month. I hope the goalposts on age don't do the same. If we start thinking that young leaders are people about my age, then that will be very sad. We need leaders in their 20's and younger, and we need to trust them, and I say that to myself as much as to anyone else...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Church buildings

The following is cribbed shamelessly from Steve Tilleys blog, and I agree with it:

I'm not a one to go signing petitions willy-nilly but this one was forwarded to me from a couple of different directions and I agree with it.

Costs of repairs to ancient and heritage-rich church buildings are largely born by the congregation who happen to meet there by an accident of geography. Often funds which could be better spent on mission are then used on maintenance. Congregations which could leave their church building to fall into disrepair whilst meeting somewhere else usually choose not to. Which is good of them.

It is unlikely that the government will agree to take responsibility off us for such costs but there is an on-line petition saying:
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to arrange for the cost of repairs to C of E church buildings to be reimbursed to help preserve our archeological & historic heritage for the future."
at: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Preservation which I'd encourage you to explore and consider signing.

As they say, 'Churches are a valuable part of our heritage and a major tourist attraction, yet the funding of repairs is left to the parish in which the building is situated. Thus the cost of maintaining a national asset is left to the minority. This is grossly unfair and should be rectified.'

if you have trouble getting straight to the petition, go to petitions.pm.gov.uk and do a search for 'church'.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

'Priest Idol' lent course

About 18 months ago Channel 4 screened 'Priest Idol', a 3-part series about a struggling church in a large village near Barnsley, with a new priest brought in by the Diocese to put it back on its feet. Wakefield Diocese has put together a 6-week course based around a DVD of the series, and some excellent study notes. You can see an outline here and it looks very good.

Monday, January 08, 2007

fresh expressions videos

If you've got broadband, have a look at


the diocese of Ripon and Leeds have put some really good 2 min videos on their website of fresh expressions of church in the Diocese. The videos all give a good flavour of what's being done, and each one made me think 'hmmm, could we do that'?
the videos cover
- 2 village churches getting together in 1 building so that the other building can be redeveloped as a village hall and community centre
- a rock service on a Saturday night
- a youth cell church, with cells at a number of parish churches which get together as a 'cluster' of cells for worship and teaching
- a Saturday evening all-age service, meeting 5-7pm with childrens activities, worship and food, which has drawn in lots of people for whom Sunday morning wasn't a good day
- a creative magazine-style service with a strong ethos of participation and interaction

Each one looked good, appealed well to its chosen niche, and every single one is the kind of thing which could be done well by the church in Yeovil if we worked together. One of my farewell acts in Yeovil was to be in an Oasis tribute band, so I'm up for the idea of a rock church... I've also been preparing our monthly cafe service this evening, and having seen the video of the Saturday evening church am wondering (again!)whether Sunday morning is the best time. Once you start thinking outside the box of 'it has to be on Sunday morning, we have to have liturgy, we have to sing Kendrick/Wesley/Redman, it has to be in a church building' it's hard to stop.....

Have a look, and I'm serious about the rock church. I might just get on and buy that guitar I've been thinking about..

Sunday, January 07, 2007

rural vs urban community

2 very interesting conversations at a party last night with some of our neighbours. 2 couples have moved to our street from rural settings, and it highlighted some features of rural community in comparison with urban communities.

The experience of the couples seemed to be that in rural communities, your involvement in/support of the community tended to be taken for granted. It wasn't something that you opted into, it was a given in rural life. The other interesting thing was that both couples, who'd been involved in their local churches, seemed to speak of the main aspect of church life being paying the 'quota' - the money parishes have to pay to their Dioceses to fund clergy and church costs. Rural life sounded like it had been quite intense, there were always lots of jobs to do at the church, and I wondered if there was a sense of relief at being away from all that.

Conversely, in a parish of 15,000, we don't assume involvement from anyone. We assume that people will come to church because they choose to, and we know we're in a competitive market, and that the church has to appeal to people and offer something that folk are looking for. At the same time the notion of community is far more diffuse. Here on Abbey Manor there are mini-communities around the school gate, the ballet club, the pub, various groups who use the community centre, different streets, the skate park etc. It's a much looser community than a village setting, based on common use of the same facilities (school, shops, pub etc.), and living in the same area, but not really belonging to something called the community of Abbey Manor. The easiest summary is that village community is a given, whilst this urban community is a construct.

The party was an interesting illustration. We're 1 of 4 families to move into this end of our street (12 houses) in the last few months. We invited all the neighbours for drinks and nibbles - all of them replied, and most of them were able to come. We ended up giving everyone name badges so we could all work out who everyone was! The combination of recent bad weather, minimal front gardens, cars at the side of houses rather than the front etc. means that we go in and out of our houses in our cars, and haven't really had very much to do with each other.

If there is going to be a community of neighbours here, it will have to be 'constructed', and there'll need to be a tacit agreement to be part of it. All credit to Becky, my other half, for making the first move and deciding to organise the party - everyone seemed to agree it was a good idea, but it probably takes a certain amount of confidence and proactive commitment to creating community to actually get something started. Being new to a street has been a good excuse to do it, I'm not sure how you'd go about it in a more established community, where everyone has been there a while. Having done it, we do feel just a bit more at home than we did before. This is not just an address, its a place, and people help to make it a place.

shopfront worship?

Tricky question: given that Sunday morning is both the main gathering for worship for the congregation, and the main 'shop window' for new members to the church, which takes precedence in deciding how to structure the service, and what to put in it? And if your church (as ours does) has cell groups, with a chance for worship and teaching midweek, does that make any difference?

The question is provoked by being in our main service this morning, a little tired, I must admit, after a new neighbours party last night, wondering if the words "we will magnify, we will magnify, the Lord enthroned in Zion", would mean anything at all to a newcomer. (I even wondered how much they mean to me after singing this one regularly for 20 years.) This also touches on what's pejoratively called the 'dumbing down' of worship - how far do we dispense with churchy content in order to make it easy for people to access what we're doing? Alternatively, if the Holy Spirit is present then according to 1 Corinthians 14 a newcomer will recognise the presence of God among his people when we are truly worshipping. So does that torpedo the idea of making services newcomer-friendly?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

post offices

There was an announcement towards the end of the last year that the Government wanted to close about 1/5 of the 14000 Post Offices. Given the estimates that a profitable Post Office would mean shutting 11,000 of them, I supposed we should be thankful for small mercies. However, thousands of communities will be left without easy access to a Post Office, and the target for rural communities is to have one within 6 miles of 95% of residents. Not exactly convenient, if you don't have a car, or can't drive, or have just 1 bus a week.

There are, if you search the Post Office website, 15 post offices in Yeovil and the surrounding villages, or Yeovil Deanery if you're an Anglican. On the law of averages we'll lose 3 of those.

There's a consultation in process (go to the DTI website and search for 'post office') until March, and the cuts will start this summer.

Alongside the cuts, the goverment also wants 500 new 'Outreach' post offices - mobile ones, or based in village halls, pubs or other local venues. A number of churches already host a local Post Office. Back in medieval times, before the invention of pews, the main body of the church was an open space, and was often used for markets, public gatherings etc., as it was the only public building in the community. Now the pub and the post office are just as much community meeting places as the church used to be. Wouldn't it be great to bring them back together?

Some of the 'emerging church' writers talk of finding 'proximity space' - a neutral place where Christians and non-Christians can meet around a common goal or community activity. The evaporation of such spaces has meant that our outreach looks more like a smash and grab raid from behind the fortifications of the church into a barbarian world. If the local church could save the local post office, then maybe its other talk about salvation would sound more convincing.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

ashes RIP

Barring a miracle overnight, Australia will have completed a 5-0 whitewash of England by breakfast in the cricket. Amazing team, motivated by revenge and desire, and packed with great players. Most of my series forecasts have turned out to be wrong, so wrong that if you want to remember what they were you'll have to search my archives yourself! Top run scorer, wicket taker, scoreline, all wrong.

The only silver lining is that 4 of the Aussie team have retired - Damien Martyn a couple of weeks ago, and now opener Justin Langer and the best ever pace bowler in the world (McGrath) and the best ever spin bowler (Warne). With a few more destined to go before the next series (Gilchrist, possibly Hayden), England will have the more experienced lineup in 2009 when the Aussies next come over here. Whether we'll have the better team is debatable, we seem to have gone backwards since the Ashes victory in 2005.

Attaining high standards is one thing, sustaining them is another. We can hit a peak by pushing ourselves to our limits, but the pushing takes so much out of us that we can never hit the peak again, and nothing afterwards ever reaches the same standard. Or we can aim for something just below the 'bust a gut and everything else' level, but something we know that we can sustain. And now I'm not just talking about sport. Mission, prayer, spiritual disciplines, worship, community work, campaigning, compassion, leadership, work etc. Off the path to one side is destructive excellence (where we go too far beyond our limits) and off the path to the other side is sustained mediocrity (where we do what we know we can keep up in the long run, but end up settling for average).

Back to cricket: England were sustained mediocrity in the 1990s. None of their senior batsmen, apart from Gooch in the early 90's and Graham Thorpe, averaged over 40. If your top 6 batsmen average just over 200 runs per innings between them, you are in serious trouble. The ashes was bust a gut excellence: several of the team have sustained physical or mental injury since then, and of the players who've done well since then, 3 are the new ones (Cook, Collingwood, Panesar), plus Bell (who underperformed in the Ashes series), Pieterson and Hoggard. Worryingly, we now have only one good, consistent, injury free pace bowler.

There, that's better, back to reading the English Church Census results and drinking coffee.

yeovil bloggers

Out of interest I did a search to see how many users of 'Blogger' (the host for this blog) are based in Yeovil. There are 40, though quite a few haven't posted for a while. Most are men, a few of us in our 30-40's, and another cluster at student age.

Other Christians blogging in Yeovil are:
Stacey Hollanby (Urban Warrior) at http://www.zioncafe.blogspot.com/
Jeff Jacobson (Urban Warrior) at http://jeffjacobson.blogspot.com/
Mavis at http://mavisa.blogspot.com/
Rosie at http://rozi-isitgodsway.blogspot.com/
Jase Helyar at http://jasehelyar.blogspot.com/

There's probably others, as not every blogger uses Blogger (confused now?)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

biscuit tin

Happy New Year to everyone in cyberspace, hope you've all had a good Christmas and a chance to think about how great Jesus is.

Started work this evening on 'Biscuit Tin', an idea I've got for an occasional leaflet on mission for the local deanery (could possibly extend outside the CofE?) with book digests (to save everyone else having to read them), summaries of current mission thinking, case studies of churches who are stepping out in mission, news and information.

It's still very much in the embryo stage, and the first issue will be an experiment. I also need to measure the time put into it against the usefulness it has. If it's just another piece of paper, then it's not worth bothering. I do have a tendency to produce more words/bits of paper than any sane person can digest, and perhaps this blog is testimony to that!