Monday, June 30, 2008

Rowan Williams Gets it Right. Again.

The full text of Rowan Williams response to the Gafcon declaration has been published on his website, at Thinking Anglicans, and elsewhere. It's a good and balanced response to what's happened, and concludes thus:

I have in the past quoted to some in the Communion who would call themselves radical the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’. I would say the same to those in whose name this statement has been issued. An impatience at all costs to clear the Lord’s field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29) will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents.

What has constantly struck me is a lack of patience on all sides, people who would rather rush to get on with things, rather than wait, listen, and take some time. The media exerts a certain amount of pressure in this regard, and blogland is worst of all.

Ruth Gledhill also quotes Tom Wrights response, which is worth a look, though I think her headline is a bit strong. Rowan Williams doesn't 'slam' anyone - he just raises his eyebrows slightly higher and asks thoughtful questions. I guess that doesn't really fit across a newspaper column though.

Monday Links

Rather than lots of posts on lots of topics, a bit of a round-up

The new Narnia film, Prince Caspian, has opened to mostly positive reviews, despite what the summary of reviews on BBC Ceefax tells you. Fulcrum have a review which goes into the theology of CS Lewis's book, and questions whether the film-makers have really got it. Bishop Alan has also seen it, and posts a good review. WingClips has free clips from the movie which you can use in services & sermons.

GAFCon has finished, and produced a statement, which many are interpreting as the setting up of a 'church within a church'. In many ways this already exists in conservative evangelical circles: a tight circle of churches (St. Helens Bishopsgate, Emmanuel Wimbledon, St. Ebbes Oxford), organisations (Reform, Proclamation Trust, Cornhill) and training institutions (Oak Hill, Wycliffe): there's even a non-charismatic version of Alpha which is safe for them to use (Christianity Explored, which is a good course in its own right and slightly less of a marketing juggernaut). Every church subgroup has its networks - e.g. the way Robert Runcie appointed all his chums from Cuddesdon to senior CofE posts - this seems to be going a step further in formalising it, and extending it to the international field. My concern is that it will either marginalise conservative evangelicals in the UK, or create some difficult tensions with those of us who are happy to work within the existing CofE structures, are perhaps a bit more patient, and are more focused in working on the ground than the higher levels of church politics.

Lots more comment and interpretation on Gafcon on the Church Times blog, including the full text of their declaration. There are 14 statements of faith, of which I agree with 12 and would want to debate no.s 6 and 7 (the BCP, and whether bishops priests and deacons is the last word on the ordering of ministry).

In the next few days the focus moves to General Synod - Thinking Anglicans has posted the full agenda and papers, and will update regularly once Synod starts on Friday, as will the CofE website. For an insider view, follow this blog, which links to other synod bloggers. Though a motion reaffirming the need for Muslims to hear the gospel was pulled from the Synod agenda, the Bishop of Lichfield (an area including large parts of the Black Country) has been arguing the case anyway: "Conversion is about changing your mind. And it wouldn’t be real religious dialogue if you didn’t expect people to change their minds and be converted.”

Elsewhere Steve Tilley muses about the value of a life, Jonny Baker has a very nice worship trick using textorise, one of these sites that makes words/images out of a block of text, and Madpriest is back from his holidays, and seems to have spent the whole weekend posting stories. Doesn't he have a job?

Bit of a rumble going on over faith schools: Cristina Odone, authoring a Centre for Policy Studies report, has accused the government of bowing to the secularist lobby on faith schools. The full report is here, and it reads more like a political tract than a thinktank report, but it's great stuff. Odone argues that recent Labour pronouncements on faith schools - mostly by Ed Balls - say more about divisions and positioning in the labour party than government policy.

Finally speculation about how the doctor who series will end is reaching fever pitch, so here's my guess at what will happen in the final extended episode. The Judoon (big rhino people) will turn up just after the opening credits to save the various goodies (Sarah Jane, the Torchwood folks) who are about to be killed by the Daleks. David Tennant will spend most of the episode in a coma, 'regenerating' (that's what I do after a pint too many at the quiz night), Donna will do something heroic and turn out to be a Time Lord. So far, Russell Davies hasn't killed off a single Doctors assistant, so unless he's planning a final flourish, I think they'll all survive. Some special gizmo, like the key Martha has, or the doctors' spare hand, will save the universe, and the Daleks will turn on Davros, just like they did in Genesis of the Daleks - there's already a bit of needle between Davros and the top Dalek. Too many chiefs.... Finally (in my dreams), the Doctor will regnerate as Matthew McFadyen.

95% of this is wrong, the trouble is I don't know which 95%.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Beaker is Half-Full

I've been linked from the strange but frequently hilarious website of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. I think it's a very good spoof website, though if it turns out to be a pukka pagan fellowship, my apologies for laughing at you. This entry put me in mind of what we were subject to at training college:

Rules for Submission of Assignments - Druidic Ministerial Course
Note - these regulations are subject to amendment without warning and at random intervals. They will be posted on the Community website, which is run on a PC in Keith's garage. The website is liable to occasional service problems during the winter months, when it gets a bit damp in the garage. By the way, any password we give you won't work because we will also give you the wrong user ID.

All submissions are to arrive by the first Full Moon after the appropriate solstice or equinox. First Class Post is acceptable, but we prefer homing bitterns for delivery.

Assignments should be 1.7 spaced, printed in purple in Lucida font. An electronic version is to be emailed to It should be saved in BBC Wordwise format. Upon receipt of your submission, Keith will email you back to let you know you've named it wrong. He won't tell you why.

Always use the official cover sheet. You can tell the official sheet because it's slightly different to the one you've actually got. Cover sheets should be written in the Cyrillic script, using a magenta chinagraph pencil. Please do not use staples.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Anglican Church Planting Initiatives

Since I last visited, Anglican Church Planting Initatives (ACPI) have revamped their website, and it's worth a visit if you're into church planting, fresh expressions, mission shaped church etc. There's a news, upcoming events and useful articles section, and links to some ACPI resources.

Bob and Mary Hopkins, who run it, recently taught on our local Mission Shaped Ministry course on evangelism and were outstanding, everyone was saying 'wow' afterwards. I think most of the content is in their 'Evangelism Strategies' booklets on the resources page.

Those Hard Working Families

My latest Touching Base column is now online at the Wardman Wire. It deals with those creatures of political myth, the 'hard working family', and why the term doesn't do families any favours. Here's a snippet:

the ‘hard working families’ rhetoric is always used in economic debates. Outside this, families seem to barely exist, except when they’re trying to get their children into a local school. But what both of these are about is money: the better the child does at school, the more they’ll earn and the more tax they’ll pay, and Labour has been very keen to gear schools to the modern economy. At one level, that’s great, but at another you do have to wonder whether it’s being driven by childrens well-being (at an all-time low), or by £££££ signs.

Likewise the hard working family (lets call it the HWF) is first and foremost an economic unit. It’s not about love, companionship, raising children, building community, or any of that stuff, it’s about the money.

We had a government leaflet through our door a few months ago, which basically said ‘why stay at home looking after your kids when you could be out working - look at all the different people who are queueing up to take the little darlings off your hands!’ The overall message of the thing was ‘work = good, parenting your own children = bad’.

for the rest go here.

The Monmouth Hall Rebellion

Earlier this week a friend let me know that there would be a display about one of our new housing estates in the Monmouth Hall in Yeovil. It had been announced through an ad in last weeks Western Gazette (which I missed) a poster in the local shop (which had come down after a day), and a few leaflets to local houses.

With 8 hours notice, I scrambled along at 5pm to the Monmouth Hall, to see the grand designs that Barratts had for the Lyde Road estate. It was architects plans for the 700+ houses, and a chance for public feedback. Except that nobody had got the feedback forms out, thankfully someone spotted this and started to put them out on a table by the door. The other problem with the forms was that they had no return address, so that unless you filled them in on the day there was no way of getting them back to the developers. (but see below)

The plans themselves were, within the available parameters (flood plain on one side, existing housing development on another, and a cordon sanitaire to avoid methane poisoning from an old landfill site along the S border), reasonably good. But they looked incredibly crammed - one existing resident noticed that she'd have 6 gardens in the new properties bordering her own (average sized) garden. The architects themselved were 'surprised' that they'd not been asked to plan in for shops or any other community facilities, as this would be normal in an estate of this size. If enough people make the same point, they'd be open to putting some in.

Many of the folk there had only heard about it second hand, including some local parish councils, but there seemed to be a good turnout. The people I spoke to all seemed pretty unhappy with the designs, both how crammed they looked and the lack of shops and other public provision. The Riverside Park looked ok, but is down a steep slope, on land which is unsuitable for development, and the Section 106 agreement doesn't ask for the work to begin until 667 dwellings are occupied - i.e. the rest of the estate is finished. Only then will diggers and what not start driving through the newly built estate to the river at the back of it to start landscaping. Hmmmmm!

Just to compare, the Lufton development on the other side of Yeovil will have fewer houses, but the developers are aiming to provide a small cluster of retail units, and community meeting space as part of the school site. Lyde Road is 100 houses bigger, so it seems peculiar that it gets less facilities. Apart from the school gate, there will be nowhere to meet, it will be an incredibly lonely and isolated place to live unless a bit more thought is given to the plans.

If you went to the consultation and want to have your say, the postal address to contact is:

Hammonds Yates Ltd.
3 Harbour Crescent
Serbert Way
BS20 7FT
Fao Steve Hawkins.

these are the architects, so they design the estate, but they don't control the parameters, so don't shoot them. Barrats the developers, are on 01392 423014, and the planning department at South Somerset District Council, who've overseen the development so far, can be contacted through the council switchboard on 01935 462462

Thursday, June 26, 2008

All in the Genes

I'm putting together a leaflet for our congregation, trying to explain what's going on in the global Anglican church at the moment. (Next week I'll be trying to nail jelly to the ceiling, it's easier). A proof-reader has pointed out that I've said Gene Hunt

when I probably meant Gene Robinson

...easy mistake to make. Wonder if I should leave it in - it can't make things much more confused than they already are.

It might even clear things up if we could swap real people for characters in TV dramas, e.g. Rose Tyler for Rowan Williams - all that time moving between parallel universes in Doctor Who will make bridging the Anglican divide a breeze. Mind you, if it was Gene Hunt rather than Gene Robinson then there wouldn't be a sexuality issue, it would be more GBH than LGCM.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recommended Reading

I'm going on a retreat for a few days next week to a nice place in Devon, to pray, read, sleep and a few other things. Normally by this stage I've worked out what my main book is going to be, but it still hasn't landed in my lap. Any suggestions?


In case you've not found it yet, Matt Wardman is running an excellent series on what's going on in Zimbabwe, including reports of atrocities, links to websites reporting on what's going on, photos etc. It's the kind of story that can easily go away once something else comes along, but this is one thing that the net can really help in bringing pressure to bear, and keeping it in the public eye.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Charity Commission Consultation: should Christians need to 'demonstrate public benefit'?

The Charity Commission is overhauling charity law, one bit of which is to require that charities demonstrate a 'public benefit'. There is a public consultation currently underway:

Practical details:

The deadline for responses is 30th June 2008.
Every Christian charity and individual is welcome to respond.

All responses should be headed ‘Consultation on the Draft Supplementary Guidance on Public Benefit and the Advancement of Religion’.

Send your Response by post to the following address:
Charity Commission DirectPO Box 1227LIVERPOOLL69 3UG

You can also send it by e-mail to:

Please provide the following information as part of the introduction to your response, in the order listed below:
Organisation/Charity name (if applicable)
Charity number (if applicable)
Contact name
Position within organisation (if applicable)
Contact number
Contact address
Contact e-mail
Confidentiality Statement (Whether you are content that your response is made public—see below)
Consultation response/answers to consultation questions

If you represent a charity, please also state your organisation’s charitable aims.

The Consultation Document can be accessed via

2 responses -

CCFON here

The Church of England here, with press release here.

This all sounds quite crucial, as it could possibly change the playing field and the rules for any Christian group operating in the UK.

Bath and Wells Communication Survey

If you're in Bath and Wells Diocese and want to let them know what you think of Grapevine (the Diocesan newspaper) and the Diocesan website, then you can do an online survey here.

I've had my say, but I've not gone in for the free M&S goodie bag at the end, so it's all yours...........

What Was That All About?

I'm having a student on work placement with me in July, and got a visit today about the placement. I was expecting it to be someone from the school, as it's the first time anyone from there has done a placement with me, intrigued about what working with a vicar would be like.

But no.

It was the Health and Safety Man. Seatbelts in cars, mopping up spillages, risk assesments (I forgot to tell him about the risk of being buried alive by mistake at the cemetary - drat) etc. I vaguely remember the days when this was called Common Sense and didn't require the school to contract someone in to drive round each placement. I'm sure it's all about insurance and butt-covering, but it just leaves me feeling slightly depressed. That's the sum total of the school's interaction with me prior to the placement, apart from a form I filled in.

My own memory of work experience includes a day in Sheffield Polytechnic (later rebranded Sheffield Hallam University) print shop working on a binding machine. By lunchtime I was slightly high on glue, with a splitting headache, and most of Friday was spent in the working mens club surrounded by fag-smoking van drivers, drinking pints of McEwans and wondering what their bosses would do if they knew how little work these blokes actually did. Oh yes, and the pornographic calendars in my 'supervisor's little office. And the crippling boredom of most of it. 'Prepare students for the world of work', you bet.

It reminds me of the old story about a Pope who, when asked how many people worked at the Vatican, replied 'about half of them.'

Update: if you're Health and Safety needs sharpening up, have a look at this. Very funny. Ht Matt Wardman.

Monday, June 23, 2008

'Church not a charity', say water company, 'now give us the money.'

Another from the inbox....

As you may already know, Northumbrian Water is starting to treat churches as businesses rather than charities and charging churches for the amount of area (i.e. roofs and carparks) that will collect rainwater and discharge it into the sewer network. This could raise most churches’ water bills by hundreds if not thousands of pounds - especially any with extensive roofs and lots of gutters.

The Bishops of Newcastle, Durham, and Hexham and Newcastle have already written to Northumbrian Water and OFWAT and to local MPs about this issue but unfortunately with no effect-Northumbrian Water say that they are acting within the rules and making a change in this area would disadvantage their other customers.

There is now an online petition asking the Prime Minister to instruct water companies to change their policy. Please register and pass this email on to anyone else you think will sign it. The petition needs at least 15,000 signatures to be noticed and at present stands at about 4,300 (it's now over 17,000) so responses are needed as soon as possible and not later than July 7th. You can register your name on the petition by clicking on the link below:

The deadline on the downing st. website is in December, so I'm not quite sure what the 7th July thing is about, but it's worth signing anyway. I'm not sure what other water companies are doing, but if one of them starts treating churches as a business and makes money out of it, the rest will follow.

Update: being a trendy vicar, I'm only 3 1/2 months behind on the news - here are a couple of links on this story from the Church Times and the BBC. However, the Telegraph only caught up with this a couple of weeks ago, so I'm in good company (if you call the Telegraph good company!). They put the likely cost at £15m, and it sounds like there are 4 water companies involved, not just Northumbria Water.

Wells Cathedral Autumn Lectures

in this mornings inbox:

Autumn Series of Lectures Wells Cathedral

23 September The State of Play: why children need to play in their early years
Marjorie Ouvry Consultant in Early Years Education

30 September The Bible as our Playground: what happens if we go out to play beyond the boundaries of the text?
Trevor Dennis Vice Dean of Chester Cathedral

7 October Play and Narrative: the freedom to roam and play
David Fickling Children’s book editor and publisher

Tom Wright on Heaven

A mark of a good theologian is whether they can put their ideas across on a chat show. Thanks to Ruth Gledhill for posting this link. Also, the good thing about a video clip is that you can pause Tom Wright when he talks too fast, which is quite a lot of the time!

The Curse of the Blogging Vicar

If there’s one thing guaranteed to have any sane person running towards the open arms of Satan begging to be jabbed in the tender regions by his pitchfork-wielding minions, it’s the trendy vicar. There is nothing worse than the modern person of the cloth who holds that God still fails to receive sufficient whoops of approval for creating such marvels as the acoustic guitar, real ale and ethnic art. These clerics have a generalised affinity for the ancient sacred mysteries of the Gospels — they’d just prefer it if these mysteries weren’t quite so ancient or mysterious, hence their mania for getting tuned into, as they might say, “the contemporary scene”.

So begins 'God save us from blogging vicars' in yesterdays Sunday times (Ht Dave Walker). Like all good journalism, it's based on only one fact - that the Moderator of the Church of Scotland has started a weekly blog. The spoof blog entries were quite funny though. It's a quaintly 70's picture of the trendy vicar too, most of these folks must be drawing their pension by now.

And if you are sane and have been driven to the Dark Side by this blog, then do let me know, I'd hate to be responsible for that kind of thing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Follow the Fun

Alongside listening to the new Coldplay CD, I've tried to listen to a couple of interviews with Chris Martin (lead singer) and other band members. There's an incredible contrast between a Radio 4 interview, which Martin walks out of, and the 90 minutes of banter and laughter recorded by Radio 1.

He comes across as 2 completely different people - in the first, stumbling, uncomfortable, vague, shy. In the second, fun, sharp, witty, someone full of ideas and enjoyment of life.

The difference is the interviewer. In the Radio 4 case, it's clearly someone looking too hard for deep insights and killer questions. Meanwhile Zane Lowe on Radio 1 plays silly sound effects and shares Coldplays love of music and sense of playfulness, and succeeds in getting answers to some of the Radio 4 questions (e.g. musical influences) without ever having to ask them.

If people are having fun, they're much more likely to be themselves, relax, open up, and enjoy your company. Many people have found church uncomfortable because it's too much like a Radio 4 interview: it's based around someone else agenda, a stress on the 'right answers', formal, serious, and wordy/cerebral, and a clear distinction between insiders and outsiders. In the Radio 1 encounter, it was sometimes hard to tell who was in charge, and what role people were playing.

We tend to like clear roles of worship leader, preacher, congregation etc., and to know which one we are. But that's institutionalised. In a church where relationships aren't institutionalised, everyone can bring something, all you need is a decent host. Teaching, singing etc. are done by everyone, to everyone.

We're off on our parish weekend tomorrow, and leaving all my dog collars at home. It would be lovely if we could break down those barriers between them and us, up front and in the pew, and be more like Radio 1 than Radio 4. Far better to have a conversation people want to join in with, than one which makes them want to get up and leave.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The London Service

In case anyone's visiting here without catching up on the 'gay wedding' story via Dave Walker or Thinking Anglicans, the Archbishops have issued this statement:

Joint statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York regarding St Bartholomew-the-Great

“We have heard the reports of the recent service in St Bartholomew the Great with very great concern. We cannot comment on the specific circumstances because they are the subject of an investigation launched by the Bishop of London.

On the general issue, however, the various reference points for the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality (1987 Synod motion, 1991 Bishops’ Statement- Issues in Human Sexuality- , Lambeth motion 1:10, House of Bishops’ 2005 statement on civil partnerships) are well known and remain current.

Those clergy who disagree with the Church’s teaching are at liberty to seek to persuade others within the Church of the reasons why they believe, in the light of Scripture, tradition and reason that it should be changed. But they are not at liberty simply to disregard it.”

Judging by the liturgy, it was clearly a wedding in all but name. However, the person who conducted it has the freehold of St. Bartholemews, and so can't be sacked or suspended for flouting church rules (not that the church has 'rules' on this - as the statement above shows, there are 'reference points'.) Within the CofE structure, it's a matter for the Bishop of London, the Archbishops can't wade in and take over, but the statement is pretty clear on what they think about it.

Contrary to reports in the press, the Church of England is not in meltdown, but there are a lot of very confused people. Those who look to the church to uphold traditional morality and the teaching of the Bible are asking why the priest in question hasn't been sacked (answer: he can't be), and the church is trying to deal with it properly rather than follow the knee-jerking legions of commenters. Amidst all the cries to 'do something', there will be a measured investigation, which will base its conclusions on facts rather than feelings. The church is counter-cultural in how it deals with these things, and rightly so. If you're not sure what happens when the crowd dictates penal policy, read the passion narratives or watch last Saturdays Doctor Who.

The CofE is facing the impossible task of holding together a liberal and conservative wing who are both pulling hard in opposite directions, and demanding a clear choice of roads, rather than finding a way of remaining one church in unity.

All clergy swear to use only the forms of service recognised by church law. The Rector of St. Bartholemews has broken this vow, but so have I, and many of my colleagues (not, I hasten to add, in blessing civil partnerships, but I doubt the communion service at our parish weekend this Sunday will tick every canonical box). However in the current context, he's done much more than that. Bishop Alan comments:

I suspect this particular service, will generate far more heat than light. The theological confusion inherent in taking off a 1662 Prayer Book wedding, lock stock and two smoking barrels, may actually make it harder to define the significance of covenanted friendships before and within the whole Christian community.

Post-Freudian anthropology, whilst most triumphant in the West, is incomprehensible to the vast majority of people in this world. Many post-Colonials note that it flowers in the least relational, most depressed, screwed up and confused societies. They just don’t buy it. More work needs to be done about this aspect of the concept before it can go global.

I don't really want to add to the bubbling pot on this issue, but I'm with the Archbishops both theologically and practically. Provocative actions - including the planned gathering in Jerusalem, which I'm glad to see is focusing on poverty, AIDS and mission as well as Anglican politics - don't help us to love one another, and in the end the reason the church exists is the mission of God, and we are in serious danger of taking our eye off the ball.

Update: The Bishop of London has made public a letter to all his clergy about the case. He's clearly not impressed by Martin Dudley's actions. Meanwhile Dave Walker is looking for evidence of meltdown in the Church of England

The Leadership Effect

Great little passage from Bill Hybels which I stumbled across today. One day, Hybels will stop talking normal English and speak entirely in management-speak and in-house buzz words - it's a trend already noticeable on the Willow Creek CD's - but whilst we can still understand him, he's worth a look:

Change a Leader, Change a Church
If you’re ever going to change a church, a church leader will have to change from having a fuzzy vision (or no vision) to a clear and hot vision. They’ll have to change from a protecting ground mentality to a taking new ground mentality. They’ll have to change from merely presiding over a church to energising, empowering, and unleashing a church. A huge change has to occur in the heart, mind and skills of a leader in order for the rest of the equation to make sense.

A leader who has experienced that kind of change can then effect change in their church by changing it from a vision-free church to a vision-focused church and from a passive, spectator-orientated environment to an engaged, activistic environment.

A church whose top value used to be comfort and convenience will turn into one that thrives on commitment and mission achievement, and a church mired in lethargy will transform into one that pulsates with passion.

It will take at least 100 years to close your church.

Religion News reports recent study in the US on the mortality rate of organisations. They've compared all sorts of different organisations by how many disband each year. Coming out bottom of the list - i.e. the group least likely to die or split - is the church.

The report notes: Among volunteer-based social service groups, peace movement organisations and other groups studied over the last two decades, at least 5 per cent shut their doors each year. Only child care centres in Toronto came close to the low 1 per cent mortality rate that religious congregations have, the study noted.

It's even more impressive that this is in the USA (they seem to have forgotten that Toronto is in Canada), which holds the world record for denominational splits.

I imagine this is even lower in the UK, where a mere 3% of Anglican churches closed in the period 1989-98, an annual rate of 0.3%. The Methodists are ahead of us here, as they seem to have a rule that once a local chapel goes below a certain size it has to look at closure.

I'm not sure whether this is half-full or half empty. On the one hand it shows the enormous resilience of the church, and the work of God, and if God is present in his church we should expect it to fare differently from other voluntary associations.

On the other hand, we're also very good at clinging to our traditions when the culture around us has long since left the station. The survival of a dying tree can hinder the growth of new plants.

Yet the new plants themselves need something to grow beside: we've just had 3 saplings planted in our back garden, each of them tied to a hefty wooden stake. One day they won't need the stake anymore, but for the moment it's going to keep them alive, healthy, safe and growing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moral, But No Compass: Reflections

I've posted some thoughts on the recent report 'Moral, But No Compass', on the role of the Church of England in delivering state welfare services, over at the Wardman Wire. For the full article, go there, but here's a bit of it:

A First Reaction
My initial response to the first news headlines on Moral but No Compass was ‘oh no, my church is whining at the government‘, but the report is actually very good, and deserves to be read and mulled over by both Church and State.

Welfare Delivery by the Church?
The reason for the report is the increasing encouragement from central government for the Church to be involved in welfare delivery. In seeking to understand the policy environment, the Von Hugel Foundation discovered that policymakers had no information on the Church of England, and a very limited understanding (and lumping together) of ‘faith groups.’ Alan Wilson, Ruth Gledhill, and Thinking Anglicans (also here) have already done a good job of responding to the main points and summarising comment from elsewhere.

a) Does Government understand the Church? Does it want a Glove Puppet?
The report speaks of national and local government failing to understand what motivates the Church. I remember a Q&A session with the Director of Education in one northern local authority: when asked how the Church could partner with them, his answer was effectively ‘you can promote the council’s education policy‘, and he couldn’t think of anything else. There was no recognition of the Church’s centuries of experience in education, its work with children and families, and the contribution it was already making in local schools.

Speaking to a councillor at the same authority one day, I realised a couple of minutes into the chat that it wasn’t really a conversation, he was simply asking loaded questions to get a ‘vicar supports council policy’ answer out of me. This was all in a Labour stronghold, and the principle attitudes towards the church seemed to be mistrust or co-option, rather than partnership and engagement. It must be said that here in Yeovil, a LibDem council, attitudes are more positive, though the labyrinth of agencies, partnerships, funding streams etc. means you have have a certain amount of time and energy to find your way through it. Equally, there are likely to be examples of positive and negartive examples in local authorities across the country.

It’s interesting that a recent government consultation on ‘violent extremism’ floats the idea that Further Education chaplaincies can play a role in tackling extremism on campus. It’s not easy to see whether this is seen as partnership, or chaplaincies becoming an informal agent of the state in low-level counter-terrorism!

go here for the rest: on whether the report lets the church off lightly, and the interface between prophecy and practice

(cartoon from ASBO Jesus)

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Cartoons on CartoonChurch

Now that Dave Walker is blogging in 2 places, it's harder to keep track, so 3 weeks late the news that lots of excellent new cartoons have been posted on the Cartoon Blog. Here's one:

Emerging Church booklist

Not very long ago, it was almost possible to list the main books on 'emerging church' or fresh expressions from memory. It's now a very crowded pitch, so its useful to have things like this post from Tall Skinny Kiwi on his top 5 (ish) books on the emerging church. It's from a US perspective, and if anyone knows of a UK equivalent, I'd be interested.

I'd attempt one myself but I've not even read half the books on my shelves on new forms of church and mission in the post-Christian society.

Spirit of Coldplay

They are turning my head out
To see what I'm all about (Coldplay: Lovers in Japan)

Back in the 60's, a researcher went through loads of back copies of Time magazine, trying to gauge its position on religion and spirituality. Matthew Fox (not the one from Lost) found that most of the stories headlined 'religion' were about church politics and the church institution, but for issues of life, death, purpose, God etc. you had to go to the Arts section. There, poets, painters, dramatists and film-makers were all wrestling with spiritual questions, whilst the church debated whether or not to use Latin.

I don't agree with most of what Fox says, but I think this insight is spot on. It's hard to escape spirituality in mainstream culture, and Coldplays Viva La Vida is no exception.

The CD, alternative title 'Death and all His Friends', is loaded with spiritual and mystical thoughts, as well as themes of war, love, loneliness and joy. It helps that its great musically too, though I'm constantly reminded of other bands: U2 (Cemeteries of London), Marillion (a brief section of '42'), Depeche Mode (Yes), and the Beatles (the Violet Hill video, and the co-ordinated outfits, like Sgt Pepper on skid row).

The challenge is that the spirituality of Viva La Vida isn't like that of U2. Finding the spiritual subtexts and bible references in U2 is a hobby for large chunks of Christendom, (if you're interested try Mark Meynell and this U2 Sermons site). Coldplay reference the Bible much less often, though there are nods here and there, as well as to hymns and churches (e.g. A Message from X&Y), but whilst Bono has a clear Christian framework to use, argue with, reject and rework, it's less clear where Chris Martin and co are coming from.

The world of Viva La Vida is a deeply spiritual one. '42' - possible code, via Douglas Adams, for 'the meaning of life' - muses on death and what happens after:
Those who are dead are not dead
They’re just living my head
And since I fell for that spell
I am living there as well

Time is so short and I’m sure
There must be something more.

.. which is a bit double edged. Yes there's more, but if you think too much about the dead you end up living in your own head, rather than really living. We have to let them go, and not cling on in an unhealthy way.

Cemeteries of London tells of a journey around nighttime London, looking for God, and finding ghosts and witches:
God is in the houses and God is in my head…
and all the cemeteries in London…
I see God come in my garden, but I don’t know what he said,
For my heart it wasn’t open…
Which is a powerful statement about the presence and reality of God in our world, both the world of life and among the dead, but that we can miss him.

Though various bits of the CD were recorded in churches, the spirituality here doesn't owe much to religious institutions. The most prominent mention of the church is the dystopia of Violet Hill, where
Priests clutched onto bibles
Hollowed out to fit their rifles
And the cross was held aloft
I don't know where this is about the co-option of religion by the 'carnival of idiots' who shape this imagined future, or whether the church is seen as a natural partner of manipulative and corrupt leaders. However even if the church is corruptible, God isn't, as the deposed dictator of Viva La Vida knows 'St. Peter won't call my name'

Finally, two moments of God in weakness. The gravelly 'Yes' seems to be an expanded meditation on the sexual temptation of a lonely man, and what it feels like to struggle
Yeah we were dying of frustration saying "Lord lead me not into temptation"
But it's not easy when she turns you on
If you'll only, if you'll only say yes
Whether you will's anybody's guess
God, only God knows I'm trying my best
But I'm so tired of this loneliness

In a completely different vein, Reign of Love, which emerges soothingly from the fantastic Lovers in Japan, expresses a yearning which could have come straight out of Bono's lyric book:
I wish I’d spoken
To the reign of love
Reign of love By the church, we’re waiting
Reign of love My knees go praying
How I wish I’d spoken up
Or we’d be carried In the reign of love.

Many of the tracks on Viva La Vida are paired up, and it's great to play with the image that in the foreground we have the Lovers, and the gentle music beneath every Lover is the that of the Reign of Love - the kingdom of God, which is a love that personally invites us to speak with it, and be carried by it.

Viva La Vida is a profoundly hopeful work, and there's plenty to suggest that this hope is grounded in a faith - however vague and experimental - in a loving God who is behind it all, even a world of war, dictators, loneliness and unrequited love.

But I have no doubt
One day the sun will come out (Lovers in Japan)

Extras: other relevant links:
Objet trouve quotes a Chris Martin interview where he is very clear about his own faith in God : I definitely believe in God. How can you look at anything and not be overwhelmed by the miraclelousness of it? Meanwhile one reviewer subtitles their piece 'Coldplay gets religion' . Planet Wisdom has more thoughts on Violet Hill, and it's depiction of a compromised church. Other comments on the religious themes in Viva La Vida on Whatif Gaming, and a detailed track by track exposition at Protestant Pontifications, which is worth a look.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Doctor Who Discussion notes: 'Midnight'

For the first time this series I got to watch a Dr Who episode when it was broadcast. This week was 'Midnight', a holding operation before the return of Rose, and probably the Daleks.

Last week there was a lot about death, and in what way we're able to live on after death, using technology as a way into some big questions. This week it was all about human nature.

So if you've split coffee on your John Stott notes, watch the 45 mins on Iplayer and discuss it. Plot summary and a few sample questions below...

Plot summary (warning: spoilers). The Doctor and a small group are travelling on a tour around the planet 'Midnight', which is very beautiful, but completely lifeless because of the toxic rays of its sun. The ship stalls, in the middle of nowhere, and whilst they are waiting for a backup ship to collect them, something starts knocking on the hull.

Next thing you know, one of the passengers, Sky, has been taken over by something (we never see what it is), and she starts to repeat everything that people are saying, copying words, inflexion, body movements. The 'creature' develops, until it is saying people's words at the same time, and then before folk actually say them. The other thing that develops is paranoia, as the other passengers (whipped up particularly by Lindsay Coulsons mother figure), become more and more frightened, and agree first to throw Sky off the ship to certain death (though she hasn't harmed anyone), and then the Doctor because he is too sympathetic.

Soon the creature begins to control the Doctor as well, and the passengers start to drag him towards the exit. The officious stewardess suddenly realises that the Doctor has been right, and takes herself and Sky out of one of the exits, sacrificing herself to save the others. The Doctor comes back to his senses, and everyone else realises they nearly killed an innocent man. He asks if anyone knew the stewardess's name, and nobody (not even the man who'd done the trip 14 times before) knows it. (nod to the Shawshank Redemption here?) Lots of awkward silences.

It's a bit 'Lord of the Flies', what happens when mob hysteria takes over in a confined space, and turns a group of normal people into (almost) murderers.

- What does it take to turn normal people into murderers? It happens - Rwanda, Germany, etc.
- The mother figure doesn't try to drag the Doctor overboard, but incites the others to do so. What voices in society, or our own circle of friends and family, are the ones loading bullets for others to fire?
- Standing with others is risky - the Doctor is nearly killed for trying to protect Sky, even when he doesn't know if she's benign or evil. Who are the people we're afraid to stand up for? What have we suffered for defending the victimised?
- The Doctor openly states that he's the cleverest person on the ship. Is this vanity, or just truthful?
- The other passengers are quick to take offence at the Doctors words: how does this affect their conversation? Could they have responded differently? What else could they have said?

- If the episode shows us as we really are, then we clearly need protecting from ourselves. a) Is this how the Bible sees it? b) In the light of this, are government plans for ID cards and extra detention a good thing? Or are institutions even more dangerous than individuals?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fathers Day resources

Wingclips has a selection of video clips related to Fathers day. Or if you have grumpy dads, they've just put a few up from the new Hulk film.

My favourite clip on fatherhood is from The Incredibles - go to 6mins 18 secs of this excerpt:

Meanwhile the CofE has done a survey on how dad's see their role:
Nine out of every 10 fathers feel responsible for the souls of their children, research commissioned by the Church of England has revealed. More than eight out of 10 mothers feel the same responsibility. By age, those feeling most responsible were people aged from 25 to 34 years, according to the survey.

surprise, surprise (not), the survey in turn is tied in to a new publication, in this case a baptism prayer card aimed at dads. If anyone out there is working on baptism resources, what we really need is a new DVD resource - the only thing on the market is CPAS's 'First Steps', which is ok but quite dated and tells us what baptism 'is really all about' at least 5 times in as many minutes. It's probably ok if you're seeing it for the first time, but after a dozen baptism evenings it does start to get a bit wearing!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tom Wright joins Doctor Who writing team

Just watched 'Forest of the Dead', the latest Dr. Who, on Iplayer. Several thousand people are 'saved' from a giant Library by a computer storing them on its hard-drive whilst some flesh-eating shadows are dealt with. When it's safe, they are then restored and given their lives back again.

I'm pretty sure I heard theologian Tom Wright give the same illustration about the resurrection several years ago, that when we our hardware gives out and we die God (this is an illustration, remember), stores all our files in his memory, so that when the day of resurrection comes our 'files' - i.e. us, - are uploaded to a new system which will never get viruses, crash, or shut down.

When the final character is saved, they appear dressed in white in a kind of paradise world. Hmm, wonder what they were trying to suggest there?

and it was a fantastic episode too.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Just Another Sunday

9.30 onwards: setting up for our Cafe Service, run by Mike this morning. We called it 'early Fathers Day' and the offer of free bacon butties tempted along our largest cafe service congregation yet, 50 adults 30 kids. Spent part of the service with my head covered in shaving foam whilst my son threw cheesy wotsits at me to try to get them to stick. I still don't know why.... Used a clip from Robots, (via Wingclips) to illustrate the story of the Lost Son from Luke 15.

3pm BBQ and prayer walk with YeovilNET (Yeovil New Estates Team) around the proposed site for new housing on the E of Yeovil, whilst we were praying a local Christian jumped out of her car to say hi. Answer to prayer? possibly. V nice burgers.

straight from that at 6pm to Lufton, little village church (capacity 51) on the W of Yeovil, next to another proposed housing development, to lead Evensong and then talk about the plans for their neighbourhood. Good meeting, they seem to see the logic of the church operating from 2 centres, the older village church for people who can relate to that sort of thing, and something in the heart of the new estate that's more accessible to unchurched folks.

One of those great days where everything is about movement and seeing the potential for God to do new things, and seeing it in practice too.

Having a few days off now, to catch up with videos of cricket highlights, and important stuff like that. Come back next week for the next nailbiting instalment.....

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rhetoric and Reality

I've posted elsewhere a cluster of quotes from various government ministers on the positive impact of faith groups and churches on society. There are also several regional reports on the impact of the church and faith groups (see below).

However, though Gordon Brown, Hazel Blears, the Home Office and various Ministers of State seem to be queueing up to praise faith communities, a new CofE sponsored report paints a very different picture. 'Moral, but no Compass' is due out on Monday but Ruth Gledhill has put up some snippets. The Government is keen to co-opt faith groups into promoting its agenda (for example, a recent consultation on 'tackling violent extremism' suggested that FE college chaplaincies might have a role to play in what is, effectively, low-level counter-terrorism), but doesn't seem quite so keen to understand where we're coming from. The snippets paint a picture of a government which lumps faith communities together, doesn't understand them, and focuses on fringe communities rather than mainstream churches like the CofE. For example:

We encountered on the part of Government a significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England's current or potential contribution in the public sphere. Indeed we were told that Government had consciously decided to focus its evidence gathering almost exclusively on minority religions. ... Three separate government departments admitted to possessing no evidence based on the Christian churches, despite one having proactively commissioned new research to underpin its faith-based agenda. The Office of the Third Sector could not conceive why such an evidence base might be necessary, despite ministerial claims of taking faith communities seriously.

There are plenty of examples of research, commissioned by churches and Christian groups, into the impact of Christians in welfare and public life. Faith in Rural Communities, Faith in Wales, Faith in Englands Northwest, and Daily Service (a report into faith groups in the SW) all give an evidence base for the work of faith groups - the vast majority of them churches - in community, welfare, regeneration, voluntary work etc. Faithworks also have a good number of case studies on their website.

Quoting from the report again:
Based on our interviews with politicians, government officials and people in the faith communities themselves, we can only conclude that the absence of a 'churches' evidence base is grounded in a judgement that churches are not worthy to have even a modest role in government schemes. Such a judgement contrasts strongly with public declarations by Ministers that all of civil society is welcome to the public service reform table and that the government's agenda is for all faiths rather than for a few.

Ruth's post links to a Times report and leader, the full version of 'Moral, without a Compass' is due out on Monday. This could be interesting.....


This statement was issued a couple of days ago by the Anglican church in Zimbabwe. The prayer at the end is especially challenging.

On the Crisis in Zimbabwe

“I Have Heard The Cry of My People”

We the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, comprising Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, “called to share in Jesus’ work of sanctifying and shepherding his people and of speaking in God’s name”. As shepherds of our people we are deeply concerned and dismayed at the escalation of violence in Zimbabwe since the post election of 29th March 2008.

We are alarmed that a government can perpetrate irresponsible acts against its citizens by destroying people’s homes, torturing and killing for the simple reason that they did not vote “correctly”. We fear that the Presidential Run-Off elections on 27th June 2008 could witness a repeat of retribution of those who would have not voted “correctly”.

As bishops our mission has been and will be to preach the gospel of peace and justice for all. Therefore we are distressed at what the people of Zimbabwe are experiencing in an environment devoid of any resemblance of justice and peace.

We call upon the perpetrators of these immoral and criminal activities to respect the rule of law which safeguards and preserves human life and dignity. The reports that people are being maimed, killed, and denied decent burials, paints a contrary picture to our African understanding of Ubuntu.

All these point out to the leadership of these perpetrators that they have lost a sense of nationhood.

As bishops we are also pained to hear that members of the Anglican Diocese of Harare are being denied to pray in their church buildings. We are concerned that their right to worship enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe as well as the Article 18 of the UN Charter on Human Rights is being violated. This mirrors the persecution of Christians of the Early Church and in this context we remind the perpetrators that then as now God still triumphs over evil.

As bishops, we pray that the right of the people of Zimbabwe as spelled out in the constitution be upheld, that the judicial system as a reservoir of integrity, without respect of persons in its judgement and ruling, be guided by the spirit of justice and equity. That the law enforcement agents carry out their professional duties to defend shared values. The political parties respect the will of the people regardless of whether the results of the elections are in their favour or not.

We offer this prayer for sanity and resolve to bring all people in Zimbabwe to the realization that we are all God’s children, created in His image to love one another.

As bishops we commend all God’s children in Zimbabwe to His mercy that they may live in love, justice and peace.

In closing we offer this prayer to all:
Lord, you asked for my hands that you might use them for your purpose.
I gave them for a moment then withdrew them for the work was hard.
You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.
You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.
I closed them for I did not want to see.
You asked for my life that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.
Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you
Only when it is convenient for me to do so,
Only in those places where it is safe to do so,
And only with those who make it easy to do so.
Father, forgive me, renew me
Send me out as a usable instrument
That I might take seriously the meaning of your cross.

Issued by the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa
1.The Right Rev. Albert Chama - Bishop of Northern Zambia & Dean of the Province of Central Africa2.The Right Rev. Christopher J. Boyle - Bishop of Northern Malawi3.The Right Rev. Peter Hatendi - Bishop of Manicaland4.The Right Rev. Derek Kamukwamba - Bishop of Central Zambia5.The Right Rev. Sebastian Bakare - Bishop of Harare 6.The Right Rev. William Mchombo - Bishop of Eastern Zambia7.The Right Rev. Ishmael Mukuwanda - Bishop of Central Zimbabwe 8.The Right Rev. Robert Mumbi - Bishop of Luapula 9.The Right Rev. Trevor Mwamba - Bishop of Botswana10.The Right Rev. David Njovu - Bishop of Lusaka11.The Right Rev. Wilson Sitshebo - Bishop Matabeleland12.The Right Rev. Godfrey Tawonezvi - Bishop of Masvingo13.The Right Rev. James Tengatenga - Bishop of Southern Malawi14.The Rev. Canon Michael Mkoko - Vicar General of the Diocese of Lake Malawi15.The Very Rev. Brighton Malasa - Vican General of the Diocese of Upper Shire

Thursday, June 05, 2008

New C of E Wedding Rules

A press release today from the national CofE about new wedding rules. Previously you could only get married in a church if you lived in the parish or were a regular worshipper there (though vicars have been known to be flexible about this!), and if you didn't meet the criteria we needed to get a Special License from the AB of C himself.

This is being relaxed from 1st October, and here are the new criteria:

The changes will mean an engaged couple are welcome to be married in church in a parish if just one of these applies:
- one of them was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish;
- one of them has ever lived in the parish for six months or more;
- one of them has at any time regularly attended public worship in the parish for six months or more;
- one of their parents has lived in the parish for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
- one of their parents has regularly attended public worship there for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
- their parents or grandparents were married in the parish.
(All of these refer to Church of England services)

So it's not a free for all, but does increase substantially the number of people eligible to get married at any particular parish church. It'll be interesting to see what effect is has.

We're in the process of booking space for a church stall at a local wedding fair, by coincidence a few days after the deadline, so that will be a good way of making people aware of the changes.


It's the first day of the 3rd test and Cricinfo is offline. Thank goodness for TMS. Collingwood and Bell for the chop. There, that should ensure they both get centuries in the 2nd innings.

later: oh good, cricinfo is back with us.

John Sentamu on Faith and Politics

Ruth Gledhill has posted in full a talk on religion and politics given by John Sentamu last night. Lots of good stuff in it, and I imagine his critique of New Labour will get more attention than his critique of secularism. Though Sentamu doesn't mention the vote on 42 day detention, it must be in his sights when he comments on liberty and state power.

Here's a chunk of it, on whether excluding religion from the public sphere is a good thing:

Organised religion is always ambiguous. It can be both an instrument for good or for great evil. When I consider the history of organised religions the world over and look at the present state of our world and the countless acts of violence committed in the name of God, is it any wonder that the third commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai was not to misuse the name of the Lord?

Such acknowledgements of wickedness give succour to those dogmatic atheists or illiberal secularists for whom any Utopian vision requires the eradication of all religion. Yet we only have to look to the Third Reich, the former Soviet Union and the present regimes of North Korea and Burma to consider that a society without religion rapidly loses faith in humanity.
People become essential means of production – except, of course, the ruling classes.

It isn’t by accident that every totalitarian movement of the last century sought to eradicate the influence of belief in God prior to imposing its despotic will.

In our new century organised religion has become not so much the enemy to be eradicated but the tool to be abused. Whether it be the so called Salafi-Jihadism of Al Qaeda claiming the lives of innocent people perversely in the name of Allah or those narrowly focussed political parties attempting to usurp religious values and heritage, the purveyors of hatred and violence cover their wickedness with a religious cloak, or to use the words of Rabbi Lionel Blue, “the terrorists covering their own inner violence under a fig leaf of faith”.

Such abusers of religion lay easy claim to centuries of heritage with their lip service whilst their actions, and in some cases perverse ideologies, twist out of shape the garment of faith woven over centuries by faithful scholars and adherents.

For those who claim the mantle of faith, the ultimate injunction must be for us to know God better, to know God more, and to love and serve our neighbour better. In doing this we fulfil our obligations not only to God but also to the society which we share.

Such duties and obligations form the bedrock of a religious approach to politics that extends far beyond the comparatively modern term of “social justice”. Rather the prophets and the law lay the foundation for our primacy of care for the other and in so doing lay down the foundation for the role of religion in politics.

He goes on to spell out where religion and politics intersect under the headings of Responsibility, Service and Liberty. Plenty to chew on. Other speeches by the ABY here, on his website.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Clergy Quality

Another thoughtful post today by Bishop Alan on clergy quality, following the leaked report at the weekend on whether we vicars are any good.

How stands the quality of clergy? Well, the role is more complex and demanding than hitherto, and the social infrastructure to affirm and support clergy weaker than ever. Anyone who thinks this job is easy ought to have a go at doing it. The roles we perform in a thousand different contexts are damn difficult and impossible to win at half the time. English clergy have to straddle the fears, fantasies and expectations of people who go to church and people who don’t, multitasking with spindly resources from a home where the phone never stops ringing. It’s a tall order and, frankly, I'm amazed at how well the vast majority of colleagues habitually cope.

Does Parish Mission Funding Work?

Matt Wardman just posted me this link, which is a paper by Bob Jackson on the effect of mission funding in Lichfield Diocese. The CofE has made millions available over the last few years to new projects at local level, each Diocese gives it a different name, but it goes towards mission and development work (usually). In Lichfield, £800,000 has been spent on 91 separate projects. 49 new paid posts have been supported with the funding

29 churches had funding and posts/new equipment in place early enough for there to be an effect on the church by 2006. Jackson writes:

Average Sunday attendance of adults rose in these 29 churches from 2733 in 2005 to 2794, an increase of 61 or 3%. This compares with an historic average fall of 3% pa, and an average fall in churches not receiving a grant of around 0.5% in 2006.

But many of the awards were aimed at children and teenagers, so we should expect a bigger impact here. Average Sunday attendance of under-16s rose from 604 in 2005 to 662 in 2006, an increase of 58 or 10%. This compares with an historic annual decline of 5-10% pa, and an average fall in churches not receiving a grant of around 0.5% in 2006.

Therefore it already looks as though the grants are having a significant difference, even on the Sunday attendance figures, and especially on the attendance of children.

Trying to separate out the impact of grants in the three main categories (posts, equipment and events) is fraught with difficulty as the numbers get too low to be statistically significant. However, the churches receiving the equipment grants do seem to have had the biggest numbers growth. Adults went up by 7% and children by 20%. This may not be surprising as many of them have very quickly installed new equipment and then started their ‘Fresh Expression’ style service with it.

Grants for events, including missions and alpha courses, however do not so far seem to be associated with significant attendance growth. These enable ‘one-offs’ whereas the equipment, once in place, enables weekly or monthly events to continue. If the monitoring continues to show this distinction we may wish in future to concentrate more on equipment grants.

There's also a brief case study of several churches, what they've used the money for, and what effect this has had. Well worth a look, especially if you have anything to do with handing this money out, or you're thinking of applying for it. A Powerpoint with the headlines from the report can be found here.

If you want a full list of the kind of stuff the mission funding is being used for, this Excel file from Start the Week lists the hundreds of projects supported so far.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New Prince Caspian Resources

A couple of weeks before the new Narnia film, Prince Caspian, Damaris have released a package of resources to go with the film, free for churches to use. Here's their communique:

We have tremendous news for you. Some weeks ago Walt Disney Studios asked us to create for them a set of school and church resources related to their forthcoming film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and linked to downloadable clips from the film. These will be featured on the official film website and available free to download from There is even a FREE CD-ROM full of our resources that we can send to you as well.

Disney will soon announce this officially (this
press release is currently being released), but has agreed that we can give Damaris members advance information in this newsletter. Here you will find links to resources including school assemblies and lessons, all-age church services, youth activities, childrens activities... and so the list goes on. And all using downloadable clips from the film.

Now a really important request : If you find these resources helpful, please email us at telling us what you plan to do with them. We want to compile a report showing that they have been useful so that other film companies will ask us to work with them in this way in the future. Then we can create more free resources like this for you!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Please Tell Me This Isn't True

From Evangelism UK

Gospel sent by blue-tooth?
A device that can send Bible text and Gospel messages to anyone within 100 yards, won an award at the Christian Resources Exhibition recently. The Gabriel Communicator, said the Church Times on Friday, can 'send evangelistic text messages to unsuspecting passers-by'. Good source of information is the original CRE notification:

No, no, no, NO, NO!!!! This is the worst idea in Christendom. Has anyone thought how the 'unsuspecting passers by' are going to feel about getting 'evangelistic text messages'? Are they going to get down on their knees in the street, or just decide that Christians are annoying interfering prats who bombard you with stuff you've not asked for. This is a rubbish invention, and if you use one anywhere near me then I will personally baptise it for you.

What would Jesus do? Not this.

Young People Today...

according to one of the tabloids, this guy has a serious spine condition:

'your voice is a gift from God'

'inspired' means 'full of spirit': when does a performance become an act of worship?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

How Good is Your Vicar? (updated)

Interesting story in the Sunday Telegraph today (thanks Pluralist, I've got the right paper now!):

Church of England bishops believe that thousands of vicars are not up to the job, according to a confidential report. It found that there are "serious concerns" at the top of the Church hierarchy over the quality of its clergy.

The internal report suggests that the standards of new clergy has dropped, because of the demands on the Church to fill vacant posts, while many vicars who have been in the job several years have lost their energy and enthusiasm.

The report, being confidential, isn't on the CofE website, so it's hard to get behind the ST story to get the full background. If, for example, "90 per cent of the bishops believe that a third of the new intake of clergy do not have the necessary gifts and abilities." does that mean that 10% of the bishops are ordaining 1/3 of the clergy, none of whom are good enough? Was there anything about the quality of the senior clergy of the CofE? And how much attention was given to the structures we have to work in?

Meanwhile a new book due out this week will "suggest clergy should urge their parishioners to post blogs giving their opinion on the sermons and plans for the church", according to the Sunday Times piece. Yes please! There must be someone other than me with an opinion on our church.....

HT Thinking Anglicans.

Excellent post on this one from Pluralist, which concludes:
And often managers find that when the training improves, when the communication improves, when the systems are in place, when people know what they are doing, and the goals are there, and people are empowered, that there was nothing inherently wrong with most in the workforce after all: they had just been badly managed. Amen.

Update (Monday morning): Dave Walker is keeping tabs on people blogging about this story. I'm hoping Bishop Alan will have something to say, being a Bishop, and being one of the wisest Anglican bloggers around.

A couple of other thoughts.
- I know (or, to be more accurate, am aware of) some excellent Bishops, and some excellent clergy. It's also obvious that most bishops are stretched to the limit themselves, so it's quite hard for them to spend long enough with clergy to know what we're like and what we're up to, most of their information probably gets fed back from other sources. A report into the quality of clergy shouldn't just be canvassing opinion from the CofE hierarchy, but from the grassroots too. It should also be asking clergy what would help them do the job better. This kind of stuff may be in the report, but we only have the ST story to go on, and we don't know what's been left out.

- There are plenty of us who are struggling, and a large number who were ordained into an entirely different Church of England from the one we now have. Most Somerset clergy seem to be 55 and over, ordained back in the 70's when sizeable numbers still turned up at the church door to be hatched and matched. Society has changed massively since then. One of the insights of the Mission Shaped Ministry course is that, in a fast changing society, initial training goes out of date much faster than in a stable society. Effective training in a changing society involves a high level of ongoing input and learning, rather than a big chunk at the beginning and a couple of voluntary training days a year.

- Training also covers the quality of curacies which people get - Bob Jackson rightly makes the point that we should be training curates in growing churches so that they learn to lead growing churches themselves. Some clergy have only ever experienced a shrinking church, which both battes morale, and doesn't equip them to lead a growing one. Some parishes are chosen for curacies based on size, or whether they're judged to be prestige parishes, and not for the training and development skills of the incumbent. I was blessed in my training parish, I know of others who weren't.

One blogger has 'lost energy and enthusiasm' because of the way the deployment system in the CofE works. I did as well: told 18 months before the end of a 5 year contract that my post probably wouldn't be renewed, it was incredibly hard to be motivated for my job, and to sit in on discussions about how the parish would function once I'd gone. What support I did get from the church structures (outside the parish) came from a couple of fellow clergy who noticed that I was looking rough round the edges.

Update (Tues, HT Dave Walker) Bishop Alan has posted on clergy numbers, including the surprising fact that there are more active licensed clergy now than 50 years go, though a much higher proportion are self-supporting or retired, and the number paid by the church has dropped substantially. He also refers to a 'straw poll' of bishops, and the 'crude stats' in the report - which doesn't really match with the "90% of bishops" claims in the ST report.

and bishop Pete Broadbent has posted a couple of times on the Thinking Anglicans thread, and all of his comments I found very encouraging, especially this:
Where the report does have some important questions to ask is in the area of
(1) readiness of clergy for mission in the fast-changing C21 society
(2) whether those being trained on some courses are getting proper theological education, on a par with what is offered in colleges
(3) whether dioceses are planning for growth or decline

These seem to be exactly the right sort of questions for the CofE to be asking. I hesitate to get into 'shoot the messenger' mode after being unfair on Ruth Gledhill over church attendance stats a few weeks ago, and the trouble with a confidential report is that you can't debate whether it's been reported correctly by journalists without publishing the contents.