Sunday, August 31, 2008

Where to Get Married on October 1st

There's a month to go before the Anglican rules change on where you can be married:

The Marriage Measure changes will mean from October 1st an engaged couple are welcome to be married in church in a parish, not only if one of them lives or worships there, but also 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)
Church of England guidance on the Marriage Measure can be found
The changes do not apply to Church of England cathedrals.

There's some new research and road testing on marriage preparation - story here - looking at how best to prepare couples for marriage, and what kind of marriage prep people want. I must admit that the idea that 1 session is enough doesn't sound right, and even if people have lived together for years, there is still plenty that people can do to build a stronger relationship.

There's a Church Times article this week (subscribers only, I'm afraid) which says a bit more about this, meanwhile, a few other marriage resources:

The Church of Englands marriage page, with a useful Q&A section, and a plug for 'growing together', a new book aimed at couples getting ready for marriage.

Care for the Family have a 'marriage matters' section, and it's worth browsing their articles for stuff on marriage and relationships.

The Marriage Preparation Course, out of the Alpha stable, is one we use, and it went down a treat earlier this year. It's 5 sessions, pretty comprehensive, and gently Christian without stuffing it down people's throats. We're taking it to a wedding fayre in October to offer the course to people who aren't having a church wedding.

Though the divorce rate has fallen again, it's still very high, and it's quite strange to think that after 12 and a bit years of marriage, our marriage is has now lasted longer than the average. In the stats there's no suggestion about why the divorce rate has fallen - any theories?

I wouldn't be surprised to see the number of marriages fall with the 'credit crunch', given the disgustingly high prices for photos, cars, venues and all the bells and whistles which now stick like leeches to the 'normal' wedding. An increasing chunk of my time with couples is spent helping them to save money on the wedding day so that they won't lurch into debt the moment they say 'I do' (not that they actually say 'I do' in the service....!).

Marcus Trescothick speaking about his mental illness on TMS

Part of Marcus Trescothicks TMS interview appeared transcribed on the Cricinfo commentary of todays ODI between England and South Africa. I've had more than a passing interest in mental health, depression and anxiety, which still seems to be a taboo illness, so it's great to hear Trescothick speaking openly about it:

"... I struggled more with the anxiety side of the mental struggle I was going through. Any body can pick it up. It strikes when it wants to. You need to take help, take tablets and get on the recovery path.

I always struggled when I was 10, 11 when I was away from home. There are moments when you cope with it. It's a real funny situation. You lost the security blanket of home, the comfort and you are struck in a hotel in Baroda or Sydney. You start worrying. It affects your cricket. You are trying to survive every day life let alone cricket. If you are not mentally switched on behind the scenes you have no chance at cricket.

The biggest thing is that people try to hide it all the time. I did it a few years till I didn't want to do it anymore. Let's get out and just tell the people what the problem is. I am glad I did it. ... I was just in despair actually. I was not comfortable being in hotel or in a bar with team-mates. I would be looking over my shoulder. I went to lunch one day , Me , Ashley ... and we were followed by a photographer. Every where we went. Little things like that freaks you out. My privacy was being jeopardised. He is going to take my picture and I am going to be on newspapers and they are going to pick something from there. It was getting too much.

If it [me telling about it] helps some body it's great. It's not designed as a self-help book but I would be glad if it helps some one. Why was he secretive? "I was embarrassed by it. It is treated as a weakness, you know. I would have done the same if it had happened to any body else. It's a genuine illness, though. People have a little bit more respect about it and no one has got me on the neck about it so far.

Trescothicks autobiography is coming out tomorrow, currently in the Amazon top 20 books, and the full audio interview with TMS is here. More transcript excerpts on the BBC website.

St. Aidans Day

... is today, 31st August. Here's a bit about the patron saint of this blog:

Aidan was born in Ireland in the late sixth century and later became a monk of Iona in Scotland before being sent to Northumbria to evangelise the intractable English. Being a gentle person, Aidan successfully put into effect the basic principle of starting where people are and leading them a step at a time to the knowledge of Christ

more here and here. A community which tries to live in the spirit of Aidan is the Community of Aidan and Hilda, based on Lindisfarne but with members in all sorts of places. If you're anywhere in the North-East, I can recommend their 'Open Gate' as a retreat house and place to stay.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dave Walker/SPCK bloggers campaign - update

Taking a leaf out of Steve Tilleys book, I've been using scheduled posts to keep the blog ticking over whilst we've been clouding (as opposed to sunning) ourselves in Anglesey. In the meantime, plenty seems to have happened:

- Just as an article appeared in the Bookseller which made a bit of sense of SSG's decision to file for bankruptcy in the US, the application itself was thrown out 'with prejudice'. This means that they can't re-file for bankruptcy. Ministry of Truth explores what this means.

- There is now a petition to ask Durham Cathedral to intervene to save their own bookshop, which you can find here. Please think about signing it, and you can make a comment there if you want to. This has also been reported in 'the Bookseller'.

- SPCK has regained control of its own online domain, so if you go to spckonline you'll be dealing with SPCK publishers and booksellers, not the Society of St. Stephen the Great.

- Matt Wardman has an excellent summary of the first month since the attempt to silence the SPCK/SSG bloggers. Story so far, what's been achieved, etc. There is still a fair way to go: efforts to salvage various shops, the 'Cease and Desist' threat still hanging over Phil Groom, Dave Walker and Sam Norton, and the forthcoming employment tribunal for former SPCK staff.

- As always, Phil Grooms blog has the latest, and plenty of links. This is the kind of vigorous debate and analysis that some people have wanted kept quiet. Other comments and analysis as spckwatch, asingleblog, ben gallagher, Christian Troll and the rest of the usual suspects. Use this link to keep up to date with who's posting, or the Facebook site.

Phil G has also posted an index of all the places you can find Dave Walkers posts on SPCK, which Dave was forced to remove just over a month ago from his Cartoon Church blog, and Matt W has a list of folk who've blogged this story.

Now to the emails: 80 genuine ones and 600 spam. The most annoying bit is going through the 600 just in case a pukka email has been eaten by my spam muncher.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rob Bell - Velvet Elvis quotes

On retreat a month ago I took Rob Bells 'Velvet Elvis' with me. As the reviews on Amazon indicate (all but 1 are 5 stars or 1 star), it's the kind of book you love or hate. Mine now has scribbles and underlinings on most pages, here are a few quotes and thoughts which jumped out:

Bell uses the image of doctrines as springs on a trampoline, which are connected together, and have the power to flex and room to move. Christianity is not the springs, it is jumping: “I am far more interested in jumping than I am in arguing about whose trampoline is better.”

Acts 15 ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ – this is how the early church makes vital decisions. They take the decision, take responsibility, but don’t get all grand about it. They leave room to admit a mistake. It’s open.

Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective” there is some Christian music, art, speaking etc. which is truly terrible, and doesn’t honour God. If we label stuff ‘christian’ we end up turning off the radar of discernment. And we miss where God is outside Christendom

“It is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it’s sacred. You are there, God is there. The difference is our awareness.”

Bell tells the story of people losing their temper in the car park at church “So I stood up one Sunday and said ‘If you are here and you aren’t a Christian, we are thrilled to have you in our midst. We want you to feel right at home. But if you are here and you’re a Christian and you can’t even be a Chrsitian in the parking lot, please don’t go out into the world and tell people you're a Christian. You’ll screw it up for the rest of us. And by the way, we could use your seat.’ People cheered.”

“Without pain, we don’t change, do we?”

“The goal here isn’t simply to not sin. Our purpose is to increase the shalom in this world, which is why approaches to the Christain faith that deal solely with not sinning always fail. They aim at the wrong thing.”

Talking about pressure and overwork: “Usually, we pastors can go on. And that’s the problem. We put on the mask, suck it up, and keep going…. But we have to let the game stop.”

“Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be. And anything else you do is sin, and you need to repent of it…. I started identifying how much of my life was about making sure the right people were pleased with me. And as this became more and more clear, I realised how less and less pleased I was with myself. … our lives become so heavily oriented around the expectations of others that we become more and more like them and less and less like ourselves. We become split.”

“Sabbath is a day when at the end I say ‘I didn’t do anything today’ and I don’t add ‘and I feel so guity’." You have to let the engine come to an idle, and switch it off.

“I am like you. I have seen plenty done in the name of God that I’m sure God doesn’t want anything to do with. I have lots of reasons for bailing on the whole thing.”

and my favourite: “My question for leaders – and for Christians everywhere – is, are you smoking what you’re selling?” (p 119)

Thursday, August 28, 2008


The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley have produced a handy guide to factions. Visit the site to get a flavour of the humour, and see if you know your tealights from your nuts. You'll either find this very funny, or start writing to my Bishop about my suitability for ministry. I'm pretty sure this must be written by someone at theological college, but can't work out who or where....

Dear Readers, perusing my own previous postings and also those of the Archdruid, it has come to my mind that maybe you have trouble knowing your Primitive Beaker Folk from your Extreeme Beaker Folk. Therefore I have compiled a little guide to the various factions that make up our community and the various dispersed cyber-communities that take their Rule from Husborne Crawley. The Archdruid herself, being the titular head of all the factions, actually belongs to none - although she has definite Tealight Tendencies.

Tealight Folk
The major grouping of Beaker Folk are those that use Tealights in worship. Tealights are particularly handy in finding your way around dark orchards while waiting for moonrise. The Tealight Folk are generally fairly hardline against pebbles, but otherwise prepared to tolerate most forms of Beakerism.

Pebbles People
The most liberal and welcoming of the Beaker Folk are those that believe that through the contemplation of pebbles we gain an understanding of the smallness of the Created Order. Being the most liberal, they are prepared to listen and understand other people's viewpoints. They hate the Tealight Folk and the Primitive Beaker Folk with a vengeance, because these groups are less tolerant.

Julian Beaker Folk
Like Pebbles People, but with hazelnuts. Oddly, they are all in fact called Julian.

Primitive Beaker Folk
Eschew both pebbles and tealights. Normally to be found shivering in the dark because they are against modern forms of heating and lighting. Happy to burn wood to keep warm, but their strict prohibition on using matches means that starting a fire can be a bit tricky.

Extreeme Primitive Beaker Folk
Like the other Primitive Beaker Folk, but more Methodist.

Spend most of their time drinking french liqueurs. Friendly but generally incomprehensible.

Beaker Folk Together in Husborne Crawley
Spend all their time trying to get other Folk to join them, on the grounds that they bring people together regardless of their detailed beliefs. Organise committees whenever possible, and for whatever reason. Only two of them.

Charismatic Beaker Folk
To be honest, they're not all that charismatic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Childrens Minstry Training

I just posted this off to our new Children and Families worker, and then figured it would make a useful blog post too for anyone interested in training and resources for childrens ministry:

1. 'Building Family Friendly Churches' - training weekend in Yeovil 18-19 Oct, run by the Family Friendly Churches Trust ( It looks like the focus is on worship, all-age services and church-based ministry, rather than community-based stuff, and the website gives more details of the kind of seminars to expect.

2. Childrens Ministry: run a yearly training conference focused completely on childrens work ( - the next one is January 2009 in Eastbourne. The main website has other resources, and you can get copies of previous seminars on CD.

3. Scripture Union do occasional training event tours, though most of their training seems to be focused around their Sunday school material.

4. Barnabas in Schools is a brilliant website, crammed with resources. They also offer training, but it seems to be an 'on demand' basis where you buy in the specialist to come and do things for you. Also links to 'messy church' and good ideas on midweek activities. Really worth a browse.

5. New Wine run various training days and events. There's a big conference in, you guessed it, January 2009, but they also do day conferences - one in Bristol coming up

6. Childrens Work Advisors Network - run by the CofE, very slow website but lots of good links in the 'Links' section.

7. CPAS have a track record of good training stuff. The Initi8 section of their website has some good stuff down the sidebar about children, faith, families etc., but no training events coming up just yet. Worth a read though.

8. Finally 'Know your onions, grow your church' - the Christian Resources Exhibition, in Harrogate in September, and in Exeter in January 2009. . Harrogate has a Saturday devoted to childrens ministry and training, so hopefully that will be replicated in Exeter.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

'It was summer, now it's autumn'

Well, nearly. Here's some good music for an August Bank Holiday, to show what guitars were really made for.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back to Church Sunday

Back to Church Sunday is on September 28th, and is a chance to invite people back to church who've got out of the habit. Research on church leaving by Richter and Francis ('Gone for Good?') suggests that the two groups of people most likely to want to return to church are those who've stopped going because of 'life transitions' (e.g. they moved house), or because work and other commitments got in the way.

The BTCS website has various resources on it, and seems to have improved on last year. We're one of 35 or so churches in Bath and Wells Diocese who are doing it, and saw several new people coming along last year. The most effective thing was a personal invitation, rather than a leafletting blitz.

And of course this is only part of the picture. For the majority of those surveyed by Richter and Francis, church was part of the problem, not the solution, and they were pretty unlikely to return to church any time soon. This backs up what TEAR Fund discovered a last year, that the percentage of folk who might return to church is much smaller than what we thought. For some, returning to a church they never really meant to leave will be just the right thing. For many more, it is the church which has to move, in order to go to where people are.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Resources and Papers for work with the elderly

I've just ordered 'A Mission-Shaped Church for Older People?', an intriguingly titled booklet from the Leveson Centre. First time I'd heard of them, but the list of stuff they've published looks very interesting for anyone working in that field, whether you're involved as a church, caring profession, funeral director, etc.

Here's their full list of publications - more details about each one on their website:

A Mission-shaped Church for Older People? Practical Suggestions for Local Churches. Resource materials from Church Army and The Leveson Centre for churches and anyone who ministers among older people. £10.00 incl p & p.

Working with Older People - A resource directory for ChurchesDetails of over 100 church-related organisations working with older people. (published in collaboration with MHA Care Group), 2004. In plastic wallet £7.50 inc p & p, or free to download in PDF format.

Understanding the Needs of Older PeopleAlison M Johnson & Helen Hickman Morris, 2001. £4.00 inc p & p (Leveson Paper 1)

Valuing age? An agenda for Society and the Church Mark Santer, first Leveson Lecture, 2001. £4.00 inc p & p (Leveson Paper 2)

Committed to the asylum? The long term care of older people Malcolm Johnson, second Leveson Lecture, 2002. £4.00 inc p & p (Leveson Paper 3)

A Good DeathPapers presented at a Leveson Seminar, published 2003. (£5.00 inc p & p)

The Policy Challenges of Population Ageing Kenneth Howse, 2003. Leveson Paper 5 (£7.50 inc p & p.)

Dementia: Improving Quality of LifePapers presented at a Leveson seminar - Leveson Paper 6 (£5.00 inc p & p.)

Older People, Faith and DementiaTwenty-four practical talks for use in care homes. by Chris Crosskey - Leveson Paper 7 (£6.00 inc p & p.)

Seeing the Person beyond the Dementia Papers presented at a Leveson seminar (Leveson Paper 8) £5.00 inc p & p.

Is Religion the Friend of Ageing? Peter G Coleman, third Leveson Lecture (Leveson Paper 9) £5.00 inc p & p.

Journeying through Old Age and Illness Leo Missinne (Leveson Paper 10) £5.00 inc p & p.

The Experience of Ageing: a challenge to Christian belief Helen Oppenheimer, fourth Leveson Lecture, 2005. (Leveson Paper 11) £4.00 inc p & p.

Leveson Newsletter distributed twice a year to the Friends of the Leveson Centre

Palliative Care for People with Dementia four papers based on presentations at a Leveson Seminar (Leveson Paper 12) £5.00 inc p & p.

Befriending IllnessJames Woodward, Director of the Leveson Centre (Leveson Paper 13) £4.00 inc p & p.

A Good Funeralfour addresses delivered at a Leveson seminar (Leveson Paper 14) £5.00 inc p & p

Befriending DeathJames Woodward (SPCK) £9.60 inc p & p.

Thinking the Unthinkable - ten years onFrank Field MP, Fifth Leveson Lecture, 2006 (Leveson Paper 15) £4.00 inc p & p.

Lighting the Way: Spiritual and Religious Care for those with DementiaPatricia Higgins and Richard Allen (Leveson Paper 16) £5.00 inc p & p.

The Humour of Old Age, Revd Dr Una Kroll, Sixth Leveson Lecture, 2007 (Leveson Paper 17) £4.00 inc p & p.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mike Frost UK tour

Well, 'tour' is putting it a bit strongly, as he's just doing a few dates in the South of England, but as one of the key pioneer thinkers on new forms of church, he should be worth catching. Details are on this page at the Fresh Expressions site, you'll need to scroll down a bit. HT Evangelism UK.

Blurb from the site:
Mike Frost is one of the world's leading thinkers about how the Church needs to change. He's the author of 'Exiles: living missionally in a post-Christian culture' and co-author (with Alan Hirsch) of 'The Shaping of Things to Come: innovation and mission for the 21st-century church'

Mike heads up the Centre for Evangelism and Global Mission at Morling College in Australia. More about Mike:

The links take a few seconds to load, but they're good. I've read 'Shaping' and it's excellent. Some quotes from it here and here, for a flavour.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Elim in Yeovil: 80th Anniversary

"On Sunday 9th September 1928, the first Official Elim Foursquare Assembly was held at North Hill, Farm, West Camel, Yeovil, which was attended by 27 people. this was the beginning of the Elim story in Yeovil. In 2008 we will be celebrating the 80th Annivercary to celebrate the grace of God during that time."

Well done to the Elim Pentecostal church in Yeovil, who are having a special celebration weekend to mark their 80th anniverary, with Colin Dye from Kensington Temple speaking at 2 events: Saturday 6th September at 7.30pm, and Sunday 7th at 10.30am. That's assuming the Saturday evening meeting has finished by then..... only joking guys!!
I'm a bit concerned about the picture top right: if you're going to pray for someone to be filled with the Holy Spirit in a Pentecostal kind of way, a flight of concrete steps probably isn't the best place to do it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Blog Stats

Some time in early August this blog went past 20,000 page views, which is peanuts by most blogging standards, but quite a weird thought. I did a little look at the history:

7th Oct 2006 first post
Dec 2006 roughly 20 visitors a week
4th Feb 2007 1000 hits
Oct 2007 2500 hits
1st March 08 10,000
25th May 15,000
8th Aug 20,000

the big jump to March was down to the BBC linking a review I did on 'The Choir: Boys Don't Sing', and that plus the immersion in the Dave Walker campaign has meant much more traffic in the last 6 months.

Post no. 700 is nearly in sight, which makes me pause and think about whether the time and energy is worth it. But then being involved in the SPCK business and being able to use an internet presence to generate support and publicity for something worthwhile is one of the payoffs. I'll discover on my hols, with an enforced break of 2 weeks, whether I'm addicted to blogging in any way, it'll be an interesting excercise in online cold turkey.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Discussions in other places

Madpriest had a gentle dig at a former Somerset vicar who talked about powers of evil in Portishead in a parish magazine article, drawing heavily on Tolkien. Just to spoil people's fun, I posted a comment reminding folk that Jesus recognised powers of evil as well, and that's now turned into a whole new debate over at MP's place. Is evil a 'power', or are there just very nasty people?

Bishop Alan is blogging from the Willow Creek leadership conference - I'll be really interested to see if he does a 'compare and contrast' post with Lambeth - with pithy summaries of the various speakers. There are video-based versions of the conference in the UK in October: we took a small group last year and found it very helpful.

SPCK have issued a statement, which Phil Groom has posted in full. One of the many matters debated in the last few weeks was the role of SPCK in entrusting SSG with the retail arm of its business, which was losing money rapidly and was unsustainable as it stood. It's worth reading the entire statement, here's the last couple of paragraphs:

We have been greatly upset by what has happened. We have been actively trying to do something about it, and are engaged in legal activity on a number of fronts about which it is not currently possible to say much. This and working with other interested parties and individuals has taken up a great deal of Simon Kingston’s time over the last year and continues to do so.

The Trustee body continue to have the shops as an item at every meeting, and spend a deal of time discussing what is best to do. A great deal has gone on (and continues today) which is not public knowledge. It is simply not true that we have ignored the situation. And with legal issues outstanding, we simply cannot wade in with public pronouncements. Indeed, some public comments (including, frankly, one or two contributions to the various blogs) serve to make matters worse rather than better.

SPCK and its trustees are truly saddened by the situation. We made a decision in good faith, and it has not turned out well. We are really sorry at the turn of events. But breast-beating makes nothing better. We are doing what we can on a continuing basis, and this may take another year or more before it has run its course.

The next few weeks will see two of the former SPCK shops in formal re-launches under new ownership. Let us all hope that other sites also find happier times once more.

Simon Kingston, SPCK General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer The Rt Revd Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, Chairman of the SPCK Governing Body 12 August 2008

Phil's blog is the place to discuss this, and judging by the penultimate paragraph, we are in for the long haul here. Please pray for Simon Kingston and everyone else involved in this, for a resolution that is good, fair, and ideally that doesn't require lawyers to sort out the fine print because people are able to deal constructively with one another.

Finally Matt Wardman has a few Olympics links - personally I'm just enjoying the sport, but it's useful to be reminded of what else is going on here. And Johann Hari reflects on the decision not to publish the novel 'The Jewel of Medina', about the child bride of Mohammed, and what it says about our ability to have critical dialogue about Islam. The book may, like the Da Vinci Code, be a pile of cobblers, but now it's been pulled, everyone will want to have a copy if it ever finally comes out. Sounds familiar.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Week is No Longer an SPCK/J Mark Brewer-free Zone

(if you're new to all this, Private Eye is a good place to start, then Matt Wardman)

I'm increasingly alarmed at what I read at spckwatch - posts today and yesterday indicate that, in the legal papers for their bankruptcy filings, SSG are claiming $6m from 3 individuals. Two are from SPCK (the publishing arm, not owned by SSG) - Simon Kingston the General Secretary, and Rev. Haley Dossor, who is Vice-Chair of the Governing Body. The third person is Rev. Joanne Grenfell, who works for Sheffield Diocese and is something to do with the Cathedral. They are claiming a further $500,000 from SPCK itself.

This quote from spckwatch gives you an indication of the way SSG, or ENC Management, or whatever they call themselves now, handles some of its finances:

According to the documents given to the courts in Houston Texas, SSG Ltd owes Brewer and Pritchard $56,694.98 and owes Orthodox Christian Mission Fund $494,097.55.

If we add the $75,000 retainer Mark Brewer has agreed to Mark Brewer, as trustee of SSG Ltd owes himself, or his own companies, $625,792.53.

Brewer & Pitchard has already been paid $111,092.36 while Orthodox Christian Mission Fund (Mark Brewer?) has been paid $75,338.07.

Orthodox Christian Mission Fund is by far the largest creditor in the bankruptcy proceedings, but what is it owed money for? Or is this just another in the spaghetti junction of Brewer-run companies designed to keep money a couple of yards out of arms reach of the people to whom it is legally owed? I just ask the question - that's how it looks from here, but I'm hoping it's not true.

Other developments: the bankrupcty hearing itself seems to have been delayed, Mark Brewer has offered to pay some money owing to a former SPCK employee after an appeal on the SPCK/SSG blog, which a) shows that he reads it and b) is very hopeful.

Meanwhile another SSG alias, '40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste', turns out not just to be the trading name on an SSG website, but a Houston Orthodox church whose website bears several resemblances to that of the Orthodox church in Poole set up by SSG a couple of years ago (the congregation then decamped to another church after falling out with them). Whether they are aware that they're down as the registered online trading name of SSG is another matter, let alone the fact that the Brewer and Pritchard offices are given as their registered address. Must get pretty crowded in that office come Sunday worship.

Finally, the Facebook group is nearing 450, and there's an interesting discussion post just gone up on how the libel law does or doesn't apply to bulletin board posts on the internet. Don't get any ideas though...

Ok, I admit it....

The finale of Bonekickers was laughably bad. I was doing some mental maths to work out how long it would take to shuttle between Bath, Clevedon, Wells and Glastonbury on our rustic road system, compared to the impression given last night that they were all neighbours in a cul-de-sac. Never mind being able to break into Wells Cathedral and the Bishops Palace at night with a sackful of diving equipment, and the corny Excalibur moment. But it's been fun, and Hugh Bonneville has finally been given a role he can chew on. It could do without the regulation gory death per episode though.

Someone on this comments thread notes that the BBC bonekickers site has been taken down, drowned under the weight of negative comments. Not true, (though they don't post new messages between midnight and 9am, to allow moderation) but it's a conspiracy theory worthy of the series itself.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Contempt for Human Rights: Who Needs China?

A friend in Darlington has sent me details of the shameful treatment of Elizabeth Kiwunga, a refugee from Uganda with small children (one just a few weeks old), whom the Home Office is trying to forcibly deport back to Uganda.

Here is part of her story:

Elizabeth came to the UK five years ago from Uganda seeking sanctuary in the UK having been tortured and raped because her husband had been Campaign Manager for the opposition party.

On Wednesday 9th July she was woken at 7.30am when the police and immigration officials knocked at her door. She went downstairs and looked through the window. Seeing the police she ran upstairs to her children (Marie 3yrs and John 14weeks). The officials either broke the door down or had access with a key because she then found they were in her home. Because she tried to contact her friends they handcuffed her and she was not able to comfort her terrified children. An official watched her as she got washed, gave her clothes to wear and supervised the packing of two suitcases. They then took Elizabeth to the police station in a car – Marie and John were in a separate vehicle. Since coming to Darlington she has been forcibly removed twice and taken to Yarlswood Detention Centre.

Elizabeths Vicar, Rev. Sheilagh Williamson, has now been placed on a Home Office blacklist – her support of Elizabeth being interpreted as ‘harassment’ and ‘incitement and endorsement for extremely disruptive behaviour’.

Elizabeth and her children have been deeply traumatised by the actions of the police and officials.

Liam Byrne the Minister for Immigration has not responded to, or even acknowledged, letters sent on Elizabeths behalf to ask for compassion and clarity. I'm not aware that Alan Milburn, the local MP, has been involved in this, but if not he should be.

Other coverage and campaigning information here, and here , Northern Echo report here. It's all pretty shocking, to think that we can't provide asylum to someone who has suffered this way in their native country, and that we deal in such an inhumane way with anyone, let alone a vulnerable family with young children. And anyone who knows Sheilagh Williamson knows that she doesn't do 'harassment'.

This isn't the kind of thing I normally blog about, but it seems to be a serious injustice, and it's good to see that the wider church is rallying round to provide support. Now, Mr Byrne, do the right thing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nominate the SPCK Bloggers for the Christian Blog Awards

Pondering how to give some of the SPCK bloggers the recognition they deserve, I was reminded today of the Christian Blog Awards. They are run by Premier, a 'Christian' media outlet (if you want to know why the quotation marks, read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell page 83 onwards). Premier also publish Christian Marketplace, from which Phil Groom's article about the SPCK situation was recently pulled.

So what better way to recognise the courage of Phil, and Sam Norton, in standing up to attempts to silence them, by nominating them for an award with Premier? I'm sure this Christian company would love to support former SPCK staff, creditors and everyone else who has an interest in the open reporting of this story.

The categories are:

Best Church Website
Best Christian Worship Blog or Website
Most Inspiring Leadership Blog
Most Green (Environmental) Website
Best Christian Newcomer Blog
Best Young Christian Blog (under 25)
Best Christian News and Reviews Website
Best Provision for Youth Blog or Website
Best Christian Social Action Website
Best Creative Christian Organisation Blog or Website
People's Choice: Favourite Christian Blog or Website

So I suggest the SPCK/SSG blog for best 'News and Reviews' website, Sam Norton for 'Most Inspiring Leadership Blog', as he's a church leader, and Dave Walker for People's Choice.

'Make Me a Christian'

The latest Channel 4 contribution to religious programming 'Make me a Christian', aired last night. I caught a few bits of it between the Olympic highlights, so probably can't make a judgement until I've seen the whole thing. However, judging by the line-up of potential converts, it probably has a working title of 'Make me £1000 by putting up with some Christians for 3 weeks.'

The programme has one or two fairly full-on Christian 'mentors', and part of week 1 involved watching footage of an abortion being carried out, and another guy being ambushed in the doctors with pictures of all the horrible STD's he was going to get if he carried on sleeping with anything that moved. On camera. Then asked to give a urine sample. In the segment of the programme I was, the stress seemed to be on behaviour, rather than faith, I don't know how much they went into the fact that God loves them, and having a go at praying.

Various reviews around: New Humanist are sceptical, the Ship of Fools discussion thread - which is unanimously unimpressed, has this great quote from TV reviewer Charlie Brooker:

"the broadcast will doubtless be accompanied by the percussive sound of thousands of Christians enthusiastically smashing their foreheads against the wall with delight at the way they're represented."

However, since one of the four mentors on the programme is a member of 'We Support Dave Walker', I'd better not be too harsh. The trouble is that Channel 4 do this kind of programming by numbers now: clash of ideas, walkouts, find extreme versions of whatever you're documenting (a lapdance and a wiccan, etc.), and edit for the story you want to tell the public. The Monastery was a much less extreme way of doing it, and a much more mature piece of TV.

update: good review from Richard Peat, who clearly watched more of it than I managed! And well worth reading his piece on the final episode, and the way that one of the 'mentors' was unhappy with the way the series was edited.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Touching Base

In case regular readers - I think there are 2 of you - are wondering what's happend to the 'Touching Base' thingy I used to do at the weekend, Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans has taken this over for August, and is doing some very interesting posts reflecting on the Lambeth Conference. Thanks Simon. Now, where's my beer and sun lotion....

Spck, St. Stephen the Great, Dave Walker etc. Roundup

Matt Wardman has posted a good roundup today of where things are at, and added yet more bloggers and sites which are carrying the story. I'm thrilled to see that the Facebook group has cleared 400: it was 425 members when I looked just now.

Meanwhile Bishop Alan has emerged from Lambeth to blog on the Private Eye report, and Phil Brewer, one of the SSG management team, has been locked out of his own shop in Sheffield for not paying the rent. Wonder if anyone's told the landlord he's filing for bankruptcy?

No sooner do I try to quieten down on this than lots of new articles turn up. That last link is to quiet a heated debate on the role of the original SPCK trustees in all of this (also here). I must admit that I was quite surprised to discover on the Charity Commission website that the original Society of St. Stephen the Great had only turned over £28,728, with most of this being donations from J. Mark Brewer. That's less than half of our parish turnover, and I can't imagine us being asked to run a chain of national bookstores.

It's also being noted that search terms like Brewer and Pritchard, J. Mark Brewer, Society of St. Stephen the Great and the like on Google are increasingly turning up stories related to the silencing of the SPCK bloggers and the poor handling of the business and its staff. And I guess the longer this goes on, the more that will happen. It would be incredibly embarassing if the top Google search for 'bplaw' (the shorthand for Brewer & Pritchard Law) turned up here, or even worse here.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Dave Walker Campaign: Where Next?

It seems a long time since July 22nd, the day Dave Walker took down the 75 SPCK posts from his blog under the threat of libel proceedings from Mark Brewer. And where have we got to?

- Over 75 bloggers covering the story, including several blogs set up purely to repost some of the Cartoon Church posts.

- The other 2 recipients of Cease and Desist letters, Phil Groom and Rev. Sam Norton, both refusing to be silenced, and publishing their correspondence.

- As well as being salvaged by various bloggers, the entire 75 Dave Walker posts have been republished by Matt Wardman, along with an introduction to the whole business, and a few other useful clippings - available as a free download here. From what I gather it's been downloaded well over 400 times. For a shorter introduction, Phil Grooms account of the last couple of weeks, and what went before, is well worth a read.

- Loads more attention on SPCK, the Society of St. Stephen the Great, and Mark Brewer in particular. The irony of someone threatening legal proceedings when they're facing an employment tribunal in one country, and a dispute over flawed bankruptcy proceedings in another is, well, probably lost on the man at the centre of all this.

- A mass of support for Dave Walker, Phil and Sam, which has possibly deterred SSG from issuing any more 'cease and desist' letters for fear that they'll be plastered all over the internet.

- The attempted silencing of bloggers starting to become a media story in itself.

Dave Walker has now gone on a well-earned break after cartooning at Lambeth, so now seems as good a time as any to take stock.

My original aim in all of this was to help create enough support for Dave Walker that the libel threat would be withdrawn, and he'd be able to restore all the SPCK posts. There's going to be nothing new on that front for a few weeks, but I'm sure the support has given Phil and Sam the encouragement to stand up to SSG's attempts to silence them.

What we've also done is create a network of bloggers, and a Facebook group of around 400, who are on the side of the bloggers in this. Even if things go quiet for a bit, there are a lot of folk who will find out - and find out very quickly - if anything else important happens. It's a group which includes libel lawyers, bishops, prominent bloggers, and journalists for the national UK media. There is also a lot more research now on the internet should any media outlet want to dig more into the SPCK/SSG story.

The main challenges from here on in:
- Mark Brewer retracting his C&D letters.
- Ongoing coverage of the SPCK story in the UK, and the bankruptcy proceedings in the USA.
- Keep nudging the mainstream media, and outlets like Christian Bookseller, so that they don't get spooked by legal bluster, but continue to do their job as journalists, which is to seek out and report the truth.

I've been posting pretty much daily on this since July 22nd, and I'm one of dozens of bloggers who, to be honest, hadn't followed the SPCK story very closely until Mark Brewer tried to censor it. During that time I've had probably over 1,000 visitors looking into the Dave Walker saga, and other blogs have had many more.

But now it's time to let the SPCK/SSG blog do the job it was created for, which is to carry on the coverage of this story, though I'll be posting on anything important as and when it crops up. There's also a SPCK Facebook group which is more focused on the events at the bookstores. And for a daily list of new links, Richard Peat's friendfeed page on Dave Walker is a great starting point.

So it will be back to blogging as usual from next week. Hopefully.

BBC's 'The Passion' DVD due out.

Evangelism UK reports that the BBC's production of The Passion (which was very good until the last 2 minutes) is available on DVD. Not strictly true - it comes out in October, but you can pre-order it now. Follow the this link for some episode reviews and links from earlier in the year.

Staying with the BBC, I will continue to stick up for Bonekickers even though everyone else seems to hate it. Ok it's all a load of cobblers, but so are most of the books in the summer bestsellers list. Since the 'Da Vinci Code', there has been a massive splurge of 'historical religious fiction' which all combine some modern day murder mystery with a secretive medieval/early Christian sect protecting a secret which will destroy the church if it comes out. Or variations thereon. Reading the appendix of The First Apostle is nearly enough to make Dan Brown come across as a scrupulous historian.

Where was I? Oh yes, next weeks Bonekickers finale is set in Glastonbury, just up the road from here. I like the way this is moving: Hot Fuzz was set in Wells (our nephew, visiting from Singapore, wanted to visit Wells not for the Cathedral, Bishops Palace or anything else, but just to see the place where the film was set. Cue anguished wailing from heritage types), Bonekickers is now moving down the A37 from Bath to Glastonbury, so it's only a matter of time before we get a major production set in Yeovil. Or not.

Dave Walker Daily Update, Thursday August 7th: The Eyes Have It

Great to see that Private Eye have picked up on the attempt to silence the SPCK coverage:

see also Elizaphanian, SPCK/SSG blog, and well done Mark B who spotted this in the first place.

Meanwhile Ben Gallagher - newish to this saga but rapidly catching up - has done some digging behind the SSG website, and discovered some peculiar things.

Matt Wardman has updated the bloggers list, well over 70, with more to add.

The Facebook group in support of Dave Walker is at a tantalising 395 members.

I'll be posting later today (hopefully) about where we're going with all this, and what the medium to long term might look like.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Letter to the Church Times

I've just sent this to the Church Times, hopefully it's in time for publication on Friday, though I guess there'll be plenty of Lambeth stuff they're trying to squeeze in too:

Dear Church Times,

I notice with great concern that your cartoonist (and Lambeth cartoonist-in-residence), Dave Walker, has had to remove 75 postings from his blog concerning the recent history of SPCK bookshops. Since their handover to new owners, the Society of St. Stephen the Great (SSG), there have been a number of troubling developments at SPCK. 30 former employees are currently pursuing union action against SSG, whilst at the same time it is filing for bankruptcy in Texas, in a court thousands of miles away from most of its creditors. Your report of 25th July notes that the legitimacy of the SSG bankruptcy claim has been seriously questioned.

There seems to be a concerted attempt to silence online comment about the whole business. Another blogger following the SPCK story, Phil Groom, was threatened with libel proceedings if he did not 'cease and desist' his reporting, as was an Essex vicar who republished some of Dave Walkers reporting on his own blog. Yet there seems to be nothing libellous in either Mr. Groom or Mr. Walkers coverage, and the timing - with court proceedings pending in both the UK and US - is highly suspicious. Mr. Grooms correspondence even demanded that he shut down a site dedicated to raising funds for former SPCK employees.

The Church Times has done its readers a great service in reporting on developments at SPCK so far, and I do hope this will continue. Good journalism is about bringing the truth to light, however uncomfortable it is for certain parties.

Yours sincerely
Rev. David Keen.

Update, Sat 9th Aug: Nope, not published. So if you edit a parish magazine, it's all yours.

SPCK, SSG Cartoon Competition

Phil Groom is running a cartoon competition on his SPCK/SSG blog today, and doctored photo's are probably ok as well, if Madpriest is reading this. Have a look, have a go, have some fun.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Lambeth summarised

by the delightful Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley.

Dave Walker Daily Update, Tuesday August 5th: The Blog that Got Away

Having not spotted this until today, it's probably not surprising that the Cartoon Church Backup Site has sneaked under the radar of pretty much everyone. It seems to have been set up by Dave Walker when the CartoonChurch blog was having difficulties, and duplicates a few of the posts which Dave was forced to take down 2 weeks ago.

Along with a few comments, it has some interesting stuff - e.g. the postponement of an industrial tribunal in Sheffield because SSG had gone into bankruptcy proceedings the week before, and a list of the directors of 'ENC Management Company', who have taken over the running of the SPCK shops from the Society of St. Stephen the Great. It's exactly the same people.

Here's an extract from the email sent by Mark Brewer explaining this:
SSG-LLC is not authorized to employ any person or incur any debt. With immediate effect, SSG-LLC payroll, redundancy and other such obligations will only be payable through the bankruptcy court. SSG-LLC employees of record as of 4 June 2008 will receive further notification directly from the bankruptcy court about how to submit a claim.

The bookshops will now be operated by ENC Management Company. Former employees of SSG-LLC are invited to apply for a position with ENC Management Company. If you wish to apply, please reply to this email so indicating.

So SSG goes into bankruptcy to get out of paying its creditors, or making up the missing PAYE that employees hadn't been paid, etc. etc., and sets up a new company overnight with the same people in charge to start with a clean sheet. Is this how they normally do business in the Land of the Free?

Meanwhile, the Chester Chronicle has an update on the USDAW action against SSG. Here's an extract from the report.
Usdaw spokesman Cherry Hamilton said: “We are currently finalising 11 remaining claims to submit. This will bring the number of claims up to 30.

“The President of the Employment Tribunals has ordered them all to be heard together in one tribunal in Bury St Edmunds, following a request from Usdaw. We await information on the date.”

Although the Brewer brothers have filed for bankruptcy in the US, Usdaw firmly believes these proceedings have no effect in the UK meaning the claims against the company can continue.

John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary, said: “It is clear that staff, many of whom have been long standing loyal workers, have been mistreated and many are understandably very upset and concerned.

“We are very concerned at a new company (ENC Management Company) being set up in these circumstances, while our members are losing their jobs.”

Too right. And if you're a former SPCK employee and USDAW member who might have been unfairly dismissed, here is the USDAW website. The number of claimants was 15 back in June, and seems to have doubled.

Worryingly, an article about the new 'ENC Management Company' in the magazine Christian Marketplace magazine has been pulled from their website. Phil Groom had an article about SPCK pulled from the latest issue at the last minute. Maybe some letters or emails to the magazine pointing out how concerned we are at the situation would help them to publish it in the next issue.

Finally, back to that backup site. Have I just landed Dave Walker in it? Or has the flow of Cease and Desist correspondence stopped? Did I say how many posts were on it? No? Count them up one day and it might be 75..........

Cease and Desist Cartoon

Found this on Ben Gallagher's blog yesterday, and he said I could reproduce it. Nice man.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dave Walker, SSG, SPCK Update (part 2) Monday 4th August

Key posts and developments today on the attempted silencing of the SPCK blogs:

On the SPCK/SSG blog there are two: Mark Bennett has compiled a list of Mark Brewers public statements about SPCK (which I linked to earlier), and Phelim Macintyre has blogged about a planned meeting in September between former SPCK suppliers and staff. Yesterday Phil Groom posted an article he'd written for magazine Christian Marketplace, which was pulled from the magazine at the last minute. The editor of Christian Marketplace, Clem Jackson, was copied in on Phil Grooms 'Cease and Desist letter'. As SPCKwatch reports:

Today the new copy of Christian Marketplace arrived. All that is reported on the SSG saga is the funeral of Steve Jeynes. There is no mention of the bankruptcy case or 30 industrial tribunials that SSG are facing. As we now know from Phil's site Clem Jackson, editor of Christian Marketplace, recieved the same threat as Phil did. Hopefully this silence is only temporary on their part. But as soon as we know the outcome of the bankruptcy hearing be sure us Bloggers will report it.

It's not an easy position to be in, and I notice that despite journalists belonging to the Facebook group supporting Dave Walker, none of them have done a piece on the story yet. Some comments are starting to appear asking why the media haven't picked up on this yet. I guess a global gathering of bishops was probably occupying them.

Matt Wardman has posted on Cease and Desist letters, arguing that because Phil Grooms C&D was copied to a third party (Clem Jackson - see above), the allegations in it about Phil's site were effectively sent to a member of the British media, and thus might be considered libellous and defamatory in their own right. Ooops.

Sam Norton has posted an open letter to Mark Brewer from a former employee, citing a dreadful story about the treatment of a former SPCK employee.

Several other sites blogging today, but thought I'd try to organise (for my own sanity as much as anything) who's covering the Dave Walker/SPCK/SSG affair, and from what angle.

1. The Evidence:
2. Key Sites for News and Daily Updates

  • Matt Wardman - daily updates, analysis of law, civil liberties etc.
  • SPCK/SSG - Phil Grooms site, dedicated to the ongoing SPCK story and support of former staff and suppliers.
  • Dave Walker Friendfeed page: regularly updated links to stories around Dave Walker, SPCK, SSG etc. First port of call to see what's been newly blogged.
  • We Support Dave Walker Facebook site. 376 members at last count. Some good links in the 'Wall Posts' there.
  • and this one, mainly linking to other sites.

3. Analysis and General Digging Around.
  • SPCKwatch: relatively new site, but some good stuff - recent analysis on whether the SPCK chain was 'thriving' as SSG claimed.
  • Ministry of Truth: some great in depth analysis of the Mark Brewer letters, and the business dealings of SSG.
  • Bizarrely Rev. Dr Christian Troll: and good for a chuckle too.

4. Regular Comment

5. Cartoons

There are lots of other sites which have linked to this story - a full list is hosted by Matt Wardmans and it's up to 76 now, and if you spot other links, or blog on it yourself, please leave a comment there. Just spotted include Ben Gallagher (good post, nice cartoon) and Long Withdrawing Roar .

If I've missed anything off this list, please let me know. I look forward to the day when Dave's Cartoon Blog is back in section 2, where it belongs.

Ok I'll do a Lambeth post

original here, much better resolution, by (you guessed it) Dave Walker, and here's some pictures of him presenting it to all the Bishops in the Lambeth big top. Drat, I wasn't going to blog about the Lambeth Conference.

Dave Walker Daily Monday 4th August

..... will appear here later: family guest and a funeral this afternoon, so it will be a question of slotting it in, hopefully by teatime. In the meantime

- SPCKWatch - a new blog, but making up for lost time - looks at how the SPCK business was faring under SSG ownership, and challenges the SSG claim that it was 'thriving'.

- Good discussion at Tall Skinny Kiwi on how to use the blogosphere, and the rights and wrongs of what can be said where and when.

- SPCK/SSG blog has a good bit of work by Mark Bennett, compiling all of Mark Brewers public statement. One assertion in the letters to cease and desist (a lawyer on the Facebook group pointed out that they are not 'orders' - courts issued 'orders', whilst C&D letters are a starting point for negotiation and don't have legal standing. ) is that the blogs following the SPCK story don't give the SSG side of the story. However pretty much all of these statements were published in full on Dave Walkers blog, the SPCK/SSG blog, or both.

- now well over 70 people blogging this, and more to add, the latest list at Matt Wardman. If you know of anyone else who's covered this, let Matt know through a comment at the link.

- Father Christian Troll at the Gafcon blog has more words of wisdom, and there's some teasing bits of info in there as well. Beware of the Troll.

By the way, did anyone else spot the really clever thing Dave Walker did when he took the posts down? On his site, all you find for July 22nd is '-'. But the page address is as follows: which tells you all you need to know. Nice one Dave.

More later.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Dave Walker updates - back on Monday

With my sons baptism tomorrow, I won't be blogging till Monday about the Dave Walker saga, but if you want some reading matter go to - the site has put up 20 posts today, with most (if not all) of the 75 Dave Walker posts, but the 2 or 3 posts at the top of the site are also worth a read.

Glad to see the blogosphere back working properly after this mornings glitches, and Maggi Dawn seems to have the bit between her teeth, alongside all the usual Dave Walker supporter sites.

Baptism Poem

Our sons baptism tomorrow at our local church, and we'll be using a lovely Gerard Kelly poem called 'Dedication', which you can find in full here. It begins:

Out of your sweetness
May strength come forth
In weakness
May a brave heart grow
In your dependence
May faith take root
From wide-eyed wonder
May wisdom flow

So blogging will be slowing down for the next 36 hours or so...

Dave Walker Daily Saturday 2nd August

Cross-post from The Wardman Wire, which is one of several sites hitting problems this morning. Here's why)

Another one has broken cover. Phil Grooms SPCK/SSG blog has made public his full 'Cease and Desist' from Mark Brewer, with a post here noting that, of the 5 websites Phil was asked to take down, 2 of which are nothing to do with him!

Early today Phil posted the rest of Mark Brewer's letter, noting that it was difficult to respond to it given that Brewer himself had banned Phil from contacting him. (What follows is a summary, go to Phil's site for the whole thing. Mark Brewers words are in italics, Phil's in red. )

For the record, Phil denies the following claims:

1. Running a website dedicated to the destruction of Brewers personal reputation (the sites are dedicated to SPCK bookshops).

2. 'Succesfully blocking my efforts to get my and SSG's side of the story out': Phil has invited Mark Brewers input on several occasions, and at no point has he attacked 'my wife, my daught and my religion', as Brewer claims.

3. Holding Mark Brewer up to ridicule, and using 'vile and defamatory words'. No, says Phil: Madpriest and others (see the end of this post) might sail close to the wind on that, but Phil isn't.

4. Interfering with SSG's strategy to salvage SPCK. Phil responds: "My impression was that you’d filed for bankruptcy, Mark, and peremptorily dismissed most of your staff. I have to confess that I didn’t recognise that as a strategy to “salvage what remains of the business”… why didn’t you tell us that’s what you were trying to do? I think most people got the impression you were asset-stripping or something similar."

5. I'll just quote Mark Brewer for this bit:
I therefore am going to say this as clearly as I can: I am a private individual and I value my privacy. I am not a public figure such that you have the right to drag my name and my family’s names through the mire. I do not consent to you contacting me about your alleged enquiries. I do not consent and object to you maintaining websites about me, SSG, SSGCT, ENC Management, my brother, my wife, or my daughter. I do not consent to you posting blogs on the internet. I do not consent to you defaming me to any other party or person by “sharing” your false allegations.

No contact? No websites about SPCK (which is what the SSG demand would entail)? No blogs on the internet? It's hard to avoid the suspicion that Brewer just wants Phil to keep quiet and say nothing.

Phil concludes:
Finally, for now, please note that I’m not interested in defaming you or in making “false allegations”. I am interested in finding the truth, however, and that forces me to ask why you wanted Dave Walker’s ‘Save the SPCK’ pages taken down? Was there something there that you wanted hidden? Why did you demand that Sam Norton take down those he reposted? Why do you want the pages referred to in my previous posts taken down? The reasons you’ve given don’t really seem bear scrutiny, do they?

And here is what whiffs about the whole business. When a faltering business faces industrial tribunals in the UK, files for bankruptcy several thousand miles away, and and the same time tries to completely silence the two main reporters on its actions... Well, you can work the rest out, can't you?

The SPCK Chronicles
Now that the entire Dave Walker Chronicles of SPCK are available in 1 volume, its possible to examine whether they merit a 'Cease and Desist' order for possible libel. Exigency in Specie has a good summary of the whole thing, and notes:

When you read the posts, Dave spent a good deal of time trying to moderate those reactions in order to thoughtfully report events that he believed should be of concern to a wider audience. As a relatively high profile site he primarily acted as a central resource for collecting together information from the geographically diverse chain. Care in what was written was uppermost, even when emotions grew - you can easily find points where he calls for cool heads, and where he removed comments that he himself deemed were close to the line. Certainly an approach from Mark Brewer asking for specific points to be removed would I’m sure have been met with much less of an explosion of anger in the blogsphere than the cease and desist attempt to close down the whole story has produced

Who's Blogging
Sam Norton continues to get plenty of support - here are the comments on his own C&D. I had trouble opening his site this morning, along with those of several other commenters on this story, but the link to the comments should work.

Mark B at Way Out West is an early link on the DW story that we missed. And it has a cartoon. The Walsingham Girl is an Orthodox Christian in the UK who is 'appalled' by Dave Walkers treatment.

Meanwhile Kouya Chronicle has blogged in support of the C&D 3, revmusings is also Dave Walker, as is Anne's blog. One Blog One Lord wants Dave to be President, and Philip Bartholemew makes the perceptive comment:

J Mark Brewer, who runs the organisation that owns the bookshops (and who is now seeking bankruptcy proceedings in Houston), believes he and his company should be immune from criticism because both are private: in fact, as Unity points out, Brewer is a subject of public controversy and so in US eyes is a “limited purpose public figure”. This is just one feature of US libel law that we could do with in the UK, where people who choose to involve themselves in public affairs can all too often suppress critical discussion and discourage investigation by waving lawyers around

Tim Abbott has a round up, and on the ground Thoughts and More Thoughts has been to see Chester SPCK, and links to reports from the local paper on the staff sackings. Wonder if any of the media people swarming around Dave Walker at the moment know what's going on?
The 'We Support Dave Walker' Facebook group is up to nearly 350, which hopefully England can surpass today at Edgbaston.

Finally for light relief, Rev. Dr. Christian Troll has no doubt that J. Mark Brewer is a man after his own heart. Don't read this with any food in your mouth, it will end up on your keyboard.

(DK note: some time in the next few days we'll update the list of people blogging on this story at The Wardman Wire - my rough guesswork is that it's now over 100. 64 links are posted, but new ones are appearing all the time.)

All 75 Dave Walker Posts

(If you're new to the Dave Walker saga, go here for a quick intro)

Hooray for the internet, and for Matt Wardman who has collected the entire Dave Walker 'Chronicles of SPCK' onto a single pdf file. Matt is convinced, as are the rest of us, that there is nothing here meriting legal action. Rather, it is a fair reporting of the SPCK story. (note: I had a spot of bother opening this link early this morning, but maybe my laptop just needs a coffee or something).

Phil Groom has this morning published his full letter from Mark Brewer, with a point by point denial of everything it accuses him of. He was asked to take down 5 websites, 2 of which are nothing to do with him, and one of which is a tag collection, on the same day as Dave Walker.

So, the 2 main reporters on SPCK are both told to keep quiet or else whilst at the same time SSG faces industrial tribunals in the UK, and files for bankrupty in Texas. Yet the silencing demands don't point to anything specific that is libellous, they just call for every bit of the story - which includes newspaper reports already in the public domain, and the tragic death of Steve Jeynes, a former SPCK bookshop manager - to be removed.

This is so fishy it's practically a trawler. No wonder the Charity Commission are looking into it.

Incidentally, of the 5 blogs Phil Groom has been asked to remove, one is run by not by Phil, but by a bookshop owner in Lincoln and has nothing to do with Phil. Unicorn Tree Books are highly miffed that Mark Brewer has instructed someone else to take down their site. Coincidentally, there's some detailed reporting of SPCK there as well. Must be coincidence, must be.......

It strikes me that if this is some kind of advert for 'Brewer and Pritchard' and their legal skills, it's not going very well - botched Cease and Desists, a disputed bankruptcy claim (see the link above), and large scale ignorance of UK employment law, like how you make people redundant, and what rights people have to pension payments. But don't worry, their website assures you that Brewer & Pritchard, P.C. has not agreed to represent you or render legal advice to you by virtue of your having visited this website: well thank goodness for that.

Meanwhile, for some light relief, Rev. Dr. Christian Troll at GAFCON is supporting Mark Brewer in his own special way. Very funny.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Dave Walker, SPCK, SSG Daily Update, Friday 1st August.

Big update today, as lots going on, and this will probably be out of date already by the time you read it! This is all moving very fast now….. If you are new to this story there is an excellent summary here.

Dave Walker was not alone. Two other bloggers who have gone public with their Cease and Desists from Mark Brewer. Elizaphanian (Sam Norton), and Phil Groom. More on Phil in a minute.

Sam Norton, who posted his yesterday, has had support from all over the place:

Maggi Dawn quotes some advice from a 'legal eagle' friend
"The letter itself is basically a threat to bring legal action, so the only cost involved is paying a lawyer to draft it. It's therefore very easy for a large organisation to impose their will over someone whom they know is unlikely to be able to afford legal representation. It can make little difference how strong their case actually is."

Squiggle Jones, And Jesus Wept and Philips Tree House all log their support, with the latter questioning Mark Brewers assertion that he is merely a private citizen. The Journey Home is both Dave Walker and Sam Norton, and so is his wife. Get your head round that one. Jonathan Evens seems to be trying the same trick. Perhaps this is psychological warfare?

Metacatholic questions several of the Brewer clams, querying whether a unilateral declaration of ‘this is confidential’ holds any water, and noting how little real evidence is given to substantiate the allegations against Sam.
he writes: Indeed, his letters as quoted by Sam, like many of his past statements, seem to bear such a complex and tenuous relationship to reality that it would be difficult to describe them as truthful without placing an inappropriate burden on the semantic resources of the English language. I think I know what he's trying to say....

By far the most substantial response, outside of the dozens of comments on Sams blog, has come from Unity at Ministry of Truth, with virtually a clause-by-clause dissection of the SSG communiqué.

There are all sorts of point in dispute: whether Mark Brewer is just a ‘private citizen’, whether any of the comments are defamatory or just fair comment on a company which faces bankruptcy in one country and an industrial tribunal in another. The fine print debate is on how well Mr Brewer knows his legal stuff, and the moral seems to be: if you’re running out of legs to stand on, don’t use what you’ve got left to kick people.

Come in No. 3
A third order to cease and desist (or face libel charges) has been sent to Phil Groom, who runs the SPCK/SSG blog . Like Dave Walker, Phil has been logging the SPCK story in recent months, including staff layoffs, industrial action against new owners SSG, and some rather fruity exchanges with Mark Brewer himself.

Phil is, like C. Montgomery Burns, incandescent with rage that his own C&D notice demands that he take down a site devoted purely to raising funds for former SPCK staff.

Here’s what he says
Mark Brewer says, “Remove this page. Immediately.”
Which page, you ask? Well five pages, actually, specified in an email he sent on July 21st whilst I was on holiday. I’ll probably tell you about the others later, if somebody else doesn’t beat me to it. But it’s his demand that I remove the fifth one on his list of supposedly offensive pages that really has me riled:

5. (Support SPCK’s Booksellers, and the Phil Groom administered “fund”)

And if I don’t remove it?
If you do not do so; i.e., remove your websites by noon GMT July 22, 2008, I will seek an injunction against you, your colleagues, associates and companies. I also will take legal action against each of you for damages for libel. In that event, I will also subpoena all records relating to the persons whom you have allowed to post defamatory material on your website in order to add them as defendants.
Mark Brewer

Phil then comments: So it’s not just me he’s gonna get, dear people: it’s you, if you’ve posted “defamatory material” on my website. As well as my “colleagues, associates and companies”. That’s a lot of people he’s threatening. But since, to the best of my knowledge, no one has posted any “defamatory material” on my website — on any of my websites, for that matter — I wouldn’t get too stressed if I were you. And the deadline’s been and gone, of course…

A friend commented on a remarkable coincidence: the date of that deadline is the same day that Randy W Williams issued his motion to dismiss SSG’S file for liquidation.

But I am now so very, very angry. How dare Mr Brewer target the very page that I set up to raise funds to support the people whose livelihoods have been destroyed by this fiasco??

Watch Phils blog today, I'm sure there'll be more.

A couple of other links: the Ship of Fools discussion thread has sprung into life again since Sam's posting.

And finally….. Tall Skinny Kiwi has a thoughtful post on blogs and legal action, and some ground rules for bloggers who don’t want to be firestarters.

It will be interesting to see what appears in todays Church Times, and there’s a prize to anyone who can work out the 4 other sites Phil Groom is supposed to shut down. It will also be interesting to see who gets involved in this post-Lambeth; there are people there following this closely, but who are giving their full attention (quite rightly) to the Lambeth Conference at the moment. Next week, more of them may have a view.