Thursday, July 30, 2009

It Raineth Upon....

Somerset is a snapshot of English religion at the moment. And it's been raining on all of them:

- The 'atheist summer camp' at Bruton, with 24 children attending. I hadn't picked up that it was an American 'ministry' extending its reach to the UK. Less press coverage is being given to the thousands of children and young people on CPAS Ventures and Falcon camps - if you count Soul Survivor there's roughly 30,000. If 24 is a 'big following' (the Times) then I wait to see what adjectives are used of the Christian camps. To its credit, the Times has a couple of pieces on Christian summer camps too. (note to commentors: no rubbish about 'brainwashing' please, that's what happens in places like North Korea, please don't cheapen the term by applying to these camps, whichever sort it is you don't like).

- a few miles to the West it's New Wine at the moment, and tweeters have noticed the rain and mud, along with lots of other, better things. Thousands are there for worship, teaching and fun, and along with Soul Survivor NW pretty much takes over the Bath and West Showground for the whole of the summer holidays. For a flavour, the evening talks will be live on Hope FM next week (2-8th Aug)

- further along the Mendips, a witch has just been selected for Wookey Hole (local cave/tourist attraction) out of 50,000 applicants. The original 'witch' is a rock formation in the cave, but the Hole trades quite heavily on 'the witch of Wookey Hole' as a marketing snare. Some of the applicants were clearly practicing witches, rather than just folk wanting to dress up in black and cackle. Bizarrely, the job is supposed to give people an idea of what the caves were like in the Dark Ages. Erm, exactly the same, but without spotlights and handrails?

- just up the hill from Wookey Hole, the Big Green Gathering (an outdoor Green Festival, bit like a smaller Glastonbury with less music and more eco stuff) has been cancelled following some shenanigans with the police. It would have had a healing field, sweat lodge and assorted New Age stuff, along with a few of the Christians who've developed forms of prayer and outreach for New Age contexts.

- Back down from the Mendips is Wells Cathedral, which next week will be hosting a memorial service for Harry Patch, the last surviving WW1 veteran who died recently. Over 1000 are expected to attend.

So, what's the rain? Is it God's judgement on the atheists and the witches, or a trial to prove the faith of the Christians? Is it a succesful deluge to wash away some New Age claptrap, or a suitable sign of mourning to mark the passing of a generation?

Or is it just rain?

Are Megachurches Christian?

Journalist Will Braun took a random Sunday, and downloaded the sermons from the 10 biggest churches in the US, and the 10 biggest in Canada, to see if there were any common threads in the messages preached.

Here's a bit of his commentary:

...with sermon titles like “Thirty Days to a No-Regret Life” and “I Want More . . . Self-control” as well as emphases on overcoming difficulties and attaining goals, many of the preachers covered terrain similar to Oprah.

Of course the preachers add a Christian discipleship dimension, but it’s still a smiley, energetic approach to making your life better and more meaningful. Just look at the glowing face of Lakewood pastor Joel Olsteen (who wasn’t preaching on April 13) on the cover of his book, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day.

The point here is not that self-improvement is inherently problematic but rather that it is, by definition, self-centred. It’s about you and your happiness and your success. Fifteen of the 20 sermons would fall in the category of “improving your life by the power of God,” without ever expanding beyond a sort of me-and-my-Jesus world view. Three made brief forays outside the gates of self-help land (mentioning creation care and sensitivity to the poor) and two placed church solidly in the context of a global community.

The issue is about what wasn’t said. What was not said in any but two of the sermons was anything like: The church is in a better position than anyone to stop the genocide in Darfur. When we participate in an economy dependent on exploitation, we erode our souls in the process. The indigenous people in the Arctic, whose way of life is melting away beneath them, are our neighbours.

For most of the preachers, the church is not cast as a collective force of compassion and change in a violent, warming world, but rather as a vehicle for individual betterment and eternal bliss, with care for the needy sometimes tacked on as a religious duty.

Emphasis mine. Braun concludes:

While these mega-churches are undoubtedly meeting certain needs, they are not, for the most part, geared toward the needs of the greater world. If you would have walked in the door of one of the 20 largest churches in Canada or the U.S. on April 13, 2008 you would have most likely walked into an other-worldly realm – something removed from the warming, starving, self-destructing world out there. And in that way it would have been kind of like walking into an amusement park

Our church has no pretensions to being a mega church. But the same infection lurks - the temptation to appeal to people's selfishness, to preach a gospel that 'meets my needs', to make church entertaining, fun, joyful, stimulating without crossing over the line into mere entertainment. Maybe this comes back to the problem with 'event' church over against 'community' church: if the life of the church is centred around a building and an event which you're trying to populate, then there's always a temptation to go for what will be popular rather than what will be authentic.

There's an even deeper question here: have preachers of self-improvement ceased to be Christian? We're so used to the old litmus tests - the bodily resurrection of Jesus, gay sex (?), who's allowed to pray at communion - that things like this seem to pass by without anyone noticing. But the fact is that a God who's prime purpose in sending Jesus was to aid human self-improvement is not God, it is an idol. A gospel of self-improvement, no matter how many times you quote John 10:10 , is a false gospel.

Ht Danielle Strickland via Sheepspeak.

Update: Tim Chesterton, from across the pond, has some more reflections on this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cricketing Graces

Test Match Special supremo Jonathan Agnew has put out a plea on Twitter:

To brum for start of fortnight that could decide ashes. Strauss at 12. MC lords taverners dinner tonight. Never said grace before. Ideas?

Wedding March: Remixed

brilliant way to start a wedding celebration. Ht Bosco Peters, Greg Kandra. I guess anyone who doesn't want to do this at a wedding shouldn't be there in the first place....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Tweeting Civil Servant

A Whitehall chappy has produced a 20-page guide to Twitter for fellow mandarins. Some of it is quite sensible:

... once anyone does follow a Whitehall Twitter stream it recommends they should automatically be "followed back" on the grounds that it is not only good etiquette, but could result in a poor Twitter reputation if not done ‑ and in extreme cases could lead to the account being suspended.

In urging his fellow Whitehall civil servants to use Twitter, Williams sets out several grounds rules for the kind of content that needs to make it work:

• Human: He warns that Twitter users can be hostile to the "over-use of automation" - such as RSS feeds – and to the regurgitation of press release headlines: "While corporate in message, the tone of our Twitter channel must therefore be informal spoken English, human-edited and for the most part written/paraphrased for the channel."

• Frequent: a minimum of two and maximum of 10 tweets per working day, with a minimum gap of 30 minutes between tweets to avoid flooding followers' Twitter streams. (Not counting @replies or live coverage of a crisis/event.) Downing Street spends 20 minutes on its Twitter stream with two-three tweets a day plus a few replies, five-six tweets a day in total.

• Timely: in keeping with the "zeitgeist" feel of Twitter, official tweets should be about issues of relevance today or events coming soon.

• Credible: while tweets may occasionally be "fun", their relationship to departmental objectives must be defensible.

Alongside the promised tweetable content of minsters' thoughts and reflections following key meetings and events is something rather more sinister sounding called "thought leadership". Also known as "linked blogging", the idea is that by highlighting relevant research, events, awards and other action elsewhere on the web, the department's Twitter feed gets a reputation as a reliable filter of high quality content.

whole piece here at the Guardian. The full document is here, composed by Neil Williams, who works for Peter Mandelson covering 'digital engagement' (and I just thought that meant shaking hands).

Do we want our taxpayers money spent on this?

The Weddings Project

Last weeks announcement on joint weddings & baptisms (summary of media coverage here - in the main fairly positive) is one of the fruits of The Weddings Project, a piece of research aimed at finding out what people think of church weddings, and how they rate their experiences.

There's more on Paul Bayes' Start the Week site, which summarises the project thus:

This Archbishops' Council initiative aims to increase the number of church weddings and to find ways of encouraging more people to stay in touch with the Christian community after participating in or attending a wedding. The third aim is to increase in the public mind the sense that the church of England is an enthusiastic believer in marriage (about 15 million adults in today's England either don't believe this or don't know).

From a research seminar earlier this year, here are some of the other findings:

- the number of weddings done in Anglican churches has dropped by 2/3 since 1970. 65% of weddings are now civil weddings. 11% are done abroad

- The vast majority of people think marriage is important to society (86% of marrieds, 64% of unmarrieds)

- Marriage is still seen as the best indicator of a committed relationship, ahead of having children together, moving in together, and a joint mortgage

- for men, their main reasons for getting married were to be 'more committed' and to 'complete the relationship', though 17% cited peer pressure. Women cited completing the relationship, and starting a family, though 12% just wanted 'to have a wedding'!

- the main reason for a church wedding is to have a 'proper wedding' (is this people trying to say something about God but not having the words?), and various other spiritual factors are important too.

- many feel nervous in approaching the church, and talk of "the fear the church instills in those who approach it", and that the vicar will "do an ofsted inspection on your life"

- over 90% are positive about their first contact with the vicar, and nearly 100% are happy with the wedding day itself. 78% found their vicar 'inspiring', and more than this rate the vicars words 'very appropriate'. We seem to be doing a good job. One researcher noted "these are the kind of figures Stalin used to get!"

it's also clear that many couples expect the church to keep in touch with them, something we're a bit mixed with. How we do this is another question!

Plenty to chew on, and I look forward to seeing what else the project uncovers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

All Quiet in the Cathedral

The Cathedral tour guide who never once mentioned God, Jesus, or the Christian faith during a tour of Salisbury is the topic of a couple of threads, one at Cranmer, and the original by Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home.

Sharing the same tour was American blogger CrunchyCon, who also takes a dim view of the bookstore. He notes that during some recent time in England, there was increasing despair about society in general, and the church's response to social breakdown.

Tim's post brings to mind several conversations I've had with English Christians of various traditions on my travels here this summer. There is among them a very deep concern about the moral direction of this country, and what role exiling Christianity from the consciousness of the nation plays in this.

His post is not the whole story, but it's part of it.

I note in passing that there's a vigorous debate about assisted suicide going on at Conservative Home as well. I'm struggling to think of anything equivalent on a Christian-run blog. Maybe this backs up CrunchyCon's point - the moral discussions are, increasingly, bypassing the church. That's partly because we don't play knockabout/rentaquote, but it might also be because we're too scared of offending people to make clear and unequivocal statements.

Worship: Fridge or Radiator

Everybody Welcome is a new resource from Bob Jackson on making newcomers welcome in church. It's arrived just in time to be imbibed before Back to Church Sunday, and looks really good. It asks some basic but important questions:

- How many people 'try out' your church each year?
- Do they feel welcome?
- Do they come back?
- What would happen if 10%, 25% or even 50% of your visitors became regular members of your congregation?

Those last two are so important: what proportion of our visitors come back? Have we got used to it being 5% (or even worse 0%), when it could be much more than that?

Everybody Welcome is a 5 session course to help churches become more welcoming. There's a CofE news release, with outline of the course, a preview of the DVD (see below), and a substantial chunk of the accompanying book here. I was spoilt for choice for things to quote, but settled on this:

So the question is this – how can we make our worship warm and genuine? This is not just a question for the vicar or the worship leader or the choir master. It is for all of us because the spiritual temperature of the event is mainly controlled by the spiritual temperature of our own hearts. How can I best allow the warmth of my own relationship with God to shine through my worship?

This is about how I sing, how I pray, how I respond to the preacher’s joke, how I relate to people before the service, during the Peace and at the end. But it is also about how my relationship with God is nourished and sustained during the week. If I am used to praying and reading the Bible, and if I arrive a little early in order to prepare myself, then it is much more likely I will be one of the spiritual radiators in the church rather than one of the fridges.

Not sure how much of this you'd guess from the coverage in the Telegraph 'Church tells worshippers to give special treatment to overweight or bald people'. I initially wondered if this was a story about bishops, but discovered it wasn't (bang goes my preferment!)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

If the UK were a village of 100 people....

...then our carbon footprint would be a heck of a lot smaller. Interesting piece in the Independent, though I'm not really sure what all the stats are based on. Here's a snippet:

  • Seventy-two people would identify themselves as Christian (although only 10 people in the village would go to church regularly). Fifteen people would say that they were not religious, while there would be two Muslims, one Hindu and 10 people who practised other religions.
  • Each person would generate 495kg of waste every year. The village as a whole would generate 163kg of waste every day, of which just 47kg would be put out for recycling.
  • If Britain were a village of 100 people, 17 of the villagers would smoke, of whom 11 would like to give up.
  • Nineteen adults and three children would be classified as obese (that is they would have a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater).
  • Sixteen men and eight women would usually exceed the Government's daily sensible drinking benchmark (3-4 units per day for men; 2-3 units a day for women).
  • Eight men and four women would have taken an illicit drug in the past year.
  • Eight people would have asthma.
  • Eight adults would be suffering from depression today (but as many as 20 would suffer from depression at some point in their lifetime).
  • One person would have dementia.

The full article is also available as a Word document here, ht Start the Week. The Indy has also posted it on their Independent Minds site, so you have a choice of where to discuss it!!

Downward Mobility

reminded of this powerful insight from Henri Nouwen

“…The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.”

Ht Prodigal Kiwi(s)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Crosby Beach Labyrinth

Ht Jonny Baker, really creative act of 'guerilla worship' by the Dream network, and something that anyone could do on pretty much any beach, if they got down there early enough one morning at low tide. Inspiring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Swine Flu Symptoms

Just trying to clarify a list of key swine flu symptoms for our church members, following yesterdays advice:

- sweating like a pig
- a case of the trots
- nasty rasher cross the body
- snuffling
- pork oncentration
- slops (either end)
- tender loin

best to wrap in a blanket until cured.

(and if you were after some serious reflection on swine flu and communion, Peter Kirk's blog has a debate on the theology of recieving only wine at communion, and Thinking Anglicans are discussing the practicalities. I hadn't realised the existence of the 1547 Sacraments Act until reading the latter.)

Coming or Going?

Graham Cray, in the latest e-xpressions newsletter (emphasis mine)

'Come to us' church often tries to make its worship attractive to
outsiders - perhaps more contemporary, or more reflective. Sometimes a new
congregation is planted in a more neutral venue, to help make the contemporary
worship easily accessible. But this is still attractional church. The team are
using an approach they have decided and now invite unchurched people to

'We go to you' church makes no decisions about the style of worship until
it has begun to form community with the people it is seeking to reach. That
comes at the end of a process which might take a long time. That process begins
with listening, develops into practical forms of service (no, not church
service!), forms community as it shares its faith and only sorts out worship at
the end.

Hopefully the worship will be attractive but what matters most is that it
is transformative within that culture. There is room in the mixed economy church
for both approaches, but fresh expressions of church will normally be

The problem with attractional church is that it is appropriate for only a
minority of the population. If, as we believe,
at least 60% of the
population cannot be reached by our existing patterns of church, however
, then even churches which follow an attractional model very
successfully need to ask the question, who can't we reach this way and what else
could we do? To reach the majority of our culture we will need an incarnational

We will have to stop designing church for ourselves and start designing
it with and for them!

The Fresh Expressions website has just added an example of this approach in the gypsy community.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ooops. What the L is going on?

In a busy day for worship bods at Church House, some new guidelines are also out on how to combine marriage and baptism services. Peter Ould has already spotted some problems with them, but there's another. Here's what the full paper says, and this is a direct quote from page 3:

In the Church of England, Baptism is normally administered on Sundays at the best-attended act of pubic worship, so that the congregation may witness the newly-baptized being received into the Church (see Canon B 21).

I know we're a broad church, but I've never yet held an act of 'pubic' worship, and hopefully never will. Baptism is clearly not the only thing that would be witnessed at such an event, but I'm not even going to go there. If the devil does live in Church House, then I think I've just found him in the spellchecker.

(For the record, when couples come to be married and already have children, it is a good idea to include them in the marriage service. However, if you're creative with the service itself, I'm not sure a whole extra section is needed to offer thanks for the gift of children. The prayers already cover that. It would be good to hear a bit more from Tim Sledge, quoted in the CofE main article, about how a combined marriage/baptism works. I guess at the very least it lowers the carbon footprint for clan gatherings - 1 instead of 2.)

(S)wine flu

A couple of days after we decided at the parish staff meeting to stop giving wine at Communion, the Church of England has followed our lead:

It now seems right to offer guidance at a national level about how the
Church of England’s worship might best take into account the interests of public
health during the current phase of the swine flu pandemic.

The Department of Health have recently advised us that “in a pandemic
it makes good sense to take precautions to limit the spread of disease by not
sharing common vessels for food and drink”.

In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion
suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic
flu. For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend
the practice whereby the presiding minister, whose hands should have been washed
with the appropriate alcohol based rub before handling the elements and the
vessels, personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of
communicants. This is a practice widely observed in Anglican churches throughout
Africa. Communicants receiving in this way need to be confident that the clergy
and all assistant ministers follow the relevant guidance on hygiene.

this has gone to all the diocesan bishops, some of whom were ahead of the game and had advised this already.

Great news for any parishes which were thinking about changing from grape juice to fortified wine, or vice versa, as you can introduce it after the break after 'sustained theological reflection'. Actually, it'll be easier to introduce the alcholic stuff, as that truly will be for 'medicinal purposes'.

RE curriculum consultation

Just had the following in the Inbox, relating to a government consultation on RE teaching:

Please respond to the Simple Tick Box Questionnaire - Curriculum Reform Consultation (Updated guidance on the teaching of Religious Education Questionnaire) for the curriculum in England.

CCFON and CLC have responded to the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ questionnaire on the Updated guidance on the teaching of Religious Education, which forms part of their curriculum reform Consultation. Please
click here to see our response.
To see the current guidance circular 1/94 ‘Religious Education and Collective Worship’
click here.

The proposed replacement to this guidance is called Religious Education and does not include the notion of ‘collective worship’ (click here to view).

Hidden deep in the new proposed guidance on the further reference section on page 46 is the proposal that the circular 1/94 is still “extant”, in other words “in existence” regarding guidance on collective worship.

The proposed guidance states on pages 6 and 7 that Education legislation specifically states the following on Religious Education:
“Every agreed syllabus shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain”. (Section 375(3) Education Act 1996).

However, the rest of the guidance on RE fails to follow this by reference to religions “and beliefs”, “diversity of religion” “community cohesion”, being “inclusive”.

In our opinion the current guidance 1/94 meets the Education legislation requirements on RE and collective worship but the new proposed guidance on RE does not and should be rejected.
Please use our response to the consultation adding ideas of your own. The deadline for submitting responses is Friday 24th July at 5pm. The questionnaire comprises 9 voting boxes with two spaces for additional comments. A response that simply places crosses in the boxes that we recommend will still be helpful and create pressure.

Responses can be submitted by post or e-mail. If you wish to download the questionnaire in Word format, please click here. For PDF format, click here.

Finally, if you wish to access the background documents,
click here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We Still Support Dave Walker

It's a year to the day since Dave Walker was coerced into taking down his 'Save the SPCK' posts from the Cartoon Blog. Phil Groom, who was also threatened with legal action by the same people, tells his story here. The following was sent to all 490-ish members of the 'We Support Dave Walker' Facebook group this week:

Dear all,

This Wednesday, 22nd July, will be 1 year to the day since Dave Walker and Phil Groom both recieved their 'Cease and Desist' legal threats from Mark Brewer.

An awful lot has happened during that time, not least of which has been the support of hundreds of you for Dave, former SPCK bookshop staff, and others who have suffered at the hands of the Brewers.

The good news is that plenty has been achieved.
- Firstly, Mark Brewer failed to get his St. Stephen the Great charity declared bankrupt in the US, a court case in which Dave's posts were cited as evidence.
- In April this yearthe UK Charity Commissioners took over the running of the St. Stephen the Great charity, after a formal investigation.
- Even though the Brewers had moved all the bookshops into a new organisation (ENC Shop Management) the CC's are now taking possession of these shops as St. Stephen assets.
- 30 former staff, whose tribunal against SSG was being heard earlier this year, will now have their cases settled by the Charity Commissioners.
- In the meantime Durham Cathedral has (at last) served notice on the Brewers tenancy of the cathedral shop. As you may know, though the SPCK posts remain absent from the Cartoon Blog (see them in full at, Dave has mentioned the saga a couple of times on his Church Times blog.

At no point have any of Mark Brewers threats been acted upon. Instead it's Mr Brewer himself who has gone very quiet.

Thankyou again for your support of Dave, and for those of you who have blogged, commented and emailed in support. We are maybe at the beginning of the end - both the end of SSG's dismal foray into UK bookselling, and the end of the bookshop chain themselves. Any further developments will be reported at

Your fellow supporter
David Keen

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Role of the Vicars Wife

Cranmer's Curate writes:

The parlous state of the Church of the nation makes the traditional vicar’s wife role more not less necessary.

Elderly parish churches with scarcely any children in the regular congregation do not need a vicar’s wife sporting a t-shirt at her husband’s licensing: ‘I don’t make scones.’

A wife willing to do such traditional feminine things is essential if that church is going to start attracting children and therefore families.

What a great discussion starter....! What do you think? Pop over to his site and join in the debate.

Helicopter Top Trumps

Following yesterdays competition on the ferries, it's time to take to the skies. Westlands Helicopters are the major employer here in Yeovil, with thousands working there and at suppliers in the Yeovil area. Hundreds of folk in our parish work there.

Helicopters would be a safer way of transporting troops to the Afghan war zone, avoiding roadside bombs. But money is tight, and the Forces have only so many helicopters available. The MoD currently has a contract with Westlands for more 'Future Lynx/Wildcat' helicopters. These will be delivered in several years time. Several of the current crop of Lynx's were sent home from Afghanistan because they don't work in local conditions, so an upgrade is clearly needed.

Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich and Clacton, argues that the Future Lynx contract needs to be scrapped in favour of a Sikorsky contract, as the latter delivers better value for money, and more quickly.

Yeovil MP David Laws is "furious that once again this senior Conservative MP is trying to sabotage the crucial £1bn contract for the Future Lynx helicopter...

It would a disaster for both the armed forces and for South Somerset if there was any attempt to stop Future Lynx from proceeding. It is essential that Future Lynx goes ahead, to replace the existing fleet of Army and Navy Lynx helicopters."

The Conservatives are, in turn, 'furious' with Laws for suggesting that scrapping Future Lynx was Conservative policy, and that Douglas Carswell is a 'senior' figure in the party. He had a hand in putting together the 2005 manifesto, but doesn't hold any official party position. Nick Clegg has, however, been picked up by the Yeovil Tory candidate for a radio comment about buying helicopters from the USA.

Meanwhile LabourHome reports that, for all the rhetoric, the Labour government has done precious little to purchase new helicopters for immediate use in the meantime.

For more detail about the background, try Defence of the Realm, who doesn't rate Future Lynx at all, and thinks that the decision is down to forces and party politics and lobbying, rather than actual need. Plenty of stuff in the comments there too.

- Is this a case of 'British jobs for British workers', and if so, is that in conflict at any level with 'British lives for British soldiers'?

- Is there an issue here between the Army and Navy. How joined up is the thinking? There seem to be different rules and needs for different parts of the armed forces.

- What is the official Libdem policy? David Laws is spokesman on children and education issues, not military.

- If you are a local MP, (or even, a local vicar) it does make it a heck of a lot more difficult to be objective. David Laws' future in Parliament is over if he doesn't publicly side with Westlands. I'm deeply uncomfortable with anything that's made for the prime function of killing people, but at the same time I'm concerned about people's livelihoods and the wellbeing of my community, so I would probably raise more questions about Westlands if I lived elsewhere.

- Forget personalities for the moment. Forget which party everyone belongs to. Is Future Lynx the best option on the table for what the armed forces need? Should commercial interests - as with the decision to sail to the Isle of Lewis - have any say here, and if so how much?

This is an area I venture into at my peril (not literally, at least I hope not), but if you don't ask the questions you don't get the answers. Here in Yeovil, Westlands is top trumps, but if you think it's just a local game of cards, ask Michael Heseltine.

'Penitents Compete' for the Ultimate Prize

A Turkish TV gameshow is pitting a rabbi, an imam, a priest and a Buddhist monk against one another, to see which has the most success in converting atheists. The prize for any convert will be a pilgrimage to Mecca, Jerusalem or Tibet (depending on what they convert to!!)

'Penitents Compete', sounds like a cross between The Monastery and Big Brother (Channel 4 must be kicking themselves for not coming up with the idea) but it claims to have loftier goals:

The programme's makers say they want to promote religious belief while educating Turkey's overwhelmingly Muslim population about other faiths.

"The project aims to turn disbelievers on to God," the station's deputy director, Ahmet Ozdemir, told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review.

That mission is attested to in the programme's advertising slogans, which include "We give you the biggest prize ever: we represent the belief in God" and "You will find serenity in this competition".

Only true non-believers need apply. An eight-strong commission of theologians will assess the atheist credentials of would-be contestants before deciding who should take part.

Converts will be monitored to ensure their religious transformation is genuine and not simply a ruse to gain a free foreign trip. "They can't see this trip as a getaway, but as a religious experience," Ozdemir said.

Ht Start the Week. Is this using all means to save some, or the ultimate trivialisation of the gospel? Discuss....

Monday, July 20, 2009


Brilliant performance by England to win the Lords test.
Player ratings here

Liturgy for the defeat of the Aussies:
The Gathering
Archdruid: Haddin may last for the night
All: But Freddie striketh in the morning.

My predictions are looking ok: Clarke emerging as top Oz batsman, Cook starting to bat like a left-handed Vaughan but still plenty of work to do. I'd be surprised if Freddie lasts the series, but what a way to go. 2 main worries from Lords: if either Mitchell Johnson had bowled well, or the umpires had got the decisions right in the Aussie 2nd innings, we could well have lost.

Top Trumps on the Stornoway-Lewis Ferry

On Sunday the Beeb had an item on its main news programme about the first Sunday sailing of the Stornoway-Lewis ferry.

Operators Caledonian MacBrayne claim that they'd be breaking the law not to. According to the BBC report: "CalMac said it could be breaking equality laws if it did not run ferries seven days a week. It said religion or beliefs were not valid reasons to refuse to run the ferry.

Supporters of the service said it would be good for tourism. They said it would offer more flexibility to travellers.

As the ferry left Stornoway a crowd of several hundred gathered to applaud, and wave to those on board.

The local council for the Western Isles opposes the sailing
, (e.g. here) so this is not just about a few religious traditionalists versus progress, CalMac seems to have gone against the will of the local people. That's much more than 'religion or beliefs'. It also strikes me that the Equality Act 2006 is a convenient place to hide: CalMac wouldn't be doing this if it didn't make them some money.

Their spokesman has at least recognised that they are 'reacting to demand' rather than simply doing the bidding of the law, though launching sailings with only 5 days notice is an interesting tactic. With only a few days notice, anyone from the island who wanted to protest about the sailing would have had to travel to the mainland on Saturday and lodged overnight, so the numbers of protesters at the port is immaterial. This seems to have been deliberately timed to get round local opposition.

1. If the Equality Act means that observing Sunday as a day of rest is illegal, then there are a lot of us who would like to see that legal advice. If the Act really means 'every day must be exactly the same as every other' then that's pretty grim.

2. Given that folk can go pretty much everywhere else in the British Isles on a Sunday, is it really so bad that one part of it is allowed to do things differently? One argument made on the news report was that it was hitting business on the island, and that people were moving away. But is economics always the trump card?

3. Whose needs take preference here? The island is a home to its local population, but most of the CalMac demand (I imagine) comes from tourists. If local people want to have a day when their island isn't swarming with tourists, then what's wrong with that? Just because demand is there doesn't mean it has to be satisfied.

4. Humans aren't made to work 7 days a week, and a community day of rest is a good thing. It's for that community to decide how to observe that, not for commercial interests to decide it for them. Part of the original Sabbath laws was a recognition that there was more to life than work, it was a recognition that we're not slaves, we're human beings rather than human doings. Andrew Marr calls the late 20th century 'the triumph of shopping over politics', but Sabbath reminds us that there's more to life than merely earning and spending money.

5. Does 'religion or beliefs' have any standing at all in decision making, or are they trumped every time? And in this case, what counts as a belief? Isn't the dogma that the only bottom line is the bottom line a mere belief, open to challenge and dispute? Or does CalMac know that by painting its opponents as reactionary Puritans the vast majority of people will automatically side with the ferry company, as they hear the dog whistle sound?

the press release from Keep Sunday Special notes that CalMac is government-backed, and that their decision overrides the will of local people. Another report quotes a hotelier on the island who is now having bookings cancelled because folk can leave the island a day earlier at the weekend.

The danger in all of this is that it's just another 'church says no' story, which depicts Christians as fun-quenching killjoys stuck in the 18th century. It all depends on how you tell the story: are the Christians reactionaries opposed to 'progress', or beleagured underdogs fighting to protect a valued way of life against the march of capitalism?

Who's Ceased and Desisted Now? The Dave Walker/SPCK Fiasco, 1 Year On

Exactly a year ago on Wednesday, I posted this:

Dave Walker, who has been flying the flag for the beleagured SPCK bookshop chain, has been threatened with libel by the St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), who took over the chain last year. Since then, most (if not all) of the SPCK bookshops have closed, and there have been various questions about management practices. One former bookshop manager, Steve Jeynes, tragically took his own life just a few weeks ago.

Dave has been keeping a close eye on all of this, and providing a forum for people to share news about the chain. He has been told he'll be sued unless all SPCK posts are removed from his website.

If you want to contact Dave to support him, or offer money so that the action can be fought (don't let the bullies win!), then his contact details are here. If you're anywhere near the Lambeth conference, go to Dave's tent and give him your support.

Some of the story is at
Christian Bookshop News. Phil Groom has also kept a blog here dedicated to the SPCK/SSG developments. However, as Phil is on holiday, even if he's been threatened by the Brewers (the family who are SSG), he's too busy getting a tan to do anything about it.

Up to that point, I'd noticed that Dave kept going on about SPCK bookshops on his Cartoon Blog, but hadn't followed it very closely. But us bloggers are a protective lot, and within days of the new SPCK owners coming after one of our own, dozens of people had blogged in support. Phil Groom, who recieved similar threats on the same day, refused to comply, and his SPCK/SSG News Notes and Info has been an invaluable focus for online campaigning. Dave, in the midst of packing for the Lambeth conference, took down his blog posts, but you can find them all here.

One year later, the boot is now on the other foot. Earlier this year the Charity Commissioners investigated the SSG charity, found it wanting, and took it over. The SSG owners, Mark and Phil Brewer, had suddenly transferred the shops out of SSG ownership in June 2008 to a new body, ENC Shop Management, but the Commissioners have refused to be fooled and changed the locks on (we think) all but 2 of these shops.

We are very nearly at the end of this sorry saga, but there are still plenty of debts to be settled, and aggrieved former staff and suppliers who have been unpaid, underpaid, defrauded and otherwise maltreated by the Brewers.

It is now Mark Brewer who has gone silent. Nothing has been heard from him for months, pretty much since he failed to get SSG declared bankrupt in the US and was given a hefty slap on the wrist for wasting court time.

So here is my Cease and Desist. Mark Brewer, you should Cease and Desist hiding. Stand up like a man, face up to the people who have suffered because of you, pay them what you owe, and own up to what you did. If you do not comply, we will not bully you or pursue any legal action against you, because we're not like you. But you will have to stand before the ultimate Judge and account for your words and your deeds, and He may be even tougher on you than the bankruptcy courts of Texas.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Church of England - the Next 25 Years

If you were putting together a 5-part lecture series on the title above, what would you cover? Who would you invite? Would that have changed since last Sunday? Here's what Wells Cathedral have come up with:

15th Sept 'The Arts and Contemporary Expressions of Christianity' (Nick Bury, Dean of Gloucester)

22 Sept 'The Church and the Liberal State' (Theo Hobson)

29 Sept 'From Obligation to Consumption: Different Ways of Being Church' (Grace Davie)

6 Oct 'TS Eliot revisited - the end of Christian society?' (John Clarke, Dean of Wells)

13 Oct 'The C of E: the next 25 yeas in the context of other faiths, the worldwide church and the Anglican Communion' (Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells)

It's 40 minutes up the road, and there are a couple of these I may go and here, Grace Davie and Peter Price. Personally I have trouble working out where the CofE will be in 5 years, let alone 25, so best of luck to them. Lectures are at 7.30pm, followed by Q&A with the speaker, free entry.

Interesting, but not uncommon from my experience of diocesan websites, to find that there was no obvious link to Wells Cathedral from the Diocese of Bath and Wells homepage.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Review

After a break long enough that most of us have forgotten the plot of Book 6 of the Potter series, the delayed HBP is now upon us. But from the moment a giant slate-grey WB (Warner Brothers) emerges through storm clouds as the haunting minor key refrain begins, the memories start to return.

Despite a recession-busting opening, and positive reviews, life has changed since the days when life stood still for a new Potter book or film. This one is very much part 1 of a 2-parter, a scene setter for the monster that will be 2010/11's Deathly Hallows. That said, it's a very good film. Well over 2 hours long, but apart from regretting how much coke I'd just drunk in Pizza Hut, the time zipped by.

Wisely, the film has filletted Rowlings book down to three main plotlines. The first is Dumbledore and Harry's pursuit of the key to Lord Voldemort's downfall. This happens to be a memory possessed by Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent on great form, reminded me of a former philosophy tutor), who Harry has to spend most of the school year winning over. The second theme is a secret mission entrusted to Draco Malfoy by the evil Voldemort, which we discover at the end of the film, and the third is teenage romance, of which more later.

In a welcome bucking of Hollywood trends, HBP resists the urge to get 'darker'. Even the stunning opening sequence, as black-trailed Death Eaters swoop through London, has a tremendous visual gag as the Millennium Bridge gets zapped and we see it wobbling alarmingly as pedestrians cling on to the handrails. Yes the weather seems defiantly grey throughout, but there probably hasn't been a funnier film in the franchise since Kenneth Branagh's superb turn as the vain Gilderoy Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets. In early films, much of the laughs came from the magic, here it comes from the characters. The acting across the board has gone up a notch or two, none more so than the comic acting, especially Rupert Grints Ron (thankfully banned from the slapstick gurning of earlier films), and Daniel Radcliffe himself. At one point the Coen brothers almost take over, as a tearful Hagrid, a stoned Harry (he's been drinking potions again) and faux-sincere Slughorn give a eulogy for a dead giant spider.

The action sequences are few and short - the arresting opening shot through London, an attack on the Weasleys hideaway, and a short duel between Harry and Malfoy. The final battle from Rowlings book has been removed completely. This seemed to give the characters more room to breathe: from the tortured Malfoy as he wrestles with his moral dilemma, to the ever-excellent Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. Dumbledore's relationship with Harry is allowed to pose questions it never answers - is Dumbledore using Harry as bait? Is he, like Voldemort, another adult using his power and influence to coerce a student into doing his bidding?

Like the work of Philip Pullman, there is a deep moral and spiritual core. At the beginning of the school term Dumbledore's brief and sombre message to the students warns them that evil is trying to infiltrate the school, and that it's chief weapon is the students themselves. That put me in mind of a question recently asked in our church 'is evil just the absence of good, or does it have a real existence?'. The answer here is both/and - Voldemort is real, but he works in and through people, some more willing than others. So Draco Malfoy wrestles with his conscience - if he kills Dumbledore his family will be saved, but his half-hearted efforts and knotted brow show that, however little he rates Dumbledore, he can't bring himself to kill. In fact Harry himself comes closest to crossing that line when he uses a mystery spell on Malfoy during a fight and - unwittingly - nearly kills him. Is ignorance an excuse? Is coercion? Is evil? Is anything? Discuss...

There are various religious hints too*, with a Moses-like parting of the waves (waves of fire in this case) to cross a cursed lake, and language seemingly lifted from CS Lewis about the need for the blood of a willing victim. Harry is, in pseudo-Messianic terms, repeatedly called 'the Chosen One', though being chosen is both a privelige and a burden. His final quest is to find and destroy the 7 pieces of Lord Voldemort's soul - with a strong and very clever visual hint late in the film that one of those is actually Harry. The repeated theme of sacrificial death to overcome evil (Harry's mother, Dumbledore) will become even more pronounced in the finale, as it finally intersects with the Chosen One himself.

With plenty of stunning scenery, and the teen angst angle played with much more subtlety than before, there's plenty to enjoy. In fact, add in a few Orcs and horses and you've nearly got Lord of the Rings Part 1, with a band of young but faithful friends, a mystery quest, an elderly wizard, black-clad forces of death, and Gollum's extended family in a spooky cave. But there's less snogging in Tolkien.

This is a cross-post from Touching Base, a regular column at the Wardman Wire.

*There was some Latin with the word 'Deus' carved on the birdcage, but I didn't catch the rest of it. If you happen to see the movie, let me know!

The Winebibber - an Appreciation

Feel stirred by a comment from Matt Wardman to out myself as a fan of the Winebibber, a Christian subculture comic styled on Viz which was around in the late 80s and early 90's. Sadly pre-digital, so you can only now get it in brown paper bags at Greenbelt, but there is a Winebibber Facebook site. Dave Lynch gives a summary of what was in it - worth browsing the rest of his site for some v. clever photo editing!

For some balance, it's panned as 'fundamentalist' and 'dismal' here.

For anyone born after 1980, Winebibber is what comics used to be like before they became £4 merchandising vehicles for Disney and TV programmes. Staple characters were failed charismatic 'Robin Mire, He's Not on Fire', a family who conversed in tongues, and Gordon Bewes, the stick-figure man from the Good News Bible illustrations, who has a running feud with King James.

My personal favourite was the prayer section, including the Prayer for Everything ("Lord, please help everyone, everywhere, whatever they're doing") and the rewritten Serenity Prayer ("Grant me the senility to accept the underwear I cannot change, the courage to change the underwear I can, and the wisdom to know how long I've been wearing them for")
Here is a sample page. Thought it might interest at least one of my fellow bloggers, especially that advert top right... More pics at the Facebook site.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Where to Start?

A conference in Durham earlier this week heard the full results of the Biblical Literacy Survey, which found that a large and increasing proportion of the UK population knew virtually nothing about the Bible, and even though 3/4 of us own one, most of these are in archaic language, or simply sit unread on the bookshelf (or in the attic).

During the summer we get a surge of interest in baptisms - funny that! It's clearly a good time for people to travel, and for widely spread families makes a lot of sense for celebrating the big day in a childs life. We've got roughly 2 a week until early September.

I've recently taken to giving baptism couples a copy of Mark's gospel. It's increasingly normal to find younger families a) have never read the Bible and b) don't even have one of their own. Some of them pray, and worship regularly with us. However the foundations that we used to depend on - some knowledge of the Christian story, the life and teaching of Jesus etc. - is no longer there. Having a local Christian bookshop is really handy, as I always suggest a childrens bible and prayer book as a good idea for a baptism present. Many families have no idea these even exist.

At one level, this puts us back into the New Testament world. The Bible is more relevant now than it has been since Constantine made Christianity the state religion in the 4th century, because we are back with a culture where Christianity is no longer the default setting. Yet in another way we aren't: Paul as a missionary could call on knowledge of the Old Testament (with Jews) or on the practice of worship and prayer (with pagans) as the background for his message about Jesus.

What do you do if neither are present? How (and this is a question Graham Cray is now repeatedly asking) do you disciple people from this sort of background, who might only come along once a month to 'Messy Church' or - in our case - a cafe service.

In a sense, this is where Alpha comes into its own. Yes it's long and a bit posh and full of shiny happy people who only seem to exist in large quantities in Kensington. But it's 45m every week of teaching on the Christian faith, and for people who have virtually zero, it begins to give them a basis. Using the Emmaus materials for our confirmation course gets some people to open up and read the Bible for the first time. It will be a while before they get the confidence to do that for themselves, and not be completely bemused by what they're reading.

In our cafe service itself, Story Keepers has been really helpful, cartoons about the life and teaching of Jesus which hold the childrens attention, but frequently are news to the adults as well. And they're visual. I'm now using 'The Christ We Share' in baptism preparation, lots of different pictures of Jesus, and asking people to pick the ones they like and can relate to. These visual things seem to work better, but in a culture where people prefer visuals over text, how do we then promote Bible reading?

And meanwhile our Street Pastors are accosted every week (it seems) by people who are nowhere near the institutional church, but want to talk about God. It's not as though spiritual needs have gone away, maybe we're back to the unknown God, except he's so unknown we've not even built him/her/it an altar.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Swine Flu leaflet for Sunday

Based on a helpful circular forwarded by Richard Frank, from the Diocese of London, here's what we're putting out to our folks on Sunday. Yeovil had its first confirmed case of swine flu earlier this week at a local secondary school, which is now closing early for the summer hols. The text below fits onto a double-sided A5 leaflet in 12 point Times New Roman.

Or if you think this is all taking it too seriously, the Beaker Folk have an alternative.

(update: Blackburn Diocese has now advised it's churches to stop sharing wine at communion. Latest news here, 'worst case' is 30% of us get it, and well over 99.5% live to tell the tale. More also at Ruth Gledhills blog, including some good advice from Parish Nursing)

Latest news on Swine Flu
As you may know, there are now cases of swine flu in Yeovil, and nationally the number of cases is expected to rise strongly by early September. 5-14 year olds are the age group most affected at present. Infection rates have been lowest among the over-60s.

The most common symptoms are fever, sore throat, diarrhoea, headache, feeling generally unwell and a dry cough – in other words, symptoms very similar to seasonal influenza. Most people recover within a week, even without antiviral treatment.

Although symptoms have generally proved mild, a small number of patients will develop more serious illness. Many of these people have other underlying health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, that put them at increased risk.

What should people do if they think they have swine flu?
1. People should check their symptoms. They can o this by: visiting or by calling the Swine Flu Information Line on 0800 1 513 513;
2. If they still think they have Swine Flu, then people should call their local GP, who will be able to provide a clinical diagnosis over the phone.
3. If Swine Flu is confirmed, the GP will give the patient an authorisation voucher which their Flu Friend can then take to the designated local collection centre to pick up antivirals.
4. If you are showing flu-like symptoms, then please do not attend church services or other meetings.

Holy Communion and good hygiene measures
We are considering whether to move to sharing Communion with the bread only, until we have better advice on whether a shared cup is ok or not.
Both clergy and lay assistants at Holy Communion will need to ensure that hands are washed thoroughly.

We will also look to get supplies of alcohol gel hand rub for church and hall users, and to clean the hall and kitchen more regularly during the week to minimise the risk of infection.

Home visiting
Visitors need to exercise particular care when visiting people in their homes, as not only are they susceptible to infection themselves but could risk infecting others. It may be better to phone rather than visit in person.

Flu friends

‘Flu friends’ are relatives, neighbours and friends who will collect medicine and essential food supplies for people who have been diagnosed positive with Swine Flu. When someone is diagnosed with swine flu, they’re given a voucher or individual code that will enable prescribed medication to be collected on their behalf. ‘Flu friends’ should not however have direct contact with an infected person.

It’s a good idea to identify your ‘flu friend’ now, and if there are people living near you who may be a bit isolated, then being their ‘flu friend’ can be a valuable way of blessing your neighbours.

Church Services and Children’s Groups
It’s very unlikely that we’ll be advised to stop holding church services, though if local schools are closed in the autumn, we may have to think about childrens groups and Junior Church. Children are the most vulnerable to infection, and the most likely to pass it on.

Heavenly Father,
giver of life and health:
comfort and restore those who are sick,
that they may be strengthened in their weakness
and have confidence in your unfailing love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Creator and Father of all,
we pray for those who are ill.
Bless them, and those who serve their needs,
that they may put their whole trust in you
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Swine flu and sacraments

Sorry to get theological, but this news prompted me.

If it's really holy water, then how come it gets infected? (a point made here)

Reflecting on the recent child abuse scandal in the Irish Roman Catholic made me wonder about communion too. Official Catholic theology is that Jesus is really present in the bread and the wine. If that's true, then how come it makes no difference? Some of the people committing the abuse had imbibed their own bodyweight in Jesus during the course of their lives, and yet they went ahead and did evil anyway.

Transubstantiation always seemed a bit iffy to me, and I just wonder how Catholic theologians interpret what's supposed to happen at Communion and what clearly fails to happen to the people who recieve it?

A colleague tells the story of a high church vicar who was distraught that somehow a dog had managed to gobble up a consecrated wafer that had fallen on the floor. He rang a senior clergyman for advice and was told "If God was clever enough to get in there in the first place, then he's probably clever enough to have got out again before the dog ate him."

anyway, back to that holy water, everybody sing along now...
I go down to speakers corner I'm thunderstruck
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks
Two men say they're Jesus one of them must be wrong
Theres a protest singer singing a protest song - he says
"they wanna have a war to keep us on our knees
They wanna have a war to keep their factories
They wanna have a war to stop us buying japanese
They wanna have a war to stop industrial disease

Theyre pointing out the enemy to keep you deaf and blind
They wanna sap your energy incarcerate your mind
They give you rule brittania, gassy beer, page three
Two weeks in espana and sunday striptease"
Meanwhile the first Jesus says "I'd cure it soon
Abolish monday mornings and friday afternoons"
The other ones on a hunger strike he's dying by degrees
How come Jesus gets industrial disease?

Ashes Predictions revisited 1

Not looking bad so far:

series: my predictions didn't cover a drawn first test, so whatever happens now they can't be wrong. 2-1 to whoever wins Lords.

top run scorer: Predicted - Cook & Michael Clarke
Cook didn't get many, but neither did anyone else apart from Colly, so there isn't much ground to make up. Clarke would have top scored in the England innings with his 83, but is currently lying 5th. Looked in good nick though.

top wicket taker: Predicted - Anderson & Johnson
Looking ok so far. Johnson got 5, 2nd to Hauritz, though he bowled some pies in the 2nd innings. Anderson is top with 2, so the England boys haven't really started yet. Just hope they get better! Also, Anderson is the only England bowler nobody is talking about dropping, so he's in for all 5 unless he blows a gasket.

Crocks: Predicted - Lee or Stuart Clarke/Flintoff.
Nearly 100% here. Lee out before the series started, and Flintoff was a serious doubt for Lords, we shall see today (update: he's fit to play). We now know that this will be his last series. He's a fantastic player, but I wouldn't be surprised if everyone else bowls better without him in the attack, and this is a team sport. It's tricky: does having a 'star' bowler inspire everyone else, or make them sit back a bit?

And just to note that Glenn McGrath's traditional prediction of a 5-0 whitewash has already gone by the board. He'd probably predict 5-0 in a 3 match series.

Update: an article on Cricinfo is titled 'Shades of Hughes in Siddle'. I know he's an aggressive guy, but I didn't know he liked to eat sunglasses. What will Phil Hughes do now?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top Twits

Couple of Twitter lists compiled recently:

Iain Dale has the top 20-ish political twitterers who also have a blog. Congrats to Matt Wardman for getting in amongst them.

Church Mouse has the 'top 10 twittering bishops and clergy', based on a twitter grading site, updating a previous list based on number of tweets. Peter Ould has a list based on the number of followers, which updates automatically.

If you're not on any of these, rejoice! The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

Flintoff to Quit Test Cricket

Cricinfo reports that Andrew Flintoff has announce his retirement from Test cricket at the end of the summer. Full details of the press conference and some reactions over there.

Flintoff "I've had four ankle operations and knee surgery, so my body is telling me things, and I'm actually starting to listen. I can't just play games here and there while waiting to be fit. For my own sanity, and for my family's, I've got to draw a line under it. I've been going through two years of rehab in the past four, which is not ideal."

The Dance of Mission

From the recent anglican missioners conference

"So do continue asking ‘What on earth are we meant to be doing?” - whilst also knowing deep down why you are meant to be doing it. You are doing it because you want to invite the prodigals home, to invite others to the party.

"Mission means inviting all the people of the earth to hear the music of God's future and dance to it today" (Christopher J. H. Wright ‘The Mission of God’).

So keep doing your funny little dance, sometimes people will join in with you and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes you will change the way you dance, but keep dancing, and God will be with you." (Emma Ineson)

And Emma left us with the image of Matt Harding and his "funny little dance" - odd perhaps, offbeat, but infectious, building community, pointing beyond ourselves.

The conference site also has a powerpoint from Graham Cray on the future of Fresh Expressions. It doesn't give much away, but lists the following objectives:
- many more first time participants
- sustainability and maturity
- embedding in diocean/national structures
- discipleship
- age proofing
- international conversation

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bible Knowledge - The Generation Gap

New info is still trickling out about the Durham University 'National Biblical Literacy Survey', first reported by the Independent over a week ago (ht Kouya). The full press release from Durham is here, BBC report here. Already picked up by several blogs.

Findings include:
- 'well known' stories like the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan are only familiar to 40% of the population.
- Some people have zero knowledge of the Bible - e.g. 16% who couldn't name any of the 10 commandments
- Under-45's have much less knowledge of the Bible than over-45's.
- Many churchgoers are pretty shaky on stories you'd think were well known: over 70% didn't know anything about Daniel and the Lions den, for example.
- 31% of people said the Bible was significant in their lives today. There's no published data yet on how many of those regularly read it.

It's vital to take these kind of things into account, both with our churches, and with folk in general. How much of church outreach assumes some basic Bible knowledge? How much do we equip and encourage people to read the Bible for themselves? Do we lament this and try to lobby for 'protection of Britains Christian heritage', or put our energies into engaging with the new reality?

Our confirmation course, for people who are looking to make an adult declaration of Christian faith, is an interesting case in point. Several of the folk on the course are reading a gospel all the way through for the first time as a result of being on the course. And they relate much better to things put into pictures than into words - this is people in their 60's and 70's as well as in their 20's and 30's.

The full findings are being presented this evening to a conference in Durham called 'Christianity in the Digital Space' which has its own blog, where audio, video and text bits of the conference are being posted. Mark Browns paper 'The Bible in Digital Space' delivered this morning, is available for download already. Fascinating stuff, looking at how the net is changing the way we read and take on information, and how we connect with people. Well worth a read.

There's also plenty of twittering also going on under the #digisymp hashtag. Paul Windo is blogging about the conference, and someone who can type very fast has posted these notes on a session about community and digital space, and you can see Mark Browns keynote address on Youtube. More papers are being added at the Digital Space website.

Street Pastors credited with 25% crime reduction

Very encouraging to read this:

A message from:
Deputy Chief Constable Tony Melville
Devon & Cornwall Constabulary

‘Torquay is a busy environment, it's a busy town, and of course it has a vibrant busy night-time economy, particularly by the harbour. We want people to enjoy the facilities there, but the challenge we have been experiencing is high levels of crime.

I researched crime statistics during a 6 month period, and do you know what I found?
During the 6 month period when Torbay Street Pastors had been operating, I compared it with the year before - the same 6 months - over that very busy summer period.

What I found was that violent crime had fallen by a quarter , in fact during that 6 month period when Street Pastors had been operating, no robberies had taken place at all in Torquay city centre. (my italics)

We had one fifth less burglaries from homes.

Vehicle crime had fallen by a quarter. All in that very focussed area where Street Pastors had been out on the streets working.

Now these are impressive reductions in crime by anybody's standard, and that's one of the reasons we are so supportive of Street Pastors.'

Monday, July 13, 2009

Church Responses to Swine Flu

A couple of folks in our church went down with suspected swine flu' at the weekend (update: both back at work today, so it may not have been), so I had a quick peek round the blogosphere to see what other people are doing. Good discussions happening at most of these sites:

The Ugley Vicar has just had guidance from Chelmsford Diocese, which seems pretty thorough, though I sense he's not entirely impressed with it. They recommend antibacterial gel for anyone celebrating communion, carry on with a shared cup, but throw out the holy water as people come into church (drat). There's a useful checklist, and advice on hygiene, flu buddies etc. There are several other posts on his blog on the same subject.

Here's a snapshot from New Zealand, where some churchgoers have ignored advice to stay at home to avoid passing on the disease.

Prison Planet is thoroughly opposed to plans for a mass vaccination programme, and wonders how the government would enforce it. There's probably some comparisons to be drawn here with MMR, but not right now.

PaxtonVic is waiting for advice from Ely Diocese and trying to keep things in perspective. Thanks to her for the pic, which is Ship of Fools take on new clergy vestments. Discussion also here on her blog.

After a Nottingham church closed its Sunday service following some of the staff catching the bug, Phil Whitehead asks 'should swine flu close churches?'

OneTimothyFour has defended the possibly OTT 'common sense' advice being issued by churches, and looks forward to the abolition of the Peace.
Latest news here.

Should Christians Vote Tory?

Cranmer argued a couple of days ago that Christians had a duty to vote Conservative. Tom Harris has taken issue with him, and Cranmer responds in the comments thread.

Cranmers main argument was that the Conservatives are more likely to permit a vote on reducing the time limit for abortion. Personally I'm not sure if this is a dog whistle: drop some hints to the pro-life lobby that you're on their side, and they'll queue up to vote for you.

I'm not convinced it's as simple as that. From abortion to global warming to attitudes to money and greed, there are a whole swathe of plumb-lines to hold against our political parties. None of them comes out smelling of roses (or trees, or seagulls, depending on which logo you prefer). Any approach to voting that uses 1 issue as a trump-card to avoid thinking about the rest is sub-Christian.

Update: Cranmer has responded to the Tom Harris piece.

BBQ'd Vicar

Our Cafe Service yesterday offered the chance for people to ask any question they liked. Most were put on post-its so that folk could ask anonymously if they wanted. Here's what we wrestled with:

Is it ever too late for forgiveness?

If God has planned all our life and written everything in his book, does this mean God planned the bad things?

Why shouldn't Christians get drunk?

Why does God take away our loved ones, and not the bad people?

As a Christian I hope to go to heaven, but my husband is not a Christian so that means I won't see my husband in heaven. He is a good and loving man!

How did God make people?

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement since taking up your current post?

What would you say if you were face to face with God?

Why can't I tickle myself?

If darkness is the absence of light and doesn't exist per se, and evil is the absence of good, does evil actually exist?

It's interesting to place these questions against the things we normally deal with in sermons and teaching, both in terms of the concerns they demonstrate, and the theology behind them. Apart from that one about tickling...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Latest Fresh Expressions Newspaper

The latest 'expressions' free newspaper has just come out from Fresh Expressions, (order from here) and includes:
- input from Graham Cray, asking 'where next' for mission in the Church of England
- text of Brian MacLaren's talk to Lambeth 08 on mission and culture
- mission stories from work among Tamils in London, suburban families in Lincoln, a shop in Tasmania, the nightclubs of Tenerife, a lads church in Bridlington, and pioneer work in Middlesborough, Cornwall and Yorkshire.
- personal stories of people who have come to faith through fresh expressions, or have got involved in starting one up.

I got 100 copies delivered for local churches and have been spreading them around. It's always encouraging to hear the good news, even if we're indoctrinated into thinking that only bad stuff counts as 'news'.

From the same site, a review of Ancient Faith, Future Mission, recently published book on Fresh Expressions from a catholic/sacramental perspective, which has sold well after release in May.

"Fresh expressions are not about making our worship more attractive in the hope that people will come. They are about planting congregations where people are." (Graham Cray)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How To Decide Who Rules the World

Following this. Ht Grauniad.

Saturday Roundup

Adam Rutherford at the Guardian is taking the Alpha course, and blogging every Friday about his experiences. He's just survived the first session: "Mostly when I think about religion it's the foolish edicts of preposterous old men in dresses. But sitting down with people who choose to spend a sunny Tuesday evening discussing the meaning of life with strangers seems to be a much more interesting insight into what makes people of faith tick. We shall see." (Ht Andy Dowland)

Dave Walker reports on the Surefish Church Website awards, top blog was Sophia Network, which resources women in youth work and ministry, with Unfinished Christian and Church Mouse both highly commended. Manchester Diocese also picked up an award, which sounds about right. One of their parishes, complete with cartoon vicar on the homepage, picked up the best church website award.

General Synod is underway in York, but without a live broadcast on Anglican TV, unlike FCA (wonder why?) For news follow Thinking Anglicans, or Alastair Cuttings General Synod Blog, or on Twitter using the #synod tag. Tim Chesterton notes that the Canadian General Synod is doing a Cheshire Cat impression .

A couple of significant votes in the Lords: an amendment tabled by Lord Falconer to permit assisted suicide was voted down, whilst a clause which permitted cricitism of homosexual behaviour was retained in the Coroners and Justice Bill. The clause draws a distinction between criticism of homsexual practice and incitement to hatred.

Eddie Arthur notes a study which finds that 75% of us have a Bible but less than 10% know very much about it. (I imagine the same stats would apply to DIY manuals!)

Steve Tilley takes evening prayer out of the building.

Pisteuomen (sounds better in Greek) takes issue with street preachers.

Finally the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff is no longer the 'unfriendly gulag' it was in March. Though the cricket was disappointing (for an England fan), the stewards and staff made us feel very welcome, the Park and Ride was very well organised, and the steeply racked seating behind short straight boundaries meant you really felt close to the action.

Thanks to the Barmy Army for keeping us entertained yesterday, and no thanks to the umpires who robbed us of 30m+ of play, firstly by announcing a restart with 30 mins notice (the groundstaff were ready after 15), and then taking the players off for no obvious reason and then not telling anyone what was going on. With tickets at £85 a throw, I expected the officials to treat the crowd with a bit more respect, even if some of them were dressed as Smurfs.