Tuesday, February 24, 2009

See you in 40.

I'm taking a break from blogging for a bit, and will be back in action, God willing, in late April.

Thanks to Tim Chesterton for inspiration.

I've actually given up blogging for the last two Lents - and the last Advent as well - and found it amazingly beneficial. I not only stopped blogging myself, I also stopped reading other people's blogs. I found a wonderful sense of freedom in being able to do so. I had way more time for conversations with family and friends, and did some good reading as well.

I also found out some things about myself - one of them being that I have the classic blogger's symptom of finding it more and more difficult to read long chapters in books and follow sustained arguments over more than a few pages. As with a kid raised on Sesame Street, blogging and reading blogs is giving me a short attention span. I need periodic periods of abstinence to temper that effect.

If you're feeling with withdrawal symptoms then there are over 950 posts in my archive, and I defy anyone to get through all of those during Lent.

Alternatively, you could try the blog Philosphy and Life, which has lots of interesting pieces on it, for example:
We are becoming caught in a vicious spiral of complaint and counter-complaint in which pretty much everyone feels persecuted. This is dangerous for it leads to a society that feeds on itself in ever deepening feelings of resentment. But take a step back from the antagonism, and ask how this has come about? It's a product of the plural world in which we now live, and it is that pluralism which must be addressed – as opposed to just the complaints.

Or if you have only a 5 second attention span, I recommend Graphjam, which is a bit like Indexed but done with a computer.

I fear that giving up offering unsolicited advice for Lent is going to be harder than giving up blogging....

Have a good one.

Where 1 blogger leads, the Church of England follows

The Church of England is following me. Bet Rowan Williams wishes he could say that.

Hi, david keen (davidmkeen).

Church of England (c_of_e) is now following your updates on Twitter.

Check out Church of England's profile here: http://twitter.com/c_of_e

BBC Poll: Only 1 in 3 catch the agnostibus

A new poll on the BBC site shows a 2:1 majority favouring religious values in public life, and the influence of religious values over our laws and culture. Full data here. 50% of those with 'no religion' agreed with the statement that 'our laws should respect and be influenced by religious values' (which is actually two statements rolled together....). So even though most folks aren't overtly religious, they value a role for faith in public life.

There was also a question on how fairly the media report religion, in which, surprisingly, the majority of Christians thought their religion was fairly reported. See my previous post!!

from the site: However, the BBC poll indicates that even at a time when baptisms, church weddings and attendance at Sunday services are declining, people are unwilling for secularism to displace religion altogether.

They may be dubious about specific religious beliefs, and unwilling to accept the teaching of religious organisations about how they should lead their lives, but the survey suggests they are not yet ready to cast God out of public life.

Ht Ekklesia, which has a longer comment piece on this. See also Robert Piggotts interpretation at the BBC.

It'll be interesting to see how the National Secular Society spin doctors rewrite the headline on this one. It must be a major blow to them that, after a fairly high media profile in recent times, most of us still don't buy their argument for banishing religion from public life (E.g. 'Religion should be a matter of private conscience, for the home and place of worship....religious involvement in public life...disadvantages those who have no religion').

Around the TV in 81 Faiths

Channel 4's 'Christianity, A History' and BBC2's 'Around the World in 80 Faiths' both wrapped up last week. I've caught more of the latter than the former, but both series left me frowning.

Christianity: A Good Kicking was an 'interesting' take on the history of the Christian faith, starting with a polemic against anti-Semitism, and ending with the 'science v faith' debate presented by Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neuroscientist who is convinced that science wins hands down. The final programme gave a semblance of even-handedness, but 2 of the 3 Christians interviewed were a young earth creationist and an atheist priest, so it was a bit like watching Manchester United play Lark Rise.

The life of Jesus was dismissed without any reference to the evidence or historical sources, and the debate between science and faith would have been much better serviced by an interview with a prominent Christian scientist like David Wilkinson or Sir John Houghton.

There were also various tweaks on the facts presented: the founding of the USA was presented as a triumph of science over religion, airbrushing out the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers, and most of the founders, were Christians and theists who just wanted to be free from a controlling church. The separation of church and state is based on a view of a different role for religion in civil life, not its complete absence. At the same time the shameful history of the church in persecuting those who didn't toe the dogmatic line is a historic fact, but opposition between science and faith was presented as pretty much the whole story of the last 500 years, and it isn't.

The programme concluded with the faith statement that science would ultimately explain everything, and religion would die out. I remember Marx saying something similar over 100 years ago.

Around the world in 80 faiths concluded in Europe, juxtaposing Christian persecution of Lapland pagans with Communist persecution of Latvian Catholics. It ended by contrasting the decline of Benedictine monasticism in the Italian Catholic heartland with the rise of a New Age community which treats all religions as equals. Peter Owen Jones thesis seemed to be that any inclusive religion/faith is a good thing, and an exclusive faith community is a bad thing.

The series' greatest strength was also its greatest weakness. Watching Jones throw himself into every religious ritual he came across probably gave us more insight into them than someone who stood on the outside and simply watched and analysed. But at the same time there seemed to be little discernment or critique beyond how it felt, or how inclusive it was. Jones spoke about 'the divine' a lot, but after 8 programmes we knew nothing more about 'the divine' than when we started. Whether there were 80 ways to God or just one, you wouldn't have been any the wiser.

Both programmes are, at time of writing, still available on Catchup/Iplayer respectively.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blog Ugly - a Lent Challenge

Thanks to Mike from our church for capturing my 40th birthday in all it's glory. That's the last time I'm wearing that shirt.

Here's a challenge for fellow bloggers, just in time for Lent - post the worst picture you have of yourself on your blog. It is the season of humility and self-whatsit after all.

By the way the thing at the back is a giant '40' made out of photos of me at various stages, made with love, care and great secrecy by my Dearly Beloved. The annoying thing is that I'm younger in all of them. And yes, that's me with two bowls of pudding. I'd hidden the other 3.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Church of England 2001-7: Baptisms, Blessings and other stats

For the sake of completeness, here are the figures and changes for some of the other Church of England data released this week.

Figures are totals for 2007, with the percentage change (in brackets) since 2001.

Infant baptisms 88,400 (-17.3%)
Child baptisms* 40,300 (+5.2%)
Adult baptisms 10,200 (+25/9%)

Infant thanksgivings 4,700 (-9.6%)
Child thanksgivings* 1,700 (+6.3%)

Confimations 27,900 (-16.4%)

Marriages 54,600 (-5%)
Blessing of marriage 4,500 (-26.2%)

Funerals in church 96,500 (-7.3%)
Funeral in crematorium 98,700 (-20.3%)

Easter day/eve attendance 1,469,000 (-7.8%)
Christmas day/eve attendance 2,656,800 (+1.8%)

*i.e. ages 1-11.

1. The process of change away from 'Christian Britian' continues: from 1900-1950, roughtly 65% of children born in this country were baptised, and 1/3 of those went on to be confirmed. That figure is not less than 20%, with 1/6 going on to be confirmed. Of course, the Church of England is not the only show in town, but it's generally smaller churches (Pentecostal, black-led churches) which have grown in this time, whilst larger ones have shrunk.

2. Marriages and funerals are becoming more secular. Though funerals (thankfully) aren't now a marketplace for venues in the way that marriages are, more are being taken by non-religious celebrants.

3. Marriages, Baptisms and Funerals are becoming a smaller part of the clergy workload, though with a reducing number of clergy, there's probably the same number per head as there was 10 or 20 years ago. This is a double-edged sword: on one level it means fewer pastoral contacts outside the church for church leaders, but on another it means there's more time to do proper preparation and follow-up for the people we do have contact with, or time freed up to be more pro-active.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blogging Lent

I'll be posting a Lent Challenge on Ash Wednesday (correction: posted already), but I wondered what the season of abstinence, preparation and self-examination might look like for bloggers. In no particular order:
1. Don't blog at all.
2. Repost only articles where you've been proven wrong
3. Let your words be few: keep blogging to a maximum word count. That'll be Twitter then.
4. Blog something completely different at least once a week. So if you're in the habit of critiquing other people, post a 100% appreciation of someone you admire.
5. Don't criticise anyone except yourself.
6. If you have nothing really to say, say so, or even better, don't.
7. Just post pictures.
8. Find a spiritual classic to read during Lent, and blog one simple quote a day from it.
9. Don't do any Google searches, to limit the carbon impact of your internet use.
10. Use your blog to thank one person a day through Lent.
11. Give up doing lists of 10.

this is just off the top of my head, feel free to add your own in the comments.

I remember reading a while ago that, if you're thinking of giving something up for Lent, to try to identify something which has a hold of you, which has become 'compulsive'. Do you feel pulled towards it, or are you free to do without it? I must admit that blogging has become a bit compulsive for me of late, and I'm tempted (perhaps 'tempted' is the wrong word!) to go for no. 1, even though I'll find it very difficult.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Church of England Attendance Change 2001-7, by Diocese

Based on the latest 'provisional' figures from the Church of England for 2007, here are 2 tables on the change in attendance since 2001 in each Diocese.

The first is the average number of adults attending worship each week (so it includes midweek services). Dioceses showing an improvement on the equivalent 2001-6 measure are in blue.

London 12.4%
Southwark 6.1%
Carlisle 3.4%
Lincoln 2.8%
Hereford 2.8%
Manchester 2.3%

Chichester 0.8%
Gloucester 0.5%
Exeter 0.4%

Winchester -0.3%
Leicester -1.4%
Coventry -1.4%
Newcastle -1.6%

Wakefield -1.9%
Durham -2.1%
Canterbury -2.1%
St Albans -2.3%
Birmingham -2.4%
Bath & Wells -2.5%
Southwell -2.5%
Chelmsford -2.8%
Total C of E -3.7%
Ely -3.8%
York -4.5%
Rochester -4.9%

Bradford -6.6%
Oxford -7.1%
Guildford -7.5%
Blackburn -7.9%
Sodor & Man -8.3%
Lichfield -8.5%
Peterborough -8.6%
Salisbury** -9.0%
Chester -9.0%
Derby -9.9%

Norwich -10.0%
Sheffield -10.6%
Portsmouth -10.9%
Ripon & Leeds -11.7%
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich -12.1%
Liverpool -12.6%
Truro -13.1%
Worcester -13.7%
Bristol -14.9%

Mt original 2001-6 list, with some analysis and comment, is here. There are more Dioceses registering growth since the turn of the millenium, but this is still a minority figure, and some of the figures seem to have bounced up and down a bit.

The second list is the change in the average number of children attending each week (i.e Sunday plus midweek services), again for the period 2001-7.

Ely 18.2%
Carlisle 17.9%
Southwark 14.9%
London 9.3%
Birmingham 8.3%
Winchester 7.7%
Coventry 7.1%
Gloucester 5.3%

Newcastle 4.5%
St Albans 3.7%
Southwell 3.4%
Norwich 3.3%
Worcester 3.3%

Bradford 0.0%
Guildford 0.0%

Chichester -2.3%
Bristol -2.8%
Lincoln -4.0%
Bath & Wells -4.2%
Oxford -4.2%
Canterbury -4.3%
Total C of E -4.3%

Hereford -5.3%
York -5.3%
Manchester -5.6%
Truro -5.9%
Sheffield -7.1%
Blackburn -7.4%
Exeter -7.9%
Salisbury** -8.8%
Lichfield -9.5%
Chester -9.6%

Chelmsford -11.2%
Rochester -12.8%
Wakefield -13.5%
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich -14.7%
Derby -15.2%
Sodor & Man -16.7%
Leicester -19.4%
Portsmouth -19.4%
Peterborough -19.6%
Ripon & Leeds -22.2%
Liverpool -22.4%
Durham -22.9%

However (there's always a 'however') these figures are off a smaller base, so any significant change can make a bigger difference to the percentages. The Ely increase equates to an extra 600 children. The same goes for the decreases.

For example, if a parish church has the local church school in for a service at the end of the school week (which happens in Yeovil), and decided to count those 300 children as 'worshippers' for the first time in 2007, then that would shunt the Diocesan total up by 300, meaning a 5-10% rise in the total for an average Diocese. The tempatation to report success might mean that some of these figures are overstated. Or it might not!

As I said last year, both of these tables are encouraging compared to the previous decade, which only saw London Diocese registering any significant growth. But they only count Anglican church attendance, which has its own limitations (do cell groups count? Or fresh expressions?). Whether this is turning the corner, or just a slightly shallower nosedive, remains to be seen.

If there's any interest in this post, then I may try to put together a table for Sunday attendance, which will require a bit more work. However, I'm seriously thinking about giving up blogging (or at least, conventional blogging) for Lent, so it may not appear until late April!!

Finally, don't ask me why Salisbury has a ** - this is in the original figures but not explained, so I'm leaving it in for textual authenticity.

CofE Attendance Stats for 2007 released

Church of England attendance stats for 2007 have just been released, with an accompanying podcast. There isn't much change from 2006-7 for adult attendance, but children and youth numbers are down 4-5%. The Number of baptisms and weddings is also pretty much the same.

The full stats table for 2007 is here. I'll do breakdown later on of the change by Diocese since 2001, following up on one last year covering the 2001-6 stats.

Here's the summary from the CofE site

In summary: Average weekly attendance was down slightly at 1,160,000 (2006: 1,163,000; 2005: 1,174,000), as was average Sunday attendance at 978,000 (2006: 983,000; 2005: 993,000) and average monthly attendance at 1,690,000 (2006: 1,694,000; 2005: 1,706,000). The average number of children and young people at services each week fell by four per cent to 219,000 (2006: 228,000; 2005: 232,000). The number of children and young people attending on a monthly basis also fell four per cent to 424,000 (2006: 442,000; 2005: 444,000).

Update: the Telegraph is headlining on the drop in Christmas attendance, which is no surprise once you realise that the 23rd of December 2007 was a Sunday. Regular churchgoers would probably not have gone to services 3 days in a row!

more links at Thinking Anglicans.

Rural church planting, and a good question

Couple of new things on the SHARE (fresh expressions) website

church planting in the countryside (new article by Sally Gaze)

and a big question: asked by Jeremy Noles
I'm a passionate believer in Fresh Expressions - for example we're running Messy Church midweek, and in the space of a few months are now connecting with many more people who have no other contact with church than we have managed to connect with over several years of trying to attract people to Sunday morning worship through evangelistic outreach.

But the question that's nagging me is, what then is the future for Sunday morning worship?

We have been finding it extremely difficult to grow our Sunday morning congregation in any significant way - and the minimal growth we do see is predominantly transfer growth. This is a key reason why we recognise the need to engage with Fresh Expressions - what we're doing at the moment isn't connecting with the vast majority of our community.

But in our case at least, it's our Sunday congregation who are resourcing (through time and money) our existing Fresh Expression, and in reality will need to start and resource (at least initially) any others God leads us to begin

It's a very good question. Our Sunday morning services are growing again, now that we've found some creative ways to get past the artificial ceiling that a small church building placed on congregation size. But it may well go on to hit the ceiling which Jeremy is talking about. In the past the church has talked about natural ceiling for size based on the building (85% of capacity is the accepted wisdom) or organisational structure, so I don't know if this is a new one, or just the situation faced by one individual church.

Zimbabwe Prayers for Ash Wednesday

had this through from my Bishop, reposted in full:

To all licensed Clergy and Readers

Our two Archbishops have asked that parishes in the Church of England join in the worldwide Anglican day of prayer for Zimbabwe on Ash Wednesday. The meeting of worldwide Anglican Primates held in Alexandria three weeks ago asked for this, and our own Archbishops endorsed it strongly at last week’s General Synod. I would like all parishes in the diocese to take part.

Zimbabwe has been on our televisions and in our newspapers for months. We cannot say we do not know what has been happening there. I was able to use my place in the House of Lords last week to press the Government about the need for humanitarian aid.

Please draw people’s attention to this opportunity for prayer, and use the prayer material in the attached document. I also ask you to consider whether your parish can support the Archbishops’ appeal for financial support for the Anglican churches of Zimbabwe. (This is being run on their behalf by USPG, and further details can be found at www.uspg.org.uk/article.php?article_id=505.)

I am attaching a note from the Anglican Consultative Council which includes two very helpful prayer resources. The first prayer particularly lends itself to public use, and you might want to include it in your weekly pew sheet if you have one, use it on Ash Wednesday itself, on Sunday, or on the First Sunday in Lent.

The Archbishops say “A breakdown of basic civil infrastructure is slowly destroying a nation and causing unimaginable suffering. But while the government is failing, churches are struggling to feed the hungry and heal the sick. They are suffering alongside their communities, and they need our help.”

There is information on the ‘news and events’ section of the diocesan website and a downloadable flyer or porch poster at http://www.uspg.org.uk/images_cms/Archbishops%20Zimbabwe%20Appeal%20(2).pdf

Please do what you can to assist our brothers and sisters.
+Peter Bath & Wells

(text of attachment)
Anglican Communion joins Prayers for Zimbabwe on Ash Wednesday
February 12, 2009

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Canon Kenneth Kearon writes: 'I want to bring to your attention the request of the Primates and Moderators of the Anglican Communion, at their recent meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, that Anglican Churches world-wide observe 25th February, Ash Wednesday, as a day of prayer and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

'The primates and Moderators also requested that parishes throughout the Anglican Communion give aid to enable food and other material aid for Zimbabwe for distribution through the dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.'
Financial aid should be channeled through your own church's relief and development agency, or alternatively donations (in any currency) can be sent to:

The Anglican Communion Office,
16 Tavistock Crescent,
W11 1AP

[NOTE: The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have suggested Church of England parishes channel any money through USPG. See www.uspg.org.uk/article.php?article_id=505.]

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa and the Rt. Rev. Albert Chama, dean of the Anglican Province of Central Africa, had addressed the primates about Zimbabwe and in a press briefing the following day they spoke to the media.

Archbishop Makgoba. "We explained the urgency of the situation – the total collapse of the economy and socio-political infrastructure – and appealed to the primates to assist in whatever humanitarian needs they could provide to Zimbabwe. If we don't intervene we will be failing God in terms of 'when I was hungry you fed me and when I was poor you cared for my needs,' said Archbishop Makgoba.

A downloadable flyer is available at

Prayer for the People of Zimbabwe

We pray for the suffering people of Zimbabwe,
Forced to live amid deterioration, disease and despair.
We raise our voices on their behalf,
As truth-tellers we want to proclaim 'This is not good',
It is not how God desires our world to be.
Loving Father, look after the people of that sad but beautiful land,
Care for the little ones,
Comfort the dying ones,
And into this hour of darkness may the light of your new dawn begin to shine.

Prayer from All Africa Conference of Churches
* Pray for the church in Zimbabwe that it takes its appropriate role in
responding to the needs of the people.
* Pray for the formation of a government that will ensure delivery of
services to the people of Zimbabwe.
* Pray that the food supplies reach the dying people in remote Zimbabwe and that there be enough food for everybody.
* Pray that medical supplies are made available to all areas of the
country and save threatened life.
* Pray that there be unity, tolerance, love and mutual respect among all Zimbabweans regardless of political differences.
* Pray that the Lord may have mercy on Zimbabwe and give enough rains for a good harvest which will result in the restoration of human
dignity, respect and recognition.
* Pray that Christians worldwide may be inspired by the Spirit to remain in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe until the end of crisis.
* Pray that the faith of Christians in Zimbabwe may be made stronger by their suffering so that in hope they retain their joy and commitment to Christ.
* Pray that the resources being extracted from Zimbabwe may benefit the whole nation including the poor rather than individuals.
* Pray that God may change the hearts of those who do not put the
interests of the people but think of themselves as more important than others.
* Pray that the will of God may be done.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anything you can do, I can do worse

It used to be a source of smug superiority for cricket fans, that at least we were a pure sport uncorrupted by money, unlike football. When Formula 1 had to trim its own sails to stay afloat last year, it seemed like the financial idols worshipped by global sport were starting to wobble.

So it's humbling to discover that cricket, one of my passions since the first time I witnessed a Boycott forward defensive, isn't immune. In fact, one begins to suspect a plot:

- The Aussies, age-old rivals, begin to fall apart. So what do we do? Get bowled out for 51, just to give them some encouragement ahead of the Ashes.

- The West Indies try to play a Test match in a sandpit, which is called off after 2 overs, and have to relocate to a derelict former ground. National embarassment. So what do we do? Get into bed with a businessman who we discovered yesterday has been charged with fraud.

Cricket, like much English sport seems to have a chronic inability to get on top and stay on top. Strangely, this doesn't seem to be shared by Scots - witness Alec Ferguson and (increasingly) Andy Murray. Failure is always just around the corner.

But that's life. Jesus comes down from the glory on the mountain to find his incompetent disciples mishandling an attempted healing. Moses comes down from meeting God on Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping a creature of gold. Gold was an idol then, and it's an idol now. I can't remember who said that money is a good servant but a poor master (maybe because nobody ever said it). I just hope that the soul of cricket isn't so far sold that it can't be recovered.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Good to see nothing's changed

Back from a few days in the Lake District to find this inspired bit of commentary on Cricinfo as England take control of the 2nd, sorry 3rd, Test against the West Indies

Broad to Chanderpaul, no run, left alone outside off. Good, testing line

Broad to Chanderpaul, no run, another tempter but Chanderpaul will leave those alone all day long

Broad to Chanderpaul, OUT, got him! That only just carried through to Prior who scooped it up low off his bootlaces. It was full, outside off and Chanderpaul couldn't resist a drive, feathering it through to the keeper
S Chanderpaul c Prior b Broad 1 (8b 0x4 0x6) SR: 12.50

So much for my comment that Chanderpaul will "leave those alone all day long".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Those Dreadful New Worship Songs

"There are several reasons for opposing [modern Church songs].
1) It's too new.
2) Secondly, it's often worldly, even blasphemous.
3) The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.
4) Because there are so many new songs, you can't learn them all.
5) It puts to much emphasis on instrumental music rather than Godly lyrics.
6) The new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly.
7) The preceding generation have got on perfectly well without it.
8) It's a money making scam."

The views of an American church leader. Guess the year.

Nope, wrong.

Sorry, wrong again.

Tom Bullock (welcome to blogland Tom!) has the answer.

I've been trying to trace the authentic source of this story, to check it's not an urban myth, e.g.
here, but you can always trust a Welsh blogger to track down the truth about songs in church.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Marriage Preparation Course

Our marriage preparation course started this week, with 7 couples, all of whom seemed to enjoy it and find it valuable (we'll see how many come next week!). Though it's a bit posh, the Marriage Preparation Course from Holy Trinity Brompton is very good, and if you're looking for an easy-to-use marriage prep course, I can highly recommend it.

Even better, I recommend getting together with other churches in your area to run it as a joint course. Here's what's good about it:

- All the talks are on DVD, so you don't have to come up with stuff yourself.

- Everyone gets a guest manual, which ties into the talks (5 sessions), summarises everything very well, and gives people something to look back at after the course has finished.

- It's not just the presenter couple on screen, there are interviews with 'sofa couples' and folks on the street, so the couples on the course will hear a number of takes on the same topic (e.g. 'communication', 'forgiveness'). That means if they don't relate too well to one point of view, another will be along in a minute. This grounds the course in real life relationships, and there were plenty of laughs of recognition at situations and attitudes described by the people on the DVD.

- the course leaders manual gives a simple but clear outline of each session: how long you have for bits of DVD, length of discussions, overall length of session etc., which makes it very easy to plan and run.

- the 'God' bit is there, but not overdone. Each session ends with a Bible reading (presented by a 'famous face', with a reading which might get chosen for the wedding) and a brief prayer. There's a couple of useful appendices in the guests manuals which have lists of possible Bible readings, the marriage vows, and a simple book list on marriage and relationships.

- it's not dated as fast as Alpha: Nicky Gumbels jokes clearly relate to a certain point in history, but I'm not aware of any (yet) in the Marriage Preparation Course which do, though the bit on how much people spend on weddings may need updating for the debt crunch. It's also not quite as posh as Nicky Gumbel, though still with plenty of well-scrubbed London couples in the audience.

- There's a great little booklet 'ready for marriage?' which complements the course, costs 99p and we give it out to every couple who books a weddding with us, and we've given out quite a few at wedding fairs too.

- the course is 5 sessions, which is manageable. We do one session as a Saturday morning, with the first hour to meet the organist, florist etc. and to look at hymns, readings and some of the practicalities of the church service. After a coffee break, we then go into Marriage Preparation Course session for the day. This gives folk a chance to meet all the key people involved in the service, and links in the relationship preparation to the practicalities of the marriage service itself.

We've found it quite helpful to scatter chairs around the room in pairs (we have small tables in our church room which naturally seat 4, so couples can easily bag one each) as well as having seats around the TV, so that when it's time for a discussion, folk can go into different parts of the room and have a private conversation. A bit of (appropriate) background music helps too.

The course recommends starting with a meal - we don't do this, drinks and biscuits at the end of the 2nd exercise (there are normally 4 of these per session, 5-15 minutes each) seemed to work ok this week. Quality biscuits always help.

We also try to invite couples from the church along - a different one each week - so that folk on the course a) hear about a real live marriage from a Christian couple and b) get to know a few folk from the church. However, I've fallen down a bit on arranging that this year!

I'd consider myself a fairly critical customer, with a number of reservations about Alpha, but this really is a good resource. If you're wanting to do something with real and lasting postive impact for folk getting married in your church, then I would highly recommend it.

Happy Valentines Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Daily Mail Effect: What Really Happened to the Creed at Sandhurst?

There was a massive hoo-hah a couple of weeks ago based on reports that the chaplain at Sandhurst had banned the Apostles Creed. Since the original story had come from the Daily M*il, normally no great friend of the truth or of the CofE, I was a bit suspicious.

Now this appears on the Army Rumours Service:

The ACA I deal with for my application process was at RMAS last week and said that the chaplain has not banned the creed, he did it this one Sunday to create a universal service and that it was only a 'one off'

I'm not sure what a 'universal service' is, hopefully not a 'universalists service'. The chaplain also seems quite sensible, having (according to the Army page) pulled 'I Vow to Thee My Country' from use in worship. As as someone who omits the Apostles Creed from acts of worship on at least a monthly basis, I'm far more guilty than the Sandhurst chaplain here.

But not as guilty as the Daily Mail (who seem to have dropped the original news item from their website, though if you search for 'Sandhurst' on their site it comes out as the top search result).

Thanks to my source, you know who you are.

Can You Be a Christian in the West Country?

A Christian primary school employee in Devon, whose daughter was told off for talking about Jesus to a classmate, is facing disciplinary action after asking some other Christians to pray for her family. (ht Cranmer)

This follows the case of Caroline Petrie, a nurse in Somerset, who was investigated by her NHS Trust after an offer to pray with a patient.

(see also letters from a Tory, Kouya Chronicle)

I can see this becoming a running story, as particular parts of the media will go on the hunt for similar episodes. There was another case last week of a Christian foster family who were struck off because a 16 year old in their care converted to Christianity, having come (I think) from a Muslim family. All of this seems to share a common theme, of driving Christian practice into the purely private sphere.

Yet at the same time the government would like to encourage Christians to do their 'public' charitable work in partnership with secular funders and authorities. You can't have it both ways.

We seem to be getting to the stage where, piecemeal, a combination of the state and regulatory bodies are deciding which bits of Christian faith are permissible in public and which are not. At the moment it's a few isolated stories - by contrast here in Yeovil there seem to be good relationships between the church and the council/police/community. However we also try to make sure those good relationships continue: we don't use situations like Street pastors, pregnancy counselling or the offer of food parcels to coerce people into faith.

1 Peter encourages Christians to share their faith 'with gentleness and respect', the early church was deeply conscious of the suspicion of this 'new religion' from those around it, and there are repeated injunctions for the church to live a blameless life in order to win over those around it. As well as proclaiming the good news afresh in each generation, we also need to earn the respect of each generation by showing that Christian faith is a good thing, not a threat or a psychosis.

This is a tricky one. We need to stick up for the victimised, without creating a climate of fear where all Christians feel that someone at work is out to get them. It's also hard to know whether these cases are the beginning of a process which will steadily erode Christian freedoms, or a few isolated incidents which are down to one or two personalities in specific jobs. It would be very sad if this whole area came to be governed by law and codes of practice, rather than by common sense and mutual respect.

Archbishops Zimbabwe Appeal

Passed over in favour of spicier fare on women bishops and the BNP, this is from Rowan Williams presidential address at the start of general synod this week:

"You'll remember that this time last year we had the privilege of welcoming with a standing ovation Bishop Sebastian Bakare of Harare; last week at the Primates' Meeting, we were able to hear still more about the heroism of Sebastian and his colleagues in Zimbabwe, still faced with constant brutal harassment and threats of death, and also to hear something of the vital importance to them of knowing that there are advocates and friends and partners in prayer elsewhere in the world.

Sebastian is one bishop among five in Zimbabwe and one many among hundreds of thousands of Anglicans there trying to live out the Christian witness by feeding, clothing, healing and all too often mourning and burying people in their communities.

You will have seen last week's statement from the Primates' Meeting about this, unanimously committing the whole Communion to continue and extend its practical support for the Church in Zimbabwe.

In the light of this, the Archbishop of York and myself will be launching on Ash Wednesday an Archbishops' Appeal for Zimbabwe, in the context of a Day of Prayer for Zimbabwe. We hope that this will be part of a communion-wide project for Lent, and that every diocese represented here will play its part, responding to the urgent calls for help with medical supplies, food and clean water which come daily from Zimbabwe.

Please publicise this Appeal in your dioceses and continue your prayers."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Landmark? My 'Orse

The South has unveiled it's answer to the Angel of the North
The unveiling ceremony, witnessed by this video, just made me think 'I didn't realise the Entertainer sold horse models in that slightly bigger size'. Great isn't it, that you can design a £2m public work of art by just browsing through the farm animals section in your local toyshop.

The Ebbsfleet Nag will stand 50 metres high, and greet people as they enter the UK on Eurostar. It's been dubbed the 'Angel of the South', which just goes to show how much Kent Council know about angels. Here is the Angel of the North, for comparison:

the similarities are obvious really. So next time you build something 50 metres high in a field - an office block, a spire, a minaret, a giant statue of Margaret Thatcher - it will be 'The Angel of the.......' (fill in with rough geographical direction from Luton)

A couple of drawbacks:

- they haven't got planning permission yet (?!?!)

- "there could be short term funding problems" (trans: 'we don't have any money, and nobody will give us any')

Unfortunately my entry didn't quite get there in time:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

General Synod

Wake up at the back there. If you feel a need to follow the latest goings on at the CofE Parliament, then try....

Thinking Anglicans, where you can find the Synod reports in amongst the latest global Anglican shenanigans.

Alastair Cuttings blog, live from the floor. I'm sure this is the future: post a motion on a blog, and have an online vote and comments, saves all that faffing about with bussing hundreds of people to one end of the country or the other.

Dave Walker has posted the full schedule for the week - once you've read it you may decide life's too short and you'd rather be managing Chelsea (a job which lasts only a few days longer than Synod itself). Some big issues: stuff today on race equality/the BNP and recession, tomorrow on women bishops and 'the uniqueness of Christ in a multi-faith society' (should be a no-brainer but isn't). And so on.

Ruth Gledhill is blogging from Synod, and has this presee of an excellent analysis by Andreas Whittam Smith of where the credit crunch came from and where it is going. This is going to be debated later in the week.

Meanwhile anyone who finds their attention wandering during a debate can do this 5 minute online survey about the CofE website where you can ask why they're still advertising an Advent sermon on the site in February (true at the time of writing), and ask for more cartoons.

Lent Resources 2009

Proost have some new materials for Lent - worship visuals, a book version of Si Smiths wonderful '40' video meditation, (you can see some of the illustrations here, or visit his online journal which has some other very powerful material), or just try out one of their Pocket Liturgy books. Jonny Baker gives a bit more info about these.

CMS have a good, brief list of resources.

Love Life Live Lent: Transform Your World is a 40-day book for lent, with an idea a day for how to mark the season. From the blurb:

Each week, there is:

  • A home and family action
  • An action for work, school or college, or the place where you spend most of the day!
  • An environment action
  • A community-focused action
  • A global action (supplied by Christian Aid)
  • An action to encourage you to take time out for prayer and stillness in the week
looks good, and affordable (£1 each or 85p each in a multipack) sample page here, and a good website here with resources for families, churches and schools.

Previous Collections on this blog at:

or follow the 'Lent' tab.
It just so happens that the number 40 has a particular significance for me today, but that's another story, involving large quantities of cake. Good job it's not Lent yet.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Justice for Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba

Update: this link creates an email for you to send to Phil Woolas MP to ask for his support.

A Ugandan mother of two who sought asylum in Britain has had her final appeal turned down. Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba's life is in danger if she returns to Uganda, where there is medical evidence that she was raped and tortured by government officials because of her husbands political views.

Recently posted on the Facebook site campaigning for her to stay:
Elizabeth had the results from her hearing yesterday (4th February), she has lost her appeal. Everyone is devastated and stunned (she had such a strong case). Elizabeth is broken, I saw her yesterday and it is heart-breaking. She has one final option in the legal system - the European Courts. This could be a long battle, Elizabeth and her 'family' (she is regarded as a daughter by the people she lives with) are exhausted emotionally. Please help them by writing or emailing your MEPs/Senators.

More background to the story here. Also at the New Statesman, some of the history at the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns,

from the New Statesman piece:
In the week that the solicitor of an eight-year-old Iranian boy, having challenged the legality of his detention, secured his release from Yarl's Wood at the high court, 36 other children remained in detention. Marie, who "celebrated" her third birthday in Yarl's Wood, and her baby brother, John, are two of them. They are the children of Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba, a Ugandan asylum-seeker, and this is Marie's second stay. Children can only be held for more than 28 days with ministerial authorisation: by the time I visited, Marie and John had been in for 57. With Elizabeth's bail application pending, she has no idea how long they will be incarcerated.

The Minister of State for Borders and Immigration is Phil Woolas, who you can email direct here. Elizabeth's Reference. No. is 47948107. Home office contacts are public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk or Home Office, Direct Communications Unit, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF.

I know a lot of folks in Darlington who are involved in this campaign, I can't believe this country is so inhumane. This is the local community work Hazel Blears was talking about last week, but it just shows how little notice the system really takes of us when we don't follow its agenda.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Faith in public: Blair and Blears, Nurses and Curses

Tony Blairs speech at the Obama prayer breakfast makes interesting reading:

Today, religion is under attack from without and from within. From within, it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other. I am what I am in opposition to you. If you do not believe as I believe, you are a lesser human being.

From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance.

And yet, faith will not be so easily cast. For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanises, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good. This is faith in action. You can see it in countless local communities where those from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, tend the sick, care for the afflicted, work long hours in bad conditions to bring hope to the despairing and salvation to the lost. You can see it in the arousing of the world’s conscience to the plight of Africa.

There are a million good deeds done every day by people of faith. These are those for whom, in the parable of the sower, the seed fell on good soil and yielded sixty or a hundredfold.
What inspires such people?

Ritual or doctrine or the finer points of theology? No.

it's a speech that could be delivered in America without apology, but Blair hints at the difficulties with faith and public life in the UK

I do not mean by this to blur the correct distinction between the realms of religious and political authority. In Britain we are especially mindful of this. I recall giving an address to the country at a time of crisis. I wanted to end my words with “God bless the British people”. This caused complete consternation. Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast. Finally, as I sat trying to defend my words, a senior civil servant said, with utter distain: “Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know.”

do read the whole thing, very good.

Hazel Blears spoke to a new Debt initiative set up by the Evangelical Alliance, aiming to co-ordinate and resource Christian responses to the debt crunch/recession. She quoted the Bible a bit, and promised to listen more to Christian groups. A new 'charter' is promised to give local authorities/funding sources more encouragement to fund welfare work offered by Christian groups, but there's concern that it might restrict what we can actually do.

Anglican leaders, including African bishops have called for Robert Mugabe to step down. If only political leaders in Africa were just as forthright.

It's utterly bizarre that using the word 'golliwog' in a private conversation gets you the sack, whilst abusing the Prime Minister for his race and disability at a public event doesn't.

The Somerset nurse suspended after offering to pray with a patient has been reinstated. The statement from her NHS trust makes it clear that they weren't happy with what she did, but recognises that spiritual support is part of patient care:

"We feel we were right to investigate the concerns from people about Caroline’s actions...

However, we are keenly aware of the importance of an individual’s spiritual belief, and we recognise that Caroline felt that she was acting in the best interests of her patients. For some people of faith, prayer is seen as an integral part of health care and the healing process....

It is acceptable to offer spiritual support as part of care when the patient asks for it.
But for nurses, whose principal role is giving nursing care, the initiative lies with the patient and not with the nurse."

New NHS Guidelines, published at the beginning of January, state that attempting to 'preach' your religion, or expressing particular points of view consistent with your faith, could be interpreted as harassment. The guidlines are worryingly vague. There is no distinction drawn between 'preaching' faith and simply telling folk what's good about it.

The Good Childhood Report, featured in the media earlier this week, has now been published, summary here. Dave Walker has put together a good collection of links on this today.

Worth Abbey is now holding Monastic Taster Weekends, for people interested in exploring a calling to be a monk.

More on most of these in my latest Touching Base column at the Wardman Wire.

Genesis rewritten in PR Jargon

From Liberal Democrat Voice, ht the Britblog Roundup at Philobiblion.

1. At the outset, God’s agenda was to basically focus on his core deliverables, namely two leading-edge products, (a) heaven and (b) earth.

2. However, the earth lacked an overall concept, and had a low profile in terms of its key audiences. Obviously the Spirit of God had to step back and benchmark the existing waters before his game plan could get the green light.

3. And God’s key message was that light was a strategic objective, and it was covered-off.

4. And God’s perception of the light was that it was fit for purpose. However, his desired goal was that light and darkness should be differentiated in the marketplace.

5. So God branded the light ‘Day’, and the darkness he branded ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Light’. And the evening session and morning session made up Day One.

6. Then God set out with the object of factoring-in a firmament to interface with the existing generic waters, to bring to the party two segmented brands.

7. So God tasked himself with the job of rolling-out a firmament, to supply a proactive vehicle for launching his two distinct waters products, and it was up and running.

8. And God branded the firmament ‘heaven’. And at close of play, the prioritised actions for Day Two were ticked off.

I'm surprised that religious jargon gets off lightly in the rest of the post, I've listened to Christians saying stuff that makes even less sense than this. Don't get me started on those bus ads....

Update: there's also a Facebook version of Genesis, ht Faith Central. Warning: it's a bit fruity.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"The fools on the bus go round and round..."

The Trinitarian Bible society are putting 100 bus ads on saying "The fool hath said in his heart 'there is no God'."

I have a question:


Nothing like doing the atheists work for them: what will this ad communicate?
- that Christians hold non-believers in contempt
- that we speak funny.

Please lets have more snow to keep these off the roads, say for a week from Feb 9th (and see Peter Kirk for links to other people's efforts on the DIY agnostibus. This one is particularly good).

Simon Barrow talks sense: "Many people will feel this has little to do with anything Christianly or humanly edifying. One has to wonder whether the purveyors of pro- and anti-God slogans really think they will persuade people? It feels more like a war of position between groups who cannot resist 'having a go back'."

Sadly predictable no.2: Mark and Phil Brewer have failed to get their paperwork in to the courts, resulting in a delay in the employee tribunals for former SPCK workers (ht Phil Groom). Hearings will now take place in May, to 'decide who the employer was at the time' (!!) This follows on from them

- failing to get their accounts in to the Charities Commission on time

- failing to get their paperwork in to Companies House

- failing to provide proper paperwork for a bankruptcy suit filed by themselves in the US

is there a pattern here?

Sadly predictable no.3:
we can't cope with the snow:

Wikio Blog rankings February - religious blogs

Not a great month for Christian blogs on the February Wikio blog rankings with most of us slipping down a notch or two:

24 Cranmer (=)
137 St Aidan to Abbey Manor (-22)
139 SPCK/SSG News, Notes & Info (-19)
141 Of Course I Could be Wrong (-1)
162 Bishop Alan (+51)
163 Holy Smoke (-22)
171 The Cartoon Blog (-41)
172 Metacatholic (-29)
179 TallSkinnyKiwi (-3)
181 Anglican Mainstream (-22, though as I've said before, it's not a blog)

Is there a conspiracy around the number 22?

For January's list see here. If you think your blog, or one you know, should be on the list, then you can add it fairly easily through the wikio site.

The US top 200 blogs on wikio are here, the nearest thing to a religious blog seems to be Jihad Watch, though I couldn't be bothered to click on all of them.

Training Events in the South West

10-12 March ’09 A Practical Introduction to Rural Ministy, Dulverton, Devon. Run by the SW Churches Rural Officers. More information from Fr Robert Miller 01398 324217

Mission Shaped Ministry After a well supported course in Taunton in 2008, the Diocese are hoping to run Mission Shaped Ministry in Wells and Bath during 2009. If you’d like to know more, or to register your interest, please contact me or Roger Medley, the Diocesan missioner (01749 670777)

Transforming Worship, Sat 28th Feb, 10am – 4pm, St. Johns Highbridge with Rev Peter Moger (Anglican national worship development officer). Details from Gill Davey on 01749 670777.

Spring Harvest 4-19th April, Minehead. You can get day and evening tickets on the door for this popular Christian festival, there is a good selection of seminars and displays, and it’s just an encouragement to be surrounded by thousands of fellow believers worshipping God. There’s usually a good selection of seminars on leadership, pastoral issues, children’s ministry, outreach and social issues.

SWYM training days. Southwest Youth Ministries do regular training days at Hill House near Bridgwater, aimed at youth and childrens workers, but open and relevant to all. Tel 01392 273560 or email admin@swym.org.uk for more details. Coming up:
- Mon 23rd Feb: Families and Schools, with a team from Scripture Union
- Mon 20th April: Dealing with Conflict, with Steve Clifford (new Evangelical Alliance director)

(this post is an excerpt from 'Biscuit Tin', a local mission newsletter)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More Debt Resources - book sale at Eden

Eden books are currently offering 20% off all titles on money management, the offer ends on Feb 16th.

Other debt resources here.

Free Booklets on church planting and emerging church

Over at the Church Army, ‘Encounters on the Edge’ have just had a clearout of back copies. I therefore have 10 copies each of over 30 titles, which are free to give away for local churches to use, study and reflect on, so if you're fairly local, do get in touch. If you'd like a batch of your own, they may still have some back copies spare (and if not they may send you a pdf, which is nice), but you need to be a subcriber: £15 a year for 4 books.

Each is about 24 pages long, and combines research, the story of a particular new church, and theological reflection. Here are the ones sitting in a box in my study:
  1. Community and youth
  2. Unit 8: a forgotten estate
  3. cell planting
  4. youth congregations
  5. what is church
  6. community engagement
  7. network churches
  8. multiple congregations
  9. what kind of leadership do new churches need?
  10. Church planting by a ‘graft’ of extra members
  11. midweek church
  12. alternative worship
  13. the church in exile
  14. Eden Project, Manchester
  15. Holy Trinity Bromptons church planting
  16. Catholic Fresh expressions
  17. church for addicts
  18. tough estates
  19. network churches
  20. cell church alongside congregations
  21. youth congregation
  22. Mission Shaped Church
  23. New housing areas
  24. Church in the workplace
  25. church for artists
  26. ecology and community
  27. rural fresh expressions
  28. rural cell church
  29. new monasticism
  30. mission and discernment
  31. church for under-5s
  32. simpler church

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Good Childhood Enquiry recommendations

Lots of material being published by the Childrens Society around its Good Childhood Enquiry report, far too much to summarise or comment on at the moment.

Here's their summary:

Most of the obstacles children face today are linked to the belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others. The inquiry report, A Good Childhood, says excessive individualism is causing a range of problems for children including: high family break-up, teenage unkindness, commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality.

The report says that although freedom and self-determination bring many blessings, the balance has tilted too far towards individualism in Britain.

Good summary of what makes for a happy childhood in this document, helpful BBC report here, and here's their list of the reports recommendations:

Parents should:

  • Make a long term commitment to each other.
  • Be fully informed about what is involved before their child is born.
  • Love their children, each other and establish boundaries for children. .
  • Help children develop spiritual qualities.

Teachers should

  • Help children to develop happy, likeable social personalities.
  • Base discipline on mutual respect.
  • Eliminate physical and psychological violence from school.
  • Make Personal, Social and Health Education statutory.
  • Present sex and relationships education not as biology but part of social and emotional learning.
  • New tests on emotional and behavioural well being should be carefully piloted.

Government should:

  • Introduce non religious, free civil birth ceremonies.
  • Offer high quality parenting classes, psychological support and adolescent mental health services throughout the country.
  • Train at least 1,000 more highly qualified psychological therapists over the next five years.
  • Automatically assess the mental health of children entering local authority care or custody.
  • Raise the pay and status of all people who work with children including teachers and child care workers.
  • Give a salary supplement to teachers taking jobs in deprived areas.
  • Replace all SATS tests with an annual assessment designed mainly to guide a child’s learning.
  • Stop publishing data on individual schools from which league tables are constructed by the media.
  • Start a major campaign to persuade employers to offer apprenticeships.
  • Build a high quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people.
  • Ban all building on sports fields and open spaces where children play.
  • Ban firms from advertising to British children under 12.
  • Ban adverts for alcohol or unhealthy food on television before 9 pm.
  • Reduce the proportion of children in relative poverty from 22% to under 10% by 2015.

The media should:

  • Rethink the amount of violence they put out, the unbalanced impression they give of the risks that children face from strangers and the exaggerated picture they portray of young people threatening our social stability.

Advertisers should

  • Stop encouraging premature sexualisation, heavy drinking and overeating

All Society should:

  • Take a more positive attitude to children. Welcome them into society and help them.


- interesting to see the proposal for a secular alternative to baptism. Registering the baby's name is a rite of passage of sorts, but not a public one. It would be interesting to read the rationale behind this.

- It's not just advertisers who are responsible for sexualisation, it's also the media, what passes as normal in pop videos and celebrity behaviour/dress, it's a whole culture thing. I'm no great fan of advertisers, but this is not just about them.

- the report pulls no punches in talking about the effect of family breakdown on the wellbeing of children, hence the first line in the recommendations, and proposals for marriage preparation resources. This is uncomfortable stuff, very few people set out to be single parents (spoke to one single mum this morning whose partner had had an affair), but how can we help to make it less likely that folk will end up that way? Our marriage prep course starts today (update: or would have done if it weren't for the snow!), so I'm going to mention this report to put what we're doing in a church hall in Yeovil into a bigger perspective.

Today all the local schools were closed, and there were young children out sledging and building snowmen with their parents. I know of one dad who took the day off work because he wanted to play with his kids (we don't get much snow round here normally). Great day to be a child, or - for adults - to behave like one.

TEAR Fund Research: Rise in Churchgoing in 2008

TEARFund released a new bit of research at the weekend, based on interviews with 7000 adults about churchgoing habits, which found a slight rise in churchgoing in 2008. There's a full summary here, here's a briefer one:

One in four UK adults (26% or 12.8 million) go to church at least once a year.

The Tearfund data reveal that 15% of UK adults (7.3m) attend church at least once a month and 10% at least once a week (4.9m).

Contrary to reports that church attendance is waning, this tracking research (which interviews 7,000 adults every six months) shows that church attendance in Sep 08 was actually slightly higher than a year previously in Sep 07.

Significant increases in church attendance among UK adults (aged 16+) from September 2007 to September 2008:
at least annually +5% 21% to 26%
at least monthly +2% 13% to 15%
at least weekly +1% 9% to 10%

The broader trend over three years since the start of the tracking, shows that churchgoing is holding up well:
at least annually: Sep 08 recovery from low point of 21% in Feb 07 but still below Feb 05 level of 29%
at least monthly: Sep 08 and Feb 05 are equivalent, at 15%
at least weekly: Sep 08 and Feb 05 are equivalent, at 10%

There's also a helpful breakdown by social group, which confirms what everyone already knows - that folk are more likely to be churchgoers if they're female, older, and in social grades A & B, and less likely if they're male, under 35 and with a lower income.

What it doesn't tell you is what's changing, whether it's social attitudes, or the church, or both.

CofE figures are due out soon, however they'll be for 2007, not 2008. Yes, I know.

Monday, February 02, 2009

DIY Agnostibus, and David Attenborough on Darwin

Thanks to Maggi Dawn, Alan Wilson and pretty much everyone else, who has discovered the delights of the DIY bus slogan generator.

Caught up with one global treasure and one national treasure on TV over the weekend. Nelson Mandela keeps an incredible schedule for a 90 year old, it's hard not to be impressed with his determination to use his influence for good, and yet to keep on engaging with normal people.

Meanwhile David Attenborough was fascinating last night. In his previous series, he's presented us with evolution as a given fact, and not felt any need to argue for it. Now in Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, he presented an appreciation of Darwins work, and spoke as an apologist and evangelist for evolutionary theory, which itself is a fascinating commentary on where we are.

What I want to know is: why, when Christianity is presented on TV, is it always unorthodox views which get the full treatment (see the current Christianity, A History), but when science (especially evolution) is presented there is never a heretical voice raised? Here's a couple, quoted by John Lennox in 'Gods Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?'

"We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have quarter of a million fossil species, but he situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky, and ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwins time." (David Raup, Field Museum of Natural History)

"The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology." (Stephen Jay Gould). Gould also writes "the history of most fossil species includes 2 features particularly inconsistent with the idea that they gradually evolved:
1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear...
2. Sudden appearance. In any local area a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appearas all at once and "fully formed". '

The idea that evolution is signed sealed and delivered, and that all scientists agree on how it works, is equivalent to saying that all Christians everywhere believe exactly the same things. Attenborough hinted at this in his interview with Andrew Marr yesterday, but you'd never guess there was an internal debate in the scientific community from the way evolution is presented on TV.

The Attenborough programme closed with a statue of Darwin being installed in a place of honour in the Natural History Museum, like some secular deity. It would be great if, in this bicentenary year for Darwin, there was a proper debate about his theories, and not merely idol worship.

Debt Resources

Update: latest debt stats from Credit Action just out:

£135m daily increase in UK debt
£59,702 average household debt (including mortgages)
£224m interest paid in UK daily
every 10 minutes a property is repossessed
2,466 people made redundant every day
1 person every 4.8 minutes declared bankrupt or insolvent
£102 average daily decrease in house prices in 2008

The average houshold paid nearly £3500 in debt interest in 2008.
The average interest rate on credit card lending is currently 17.42%, which is 16.0% above base rate (1.5%).

30% of adults are concerned about their ability to manage personal debt.

full monthly report here, bleak stuff.

original post
Following on from the CRE post yesterday, here's a slightly bigger list of debt and money resources for churches:

- Christians Against Poverty http://www.capuk.org/home/index.php, debt counselling and advice. Tel 01274 760720

CAP have developed a CAP Money course, a 3-session course on money management for use in local churches, and will train local church members to run the course. There’s a training day in Bristol on 25th April. This is a great way of doing something practical for the community. (recommendation from one person who's using the course here)

- Care for the Family http://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/ online resource on debt and money management. CFF has just published The 60 Minute Debt Buster, on money management, which was on sale at the CRE. If it's anything like the Rob Parsons books on marriage and parenting, it will be very good.

- Credit Action http://www.creditaction.org.uk/home.html has information for employees, self employed, singles, young parents, lots of practical advice, and up to date information on debt in the UK. Tel 0207 436 9937

- Church of England links to resources on debt and money. http://www.cofe.anglican.org/debt

This week is also poverty and homelessness action week, lots of downloadable resources for events, church, schools, youth, factsheets etc. on the website (thanks for the link Joe).

And there are various contact numbers/websites at the end of this Care for the Family publication, including the CAB, Business Debtline, National Debtline, and Consumer Credit Counselling services.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Christian Resources Exhibition Exeter 09

Made it to the South-West CRE on Thursday, and came home with the usual bag full of leaflets, cut price books, and ideas about various things which will probably never happen. 'Highlights' included:

- the clergy catwalk show, mainly for one vestment which, from where we were sitting, looked like it was made out of rubber. Apparently they were all offered £50 to do it. I spent considerably more than that on a new set of shirts, which you'll see on the streets of Yeovil in a few weeks.

- Lucy Moore, speaking about Messy Church, really bubbly and enthusiastic, and great to see how many churches have used this model for reaching out to families and all ages. They have a website, there are now 2 books out, and it's been so popular that Lucy is now employed full time by Barnabas to help Messy Churches around the country.

- Christians Against Poverty have developed a 3-session course which any church can run on money managament and debt issues. Spot on for the current climate, they will train up your church members to run the course, provide the course materials, and then local churches can get on with it. Training day in Bristol on April 25th. More stuff on debt tomorrow.

- The Exeter diocesan beer, which is nearly as good as ours. However they have a really nice logo for their 2009 celebrations (its 1100 years since Exeter and Bath & Wells dioceses were created) which puts ours to shame. In fact, I'm not even sure we've got one! If their cricket team all turn up in June (Church Times cup, much more serious than the Ashes) wearing the black diocesan hoodies then we'll just point and laugh, then ask quietly whether we can have one.

- Street Pastors stall, they did a seminar on Thurs and lots of people who hadn't heard of it were really interested. Our Yeovil Street Pastors started training yesterday. I picked up the Torbay Street Pastors newsletter, which has a statistical summary of what they've done in 18 months or so on patrol, here's a few of them:
Nights 50
Man hours 2356
Flip Flops 191
Emergency Blankets 45
Contacts 3969
Incidents 190
Lives Saved 3

That last one really hit me between the eyes. Fantastic.

Now back to those leaflets....

No Prayer on the NHS

A nurse in Somerset has been suspended after offering to pray for a patient. And there was me thinking that spiritual care was something the NHS recognised, given that they employ chaplains. I understand the point about not forcing your views on people, but an offer to pray and an 'ok' if the patient says no is hardly brainwashing the vulnerable.

It's not clear* whether this is being driven by the patient or by the Primary Care Trust. If the latter then it's another example of this sort of thing**, a hypersensitivity to 'causing offence' under the rubric of 'diversity and inclusion'. Smooth words, but they are a bit of a velvet glove sometimes.

*Correction: the patient didn't complain about what happened, the disciplinary action is at the instigation of the health trust hierarchy. Some of the TV coverage is here. The official line is that she shouldn't "promote causes that are not related to health". So they think that offering to pray for someone is a) promoting a cause and b) not related to health? Hmmm.

Update: Cranmer has a more extensive post on this.

**Handle with care. 'Chaplain abolishes Apostles Creed at Sandhurst' is a good headline, but the source is the Daily M*il, so it's probably untrue.