Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad Joke

The European Commission wants to rename swine flu "novel flu" to prevent an adverse effect on pork sales. But what effect will that have on authors?

Mission Resources and Fresh Expressions on Diocesan Websites: Bath and Wells to Coventry

Occassionally I stumble across a real gem on one of the 43 Diocesan websites around the country - most recently it was Bristols' section on Fresh Expressions (see below). So I thought I'd try to gather together all the useful links on mission and fresh expressions from the Diocesan websites in one place.

It's proven to be a bit more work than I thought, so I'm going to break it up a bit. This is the first of 4 posts, the others will cover:
Derby - London (12 dioceses)
Manchester - Rochester (8 dioceses, hopefully in 2 weeks time)
St. Albans - York (12 dioceses, ditto)
A full list of diocesan websites can be found on Anglicans Online (remember them?)

Basic Ideas:
1. This is a survey of what's on a diocesan website related to mission and fresh expressions
2. If I couldn't find it in 5 minutes, it's not listed - sorry if I've missed something important!
3. Of particular interest was anything which could be used by folk outside the particular Diocese. There is a heck of a lot of reinventing of wheels going on, and plenty of scope for a common core of mission material which could be hosted in common on every diocesan website.

1. Bath and Wells: has a mission homepage, mostly centred around the 'Changing Lives' diocesan strategy. Most of the info is contacts, though an article on 'mission in our culture' is a useful summary of the mission challenge, with a brief 'starter for 10' booklist.

Main highlight of the site is a great 13 page resource booklet on how churches and schools can work together, packed with good ideas on mission and engagement.

Nothing on fresh expressions, and the 'Back to Church Sunday' link was broken. Aside from the schools booklet, there'd be little of interest if you weren't in the Diocese already.

2. Birmingham: A website which clearly expects non-Christian visitors, with a substantial section for enquirers called Exploring Faith. This covers what a Christian is, testimonies, FAQ’s, how to find out more, books to read etc. This would be an easy template for other dioceses to copy and link from their homepage.

Brief section on ‘mission strategy’ which is based on Mission Action Plans at parish level.

A ‘local projects’ section lists the community/mission projects run by local churches, with a contact name. It's a very helpful browsable list, giving an at-a-glance idea of what other churches are up to, from healthy eating cafes to projects for the housebound and those with learning difficulties. Digging around reveals a specific list of projects working with the elderly.

There’s no specific mission section, and there were no mission resources either apart from the introduction to Mission Action Planning. The local projects list is a good idea.

3. Blackburn The homepage has the diocesan vision and the Mission Action Plan (MAP) prayer. The Mission and Unity page is mostly a list of subgroups, and hasn't been updated since their missioner moved to parish ministry (I know this because his name’s still at the top).

Mission Action Plans are at the heart of the ‘Going for Growth’ diocesan strategy. The site has a substantial booklet on what MAP’s are, what the Diocesan strategy looks like in detail, and how it works at a local level.

One great idea – a ‘resources directory’ listing resource people/networks around the Diocese in a variety of areas, such as evangelistic preaching, IT, Men, fresh expression, interfaith etc. This is an excellent way of sharing expertise without centralising it. Obviously not much use if you're not in the area, but the idea is one that any Diocese could use.

Small fresh expressions section, linking to the national site and the Mission Shaped Ministry course. Finally, I have to mention the mildly dysfunctional design, in 3 columns which didn't seem to be speak to each other.

4. Bradford. A very brief mission and ministry homepage, and not much here that would help folk from outisde the Diocese. There's a decent resource on developing

Otherwise, the main resource is a section on forming Ministry Development Teams in a parish, as a way of taking forward local church ministry and leadership, which probably makes more sense if you're doing this process within the Diocese already. Nothing on Fresh Expressions.

5. Bristol. Now we're talking. It’s a neighbouring Diocese, and one where I know the bishop takes his role as ‘leader in mission’ more seriously than most. The diocese has a Growth Programme based around 4 clear principles – growth in Commitment, Partnership, Influence and Numbers. There is a fully downloadable Going for Growth Lent course with course leaders notes, icebreakers, you name it. It all seems very well put together.

But it gets better. This diocese has a Church Planting Policy and a selection of Youtube videos on local fresh expressions Even the Back to Church Sunday section has a selection of useful pdf resources on welcome, publicity etc. which could be used pretty much anywhere. Their Community section is mission focused too.

Superb. Well worth a visit, plenty of stuff here to inspire or borrow. The Back to Church Sunday section, for example, could be the nucleus of a standard offering across all Diocesan websites, to save people having to go scratching around for resources. Also a great example to any Diocese looking to attract mission-minded leaders. Many of us will use the diocesan website to give us a flavour of what the Diocese takes seriously, and if you compare the Bristol site to those of its neighbouring Dioceses, it's in a different league.

6. Canterbury The Board of Mission pages are mainly contacts, what information there is will only interest you if you belong to the Diocese already. Nothing worth linking.

7. Carlisle You don't find many Dioceses with a sidebar link to ‘Revival’! The Diocesan strategy of 'Survival to Revival’ has a section of downloads for reviewing the life of the church. These are mainly for internal consumption, but are well put together, and user-friendly. Some of the ‘resourcing revival downloads’ are an excellent example of Diocesan communication aimed at every church member.

There is also an X-Change section, for online sharing of ideas and resources. Great idea. It’s under construction, not much posted as yet, but covers things like worship, buildings, stewardship, debt, tourism, children, publicity etc. Each of these has subsections – e.g. Children has Holiday Clubs, Godly Play, Schools links etc. Something every diocese should have, but hopefully with a bit more specific content! Or even the national site....

8. Chelmsford A few little gems:
Excellent resource: a 1-page worship audit questionnaire. Lots of good, searching questions, very practical too, usable in pretty much any church.

The Making ConneXions section links to dozens of single-page summaries of ministry situations: Deanery curate, new housing estates, lay hospital chaplaincy, community outreach worker, marriage preparation, planting a new congregation, harvest fun day, etc. It has other subsections for worship, children, church organisation, and fundraising. Very good resource. There is a nice collection of 1-2 side resource papers for childrens work, from after school clubs to Easter drama.

It's a bit like browsing a second hand bookshop: you can find a lot more on the sitemap than seems to be available through the main menu buttons, including the entire RE syllabus!

9. Chester We have a winner. A recently published survey of resources which has a brief survey of what's on the market for:
- discipleship courses
- children adn young people's discipleship
- small groups
- faith sharing
- enquirers courses.
- equipping and supporting small group leaders.

Invaluable, great starter for 10 if you're wanting to do something in one of these areas but don't know where to start.

There's a small Fresh Expressions page, mostly about the 'mission shaped intro' course.

Hot off the press is the Growth Action Planning page, led by the Bishop, and launched in April 09. This is Mission Action Planning by another name.

Highly commended for being easy to navigate. Great template for other dioceses to note (Blackburn!!!)

10. Chichester A subsantial Mission and Renewal section, including:
- a full list of registered Fresh Expressions in the diocese (15 at the time I looked)
- Mission Action Planning section emphasis on growing healthy churches.
- public criteria for applying for Mission fund money. Great idea, all Dioceses should do this. They also list all the projects which ahve recieved grants, which gives a good idea of what's possible (see Paul Bayes for the full national list)
- very helpful Communications section, with a ‘communications health check for parishes’ and downloadable fliers on copyright, media relations, noticeboards, how to make your story ‘news’ etc. Yet another thing which could be copied across all 43 Dioceses.

11. Coventry Has a ‘development and evangelism’ section, but most of the pages are fairly brief.

The major thing here is a stonking 50+ page ‘shaping your church for mission’ booklet launched in 06, which pulls together material from Warren's ‘growing healthy churches’. Looks at how to develop the church in worship, making new Christians and transforming communities. It's worth looking at for the GHC stuff, which anyone could easily use in their own context, and you wouldn't need any other resources beyond this to explain what it all means and do the evaluation.

Thoughts so far:
- Fresh Expressions is a long way from being at the heart of the CofE. It's not even mentioned on some sites. The picture on mission is no less patchy.
- Some cracking resources/ideas which could be easily shared across sites, cutting down on work for everyone involved.
- Top Picks: Bristol, Chelmsford, Chichester, the Chester resources survey.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wakey Wakey

There may be a media frenzy around swine flu, but the Church of England is making up for it by saying virtually nothing. No kind of statement on the national site (not even a special prayer, which is normally what they put up for this kind of thing), and the following (slim) pickings from Diocesan sites:

Manchester: keeping an updated section of the site, not telling people too much, but at least advising on the flow of information - that more guidance will come out when it's needed.

Bath and Wells: general advice on what to do in a flu pandemic, posted on the site at the beginning of 2009.

Update 30/4: Oxford too, and other dioceses are issuing advice through the normal channels via area deans etc. (see comments)

Hopefully there's more and Google have missed some, or perhaps they censored them, who knows? Or perhaps the CofE is being wisely chilled about it all and the media and bloggers like me will all look a bit silly in a couple of weeks when it all blows over.

I was going to cite an action plan by a district council in the Midlands as an example of good practice, but unfortunately it got posted with a number of 'confidential' pages about vaccination centres, so I've just rung them to let them know. Hopefully that's saved the webmasters job!

Here's the question: will there be a co-ordinated national information centre from the CofE for this, or will it happen piecemeal diocese by diocese? You'll see the reason for this question tomorrow...

Catching a Pig

Somehow this suddenly seems a lot more relevant. Incredibly clever. Enjoy.

Ht David Lewis

Guidance for Churches and Clergy in case of a Flu Pandemic

The following advice has been up on our Diocesan website for a while, and was mailed out to Bath and Wells clergy at the beginning of April. I posted an excerpt a few days ago, and as things are moving on a bit, here's the whole thing. Hopefully it's just 'for information', and nothing more!!

NOTE: this advice was all prepared before the swine flu outbreak began in Mexico, and so it's likely to be updated. It may also pan out that swine flu doesn't become a pandemic, so what follows relates to a possible scenario, rather than being a prediction.

I'm in two minds over this: part of me thinks there's enough media hysteria already about swine flu - it's a good story, and one the media will happily run with for ages. However, the World Health Organisation is already talking about increased levels of risk, and being a pragmatist I'm a big fan of forward planning. So here you go.

The advice is based on local conversations in Somerset and some national guidance, so it may need adapting for local context. It also assumes that a pandemic would be avian flu, and needs reading with that in mind!

The following guidelines are based on those issued by the Church of England and the government. They will be revised in detail as further information becomes available. Please ensure that clergy and lay officers are familiar with them so that you can act appropriately when the outbreak occurs. Below is information on the following:

· Why be prepared
· What scenarios to expect
· What medical response will be available
· How clergy and church members can respond
· The additional impact of funerals and bereavement
· The impact of avian (bird) flu on rural communities

Why be prepared
An epidemic of seasonal flu is statistically overdue in the UK. So too is a world wide “pandemic” where a fresh strain of flu breaks out in one country, and spreads through various means to others. They have occurred (with devastating effects) in the past, including 1918 and 1957. In the 1918 “Spanish flu” outbreak, an estimated 100 million people died directly or indirectly from it.

Either event could have a major impact on local churches and church members:
· Key personnel will become ill and may act as carriers, limiting their pastoral availability;
· Services may be cancelled at short notice because of lack of personnel or as a precaution against spreading the virus;
· There will be a major strain on medical services and hospital facilities;
· There will be a higher than normal number of deaths (and hence of funerals);
· Many people will be off work because of their own illness or by caring for ill dependants;
· There will be severe disruption to normal social and commercial activities, causing considerable inconvenience, and probably frustration, anger and even violence.

A pandemic could be especially devastating if a strain of avian (bird) flu which cannot currently be passed from human to human mutates to join with a strain of human flu forming a new strain against which we have no protection. Experts say it is simply a matter of time before this occurs.
What scenarios to expect (DK note, this is in a pandemic, so it's not necessarily what's going to happen with swine flu', as it's too early to tell)
1. At least 25% of the population is expected to be infected, including people of every age.

2. Between 15% and 30% of any given group of people (company, shop, service agency, hospital, school, church) could be absent through illness at the peak time; the figure could be up to 50% in small businesses. (This will be catastrophic for farmers who have few or no support staff; livestock may suffer through reduced care.)

3. An unknown additional number will be absent while they care for sick children or other relatives.

4. School closures are extremely likely, adding to the pressure on working parents who have to take unscheduled leave to care for well children.

5. Most people who fall ill will be off work for about a week or ten days. However, the after-effects of flu can last for several weeks, leaving people feeling drained and sluggish, and unable to return to “full speed” for some time. This will add to the general disruption.

6. Government estimates suggest that anywhere between 54,000 and 350,000 more deaths than normal for the time of year will occur. This will put added strain on funeral directors, cemeteries, crematoria and clergy of all faiths who themselves may be under strength through illness. Although the elderly and the very young are the most vulnerable, deaths are likely to occur across the age range.

7. The government will consider banning gatherings of people over a certain number in a worse-case scenario, in order to limit the spread of infection. This might include some larger church services.

What medical response will be available

Until the exact strain of flu is identified, no vaccine will be available. It will take 4-6 months to develop and begin to manufacture a vaccine in the event of a world wide pandemic of a mutant form of avian flu. Until a vaccine is available, the only counter-measure will be anti-viral drugs, which mitigate the effects of flu but do not prevent it or cure it. The UK government is currently stockpiling 14.6m courses of anti-viral drugs.

Key worker protection
The plan at present is that anti-viral drugs will be given only to front-line medical workers, members of the emergency services and other key workers, and then, if available, to those members of the public who are most at risk for medical reasons.

The Church of England is currently in discussion with government officials about including clergy (of all faiths) in this category as their pastoral ministry will be an important part of the national response to people’s needs. The government does plan to vaccinate the entire population if a vaccine is produced and there is time for it to become effective before a pandemic elsewhere spreads to the UK. (Good idea, though I'd rather take my place in the queue behind those who are most at risk.)

How clergy and church members can respond

Take sensible precautions
During an outbreak, everyone should take sensible precautions to avoid infection, and to avoid passing the virus to others unwittingly (you can be a carrier without being ill). The virus spreads in minute water droplets in the air. Precautions include:

· Avoid unnecessary contact with people who are ill. This may require clergy to weigh up the benefits of “sick visiting” against the possibility of becoming ill or unwittingly acting as a carrier.
· People who become ill are asked by government to “take social responsibility to lessen the spread and thus protect others”. This suggests that anyone “under the weather” should not work or attend meetings. Clergy especially will need to resist the temptation to work until they drop.
· Anyone who becomes ill is advised to stay at home, keep warm, and drink plenty of fluids.
· Don’t rush back to work too soon.

Create contingency plans for church service provision
A proportion of clergy and licensed lay ministers will fall ill and be unable to take scheduled services, perhaps with little notice. To mitigate the effects of this deaneries, benefices and individual churches could consider such things as:
· Providing suitable training now for church wardens or other responsible lay people so that they could lead a simple Service of the Word in the event of the last-minute illness of the minister;
· Creating an “emergency service pack” with a suitable liturgy, a selection of prayers, and perhaps two or three brief homilies, which could be used in the event of a scheduled minister falling ill;
· Creating a telephone or email “chain” (much as some prayer chains operate) so that information about services available or cancelled in the area can be passed down the line quickly. This may help people discover alternatives if “their” service is cancelled, and avoid wasted journeys.
· Discuss in the PCC the balance of risks between holding services (where coughs and sneezes can spread diseases) and cancelling them, especially if your congregation is quite large.
· During a major outbreak, the Chapter Clerk, Deanery Synod secretary, Rural Dean or other suitable person could keep a daily-updated list of retired clergy and other licensed ministers willing to give emergency midweek or Sunday cover and who are currently fit.
· When a service is cancelled and no-one is able to lead an alternative service, ensuring that a clear notice is put on the door, or (preferably) that someone is available to give worshippers information and keep the church open for private prayer for a while.

NOTE: Currently it is considered that there is no health risk involved when people share the same communion cup so long as it is made of silver or gold, and alcoholic wine is used (these have a disinfectant effect) and the cup is carefully wiped after each communicant. There is apparently more risk in sharing the peace! (The virus can be spread in sweat droplets on hands.)

Be open to offer support to the community
While we may ourselves be stretched, others in our communities may be too. If Christian love means anything, it means not walking by on the other side. The list is of possibilities is almost endless:
· Farmers working on their own with little assistance may need volunteer help to feed livestock.
· Small shops may need voluntary assistance to remain open.
· Elderly people may need drivers or shoppers when their normal helpers are unable to attend.
· Care homes may be short staffed and welcome volunteers.
· Neighbours without friends or family close by may need assistance.

Be patient with “central services”
It is likely that bishops, archdeacons, and national and diocesan officers and staff will also fall ill. This could create delays in dealing with administrative and financial matters, and in responding to letters, emails and telephone calls. Please be patient, and encourage patience in others as the whole community grapples with “circumstances beyond our control”.

The additional impact of funerals and bereavement
In even a moderate outbreak, funeral directors, cemeteries and crematoria will suffer staff shortages at a time of increased demand, and the system could become quickly over-loaded. Families will have to wait longer for funerals, adding to the strain and stress they are already under.

Clergy, licensed lay ministers and other volunteers who engage in bereavement support may need to be prepared to deal with increased anger and hurt caused by such delays.

In addition, clergy are likely to find that an unusually high number of funerals (and the visits and preparation associated with them) will lead to disruption of their normal every-day ministry. This may need to be explained to the PCC and congregation who may not realise how much time can be involved in this part of clerical ministry.

The impact of avian (bird) flu on rural communities

Much of our diocese is rural, and if there is an outbreak of bird flu the government will immediately put contingency plans into action, building on lessons learned during the foot and mouth crisis. These may include culling of flocks and restriction of movement. (DK not sure if this would apply with swine flu?)

Among the effects may be serious financial hardship faced by people who depend on flocks for all or part of their income, and the emotional and psychological stress caused by the contingency. Free range chicken farmers especially would be badly affected: by complying with advice to house their flocks, they then cease to be “free range” and lose their potential market value.

The Farm Crisis Network provides a help line for members of the farming community facing such stresses. It can be contacted on 07002 326 326 7.00 am to 11.00 pm.

Advice to clergy and churches on making appropriate pastoral and practical responses can be given by Rural Deans and Archdeacons. The office of the Church’s National Rural Officer at Stoneleigh will also be issuing advice (024 7685 3060;

There was some extra guidance for clergy, which included (my summaries):

- The Government’s Risk Register has pandemic flu as the number one threat to the UK, above terrorism or flooding. This is because it is high impact, and strong likelihood. (It can happen as easily in summer as in winter, because it may come in through migrating birds or people from affected countries)

- Those involved no longer talk in terms of flu vaccinations. They will use ‘anti-viral’ tablets, which strictly speaking are not anti-viral, though if taken in the first 48 hours will reduce symptoms and length of being ill.

- The national plan is for people to ring a national flu line run by NHS Direct who will organise distribution of tablets. Somerset and Avon have their own plan built around collection points from local NHS sites. There will be local numbers to ring and people will be given a code number to authorise them to collect a supply of tablets.

- If there is a second wave of flu, and it is more than 4 months after the first one, a vaccine can be developed. If there is time to do this, they will put into a place a plan to vaccinate the whole population.

Further information
Government information about pandemic flu is available on the web at
The Somerset Pandemic Flu Plan is available at – search for ‘pandemic flu plan’ or click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Worship: Bored or just Not Working?

A provocative and insightful article at Musicademy (HT Jonny Baker) on why contemporary worship has become boring.

We don’t want to say it. It sounds like we’re consumers, wanting more entertainment, and we know that’s not the problem. Worse, it might sound like we’re tired of God...

(Joel Edwards recently said):
“There is something about the charismatic movement which brought something new and fresh. It came out of something new God was doing.

I am thirsty for something new again. I have to confess to you that mostly on a Sunday morning I am bored! And I wonder if one of the reasons why people are not singing is because they too are bored.

It may be a good thing to discover what you would write down if you spent two months noting what songs are sung on a Sunday morning. I cannot believe that so much of our repertoire has become so narrow. So predictable. That the formation of what we do on a Sunday is so utterly predictable....”

Like going to any shopping centre and finding the same stores, we seem to be able to go to almost any contemporary evangelical church and find the same songs, the same themes, the same ‘one-size-fits all’ worship solutions. But do they? We know of the tragedy when colonial missionaries export a western worship style into a non-western context, squashing indigenous response. But don’t we ‘import’ the styles we find at the latest conference, or the successful church, or the hit CD, and expect them to work in our context?

Problem – Narrow Aims
Contemporary worship has had intimacy with God as its primary aim for the last twenty years or more, and we should never grow tired of drawing close to God. But isn’t there more? How do we engage with a broader picture of who God is? How do we come to him with more of our emotions, needs and experiences?

Possible solution – Rediscover different ‘Movements’ of Worship
Do we need to turn back to some of the traditional ‘movements’ within corporate worship – gathering, praise, thanks, confession, intercession, lament, creed, testimony, communion, etc – and learn how to draw them into our worship life, expressing them through songs and other creative artforms?

There's plenty more in the full article, but it really got me thinking at how safe I often play it, and how little creativity goes into my worship preparation. Even in our fairly innovative cafe service, we've settled on a bit of a format for the service - partly because it's hard work reinventing the wheel every month.

On Sunday evening, inspired by a line from Spring Harvest, in place of a sermon I asked people to think in groups of what they'd be doing 'This Time Tomorrow', to choose one of those situations, and then think of what Bible truths, passages and stories might connect with it. Simply seeing the whole congregation (all 11 of them) each with their Bibles open was a thrill, as well as helping them to relate scripture to their daily lives, rather than just their Sundays..

Many commented what a good experience it had been, though one said 'I hadn't come this evening expecting to do any work'. Isn't that an interesting comment? Liturgy means 'work of the people', but our worship is now a place where people come not to work. Go figure.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flu Pandemic: There is a Plan

Hopefully the situation in Mexico won't turn into a flu' pandemic (though the news this morning isn't encouraging), but just a couple of weeks ago we had a briefing email from our Diocese on what to expect if one happened, and how we might respond to it. Good timing, the CofE right on the button as usual....

I won't post all of it, as we're not in a pandemic situation and pray God we won't be, but the opening couple or paragraphs are quite sobering:

Why be prepared

An epidemic of seasonal flu is statistically overdue in the UK. So too is a world wide “pandemic” where a fresh strain of flu breaks out in one country, and spreads through various means to others. They have occurred (with devastating effects) in the past, including 1918 and 1957. In the 1918 “Spanish flu” outbreak, an estimated 100 million people died directly or indirectly from it.

Either event could have a major impact on local churches and church members:
· Key personnel will become ill and may act as carriers, limiting their pastoral availability;
· Services may be cancelled at short notice because of lack of personnel or as a precaution against spreading the virus;
· There will be a major strain on medical services and hospital facilities;
· There will be a higher than normal number of deaths (and hence of funerals);
· Many people will be off work because of their own illness or by caring for ill dependants;
· There will be severe disruption to normal social and commercial activities, causing considerable inconvenience, and probably frustration, anger and even violence.

A pandemic could be especially devastating if a strain of avian (bird) flu which cannot currently be passed from human to human mutates to join with a strain of human flu forming a new strain against which we have no protection. Experts say it is simply a matter of time before this occurs.

So basically a pandemic is, according to the experts, inevitable sooner or later. If it's not the Mexican strain, it will be something else. There are all sorts of consequences to this, from Alastair Darlings budget calculations being even further out (a pandemic will hit the economy hard), to the need to suspend church meetings to avoid passing on the bug - that's already happening in Mexico. It's not something my generation has ever experienced: suddenly the world seems a more precarious place.

Government info here. Helpful BBC Q&A on swine flu here, which suggests that the deaths in Mexico may be down to local factors, and that cases found in other countries have milder symptoms.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Worship Star

Ht Pete Broadbent

makes more sense if you know the original, 'Rock Star' by Nickelback, which I'm sure you all do. Very clever, and with enough of a hint of truth to be funny.

Prayer on the NHS

Helpful article by Fay Wilson Rudd, a local hospital chaplain, on how she tackles the issue of praying with patients, and her take on the recent furore over a nurse offering to pray with patients. It concludes:

As NHS North Somerset has said “ is acceptable to offer spiritual support as part of care when the patient asks for it...but the initiative lies with the patient and not with the nurse.” To this I would add “or the Chaplain”. This is a view held by many patients; some have said they would expect a chaplain or faith community leader to offer prayer but certainly wouldn’t want a nurse asking to pray with them. Similarly some nurses were uncomfortable with the idea that they might pray with patients even though they prayed regularly for them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gutless Google and the case of the missing questions

It seems Dave Walker isn't the only one to have been spooked by J Mark Brewers desperate attempts to silence anyone investigating his, um, 'interesting' business practices.

It looks like Brewer has also sent a Cease and Desist (or something very like it) to Google, resulting in Google removing a detailed Ministry of Truth post about the former SPCK bookshops from its listings. Full details here. The delisted post has some penetrating questions about transfers of money between Brewer-owned charities. It's interesting that Brewer hasn't gone after the blog in question, even though Ministry of Truth also sent his questions direct to Brewer, and (true to form) recieved no answer. We really must find Mark Brewer's postman to find out what's happened to all those letters, as MB is very poor at replying.

Word to Google: a cease and desist from J Mark Brewer is a badge of honour. Wear it with pride, like Sam Norton and Phil Groom did. I know you caved in to the Chinese dictatorship in a craven and shameful display of self-censorship, but for goodness sake this is just one lawyer/businessman, and not a very good one at that.

Word to J Mark Brewer: just think what this behaviour says about you. Someone asks some tricky questions, which you could have tried to answer. Instead you try to cover your tracks, and take the questions out of the public domain. Cover-up. It's usually an indicator of guilt.

Summaries also at Phil Groom, Matt Wardman

Christianity in the Workplace

One of the many stands at Spring Harvest was run by Transform Work UK: "our vision is to inspire Christians to transform the workplace and the nation". Their website has, among other things, a directory of Christian groups in a range of different work sectors, including the Christian Dental Fellowship (you shall know the tooth and the tooth shall set you free?), Christian Firefighters, etc.

Some of the leaflets on the stand included
the Christian Engineers Association
Christian Initiatives in Early Years Education (Ci2eye, tagline 'every child's spirituality matters')
Christians in Science 'Exalting God, Exploring Creation'
BT Christian Network
Christians in Education
Social Work Christian Fellowship
Christian Nurses and Midwives
Association of Christian Financial Advisors who have produced an excellent short leaflet on 'Biblical Principles of Financial Planning'.

After hearing on the news recently that Tescos employs 280,000 people, I wonder if they have a employees Christian fellowship for the company.

For groups based at particular businesses, rather than across a profession, Christians at Work maintain a Directory of workplace groups, which has our own Westlands Christian Fellowship listed, along with Christian groups everywhere from Rolls Royce to the National Society for Epilepsy.

I hope that Christians at Work and Transform Work UK can work together, and not duplicate things for each other. However it's just good to see workplace discipleship taken seriously. One of my small pile of books from Spring Harvest is the God at Work course, a brand new course from the Alpha stable, and SHOCK HORROR you don't need to spend £99 on a DVD, just £5 for a leaders manual and then guest manuals for everyone who comes. The 6 sessions cover:
  1. Work Matters
  2. Ambition and Life Choices
  3. Tough Decisions
  4. Stress and Work-Life Balance
  5. Failure, Disappointment and Hope
  6. Money and Giving
Looks good on first glance. Anyone out there using it already?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Harvest 2009

Better late than never, a few reflections on Spring Harvest Week 3 in Minehead.

  • Good opening night - often these are a bit low key, as the SH team try to allow for people to settle in and get their heads round things, but instead we had an upbeat evening, great talk from Jeff Lucas, and a slightly complex questionnaire to help people work out their learning styles. I came out as a 'Theorist' (alternatives were Reflector, Activist and Pragmatist. Reflectors wanted to change the questions, pragmatists wanted to know why they were filling in a questionnaire, Activists wanted to get on with the rest of the evening and not do the questionnaire at all).
  • Lots of challenging teaching around the theme of Discipleship, including plenty on how we help people to grow as disciples in a local church context, and on discipleship as a whole-life thing, rather than something measured in 'churchy' terms. SH has got more 'catholic' in where it draws teaching and wisdom from, and it was good to see the idea of a Rule of Life being taken seriously.
  • Good childrens programme - our two enjoyed themselves and got stuck into their groups
  • Excellent band for the Big Top, led by Vicky Beeching (who I discovered on Spotify on returning from SH, which was nice). Just as energetic at 9am as 9pm, in what must have been an exhausting week for them.
  • Minehead beach, which has been covered in sand since I last saw it, and is great.
  • More interesting seminars than I could fit in, which is unusual - in recent years the programme has looked all too familiar, with very little which hasn't already been done a couple of times before. It was nice to have lots to chew on.
  • Good seminars by Alastair Burt MP and a guy from LICC, on discipleship and modern culture.
  • The bookstall. I just love all that browsing.
  • Cbeebies on the chalet TV's for when the children needed some downtime.
  • Excellent study notes, as always, with plenty to chew on and challenge
  • Just the whole experience of being there.

Lows (relatively speaking)

  • One or two speakers trying to copy the 'anecdote' style, rather than being authentically themselves. I tuned out of one talk and ended up spending 20 minutes thinking about Peters confession of Christ in Mark 8, which actually turned out to be quite fruitful.
  • Too much marketing of stuff through events which were supposed to be for worship. Put me in mind of Pete Wards critique of 'selling worship'. One event was particularly blatant, and felt very uncomfortable.
  • A lack of seriousness - yes SH should be fun, but if we're supposed to be meeting with God then I'm not sure that stories about the bodily functions of seagulls really help us with that, though perhaps it really spoke to someone. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood that evening.
  • Powerpoint training - some speakers had clearly got the hang of what powerpoint/visuals are for, others hadn't, cramming the screen with as much text as possible, and skipping to the next slide before you had time to digest it.
  • Finnegans fish and chips. Awful. Skegness-goers, it may be perishing cold by the North Sea, but at least you've got Harry Ramsdens.
  • Lack of a decent international speaker. It may be false memory syndrome, but SH used to regularly bring in well known speakers from outside the UK. Having been inspired by Tony Campolo and Don Carson at SH in the past, it would be great to hear Brian MacLaren, Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, Tom Sine, Bill Hybels, Jackie Pullinger, (insert your own favourite) etc. Or maybe I'm just spoilt. (or, see below, maybe I went to the wrong week!!)

Will post some quotes from the speakers in a few days, if I can decipher my notes.

Not a mention, by the way, of New Word Alive, which parted company with Spring Harvest a couple of years ago. Adrian Warnock has a detailed blog from the event, which gives a flavour of what it was like. I hope the two festivals don't retreat to separate sides of a wall, writing messages in Chalke but no longer communicating.

There were also no major speakers from New Wine, another major evangelical network - possibly because they're all prepping for their leaders conference in a fortnight. It's worryingly easy to pigeon-hole a lot of well-known church leaders into the conference you'd expect to hear them speak at, which isn't healthy. We need to listen to people we aren't necessarily going to agree with.

Other Spring Harvest bloggers
Tom Bullock who was there as an 8-11s leader
Dan Kingsley
David Derbyshire
Sean Stillman
Nigel Wright - reading his blog it sounds like we did get Brian Maclaren, just not when I was there!
Forbidden Fruits Frustrated Writings, going back after a 20 year gap.
Help i work with children who helped lead the 5-7's work at Skeggy

and probably loads more....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St. Aidan vs St. George

Despite the praise heaped upon St. George by J.John and others, I still maintain that St. Aidan would be a more fitting patron saint for England. Missionary, Northerner, and actually lived here.

Fellow Twitterers have suggested St. Alban, St. Cuthbert and St. Edmund. Any more contenders out there?

Manure and Mission

Had a couple of meetings with people yesterday enquiring about baptism, one adult, one family seeking baptism for their children. In both cases it was the first time I'd met them face to face, and an image came to mind whilst all this was going on.

In our garden, stuff grows. Some of it is moss and weeds, others are things we've planted ourselves. If you want something to grow, and it's in the very early stages (seed, small shoot), then two things will kill it. One is complete neglect - no water, no soil, no sun (unless it's a mushroom). The other is overkill: drenched with a hosepipe every hour, and a couple of bags of multipurpose compost dumped on it from a great height.

Many of the baptism enquiries we get, especially for children, come from people who aren't of solid and committed Christian faith. It feels a bit like being presented with a small shoot: it has the potential to grow into something bigger, and potentially take root and start producing fruit, but that day is a long way off. Most clergy have at their disposal an entire warehouse of compost, and a sizeable lake of water - what we've learned, Bible knowledge, personal experiences, outlines of the gospel, books to lend, courses to encourage people to go on, questions to get people thinking, church groups/events which could help people make the first step towards being part of the church, how to pray & read the Bible etc. If we opened the gates on all of this stuff at once, most of the people we meet would be blown away by it. They'll probably go through with the baptism, but that will be the last we see of them.

The skill is to give the shoot enough water and nutrients to help it to grow without killing it. Not enough - a watery skim-through of the Christian faith and a bit of vicary niceness - will see it wither. Too much will overwhelm it. Then when the plant has grown a bit, it's ready for more. In a way this isn't 100 miles from Lawrence Singlehurst's model of 'Sowing, Reaping, Keeping' - of seeing the journey to faith as a series of steps, and providing regular opportunities for people to take the next step. One or two folk who came to us for baptism in the last couple of years are now looking at confirmation. The shoots are growing.

But so as not to get carried away:
1. Is this a valid image, or am I just trying to justify a fuzzy Anglican approach which compromises on personal commitment?

2. Isn't it our job to deliver the gospel, whether or not we judge that people are capable or recieving the entire package, and to trust God?

3. Do we devalue baptism by not insisting on committed Christian faith in those who seek it for their children?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If your wife is reading Galatians, then invest in a good mattress

A story of a very interesting 40th birthday present. I must admit, it's not the first thing that usually comes to mind on reading Galatians 5. Given how many aches and pains I have after playing a gentle game of cricket 2 days ago, I'd probably be a physical wreck by now had I found myself in that blessed situation.

365 nights of beer and curry would be a treat, but possibly with the same physical results....

Ht RevArun

How to avoid 'sharing the Peace' in an Anglican church

'No eye contact glasses', as distributed by Rotterdam Zoo to stop people being attacked by the gorillas. These could be an absolute gift to introverts, or anyone who's just having a bad day and doesn't want anyone to talk to them. Ht Phyllis at Derren Browns blog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Most jokes about religion aren't about doctrine or dogma, but about marketing"

The last of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle last night, on religion. Apart from the extreme evangelical dog school which trained dogs to attack Rowan Williams, here are a few of the good lines - enhanced tenfold by the deadpan delivery:

"The reason I now believe in God and creation and intelligent design is Professor Richard Dawkins. How can something as complex and intricate and beautiful as Professor Richard Dawkins have evolved by chance? Professor Richard Dawkins was put there to test us, like fossils or facts."

“Most jokes about religion aren’t about doctrine or dogma, but about marketing…Catholicism combines a search for a profound spiritual truth in the universe with a love of inane seaside souvenir shop tat. You don’t often see those two things working as a team.”

“It is very difficult to do a joke about Islam because most people don’t really know enough about it for you to do anything sophisticated, so you end up falling back on the most obvious and perfunctory stereotypes, which is very frustrating.”

I expected much more anti-religious stuff, so it was (mostly, if you discount the adolescent skits) good fun. Interesting to see how many comedians are openly atheist (e.g. Jimmy Carr, Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard), and the only people we'll now listen to for long enough to allow them to develop an argument are comedians...

More thoughtful stuff from Lee on religion here.

More Spiritual or More Stupid?

Much is made of the fact that we are 'more spiritual but less religious' - it was one of the things raised at Spring Harvest last week, and research seems to show a greater tendency to believe in a spiritual world, such as this, published last week by Theos:

The poll of over 2,000 people, conducted by ComRes on behalf of Theos, shows that 70% of people believe in the human soul, 55% believe in heaven and 53% believe in life after death.

Almost four in 10 (39%) of people believe in ghosts, 22% believe in astrology or horoscopes, 27% believe in reincarnation and 15% believe in fortune telling or Tarot, the research reveals.

The comparison with the 1950s is especially striking. In 1950, only 10% of the public told Gallup that they believed in ghosts, and just 2% thought they had seen one. In 1951, only 7% of the public said they believed in predicting the future by cards and 6% by stars.

A regional breakdown of the latest research finds that:

• London has the highest proportion of people in the UK who believe in ghosts (50%) astrology/horoscopes (26%) and heaven (69%).
• Scotland has the highest proportion of people in the UK who believe in fortune telling/tarot (18%).
• Wales has the highest proportion of people who believe in reincarnation (32%).

On one level, this is good news - many people don't need persuading that their lives have a spiritual element. But my question at the moment is, does this mean that people are more spiritual, or just more foolish? Are we into Chesterton 'if people stop believing in God then it's not that they believe in nothing, but will believe in anything' territory here? Comedian Stewart Lee made the point a few weeks ago that someone who read our most popular celebrity books would end up being more stupid than someone who'd never read them in the first place. Are we dealing with the same kind of inability to think properly about religion and spirituality which Richard Dawkins despairs of in creationists?

After all, these aren't groups of Athenian philosophers who debate the spiritual world on a regular basis, who would relate to a sermon on the Unknown God (Acts 17), but people who watch Derek Acorah on TV and read horoscopes in the Sun. Is this 'spirituality' a manifestation of curiosity, or of credulity?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thoughts from elsewhere

On church amnesia:

"..the church tells a different story than our world does. This ought not to come as a surprise, since the Jesus we follow embodied an immeasurably different story than did the world of his day.

But it’s when the church forgets who she is-when she forgets what her story is-that the church misses the whole point of this following Jesus thing. It’s then that the church starts to listen and buy into the stories that are told around it; stories like the myth of redemptive violence, or the story of unlimited consumption of resources, or the story of homeland safety and security at all costs, or the story of self-concern over the concern of those on the edge of society. Maybe it’s as simple as the story of “the best bang for your buck”-a story told without narrating anything about the condition of the production or the producers of our goods. The stories told around us are legion and often very attractive. When the church forgets to do its church thing, it loses its way." (from Patrick McManus, worth reading the whole article, a reflection on how IKEA is marketing itself on Sunday mornings, at Start the Week)

The Bishop of Huntingdon, no less, reflects on The Hours latest release, and what it says about art, life and the current mood:

The time is now when everything’s falling apart
The slow rehearsal soon will be gone for ever
These days, these days, these days are all we have

...It’s so redolent of the mood of the moment. Everything seems doomed. There’s nothing to believe in. But we need to believe in something or lose our minds. We don’t know where we’re going. But somehow we need to pull together to get there.

Elsewhere Mark Meynell comments on AN Wilsons amazing turnaround in his religious views, though it is based on a story in the Daily Mail, so probably isn't true, but you never know.

Having been away for the whole Susan Boyle on Britains Got Talent thing, it's interesting to see some of the lyrics - William Crawley notes that it's a redemption song "I dreamed that God would be forgiving" taken from one of the most powerful portrayals of the gospel in art and literature, Les Miserables. After releasing Hallelujah as a Christmas single, and now this, you wonder if something strange is happening to Simon Cowell.

Finally the Church Mouse is doing us all a service (perhaps) by keeping a list of all the clergy on Twitter. Not to be confused with Two Church Mice (John & Olive Dranes newish mission blog), the Church Mouse offers a briefer and less right wing alternative to Cranmer in term of comment and analysis on faith and public life. He/she/it even has a regular 'best of the blogs' roundup every Friday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What would the Rabbi say to the Spin Doctor?

Just had a very good few days at Spring Harvest in Minehead, 2 questions buzzing round my head:

1. Would Jesus have called Derek Draper to be one of his disciples? At SH we've been looking at the story of the call of Matthew the tax collector, among other things. Collaborator, crook, thief, traitor, probably had people beaten up for non-payment, generally an unpleasant guy. Everyone else would have pilloried him, Jesus called him. And he changed.

Who else's name could you put in there?

2. Why did the BBC pull the 'religion' programme in Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle on Easter Monday? It's now being shown tomorrow night, and timetabled nicely so that you can catch the first episode of the new Ashes to Ashes. Lee is the man behind 'Jerry Springer, the Opera', but the series has been one of the treats of the early spring, on the whole both very funny and very thoughtful, though some of the skits have started to get a bit Chris Morris. The fact the Beeb didn't want to show the religion episode on the Easter weekend suggests they were a bit wobbly about the content.

On Spring Harvest itself, more in a couple of days, it's interesting to read what Dave Walker thought of it all.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Move Over, Nicene Creed 3: My King

Always loved this, 'My King', inspiring stuff from SM Lockeridge. There's several versions of this on Youtube, though I'm not sure they can add very much to the words. Just close your eyes and listen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Move Over, Nicene Creed 2

Following on from yesterday, here is a modern Christian creed, Pete Grieg's vision of "an army of young people - the tattoo on their back reads 'for me to live is Christ, to die is gain'.... who can stop them?... a generation (that) prays like a dying man".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Move Over, Nicene Creed

It's struck me for a while that we could do with something with a bit more energy than the Nicene Creed in our worship. Yes it defines many things that are core doctrines, but it's a document drafted in the 4th century, alive to theological issues then, but today we don't face the same issues.

Martin Luther Kings 'I have a dream' speech is one example of a modern 'creed' which isn't just about doctrine, but brings together deeply held principles with practical examples in a vision of how society can be. One thing that can put wind in the sails of the church is a clearly held vision, which we reinforce regularly, not simply of what doctrines we stand for, but what shape of community, society and world we are committed to.

Here is a very clever, and very good, example of a secular 'creed'.

Monday, April 13, 2009

SPCK Bookshops - smoke and mirrors

During my Lent break, the issues around the former SPCK bookshops didn't, sadly, go away. Texan businessman Mark Brewer is still in charge, suppliers remain unpaid, and the bookshop chain continues to struggle.

However, Phil Groom has unearthed something very, very interesting. In March 2008, the St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, overnight, handed over the SPCK bookshops to a cluster of new businesses, all set up under the Brewer name. Anyone owed money by SSG was immediately left high and dry, as the new businesses (which are basically the same as SSG but with a new name), accepted no liability for SSG's unpaid bills. Over 100 individuals and companies were left unpaid, and Brewer then tried to get himself declared bankrupt in the USA to avoid paying any of them.

But...... There is now documentary evidence to show that SSG and the new companies are, effectively the same. Phil has a copy of the Certificate of Employers Liability, where SSG are the named company for November 2008-October 2009, for staff working in the shops under the ownership of ENC/Durham Cathedral Shop Management/Chichester Cathedral Shop Management.

This either means
a) that there is an ongoing relationship between SSG and ENC (in which case, bingo!)
or b) that the insurance is invalid (in which case, flee the building!)

It is a continiuing scandal that a flagship Christian bookshop chain has become a byword for incompetence and injustice. However it is also obvious, as Phil points out, that whenever the new owners have had their bluff called, they've paid up. Part of Mark Brewers Lent penance was discovering that some of his cash had gone south with Allen Stanford. It's not that he doesn't have the money.

(By the way, if you've ever been to Durham Cathedral bookshop, have a look at this - no, it's not a clearance sale, it's big empty gaps on the shelves. )

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Feet and Knees

Had the privilege of putting someone elses shoes and socks on for them today, so that they could come home from hospital. It wasn't planned like that, but it was a bit of a Maundy Thursday moment.

Jesus washes the disciples feet, then tells them to copy him. Why?

- Because you can only wash feet on your knees. And that's where you pray. What we are on our knees before God, that is what we are and nothing else.

- On your knees you get to look into the faces of those who can't stand, and the faces of children. You can't do that if you're standing up.

- Washing feet gives service the priority over status. Jesus doesn't care about his reputation, and Christians shouldn't care about their reputation either.

- Washing feet is love in action. We have songs and words galore about love, but God so loved the world that he gave: he did something. There's an article in todays local paper about the launc of Yeovil's new Street Pastors team - several of those interviewed say how good it is that someone is doing something, rather than just talking about doing something.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The National Secular Society: who needs evidence when you've got prejudice?

A couple of good pieces responding to yesterdays National Secular Society attack on the work of hospital chaplains, which was given the oxygen of publicity by the BBC.

- Ekklesia reports on the response of union Unite, which calls the report 'erroneous and simplistic',
- and Matt Wardman raises some serious questions of detail about the research behind the report, and the figures it quotes.
- to be fair to the Beeb, they also have an article by a medical ethicist on the value of hospital chaplaincies.

There are several other good articles on the Ekklesia site.

The NSS would command a lot more respect if they dropped their editorial policy of refusing to recognise any positive contribution made by people of faith. Unfortunately, because they're known to be innately biased, nothing presented by the NSS can be treated as objective fact. Which is ironic, since I guess that would be their critique of religion...

Easter visuals - free downloads

If you're (last minute) after some Easter visuals for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it's worth checking out ReelWorship. It's a free video and picture sharing website, and has some stunning pictures and lovely simple video loops.

And it's not just for Easter - there's also a great set of pictures suitable for using as backgrounds to powerpoint slides, and a range of abstract/themed videos. Some of the vids have background music linked in, so you have ready-made meditations. Full marks to Ian Britton, who set it up and has provided many of the resources.

It's not about the Bunny

Easter Linebacker

Don't you hop from me!! Booya! Peace and goodwill etc.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fresh expressions of Easter

Good little story on the CofE news site of some of the creative celebrations of Easter around the country, from stations of the cross to shoe-shining.

For the record, here's (some) of what's happening in Yeovil.

Good Friday
10am-12.30 pm Childrens Workshop, St. Johns Church
10am Good Friday meditation, St. James church
11am Walk of witness, town centre
2pm Good Friday meditation, St. Johns, reflective worship at the Gateway
2-4pm All-Age Family Workshops, St. James

Easter Saturday
3pm Open air Baptism, the Quedam Shopping Centre
10pm - 4am First Street Pastors patrol, Yeovil town centre.

Easter Sunday
along with all the usual celebrations... (turn up in a church building at 10.30 and you'll find one!)
6.30pm Songs of Praise, with Bishop Timothy Dudley Smith talking about some of his well-known hymns, St. Johns Yeovil.

Back to Church Sunday promo vid

New promo for BTCS available on Youtube

The 2009 date for Back to Church Sunday is Sept 27th. According to their site, 3,000 churches took part last year, and over 30,000 folk said 'yes' when invited back to church.

Obviously, this is only one tool in the box, and not the answer to everything. It will work for folk who have dropped out of church 'by accident' - through changing jobs, moving house, or falling out of the habit. It won't work for folk who've never been near a church. And it will be a negative thing if you invite your friends and the church isn't welcoming!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Is it worth it?

Had a card today from a friend who was looking forward to this blog restarting for Easter. Is it worth it?

During Lent I had the misfortune to watch this, two of the 'top' (according to Wikio) bloggers in the UK, fighting like 3 year olds in a ball pit, and taking their in-house blogosphere argument into the bemused studios of the BBC. It's embarrassing to be associated with the blogging medium if these are some of our star players.

There'll be a few Easter posts towards the end of the week, then Spring Harvest, then a few posts on a project I'm working on, doing a survey of every Diocesan website in England looking at resources on mission & fresh expressions, and highlighting good resources which could be used in any Diocese. Out of the first 8, Bristol is the star site so far, one or two others are starting to develop good sections where local churches can share good practice with one another.

In the meantime, follow the passion story in real time via Twitter, or have a look at this Facebook passion (Ht Bosco Peters), brilliant.