Monday, November 30, 2009

SPCK Bookshops, You have 2 Weeks to find the IOU's.

Last week, an advert appeared in the Bookseller journal, which concluded:

Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.
Presented by: Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP
Presenter’s Reference: S8703/PJG/NGA/BRS

The full statement, along with some analysis by Matt Wardman, is on the SPCKSSG blog, along with some debate about what it means. A few comments:

1. If you think you're owed money by the former SPCK bookshops, and you aren't already snowed under by the Christmas rush, you only have a few days to dig the files out. Creditors include development charities, makers of Palm Crosses, quite probably the Church of England Pensions Board, as well as book companies.

2. If you know someone who might be in situation 1, please give them a nudge, and quickly.

3. There are questions being asked of the CC about the cutoff date: does this mean that any debts incurred after 1st July 2007 won't get paid at all? The CC have taken over all the former SPCK shops bar Durham (and it isn't very clear why Durham is the exception), and have taken legal responsibility for settling the claims of former staff. It's therefore not clear why 1/7/07 is the limit of legal responsibility.

Matt Wardman comments
Those of us who have been campaigning on this for the last 12-24 months think that the claim for a cutoff of July 1 2007 is potentially spurious, and we're writing to the Church Times and Bookseller to point that out, but the basic notice needs publicity as it gives a "claim before" date of 16 December.

Quite how nunneries in Eastern Europe, development charities, Carlisle Cathedral, craft companies, and communion wine suppliers are supposed to hear via a notice in the printed Bookseller after three years and respond in a fortnight completely baffles me.

Edited Highlights

For anyone who wants to save themselves reading a lot of my blather, here are the edited highlights of the last 2 months on this site, courtesy of Google Analytics

Most popular pages

  1. Robbie Williams turns theologian
  2. Blue Christmas services
  3. 5 deeply de-Christian doctrines
  4. Bodies talk - the web on Robbie Williams
  5. Church Signs
  6. National Secular Society to Disband? (which also attracted the most comments)
  7. Rowans Rottweiler
  8. wikio top religious blogs for October
  9. Review: Marcus Brigstocke's God Collar
  10. The future of the Church of England (not as exciting as it sounds)
Not much point putting the most tweeted, as nothing's really got going on this front!

Top traffic sources (excluding direct hits)

  1. Twitter
  2. Evangelist Changing
  3. Bishop Alan
  4. Church Mouse
  5. Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
  6. Facebook
  7. Phil's Treehouse
  8. Christian Bookshops Blog (I only posted 1 comment!)
  9. Clayboy
  10. The Vicars Wife

thanks to all of the above, and the dozens of others who've seen fit to link me, makes it all worthwhile!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Alternative Advent: Top 10

A few of the slightly more creative ways to get from here to December 25th. Yes, you may have seen some of these mentioned here before!

1. Beach Hut Advent Calendar, every day from 1-24th December on Hove seafront. An Advent calendar with real doors. A calendar based on last years huts is available, and Bridlington has taken up the idea too.

2. Whywearewaiting online advent calendar, the current introductory vid features the International Development Secretary encouraging us to have a Fair Trade advent. New video reflection each day of Advent, with a focus on slowing down and thinking about our lifestyle.

3. Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar, stunning images online, the link is for last years version, and hopefully they’ll repeat it this year. Update they have.

4. Charity Unleashed my favourite Christmas present, even though it was launched for
September. In Sheffield, someone has got several local businesses to pledge freebies towards a ‘chequebook’ of vouchers, each of which is sold for £50 in aid of a local cancer charity. The total value of the vouchers is over £1000, including live sport, meals out, spa treatments etc. Brilliant idea, wouldn’t be surprised if this catches on elsewhere.

5. Present Aid buy ducks, goats, worms or a toilet for your dearly beloved. Actually, your dearly beloved just gets a card, and the knowledge that the presents have gone to the developing world. The ideal present for the family which has everything.

6. Nine Comedians and Carols (Facebook link) tour, a stand-up take on the Christmas story.

7. Blue Christmas – quite a few people find the forced jollity of December hard to cope with, not least for the bereaved. Several churches (here’s one example) now host a ‘Blue Christmas’ service for people who don’t find Christmas a season of ‘good cheer’.

8. Advent Conspiracy: challenging people to buy 1 less present than usual, spend a bit more time with one another, and give the money saved to provide clean drinking water in the developing world.

9. Highlights from the ‘12 Days of Kitschmas’, Ship of Fools’ tribute to the most ‘interesting’ seasonal items. Featuring a nativity set complete with the present-day wall of Bethlehem (fair point) and a set of ‘Christmas’ lights featuring Jesus being flogged (Hmmmm, if you see these in your street, time to move house).

10. For something community-building, there’s a tradition elsewhere on December 6th of making biscuits and taking them round the neighbours (for St. Nicholas Day). Great way to get to know your neighbours. You never know, it might be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Charity Unleashed

Great idea for a Christmas present if you have any relatives/friends in or near Sheffield. Charity Unleashed have put together a book of vouchers for free/discount stuff in the Sheffield area up to a value of £1000. The book costs £50, and £15 of it goes to a local cancer charity. I don't know if there are other examples in other cities, but this is the kind of great idea that deserves to become a franchise.

Full details of the offers here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

ht Zoomtard . Incredibly simple idea - buy one less gift, and use the money to make a difference. They've dug wells to provide fresh water for 200,000 people with the money released so far. Lots of great ideas and info on the Advent Conspiracy website.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hoodie on benefits to stand against Harriet Harman

mucked up the scheduling on this earlier on, lets try again...

Andy Stranack, a 39 year old church worker who lives in a deprived South London estate, is standing as the Conservative candidate against Harriet Harman for Camberwell and Peckham next year. The Guardian had a fascinating piece about him on Wednesday:

In 1998, after fulfilling a drunken promise to attend an Alpha course meeting, he became a practising Christian, and through that began helping at a youth club in Monks Hill.

It was then, even as he was securing millions of pounds of lottery funding for a new swimming pool for the borough, that the doubt set in. Set against the poverty that confronted him on the estate, the achievements of his job seemed a little divorced from reality.

"Until you've seen it, you don't know it," Stranack says. "I remember early on going into someone's home and there was a baby crawling round. There were animal faeces on the floor, and no curtains, no carpet. It was a real vivid picture for me. Having come from a fairly middle-class background, I just did not know that this deprivation was going on. I was thinking, 'These things don't marry up very well: I'm writing policy and I think things are getting better, but actually it's not having much impact on these people's lives.'"

Stranack was happy in his career in local government and says he would have probably become a director of leisure services by now. But he felt there was something more that needed to be done. So he took his "step of faith" and moved on to the estate, while also undergoing theology training, and set about working out what residents wanted him to provide.

It's not often I turn to the Guardians 'society' section for encouragement, but this story, plus their Public Services Awards were quite an inspiring read for a Wednesday. People and projects up and down the country making a difference to people's lives. Well done all. Wouldn't it be good to have some of these stories on the front pages instead of silcone bags and stabbings?

Does God Exist?

I think this is pretty conclusive.

any relation to how certain parts of the media normally play this question is purely coincidental.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

80,000 guests on Back to Church Sunday

The CofE is reporting today that, based on returns from churches, around 80,000 people came back to church on BTCS this year, 53,000 to Anglican churches, but with more churches from other denominations getting on board.

Here's some of the blurb:

The Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, the Revd Lynda Barley, says: “If the returns we have received from almost one fifth of the participating parishes are representative, the scaled up figures would suggest that 53,000 extra people attended Church of England churches that Sunday, among 82,000 coming back across the UK once other denominations are included.

“We know from local research that new attenders and the churches enjoy the Back to Church experience of church. Not only has the number of participating churches increased between 2008 and 2009 so that approximately 20 per cent of Church of England churches are now taking part, but the average number of extra people per church has grown, with participating churches each having welcomed an average of 19 extra people compared to 14 last year.”

and there's this rather cheeky footnote
The number of people returning to the Church of England on 27 September 2009 alone could have filled the O2 arena in London twice over – and still left a queue of 7,000 (the highest quoted membership of the National Secular Society) outside without a seat;

- are the churches which have sent data back in more likely to be those for whom it went well? After all, if nobody showed up, that might make you less likely to send the forms back in.

- More importantly, what was people's experience when they came? I don't know what qualifies as good 'repeat business' for shops, and I'm aware that the sizeable majority of readers of this blog never return for a second look. I'd be interested to see any feedback from the visitors who came on that day, what they thought, and how it measured up to expectations.

- It's a substantial rise on the 37,000 last year, and it probably still has plenty of potential. There are several million former churchgoers in the UK. But it's not going to appeal to the increasing majority who don't have any church background, and has to be part of a wider outreach strategy, rather than the cure for all ills.

- I also wonder what the pattern looks like in churches which have run BTCS for several years. We had fewer people this year than in the previous couple of years when we've run Back to Church Sunday, and there comes a point, unless a church is adding new members quite rapidly, when everyone has invited all the people they can think of, and they've either said yes or no.

The 5 statement Bible meme

Doug Chaplin kicked off the following challenge:

Here are the rules: Summarise the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.

My stab
1. Good
2. Very Good
3. Not Very Good
4. Bad, But God's Good
5. Let's Get This Party Started

I tag the people reading this on Facebook. Wish there was a way to automatically cross post comments from there!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Multimedia Advent Resources from Proost

Recent email:


Advent Extra
We usually send one e-mail a month from proost. But we're making an exception this month as we have had a late advent arrival. Lat year Beyond's beach hut advent calendar - opening a beach hut on the sea front in Brighton with an art installation inside really caught the public imagination. It's being repeated this year. But they have also produced a physical advent calendar with each door being one of the beach huts from last year. It's only £5. Get your order in quick and we'll post it to you straight away. If you are outside the UK it won't make it - sorry!

And just a reminder of the other advent reaources:
9lessons - a flash animation new this year with 9 loops realting to the traditional 9 lessons for christmas

nine - nine artists interpret the traditional nine readings with 6 movies and 3 songs.

25 - Si Smith's amazing cutout and make nativity characters and advent calendar and comic.

wait - Vaux's simple but powerful movie and liturgy on waiting in advent.

silent night - a movie that's ideal for pretty much any Christmas service

Greenbelt pocket liturgies book Standing In The Long Now. This is a compilation from various creative worship communities who took part in the Greenbelt festival this year and has some wonderful things in it.

Happy Advent and Christmas!
Jon, Jonny, Aad

More Spiritual Songs from Simon Cowell

After hitting the Christmas No.1 last year with Hallelujah, another Cowell protegee is selling her CD faster than anyone else this year, and might even do better than Leona Lewis. Probably best to pause this when the music stops....

This isn't really my style of music, but heard it on Radio 2 the other day and thought it was beautiful. Strange to then discover that Wild Horses is a Rolling Stones song.

Christian Today have the track listing for Susan Boyles CD, with comments about what the songs mean to her, including several hymns. I think it's a shame that there's a different record company to deal with the 'Christian' market - come on folks, get out of your pigeon holes. Good music stands on its own two feet without needing some spurious label put on it. Crikey, I'm starting to sound like the British Humanist Association. Bye.

Memorable Musical Moments

Here goes with the memorable musical moments meme: (see Monday)

Think of eight memorable musical moments, not necessarily all time favourites, but those when, for example, you felt compelled to wait in the car when listening to this amazing song on the radio because you just had to know who it was by. Or the piece you heard on the tv in a drama that drove you straight onto iTunes to download... (remember once we spent the princely sum of 6s 8d on a vinyl single?!). Optional details for each song give where, why and Spotify or youtube links ...

Joe Walsh 'Life's been Good' remember hearing this on the transistor radio in our back room in Sheffield as a kid, and kept tuning in to see if they'd play it again. Silly lyrics, cracking guitar hook, somehow it stuck.

The Human League: 'Love Action' My brother, being an electronics whizz, built a radio, and I ended up with this bizarre hybrid thing on my bedside table. Most evenings would consist of me trying to listen to Radio Luxembourg or Radio Hallam (local commercial radio in Sheffield), and one night DJ Martin Kelner gave us an exclusive preview of the new Human League single. They were a Sheffield group, and that slightly alien-sounding intro was the start of chart dominance for a couple of years.

Black 'Wonderful Life' Brushfield St London. A beautifully bleak record, one of the last things I brought on vinyl. On my year out post-school, when I had the flat above Spitalfields market to myself this was one of my favourites. 'look at me standing here on my own again'. London is one of those places where being alone was somehow more significant for the fact you were surrounded by 7m people, none of whom knew you were there.

U2 Acrobat Somerset Levels. On the Clarks Shoes management training intake, me and Justin had a placement at Ilminster factory (long gone) during the winter. We were sharing digs at the time, and Justins car had a better sound system, and he'd just bought Achtung Baby. There's one particular stretch of road just outside Langport which, despite the land being completely flat, snakes around in a series of S-bends. They'd just lopped the trees back by the road, and with the mist rising off the levels, it all looked pretty spooky on a January morning. Through the mist soared Acrobat "I'd join the movement if there was a cause I could believe in/yeah I'd break bread and wine if there was a church I could recieve in/'cause I need it now..." Still makes my hair stand on end.

The Choir Consider live on stage at Greenbelt. First CD I ever bought was after hearing this on stage, and bidding for the Choir's Chase the Kangaroo in a tent somewhere near Corby. The Choir didn't do much on stage, but had an amazing atmospheric sound, and a guy playing a bizarre cross between a saxaphone and a portable keyboard. Sadly the Youtube clip linked doesn't do them justice, but there's some good stuff on Spotify.

The Smiths What Difference Does it Make? John Peel show some time in the early 80's. If there were too many ads on the commercial stations I'd occasionally venture over to John Peel, who seemed to play pretty much anything. Jonny Marr had already shown he could weave a web with the guitar on This Charming Man, but WDDIM is incredibly simple - just 3 notes repeated - and Morrisseys lyrics are brilliant, and spot on for any spotty youth who was fond of a girl but didn't know what to do about it.

Toy Dolls Fisticuffs in Frederick Street my brothers room, Sheffield. My brother's now a BBC radio sound engineer, and honed his skills by building a disco rig from scratch, and touring the local church halls for parties and Christmas. Fisticuffs was the B-Side to 'Nellie the Elephant', the Toy Dolls classic thrash nursery rhyme. It became the standard disco closer, after all the kids with nobody to smooch with had sat out the invetable Spandau Ballet snogathon. All that pent-up hormonal energy piled onto the dancefloor, and big bro would play 'Nellie' and then quickly flip the disc to finish on a riotous note. One evening he broke his ankle in the mosh pit to this song, but carried on regardless, loaded up the car with speaker bins and disco kit, and drove home. He only found out the next morning when mum sent him to hospital.

Evanescence Bring Me to Life Had heard there was some controversy about the group, a 'Christian' rock group who'd upset a few people by not fitting into the subculture. When our kids were very young, I didn't hear very much on the radio, so a couple of years of chart music passed me by completely. Eventually caught up Bring me to Life on Youtube (and the even more powerful Everybodys Fool, scream at the modelling industry). I think it was the first clip I ever watched on Youtube, in a the recently converted garage at the back of our vicarage in Darlington.
If people are slow out of bed at home this goes on and the volume cranks up 'WAKE ME UP!!!!' Love the energy. My kids know all the words to the chorus, even though they haven't got a clue what it's on about.

Oh yes, I'm supposed to tag people aren't I? Ok then, Clayboy, Mark Meynell (can he do it without mentioning U2?), The Vicars Wife, Gary Alderson, and Jon Birch - if he can do a cartoon of each one I'll be even more impressed than usual.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Advent & Doctor Who

So, there's this group of prophets, having dreams about the future. Bad dreams. Nightmares. And they've been waiting for the Doctor, the one who makes things better/heals/saves (delete where applicable). Except that instead of turning up when he should have, he's been off on a consumer binge. A very big binge - though I don't really understand how a Time Lord can possibly be late for anything.

Advent is a time of dreams, and of waiting to see whether the dream, or the nightmare, will come true. In CofE churches, the set readings focus on the future, on hope and expectancy, on where history and God's purposes are heading. Is it a dream or a nightmare? And when will the dream come true? Into this comes Jesus, welcomed by, for example, Simeon and Anna in the Temple as the sign that the good dream of God's people is becoming reality.

We've got a choice about how we wait for the future. We can wait passively, doing nothing. We can do the avoidance thing, diverting ourselves, consuming experiences and time and trying not to face the consequences - "you should not have delayed" "far too late, he has come". I don't know if that script was written with the Copenhagen conference in mind - a community growing far too fast? - but avoiding the future is a powerful theme, whether it's our own, or that of our community/nation (witness the scrabbling on pensions and power, because painful decisions have been delayed), or of the planet.

Or we can watch and pray. Most agents of change are motivated by a dream, some of those dreams are good (Martin Luther King) some are evil (9/11). Advent reminds us that our dreams of the future, and whether we embrace them or run from them, affect how we live in the present. How do we get dreams? The Ood have got community, and a splendidly low-tech little cave. In 21st century earth dreams have been colonised by the marketing industry and celebrity culture, there are 1000 people wanting us to have their dream, rather than letting us have our own. Dreams need detachment to give them a place to grow, and community to refine them and give them legs. A fellow vicar said that if he has a good idea for something new, he waits until at least 2 other people have the same idea before doing anything about it.

Yesterday on an clergy retreat day we were shown a clip from 'Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium', not a film I've ever considered crossing the street to see. But there's some good lines - the two main characters are waiting for a clock to chime 12. "So now we wait" "Now we breathe, we pulse, we regenerate, our hearts beat, our minds create, our souls enchant. 37 seconds well spent is a lifetime."

Waiting for the rest of that Doctor Who episode, for Christmas to begin, for Christmas to be over, to see whether the dreams or the nightmares are the ones which will come true - we can choose how we wait, and whether its time well spent, or foolishly spent. And there's the ultimate event too: the Doctor is going to die, and so are we. As Gandalf/Tolkien says, what we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us, what we do with the waiting.

Charity Begins at the Checkout

Update: different angle at RobinsonS, worth a look, and not so much to read!

By Saturday morning, Children in Need had raised over £20m from Friday night’s fundraising, with more to come from sales of the CiN single (great work by Peter Kay)

There were lots of donations from workplaces and high street stores, with a giant ASDA cheque seemingly in the background of every shot*. Plenty more will come from the merchandise, with Peter Kay appealing for the brilliant poster for the single above to be taken on by a high street name and distributed. The annual accounts for 2007-8 shows ‘corporate partnerships’ contributing nearly £5m to 2007’s total, whilst direct donations amount to £12m, and the rest is accounted for by fundraising (some of it organised and branded by corporates) and legacies.

Pudsey in Perspective
Children in Need, along with Comic Relief and the like, keeps the fun in fundraising, and it’s fantastic to see the generosity and compassion of thousands of people in action. At the same time I wonder what would happen if someone gatecrashed the stage and said ‘ladies and gentlemen, the war in Afghanistan is costing us £48m a week’. Raising over £500m over the last 20+ years is a wonderful achievement, but a few bonus-donating bankers would double that money.

That was Friday evening. Friday morning I was in a local shop buying Christmas cards, treading the line between staying within budget, and buying cards which gave more to charity. £4 for a pack which gives 25p per card sold, or £2.99 for a pack which ’supports the following charities’, but probably by not as much? Was I shopping, or giving to charity? Or both? Why was I finding 2 sets of values arguing with each other in my head over a few cartoon pictures of a stable?

The commercialisation of charity is an interesting one: ‘Give as You Spend’ is replacing Give as You Earn. For the businesses, it’s a chance to promote positive brand awareness (did you see those folks on CiN holding their jam up to the camera?) as well as raising money, for us it’s a chance to do what we like best – shop – and get a warm glow thrown in. From Fair Trade to charity Christmas cards, charities have worked out that we’re not going to start spending less and giving more, so it might just be easier to get us to spend differently. At the same time, the trend towards Gift Aiding entrance fees seems to have taken off – the chance to ‘donate’ your entrance fee (?) so that the National Trust, or whoever, can claim the tax back.

Homeopathic Giving
At the same time, the timing may be significant. We can now enter the Christmas shopping frenzy with a clear conscience: we’ve done our bit. Give the Children in Need CD to someone for Christmas, and everyone wins.

Perspective again: we’re forecast to spend an average of £358 each on presents this year. Even if Children in Need ends up with double last nights total, that will be roughly 65p per person in the UK. Of course, people will be giving in other ways too, not least through those Christmas cards, but there’s a sense of spiritual homeopathy: a small amount of giving diluted in a swimming pool of consumption equals ok.

The best solution, though it may disappoint the relatives, is Present Aid, where you send something useful to the developing world as a present, and your dearly beloved gets a card saying ‘you have sent a goat/toilet/water pump’, and is saved the bother of disposing of the wrapping paper, or working out where to put yet another ornament.

Giving Up?
Earlier this year, the Charities Aid Foundation reported that UK giving had fallen faster than the contraction in incomes – by 11% year on year. The number of people giving has stayed roughly the same – around 55% of the adult population – and on average they gave £31 each. Half of overall giving comes from just 2 million adults.

Even during a recession, most of the folk who still have jobs have got money to burn. If you can afford a Nintendo Wii, you’ve got money to burn. If you can afford a ticket to a Premiership match, or a bottle of wine with your meal out, or a Sky subscription, ditto. The charities folks calculate that £750m per year is lost to charity because taxpayers don’t Gift Aid all their donations. There is plenty of slack in the system. We have the weapons. We have motive. We have opportunity. So what’s missing?

*we used to live in an area where the ASDA Events Manager was the nearest thing we had to a community worker – she organised loads of events around the ASDA calendar (which was basically a series of opportunities to sell stuff to people, based on events like St. Patricks day, or a movie release), and in the absence of any community meeting space, helped to make the supermarket a good place for charitable work and a community focus.

This piece originally appeared on the Wardman Wire at the weekend. Recycling and all that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gearing up for Advent: 'Kneeling' by RS Thomas

Great poem about waiting.

Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great rôle. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.

Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting

quoted by theologian Paula Gooder today at our clergy retreat. Love the image of the sun, and pretty much everything else about this poem.

Doctor Who tomorrow, great Advent message in the trailer for the Christmas finale.

Memes: De-Christian, Deeply Troubling, and De-Dum De-Dum

Joe Haward has published a summary of the responses to his 'De-Christian Doctrine' meme which swam the oceans of the blogosphere a couple of weeks ago.

But he's now infected by the meme flu, so I've been tagged with this one
Here are some of the things that Jesus said that I find really hard to read. And thinking about it, I have never heard anyone speak or preach from these passages. This might be a good meme... what words from Jesus do you struggle with?

I'll have to decide whether it's the words I find hard to understand/agree with, or the ones I find hard to obey. As someone once said, it's not the bits of the Bible I don't understand that I struggle with, it's the bits I do understand.....More later.

At the same time the venerable Phil Ritchie has tagged me with the memorable musical moments meme:
Think of eight memorable musical moments, not necessarily all time favourites, but those when, for example, you felt compelled to wait in the car when listening to this amazing song on the radio because you just had to know who it was by. Or the piece you heard on the tv in a drama that drove you straight onto iTunes to download... (remember once we spent the princely sum of 6s 8d on a vinyl single?!). Optional details for each song give where, why and Spotify or youtube links ...

One or two come to mind, we'll see how busy this week gets first.....!! Earliest mmm is 'Life's been Good' by Joe Walsh on my parents tranny (= transistor radio, not transvestite), and a couple of very strange tracks on the John Peel show.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teenagers and the 2 Minutes Silence

Young people today......

In a survey of over 1,000 adults conducted by ComRes, 93% of 18-24 year-olds said that when at school they had observed two minutes' silence on Remembrance Day, compared with only 73% of 45-55 year-olds. Eighty-six per cent of 18-24 year-olds said that they believed more should be done to encourage people to observe the two minutes' silence, compared with only 72% of 45-55 year-olds.

The poll was undertaken to explore public attitudes towards corporate acts of remembrance and grief. It found that 82% of Britons observed one or two minutes' silence on 11 November 2009. Sixty-three per cent watched the service at the Cenotaph on television or listened to it on the radio on Remembrance Sunday. Twenty-two per cent attended a church service. Ninety-six per cent said that they believed it was important to have a special day for everyone together in Britain to remember those who have died in war.

I helped out with an 11th Nov service in Yeovil College canteen, and it was packed. 200-300 students there, plus a healthy turnout from the staff. This doesn't surprise me, and is a shot across the bows of anyone who doubts the spiritual seriousness of younger people. It may look different, but it's there.

full report here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mission 21 notes 2 - Discipleship: are we actually doing what Jesus told us to do?

Spent most of Mission 21 in the '24/7 Discipleship' stream, where we explored issues around evangelism and discipleship, and the cultural reality that the vast majority of people now have no Christian/church background at all.

What struck me most powerfully was that my church may not actually be set up to do the main thing Jesus asked us to do. Matthew 28 'make disciples of all nations' - ok, it's a big ask, and the church has other tasks and responsibilities too, but are our churches set up to make disciples, or set up to do something else? It struck me that church attendance on a Sunday morning isn't always a very good 'delivery system' for growth in discipleship. And lets face it, Sunday morning is the engine room, so if it's not going on there....

There are a few people at the moment who are exploring Christian faith, or have recently made first-time commitments. And to be honest I'm not sure that simply encouraging them to regularly 'come to church', or even to be part of a small group in the church, will be enough. There's a lot to learn, questions to ask, changes to make, struggles to overcome, things to be prayed through, never mind getting stared with the Bible, prayer, working through lifestyle issues etc. etc. Jesus did this on a personal level, with only 12 people. The secular world knows that apprenticeship, coaching, mentoring, accountability etc. are all part of effective teaching and learning, and are the best ways to bring about change and development. The church is starting to catch up, having forgotten that this is just what Jesus did.

The two things I'm involved with in Yeovil which are bringing about the strongest growth in discipleship - Street Pastors and the Growing Leaders course - are not churches. They both involve a process of learning and action, practice and reflection. Our standard models of discipleship normally involve sending people on a nurture course and then slotting them into a small group: both of these are primarily intellectual rather than practical, but spiritual growth actually happens most powerfully when people have to give out, go beyond their comfort zones, and engage in learning experiences. Jesus discipled his followers by a combination of teaching, hanging out together, and getting them to do what they'd seen him doing. We do plenty of the first, but I'm not that sure about the rest.....

1. Am I being too hard on 'normal' churches, just because I've been on a conference?
2. If you're part of a church, are people there growing as Christians and if so, what's the compost?
3. Do the mature Christians in our churches have time to disciple newer Christians, at a personal level, or are they too busy? Ditto church leaders? And if they did have time, would they know what to do?

It strikes me that the church faces a very new challenge: we've relied for most church growth in recent generations on people returning to the church after being brought up with the Christian faith. They therefore have some background in the Bible, prayer, worship, lifestyle, values etc., and it's primarily a question of reintegrating them. But that pool is drying up, and folk who've got no Christian background present a different challenge. When people have no Bible of their own and have never read it, but want to become Christians where do you start? And how? - it's not just the content, but the method too.

We need 2 things that we currently don't have: a more relational way of being the church, so that relationships of discipleship are natural to the community, and time. The only way of achieving the latter, is to find less labour-intensive ways of doing what we currently do - either that, or stopping some of them altogether.

some of these thoughts are still half-formed, or probably just plain wrong, so apologies if this seems a bit rambling.....

as an aside Christian Today has some good summaries of the keynote talks at mission 21:
Billy Kennedy
Martin Atkins
Emmanuel Ironguru
Graham Cray
interview with Martin Robinson done at the end of the event.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Meat and Potato in the Auditory Canal

Couple of great pioneer* stories from earlier this week:

1. The Guardian reports on a Christian family who've been inspired to set up a woodland commune in Somerset. Lots of really challenging stuff in Tobias Jones' account, for example:

it feels to me as if old-fashioned charity is at the far periphery of our
life. We have a few standing orders to worthy causes and put a small cheque in
the post, or do a soup run, once in a while. But that sort of charity seems
increasingly to me like carbon offsetting: a way to cleanse our conscience, to
make us feel better about the fact that actually we could keep living just the
way we want. It's a sop, nothing more. I want charity, in the old cliche, to
begin at home, to be an integral part of our lives – not just something we do
with loose change once in a while.

....The hope is that our children, too, will learn about vulnerability when they're still living in a warm, loving home; that they will, over the years, begin to learn about addiction, displacement, bereavement, poverty, prison and so on. That, to us, seems much more important than A-level results or a good degree.

...most of all we're taking our leap in the dark because we've belatedly realised that the sermon on the mount might actually be a manifesto for life, rather than a few nice ideals to take out for a spin on a Sunday morning. We've come to believe in the survival of the weakest, not just the fittest. William Vanstone once came out with the great line that the Church is like a swimming pool: all the noise is at the shallow end. We felt called to the deep end, to the place where it's more quiet, more dangerous maybe, more radical.

Wow. I'm full of admiration for the guy and his family. They want the shelter to be a place where people can come for sanctuary and community, and have already started thinking about what kind of community rule of life they'll need. Suprisingly for a Guardian piece written by a Christian, the comments are almost 100% positive. Perhaps that's because this is faith lived, rather than faith preached, and faith lived is much more convincing. Jonny Baker has more reflections.

2. The first 'Pioneer Minister to the Business Community' was commissioned earlier this week in Yorkshire. Here's a bit of the press release from Ripon & Leeds diocese:
As ‘chaplain’ to the business community, Revd Rob Hinton’s will be based at
‘Club LS1’ in Leeds, a central hub for business people meeting in Leeds and also
the home to such institutions as Common Purpose and the Institute of Directors.
He said he was looking forward to the challenge of the new role: “While so much
of the church is denouncing the banking community, it is an important time to
come and be the new Chaplain to the second largest financial district outside of
London and to become part of a Diocese that is wanting to love those who are
both taking the flack and at the same time trying to put things right for the
industry and the rest of us.” He added, “This is a ministry not just to the
financial sector but all areas of the city’s business world.”

It's a diocese which seems to have more of a grip on mission issues than most, good to see that the mission section of their website has been revamped since my survey of diocesan sites earlier in the year. Some interesting links: highersports is a Christian run sports coaching programme, doing ministry through sports (just like the old days), and they have some vid clips of local fresh expressions, though oddly these aren't actually linked to from the mission section!

*I'm truly very sorry, but couldn't resist**

**I hope this doesn't need explaining.....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wii Pray

my money's on a spoof. Ht Tech Central/Dave Walker. But if you disagree, you can pre-order from tomorrow.

Mission 21 quotes and notes, part 1

Just got back from the Mission 21 conference in Bath, failed miserably to make friends with the wifi provision, a problem fellow tweeters and bloggers don't seem to have had.

I'll probably blog about it later, once I've caught up with everything else which needs doing. In the meantime, the conference site has done a good job of staying up to date with things, there's a few video clips etc. on there, and the promise of some of the presentations being available on download.

In the meantime, a few quotes:
"It's more fun making babies than building coffins" (Martin Atkins, Methodis gen sec)

on the lack of growth in mainstream churches “the diet we’ve been expected to live on week by week has not been sufficient to keep us alive.” (Atkins)

"we live in a little Christian gekko" (I'm not going to name names for this one!!)

“No matter how good church is, it’s still a bridge too far to invite most of my friends to it.” (Steve Hollinghurst, I think)

“too many people are sold Chrsitianity as a trip on a cruise liner, and then are horrified when at the docks they find they’re boarding a battleship”. (John Wimber)

“What does God want to say to me through the person who I’m about to disagree with?” (Graham Horsley)

"The gospel is the seed which contains the church" (Graham Cray)

“one of the loneliest places in England is the church” (Pastor Emmanuel, Nigerian church planter)

“one of the big enemies of discipleship is fast church growth, maybe we should grow slower.” (Steve Hollinghurst)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'How to Do Mission Action Planning'

There are roughly 20 CofE Dioceses now doing some form of Mission Action Planning, an approach to mission strategy pioneered by York and London under David Hope's leadership. But it's quite a faff wading through 20 sets of Diocesan documents, all of them different, to work out what MAPping is really about, how it works, and how to do it.

Good news then: 'How To Do Mission Action Planning' has just been published by SPCK. It's written by Mike Chew and Mark Ireland, and there's a bit more blurb here, along with a list of the Dioceses known to be doing Mission Action Planning. There's quite a handy dedicated website, which explains more about it, who's doing it, and has various examples from different churches, which is a good starter for 10.

Interestingly, our Archdeacon recently asked all her churches whether they'd be interested in developing some kind of parish action plan. Quite a few said yes. So this might be quite timely.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Survival of the frailest: what will my community look like in 2020?

Via Christian Research. Something useful from the government!!!

The government has provided researchers with a very useful online tool for calculating the UK population for any year between 1992 and 2031. The website provides an interactive map that graphically illustrates the extent to which age profile of the UK will change over the next few years. The mapping tool allows the user to select criteria for studying various age groups from UK level down to every local authority. So, if you’d like to see what the age profile of your locality will look like in ten years’ time, this site will help you plan ahead.

To find out more, use this link

It's actually quite striking. If you set the age range to the 0-15's, it's like watching pools of water dry up on a sunny day, as the drought of young people spreads across the country. Or watch the progress of the over-65s (which I join just after the end of the period) as the map gradually darkens. This raises massive questions about who can support an increasingly dependent population, and throws into stark relief Jonathan Sacks comments a couple of weeks ago about the 'selfishness' of a secular Europe which, through choosing to have fewer children, is sowing trouble for the future.

I'd be interested to see whether the data shows that it's secularism, or economic development, which has the strongest influence on the birthrate. If the former, then that's a challenging correlation for a Darwinian atheist to grapple with. If the evidence shows that, the more secular a society, the lower the birthrate, then in terms of 'survival of the fittest', this is rather interesting. To caricature, the only way a secular society can survive is by importing people from more religious countries to do the jobs.

On the other hand, you could say that giving birth to a child in the West is an act of selfishness, as they are likely to have a much bigger carbon footprint than a child anywhere else in the world. For the moment, falling birthrates in the richest countries are good news for the globe, as they apply a certain restraint to global warming. Not enough mind you.

(housekeeping note: I'm at the Mission 21 Conference in Bath for the next couple of days, so if comments take time to appear, it's because I've not sussed out the wifi provision.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Technorati top Religious Blogs (if anyone still cares?)

For some time now, Technorati has been a bit of a byword among blog ranking services: slow, erratic, past its best etc., with the only possible advantage being that it shows who's linked to your blog in the last 90 days or so (contrast with Alexa, which purports to show 'links in' but may as well show the recipe for Crab and Toenail soup for all the accuracy this has).

(Update: judging by the comments, the days of being a byword are far from over!)

In October '09, they did a big reorganisation: gone went the old 'authority' (= the total number of sites linking to you in the last 90 days), there's now a new ranking out of 1000, a bit like the cricket international player stats, based on number and relevance of links in.

Even cuter, you get a different 'authority' within any subcategories your blog falls into. I'm enjoying the moment of being in the top 35 'Religion' blogs, which probably won't last, as they continue to update the lists and include more of the many blogs which really should be in this category but haven't found their way there yet.

For the record, the current top 10*, which will certainly broaden my reading, is:
1. What does the prayer really say? Catholic priest, prolific - does he do this full time?
2. Tim Challies
3. Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight at Beliefnet)
4. Catholic Exchange which looks more like an online magazine than a blog, but plenty there.
5. Albert Mohler
6. The Catholic Key which has a fascinating post on the RC proposal to admit disaffected Anglicans. The gap between Rome's "Here is what you requested" and Anglicanism's "Is this what I was asking for?" is huge. The gap is between Rome's offer of an Anglican expression of Catholicism and Anglicanism's hope for a Catholic blessing of Anglicanism.
7. The Resurgence looks to be lots of good stuff there.
8. Against Heresies the spirit of Irenaeus (it was him, wasn't it?) lives on in Martin Downes blog. Lots of theology.
9. Pyromaniacs espresso evangelicalism. No, make that Turkish. Love the graphics.
10. TitusOneNine.

All US and Catholic blogs, as far as I can tell. I imagine there may be a lot of flux as things settle down.

*the listing seems to be quite dynamic - I drafted this on Sunday evening, and by Monday morning it had changed, so the top 10 might be quite different once you read this!

Christmas Services

This is currently how the Christmas calendar is shaping up

28th Nov Christmas Dinner, St. Peters

6th Dec (Sun) Christingle 3.30pm, St. James
Weds 9th Dec 12.30 Yeovil College Carol Service
Thu 10th Dec 2pm Nativity, Westfield Infant School
Fri 11th 9.30am, 11am, 2pm Preston Primary Carols, St. James Church (done in 3 shifts as the church is too small to fit the children in all at the same time)
Sat 12th Wedding blessing

Sun 13th Cafe service Christmas celebration
Mon 14th Preschool carols, St. James
Tues 15th Nursery Christmas service, St. James
Weds 16th Parent and Toddlers Christmas party (am)
6.30pm Scout Carols, Abbey Community Centre.
Thurs 17th Abbey Pre-school nativity (am)
6pm Christingle, Brimsmore Garden Centre
Sat 19th 4pm Christingle, St. Peters

Sun 20th 6.30pm Carols by Candlelight, St. James
Mon 21 Westfield 'Stay and Play' Christmas story & prayers (am)
Christmas Eve 3pm & 5pm Nativity service, St. James (2 shifts for space reasons, see Fri 11th)
11pm Communion, St. Peters
Christmas Day 10.30m Family Communion, St. James

Just 20, plus normal services on Sundays on top of that. The next job is to work out how many Christmas talks I need to cover the above: there's unlikely to be too much overlap between, say, Yeovil College and the Scouts, but that will need to be different from the school talks as some of them will be in the Beaver and Cub groups.

Now is also a good time of year to wander round the local joke shop, scanning the shelves and muttering under my breath 'the Kingdom of God is like............' until something grabs me. In the days of Christmas Harry Potter movies it was easy, everyone had a common reference point. X Factor is a bit old hat now, and Doctor Who seems to be going for 'dark' in a big way, more Maunday Thursday than Christmas Eve.

PS thanks Phil, not quite sure what happened there!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

National Secular Society to Disband?

"We shouldn't have unelected people influencing decision making." (Terry Sanderson, NSS)

which kind of undermines the whole rationale of lobby groups like the National Secular Society, who are, by definition, unelected. A large part of their work is making submissions to government to try to influence decision making.

Compare and contrast Boris Johnson yesterday (see previous post) and John Denham in the story linked above: "I don't like the strand of secularism that says that faith is inherently a bad thing to have and should be kept out of public life," Mr Denham said. From what I can see Mr Denham is setting up a panel of faith group representatives to encourage them to do their bit in building a good society.

At the same time, he's quite open about the fact that, to be part of this process, faith groups need to be open to critique. That seems much healthier than shutting people out of the democractic process altogether - I'm not sure that's what the NSS are advocating, but that's what it sounds like.

Update: Church Mouse has a bit of background, and isn't that taken either with John Denhams proposal, or the NSS response.

Cameron "I believe in God and I'm a Christian" Songs of Praise interview

Following his evening standard interview a couple of weeks back, David Cameron will be talking about his faith on Songs of Praise this afternoon.

He said: "I believe in God and I'm a Christian and I worship - not as regularly as I should - but I go to church.
"Do I drop to my knees and ask for guidance whenever an issue comes up? No, I don't. But it's part of who I am.
"For me, and I suspect for lots of other people too, bad things actually sometimes make you think more about faith and the fact that you're not facing these things on your own."

full report on the Beeb here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Street Pastors - the Blessing of Boris

Nice story in Christian Today about the Street Pastors national conference this week, addressed by Boris Johnson.

He said: “We can’t just transform the physical infrastructure because that’s not what really counts. What counts is the human capital of London.
“It’s the young people of London that we need to invest in if this city is to lengthen its lead as the greatest city on Earth.

“Street Pastors are already doing what you can and I think it is high time London knew more about what you did and the whole of London followed your example.”

Mr Johnson admitted that red tape was making it “too difficult to do good” for many organisations, including Street Pastors, but said he had no difficulty with Christian organisations sharing their faith through their work.

“Faith groups who want to slip in the odd cogent message in favour of salvation, I have absolutely no problem with that. Why not!” he quipped.

“That’s one of the things I think has been going wrong in the last few years – we’ve got a slightly politically correct super-sensitivity to anything remotely cast as religious advocacy. I’ve got no difficulty with it whatsoever.”

We've had getting on for 20 applications to be Street Pastors in our second intake, which could take our numbers up towards the 50 mark, enabling us to do both Friday and Saturday nights, but we'll have to see how the interviews go first.

What we need alongside them is prayer pastors - we already have a dedicated group of folk who pray from 10pm - 4am on Saturday nights, we just need a few more!

'Good' UK Religion Blogs - an appeal

I've found myself in correspondence with someone at a well-known blog ranking/reporting service over whether they need to have a 'Religion' category to go alongside the other ones they use. He asked me the question:

"how many good Religion blogs do you think there are in the UK? Ones that are active and publish on a regular basis?"

My guess is that there are hundreds, I seem to come across new ones every week, and could probably list around 100 given a couple of spare hours. So, here's your Comments challenge for the weekend: can you name me between 5 and 10 good blogs which would fall into the 'religion' category? Urls as well please, then I can cut and paste the lot and forward them on.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mission 21

Anyone else out there going to the mission 21 church planting conference in Bath next week? Tues lunchtime till Thurs lunchtime, good lineup of speakers. If there's wireless access I might even tweet from it - no sign of an accepted hashtag yet!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mission Resources from the Baptist Church

Update: one Baptist blogger asks, 'what is our Baptist mission strategy'? In the light of one response I got to this post on Twitter, a problem might reside in the nature of the Baptist Union - is it possible to have a mission strategy for a voluntary union which doesn't see itself as the 'Baptist Church' with a big C? The response in question said I couldn't talk about the Baptist Church, because such a body didn't exist.

Every now and then I wander over to the Baptist Union site, and it's always worthwhile. Here's a few places to find some good mission resources:

Crossing places - stories of outreach through 'neutral territory' ministry, rather than staying in the church shouting ever louder for people to come in. Lots of great stories - football club chaplaincies, evangelism at the hairdressers, parish nursing, etc.

Selection of concise and easy to use pdf's on mission and church planting, covering strategy, ecumenism, new housing. Part of a larger mission files section, with lots of helpful stuff, from Inflatable Church (?) to youth work, seasonal ideas, toolbox for small churches, etc.

I really like the Mission Department newsletter - like a bigger version of Start the Week - and have emailed them to ask if I can get it by email. Has a good roundup of the resources and initiatives going on for Christmas.

Note to Anglicans: if you're in the national CofE, there's some good stuff here to copy/link to. If you're involved in a Diocese, see if you can get your mission deparment to link to some of this stuff, rather than reinventing the wheel by writing it themselves.

Digital Natives in a strange land

abridged version of an email I got the other day:

A new report, Life Support: Young people's needs in a digital age, looks at how digital communications have impacted on the psychological and neurological behaviour of young people – and the challenge this poses for agencies and organisations who aim to support them.

As part of it, 994 young people were surveyed about their attitude to the internet, and here's some of what they said:

  • 75% said that they couldn't live without the internet
  • 45% said that they felt happiest when online
  • 32% agreed with the statement: 'I can access all the information I need online, there is no need to speak to a real person about my problems'
  • Four in five (82%) said they had used the internet to look for advice and information for themselves and 60% had for other people
  • 37% said that they would use the internet to give advice to others on sensitive issues.
Of those surveyed, 76% said that the internet ensured their friends are available 'whenever they need them'.

According to the report, the internet does, and will increasingly, play a vital role in the full process of advice gathering and exploration for young people. In the survey responses, the internet is consistently rated alongside family and friends as a source of advice in stressful situations. For support on issues related to sex and drugs, it took precedence over all other forms of advice.

Anonymity was the single most important reason for 62% of young people seeking advice online rather than from other sources, while ease and speed of access to information were also cited by 56% and 53% of respondents respectively.

the report concludes: "For young people, the internet is part of the fabric of their world and does not exist in isolation from the physical world, rather it operates as a fully integrated element.
In the future, as access becomes ever more mobile, multi-platform, faster and with richer media – in other words ever on and everywhere – the need and demand for advice through the internet will become even more critical."

YouthNet Chief Executive, Fiona Dawe, said: "This timely report is an essential read for any youth policy maker, parent or teacher. The incredible speed in which communication methods are changing means that young people are trailblazing new ways to converse that many of my generation struggle to understand. With the huge number of unregulated and unmoderated websites, blogs, networks and groups that exist online, the need for a safe, trusted place has never been greater."

1. The anonymity thing is interesting - online 'confession'? Where in the Protestant churches is there the opportunity for anonymous advice, confession, exploration etc.? The flip side is that anonymity allows people to do things they'd not do in person, which makes temptation a bit more tempting, as there seems less chance of being caught. Anonymity makes the net both safer, and more dangerous.

2. I used to be a bit embarassed to ring up my mates on the one house phone with mum and dad listening from the next room. The net does make friends easier to contact, but I don't know if that makes us more selfish or less: are friends available when we need them, or are we available when our friends need us? Perhaps it comes down to what survey question you're asked.

3. The level of dependence is quite scary, but I guess every generation comes to depend on the gadgets it creates - the fridge, the TV, the car, the web. Strange that younger people both depend on the internet, but feel a sense of control when using it. Who's controlling who?

4. We're still working out how this changes the quality of relationships: Facebook and the rest allow breadth to replace depth, keeping in touch with dozens of people at the same time, compared to previous generations whose 'gang' size was limited by the nature of face t0 face communication. The fact that a sizeable number don't see the need for face to face communication at all is rather worrying. Can we really relate to other people properly through the medium of technology? Among the first signs of fracture in Genesis are the couple hiding from God as he walks in the garden: the avoidance of face to face relationships isn't a sign of health.

5. Big challenge to the church if it's going to engage with this age group: church stuff tends to be quite 'lumpy' - an hour or two in a specific place at a specific time. Modern communication and community is threaded through everything. How does the church for Digital Natives differ from what we're used to?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


2nd best comment on the latest Vatican thingy that may only end up applying to about 200 people is by Doug Chaplin.

Best comment: Tim Chesterton, commenting on the above.
Meanwhile the poor are still poor, the hungry are still hungry, the homeless are still homeless, the lonely are still lonely, and the gospel is still not being shared with those who have not yet accepted it.

Tim has also collected some challenging material from the early church on war and peace

Is your church too big?

I linked a week or two ago to Seth Godin, but this one is worth a bit more attention. Godin draws attention to 'Dunbars number', the maximum number of people anyone can meaningfully relate to. It's 150 - any more than that, and there are too many people to know and interact with. It turns from a 'tribe' to a mass.

At one level, that's slightly comforting. It gives me an excuse for being so poor at keeping in touch with people, having moved around the country several times, and been in quite intense relationships with folk each time (churches, theological colleges). Yet each time I fail to keep in touch with more than a handful of people.

Our church isn't far off this size, and is well over it if you include occasional attenders, and people in the 'fringe'. There are churches which are much bigger, but these are constantly trying to work with a smaller group dynamic - cells, clusters, mid-sized communities (currently the structure of choice amongst larger evangelical Anglican churches in the UK, from Chorleywood to Sheffield via Cheltenham, Derby and Haydock).

A few years ago - I don't know if this still applies - I heard someone speaking about the Methodist church in Singapore, which was growing rapidly. Their policy was that any congregation which grew to 100 would automatically split into two congregations of 50. Here was a structural limit which prevented the churches becoming too big for meaningful relationships. Interesting that, when Jesus went beyond 12 people, it was only to 70 or 120, well within the Dunbar number.

2ndmanunited speculates that the way our churches are led will be determined by the size of the church, and that leaders of larger churches 'enter a celebrity/politician relationship with the congregation'. If a church leader simply isn't that kind of character, what happens? Does that just create a ceiling for church growth?

I also wonder if Dunbars number is an average, and there are some of us who would struggle even with a much smaller number. And church isn't the sum total of our our social contacts. Or at least, lets hope not. So if you have 100 family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues etc. in your 'tribe', it's only going to be possible to get to know a few other folk from church really well.

There's more of a challenge for church leaders in medium-sized churches. If you want to stay in touch with folk from 'normal' life, is it really possible to get to know everyone in your church of 80 people? 100 people? 149 people? And if it isn't, does that mean that the church turns into a 'mass' rather than a 'tribe' for the leader? If the leader has any kind of life outside the 'tribe', then perhaps the optimum number for any church leader to relate to is much smaller than 150. Team leadership overcomes some of this, but that would still mean that everyone has some leaders who they feel they know, and others with whom they feel distant.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seen Elsewhere: Brown, Bibles and Fresh Expressions of Catholicism

Both Matt Wardman and (more trenchantly) Nick Baines come out in support of Gordon Brown, against the Sun's attempt to stir up trouble over his letter of condolence. Lanky Anglican is even less impressed than Nick Baines, which is quite an achievement.

internet Monk is starting a series on Christians and mental illness, should be worth following.

Cranmers Curate asks about the best place for CofE Curates to be trained.

Thinking Anglicans has all the latest on the Fresh Expression of Roman Catholicism recently announced by the Pope. I was interested to see what Catholic bloggers made of it, What Does the Prayer Really Say? has a good discussion, and Sub Tuum is positive. Meanwhile Clayboy translates the new document into plain English, cracking piece.

Talking of Catholics, the Herald has an interview with Paul Staines, aka blogger Guido Fawkes, reflecting on his Catholic upbringing.

The Vicars Wife is reviewing Childrens Bibles. Very useful this side of Christmas, in case you were thinking of one as a present.

I note in passing that normally by this time of year the CofE has published confirmed attendance statistics, along with data about the number of ordinations, age of clergy and things like that. Last years came out in October. Nothing so far. I hope the folk in the stats department haven't been laid low with swine flu'.

What annoys you about worship, sorry, church services? Thought-provoking post by a drummer (yes, a drummer) at Musicademy. For all of those who like to think about what they're singing and doing in 'organised' worship.

BBC4's History of Christianity is pretty good so far, well presented, imaginitive, and by starting with the Eastern rather than Western church, Diarmaid McCulloch has started with one of the bits we know least about, and started well. The Open University has a number of links and resources connected to the series. There's also a survey, which is mainly aimed at Chrisitans who don't go to church, though it looks like plenty who do have filled it in! Interesting that work is the most common obstacle to people finding time for church, and that more people pray daily than attend church weekly, there clearly are folk who have a living faith that doesn't depend on regular churchgoing.

Remembrance Day Dilemma

A tweet on Saturday night got me wondering. "This is beyond hideous. Am now trying to produce order of service which will square circles of traditional expectations & youthful boredom."

1. the Remembrance Service is a standard part of the church's year, and it's expected on the 2nd Sunday of November every year. It has standard elements: wreath laying at the local war memorial, certain hymns, involvement of uniformed organisations and the Royal British Legion etc. It's a right and proper part of what we do, to remember the dead and their sacrifice, and to give thanks.

2. But: those who come from the uniformed organisations are met with church at its most traditional - solemn processions, organ music, a format which it's difficult to do much with if you want to be creative or child/youth-friendly. At the same time it's a big day for some of them: being in the flag party for a big civic event is quite something for a 13 year old.

3. Result - if Remembrance Day is one of the few bits of exposure to the church which those youngsters get, then it may leave them with a skewed view of the church, one rooted in a culture several generations adrift from their own. So preserving the traditions in the present may be turning people off in the long term.

4. At the same time, young people are keenly aware of issues of war and peace, and in this part of the world there are many with Forces connections. We had a short Remembrance ceremony at Yeovil College last year, and (without any great publicity) roughly 100 students were present to remember, and reflect. We used war poetry, some video clips, a bit of U2, and a prayer. It's been even higher profile this year, so there could be quite a crowd on Weds morning. Using 'Fortunate Sons' by the Lost Dogs (a war lament by a rock group) with war images on powerpoint, the poem 'Flanders Fields', the traditional 'we will remember them' response, and a couple of short prayers.

5. Is it possible to reinvent Remembrance Day, or does it have to remain forever bound to 'I Vow to Thee My Country' (a sub-Christian hymn, unless you substitute the word 'Saviour' for 'Country', but then it isn't a bit of patriotic music anymore) and 'they shall not grow old'. 'We that are left' have grown old, and most have died, so that particular poem is drifting so far from its historical moorings that it's no longer a lament for lost comrades. There are new poems to be written for Iraq and Afghanistan. How much can we tinker with the formula without upsetting people for whom the very familiarity is a key part of the event itself?

6. Our situation is unusual: the 2nd Sunday of most months sees a traditional service at the church, and a 'Cafe Service' in the local community centre. At the cafe service on Sunday we kept a minutes silence, got the children making poppies, and thought about a wider theme of 'arguments' - what causes them, and what the Bible says about them. Because it's always the 2nd Sunday of November, there's always a link to Remembrance, and we recognise that it's Remembrance Sunday. At the same time that's only part of what goes on in the service, rather than taking it over completely. As a result there's a choice for worshippers, and on Sunday morning we had a number of families present who, had it been a traditional Remembrance service, may well not have come at all.

7. Is there more flexibility outside the church? Many will remember on the 11th itself, not on Remembrance Sunday. Local supermarkets will announce it over the tannoy. Factories stop. There may be a chance for someone to offer a brief 'thought', or a prayer, or something which makes it more than just silence. Ritual is one of the few things which people still expect the church to do well, and this is one where we can help wider society mark it meaningfully.

another way of joining the dots here: 'Black Swan Song' by Athelete

Monday, November 09, 2009

Blue Christmas Resources & Liturgy

One of the top search terms to this site in the last few weeks has been 'Blue Christmas', a Christmas service run in some places for those who find Christmas a difficult time. I posted on this a couple of weeks back, and here are some more links.

Full order of service by Thom Shuman, who seems to have Iona connections, including some nice rituals to use at different points in the service.

More traditional Anglican-type order from Hawaii, good use of light and candles, includes hymn words, could be printed out as it is as a complete service sheet. More notes on it here. Love the site name 'strong centre, open doors'. Great.

article from United Church news, with some personal stories.

Great resource page from a Methodist district with a number of links, suggestions for songs, and connected resources. Well worth a look. They have lots of other resources for Christmas too.

Roman Catholic version here.

Another collection at textweek, need to scroll down a page or so. Monster resources site.

Several places also call it a 'longest night service', it would be interesting to see if Christmas, rather than All Souls/Saints, becomes the more natural time of the year for remembering those who have died, for those who aren't so shaped by the rhythms of the church calendar.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Joyous Jesus

Love this. Part of an excellent collection of pictures of Jesus from different cultures (ht Jonny Baker).

I find I'm using stuff like this more and more: 'the Christ We Share' from USPG/CMS is a great discussion starter for small groups, getting people to choose the picture of Jesus they most relate to and talk about it. Works well both for those on the 'fringe' and people who've been Christians for ages.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Appropriate, or....?

It struck me, as I waited for the Haye vs Valuev boxing result this evening, that a fist fight in Nuremburg might not be the most appropriate sporting event to have on the eve of Remembrance Day.

On the other hand, having a Brit and a Russian (who, by the way, has been much more impressive out of the ring, despite losing within it - we could learn a thing or two about courtesy towards opponents) boxing on German soil is progress of a sort, compared to 65 years ago.

Are You a Ninja?

Came across this on 6Eight, clever, though I'm niggled by a slight concern that it falls foul of de-Christian doctrine no.3 (see Tuesday mornings post). Part of the ninja mission is to recruit and train more ninjas, and to introduce them to the supreme ninja. Having said that, this looks like its aimed at people outside the church, so it doesn't have to tick every doctrinal box that picky evangelicals like me want to wedge it into.

Friday, November 06, 2009

David Cameron: doing God, but no hotline.

Interesting interview in the Evening Standard with David Cameron, with his clearest statement to date about his faith. In practical terms, it may not be far off Gordon Browns 'Presbyterian conscience', valuing altruism, service, etc. Here's the section on faith:

Is faith in God important to him? "If you are asking, do I drop to my knees and pray for guidance, no. But do I have faith and is it important, yes. My own faith is there, it's not always the rock that perhaps it should be.

"I've a sort of fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments but...I suppose I sort of started life believing that one's individual faith was important, but actually the institutions of the church were less important.

"I do think that organised religion can get things wrong but the Church of England and the other churches do play a very important role in society."

Cameron waited until he was 18 years old to be confirmed to make sure it was what he really believed.

"I was a good, sceptical, questioning Christian when I was younger. I liked to think it through, thinking am I really sure about this? But I don't feel I have a direct line [to God].

"I think that it's perfectly possible to live a good life without having faith, by which I mean a positive and altruistic life, but I think the teachings of Jesus just as the teachings of other religions are a good guide to help us through.

"Do unto others as you would have them do to you; don't walk on by. These are good and thoughtful ideas to bring to life." Unlike Blair, Cameron clearly does do God.

It's nice to see him being open about his beliefs, and I imagine most people (apart from a few who jump to mind) will accept this as ok. I was interested to read the annual report of one of the secular organisations this week, who are concerned that a Conservative government will mean no change to 'increasing religious influence' on policy. Once I'd picked myself up off the floor and stopped laughing, my guess was that they're worried that Cameron recognises the benefits provided by faith groups in the same way as Gordon Brown, and most MP's, and most of the population.

Wikio Top Religious Blogs November 2009 (i.e. October 2009!)

Wikio have just updated their top blogs for data to the end of October, here are the blogs in the top 250 with a significant 'religious' content:

23 Archbishop Cranmer
79 Heresy Corner
100 The hermeneutic of continuity
117 What does the prayer really say? (which is currently the top 'Religion' blog according to Technorati)
125 Bartholemews Notes on Religion
136 Thinking Anglicans
137 St. Aidan to Abbey Manor
166 Gates of Vienna. trust me, you don't want to go there.
191 Anglican Mainstream. Not a blog, but there you go.
194 the Ugley Vicar good to see John Richardson in there, very thoughtful blog.
201 Catholic and Loving It! not, surprisingly, a blog run by Forward in Faith. Or at least not yet.
212 Islam in Europe
231 Virtue Online.
232 Of course I could be wrong. Madpriest will be so peeved at being one below VO.
249 John Smeaton, SPUC director. Is that like 'Ace Ventura, Pet Detective'? Or not...
665 The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. Ok it's not top 250, but I like it.

it has to be said that craft blogs about cards, cupcakes and knitting are taking over like a virus.

Another thing I don't understand is that 'Sport' gets its own category, despite having no sites in the top 200. What's that about?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The view from Craggy Island

if you're looking for a drama script to explain to your congregation what's going on with the Vatican and women bishops, look no further than Mike Peatmans blog. Ht Lanky Anglican.

For a different sort of script, try this very clever chart of the entire plot of Lord of the Rings. Other examples here.

If you're looking for some more serious reflection on the whole issue, the Catholic Herald notes that the occasionally cosy relationship with Freemasonry which is unfortunately found in some Anglican churches won't continue for those who become Catholics. Top RC blog What Does the Prayer Really Say also has some commentary on how the RC church will cope with an influx of married priests.

No, Please, Anything but that!

This from the CofE's national advisor on mission and evangelism. The bit in italics is most worrying:

In the light of several recent disdainful and dismissive comments by clergy about modern culture and funerals, here's a positive and encouraging article from that source of essential reading for anyone interested in what lots of England actually thinks, the Daily Mail.

(Seriously. If you have the word "mission" in your job title and your office doesn't buy and read the Mail, the Mirror and the Sun daily, please hand in your cards immediately - you elitist fraud.)


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Blogging, Volunteers, and Local Democracy

Drat, I go away for a few days break, and Somerset springs to life.

Somerton is about 12 miles north of Yeovil, nice little place, with plenty of character, and some good local churches. Last week most of the town council walked out. Why? Initial reports suggested that it was all the work of one lone local blog (Muck & Brass), and that they'd got fed up with his criticism of the council.

Some of the reportage:
Newsnight (starts about 19min in, will expire in a couple of days). Slightly patronising. The clip is reproduced on Michael Cricks blog in Youtube format.
Western Gazette (local paper). Love the 'internet blogger'. Didn't realise there were other sorts ;-)
BBC, which cuts and pastes from the Gazette.
The Mail, and Times.

Some thoughts:
1. People do get hurt, even by mild terms of abuse like 'clown' and 'jackass'. See 6.

2. It's hard to know exactly what went on as an outsider, but it seems that the blog itself has catalysed the local community to take more interest in their council. It will be interesting to see if the energy generated as critics turns into energy generated to stand as councillors. On the national stage, we're all quite happy to have a pop at MP's, but will we see hordes of people putting themselves forwards as candidates in May?

3. The blogger himself has been the target for vandalism and abuse. There's been a cost to him and his family for saying what he's said. That's pretty shocking, and if there is a link to his criticism of the council, then comparisons with the Wild West become valid.

4. Reading through Muck and Brass, there seem to be several legitimate concerns: the way the council spends money, conflict of business and council interests, freedom of information requests and transparency. These are the kind of things a local council should expect from the people it serves. Scrutiny is part of democracy - the unwritten contract is that the scrutiny should be fair, and that the elected representatives should be answerable.

5. The 'lone blogger' angle is far from the whole story. Over 100 local people attended the meeting last week where the councillors walked out. The blog has perhaps been a catalyst for this. In many ways its an online version of the letters pages of the local paper, where we get several letters a week about what the local council is up to. The fact that the blogger names himself, and goes in person to the council meetings, makes it part of a conversation, rather than anonymous sniping from the sidelines. If that can't be part of healthy local democracy, then that's bad news.

6. Volunteering itself is a complex thing: people offer their time and energy for all sorts of reasons, and holding volunteers to account it trickier than doing it with folk who are paid. Paid people at least know it's a fair cop if they're not doing their job, but volunteers are doing it 'out of the goodness of their hearts' (hopefully). They're also doing it (in many cases) because nobody else has stepped forward, and they can feel taken for granted and put upon if folk merely criticise, but don't offer any help or any constructive feedback. In a naturally critical culture like England, that's a bit of a problem, and one we experience in the church too.

Elsewhere, I notice that blogging is part of the local response to the Olympics developments in London - see Leabank Square, and LifeIsland, a blog devoted to some local allotments which were moved out to make way for the Olympic site. They're taking on a slightly bigger beast, and without the same dramatic results as in Somerton. But the blogs provide a forum for campaigning and feedback that simply didn't exist 10 years ago. Yes there can be mass, Twitter-induced hysteria, which doesn't serve anyone, but the web now has to be an integral part of local and national democracy. Having said that, it doesn't replace it.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that one of our local council sites is the slowest in the country. But perhaps I should contact them about it, rather than just whine about it here. (Just visited to check my facts, and it's actually a lot quicker than it used to be, so I emailed them to say thankyou).