Sunday, May 31, 2009

MP Claims for Cash in Church Collection

Frank Cook claimed back a £5 donation made at a church service to commemorate the sacrifice of RAF pilots. The left wing MP for Stockton North signed the claim thus: “Battle of Britain church service, Sunday 17.09.06. £5 contribution to offertory on behalf of Frank Cook MP.”

From Guido Fawkes. The claim was rejected by the fees office. Mr Cook told the Telegraph "I don't remember the specific details of the Battle of Britain Day donation, but the claim was quite unjustified and I have to hold up my hands and say sorry."

Fair enough, it's only £5 and he's apologised. But why would anyone even think of claiming for this in the first place?

I'll say it again, forget all this tosh about 'reforming the system'. ITS NOT THE SYSTEM THAT'S THE PROBLEM ITS THE PEOPLE. The financial credit crunch last year, and the moral credit crunch this year, are both the result of people doing greedy and irresponsible things because they thought they could get away with it. Yes better (and independent) regulation will help keep people honest in the future, but if an MP can't be a good, honest and trustworthy steward of taxpayers money without having a 'system' to keep him/her that way, then we don't want them as an MP in the first place.

Comedians on God 6: Mr Bean goes to Church

Come on, admit it, this is your church isn't it?

By the way, don't expect anything learned from me this week, Holiday Clubs are a bit all consuming....

Love the vicary voice in the background. Vaguely familiar...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why your church isn't growing.

The intimidation factor for a lone visitor in a new church is simply huge.

But it is nowhere close to the stress and vulnerability that is put on a churchgoer who invites a visitor. All inviters put their reputations on the line every time they invite someone to church. You can rest assured that your church members will not invite someone if they do not expect a positive outcome. And most of the time, that's why one church isn't growing and the church around the corner is. It has led us to say that "People are not ashamed of Christ, they are ashamed of their church....

...If members walk out of your service saying, "I wish my unchurched friend had been here," they will start to think about inviting their friend. If a member walks out of your service three weeks in a row and says every time, "I wish my unchurched friend would have heard that," nothing will stop that member from dragging that friend through your doors."

The whole thing is well worth a read, including a 6 point checklist to help work out whether folks would feel happy inviting their friends.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Marmite Jesus

I always knew Marmite was good, but not that it was this good.

Story here. Of course this all raises some serious theological questions. Unfortunately, not the obvious one - 'if I spread it on my toast, is that like taking communion?' or the fact that, if you look at it upside down, it bears a passing resemblance to the Amnesty International logo.

Vote for Me!/Don't Vote for Them! 8 leaflets, 7 parties, 1 vote.

Update: I've now had a third leaflet from the Conservatives, and 1/8 of a Libdem election leaflet on Europe. Still none much the wiser!!

It's Euro election day on June 4th, and I've had 8 leaflets now from 7 different parties, all after my vote:

1. The British National Party, a leaflet composed by searching Google for 'white family', which declares "it's not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness - it's common sense!" Maybe, but it is racist to bar black people from your party. NEXT!

2. The Labour leaflet had glued itself shut, possibly to hide the endorsement and picture of Gordon Brown inside. However, despite lots of words, I couldn't find anything to say what Labour would do as part of the Euro Parliament. It was either about domestic responses to the credit crunch, sideswipes at other parties (how can you brand an opposition party a 'do nothing' party? It's not allowed to do anything!!), or immigration. I couldn't see any positive reason for voting for Labour.NEXT!

3. Fair Pay Fair Trade Party - I initially thought this was an invitation to something run by a friend from the church, it came through the letterbox on an A5 slip of paper. They call themselves 'the most exciting political party ever' (possibly true, though there's not much competition), and have a platrofm of certified fair trade products, free rail transport, and EU help to eradicate global shortages of water for 1.2 billion people. PENDING

4. Pensioners Party "everyone is or will be a pensioner", a fascinating pot pourri, or possibly quiche, of policies, including a commitment by the MEP's to donate £20k of their salary to charity. Great idea. How they can increase interest rates on savings I have no idea, and there's some populist stuff on police and immigration. There's a whole lot more policies on their website. Ok, some may be impractical, but at least they have some ideas (see Labour). PENDING while I get my teeth.

5. UK Independence Party . 'Say No to European Union' Folks, Churchill died, like, 50 years ago. It must be said that in the very limited local poster wars, UKIP are winning. I guess anyone supporting the 3 main parties is currently too ashamed to say so. Their principle platform is to leave the EU (along with the regulation sideswipe at immigration). Single issue party, but with Post Office closures bringing EU interference onto the village green, it's a powerful single issue. RECYCLE?

6. Green Party 'Facing up to the Future'. Nice, clear, green (in both senses) leaflet. 3 commitments: economy (clean technology, workers rights and banking regulation), global responsibility (ethical foreign policiy, climate change, poverty), and environment (safe food, protect countryside, waste policy). PENDING

7. The Conservative Party sent me 2 leaflets, one through the letter box, one from David C himself. 'Vote for Change'. The letter states that my vote on June 4th will be (effectively) a mass opinion poll on the government 'it's your chance to show you want us to take a different direction', and then lists various domestic political matters. The message of the leaflet is to use June 4th as a national referendum on ID cards. There's also a picture of a serious (but open-necked) DC and bullet points on the economy, NHS and a referendum on the EU Constitution. The trouble is that it's not an opinion poll, it's an election, I will be voting for MEP's, and I want to know what they will do. Cameron's message is 'oh, forget about all that and tell us what you think of Labour'. NEXT!

the Libdems Euro leaflet hasn't arrived, though the local county councillor's was the first through the door (for the local elections, so far nobody else seems to be campaigning on those). It had some of the, now notorious, Libdem bar charts, but he got us £6k for Street Pastors so I'm happy.

Overall impressions?
- The really really sad thing is that the parties with the most ideas, and the most positive message, are those least likely to be elected. The most negative parties are the two biggest ones.

- Some parties are trying to make this a single issue election (UKIP, Conservatives, BNP to some degree), whilst others are about using Europe as a means to deliver change (Green, Fair Trade). I guess the Pensioners Party are more focused on UK issues, but are standing anyway.

- Whatever the result, it will need to go down in the history books with an asterisk because of the Daily Telegraph and the MP expenses saga. We have lost all chance of it being a proper election based on proper debate about real policies and philosophies. That's a great shame.

- Pretty much everyone is promising curbs on immigration, so they virtually cancel each other out (except the BNP, who would close the borders to anyone with a sun tan or a funny accent. Don't holiday on the Med if the BNP gets in power, you might never be allowed to return home!). With the credit crunch, immigration is now curbing itself anway.

If it's all too confusing, Church Mouse has some handy tips on how to work out who to vote for.

Fresh Expressions, Diocese by Diocese (virtually)

After trawling through all 43 Diocesan websites, it's very clear that the whole 'Mission Shaped Church' agenda has had a varied impact, if the sites are anything to go by. Bishops, prayers, and rules on buildings are an ever present reality, but there's a much patchier picture on 'fresh expressions of church'.

The 'average' diocesan site has some mention of the Mission Shaped Ministry course, with a link to the national site, and (in some cases) to forthcoming local MSM courses. A few have a description of what Mission Shaped Church/Fresh Expressions is all about, and a handful (see below) actually showcase examples of Fresh Expressions in their Diocese.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some websites which have no mention of any of the above. In some cases it's because the Diocese is putting its resources elsewhere than the website (fair enough, things are tight). But to find that getting on for a third of Diocesan websites don't really mention it at all is a bit worrying. One or two of these have a strong mission message already, but on some sites the absence of anything about Fresh Expressions is part of a general absence of much to do with mission.

In passing, it's interesting that Mission Action Planning (which hasn't been a national initiative) is much more common than Fresh Expressions, and much more high profile in many diocesan strategies.

Most worth a visit (in alphabetical order):
1. Bristol: a selection of Youtube videos on local fresh expressions and a diocesan Church Planting Policy. The whole website is very mission flavoured.

2. Chichester has a full list of registered Fresh Expressions in the diocese

3. Exeter a substantial Mission section, includes Fresh Expressions in Devon, with details of specific local fx's, plus local examples. 2 Cathedral based fresh expressions Life on the Beach is a mission partnership between Exeter Cathedral and local churches, using the Cathedral green for a Saturday open-air outreach/festival. Nightchurch is a new outreach based in the Cathedral on Friday nights, aimed at Gen X and Y. Mission Downloads include generic fx presentations for parishes/deaneries to preview, and a very good paper on Pioneer Ministry.

4. Guildford: a concise list of every fx in the diocese, grouped by type (alternative, workplace, cafe etc.) with details of when and where. Also a 20 page thesis on the difference between fx and traditional outreach.

5. Liverpool: lots of good things, but highlights: ACTS a joint initiative with TEARfund to take parishes step by step through embarking on a new project for the benefit of the community, from building a community centre to running a fun day. A way in for community based fresh expressions. Their latest report on the diocesan strategy identifies a resource church for pioneer ministry, and summarises church plants and pioneering projects.

6. Norwich: simple pages explaining Fresh expressions and alternative worship, with links to local examples and a page on alternative and creative worship, from all-age to 'liquid', with links to blogs, books and resource sites. Couple of good case studies of redeveloping churches as community centres.

7 Oxford: The Encouraging Evangelism page has a selection of vid clips on the practicalities of evangelism, no. 5 focuses on the Jigsaw fresh expression of church in Witney. Oxfords Cutting Edge project (2002-8) resourced 6 pilot new congregations, there's a summary of the fruits here, and the full report on the project is well worth a read if you are looking to set up a Fresh Expression within an Anglican diocese, very very helpful. The Diocese has also produce a concise 'Beginning, Nurturing and Sustaining Fresh Expressions' booklet, which is available as a pdf.

8.Ripon and Leeds: has FX section, and great to see that there are 4 video clips of different FX in the diocese, plus an intro from the Bish. However, they need to link the vids from the fx page! Also has a policy document on mission and ministry in UPA parishes, worth reading.

9. Southwell: nothing explicitly on fresh expressions, despite pages on Sports Ministry, and Car Boot Sale ministry, and a link to iChaplaincy (an internet chaplaincy/workplace chaplaincy in the Nottingham area.

At least as many other dioceses have fresh expressions pages, some which mention local projects but without much detail (Truro).

You'll notice that not all of the above are actually going great guns on Mission Shaped Church. Southwell and Liverpool are there partly because they are things that look like fresh expressions of church, but don't use the label. Based on websites alone, you'd have to say that only Bristol, Exeter, Guildford and Oxford have really got the bit between their teeth, but you wonder how many people even in these places are holding the reins (to mix equine metaphors).

It's also interesting that a planned General Synod review of Mission Shaped Church has been shelved. I really do hope it's not for long: despite Rowan Williams clear leadership on this, and the remarkable changes embraced by the church in recent years, the evidence from the online presence of the various dioceses is that the job is by no means done.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dear Daily Telegraph: please give it a rest

1. You may have noticed that other things are starting to creep back into the headlines. Take a break while you're ahead, you'll need it to count the takings.

2. There is a law of diminishing returns on this, and most of us can't tell one MP we've never heard of from another, unless they happen to be our MP (and even then....). A few weeks break to do some more homework will mean that in a few weeks it's a fresh story that people want to hear, rather than something (like swine flu, which is still rising) which we got bored of even though it never really went away.

3. Rowan Williams is right.

4. The politicians are now going on about electoral reform. Excuse me? In case anyone had forgotten, we have soaring unemployment, and a major economic crisis on our hands. This is a serious case of taking your eye off the ball, born from a percieved need to 'do something' in response to the expenses row.

5. There are two election campaigns currently underway, for local and Euro elections in early June. Both of these will be completely blitzed by the expenses scandal, and turn into referendums on our MPs, and the parties they represent. Fascinating though it is to discover that an MP spent 99p on a box of matches, I think the way we are governed at local and Euro level is far too important for this kind of nonsense to take it over. A self-imposed moratorium until the day after the elections would at least give a chance for the proper electoral arguments to be heard.

6. It's getting boring. And that means that less and less attention will be paid to what's discovered, unless you can progressively bring out more and more scandalous details, or sex up/'embellish' (N. Dorries) the details you've got to make them sound more scandalous than they actually are. Bluntly, MP's whose reciepts are at the bottom of the pile are more likely to get away with it.

7. We would discover a lot about our political parties if you gave them a few weeks to think and act, instead of having to respond on a daily basis to stories in the press. Let the governors govern, let the opposition oppose, let Parliament sort itself out. Certainly, if people have claimed things which are not incurred fully in pursuit of their responsibilities as an MP, the truth should be told. But we need a chance to let the dust settle and see what we learn about the leadership, character and values of Messrs Clegg, Cameron and Brown from this whole sorry mess.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What (nearly) everyone else is thinking

Carl Medearis wonders why, though so many Americans are Christians, it doesn't seem to make any difference.

Also in Tennessee, Heavens Highway has a meditation on idiots: Christ emphasizes this in His teaching: “If you love me, obey my commands.” This is not unconditional love, as some misguided preachers and teachers would have us believe. This is a love that has responsibilities placed upon it. We cannot say that we love Jesus and then go and do what we want.

The Church Mouse notes 2 more cases of NHS staff being told they can't act in accordance with their faith. Is it me, or is CM slowly morphing into Cranmer? Not that that's massively bad, it's just that CM will start to get lots of slightly unhinged commenters buzzing around him.

thanks to the Bible Reading Fellowship, the Foundations 21 discipleship course is now available free. Yes, free.

iGod asks a very good question, 'what is success for a church leader?', and also notes that the thing we work on most in our sermons (the words) is the bit that has least impact. Go figure, as someone else might say.

Simons Journal helps you work out your learning style, which may explain why you don't get anything out of sermons anymore.

If you're a fan of Eugene Peterson, Howard Jamieson has been reading 'the Contemplative Pastor', and posting his reflections on each chapter.

Derren Brown notes a New Scientist article on the rituals sports 'stars' perform before a game, raising the issue of whether these are superstitions, or forms of Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) to cope with high levels of stress.

Faith Central notes a new theory that children are born with faith in God, and that to believe in God comes more naturally to us than not to do so. It'll all be explained in a Faraday Lecture, apparently.

and Tom Harris knows exactly what to do.

Comedians on God 5: Rowan Atkinson on Hell

Not quite the same as the others, but this is a classic.

She's Back

Nadine Dorries blog has been restored, minus a certain post which I'm sure you can find if you look hard enough..... ;-)

Monday, May 25, 2009

70% 'reconsidered core values' in the last year.

Christian Research have published a study on whether the credit crunch is making people re-examine their core values and priorities. A survey of over 2000 people in April found that 70% of them had "had cause to reconsider their core values, or think about the big issues like ‘the meaning of life’, in the last year".

Here's what that re-evaluation looked like in practice, in terms of what people were thinking about doing:

Researcher Benita Hewitt argues that what folk are mainly looking for is belonging, rather than a deeper meaning or purpose to things, as a result of insecurity due to the credit crunch. More details on that in her powerpoint presentation on the research.

Another interesting finding:
The place of prayer, church going or reading the Bible
- 1 in 4 considered either praying, going to church or reading the Bible
- 17% of people searching either prayed, went to church or reading the Bible and found it helpful and worth doing again
- 8 in 10 of those who considered praying, did so, found it helpful and worth doing again

45% of adults say they are Christian and are searching. Of these, 1 in 3 considered praying, going to church or reading the Bible.

23% of adults are not affiliated to any religion and are searching. Of these only 4% of considered praying, going to church or reading the Bible

On the same site, it's worth looking at the conference report, which looks at evangelism in the modern day context, what works, what helps, and how we equip people better, some interesting reflections.

Ht Evangelism UK.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Top 100 Bible verses

as searched for on Bible Gateway. Guess which one's top....

...that was easy:

Here’s the top 10:
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jer 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Rom 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Phil 4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Gen 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Prov 3:5: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

Prov 3:6: in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Rom 12:2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Phil 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Matt 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

I wonder what it says about us that 6 of the 10 are reassurance, 2 are about aligning ourselves with God's will, 1 is about mission (no.10), and the other is the opening verse of the Bible.

Nothing on justice, compassion, money, generosity, leadership, politics, war.........

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fightback MP silenced - what do you think?

Nadine Dorries, virtually the only MP to stand up to the Telegraph in the last few days, has had her blog taken down by the Daily Telegraph. Many of the political blogs have the story, e.g.

Craig Murray (himself the victim of blog censorship by the Usmanovs, owners of Arsenal I think)
Dizzy Thinks found that the Telegraph was behind it
NHS blog doctor, one of the first with the story, put it down to David Cameron.

I notice, in passing, that none of the leading political blogs have reposted Nadine Dorries' comments, though a few have linked to the cached version of the blog (see below). What's the matter with them? Surely, somewhere among these courageous men, women and pseudonyms is the cojones to stand up to censorship? It's interesting to see who gets round to publishing her comments - fearless in condemning MP's but a bit more flaky when it comes to standing up to the billionaire owners of Sark?

Well, if you can find anything libellous at the cache of Ms Dorries blog, you're more perceptive than I am. Here is what I think is the offending passage (if you've read her blog, it could be any one of several, e.g. reposting a 'Private and Confidential' letter the Telegraph sent just hours before splashing her personal finances all over the next issue), which I'm posting because
a) this is a free and democratic society, and if MP's have to have their expenses open to scrutiny then their arguments should be open to scrutiny too.
b) I dislike censorship, whether it's happening to Dave Walker, Nadine Dorries or anyone else. Hey, even people I dislike. Most of them.

See what you think

Posted Thursday, 21 May 2009 at 17:04

Just park a couple of facts for a moment, which you may not agree with but are factual. The first is that MPs have always been encouraged, by whatever means possible, to draw down their ACA allowance in full. This is because it was upped in place of an appropriate pay rise.

The rules surrounding the ACA were deliberately sloppy in order to maximise the opportunity that MPs had to draw. This was always felt to be the safest political method to remunerate MPs, rather than face the media backlash of a pay rise.

Parliament is in chaos. The public are angry. The Telegraph has upped its circulation. There are 650 members of Parliament. In any walk of life, in whatever profession, you will find people who are dishonest. It will always be thus as long as we are all human!

The Telegraph are uncovering a few cases of fraud, but not enough, so they are more than slightly embellishing some of the stories. I write as a case in point.

then come the conspiracy theories
Enter the Barclay brothers, the billionaire owners of The Daily Telegraph. Rumour is that they are fiercely Euro sceptic and do not feel that either of the main parties are Euro sceptic enough. They have set upon a deliberate course to destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP.

A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence.

two Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that? It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires. I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.

Where do I get this from? Well, at heart I am just a cheeky scouser. I like to go into the rooms of the faceless and nameless in Parliament, sit on their desk and ask pertinent questions like: who are you? What do you do? I've made friends with one or two. One in particular I am very fond of. He is a mine of very astute information; and whilst in his office yesterday, we chunnered over the 'what is this all about?' question.

three (ish) He reckons this is all a power game. That the British public are being worked like puppets by two very powerful men. Whipped up into a frenzy to achieve exactly what they want.

His very poignant words to me were ���if any of this conjecture is true, Parliament will become full of racists, fantasists, and has-been celebrities. We will be rendered impotent and may never again regain the authority to withstand the pressure, opinion and whims of the overtly wealthy.��
Scary stuff!

Wacky conspiracy theory? Unfounded rumour? Adding 2 and 2 and making 99? You decide, I'm sure you're capable of thinking for yourselves without some media lawyer doing it for you. Better to rebut with facts than add to the speculation by using censorship.

The other place to debate Dorries' comments is Liberal Conspiracy, where people are, shall we say, unsympathetic.

Update: Dizzy has more on the what, when, where and why (see comments). And Nadine Dorries is trying to get her blog restored, according to one of her local papers.

Mission and Fresh Expressions Resources by Diocese: St. Albans - York

The final post of 4 surveying the 43 diocesan websites for useful resources on mission and fresh expressions that could be useful for anyone.

Previous posts covered:
Bath and Wells - Coventry
Derby - London
Manchester - Rochester

I'll also be doing some follow on posts: a 'top 10 resources' post, and some suggestions about what resources could, pretty easily, be held in common across all diocesan sites, and perhaps a summary of the best Fresh Expressions stuff, and how the picture looks nationally for FX based on what Dioceses have (or haven't) got on their websites. (Update: now online - follow this link for these extra posts)

so here we go.....

St. Albans: what looks like a chunky mission section, fronted by a picture which we all know is the outline of a font, or possibly a commuion cup, but might also be the outline of a toilet. I'm just telling it like it is.... However, it flatters to decieve: many of the 25 subsections are blank pages, and the first one with any content spoke of a mission training event being cancelled. The Fresh Expressions section links to two reports on Vision Days, both hosted on the national FX site.

The website is new, so I guess they've not sorted out all the content yet.

The only thing of note was a link to a Workplace Ministry project for Herfordshire and Bedfordshire - interesting to find another regional group doing this, as well as the After Sunday project in the North-East (their website is also being renewed!).

St. Edmunsbury and Ipswich Oh dear, more pop-up windows. They're about to have some events thinking about their mission as a diocese, but slim pickings in terms of mission/evangelism resources. Links worth a visit:
- 1 page style guide for powerpoint slides. Nothing really to do with mission, but v helpful.
- 'Open churches week', good idea for opening up church buildlings to the community, and some interesting things being done by churches taking part, from family tree research to fayres of various kinds.

The only FX thing on the site was a chunky powerpoint presentation (3 meg) given to their synod in Feb. It'll be familiar to anyone who's seen a presentation from the FX national team, but blends the generic stuff with some local examples. Looks like they're planning to give this more of a push in 2010.

Salisbury The only Mission link on the homepage (which has the full SiteMap) is a back to church Sunday page. Nothing on FX. There are a couple of Area groupings which are designed to resource the local church, which have their own web pages. Nothing here worth linking to, in terms of mission resources or ideas.

Sheffield Ok, we've not given Steve Croft long to make his mark, but he's already there on video on the home page with his challenge to the Diocese. 'Eat less chips'. No, not really.

There's a mission section, but the content is a bit patchy. Some good stories of mission in action from around the Diocese, and they train 'Lay Parish Evangelists', which is good to see.

Sheffield is also encouraging people to vote on 4th June to counter the BNP, and have a parish magazine article on the subject.

Sodor and Man has a website. That's about all I can say. No sign of Thomas the Tank Engine, thankfully.

Southwark clearly has a webmaster with a sense of humour, with a prominent 'what we do' menu on the home page.
- some good Communications tips via the links there (e.g. 'what are the media interested in').

Otherwise not much in the way of downloads or shareable resources, though it looks like plenty is going on in the 'real world' of the diocese.

Southwell and Nottingham ok you can wake up now. The following can be found in their Mission section.
- Bob Jackson presentation summarising some of his 'Road to Growth' findings, a powerpoint presentation you can actually understand without hearing it given in person. Good summary of Jacksons work, if you've not read his books.
- Section on Sports Ministry, good starter for 10 if you're thinking about this sort of thing.
- article on Car Boot Sale ministry, again, gives you plent of ideas if you're thinking about a church stall at a CBS.
- under Back to Church Sunday, some handy tips for welcoming children
- the Diocese had a celebration event for mission projects. Excellent way to recognise and promote what people are doing at a local level.
- Mission Development Fund material is presented in an attractive booklet form, good way of promoting it.
- 'On Course', a downloadable booklet doing a survey of what courses are on the market for Finding Faith (evangelism/nurture), Growing Faith (discipleship) and Sharing Faith (um, sharing your faith). Excellent resource, there are a few other dioceses which have a similar resource, but it should be all of them.
- a link to iChaplaincy (an internet chaplaincy) and workplace chaplaincy in the Nottingham area. Interesting idea, I'd be interested to know how well used the site/chaplaincy is.

If you're interested in where the Diocese is going, their 'Shaping the Future' vision has a good outline of what their key priorities are.
Not really on mission, but the first diocesan website where I've come across a liturgical resources section. Not just section, entire website.

After all that, nothing explicitly on Fresh Expressions, which is intriguing, though it's mentioned as part of 'Shaping the Future'....

- the Mission page gives a brief list of projects which have benefited from mission funding.

- they have a Fresh Expressions page! It mentions Tubestation (church plant for surfers) and several other projects, but the descriptions are quite brief.
- again, nothing to do with mission, but a very well organised library of downloadable forms. Everything from AGM announcements to child protection.

update: see the first comment for an ecumenical fresh expressions network in Cornwall.

- Some simple and attractive pages for enquirers, good layout and links, including a link to egodparents (new one on me)
- communications page links to national CofE advice on use of the
media, promotion etc.

Winchester (sorry, formatting starting to fall apart a bit! good old Blogger..)

- Evangelism page has summaries of the most popular nurture courses, as well as a summary of Lost for Words, (evangelism training course from CPAS). I do like the look of their Discipleship Department, which is focused on making adult disciples and enabling other to do so. By the look of this, they have a newly appointed Fresh Expressions enabler, who came into post in Jan '09, so watch this space.

- Has a FX page, which summarises what they are about, but no local stories or examples, and all the links are to external sites. But it's there, which is good.

- another page on Growing Churches summarises the Growing Healthy Churches and Mission Shaped church materials, but points people back to the Discipleship Department for getting into them in depth.

Worcester has a mission page, but not really any resources here to link to. Nothing on fresh expressions, apart from a couple of mentions in news stories.

York has a report on the uptake and effectiveness of Mission Action Plans in the diocese (York adopted these as part of Diocesan strategy in 2002).

- there are clearly some Fresh Expressions things going on, but not organised into a specific place on the diocesan website (do a search for 'fresh expressions' and it raises several articles). The best way to navigate the site appears to be the 'search' facility - 'mission' also brings plenty of results, but most of them seem to be news items on local projects.

So there you have it. Unless you're interested in following some of the niche links (e.g. Workplace ministry) the only site here really worth a browse is Southwell.

After all that, I hope this is some use to someone!! Follow up posts on the best resources etc. in the next week or so.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Measles and the Media

Children in Wales and the North-East are now reaping a harvest sown by scaremongering newspapers. There are a couple of localised outbreaks of measles - a disease which the MMR vaccine had virtually eliminated. Numbers are currently small, but growing, and the Welsh Health service notes:

The National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHS) is continuing to investigate outbreaks of measles in Mid and West Wales that have now resulted in 127 cases and led to four children being hospitalised.

The NPHS continues to remind parents that measles is a serious and potentially fatal illness and vaccination is the only way to stop the spread of the virus.

Why is this happening? Because use of the MMR vaccine for infants has dropped dramatically in various parts of the country. And why was that? Let me see:

'Scientists fear MMR link to autism' (Daily Mail)
'New MMR link found to autism' (Daily Mail)
'GCSE pupils brainwashed to support the MMR vaccine' (Daily Mail)
'New fears over MMR link to autism' (Daily Telegraph)
and just for good measure the Observer weighed in too.

The headlines are mainly based on a study of 12 people by a Dr. Andrew Wakefield, but the study would have remained an obscure scientific paper (and an opinion in a miniscule minority in the scientific community), without the publicity it was given by the press. Ben Goldacre argues on his Bad Science blog that journalists and editors have constructed their greatest hoax to date, and finally demonstrated that they can pose a serious risk to public health.

I'm naturally a bit suspicious of the media, and I'm sure there's a bit of a debate to be had about this one. But if you're going to dish it out, you have to be prepared to take it. If MP's are prepared to pay back expenses after being found out by the Telegraph, I hope the Telegraph in turn (and the rest of them) - if it's found to have contributed to a unfounded public perception that MMR was unsafe - will make a suitable donation to the Health Authorities who find themselves dealing with the current measles outbreak.

It's significant that the NHS itself calls the dip in MMR uptake 'the newspaper effect'.

Update, the Guardian has helpfully worked out how many extra copies the Telegraph has sold off the back of the expenses affair, so they should have a slush fund somewhere for good causes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Comedians on God 4: Marcus Brigstocke

Probably my favourite of the 4, I don't remotely buy what he says about religions not being interested in truth, but unfortunately that's how some of our more high profile adherents come across.

"withouth the audience to prop it up, both Heat magazine and religious fundamentalism would go away."


There are a lot of easy targets and caricatures in all this comic material. The science and faith issue comes up again and again, without recognising that for a lot of people, scientists included, there is no conflict between them. I also imagine that Brigstocke would want to raise any children of his own with particular values and ways of life, so how he can deny the same things to believing parents doesn't really add up.

I've posted these videos because, though sometimes they're uncomfortable, the best way to engage with atheists is to, um, listen to what they're saying. Sorry if that sounds like egg-sucking class for grandma, but it's quite surprising how often we miss that step out.

Follow the 'comedians on God' tag for the other 3

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

As 'troughing' becomes the latest neologism in the English language, the question is whether the body politic can recover from this bout of swine flu. Politicians elected to serve the public have, instead, exploited their office for personal gain, and built a system which winks at greed whilst at the same time cloaking the truth from public view. Political leaders have been at pains to blame 'the system', as if it is only structures which sin: that's not really good enough, but reforming the systems and culture of politics is key to reforming the soul of the body politic.

The vocation of politics has become seriously tainted. It's not alone: the report into child abuse within the Roman Catholic church in Ireland is due out today, and it will be horrific reading. Here again is a vocational profession which has not just become sick, but has died, decomposed, and spread the stench of death across a whole society.

Is the idea of vocation ('calling') still a viable one? Many of the classic vocations seem to be in decay: the vocation to entertain has mutated into celebrity culture, the vocation to justice has become the much-scorned legal profession, teachers are leaving in droves rather than prop up a system built not on education, but on league tables.

Rob Parsons tells of his father, who as a postman used to polish his boots every night in preparation for the morning round. He questioned him, asking why he bothered, since nobody would see him, and he was only delivering the post. "It's not the post", replied his dad "it's the Royal Mail".

The difference between a job and a vocation is that sense of higher purpose, whether that purpose is as a messenger, a seeker of justice, a mediator between people and God, or as a leader in political life. Over 2500 years ago the social commentator ('prophet') Isaiah spoke of the decay of leadership in his own society:
"I will make boys their officials, mere children will govern them
People will oppress each other - man agasint man, neighbour against neighbour...
A man will seize one of his brothers at his fathers home, and say
'You have a cloak, you be our leader: take charge of this heap of ruins!'
but in that day he will cry out
'I have no remedy.....' "

A few hundred years later, church leader Peter encouraged his readers to 'make your calling and election sure' (2 Peter 1 v10). He wasn't talking about getting a seat in the European Parliament, but the fact that though we may be called by God, but we have responsibility for maintaining that sense of calling through attention to our character.

Peter gives list of character qualities - faith, goodness, kindness, self-control, wisdom, love - for his hearers to add to one another and to work on. Whether you believe in God or not, the same truth applies: if your character doesn't keep up with your level of influence, then there is trouble ahead.

Some of our politicians have been so busy that they've forgotten to pay attention to themselves, to look in the mirror and ask whether they've made their calling sure, or whether they've traded it in for pig food.

Character and calling also depend on the quality of community: if you're surrounded by people who collude and wink at corruption, then it's easy to become corrupt. If you determine to be accountable to people who will strap you to the mast as you sail past the Sirens of money, sex and power, then your character and calling have a chance of making it to the end of the journey intact.

It's time to recover political leadership as a vocation, but not to kid ourselves that this solves everything. Every leader has the responsibility (and needs the support of others) to 'make your calling and election sure'. Neglect your calling and character, and you lose your place. Look after your calling and character, and your election will probably look after itself.

Comedians on God 3: Eddie Izzard

Izzard does loads of stuff about Christianity, God, and Bible stories in his live shows. Like Gervais, he cites the Genesis account as one of the reasons for him rejecting faith as illogical. However, this is the only clip I can find without lots of swearing....

3 of 4. Follow the Comedians on God tag for the other clips

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Comedians on God 2: Ricky Gervais on becoming an atheist

"I wish there was a God, it'd be great"

As it happens Comment is Free is running a series on agnosticism/atheism this week, new article each day.

2 of 4, follow the 'Comedians on God' tag for the others.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Not So British National Party

This is a campaign started by Tim Montgomerie of the Conservative Home blog. There's a supporting website and petition. Interesting to find the name of a former classmate in Sheffield among one of the BNP supporters. However, I'm sure you could publish a list of Labour, Libdem or Tory members with criminal convictions too, so I'm not sure that section of the site is entirely fair. Otherwise, I agree completely: hospitality shown to the stranger is hospitality shown to Jesus.

Ht Mark Meynell

Update: it also appears that the photos in the BNP literature are just cut and pasted from Google searches, and they don't have permission to reproduce them. The people pictured aren't actually BNP supporters. Oops.

Comedians on God 1: Penn and the Prayer Test

Since our politicians are all down at the hairshirt convenience story, comedians are now the only people left who we'll allow to speak uninterrupted for more than 2 minutes without switching channels. Quite a few of them have thought about faith, with varying results - I remember being struck by Peter Kay's account of his Catholic upbringing in 'The Sound of Laughter'.

Here is Penn, of Penn & Teller, on prayer. At the start he refers to another of his videos on evangelism, where he commends a Christian for trying to share his faith, which you can see here.

Ht Derren Browns blog

If you prefer reading to watching, Ruth Gledhill's latest is worth a read on faith, secularism, and whether God is on the way out, the way in, or whether God is where he's always been and it's us who don't know if we're coming or going.

This weeks Start the Week, on Radio 4, also explores whether 'God is back', on the back of a new book by John Micklethwait, the editor of the Economist, by the same title. He makes an interesting argument that the US Constitution, by separating church from state, created a 'free market' in religion which forced the various Christian streams to 'compete' for souls, which gives more vigour to US religion compared to established churches in other places. Spiritual capitalism... Worth a listen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nominate the SPCK/SSG Campaign for the Christian Web Awards

The 'Bloggies' - Christian Web and New Media awards, are now open for nominations. I've taken the liberty of nominating Phil Grooms blog for 'best use of new media in a Christian campaign'.

Of course, there's more to the SPCK/SSG campaign than Phil's blog, though that's very much the hub of it. Many of us who are involved have never met face to face, but through blogs, email, Facebook, online petitions, Google Groups, and even Twitter we've built a network of supporters from several countries, and in the last 2 weeks there has been a mini-avalanche of remarkable results from the pressure that the campaign has brought to bear:

- Durham Cathedral have served notice on the Brewers to leave the premises
- The Charity Commissioners have taken control of the assets of the Society of St. Stephen the Great
- as a result of which an out of court settlement with all the unfairly dismissed staff may be possible without all the wasted time and money of legal proceedings
- and Dave Walker is back to blogging about the SPCK story. Bet the Brewers wish now they'd never tried to shut him up in the first place, a tactic which backfired spectacularly.

I have a slight quibble about the Bloggies, in that anyone using new media well will, quite probably, be using more than one website to do it. The SPCK campaign - which effectively began as a recurring theme on Dave Walkers cartoon blog, has diversified into several 'new media' as it's evolved. Any campaign simply using one platform probably shouldn't get past first base!

If you'd like to nominate the SPCK/SSG campaign too, please do! Here's what I put in the 'additional information' box:

A campaign to scrutinise and hold to account the new owners of SPCK bookshops, which recently resulted in decisive action by both the Charity Commissioners and Durham Cathedral. The campaign provides a discussion space, as well as a focus for scrutiny and lobbying.

Use of new media includes
- several blogs, of which the named blog is the key one. With the censorship of Dave Walkers blog, it's been important to have several blogs reporting the story, so that 'divide and rule' through legal threats won't work.
- online petitions
- Facebook: there are two related groups on Facebook, which give the campaign an online mailing list of around 600 people, as well as a forum for spreading information.
- Google groups, as a forum for the leaders of the campaign to communicate and share information.
- more recently, Twitter.

Many of those involved in the campaign haven't met face to face, but new media has enabled us to network, co-ordinate our efforts, and spread information to a wide group of people.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blip, or Earthquake?

ComRes: Conservative 40%, Labour 21%, Libdem 18% Other 21% (more details)
BPix Conservative 42%, Labour 20 %, Libdem 15%, UKIP 17% Other 6%

Revised Prayer Book issued

The Beaker Common Prayer is now available in all its glory on the internet, in time for you to memorise the Liturgy for the Nativity of Morrissey ready for next weeks festival. It really is deeply edifying, containing such nuggets of 'truth' as these:

Secret 2 - Retreat centres are amazing places. People go there and you can offer them plain food, give them menial tasks to do (tell them it’s "discipline"), just leave them to their own devices (and call it "space"). And then you charge them a fortune. Just like my old school.

Secret 3 - It’s not good enough to let people discover themselves. People have to go abroad to learn news of home. If you offer them the good old Church of England, they’ll think of musty hassocks and dodgy cassocks and stay at home of a Sunday morning. But offer them Celtic Christianity and they’ll hear the wind blowing over the heather and the waves crashing on Iona’s shores. You can tell them to listen to the "whisper of the Wild Goose" – as if wild geese whisper. They honk.

But never mind, if it keeps the punters happy tell you can tell them that wild geese sing 15th century madrigals. Let people sing in Latin and they won’t understand it and they’ll be released from their mundane lives. Tell them it’s Primeval Mystic Truth, discovered by the Ancients, and they’ll swallow anything you want to feed them. Tell them it’s primeval spiritualism, and brings you one-ness with the universe, and they’ll give you all their money.

whoever the author is, they clearly have too much time on their hands, and have spent far too much time with a) Anglicans b) Pagans c) Health and Safety officials. I did wonder whether it has anything to do with Simon Parke, who's Abbot Peter novels are a superb deconstruction of the navel-gazing retreat/spirituality industry.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mission and Fresh Expressions Resources by Diocese: Manchester - Rochester

Continuing the survey of 44 diocesan websites for useful resources on mission and fresh expressions that could be useful for anyone. Previous posts covered:
Bath and Wells - Coventry
Derby - London
Sheffield - York to follow next week, all being well.

At the end of the series I'll also be doing a 'top 10 resources' post, and some suggestions about what resources could, pretty easily, be held in common across all diocesan sites.

This time, we start in the land of my birth (almost)

Manchester a pretty comprehensive looking site. Interesting bits:
Mission planning statistics - the Diocese has neighbourhood census and demographic stats organised parish by parish, to help parishes understnad their mission context. There is a pack for each parish with maps and key local stats. Excellent idea.

A very good Parish Audit booklet, taking parishes step by step through the process of thinking about their local context, and how to respond to it. Great tool for thinking through priorities and direction as a parish/church.

Superb communications home page, which helpfully sets out all the main local media in the Diocese, and which area they cover, as well as what communications the Diocese is sending out and who to. Great overview, the kind of thing every diocese should do. Great. The other communications stuff is of a similar standard - there are a cluster of advice pages on publicity, news releases, media contacts, websites and magazines (use links in the sidebar from the Communications home page).

Chunky Evangelism section, which starts with a clear statement of intent: Manchester Diocese has a vision to see the local church growing: growing qualitatively in terms of spirituality, unity, generosity and discipleship. Growing quantitatively as more people are drawn to faith in our great God and his son Jesus. Within this is a page on Experience Easter, with ideas about how to make the most of Easter as an outreach opportunity. To free up time to do outreach at Easter, there's another page with bags of resources for Good Friday meditations, well worth a look (though a bit late for this year!)

If the diocese has a key outreach event, a downloadable poster is put on the site so people can access the publicity themselves. Clever.

Sadly not online, but avaible from the Diocese, are a couple of booklets on outreach with particular age groups. Luv 'em is for work with children and young people, and Silver Service for ministry with the elderly.

Good 'faith and life' section on baptism, weddings, funerals etc., which recognises that many visitors might come with these on the agenda. Lots of stuff here that could be easily replicated in every diocese, or indeed on your own church website.

Norwich: 'Committed to growth' says the top of the sidebar, which is encouraging. This link takes you into a suite of Mission Action Plan ('Growth Plan') resources, with a booklet introducing the idea, which would make a useful PCC resource in its own right for pretty much any church. The MAP resources are well set out, with templates, example plans etc.

Very good Mission Support Fund page, with the guidance notes for applications, a full list of projects funded so far, dates and deadlines for applications over the year. Good example for other dioceses to copy.

A booklist on Welcoming Newcomers, v helpful, with links to 2 examples of church welcome packs, one of which (hoorah!) was from another diocese. There are also simple pages explaining Fresh expressions and alternative worship, with links to local examples.

A page on discipleship courses reproduces the LICC survey of discipleship materials, helpfully adding which parishes are using certain courses for people who want to explore further. This is vital: it's so much better having someone local who can talk you through how they've done it, what's worked and what hasn't.

Helpful page on alternative and creative worship, from all-age to 'liquid', with links to blogs, books and resource sites. Helpful for people wanting to explore some popular alternatives to a standard hymn sandwich.

Easy to use Back to Church Sunday page with downloadable invites and posters, but they need to change it over from 2008 to 2009!

Couple of good case studies of redeveloping churches as community centres.

Oxford Big Back to Church Sunday splash on the home page, sends a clear message about what's important. Their BTCS resource page has some useful case studies of parishes which did it, along with the usual resources, and a 'timeline' of how to prepare.

Oxford is also sponsoring a study of how faith communities 'add value' to their neighbourhoods, the results will be interesting and will contribute to a crucial national policy debate.

The Encouraging Evangelism page has a selection of vid clips on the practicalities of evangelism, of which the most helpful are no's 3 (on running a mens breakfast), 4 (on running an Alpha/nurture course) and 5, which focuses on the Jigsaw fresh expression of church in Witney:

Oxford is one of the pioneer Dioceses in Fresh Expressions , having invested heavily in the Cutting Edge initiative several years ago. Cutting Edge resourced 6 pilot new congregations,
there's a summary of the fruits here, and the full report on the project is well worth a read if you are looking to set up a Fresh Expression within an Anglican diocese, very very helpful. The Diocese has also produce a concise 'Beginning, Nurturing and Sustaining Fresh Expressions' booklet, which is available as a pdf.

Yet another superb link: Nurture Courses - this focuses on the four most popular (START, Alpha, Emmaus, Essence), with a full review of each, and several stories from people who have used them. It also includes a handy list of books and websites on evangelism, and a useful page on how to follow up an evangelistic event so that it helps you make contacts.

There's also a brief list of useful links to sites and blogs on evangelism, and there's also a cluster of documents around 'Living Faith', the diocesan vision for growth and development. There's a clever 'Easter Ingredients' evangelistic leaflet, based around Hot Cross buns - if you can airbrush out the Oxford logo this could be used anywhere, good idea.

I mention just in passing that Oxford diocese also links to three of its bloggers...

Peterborough tough job to follow Oxford, but some very handy niche products. Under Mission downloads, there are some great little booklets on Providing a Welcome, and ministry with the elderly, and some good ideas here on options for outreach, and several documents produced for a 2007 Lent course to get churches to think about mission.

Good Back to Church Sunday section with stories of people who came back to church, a countdown, welcoming children, and ideas for BTCS at Easter and Christmas.

introduction to Parish Nursing, interesting concept: "A parish nurse is a registered nurse with community experience, who works through the church, offering spiritual as well as physical and mental care."

Portsmouth: woo, psychedelic! A site designed by an evangelist: the first 4 sections are on Jesus, stories of people who came to faith, FAQ's and life events (baptisms, weddings etc.). It's only when you get to the penultimate 'Info' panel that there's anything about the Diocese, and you end up at a site within a site with Diocesan information. Love it. They even have pretty much the entire Street Bible online at the site.

Intriguing Evangelism section, buried deep in the bowels of the site, including links on leading someone to Jesus, and this nice gospel illustrations page. Some good material here, but quite tricky to navigate.

Helpful summary of key CofE thinking on mission: Mission Shaped Church, the 5 marks of mission, Lambeth statements etc. , peculiar formatting though. Also an article reproduced from elsewhere "Questions Christians ask about sharing their faith".

The diocese have also mapped the 2001 census data onto parishes, v. helpful.

Ripon & Leeds
interesting policy document on mission and ministry in UPA parishes, of which they have several.

Has a FX section, and great to see that there are 4 video clips of different FX in the diocese, plus an intro from the Bish. Love the Saturday Night Service in particular. Otherwise fairly standard contents (what is FX, training, funding etc.) but at least it's there. Strange that the vids aren't linked from the FX page!

Rochester. The Diocesan Evangelists have their own site, complete with testimonies, FAQ's mission booklist etc. There seem to be plenty of them, which is encouraging! To be honest the navigation is bewildering - I found myself on the same site via 'Mission and Unity', which also seems to have a separate site from the main Diocesan one. Seems odd that 'unity' should be separate, but what do I know?

There may have been other helpful resources on this site but frankly I just gave up, what with new windows popping up all over the place, and bits of the site which didn't do what they said they'd do. PLEASE CAN THE NEXT BISHOP OF ROCHESTER BAN POP-UP WINDOWS.

A real curates egg of sites, though there are at least some mission/evangelism/fx resources on all of them. Just goes to show that the way you communicate is vital to whether or not you'll get your message across, no matter how important that message is.

Best bits:
Manchester communications tips
Norwich on mission funding
Oxford on FX and nurture courses
Peterborough booklets on welcome and ministry with the elderly
Portsmouth gospel illustrations
Ripon & Leeds FX videos.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mission Study Days at Trinity Bristol

Eddie Gibbs is coming to Bristol to do a couple of mission study days:

The Morphing of the Church 10.00am—5.15pm 24th June
How megatrends are reshaping Christian communities; how leadership styles are changing
£15 inc lunch

Making All Things New 10.00am—3.00pm 26th June
Traditional churches in transition—reaching theunreached; how the gospel makes all things new— living as Christ's representatives in a broken world
£15 inc lunch

In between the two, George Carey is doing an evening lecture on June 25th about 'Leadership in a World of Flux'.

Poster for the event, with more details and how to book here. Trinity Bristol details here, including a booking form. Booking is essential and the deadline is June 7th.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Labour and Marriage

Interesting piece from Tom Harris on Labours agnosticism about supporting marriage.

But if we, as a party, insist on maintaining our carefully-crafted agnostic position on marriage, we will be in danger of talking a language that is absolutely alien to the vast majority of our constituents. Most of my electorate don’t see the need for intellectual gymnastics to come to the conclusion that marriage should be celebrated, and they probably don’t understand why their political representatives tip-toe around this issue.

There’s a reason why weddings are basically big parties with lots of laughter and cheering. The Left would be making a big mistake if, instead of joining in the Slosh, they sat impassively, and non-judgmentally, on the sidelines, drinking a still water and refusing to get a round in.

Harris is responding to a recent Fabian Society publication on the Lefts attitude to the family, which includes this observation:

The liberal left has wanted to avoid a politics of stigma, so rightly steers clear of making value judgments about non-traditional family structures. In addition, the historic subordinate role of women in the family has led to fears amongst some that talking about the family would reverse the gains of feminism in challenging the treatment of women as second class citizens. So the left does not talk about 'the family' anymore. (Tim Horton)

The interesting thing is that Horton wants to recast our notion of the family as talking about quality of relationships, rather than the institution of marriage and the family unit. I wonder if you need both/and. This is one to watch: the Conservatives have a strong message about family in their Broken Society work, and it's important to work out what people mean when they use a label. For Gordon £rown, the family is primarily an economic unit ('hard working families') where adults work hard an pay tax, and children work hard so that they can become the economic units of the future (I'm caricaturing, but not too much!)

There's also a danger that 'family values' becomes code for a narrow promotion of marriage and raising children within marriage, without attention to the quality of that household - quality of relationships, quality of life (poverty, environment), quality of our cultures attitude to children and relationships etc.

If the left starts getting hold of a narrative about 'family', there will be some interesting debates ahead about what we mean when we use the word, and what vision of the Good Family people are working to.

Back to Church Sunday 2009

There's been a flurry of press releases about this - Sunday 27th September 2009 - in the last day or so, including Christianity Today and the CofE national site. All 44 CofE dioceses are taking part, as well as several other churches, so it's good to see it spreading. Over 35,000 people came back to church on the equivalent Sunday last year, and a significant number stayed connected.

It's a very simple idea: church members invite friends and neighbours 'back to church', and the church tries a little bit harder at being welcoming and friendly, without going over the top. There's no point making the service radically different from what you normally do, as people will then be disappointed when the week after doesn't measure up to their first impression.

A couple of quotes, one from a guest at BTCS 2008

"I didn’t feel like they were trying to shove religion down my throat, they let me make up my own mind. It was a very relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, just like one big family. I would recommend it to others: you never know where it could lead you. My whole life has changed completely in the last year.”

and Paul Bayes, the Church of England’s National Mission and Evangelism Adviser: “The most important thing about Back to Church Sunday is ensuring that those returning to church get a truly warm welcome. Things like the length of services, the hymns and songs we sing and even the way we give out notices can all have an impact on the welcome people feel. It’s also critical that churches think though what they can offer people who have made that brave step to come back. I hope many churches will be setting up an informal course explaining the Christian faith, or perhaps holding special lunches over the next weeks for returning worshippers to meet each other.”

- the Back to Church Sunday site has some top tips and resources.

- The CofE link above has some testimonies which will encourage folk to give it a go.

- Guildford Diocese have a resource page, which tells the story of how it worked locally, and how best to prepare for BTCS, very useful. Local news also from Ely via the Bishop of Huntingdons blog.

- Before you invite anyone I suggest you use this very helpful Worship Audit, from Chelmsford Diocese, to make sure that your worship is vaguely newcomer friendly. It's better to find out the answers to these questions before you invite guests along. Bit like tasting the dish you've been cooking before serving it up to the mother in law.

cartoon by Dave Walker.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vogon Hymnody

As every reader of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy knows, the Vogons write the third worst poetry in the universe. Well, there's competition, initiated by the Anglican Communion gathering in Jamaica, for the most uninspired verse of doggerel every penned by human hand.

Andrew Brown quotes the opening stanza of the offending item, as sung in Jamaica last week to the tune of 'Ode to Joy' (which I must admit I can't remember off the top of my head):

Lord of our diversity,
unite us all, we pray;
welcome us to fellowship
in your inclusive way.
Sanctify our listening
and help us get the sense
of perplexing arguments
before we take offence

It's enough to make me want to puree my own internal organs and imbibe them through a straw. Anyone who uses the word 'inclusive' in a hymn deserves to be locked inside an organ for 2 weeks whilst a family of hippos dances on the keyboard. Several of Andrew Browns commenters have attempted to surpass even this, my favourite is freewoolly's, though it's a bit rude to reproduce here.

On a related topic, Nick Baines posts about 'girly worship'
According to an online survey of 400 UK readers of the men’s magazine Sorted, the majority of blokes who responded said they ‘enjoyed singing – but added comments showing they preferred anthemic songs and ‘proclamational’ hymns as opposed to more emotional love songs.’ They also dislike flowers, embroidered banners, hugging, holding hands, dancing and ’sitting in circles discussing their feelings in church’. Oh dear.

The whole piece is worth reading, together with a very good follow up post on what worship is, and what part songs play in it. Interesting that the original report is penned anonymously by a 'daily mail reporter', and that in the comments women have the same complaints as the men.

I did pick up a copy of 'Sorted' at Spring Harvest, but can't find it, so I can't tell you whether the magazine is any good. It certainly looked ok from the cover (apart from the title, which seems a bit 20th century...?). End of useless magazine review.