Saturday, November 29, 2008

Don't Spend Your Tax Cut (on Nestle)

I've been relived of my duties as Father Christmas at the school party, which is a great relief. Last year my problem wasn't actually an itchy beard or a badly fitting suit. It was giving out Nestle selection packs to 400+ children. This is a repost of what I wrote last year:

The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.5 million babies die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. Despite what is claimed on baby milk substitutes, breast milk is still far superior for babies as a source of nutrition and disease prevention. What's more, it is safer - where formula milk has to be made up from contaminated or unsafe water supplies, there is a high risk to the baby. The risk of death from diarrhoea and pneumonia increases dramatically if a family uses formula milk in an area with an unhygenic water supply.

As a result the WHO has a set of marketing codes, to safeguard vulnerable people. Nestle has violated these codes more often than any other company. Whilst breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months as the best option for a childs health, Nestle markets is products in the developing world as suitable from 4 months, and sometimes much younger. Health workers and key opinion formers are showered with gifts and free samples, and claims of health benefits of milk substitutes are exaggerated.

In China, the worlds biggest market, where Nestle is having a big marketing push, exclusive breastfeeding of infants has declined from 76% to 64% in less than 10 years. Nestle has stationed doctors in Chinese supermarkets to give out free samples and deal with questions. The international code on marketing of breast milk substitutes forbids promotion direct to parents, but this is exactly what Nestle are doing in China, and many other places. This Guardian article looks into what's happening in Bangladesh, and to what extent Nestle have truly changed their practices.

The result of their actions is to place the lives and health of millions of babies at risk.The Nestle boycott began in 1977 in the USA, and spread across the world. It's old news, which is probably why so few people know about it, or folk who used to boycott Nestle assume that everything is fine now. The Church of England announced a boycott of Nestle in the early 90's, with a measurable effect on sales, but in the face of a p.r. blitz by Nestle over the following years decided not to renew it. I'm a Church of England vicar who thinks that was a mistake.

The only thing that Nestle understand, and other companies like them, is money. The thing that will change their practices is a financial hit, and one thing that Western consumers have is spending power, to use, or to withdraw.

So here's what not to buy.
Nescafe and all Nescafe brands
Rowntrees products (Nestle bought the company a few years ago) such as Kit Kat & Lion Bar
Ski Yoghurts
After 8's
Buxton Mineral Water
Nestle cereals: Shreddies, Cheerios, Golden Grahams etc.
Cosmetics by Garnier, L'Oreal, Lancome, Matrix and others (part-owned)
Winalot and Felix pet foods, among others.

For a fuller list go here.

Other useful sites:
Baby milk action
the Boycott Nestle blog,
November update from Baby Milk Action.

A longer version of this article will appear on the Wardman Wire later today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

37,000 back to church

...according to Back to Church Sunday, based on data from 1/5 of the 3,000 churches taking part. Report here, BTCS website here. Ht Dave W's church times blog. That's quite a number, and it'll be interesting to see if the quality of welcome, fellowship etc. is such that they stay, or realise that they'd been staying away for good reason!!

Based on research by Richter & Francis, Mission Shaped Church estimated that 35-40% of UK residents have some kind of church backgrounds (though that number is shrinking), but no longer come to church. These are folk who come to Christmas services, know some of the songs and the Bible, and could come to church without it all feeling completely alien.

MSC argued that half of these might be open to returning. However, TEAR fund came up with a much lower figure in its research last year. Instead of there being 20% of 'open de-churched' (to use the jargon) it reckoned there was only 5%. Still, that's over 2m people that back to church Sunday can work for, and it's clearly helped many of them. Here's the Tear Fund chart

Speaking to a local youth team yesterday, we used a simpler version the above graphic and asked them to mark on it where they did most of their mission work. It was encouraging to see a lot of splodges on the left hand side of the chart. Most Christian outreach, such as BTCS, Alpha, etc., is of the 'come to us' variety which mainly connects with the fringe/occasional/open de-churched segment, which is a small and shrinking chunk of the whole.

I'm looking forward to the day when we get a 3-D version of the chart which shows people's attitude to spirituality, faith and prayer. Lots of people who don't go to church pray regularly, and defining things in terms of their contact with the church can give the false impression that God is only at work within the church. When we actually talk and listen to people, we often discover that He's been there way ahead of us, and that what people have rejected is not God, but the church and the cultural trappings which grow like brambles around the gospel, or the hurtful mistakes of Christians which have practiced the opposite of what was preached.

Exeter Network Church

The story of Exeter Network Church has been posted on the Fresh Expression website, and it sounds very creative and exciting. It's also one of the first projects to be given a Bishops Mission Order, which is a new Anglican way of overseeing church plants and fresh expressions projects.

Other links
The ENC website
Bishops Mission Orders - scroll to the bottom of the post for other links.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Winterval

The originator of the 'Winterval' festival in Birmingham a few years ago has gone public on a blog with why he thought it would be a good idea, ht john b on this Liberal Conspiracy thread.

Advent Resources: last lot!

A cluster of Advent resources from the CofE

The Why We Are Waiting site has now gone live, with an online Advent calendar "made up of reflections, podcasts, waiting tips and a quiz on the social networking site Facebook". Or at least it would be live if the site hadn't crashed. Will try again later.

Do Nothing Christmas is Coming by Stephen Cottrell. Daily reflections, and a snip at £4.99. Obviously if you did nothing you'd not buy the book either, but we'll not go there.

Paula Gooder, who was outstanding at our clergy conference, has an advent reflections book out as well 'The Meaning is in the Waiting'

“having to wait for what you want isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes you realise you don't want it after all and save yourself some time and money. Other times, what you want is even more welcome for having had to wait." (Stephen Cottrell)

Don't tell this to too many people, or the economy will collapse completely.

Other advent links here, and Metacatholic has an Advent wreath song, which goes to the tune of 'Personal Hoodie', or something like that....

Bishop Alan also has some thoughts, and folk have started recommending advent reading in the comments there. He also recommends Maggi Dawn's Beginnings and Endings as a good advent book. If you're anywhere near Brighton, Maggi herself has spotted this brilliant 'beach hut advent calendar' which will be happening on the seafront.

My final advent thought is to spend the next 4 weeks wrapping up everything in your house, everything you own, in gift paper, ready for Christmas Day. Why?

because it's all a gift.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Condensed Creed

I've been issued this challenge by David Ker:

"Can you write a meme in less than 140 characters, the equivalent of a Twitter “tweet,” that results in a statement that every Christian could confess?
If someone sincerely confessed this creed you would:

- Consider them to be a brother or sister in Christ.
- Believe that they are true believers and inheritors of eternal life. "

Apart from US election night, I've never used Twitter, so I've been putting this off for a few days. There are some pretty good examples on David's original post already:

"Jesus is Lord"

"Jesus Christ God's Son Saviour" (the original Ichthus acrostic)

"I try to follow Jesus"

here: "We follow Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again to save us. He tells us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves."

here: "God created and redeemed mankind and creation through His death and resurrection, granting mercy and eternal life that we may be like Him."
"God created and Christ redeemed mankind and creation, through death, resurrection and ascension, granting mercy, justice and eternal life. (both produced by gradual filleting of the Apostles creed)"

But I'm not happy. 2 months ago I wrote this:
Last night we had an evening looking at early church history, and one thing struck me powerfully. 2nd century church worship is described thus by Pliny

“They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and singresponsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, notto some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify theirtrust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so"

A couple of hundred years later, things have changed - the commitment to living a life of integrity and honesty has gone, and been replaced by the reciting of a creed: commitment to an intellectual version of Christianity, in place of a practical one. Subsequent church history shows how much of a mistake this was, sparking repeated attempts by monastic movements to spell out a 'rule of life', a way of living, a practical programme of Christian ethics.

What bothers me about our traditional creeds is that they are intellectual: they were developed to counter heresies, and so they focus on what facts and theology we believe, rather than on how we live. I would be looking for a creed which combined belief, experience and lifestyle, because a creed which exists purely in the mind isn't a creed of salvation. Which is just what Kouya thinks (ht also for the cartoon above).

So here's my initial stab, which I may come back to and amend, comments welcome:
"Love and worship God, trust and follow Jesus, love and serve others, make disciples."

and then a very large book of footnotes on what 'sincerely' means....

I'm not going to tag people with this: if you fancy the challenge, have a go!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peeved Budgie Report

In todays Peeved Budgie Report it will be announced that, because people are consuming more seed than they can afford, the size of a VAT will be reduced from 17.5 to 15. In a parroting of Libdem proposals, anyone consuming more than five times the average amount of seed will have to give 45% of it back.

According to the BBC, it won't be cheep.

A Mission Shaped Church for Older People

This latest edition to the Mission-Shaped series, published by the Leveson Centre (£10, £9 for pdf), has found at least 2 fans; Mark Russell, and this blog. Here's a summary, originally produced for our '3rd Age Task Group', a group of folk in our church looking at mission and ministry with the over-60's

The 81 page A4 booklet has 2 main sections, following a scene-setting introduction:
a) raising awareness in churches of issues around mission to the over-55’s, including a training manual for a modular course on mission to over-55’s
b) a collection of ideas, resources and discussion starters for mission to over-55s.

It looks like a superb starter kit for anyone looking into ministry with the elderly.

Of the 3m who regularly attend church, a third are over 65, up from just 18% 30 years ago. This will increase as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement. There are 200,000 more older people in church than under-18s.

Church attendance is stronger with elderly than the rest of the population, and they are a growing proportion of the population. The elderly must start to become a mission field, with finance, training of specialists etc. They are also our largest asset in terms of people and resources. Old people are the best missionaries to their peer group, and have gifts, wisdom and skills to share with others.

3 cohort groups are identified:
pre-senior (55-64) – working, independent
senior (65-80) - retired, independent
older frail (80+) dependent.

There is no one way of doing church or evangelism will fit all 3. Many of the younger old have never had meaningful contact with the church. Mick Jagger is in his 60's, and the stereotype of the kind of music, culture etc. that over-60's will enjoy just doesn't work.

Part 1: Raising Awareness
This includes an introductory presentation for a PCC or Deanery synod, and a modular training course for folk working with older people.

The course has 3 modules, each of 4-5 sessions.

  1. ageing and attitudes,
  2. engaging with older people,
  3. practical evangelism

The sessions have a mixture of Bible study, presentations, discussions and practical tasks. At the end of the course participants should have a good idea of what they can do in mission to the elderly and how to go about it. Very good materials, they shouldn’t need much tweaking, or too much preparation for those delivering them.

Part 2 Practical application
This is a set of resources on a whole range of relevant areas. Some are very practical, full of ideas and ‘how to’ sections. Others are more informative (e.g. on living with loss, visiting).

  1. Welcome pack for newcomers to an area
  2. special service to celebrate age
  3. care home services
  4. holiday at home
  5. visiting and befriending
  6. living with loss and change
  7. dementia
  8. mixed economy of church
  9. church policy on ageing.

Finally, there is a very good 3 page bibliography including websites. It is split in to sections relating to the topics covered in the main book (e.g. dementia, loss, holiday at home etc.)

The conclusion asks what resources do we need to do all this effectively; for example paid workers with the elderly. It also explores what kind of churches we need to be, and what mission journey we need to go through to engage with the challenge.

Excellent, compact, practical and well thought out.

Another review here. James Woodward seems to have been at the same conference on mission and the elderly as Mark Russell, and is worth a look, not least for a lovely picture of Sheffield city centre and its fountains.

For other resources on older people, the Sheffield Centre is superb - research, regular newsletters with lots of helpful short articles, and several other links via their web page.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who Ate All My Spam?

It's been normal most days to sift through the cess-pool that is my 'spam' folder just in case a pukka email has fallen in there by mistake. But about a week ago, instead of the usual offers for medical products, videos of Britney Spears, offers of cheap scaffolding poles (at least, that's what they sounded like) and bizarre speculations about my private preferences, there was.... nothing. And that's the way it's stayed. Instead of 40 a day, more like 4.

So whoever nailed those creeps - thankyou. And if it was Btinternet itself, well done, you have my subscription for another year.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dave Walker: 4 months on

Dear everyone,

It's 4 months ago - 22 July - that Dave Walker received his legal threat from Mark Brewer and was forced to take down his SPCK posts. If you have a blog, you might want to mention that today.

As you may know, Mark Brewer has been fined by the US courts for bringing a time-wasting court action for bankruptcy, and we now hear that his company is being investigated by the Charity Commissioners. These are all matters Dave would have reported if he had not been silenced.

If you'd like to do something supportive, you can sign a petition to Durham Cathedral to ask them to intervene over the SSG bookshop they host:
Latest developments are online at, very interesting leaked email gone up in the last few days.

And finally, still no reply from Mark Brewer to the letter I sent (twice) on our behalf. Very disappointing. He expects Dave to respond within a few hours, and yet doesn't even bother to answer us within a month.

thankyou for your ongoing support of Dave. Truth and justice will win, it's just taking longer than we'd hoped!

This message was sent to all 500 members of the We Support Dave Walker Facebook group this morning. Please do join if you haven't already.

Worryingly, having sent the message I was warned by Facebook for spamming - checking the FAQ's it seems not to like 'repeated content'. So that might mean I get banned from sending stuff to people on the group because I insist on mentioning Dave Walker and SPCK every time. If it all goes quiet, you know why.

Judge's Seat or Mercy Seat?

Five people in a balloon, you can only save 3, they are:
- A journalist who can't dance
- A member of the BNP
- A talent show judge
- A person with a diagnosed mental illness
- A disgraced former chat show presenter.

There's been an awful lot of judging this past week, not all of it to the same standard, some of it to double standards. For example:

1. Talent shows. John Sergeants departure from Strictly Come Dancing may have hogged the headlines, but the X Factor judges were just as keen to see the back of one of their contestants. Not because he couldn't sing, but because the last time an older man won the competition he didn't sell many records. Cowell and Walsh were just as harsh on Daniel Evans as the SCD judges have been on Sargeant. Were they judging talent, or potential sales - well, who am I to judge....

2. Angus Deayton taking Jonathan Ross's place as the host of the Comedy Awards. The BBC enquiry found the R&B calls 'deplorable', and no doubt Ross will do his time and be back, just as Deayton has done. Second chances are good, and it remains to be seen whether we see a contrite and changed JR in the new year, or whether Manuelgate becomes just another source of comic material.

3. BNP members. From the little I know of The List, I'm not sure I'll ever look at railway enthusiasts the same way again... Some sackings, threats and public denials, have followed the membership leak, yet membership of the BNP is not a crime. Certain occupations are barred to membership, and rightly so, but we don't as yet have thought crime in this country, and we never should. Yet the label makes it easy to judge people, which ironically is a language the BNP are quite familiar with.

4. On labels, well done to Horizon for an excellent two-parter on mental illness. 'How Mad Are You?' followed 10 volunteers, 5 of whom had mental disorders, and showed just how 'normal' they looked. A team of psychiatrists, despite the aid of video footage and some specially designed tests, only guessed 2 of them right. The programmes showed both that there's a spectrum of mental health, and that recovery from mental illness is possible.

The BBC's Headroom has made a real effort to educate and de-stigmatise mental illness. Whilst depression and 'stress' are increasingly ok (and almost vital if you're a celebrity), there are other conditions which are less well known, with which many people suffer in silence for fear of what others will think. I was struck by the courage of Dan, who spoke openly about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (nearly 2m sufferers in the UK), in the hope that it would encourage others and help to break the taboo around it. It's a horrible illness to have, and one which many are afraid to admit to, David Beckham being a notable exception. (On a similar theme, Bishop Alan has recently posted on eating disorders, worth a look)

With so many TV shows based around judges - either in the studio or the massed ranks texting in their votes - we seem to be training ourselves daily to pass judgement on people we've never met. Someone I know has suffered a torrent of online abuse this week for a public statement of his Christian faith. And because we know judging is so common, we also become experts at concealing stuff that might get judged by others.

Wouldn't we be a better society if we could be open about our deepest beliefs, fears and weaknesses without being jumped on? Fear and criticism can create a ghetto mentality, where no critics are admitted, which in turn makes entrenched beliefs less and less open to reason. Witch hunts don't find witches, they just create devils out of those who pursue them.

Jesus, who himself was voted off by both the judges and the public, once said 'judge not, so that you yourself are not judged'. Of course he's right, societies and individuals are both healthier for getting out of the judgement seat and sitting in the mercy seat instead. Now, who's going to tell Simon Cowell?

This is a cross-post from the Wardman Wire.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Fresh Expressions Journal

'Mixed Economy', a 31 page Fresh Expressions journal, has just been published, and you can download it (free) or order it (£2) here.

Contents include stuff on Messy Church, Sunderland Minster, evangelism, spirituality, and authors include Steve Croft, Rowan Williams, Brother Damian and Mike Moynagh. Ht Dave Walker .

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Calling all Detectives

Have a look at the SPCK/SSG blog today for some fascinating correspondence, also on the Wardman Wire with commentary. A very, very interesting way to do business.

4 months since Dave Walkers silencing on Saturday, never forget.

If you want to catch up with the saga of the former SPCK bookshops, use the links in the sidebar or visit the SPCK/SSG blog summary. If you want to support Dave Walker, join the Facebook Group. And if you're shopping in a former SPCK bookshop anytime soon, see if you can find out if customers can still Gift Aid their purchases, and who you make cheques payable to. Just out of interest.

CofE resources: Advent & Debt

Couple of useful things in the CofE November e-mailing

‘Why We Are Waiting’? – launch of the CofE’s Advent campaign
An Abbott, a Bishop and a Canon Theologian are set to launch an Advent website aiming to put the ABC of waiting back into wanting as the countdown to Christmas begins. The website – – will include an introductory film featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury and an Advent Calendar with a difference made up of reflections, podcasts, and waiting tips. The website has been produced by the Church of England and will be launched by the three church leaders on Monday, November 24. More details at

Separately, offers a time-locked Advent countdown of 24 videos produced by Jerusalem Productions Limited, in association with Bible Reading Fellowship.

Tens of thousands turn to CofE for credit crunch advice and prayer
As the financial situation across the globe worsens tens of thousands are continuing to turn to online prayer and advice provided by the Church of England. The credit crunch is the biggest news story of 2008 - often the main item in television and newspapers reports. See our debt section on how to get help or click here to view prayers.

If you want to sign up to a monthly communications digest from the CofE, go to

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's Not Me

In case you were wondering which one of the 13,000-odd vicars in the country is a member of the BNP. Did I hear someone say broad church?

Mission blogs

recently found mission blogs, well worth a look.

Tim Chester, especially like his recent post on Communities of Grace vs Commuities of Performance. Tim is based in Sheffield (hooray!) and is involved in a 'household church' there, part of a creative missional church network called 'The Crowded House'. "Like conservatives we emphasis the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel word. Like emerging church we emphasis the importance of the gospel community". His site's also worth a visit for a good collection of articles on mission, church, spirituality and theology.

Kouya Chronicle, based at Wycliffe Bible Translators

David Couchman at Facing the Challenge, which is a fascinating site - anyone used their courses? Good collection of articles on culture, and Biblical reliability. First stumbled across when looking for details of the BBC's 'soul of Britain' survey, done a few years back to explore British attitudes to spiritual issues.

JR Woodwards primer on missional church: Ht to the last 2 blogs above, absolutely superb post bringing together a library of internet links on mission and missional church. Sections include:

- defining the missional church
- book reviews
- theology of mission
- recent history
- ecumenical mission statements
- mission practice
- mission blogs
- mission resources
- mission studies.

Obviously its impossible to keep on top of all of this stuff, and you'd need a couple of weeks study leave to browse all the links, but he's done an excellent job of pulling all this together.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There Probably Is...

great new site launched in response to the Agnostibus campaign

go here.

NEAC 2008

I normally avoid Anglican politics on this blog, which is probably why nobody reads it. But as an evangelical Anglican who finds his church more hospitable to mission and evangelism than at any time in living memory, I can't for the life of me see why some of my evangelical colleagues are intent on throwing it all away.

The weekend saw the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (or Consultation, or something beginning with C). I once went to one of these (or something like it - you can tell I'm a real insider to all this) in London, and most of it is a line-up of speakers delivering stuff from the front, with the conference organisers hoping that enough of the streams of evangelicalism are represented to keep everyone happy.

Well, it all seems to have kicked off: various links for more details
Rachel at Revise Reform (lots of good reflections)
Radical Evangelical which in turn links to a discussion thread over at Forum.
Tim Goodbody has a good summary of the day.
Thinking Anglicans has the text of some of the presentations
Peter Ould has an excellent reflection on the day, and analysis of the issues.

What's all the fuss? It sounds like the delegates (who could be anyone, it didn't sound like you needed to sign a doctrinal basis to attend) were presented with a motion for discussion in the afteroon. Except there wasn't much discussion, people were just asked to give their support. Here's the motion

“That this National Evangelical Anglican Consultation,
acknowledging that the Church of England professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and bears witness to this truth in her historic formularies (the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Ordinal) and as set out in Canon A5, Article 6 and the Declaration of Assent

and mindful, as members of the Anglican Communion, of our obligations to faithful Anglicans across the globe,

(a) express our support for the Jerusalem Declaration
(b) recognising that Evangelical Anglicans will pursue a variety of strategies, support our brothers and sisters in their strategic decisions including those set out in the GAFCON Statement made in Jerusalem on 29th June 2008 at the Global Anglican Future Conference gathering attended by 1148 people, including 291 Bishops of the Anglican Communion”

Most of the Jerusalem Declaration is fine, but the motion effectively
- asked the conference to give its implicit support for GAFCON, indeed sees it as an 'obligation to faithful Anglicans across the globe'. Not all of us supported it.
- give a blank cheque to whatever tactics pro-GAFCON leaders might use. Like, for example, setting up a new province in North America, which also happened over the weekend. Again, no.

It sounds like the way the debate was handled probably didn't help, and I'd love to know whether the motion came from the Council who ran the event, or just from the chairman, Richard Turnbull. Wisely, the conference declined to take a vote.

I can understand why Anglicans in other parts of the world are having major struggles. What continues to bother me is that a small clique of evangelicals in England seem intent on stirring the pot, and trying to create clear blue water between themselves and the Church of England structures. This is a church, for those who have forgotten, which threw out John Wesleys preaching. In the 1960's the best-selling book by our bishops was one which denied the objective existence of God. We had Don Cupitt. More recently our bishops have denied the resurrection of Jesus. It's not as though we have a spotless history. Henry VIII?

And now? The church has a fund set aside for mission. The Bishop of Durham is a prominent evangelical bible scholar. Church of England rules are being changed to enable church planting and new forms of church. A national body has been set up to encourage church planting and mission, and it's first leader has just been made Bishop of Sheffield. Several Dioceses organise themselves around Mission Action Plans which work at both Diocesan and Parish level. Rewind to 1990 - all this would have been unheard of. Check out the cluster of thriving evangelical churches and Anglican mission agencies in Sheffield, soon to be joined by Steve Croft as Bishop. Or the Oxford church-planting pilot set up with Church Commissioners money. Or the new partnership in theological training between Holy Trinity Brompton (home of Alpha) and London Diocese. Would Alpha have caught on in the RC church at all if it hadn't come from a 'reformed Catholic' church like the CofE?

For evangelicals, mission is a non-negotiable. Our church is more hospitable to mission than at any time in living memory. Funds, energy, research, leadership are all being geared towards outreach and growth, and this is increasing. I want to say to my fellow evangelicals WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! This is the scenario we have been working and praying for for years, so stop thinking about homosexuality every 7 seconds and get stuck in. No matter that influential people in other places want you to sign up to their movement, God is moving here, now. Sign up to that. And if you don't like your bishop's doctrinal stance, hold tight and another one will be along soon. One word: Durham (though some clergy in Durham might tell you that there's more to being a bishop than good theology!!)

To be honest I have enough on in terms of local mission activity that things like NEAC are way down my list of priorities, which is why I didn't go. But I shall be there at the next one (if there is a next one) and I'll be going to the New Wine conference next year as well, and feel like I want to start arguing for those of us who aren't into the politics of all this, but see time and energy wasted when we could be getting on with the important stuff.

Now, back to business.

Charity Commissioners letter re: St. Stephen the Great

Here's the reply I had from the Charity Commissioners after enquiring about the various charities run by the new owners of SPCK bookshops. I've left out a couple of short paragraphs, but here are the relevant sections, my explanatory notes in blue:

"Thankyou for your letter about the above charities.

It may be useful if I explain concerns have been raised with the Charity Commission relating to the governance and internal financial controls at the Trust and the Company (explanation: there are 2 charities called 'St. Stephen the Great' registered with the CC, one is the Charitable Trust, the other is a trading company which runs the bookshops. Or at least used to)

We have contacted the trustees to clarify the situation with regard to some of the points raised. On the basis both of the inital concenrs raised with the Commission, and of the information provided by the charity in response, on 26 September 2008 we opened a formal inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993. Because this inquiry remains open and ongoing we will not be in a position to go into further detail at this time, but we would normally look to make a report available once the inquiry was concluded...

I note your concerns regarding the Annual Return and accounts for the Trust and the Company (no accounts submitted since March 2006) however these are not due until January 2009. It may be of interest to you that we do have processes in place to deal with charities which have an income of over £10,000 and who default on the submission of their accounts to the Commission.

With regard to the relationship between the ENC management companies and the Trust as well as the relationship with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) this is a matter for the Trustees of the Trust and the Company (i.e. there's no issue with assets being passed from SSG to ENC)."

A few thoughts:
- I've emailed the CC back because I'm very surprised that, with no accounts submitted since March 2006, nothing is due until January next year. In August '07 one of the SSG charities was closed down and reopened as a subsidiary of the other, I don't know if this evaded the need for accounts for another 12 months, but it's now nearly 20 months from the end of tax 2006-7. If I'd left it this long to get my tax affairs in order, I'd be in prison.

- the CC website says that you have 10 months to send in your accounts. SSG aren't listed as a defaulting charity (there are thousands of them!). It's basically an online naughty step, but its a very crowded one. The CC then send you lots of reminders and offer to help, and if accounts don't appear after 22 months, then you are removed from the register of charities. So it all depends on whether the little shimmy in August 07 has given SSG 12 months grace, otherwise they have 2 months to file 2006-7 accounts (the year they took ownership of the bookshops) or cease to be a charity.

- The launch of the inquiry after recieving a response from SSG. This suggests that SSG's response wasn't satisfactory. Oh to be a fly on the wall....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Starbucks Church

Absolutely brilliant 'what if Starbucks was like church?' video

Ht Start the Week, the original is at Beyond Relevance, and the related post is well worth reading:

The challenge is, if we think door hangers or websites will solve our marketing problem, then we have a bigger problem. The average church in America has less than a 15% retention rate of first-time visitors.

If I owned a pizza parlor and more than 85% of the people who ate there once decided to never come back, I would think a mailer ( = mailshot?) might just kill the business. It would bring people in faster and increase the speed of my demise. I, more likely, need to be working on things like... my recipe, my wait staff, my decor--anything and everything that could increase my retention rate outside of bringing more people in.

The principle is stewardship. What are we accomplishing with what God is sending us? If we are not converting that, scripture would reveal that we are not ready for more (Luke 16:10).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Street Pastors in Yeovil

Great to see the possibility of Street Pastors happening in Yeovil getting nearer to reality. The local police have been asking the church for a while to get this started, and our launch event is:

Tues 2nd December, 7.30pm in the Gateway, Yeovil.

Our prayer is to recruit around 50 people, to start sending teams of 4 onto the streets at the weekends in Yeovil from early summer 2009, starting the training at the end of January.

What are Street Pastors?
Teams of Christians taking to the streets on Friday and Saturday evenings to show the love of God in action. Street Pastors are a Christian presence in the weekend club and pub scene, offering practical help and a listening ear. They protect the vulnerable, bless strangers, and provide thousands of people with a visible expression of God’s love.

How's it being organised?
Churches in Yeovil are working together to make Street Pastors a reality in our town. There is a Management Group drawn from 4 local churches, and many others are supporting it. However, it needs help at lots of other levels:

- We need 40-50 people who are willing to offer 1 night a month in order to run Street Pastors every week.
- it costs £300 per person to train a Street Pastor, so we're looking for finance to help with those costs. Great to here at the weekend that a Somerset County Councillor for the area was putting in a substantial bid for funding for us, after having a chat with the local police.
- admin help: there will (we hope) be a lot of applications to process, and it takes quite a lot of backroom work to liase with 20 local churches, and administer a course with 50 attendees (who all need to be CRB checked, and have applications processed), and a variety of tutors and venues.

The Bigger Picture
Street Pastors are administered nationally by the Ascension Trust, and there's lots of stuff about them on the web:

- Video
Lincoln street pastors (7m, very comprehensive, we showed it a church this morning)
Kingston (London)

News reports & features
BBC news
BBC 1xtra
BBC Somerset
Daily Telegraph

Leaflets & info from local groups
Taunton newsletter - group here launched in May

there is news about local groups on the main Street Pastors website, and you can look for groups in your area.

or just Google Street Pastors - there are probably over 50 local groups, or people doing something very similar under a very similar name (!)

“As a member of the Christian Police Association and a serving officer I not only believe this will assist the police in tackling this problem but will demonstrate real Christian concern and practical support for those who find themselves involved in gangs and gun crime.”
Chief Supt. Neil Wain, Greater Manchester Police

“There are many young people who feel excluded by society. Street Pastors takes practical hope to the pavement for these individuals.”
Joel Edwards, General Director, Evangelical Alliance UK

“It’s absolutely fantastic, the job the Street Pastors are doing.” David Cameron

“extraordinary and inspiring” Boris Johnson

“I’m not scared of going out on the streets” (Peter, aged 80, new Street Pastor in Sutton. The oldest Street Pastor is 86)

If you want to get involved in Yeovil Street Pastors, send me a comment or email, or email yeovil (at) streetpastors (dot) org (dot) uk. There are leaflets in most local churches in the Yeovil area (and if you've run out, ask us for more!) and most should be displaying posters about the launch event. Best of all, come on the 2nd December, find out more, pray and sign up!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Charity Commissioners reply on SSG/SPCK

I've just had a reply to the letter I sent to the Charity Commissioners on 27th October. It answers some of my questions, gives rise to new questions, and suggests I contact the Inland Revenue about whether a limited company should be claiming Gift Aid (if that is what's going on). Bit busy at the moment, I may blog a transcript/summary of the letter in the next day or two. In the meantime, have a look here for latest SPCK bookshops roundup.

'Communities in Control': Blears, Volunteers, and sawing off the branch you're sitting on.

2 posts from me later today on a recent Government paper 'Communities in Control', on local democracy, volunteering and community involvement. It all kicked off after Hazel Blears, in a speech last week, had a go at 'cynical' bloggers.

Thomas at Liberal Conspiracy challenged us to prove we were better than that by engaging with Blears' proposals. I foolishly offered to tackle a chapter of the paper, so my summary will go up there some time this weekend (possibly) and a longer version on the Wardman Wire at lunchtime today.

Chapter 2 of 'Communities in Control' deals with volunteering, charities, faith groups and local activism. There's nothing massively radical, though in times of higher unemployment, the option of doing voluntary work to gain/keep skills looks even more relevant now than it did in July when the paper was published.

There's bits on removing the barriers to volunteering, especially among the young, disabled and ethnic minorities. However the 3 biggest bugbears I'm aware of to volunteers are:
1. the Criminal Records Bureau check system, very bureaucratic, costly, and time consuming.
2. health and safety legislations, in many places law usurping the place of common sense.
3. the complex grants system, with a bewildering forest of agencies, lottery funds, local and national grant-making bodies, and an application system which almost needs a professional fundraiser to get you on the first rung.

no mention of any of these, though perhaps they'll emerge from the promised consultation with the charity sector.

The section on faith groups was interesting: there is some response to Moral But No Compass, the church report which challenged the governments engagement with Christian groups, and argued that Labour didn't understand what the church was doing, and didn't have the evidence base to really engage properly with us. There's to be a consultation, which I guess is better than nothing!

Faithworks gets a positive mention: the Faithworks charter, developed by a Christian social action charity, is going to be incorporated into government dealings with faith groups. Great example of local involvement and constructive engagement leading national policy, real salt and light stuff.

A lot of the material on faith groups was how to engage them in 'delivering local services' (which means opting in to government strings) and social cohesion stuff. There wasn't much on the other work that churches etc. do. In a sense that's fair enough, as the paper is about local democracy and involvement, and it can't cover everything.

There is to be more consultation, and involvement of local people in how services are delivered. I have no idea what that looks like in practice, but given that only 100 or so private citizens responded to the SSDC consultation on the next 20 years of South Somerset (and this after they kept the consultation window open for much longer than required), my guess is that there isn't a massive pool of us wanting to be consulted, or with the time and energy to get involved in this sort of thing.

My major concern was with the underlying philosophy of the document. It accepts that individual choice is the prime mover in people's decisions, and therefore that volunteering, voting, involvement etc. all have to have a payoff. There are other motivating factors too: faith, duty, compassion, belonging, but there wasn't much in the paper on how to bolster or develop these. Volunteering, and citizenship in general, have a moral underpinning. Those who died in war went out of a sense of duty to their country, and some of us are motivated to vote by a sense of duty to those who died.

My great regret is that there is nothing in the white paper which addresses the moral and spiritual engine room of society, which underpins any good democracy and healthy community. There was no analysis of what threatens community, or of the social trends around neighbourhood, voting, social action etc. and what they imply. By pandering to the supremacy of individual consumer choice (ok, there's some 'citizenship education' mentioned, but that's probably information rather than formation), the paper saws off the branch that a healthy society sits on.

Individual consumer choice on its own is corrosive of community, duty, responsibility, faith and belonging, it encourages people to buy in - and buy out again - rather than to belong and identify with. Communities in Control had a chance to spell out a philosophy of civic society and citizenship, to challenge the worship of choice, and it didn't take it.

Update, Weds 19th Nov: the Liberal Conspiracy post has just gone online.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Advent Resources

A few helpful places to go for ideas for Advent and preparation for Christmas:

Celebrating Advent in the Home: lovely simple leaflet with daily advent readings, and a liturgy for candle lighting. Also some good resources on a Jesse tree and Advent Wreaths. Excellent.

Christmas Wrapped Up and More Christmas Wrapped Up: a couple of volumes of resources produced by Scripture Union, with dramas, readings, word searches, craft activities, and a whole host of other things. Almost impossible not to find something useful.

Barnabas in Churches Ideas Page: a great selection of resources on the Chrisitan year, as well as a host of other themes, posted by a collection of folk around the country.

A Holy Christmas positively heaving with links to advent and Christmas resources, some links now out of date, but an incredible collection.

Advent Wreath prayers from the CofE liturgical commission.

Childrens colouring pages & wordsearches. Quite remarkable to find a US site which was offering this stuff for free. Seriously.

ReJesus have some online meditations.

The Churches Advertising network has a couple of good radio ads to go with the excellent nativity cartoon they created.

Silent Night by John Birch, available to download from Proost
Advent Meditation, discovered via Bishop Alans sidebar.
Video and photo resources from Reelworship. Simple but good quality.
Big collection of sites doing graphics for worship (plus a whole lot else) here, but most of them will charge you. See comment above!
Dave Walker Christmas themed cartoons.

or for something completely different, go to Creative Prayer, which has bags of ideas for interactive prayer stations. Couldn't find much that was directly to do with advent, but that's not going to stop me recommending it.

Finally previous advent resources posts, there's a bit of overlap between them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to talk to atheists

Thanks to Pam BG's blog for the pointer to a must-read piece on Joe the Peacock "How to actually talk to atheists if you're a Christian"

it is not my intention to offend you. I have but one goal, and that is to illustrate a single fact:
What you're currently doing - cold-call witnessing and talking to strangers at the mall about your faith and standing on street corners holding signs that read "REPENT"?

Well...It's not working.

It's hard not to read the article, especially if you're from good evangelical witnessing stock like myself, without starting to fidget uncomfortably:

So let's talk about some techniques you may have employed that, to you, probably didn't come across as brazen as the above mentioned tactics:
- Have you ever asked a co-worker to attend church with you?
- Have you ever asked a stranger to attend church with you?
- Have you ever asked either of the above about their faith in God or Jesus Christ?
- Have you ever shifted a conversation that had nothing to do with church, Christ, or God into a conversation about any of the above?

When you did any of those things, did you notice an eye roll? Did the person groan? Did they shift in their seat and, at the very least, say they would go (or research what you just said, or give the matter some thought) and then never got back to you?

These techniques probably feel natural to you. They feel like you're sharing the good news of your faith and the joy it brings to your life, and it probably feels great to share that joy with others.

but all it creates is irritation. I spent 3 years at university doing this, no wonder nobody has kept in touch...

You're dealing with an audience that doesn't believe that what you want to share with them even exists. They don't need it. They don't want to hear about it. Your attempts to share it with them are seen largely as annoying or, at the very least, an interruption in their day. And the result of these tactics is a massive swelling of the ranks of the "New Atheist Movement" (Neo-Atheism) in America and abroad; a movement that has been covered in great detail and has caused great concern within all denominations of the Christian church.

and what message do we communicate?

Using the traditional, human-spam model of witnessing, you use interruption-marketing techniques to spread the word about your faith. Because you are Christian, and because you are employing techniques that are unwelcome and unwanted, you communicate the following through your actions:
- Christians would rather be correct than listen to differing opinion.
- Christians do not respect the personal space (mentally and physically) of non-believers.
- Christians feel they are superior to non-believers because they have salvation.
- Christians would rather rely on faith as evidence than rely on fact.

All of these are going to lose your audience. Period.

and you'll have to read the rest of the post to see what he suggests as an alternative. Makes you wonder whether we'd be better at evangelism if we had atheists and agnostics as part of the teaching team....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Clergy Vacancies and Church Decline

Bob Jacksons 'The Road to Growth' (digested version here) speaks of the 'self inflicted wounds' of the Church of England - decisions the CofE has taken which have contributed to declining membership. One of these is allowing long vacancies between vicars. Most Dioceses do this to save money, though on the positive side it can give parishes time to take stock and work out what kind of leadership they need for the next chapter of their mission and ministry.

Jacksons research suggested that churches with a vacancy of longer than 6 months would see a decline in membership, and that even though membership often rose with a new leader, it didn't recover to the levels prior to the vacancy. From a sample of 155 churches, vacancies of 6-9 months saw a drop of 9% during the vacancy, those of 9-12 months a drop of 12%, and longer vacancies saw a drop of nearly 20%. Here's his chart, which you can find in this presentation.

I have to say this makes a lot of sense, and has been my own experience of churches. There is one here in Yeovil which saw a 8% drop in membership during a recent 9 month vacancy, which (thankfully) has recovered strongly since the appoinment of a new vicar.

But: at our Diocesan Synod last month, a local statistician presented a different picture. He argued that, from his evidence, a vacancy (also known as an 'interregnum') had no effect on church membership. He compared 1 group of churches, which had experienced a vacancy, with a control group of churches which, over the same period, hadn't experienced a vacancy (there were a couple of other things he did to iron out differences, which I won't bore you with). With over 100 churches in each group to iron out individual quirks, any major differences between the two could be linked to the absence of a clergy leader.

I was expecting his stats to back up Jacksons research. They didn't. He found no evidence for the effect of a vacancy on membership at all, whether 1, 2 or 3 years after the event, whether the church was large or small, urban or rural. Here are his stats

Vacancy group (118 churches)

Membership before 6586 average m'ship 55.8 index 100

Membership during 6647 average 56.3 index 100.9

Membership after 6223 average 52.7 index 94.5

No vacancy

before 6325 ave 53.6 index 100

during 6173 ave 52.3 index 97.6

after 5987 ave 50.7 index 94.7

Basically, both groups showed a decline of around 5% over the same period.

I really don't know what to make of this. Here are two decent sized samples of churches, analysed differently, which produce completely different results. At gut level I'm with Jackson, his findings just seem to make sense, but......

You can prove a lot of things with statistics, and this may just mean that the leadership of Anglican clergy is so ineffectual that it doesn't make any difference whether we're there or not (!), but I'm not aware of any other organisation that leaves long leadership vacancies because it sees them as a good thing.

I don't have the detailed workings, and the Bath & Wells chap is a professional statistician whilst I just have a couple of school passes at Maths. But now this is bugging me...

Update: Bishop Alan goes into detail about what they do in Bucks when a parish falls vacant. Good discussion there, and some interesting, and creative ideas about what to do during a vacancy. There's more to this than the length of the gap, there's what you do with it: just wait 11 months and save some cash, or use it to do some hard work on strategy and community?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

Powerful meditation on Remembrance Day at Diamond Geezer, and thought provoking article on how the church should approach it by Jonathan Bartley, HT for both to the CT blog.

Unfortunately the politicians have been too busy scrambling over one another this morning to trump each others tax cut plans. Just stop for a minute and thank God you're in a free democracy.

Popped in to Yeovil College this morning to lead a short act of Remembrance. I was expecting a couple of dozen students in the refectory, caught by surprise over their coffee. Instead the place was packed, well over 100 there, and several staff, one of whom offered to read 'they shall not grow old'.

Alison Morgan: 'the Wild Gospel' - quotes

A very good book, I read 'the Wild Gospel' this summer, and here are some quotes from it. Alison Morgan also has a good website, one joy of which is the Book synopsis section, which gives you a digest of everything from Steve Croft to Richard Dawkins, via Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch.

There seem to be a lot of Christian authors who are trying to reignite our passion for the Christian faith by going back to the start and repainting it. That's Rob Bell's own illustration for his work, one which Morgan also uses, but it takes in people like Dallas Willard and Brian MacLaren. In every generation we need people who ask how the gospel engages with this culture, and asks the church how much 'culture' it is importing from answers to that question in previous generations. Not all the answers will be right, but the questions are.

emphasis, where found, is mine...

“The gospel has been squeezed out from under the platform of our lives and become merely a picture on the wall, familiar, but essentially unrelated to everyday reality.”

“By turns irascible, compassionate, exhausted and stubbornly silent, Jesus was not the ‘gitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies’ that Dorothy Sayers once declared we had made him.”

“What did Jesus speak to these individuals? The astonishing answer is that to each one he spoke the truth. And that for each one the truth was different, because it penetrated differently into the untruth by which they were bound.”

“The parables simply will not work as helpful and systematic illustrations of moral points; they work only as carefully packaged boxes of explosives, innocently presented.”

“As a description of the way things are, the beatitudes simply won’t do. They don’t make sense. But lets assume for a moment that Jesus was not trying to make sense. Perhaps he wasn’t trying to explain things at all. Perhaps this too is a challenge not to our minds, but to our imaginations…a statement of vision, a challenge to leave our inherited values and enter a new world.”

“A culture is like a story, and its task is to make sense of what it means to be human. The story has its own inner rules, its own plot, its own characters its own world. But somehow the story is disjointed. Too many of the people within it are marginalised, the heroes and heroines aren’t really convincing, the narrators voice not entirely reliable, the ending so often not a happy one. Everyone in the story is trying hard to make it work. But at the bottom it just isn’t a very a good story, and they know it. Because of this, every so often a society will change the story.”

“Spiritual writer Henri Nousen suggests that one way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there.”

“The postmodern world invites us to slake our thirst by drinking deeply from the golden goblet of consumerism. We drink; only to find that we are drinking salt water.”

“The Millennium Dome…created a museum of sense impressions and fleeting images, a statement of the supremacy of the imagination in a culture which has no significant thoughts with which to fill the mind. We emerged with a sensation of the vastness of human achievement, and without so much as a sentence to express it in.”

“We must be aware that our ministers are in fact wearing Roman togas and Victorian dog collars, that we are meeting in stone buildings paid for by the taxation of medieval peasants and sitting on peculiarly uncomfortable pews installed hundreds of years later to stop the faithful from standing and walking about during services. We must realise that in a society which celebrates eating and drinking we are queuing up in hushed silence to partake of symbolic wafers and sips of wine… we are supposed to offer a countercultural message of salvation, and yet by clinging to our conventions we can appear more culturally bound than the people we are trying to reach.”

“insofar as we do engage with the world out there, our contribution is mostly a worried attempt to restrain it.”

As well as plenty of material on how the gospel engages with culture (and an intriguing trawl through how this has worked - or not worked - through history), there are big sections on the Holy Spirit at work in people's lives, and concrete evidence of the power of the gospel to make a difference. My main quibble is that the book focuses on Jesus/the Spirit's work in the individual, and is more ambivalent about social engagement. I agree that if we have the latter without the former then the church is wasting its time, and it's good to be reminded again that the gospel is God's power to change lives and communities.

Readable, challenging, inspiring, and great footnotes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Reaching the Unchurched Network: free stuff from conference

I've not yet rustled up the cash to subscribe to Reaching the Unchurched Network (RUN), even though they have an increasing and exciting-looking resource section of powerpoints, videos drama scripts and other creative helps for worship and teaching.

So it's great to get a flavour of the RUN national conference this summer, with free powerpoints available via the link for Brian McLaren, Jonny Baker, Mark Greene, Gerard Kelly and others, plus a link to a vid clip from Rowan Williams on mission and the church, and a really powerful video to 'God of the Moon and Stars' by Paul Field. Worth a look, especially if you use multimedia in your church service or small group.

And if you use powerpoint, just have a look at a random selection of the presentations to get an idea of what a good ppt slideshow looks like.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Top 10 spiritual U2 songs

With the news that the new U2 album release is being delayed until 2009, if you have withdrawal symptoms then try 'the top 10 spiritual U2 songs' at the @U2 fansite. Interesting that there's no Vertigo ('your love is teaching me how to kneel') or Gloria. If you're really into all this, the site also has a list of Bible references in U2 lyrics.

Sunday Links

A few blogs recently added to my favourites:

Christian Cheese: some very 'interesting' pictures, mostly around the interface of Jesus and US politics. Rather worrying at times!

Get Out of Jail Free: blog of a Christian prison chaplain, varied, and provocative, and gives an insight into a little-seen aspect of ministry

The Half-Blood Welshman: describes himself as a twentysomething unemployed former student, golfer, reader, writer, bad organist, opinionated young fool, geek. Mainly on politics, but some good posts on Dawkins recently.

Vintage Faith: blog of Dan Kimball, on emerging church, leadership, mission and culture.

Self Supporting Minister: what it says on the tin, fairly new, but worth a look

Mustard Seed Kingdom: not to be confused with Mustard Seed Shavings.

Between: really good, thoughtful blog by Jonathan Evens, vicar and multi-faith consultatant, about a whole load of stuff I'd not even think of writing about. Fascinating list of influential books and favourite art.

and a great post by David Ker why American Christians look so stupid and what you can do about it, on the electoral politics of US Christians.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Remembrance Day meditation/video

Really good video by Ian Britton at Reelworship, with a meditation based on the poem 'In Flanders Fields', leading into the chimes of Big Ben and the silence.

Teenagers who watch more sex, have more sex

....and other no brainers. But there's nothing wrong with a bit of evidence, and here it is.

An excerpt:
"Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the US." According to Dr Chandra, hers is the first study to show such a direct link.

The researchers interviewed 2,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 three times between 2001 and 2004. Teens who watched larger amounts of sexually charged TV shows were twice as likely to experience a pregnancy in the subsequent three years, compared with those with lower levels of exposure.

The study also noticed increased levels of sexual content on TV. "The message to parents is to talk to their kids about sex long before they become teenagers" and monitor their viewing habits. There is also a message to the TV channels, though nobody seems to be saying what that is for fear of being labelled as the next Mary Whitehouse.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

73% of Americans Didn't Vote for Obama

80% of eligible adults registered to vote.
Of these, 64% voted
Of these, 52% voted for Barack Obama
Which means that 26.6% of US adults voted for him.

Lest us Britons be smug, at the last election
61.4% of electors voted
of whom 40.7% voted for Tony Blair
which means that 26% of UK electors voted for him.

and in 2007, exactly 0.0% of us voted for Gordon Brown.

All of which makes (incredible to say) Hazel Blears' comments about engagement in the political process very timely. Unfortunately, this bit is the only section of the talk that anyone is blogging about, wonder why....

This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a ‘Samizdat’ style. The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour Government. Perhaps if there was a Tory Government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?

There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Unless and until political blogging ‘adds value’ to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.

Christian blogs take note. It is easier to attack than defend, and there are several popular Christian blogs which are more Rottweiler than sheepdog.

It's my trumpet and I'll blow if I want to...

Quite bizarre to discover that this blog is (very, very allegedly) the 120th most influential blog in the country, according to Wikio blog rankings. Looking at how much upping and downing there is, it'll be back into obscurity next month.

An apology is therefore in order to all the blogs which should be above mine, but for some reason aren't. Dave Walker demonstrates effortless excellence: despite posting only 4 times in October he's up 76 places. However, it is rather gratifying to be more influential than the Newsnight blog, and Anglican Mainstream (which is more of a news site than a blog, and so shouldn't be on the list at all). Matt Wardman explains a bit more about how they work.

It was a relief to discover other religious/Christian blogs above this one, until I discovered that Bishop Hill isn't one, and therefore the top ranking religious blog according to Wikio is Damian Thomsons' Holy Smoke. I can only assume that there are a shedload of religious blogs that Wikio don't know about yet.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Society of St. Stephen the Great bankruptcy: case closed

Phil Groom has just posted a new document from the US courts about the St. Stephen the Great bankruptcy case.

Brewer, you may recall, tried to get the Society of St. Stephen the Great (new owners of SPCK bookshops) declared bankrupt in the USA. The court threw out the claim, partly because the paperwork was in a mess, and also because most of SSG's creditors were in the UK. The lawyer overseeing the bankruptcy, Randy Williams, then took Mark Brewer to court for bringing the system into disrepute, a charge which Brewer denied, and the result is this Motion to Compromise Controversy, signed on 29th October 2008 (don't you love these legal titles?).

What does it mean? As far as I can tell...
- a few small fines
- compulsory legal training for Mark Brewer in bankruptcy law (10 hours) and ethics (2 hours)
- case closed, and the more serious charges against Mr. Brewer not pursued.

One loose end tied up, plenty more to go.....!!!

by the way, still no reply from either the charity commissioners or Mr Brewer himself. I sit by the letterbox each day, waiting and hoping. Not really.

Quantum of Solace

The latest Bond outing has already smashed box office records in its opening weekend. It's clear from the film's plot why it's opening in the UK first, but more of that later. This is very much Casino Royale 2, picking up in plot and feel on its 2006 predecessor, and again reminiscent of the Bourne Trilogy: a movie which stands on its own, but makes more sense if you've seen the one before it.

Critics have given it mixed reviews, and here's my take:

Plot: Bond is out to avenge the killers of Vesper Lynd, his love interest in Casino Royale. He claims he's not motivated by revenge, but he spends the entire film pursuing (and killing) a series of contacts around the world who lead him closer and closer to his quarry. On the way he encounters the main baddie - Dominic Greene - who is in cahoots with both the CIA and various South American dictators-in-waiting. He blocks off water supplies, destabilises governments, the dictators step in and take over, and Greene gets lots of land in return. And that's about it: no world destroying megalomaniacs here, but still a nasty piece of work.

Along the way Bond teams up with the obligatory beauty, who's family were destroyed by a Bolivian general who is in league with Greene, and who also wants revenge. He has to slip out of MI5 (or is it 6?) control in order to pursue his vendetta, and yet again we have a Bourne similarity: a spy working against his own people in order to pursue his own agenda.

Style: The film seemed to be almost 50% chase sequences: road by Italian lake going into a quarry, Siena rooftops (brilliantly staged), boats in a Caribbean harbour, car and bike chase, hotel chase, plane dogfight, and probably several others. The camera jumps around so much in many of these that it's hard to keep track of what's going on, but it certainly gives it a faster pace than Casino. It's also very low tech: scarcely a gadget on show (except some whizzy computer graphics at MI5), and some very physical stuntwork. Roger Moore this is not!

Substance: the plot is twofold - Greene's wheeling and dealing, and Bond's pursuit of revenge. Beneath that is there anything deeper? Casino Royale explored Bond's choices over what kind of person he would be, what kind of image of masculinity ('part monk, part killing machine'). Here he seems to have settled on a Clint Eastwood persona: steely and single minded pursuit of revenge.

If there is a moral heart to this film it is about motivation. Bond is motivated by revenge, Greene by greed, the CIA by power (having people they can influence and control in satellite states), the Foreign Secretary by expediency, Bond's companion Camille by revenge again. The CIA subplot probably won't go down very well in the USA, and many of the main characters talk about 'heroes and villains' (a nod to the title of the latest Heroes series? probably not), but refuse to draw moral lines between them. At times it's hard to know which side of the line Bond falls on, he has so few scruples about killing people. Is there, as one character suggests, no real distinction between heroes and villains? Does it matter which side you're on?

A couple of characters suggest that something deeper: Camille wants to 'free you from your prison', and Matthis (virtually his only other ally) encourages Bond to forgive, and to forgive himself. The suggestion that revenge takes you prisoner, and forgiveness sets you free might have carried the day in Spiderman 3, but it doesn't stand a chance in the hail of bullets, crashes and explosions that is Quantum of Solace.

All in all a good spy thriller, but the character development which took us all by surprise in Casino Royale is put on hold for 1 more chase sequence, and Bond is a less complex, less interesting character as a result. It's a good ride, it has the familiar Bond style (lots of dinner suits and cocktails) but is in danger of disappearing into a Bourne Identikit. This iron man needs a heart.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Oh Gym All Ye Faithful

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has suggested that poorly attended church buildings be turned into gymns, restaurants etc. in order to protect them as heritage sites. (Ht Dave Walker) Personally I'd love to see gymns and restaurants turned into churches. Just imagine being part of a church which met over a curry, or doing your Pilates with Tallis playing in the background.

What kind of exercises would a church/gym have? We have a fairly good selection of warm up exercises (raising hand, lowering them, standing and sitting on order, genuflecting, sharing the peace, and perhaps a longer and slightly faster procession than usual as a cardio warm-up), a few trips up and down the tower steps would do the job of a stepper, and hardback hymnbooks could take the place of weights. For the really committed you could bench-press a pew.

The really innovative thing would be for churches to do this (I'm being a bit more serious now) as a mission initiative, not simply as a way of saving an old and lovely building. Remember that church is not a building, neither is it an event put on in that building on a Sunday morning (though we often confuse people by saying 'welcome to our church' at that event). The church is the community of disciples in one place with a common love for God, one another, and a common mission to make Christ known. The building is an asset to this, but it doesn't define the church.

The great stones may not be left upon one another (Matthew 24, Sunday's reading), but that doesn't mean God has left town, it may just be the beginnings of birth pangs, something new, something gospel.

An Education

Englands humiliation in the Stanford 20/20 match put me in mind of a story. I think it's from Gordon Macdonald's classic 'Ordering your Private World', but can't quite remember.

The story goes that a junior manager in a large company was involved in a big business deal, which went pear-shaped and he lost the company $20m. He was called to the Chief Executives office, and turned up looking suitably sheepish. "I'm very sorry sir", he said "and fully accept your decision to sack me."

"Sack you?" responded the CEO "why would I want to sack you? I've just spent $20m on your education!"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

SPCK Personal Data: Cambridge ok, Chester iffy

The following was posted on the SPCK/SSG blog today. Following the warning a few days ago about how much personal data (staff files, credit card records) might have been left lying around at one shop in the South of England, I thought it was worth reposting here:

I don’t like that picture of Cambridge (a picture posted here, on the rubbish left behind at the closure of the Cambridge SPCK) , makes my stomach sink every time I see it because I had to create it. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to put it all in a skip (because, of course, they hadn’t paid to have the rubbish collected) before i got fired all those months back.

I don’t know if it’s all still there but I did my best to make sure there was no personal data left in the pile, and any that i found is still (if it hasn’t been moved) in the single filing cabinet on the lower floor, due to be shipped to Bradford (or wherever the brewhole decided it should be kept).With regards to the paperwork in Chester, yes it was still there pre-firing, and I doubt he’s moved it at all. Yes, the temps have access to it, and no the filing cabinet isn’t locked. Don’t you just love this concept of ’security’?

The computers from all the closed shops as of end-of-sept have been kept in the basement in Bradford, none were sold on ebay (because that way my job and I didn’t do it, precisely for the reasons stated above) and any that were reused outside of the company were sold back to Booksolve to be wiped clean and sent on to whomever, so there’s nothing to worry about there.

There's info about the Durham shop paperwork in the comments thread here, I don't know whether the fact that Durham staff (apparently) haven't been paid means the business is running out of money, or whether this is a normal occurence. If it's the former, then I can't see how SSG/ENC/Third Space books can survive much longer. Which makes it all the more important to trace the money/accounts of the business, especially where pension contributions, legal fees and payments to obscure 'Orthodox' charities have ended up, and to do so quickly.

Whilst we're on the subject, no reply yet from either the Charity Commissioners or Mark Brewer. In fact, there are a lot of people who it would be nice to hear from.

Local Mission Opportunities: Bath & Wells job, Mission Shaped Ministry

1. New Mission Enabler job in Bath & Wells Diocese, advert on Start the Week, brief job spec. here. Given that we're involved in ecumenical mission here in Yeovil, you may have the blessing (well disguised) of working with me, but don't be put off by that!

2. The MA in Missional Leadership, a highly regarded course will be running a local network soon:

"From December onwards there will be a Dorchester network, based at the Dorford Centre, for an accredited Missional Leadership course. On the 4rd of December, Martin Robinson will be presenting the ethos and structure of the course to let church leaders know about it (at 3.30) and on the 5th there is a free taster day - where Martin will teach on Missional History."

venue details to follow.

Some blurb on the course itself (or for a good overview download the leaflet - gives an overview of the 6 modules, and some commendations).

"The Missional Leadership course was created by Together in Mission and is aimed at leaders at all levels including:
* Local church leadership team including clergy
* Church planters
* Emerging church leaders
* Youth church leaders
* Small group leaders

The course was prepared by people with hands-on experience of mission in the UK. It aims to enable leaders and potential leaders to re-think ministry and church, so that mission is at the centre of all that is done, and is effective in our 21st century context."Leadership is one of the key issues facing the church in the 21st Century, so training leadership has to be a high priority in Parish life. This course is a must!" (The Rt Revd Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol.)

The course is delivered as distance learning through Birmingham Christian College, and is validated by the University of Wales.

For more information on the course go to Together in Mission at For information on the University of Wales and validation arrangements go to or email validation at " or go here.

If you've done the Fresh Expressions 'Mission Shaped Ministry' course, this would look like a natural step on for further study. The MA is also less obviously Anglican, so will have some fresh perspectives where there is common ground with MSM.

Update: have amended the text above (see first comment).