Friday, October 31, 2008

Fresh Expressions of Humour

To celebrate the appointment of Graham Cray as the new head of Fresh Expressions, following Steve Crofts move to be Bishop of Sheffield (centre of the universe), I thought it important to bring Graham up to speed on the kind of diversity he'll be dealing with.

Things have moved on a long way since he helped put together the Mission-Shaped Church report, and some intriguing new Fresh Expressions have appeared on the scene. For example:

Re-pitching the Tent - Somewhere Else (from Affirming Laudianism)
Jeremy - not his real name - had been at a vibrant evangelical church in Durham for a few years when he embraced ‘Affiming Laudianism’. ‘My city church was quite famous’ he tells us ‘as a former Archbishop of Canterbury had, in his more humble years, been vicar here and shown early success, not alas to follow him as he moved up the ladder. The church was, however, very demanding with all sorts of bible study groups and Alpha suppers. The people were also sniffy about robes.

So I began the process of re-expression. The first thing to go was the carpet, followed by the chairs. As people began to leave for the Baptists I was able to reintroduce the pews, which once again faced the newly introduced Lord’s Table. The baptists were also glad to buy the OHP, the coffee area tables and the few boxes of mission praise which George had clearly overlooked in the earlier purge. I now have much less to do and the PCC are once again happy to talk about fabric rather than outreach all the time’.

A new kind of post-Christendom worship paradigm (from The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley)

The origins of our community came out of discontent with the spurious nature of modern-day "Celtic Christianity". A movement that thinks the best way of recreating the environment in which hairy monks sailed across wild oceans, conducted three-hour services in Latin and were martyred for their faith when they weren't being flogged by the abbot for minor indisciplines - is for people to sing along to dreamy choruses while accompanied by badly-played guitars and flutes.

Looking for a more authentic spiritual experience led us to the Beaker Folk. Consider what we know about the Beaker Folk:
-They were earlier than the Celts, so they must have been even more exotic and spiritual.
- They built
- So they must have had druids.
- And the use of stones in worship. (We tend towards pebbles rather than 20 ton sarsen blocks. Easier to move).
- We like the word "folk". Makes you feel all comfy and arran-sweaterish.
- They probably had tea lights
- They were peaceful and gentle - except when massacring their neighbours to steal their wives and sheep.
- Even better - we don't really know very much about them at all. So anything we imagine they did - must be right.

Good luck Graham, we'll be praying for you.

(cartoon from ASBO Jesus)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Faith and Depression

Andi Bowsher has noticed some interesting new research on how religious practices affect depression levels. Or as Dave Walker puts it

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Azerbaijan: Free and Fair Elections?

Guest post today from Jazz, who was an observer at the Azeri elections this summer.

In between preparing my cat for his performance at the Wiltshire cat show and rearranging my CD collection autobiographically (High Fidelity, anyone?) I went to Georgia and Azerbaijan for a couple of weeks. You've never lived if you haven't been to Georgia. If, however, you've been to Azerbaijan and escaped, I will be holding therapy sessions next week during the lunch hour.

When I arrived in Tbilisi from Baku, the Azeri consular took my passport. "We'll hang on to this", he said. "How much does it cost to get it back?" I asked."It depends...maybe twenty, maybe a hundred dollars."

They kept my passport for 4 days. It cost me $135.

Feeling cheated that I'd not at least obtained some free chocolates out of the deal, I headed back to Baku to observe the national elections there. National elections are kind of like great Shakespeare plays: they're either reflections of real life or simply nothing but theatre. If this is the case, Azerbaijan makes a wonderful stage.

I started my day at half 3 in the morning and ended past midnight. Who knew observing polling stations could be so exhausting! I turned to my Azeri interpreter and asked what he thought."Well...the turnout will likely be above 95% in favour of the ruling party, but without you here maybe it would have been closer to 100%." Free and fair elections! I asked him if a cat could ever be considered fit for presidency (mine is rather clever) but he just shrugged.

Azerbaijan had some wonderful people, and I was privileged to go, passport being revoked or not. But the thing that set me straight wasn't the corruption or the hundreds of miles of nothing but oil fields. It was the willingness of so many people to give up. After so many years of illiberalism, after so many years of territorial warfare (with Armenia), even after giving up so much of their economy to the West, there were Azeris I spoke with everywhere resigned to their fate.

For some of you, this will give you cause to be thankful of where you live. Others may feel empathetic toward the Azeris. However you feel, let it be a lesson to us. "Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force, never yield to the apparent overwhelming might of the enemy"- Winston Churchill

Jazz is a community worker in Yeovil. This article was dropped from Yeovil College newsletter for being too long, but I liked it and thought it deserved an audience.

Mission, Church and Communion

Our group has nearly finished the Mission Shaped Ministry course - last weeks session on worship and sacraments had provocative questions like

What is God's mission here?
What kind of community will sustain this mission?
What spiritual disciplines will sustain the community
What worship will reflect the mission and the community?

In other words, theology (God) shapes missiology (mission) shapes ecclesiology (church).

In the light of that there are some fascinating debates around Communion, triggered by the decision by Sydney Diocese to affirm that some laypeople can preside at a communion service.

On Bishop Alans blog, there is an excellent discussion on how creative approaches to worship and sacraments can emerge from mission contexts. He has a great phrase about the Anglican church: The genius of Anglicanism, its missional crown jewels within the whole Kingdom of God, has been its ability to run essentially (but not exclusively) primitive Evangelical software on essentially (but not exclusively) primitive Catholic hardware , and some of the discussion is about how to make it all work when the Catholic hardware is too expensive or impractical to maintain.

There are 2 threads currently running on Thinking Anglicans, this one is a mixture of internal Anglican politics (which I tend to avoid) and a really interesting discussion about the nature of communion and what it is the church is doing when it celebrates it. This one I appear to have hijacked (sorry folk!) with an innocent query about whether 'real' communion needs 'real' wine, and it's evolving into a good debate about how flexible we can be, and what it is that makes it all tick in the first place.

If you're more interested in traditional Protestant doctrines of communion, you'll find a few being expounded and explored at StandFirm, so if you're doing a doctrine essay you might find it useful, but if you want a mission perspective on the debate you won't find one! The discussion at the Ugley Vicar focuses on who is a 'priest' in the first place.

There's a good article on mission and church on Fulcrum, which looks at some wider issues on what a church shaped by mission looks like.

Update: really good post by Tim Chesterton at Tale Spin.

For other mission perspectives on the sacraments, Lindsey Urwins chapter in Mission Shaped Questions is worth a read, as a traditional Anglo-Catholic trying to work out which rules apply in a mission setting. Or see this account of Transcendence, a new night church venture in York Minster which blends ancient and modern with communion at the centre of it.

And of course communion is being celebrated in loads of other churches of other denominations without an ordained Anglican priest in sight.......

Meanwhile, great to hear that Graham Cray will be taking over from Steve Croft as the leader of Fresh Expressions.

Update: Huh?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Charity Commissioners and SSG: previous history

A quick Google unearths the following:

From the Bookseller, 13.6.08: reports that the CC is to investigate St. Stephen the Great following the filing for bankruptcy in the US: A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: “We are currently considering whether this raises any issues for the Charity Commission to take forward.” Haven't heard any more about this since. I don't know if the Bookseller followed it up - there doesn't seem to be any more about this in their other articles on the saga, though the comment on this one is very interesting for other reasons.

(The Bookseller article was reported by Dave Walker on June 13th 2008, and there were 11 comments but I don't think these are accessible any more. This is one of the many sites that have reposted some of Daves stuff, if you scroll down you can find the relevant post, but it doesn't add any more information. )

A comment on Ruth Gledhills blog roughly 12 months ago noted that the Charity Commission had also investigated the sale of the bookshops to SSG by SPCK, and found it to be within the rules. It also explains why there is both an SSG and an SSG Charitable Trust registered with the Charity Commissioners - the commenter says that this was at the CC's insistence, one charity to run the bookshops, the other to purchase churches. Though if they are 2 separate charities, the storage of bookshop fittings in an SSG church seems to blur the boundaries somewhat.

So the CC already have a small file on SSG, but there's no mention in these reports of investigations into Gift Aid, filing of accounts, the relation of SSG to ENC etc., so at least Mondays letter won't be wasting their time.

A Nudge to the CofE Statisticians

The Episcopal church have just released their latest membership figures, up to 2007 (Ht Episcopal Cafe). It shows the kind of overall steady decline all too familiar to Anglicans. But what struck me more was the way the reporting was done.

Church of England stats are generally released in table form, Diocese by Diocese, with an almost bewildering array of different measures (usual Sunday attendance, Average Adult attendance, All-age weekly attendance etc.). The Episcopal table has some very simple, but helpful, bits of analysis:
- 2 clear measures of involvement: baptised members and Sunday worship attendance
- change over 1, 5, and 10 years
- & of congregations growing or declining by 10% over the last 5 years
- some breakdown of congregational size (it would be interesting to link this with the growth stats).

Some of this information simply won't be available at national level for the CofE, because of the way we collect the stats, but please can we have something like this when the next lot of attendance stats are released in the new year?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Letter to Charity Commissioners about the Society of St. Stephen the Great, and the former SPCK bookshops

With no reply from Mark Brewer after 2 weeks, I have re-sent the original letter from the 498 'We Support Dave Walker' Facebookers. I will also be putting the following letter in the post later today. I'm not really interested in who gets back to me first, I just want justice.

Re: St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (charity no. 1109008, registered 12/4/05, removed 8/8/07)
St. Stephen the Great (charity no 1119839, registered 27/6/07)
St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (subsidiary of St. Stephen the Great, registered 19.8.07)

Dear Charity Commissioners,

I have a number of concerns about the charities listed above, and would be grateful if you could look into them.

The St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) has not filed any accounts with you since March 2006, either in its original incarnation as a registered charity, or as a subsidiary of ‘St. Stephen the Great’ (SSG) SSGCT was removed from registration on 8.8.07 and re-registered as a subsidiary of SSG on 19.8.07. It is now over 30 months since any financial records have been submitted. In the meantime the company has attempted to file for bankruptcy in the USA, is subject to 30 claims through employment tribunals in the UK, and employees are reporting that pension contributions have not been kept up to date.

The claim for bankruptcy itself was thrown out by the US courts, on the basis that the main creditors were in the UK, and legal action was promptly begun against the principal SSG trustee for attempting to use the US courts to evade their responsibilities elsewhere.

Saint Stephen the Great is also the name of a trading company, registered at Companies House (Company No. 061105190), whose Directors are the same as the SSG charity Trustees. It was incorporated on 16.2.07 and as yet has filed no accounts, their last return was due in March 2008 and is now more than 7 months overdue.

SSGCT ran a chain of bookshops, which it acquired from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 2006. In June 2008 the Chairman of SSG and SSGCT emailed shop staff to inform them that:
"SSG (St Stephen the Great - limited liability company) has been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops…. The bookshops will now be operated by ENC Management Company"
ENC is listed on the Companies House website as Company Number FC028292, and it’s Directors and Secretary are the same 3 people as the St. Stephen the Great charity trustees, and the directors of the St. Stephen the Great trading company.

My concerns are as follows:
1. Your website states: Trustees of charities with income exceeding £10,000 in their last financial year are required to complete and submit an Annual Return and a copy of the trustees’ annual report and accounts. This must be done within 10 months of the end of the charity’s financial year.

SSG/SSGCT has not done this. In view of the financial situation detailed above, financial transparency would seem to be vital, yet the latest accounts only cover 2005-6. As a private citizen I would be fined if my tax return was submitted more than 9 months after the end of the tax year, but this has now been 30 months and rising. What is happening, and what processes are being followed to make SSG/SSGCT publish its accounts? Many suppliers and staff remain unpaid, and there seem to be pension payments missing as well. It is vital that up to date accounts are published to enable these claims to be properly processed.

2. If the bookshops are now being run by ENC Management Company, which has no formal relationship with any of the SSG charities, then is there a proper process for the transfer of assets from a charity to a private company, and has this been followed?

3. A memo from one of the ENC Directors, Mr Phil Brewer, to shop staff in August 2008 stated: “ On all purchases of 10 GBP or more, offer a 2 GBP discount if a donation of 1 GBP or more is made. They must also fill out a gift aid form.” A scanned copy of this memo is attached, retrieved from

However, given that the chain is now being run by ENC Management Company (a registered company) and not SSG (a charity), then is it legitimate to claim gift aid on purchases? If not, what is the legal position of staff who are being asked to do this?

4. The memo also instructs staff (no.5) inform customers that ‘thirdspacebooks’ – a website set up to support the bookshops - ‘supports charity’. However, ordering books through the site ( merely takes you to Amazon, and there is no indication on the site of which charities it supports.

5. The confusion of names does not help, nor does the fact that Third Space Books, in its photographs of the shops, shows them still trading under the name 'SPCK', a name SSG is not entitled to use.

My concern in this is as someone who has used these bookshops, and has become concerned about various aspects of the way this business is run. If you are not already looking into these irregularities, can I please ask you to do so as a matter of urgency. There are 30 former staff, and many more suppliers, who remain unpaid by this organisation, and financial transparency is essential to make sure that people receive what they are owed.

Yours sincerely
Rev David Keen

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Great word. What does it mean again?

There's a battle of the long words at the Wardman Wire, where I've posted on Antidisestablishmentarianism in reply to an earlier post about disestablishmentarianism. Have a look and see if we've justified this overuse of the available consonants in the universe.

I just feel better for seeing it down in print. It's worth the debate just for the writing and hearing of the words themselves. At the pub quiz the other night the quizmaster was struggling with a few pronunciations (Seve Ballesteros came out as 'Steve', and we won't mention the Crimean War), so, in true Christian spirit, we called ourselves the Antidisestablishmentarians and hoped we'd get in the top 3 so he'd have to read our names out. We came 2nd. He did quite well, actually.

The Bible in 60 seconds

For those of you who aren't at church this morning because you don't have the time

Ht Quotidian Grace, via Heavens Highway.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Inspiration, and Dawkins Faith, (and Harry Potter)

"Stop worrying" (1 Peter 5:7)
"Enjoy life" (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

Hey, I've just thought of a really great advertising slogan for Christians to put on buses!


Blessed if you do, blessed if you don't.

Someone must have got to work on this picture in Photoshop by now......

Meanwhile, check this:

Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?

Melanie Phillips, on a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox in Oxford this week. (Ht Mark Meynell). Lennox's book, 'Gods Undertaker' is a systematic, detailed, scientific (sometimes too technically scientific for this layman) demolition of Dawkins atheism - I'm most of the way through it at the moment, and it really is worth reading if you're interested in what Dawkins is saying. Reviewed here. You can watch a different Dawkins/Lennox debate here.

Update: a couple of links:

a bullet point summary of the Dawkins-Lennox debate at Thinking Matters

link to the full-length audio of a previous debate between the two at Critical Mass.

No sign of a video or audio of the Oxford debate yet.

Update Updated: Richard Dawkins has told More4 news that he's going to spend his retirement writing a book on whether fairy tales damage children. (also reported in the Telegraph, where he's identified as 'Prof Hawkins'.)

"I plan to look at mythical accounts of various things and also the scientific account of the same thing. And the mythical account that I look at will be several different myths."Of which the Judeo-Christian one will just be one of many. And the scientific one will be substantiated, but appeal to children to think for themselves; to look at the evidence. Always look at the evidence."

So the scientific account will be 'substantiated' but the Judeo-Christian account presented as 'myth'. Well, with such a fair and unbiased starting point, the little dears will clearly be persuaded of the merits of objective study. That's before they go home and burn all their Disney stuff (no bad thing in itself), fairy stories, poems, in fact, anything which involves the use of the imagination. But I hope Dawkins looks at the evidence, and if he finds that kids who are taught the Christian story are happier, healthier, more fulfilled and better citizens, then he'll come out in favour of it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Staying together is better for children: Government report

A report published earlier this week found that children in 2-parent families are at much lower risk of developing behavioural or emotional problems. The research is based on interviews with over 5,000 children over a 3 year period.

The report says: “The odds of developing an emotional disorder were increased for children where there had been a change in the number of parents between surveys, from two parents to one parent compared with children and young people in families that had two parents at both times.”

There have been several other bits of research which point this out, but the fact that this is a Government report may give it a bit more weight. At the moment, the Conservatives are the only political party which has policies to recognise and support marriage, whilst Labours Harriet Harman is on record as saying that "there is no 'ideal' parenting scenario" and "marriage has little relevance to public policy".

Other sites following this seem to just be quoting the Telegraph report, and the original government report doesn't seem to be online (unless I was using the wrong search terms), so the link above is all we have to go on for now. A link between losing 1 parent and emotional problems is what you'd expect, but it would be interesting to see if the children who had 1 parent at both points in the survey (2004 and 2007) showed any difference from those who had 2.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fewer and Older: New Church of England stats on clergy, ordinations, schools and finance

A new clutch of stats out today from the Church of England. It covers finance, ordinations, schools and clergy numbers. Membership data normally comes out in January.

A few headlines (see also the Church Times report)

New ordinands
The number recommended for ordination in 2007 was 595, 1 up on 2006, but the age profile remains a worry. There are more younger candidates than before, but still only 40% are under 40, and with 2-3 years at college then 3 years as a curate, it's 5-6 years from beginning training to a position of geniune responsibility. The church is trying to recruit younger leaders, but there aren't that many young people in our churches, and younger people tend to be attracted by....younger leaders. The average age of CofE vicars is now 51.

Clergy totals
The overall number of paid clergy is dropping by roughly 150 a year. Despite the increase in ordinations, high numbers are retiring or leaving vicarhood each year, over 20% of current clergy are due to retire in the next 5 years (including over half of my Deanery!). Also, more than half of those ordained are into non-stipendiary (unpaid) ministry, which isn't a like-for-like replacement to full-time paid clergy. The result is that the projections for Diocesan clergy have been revised down: Bath and Wells (my Diocese) is now allocated 187 clergy in 2012, down from 196 in the previous estimate.

Church schools
Though the overall number of church schools has dropped, they are a slightly higher proportion of the national total because of school rationalisation across the board. 18.7% of primary and 5.3% of secondary children are educated in a CofE school. However, as you'll know if you've ever been inside a church school, this can mean anything from a community school that just has 'CofE' in the name, to one where a Christian ethos is known shared and lived out in the school day.

Giving and finance
Though the CofE is shrinking, income continues to rise, with more people in tax-efficient giving schemes, giving a higher average per head. In real terms giving per head is over 50% higher than it was 20 years ago, which begs certain questions about the church of 20 years ago that I won't go into!

So What?
I'll be honest, I'm concerned about the average age of my fellow clergy, and about the ability of the CofE to maintain it's current level of activity with fewer and fewer full-time staff. I'm also concerned about the levels of stress and busyness amongst clergy in general. There are too many plates spinning, and those spinning them are (in the main) getting older.

We have to rationalise - national church, diocesan structures, sector ministries (does the Army have a 'Sheffield' figure for clergy?). And look at what we do as well - the debate rumbling elsewhere about disestablishment also has practical consequences: is having 26 bishops in the House of Lords a resource-effective way of contributing to national debate? If so, why do fringe groups like Christian Voice get on the radio more often than Bishops?

We also have to ditch two illusions:
1. That the Church of England is the only show in town. Other churches from other streams are equally part of the body of Christ, and our ministry to the nation has got to be done together. In many neighbourhoods, the 'local' church isn't an Anglican one - there's a new housing area around Weston-super-Mare which has effectively been parcelled out between Anglican, Baptist and other churches, so that each neighbourhood is served by a living local church, but it's not necessarily an Anglican one.

2. Connected to that, the parish system as currently constituted. There has never been a parish church for every community - just look at any Ordinance Survey map, or walk through a couple of urban neighbourhoods near you. Even less so has there been 1 vicar for every community.

The CofE needs to find ways of planting and sustaining churches which don't carry all the baggage of the parish system, which don't need a full-time vicar to oversee them, or all the financial and practical burdens of a building, or the requirement to lay on an event every Sunday morning called 'worship'. Much of our energy as churches is spent on maintaining a building to hold our weekly 'worship' event in, and in putting on the event itself. Fundraising, buildings maintenance and event management - is this the core calling of the church?

There used to be stories of a church which met in houses, prayed and worshipped together, pooled its money to help the poor, and tried to live out the teachings of Jesus and his followers. You can find it in Acts. There has to be a simpler way of doing this.

My Thoughts on Disestablishment

.... are few, but include this -
The Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England
Mr. King is Governor of the Bank of England.

This is a pleasing symmetry which has all the marks of Intelligent Design, thus proving Richard Dawkins and the Atheibus lobby wrong, and proving that we should have an established church. QED.

Now can we discuss something else?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Slogan

Following the atheist bus campaign, their Facebook group is looking for other slogans to go on the side of London buses. As one commenter writes: "The slogan used is really pants. Come on people, we can do better."

This is probably the kind of thread Madpriest should be hosting, but you heard the lady. We can do better than 'There probably is no God, now stop worrying and enjoy life.'

And you can probably do better than mine:
"Jesus, probably the best deity in the world"
"There probably is no bus, but step off the kerb and find out for yourself"
"I was enjoying life, then I read Dawkins"
"Look both ways"

good discussion here too.

And of course, this is all a convenient distraction whilst abortion law and embryo research are voted on in the commons today. Update: last minute amendments will make it possible for cloning to be done without consent from donated tissue . These have been thrown in at the last minute, without the chance for proper scrutiny, and they will be voted on today.

The alliance of scientists, biotech enthusiasts and parliamentarians behind the amendments seem to believe that no public case needs to be made for these changes, convinced as they are that cloning is the next big thing in medical research and that the UK has to be the Silicon Valley of this new industry. The dense thicket of over 100 amendments added to the HFE bill provided the perfect opportunity to slip in provisions that would otherwise be extremely controversial.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

There is probably no God: so start worrying.

A new advertising campaign will be running the slogans 'There is probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy life' on the side of London buses. (HT Dave Walker).

The Beeb report quotes Richard Dawkins:
Professor Dawkins said: "Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride - automatic tax breaks, unearned respect and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children.

"Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side. This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion."

'Accustomed to getting a free ride' says the Oxford academic who gets a prime time TV slot for his anti-religious propaganda.

'Unearned respect' - sure, if you discount founding the school system, hospitals, welfare state, care for orphans and the homeless, not to mention several Premier league football clubs, and most of the founding fathers of modern science.

'The right to brainwash children' - really? Scientific evidence please, Mr Dawkins, you've obviously not heard of the national curriculum.

'thinking is anathema to religion' - it may be anathema to certain campaigning atheists (did you read your own book reviews?), but that's just insulting nonsense. Most great thinkers have been people of religious faith, several were strongly motivated by their religion to 'think God's thoughts after him'.

And as for that slogan: who is actually worrying because they believe there is a God? What research there is seems to show that people of faith have longer and happier lives, and are more content with their lot, than those without. It's more a counsel of despair to claim that this is all there is, that your life has no greater purpose or meaning, and that you are the product of random chance plus time and nothing more, and that survival of the fittest is the only 'moral' system which goes with the grain of the universe. If you get run down by one of those buses, tough, you clearly were too stupid or slow to react not to get ejected from the gene pool.

The original idea actually makes a bit of sense: a Guardian writer who saw Bible verses on buses and found that the advertised website told her she'd burn in hell if she didn't accept Jesus. The thing is, if this is so off-putting, you don't actually need adverts for atheism. I'm pretty sceptical about Bible verses in public myself, especially if they're from the King James version. The Alpha 'questions' campaign is much better, and somewhere in the middle is the 'Billboards from God' that ran in the US a few years ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

If you shopped at SPCK/SSG, check your bank statements

A box of credit card slips and personnel information has, it seems, been left at one vacated SPCK shop. Thankfully it has fallen into safe hands, but if this has been repeated elsewhere then it's worth checking your bank statements, just in case. Hopefully no fraud has resulted.

I gather the former Exeter SPCK is currently being refitted, so if you're passing and can check what was left behind there, that could be a great public service.

Meanwhile, one week on, I'm not aware of a reply from Mr. Mark Brewer to the letter sent by nearly 500 of us last week, though we did ask him to contact Dave Walker to withdraw the Cease and Desist. I'm guessing he's been on holiday.

Mission, Money and Membership. And Boxing.

Start the Week highlights a major report on the spending of CofE Mission funding: 'A Review of the Church of Englands Mission Development Funding 2002-7' . £24m has been allocated over the last 5 years, most of it spent on new projects, though the report seems to conclude that, because monitoring of results is patchy, it's hard to draw firm conclusions. Mission funding seems, from anecdotal evidence, to be working, but there is little more than anecdote to go on.

Thursday (I think) sees the publication of the latest CofE attendance stats. 'Latest' being 2007, we're currently in the middle of collecting membership figures for 2008, and have to record how many people come to our services each week in October. It would be really interesting to see how the 12 months from collecting this data to publishing it actually pans out......

Meanwhile, a couple of good examples of local mission this week, clowning vicar Roly Bain is coming to Chilthorne Domer Village Hall at 4pm on Sunday 26th October to help launch 'God4All' a Sunday afternoon all-age service in a local village. All welcome, he really is worth seeing in action.

And Howard Davenport, utterly bonkers pastor of the local Elim Church, is having a boxing match with the proprietor of the Devils Den tatoo parlour. On a bouncy castle. The 'Heaven Versus Hell Smackdown' is on Wednesday at the Orange Box in Yeovil. It's for charity, apparently.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vicars Encouraged to Get Their Kit Off

.... by a 'report' into clergy robes and mission.

A report? Not really. The 'report' turns out to be a Grove Booklet, which are sort of long essays on a variety of topics, and widely read because they're booklets, rather than reports. It's not the first time they've covered this topic - there was another Grove booklet on clergy clothes in 1996. The Grove tagline is 'not the last word, and often the first' - i.e. they are supposed to be provocative and open up debate.

Unfortunately other sources are quoting the Telegraph, rather than checking the source of the information by Googling it. So if you can't beat 'em:

"The existing law, which makes robes obligatory for all, belongs to a bygone world. In the 21st century Anglican ministers must at last be given the freedom to decide their own clothing, in consultation with their congregations, based on their local setting," said Mr Atherstone, a tutor at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University.

Methinks: fair enough.

Update: Dave Walker has, as you'd expect, given this some serious thought and in-depth analysis. 1000 words-worth, anyway.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Behind the Collar: Funerals

Taking a funeral is one of the hardest things I do. Having two in one day on Tuesday all but wiped me out for the rest of the week.

It starts with a phone call from the undertakers - we have some very good ones in Yeovil, and it's no reflection on them that my heart sinks every time they ring up. Taking someone's funeral is an immense privilege, but I'd be lying if I said it was my favourite part of being a vicar. A few details down the phone, then you ring the family to arrange to meet up. Having to ring someone you've never met, out of the blue, to express condolence and to fix a meeting normally means I put the call off for a day. I'd be hopeless in telesales, ringing people up isn't something I find very easy, never mind judging exactly what to say.

The Visit
Then we meet, and most of the time is spent scribbling down notes - often folk launch into their summary of the deceased persons life before you've even sat down, and it's vital to capture all of those words. I always breathe a sigh of relief if someone from the family offers to give the tribute, because if they don't then it's my job to stand up and tell the life story - usually a story of a person I've never known or met. Normally in the funeral service I'm very up front with the fact that I didn't know the person, and that I'm not going to pretend that I knew them.

At one funeral, of the youngest of 6 brothers, each of the other 5 had written down their own words for the vicar to say, and my job was to edit all 5 accounts together and deliver the tribute. They bought me a pint afterwards, so it must have gone okay. I try to use the words that mourners themselves use, rather than try to read between the lines - this isn't a time for guessing games.

At the funeral visit you're trying to gauge mood as well: emotions can range all over the place. Family splits come to the surface, and the occasional skeleton emerges from the closet. If everyone knows that the dead person was an absolute scumbag, who beat his children and swore at his neighbours, then you've got to acknowledge that somehow, without starting the funeral service with "we're here to remember John, who, as you all know, was an absolute scumbag...."

There's a whole mix of emotions: grief, relief, numbness, anger, exhilaration, guilt, you name it. And for the bereaved, questions. Did we do enough for them? Were we there at the moment of death? Is it ok to feel relieved that they're not suffering any more? Is it ok to feel relieved that we don't have to look after them 24/7 any more? And for the vicar, how do you reassure people truthfully when you don't really know the circumstances?

The Service
The funeral service is normally booked into a 30 minute slot at the crematorium. That actually means 20 minutes for the service itself. One of the first ones I took had so many mourners that we were still filling the building 10 minutes after the start time. Crem staff can get a bit twitchy, one former employee came into a service a few years ago and told them to get a move on as they were running late: that's why he's a former employee! Especially after it was picked up by a national newspaper....

There's normally both laughter and tears at a 'good' funeral - both are ways of releasing grief, and the incredible pressure and weight that can build up. Funny stories are great. It's a fine line - you want to celebrate the good things in someone's life, as well as recognise the deep grief and loss that people are feeling. Being remorselessly downbeat isn't helpful, being chirpy isn't helpful either.

There are some standard Bible readings for funerals, but where possible I try to find something new, which linked to the persons life: for a man who had worked on trawlers at Grimsby, we had an encounter between Jesus and Peter the fisherman. If folk have asked for a vicar, and a Christian funeral, then I want to set everything in the context of the Christian faith. Old, familiar words (Psalm 23, the Lords Prayer) often help, but also how you say them. Sometimes it feels like you're having faith and hope on behalf of other people who haven't got them, but need someone to have more faith than they do.

Over the years I've become more challenging - trying to pick out the things in the deceased's life that folk can be inspired by, trying to give some sense of hope or direction for the future. For many people a funeral reminds them of their own mortality, how long they might have left (especially at an untimely death), and how they're going to be remembered.

What are people going to say about you at your funeral? Alfred Nobel was one of the few who got to find out. He was surprised, to say the least, to read his own obituary in the paper one day. Even more shocking was the content: it described him as a 'merchant of death', who, by his invention of dynamite, had 'become rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.' Nobel decided this wasn't the legacy he wanted to leave, and changed his will to endow the Nobel Peace prizes.

And then...
The service is a threshold, a final farewell, a marker post in the grief journey, and if you botch it then you can really mess people up. I'm all for children being in the service if they want to come - kids who are kept away when they wanted to be there will often feel a strong sense of unfinished business. And it's over in no time, people are filing out, shaking hands, looking at the messages on the flowers, wondering quite what to say to each other. And for the vicar it's back to the little office to take off your robes, pack everything away, and head off to the next thing. My journey home on Tuesday morning took me via the parent and toddler group - from one end of life to the other in 5 minutes.

This is a cross-post from Touching Base, a weekly column hosted by the Wardman Wire. And thanks to the Britblog Roundup for linking here.

Friday, October 17, 2008


At time of posting, no reply as yet from Mr. Mark Brewer. However, if you want something to pass the time, there's a fascinating and 'robust' exchange related to a video that the Society of St. Stephen the Great posted on Youtube. You may recognise some of the commenters, others are a matter for detective work.

On October 20th it will be 90 days since Dave Walker had his 'cease and desist'. His 'Save the SPCK' button is all that remains.
meanwhile, great to hear that the Cardiff bookshop has been revived. And if you want a widget like the one in my sidebar to keep up to date with the latest SPCK-related news, go here. Thanks to Matt W for creating this.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Home Secretary Knows You're Reading This

Just imagine the government knew every website you'd visited, the addresses of every email you'd sent, who you'd rung, where, when and for how long. Actually, don't bother, because this isn't imagination, it's real.

the BBC reports today that Details of the times, dates, duration and locations of mobile phone calls, numbers called, website visited and addresses e-mailed which are currently held for 12 months, will be held for a minimum of 2 years under new laws, and potentially kept on a searchable database. That means they'll probably be left lying around on 2nd hand hard drives in trains as well.

It's a good time to bury bad news: scrapping SATS, abandoning 42 day detention, and now ratching up government snooping, all buried under a pile of used banknotes and stockbrokers empty packets of Valium.The governments own experts are opposed to this legislation, which isn't very encouraging.

Garbo comments, better than I could:
Sometimes enough really is enough. If we hadn’t reached the point already, then this morning’s “spit your cornflakes out moment” is the Communications Data Bill. Even the government’s terror watchdog thinks this is just too much. The Bill proposals include a giant database to store details of all phone calls, e-mails and internet use made by each and every one of us.

...the fact is I wouldn’t mind so much if I could trust the government not to misplace the data. Or, more to the point, not use such emotive rhetoric when in reality you can bet your bottom dollar the stated purpose of these initiatives and laws creep well beyond the remit of tackling terrorism. Because of this creep I am becoming more and more cynical due solely to the misuse of these so called terrorism powers.

We’ve had people walking on cycle paths arrested under terrorism laws, we’ve had Walter Wolfgang our very own 85 year terrorist (crime: he shouted nonsense to Jack Straw). There have been arrests of demonstrators at Heathrow airport – demonstrating against a third runway! Only last week Gordon Brown used terrorism laws to suspend Icelandic assets. In all there have been well over 1000 people arrested under terrorism laws – with only 40 convictions. Now I dare say many of these were correct and proper arrests… but only 4% actually proving to be associated with terrorist activity? Hmmm.

I am all for the government tightening up on a few civil liberties in the name of protecting us from terrorism. But they have a duty not to misuse these powers. Up to now they have misused these powers dreadfully. But Lord Carlile, the government-appointed reviewer of anti-terror legislation has said of the latest proposals “As a raw idea it is awful.” He also added “it should not be open season” on collecting data, under the mantle of fighting terrorism – implying that this Bill is open season.

This piece of legislations is unnecessary and it stinks. The government can already spy on suspected terrorists, why should the rest of be suspects too? Somehow and somewhere we need to find a balance between what laws are genuinely there to protect the public and what laws are being used outside this remit.... in short we need to ensure that terrorism laws are used for just that - fighting terrorism. Any policeman or government agency using these laws for any other purpose must be dealt with by the courts.

We all say and do things with friends that we might regret or that could be taken out of context if heard by the public or maybe even the government. And we all have private conversation with friends and loved ones that are, quite frankly, no one else’s business whatsoever. Who knows, taken out of context this blog post could be interpreted as a threat.

The bizarre thing is that if the government had micromanaged the financial markets with the same zeal they have for invading personal freedoms, we'd not have a credit crunch or a crisis in the banking sector. Did you get that Jacqui?

'Ancient-Future Worship' event in Keynsham

In my inbox today, looks like a good training event on worship, and a good quality line-up:

A major worship event in the Southwest...
Ancient-Future Worship

Saturday 22nd November at St John's Church, Keynsham, Bristol BS31 2BL

3pm - 6pm Workshops (see prices below) for music leaders, worship leaders, singers, instrumentalists, all involved in creative arts, all who value creative broad worship; topics include: Ancient-Future Worship, Gospel, multisensory worship, Celtic worship, folk music, choral music

7pm - 9pm Evening Celebration - free! (with collection) - all welcome - come and experience a glorious integration of these and other worship styles and streams!

Leaders - Geraldine Latty, Rev John Leach, Richard Hubbard, Tim Martin, Rev Simon Howell, Roger Peach, Gill Trueman

Please visit the mwf website for full details, including on-line boooking, or follow this link

Early booking deadline for workshops expires on Wed 22nd October. Prices: £10 Full price, £9 if booked by 22 October, £8 mwf friends / Associates, £6 full-time students / unwaged. For every five people booked from one church a sixth comes free.

Please help to spread the word about this by forwarding this email to anyone who might be interested. We hope you can come and join us for this very special event; early booking for workshops recommended. Thank you.

Fresh Expressions News

a few extracts from octobers 'e-xpressions' newsletter

National Day of Pilgrimage 8th December Bookings are arriving daily for our pilgrimage day with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Coventry Cathedral on forming fresh expressions of church in a sacramental and contemplative tradition. Early booking is advised. (

New stories The Coventry day will feature a number of fresh expressions including Blesséd. Read more about Blesséd this month on the website. (

You can also catch up on Fellowship at Grannies - a fresh expression which meets in a tea shop in Nottinghamshire - on next months podcast. Download the podcast here( or go direct to i-Tunes and subscribe to it from there (

Church unplugged: Remodelling the church without losing your soul
David Male, who pioneered the Net in Huddersfield has written an engaging, honest and practical book telling the story and drawing out some of the lessons. It's a great read and highly commended.

mixed economy
Our new journal launches this month. It's loaded with good stories about mission in traditional churches and fresh expressions. A copy will be sent to all circuit superintendents and rural deans. You can order copies for your own leadership team from the website free of charge or download the entire journal. Watch out for the Archbishop of Canterbury's piece on the nature of the church: crystal clear and immensely powerful. (

if you want to get the regular 'e-xpressions' email newsletter, then contact:
web: email:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Anyone Seen My Moral Compass?

A thought-provoking Steve Tilley post:

most leaders live with axioms - statements that they tend to bring out regularly which guide their decision making.

and Steve lists a few of his own. Bill Hybels apparently has 76, which makes me wonder how he manages to decide on anything. So here's a few of mine, off the top of my head.

Without vision, the people perish
Communication is about who you are as much as what you say
Don't let your ministry outgrow your character or your prayer life
The local church is the hope of the world
Mission is the agenda
The everyday is spiritual, if you look hard enough
Family is a sacred trust
Action and reflection, not either/or
Everyone is here for a reason.
Who is going to do this, and when?
How does this help the person who's not yet a Christian?
Take responsibility for your own growth: we only spoon feed babies.
It's better to win people than win an argument
Some things are too important to be left to chance.

Don't copy my list, blog your own......

...and Tale Spin has some excellent maxims for a happy marriage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Key Stage 3 SATS Abolished

Hoorah. Now follow the logic and abolish KS1 and KS2 SATS as well, or at least give schools the chance to opt out and use the time normally spent cramming for SATS to actually educate our kids.

Trouble is, it's all tied up with the need for 'league tables' and 'parent choice' which are great ways to ensure social division (all the parents who can afford it move house into the catchment areas for good schools, so the poorer you are, the less chance you have of getting a good education for your child). So parent choice only works for those who can afford it, and it fails everyone else. There's got to be a better way.

Safe as the Bank of....

The Co-operative Bank has been significant by it's absence from the headlines in the last few weeks. Why? Probably because it has an ethical banking policy, which curbs the lending of money to people who can't pay it back (like a couple I heard of last week, both on benefits, who were sold a mortgage which they then couldn't pay). It sounds like the Co-op is doing ok.

Given the pickle that other banks have got themselves into, and the levels of shock that Lehmanns etc. caused when they 'suddenly' went bankrupt, either some people have been incredibly incompetent, a lot of facts have been hidden from the public, investors, and staff, or people have wilfully ignored those facts in pursuit of just a bit more profit (this is also known as greed).

Where moral bankruptcy leads, actual bankruptcy follows.

Update: interesting, if slightly technical, article from the FT (HT Politics Home):
How could banks have persuaded themselves, their shareholders and the public that they were making so much money when in reality they were losing it? The history of financial deception and self-deception is as old as humanity,

Monday, October 13, 2008

St. Aidan Gets Political

This blog has just been added to a directory of political blogs by prominent conservative blogger Ian Dale. Now that we're in the Total Politics Blog directory, it's interesting to find that I've not been categorised as a Religious Blog. 'This blog defies categorisation' - it's official!

Politically I'm down as 'Non-Aligned', which is about right, and it's an, erm, education to be on the same page as blogs called 'Static Squid' and 'Tampon Teabag'.

A Letter to Mark Brewer

The following was sent this morning, on behalf of the We Support Dave Walker Facebook group.

Dear Mr. Brewer

We are writing on behalf of 498 supporters of cartoonist and blogger Dave Walker, a group which includes bishops, national journalists in the UK and US, lawyers, clergy, and concerned members of the public.

We would like to ask you please to contact Dave Walker and withdraw the demands made in the 'Cease and Desist' letter which you sent him in July. Your letter, as far as we know, instructed Dave to remove all his posts about the recent history of SPCK bookshops or face action for libel. With the pressures of the impending Lambeth conference, and a very short deadline given by yourself, Dave complied. He commented at the time: “I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.”

Many of us have read the posts concerned, and are surprised, to say the least, that they could be called libelous. Indeed, the first three posts make no mention at all of yourself, the Society of St. Stephen the Great, or anyone associated with you. The 4th post reports your takeover of the bookshops with the comment “this is splendid news.” Another post is a simple link to your SSG video on YouTube. Other items include verbatim reports of your own statements, and in the simple post on the death of Steve Jeynes, dozens of people used the comments to expressed their grief and condolences to Steve’s family.

Dave is a reasonable man, and if all critics were as fair as he is the world would be a better place. If you were able to reconsider, and point out specific statements and claims you were unhappy with, we are sure Dave would be happy to correct them where appropriate. This is the normal process of debate on the internet, and in real life, and follows the strong tradition of free speech for which our countries stand and are rightly proud.

So this is a polite request from all of us: please contact Dave Walker, advise him that your ‘cease and desist’ communication no longer stands, and let him report freely.

Yours sincerely

8 signatories representing the ‘We Support Dave Walker’ group.

If you're wondering what this is all about, see Matt Wardmans introduction, Phil Grooms introduction, and all the Dave Walker posts which were taken down are here at 'Cease and Desist', so you can review the evidence for yourself. For what's happened since Dave removed his posts, use the SPCK tag in the sidebar, or the SPCK/SSG blog.

Update: please take the '498' figure with a pinch of salt. The group is now up to 500 again. If you're not a member, please visit and join up.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

'Graham Kendrick Wrecked Britain' Claims 'Journalist'

Thanks to Dave Walker for the link to this brilliant spoof article by Quentin Letts of the Daily Newspaper-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. This, lets remember, is the only bible-believing newspaper left in the land.

Sorry, let me just wipe that off the keyboard.

The article is about the 50 people who ruined Britain, juxtaposed with a picture of a naked Britney Spears, an actress's malfunctioning cleavage, and an advert for gambling. I'd better read the Bible again, it's racier than I thought. Anyway. Languising at 39 on the list is none other than Graham Kendrick:

Kendrick, who has a personal website complete with an efficient shopping section (as opposed to the Mail, which has a horoscope section), is the nation's pre-eminent churner-outer of evangelical bilge. Imagine Pam Ayres without the humour.
He started writing hymns in the late Sixties and has now written 400 of the ruddy things. Should it not be a strength of Anglican worship that it does not move with the times and instead provides continuity at a time of baffling change?

But no. It's out with the harmonium! In with the electric guitar! Out with the hymns sung by our forebears, such as He Who Would Valiant Be and Hills Of The North. In with the roughagerich Bind Us Together or the negro spiritual cum grammatical solecism It's A Me, O' Lord.

The sturdy hymns of England, musical embodiment of the stoicism, resolve and undemonstrative solidarity of our nation, are in severe peril.... etc. etc.

yes, well, neither of the examples above were written by Kendrick, and I've not been in a church for 20 years that's sung 'Bind us Together'. Clearly Letts hasn't either, judging by the amount of vitriol he's happy to heap on other people. He should try it sometime. And of course the organ is an innovation in terms of church music, being a scandalous novelty in the early 1800's. If Anglican worship hadn't moved with the times it would still be in Latin, possibly even using words like 'roughagerich', so that instead of singing meaningful hymns we'd still be burbling away in a language nobody understood.

So it must be a spoof, right? If you'd rather discuss it as a serious argument, then go here.

Update: and an excellent post here, which says what I'd like to say but much better.

Bipolar Banking? Analysing the Money Markets

I'm not sure I agree with the Pope.

"We see it now in the collapse of the great banks that money disappears, it's nothing," he remarked earlier this week. I'm sure he'd have been just as chilled if St. Peters Rome (completed with the money raised by selling time off purgatory to medieval peasants), had collapsed. The moral he drew was that God is more dependable than money.

But this isn't a crisis of money, it's a crisis of faith. 5 live's phone-in yesterday morning included Kriss Akabusi, who reminded us what we already knew, that the word 'confidence' comes from the Latin for 'with faith'. (You didn't? Me neither)

Market Mentality
Look at the language people are using: 'the main emotions are panic and fear' (Times) 'uncertainty and fear' (George Bush) 'panic, fear, frenzy' (Telegraph), 'brutal...riot...chaos' (Wall Street Journal: bit more macho). What's striking is that most of it is psychological language. The crisis is not quite 'all in the mind', but it's close. The talk is about rebuilding confidence - without confidence the market won't stabilise, but until the market stabilises people won't have confidence. Oops.

If you had to compare the graph of any banking share over the last 12 months to a mental state, it would be manic depression. The manic phase: overpricing, fuelled by reckless borrowing, has turned almost overnight to a spiral down. Take HBOS: somewhere between £12 and £1.20 is (shareholders hope), the true value of the company. But it doesn't change that quickly over 18 months.

One thing I admire about Alastair Campbell is his openness about his depression, of which there is more in a documentary tomorrow. Our financial markets are cracking up too. Unfortunately, being in a room full of 1000 other panicking people doesn't make it easy to stop panicking. Just as modern life is toxic to mental stability, so is the stock market.

I remember those neat little charts from economics 'O' level (GCSE for you young 'uns), which made market behaviour look oh so scientific. The worshippers of the free market maintain that the market system itself is fine, but after the last few weeks, that belief seems increasingly psychotic (= loss of contact with reality). Whilst the real economy grinds slowly into recession, share prices cry 'look at me' as they jump from a cliff. The Gadarine swine, who hurled their demon-possessed porcine bodies into a lake from a cliff-top, are the closest biblical metaphor.

Medicating the Market
So who will cast the demons out of the pigs? The challenge is at least as much a mental one as an economic one: what will trip the psychology of the markets into an upswing, or, at the very least, boring old stability? What is the seroxat for stock markets? We have the talking cures (one a day from George Bush), and a sizeable one-off financial pill, but every depressant knows that medication works -when it works at all - only when you take it regularly over the long term.

What is the long term medicine? Gordon Brown, speaking on Monday, outlined a moral solution:
"My values, the values of the country, celebrate hard work, effort, enterprise and responsible risk taking - qualities that markets need to ensure that the rewards that flow are seen to be fair....And that is why we back the work ethic; we support effort and enterprise and responsible risk-taking. These are the morals markets need."

So the problem, according to Brown, is irresponsibility, lack of trust etc., and the solution is a more robust moral code for the markets.
Just in case we hadn't got it, he said the same thing again on GMTV on Thursday: "I am angry at irresponsible behaviour. Our economy is built around people who work hard, who show effort, who take responsible decisions, and whether there is excessive and irresponsible risk-taking, that has got to be punished."

That's all well and good: markets without a moral foundation don't work. If there is no trust, integrity, honesty etc. then there is no basis for open trade and commerce. But is that enough? Will it stop the kind of speculation and herd psychology which drives markets over a cliff? And if not, what's the alternative?
This is the way the world ends, not with a whim, but with a banker.
(ht) We don't know if global 21st century capitalism can survive without epidemic levels of borrowing, because we've never tried it that way before. But we do know if we don't try a different way, there won't be a globe full stop. Like it or not, global recession is the only sure-fire way to reduce our carbon footprint.

It's too soon to tell whether we'll look back on autumn 2008 as the beginning of the madness, or its end: the final dash to a watery grave of an unbalanced and unsustainable system. How's the patient, nurse?

(cross-posted from Touching Base, a weekly column at the Wardman Wire)

Thursday, October 09, 2008


I was just drafting a letter to Mr. Mark Brewer on behalf of all 500 members of the 'We Support Dave Walker' group and then found, to my dismay, that there are now less than 500 again! Whilst not falling as fast as the New York Stock Exchange, it does sound a bit more impressive to say that you're writing on behalf of 500 people. 494 sounds like a DVD price at Woolworths.

Help me out here people! And don't worry, we won't be releasing your names unless you actively indicate that you want to counter-sign the letter, so if you join the group you won't be subject to a 'cease and desist' demand.

Just a reminder that there are plenty of places to view the posts Dave Walker was forced to remove. This site has all 81, and apologies for misleading you, as I've previously said that there were 75. Technically there probably are 75, as at least the first 3 of these posts make no mention of Mark Brewer, the Society of St. Stephen the Great, or anyone associated with them.

Christmas Outreach Ideas: Better Soon than Never

Yes Christmas is a long way off, but if you want to do something creative or a bit different for Christmas then now might be the time to start thinking about it. Here are some ideas which have worked in other places:

- Christmas services in secular venues: e.g. Christingle in a garden centre, or a supermarket foyer/café coupled with a till collection. Darlington ASDA let us do a Christingle on Christmas Eve – it drew nearly 200 people and raised hundreds of £ for charity, as well as being a great community event. The local football club is another good slot: large crowds who are used to singing, though health and safety might mean that candles aren't allowed. Get them to switch on their mobiles instead.

- Carol singing – house to house, in local pubs or local gathering places.

- Blue Christmas: a Christmas service for people who don’t like Christmas, either due to bereavement or for other reasons. There are resources for this here from Ottawa Diocese.

- Posada (where figures of Mary and Joseph journey from house to house during Advent. A set of resources have been developed by the Church Army

- Giant Advent Calendar: an idea pioneered by churches in Warwick, having Advent windows opening at various places in the community, along with various workshops (wreath making, Christingle making) run by the churches. Would work especially well in a town centre, or in a compact village community.

- St Nicholas Day Biscuits A Dutch tradition of making biscuits on St. Nicholas Day (5th December) and taking them round to the neighbours. Great way to get to know people in your neighbourhood, something pretty much anyone in the congregation can do.

If it's Advent ideas you're looking for, try Maggi Dawn, and if you have a bit longer, then A Holy Christmas is a veritable behemoth of a site, with links to resources all over the place, both for Advent and Christmas. A few of the links are out of date, but don't let that put you off. Here are some of the sections:
Advent Calendars Advent Study Guides Advent Candlelighting Advent & Christmas Prayer Advent Wreath: Customs & Prayers Advent Preparations Christingles Jesse Trees Hanging Of The Greens Advent Meditations Advent: Other Advent & Christmas Sermons Who is Jesus? Where It Took Place Biblical Accounts & Studies Christmas History, Symbols & Traditions Christmas Eve Customs Christmas Eve Services Christmas Day Special Days Special Christmas Indexes Special Christmas Pages Christmas & Advent Hymns & Carols Christmas MIDIs Christmas Cantatas Christmas Poems Christmas Story Collections Christmas Classics: Stories Christmas Legends Christmas Dramas Christmas Narrative Sermons Christmas Meditations Various Articles Special Projects Specials: Presentations, TV Shows, Etc. Books and Movies Christmas Countdown Chat Christmas Lists Christmas Quizzes, Puzzles, Games Special Places Christmas Card Pages Special International Christmas Pages Australian Christmas Pages Christmas Travel Christmas At War Aspects Of Christmas

lets face it, nobody will be buying anything, so there'll be lots of people with time on their hands for something different........

(this, well, some of it, is an extract from Biscuit Tin, an Anglican mission newsletter for the Yeovil area)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mature Church?

(This is an extract from 'Biscuit Tin', a mission newsletter for Yeovil Deanery, which was published this week. More snippets to follow in the next few days.)

Mission Insights: The Mature Church

What is a mature church?

One of the pressing questions for new and ‘fresh expression’ churches is to grow to maturity. One criticism of such churches is that they are a trendy or shallow response to changing culture. We need to find a way of discerning when newly planted churches, and fresh expressions, can be considered to have ‘grown up.

But that itself presents a challenge. We all know adults who behave in immature ways. Just because you are legally ‘mature’ (e.g. old enough to drive a car) doesn’t mean you’ll act mature. A mature church therefore isn’t just one that’s been around a long time, or has the right legal status. So what are the marks of maturity?

a) Structural maturity.
Mission pioneer Henry Venn, back in the 19th century, looked for 3 qualities of new churches planted on the mission field. They had to be

1. Self-financing 2. Self-governing 3. Self-propagating.

On this ‘three-self’ basis, a mature church would pay its own way, look after its own affairs and organisation, and bear fruit. This fruit would either mean planting new churches, or raising up new gifts and leadership within itself. In all of this there is the maturity of independence, standing on your own two feet, becoming a fruitful contributor, rather than a net recipient of support and resources.

b) Personal and Community Maturity
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians of the church growing to maturity in Christ. This includes the use of spiritual gifts, loving relationships, a sound understanding of Christian truth, a Christ-like lifestyle and integrity, with everyone playing their part. A church which isn’t marked by love, where the lifestyle of members isn’t markedly different from non-Christians, which has a fragile grasp on Scripture, or where most of the congregation are passive consumers, is not a mature church.

There is also an intellectual component: it isn’t mature simply to obey without question everything you are told. A mature church will ask questions of its heritage and traditions. Neither is it mature to get excitable over every new thing – we love this in children, but see it as flakiness in adults. A mature church will ask questions of culture and change, and stand in a critical relationship to society.

c) Barriers to Maturity
The soon-to-be King David, on volunteering to fight Goliath, was given Sauls armour. This was a mature mans armour, but it was too cumbersome. David knew what he was doing. Some of our younger churches will be more effective if they don’t have to wear the same armour. A small church plant in a new estate doesn’t need a 14th century building to make it a church. A community café doesn’t need a paid incumbent. However, fresh expressions do need to grow and develop, and move from being projects to self-sustaining communities of disciples. It’s interesting that Jesus helps this to happen among the disciples by leaving them!

So this is not just a question for new churches, but for all our churches. Do we have the marks of structural and personal maturity, outlined above? Do we think and ask questions, or accept the status quo (and fear everything else)? Do we deal with conflict in a mature way, or more like children?

Questions (for PCC’s, leadership teams, home groups, or just personal reflection)
1. How is maturity different from being adult?
2. How is our church doing on the marks of maturity? If the Diocese of Bath and Wells (and all its clergy) shut down tomorrow, how well would the church stand on its own two feet?
3. How is our church growing and bearing fruit? Is there any fruit missing?
For further reading: George Lings ‘Fresh Expressions: growing to maturity’ in Croft (ed). ‘The Future of the Parish System’ (Church House 2006)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

No Sense of Occasion

Sad to say that The Occasion youth and childrens work conference at Monks Yard this Saturday has been cancelled. See this post to see what it would have been about.

Idol Capital

a cartoon from Jon Birch. His 'Greed Creed' is also worth checking out.

US Politics Explained

HT to Tom Harris for this Sarah Palin flow chart: doesn't matter what you think about US politics, this is funny. (Bishop Alan has the video version)
And HT Wardman Wire for alerting me to Tom Harris's blog in the latest Britblog roundup. It's supposed to be the no.1 left wing political blog, and I'd never even read it before. Like I said before, how many of us are just talking to ourselves?

Monday, October 06, 2008

St. Michael Needs an Upgrade

Madpriest spotted this St. Michael figurine whilst leafing through a church supplies mag the other day. I guess the pseudo-Roman attire has a certain period charm*, but is the Archangel still using that old sword, or does the weaponry need an upgrade?

No doubt there is already, somewhere in the USA, a range of angelic action figures with bullet proof vests and grenades, or perhaps a Matrix-style shades and overcoat.

What would the 21st century Michael wear? Over to you.....

(*ok, it doesn't really. And does anyone else think it looks like David Ginola?)

All the Fun of the Wedding Fair

We ran a church stall at the local wedding fair yesterday at the Westlands leisure complex in Yeovil. There's a first time for everything and thankfully it was a world away from the hard sell Apprentice version, and quite fruitful.

The stall had 2 goals:
1. To be an information point for church weddings, and to explain the changes in rules on these. We'd booked the stall months ago, so to then find that the rules had changed on Oct 1st was great timing.
2. Marriage Preparation: we use the 'Marriage Preparation Course' from HTB at our local church, and it's 95% suitable for people who aren't having a church wedding, so we offered folk the chance to come on the course.

Some reflections

On the Stall
The fair gave us a standard 6-foot table for our £80 booking fee. Thankfully I'd thought of a tablecloth just before leaving the house, which made it look a lot nicer. On the table we had various freebies: the 'Ready for Marriage' booklets from htb (£1 each, we give one to everyone who books a wedding with us), and the CofE's guide to weddings, which needs revising to include the new wedding rules. Also a basket of Celebrations chocolates - I was surprised nobody else had any, but that gave us a good pretext for going round all the other stallholders, plying them with chocolate.

We also had a laptop running the Marriage Prep DVD throughout the day. With background music, you couldn't really hear the soundtrack, but it has a subtitles option so that came in really handy.

There was a sign-up sheet for copies of the leaflets, or to ask for more information about the marriage prep course. Everyone who signed will get an invitation to the course February, but we'll not use their details for anything else. I also had some 'business' cards which we gave out to folk who were interested, but not interested to the point of writing their name down, so that they could get in touch by phone or email at a later date.

At the back of the tabe we had 2 panels of a display board, with a marriage prep poster, header poster, some pix of local churches, A4 poster of new wedding rules, quotes from folk who'd done the marriage prep course. The fair was set up for stall holders to sit behind tables, so this was a bit awkward, and if we'd used all 3 panels then we'd have been invisible! Having something to catch people's eye is important, and what I really missed was high-resolution versions of the CofE logo, or the 'yourchurchwedding' logo, to print out.

Sadly we didn't have wireless access, otherwise we could have had the new YourChurchWedding site up and running, though it would have needed a 2nd laptop. It would also have worked better with a double-decker display board behind the table, which would have given more space. But they cost money...

What Happened
The Fair was in the ballroom, so there were a couple of wedding cars down one side, gowns and suits in the corners, and a chocolate fountain bubbling away. Talking to other stallholders, most remarked that it was quieter than usual. The stalls around us were mainly photographers, plus some doing jewellery and makeup.

We gave away booklets to maybe a dozen people, and chocolates to several more. 3 couples signed up for the marriage prep course - all were already getting married in local churches. We had a couple of other good conversations, and maybe spoke to 12-15 couples in all. 3-4 others seemed interested in the course, and took details, and may (or may not) get in touch.

Everyone we spoke to got a copy of the htb booklet, a business card, and a CofE wedding leaflet if they showed an interest in that.

I didn't make much attempt to grab people - not a great expert at it anyway, though Tim from Holy Trinity came to help for a couple of hours and showed me how its done! There was also time to talk to other stall-holders as well, some of whom I had tenuous connections with, or had seen at weddings we've hosted in the last couple of years.

All in all it was worthwhile, though quieter than I'd expected/hoped. It cost us £80 for the stall, and quite a bit of setting up, but having done it once it should be simpler next time.

It helped to have 2 on the stall - for the first couple of hours I was on my own, but having 2 people gives you more scope for chatting to people and engaging with them. Also having 1 in a dog collar and 1 without is probably best: I was in my clergy kit, which might have scared a few people off. Maybe in January we could try a dog-collar free zone and see if more people stop by. The couples tended to go to stalls they were interested in, so to have a church/marriage prep stall was probably off their mental shopping list anyway. Pretty much everyone else was selling an obvious product (photos, cars, clothes) which could be seen and handled.

They have another in January '09, which is supposed to be busier, so we'll do that one and then take stock. Unfortunately the biggest local wedding fair is in Sherborne, which is in another Diocese, and there's a whole set of negotiations needed before we try that one!

The other thing we might add is more information about 'Green Weddings' - with a display board behind the table, that would give us room for a 'green' section. It would also be another reason for people to stop by.
For more reflections on weddings, see this recent post from Bishop Alan.