Saturday, December 26, 2009


Some mind-blowing images from the Hubble Space Telescope. More at the Hubble Advent Calendar, provoking plenty of comments. I'm with those who think that arguing about God and his existence or otherwise is a poor second to simply trying to retrieve my jaw from the desk at each new image.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to you all, and thanks for dropping by. Hope you have a peaceful and relaxing Christmas break, and if you are, please think of/pray for those who aren't, whether in Afghanistan or serving at the local supermarket, or locked up in Yarls Wood.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing wiwhich Christ brings
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts
Forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen (RL Stevenson)

cartoon Jon Birch.

There might be the occasional scheduled post between now and the new year, but otherwise that's all I have to say for the moment. So that's one thing to be thankful for. Meanwhile thankyou for gracing this blog with your presence, and for commenting, linking, tweeting (or mentioning it in conversation for those unfortunate enough to know me personally). Bless you for visiting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Light Reading for Christmas Eve

Whilst you're waiting for the clock to tick round to 11pm for 'midnight' mass, or even just to pub opening time, a few bits and bobs:

Rick Warren on helping people to beat materialism at Christmas time.

Paul Walton, quoting a Faith Central piece about being a Muslim at Christmas
For Christians, Christmas is about celebrating the birthday of a sacred person: the embodiment of nobility, generosity, compassion and justice. These characteristics can be emulated by anyone from any religious background. Amid the media hype building up towards Christmas there is little focus on the great characteristics of Jesus and what we can learn from his life.

Even though I do not celebrate Christmas in the real sense – as a university student, for instance I would often work long shifts as a medical operator on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day enabling my non Muslim colleagues to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I do actually celebrate and cherish his birth and his life on this earth by truly loving him and trying to exemplify his noble characteristics in my own life.

Ruth Gledhill on John Sentamus seasonal message to the Ugandan government, and the UK immigration authorities.

A seasonal message from the Beaker secularists.

A New Labour carol service from Dungeekin
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head,
And then Social Services saw where he lay,
And they claimed child neglect and they took him away.

Colour Me Christmassy

thanks to Richard Frank for this one, who links to more work by the same designer. Also at iGod.
Is Phlox a real colour?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spread the Joy, not the Jaundice

3 ideas for making other people's Christmasses better

1. Give your bin lorry crew a crate of beer, just think what a mess you'd be in without them.

2. Don't shop until December 29th, that's next Tuesday. Monday 28th is supposed to be a Bank Holiday, but you could have fooled most workers in retail, who will be slaving away over a hot till. Our local Tesco corner shop will be shut on Christmas Day, and then reopens as normal for Sat 26th, Sun 27th etc. One day off for Jesus, 364 days on for Mammon. This only happens because there is the demand from shoppers. If nobody shopped from close of play tomorrow until next Tuesday, then there wouldn't be the demand for the shops to open. If they didn't open, millions of retail workers would get time with their families and friends to enjoy Christmas, instead of having to be back at work on Saturday for our retailing frenzy.

3. Instead of shoplifting, get your Christmas Eve congregations down to the local supermarket, blag all the perfectly edible food which is going to get thrown out and make up food parcels together. Ok it's a bit late to organise for this year....

Anything for an alternative to some of this: some extraordinary stuff both from the 'everyone's persecuting us' Christian Voice, and the National Secular Society, who use their seasonal message to fire both barrels at 'primitive' immigrants, compare faith schools to prisons, accuse Gordon Brown of being a lunatic and uses the charming epithet 'Taliban Tories'. Ironically, it's a message which starts off by protesting that the Christian faith spreads intolerance, bigotry and irrationality. Go figure. (Church Mouse is similarly disturbed)

The NSS should be glad the press haven't got hold of their line about Christmas celebrations in schools being 'soppy sentimental stories'. Far be it from me to wish the Daily Mail upon anyone, but this makes Nick Baines look like a pussycat....

Risk-Assessed Christmas Songs

Thanks to a friend at a local law enforcement agency for these

The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir; We will lend a coat of fur, We will rock you, rock you, rock you, We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative. Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow In a one horse open sleigh O'er the fields we go Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched
While shepherds watched Their flocks by night All seated on the ground The angel of the Lord came down And glory shone around

The union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts. Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Little Donkey
Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period.

Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings
We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts we traverse afar Field and fountain, moor and mountain Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher. We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of RAC routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption.

Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw him, you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

If Church Historians Made Beatles Documentaries...

thanks to Zoomtard for this one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Let the Dads Out?

From the latest Baptist Union mission news

Parent and toddler work can transform relationships and strengthen families, yet the church recognised that it is usually the Mums who take part.

In March 2003, Hoole Baptist Church in Chester started Who Let the Dads Out? - a national initiative about creating space where dads and their young children can have fun together, founded on the Christian principle of wanting to demonstrate God’s love to communities

It comprises:
◊ Who Let The Dads Out? toddler sessions - toddler sessions are specifically for toddlers and their dads, stepdads, grandads and male carers. They follow the same traditional format as other parent and toddler sessions. There are toys, craft activities, stories and, if you’re brave, even song time, but with a few masculine touches, such as bacon butties and newspapers.
◊ SODA sessions - School’s Out, Dad’s About, is a special club for dads, stepdads, grandads, male carers and their infant school children. The fun involves a mix of arts, crafts, toys, games and sports.
◊ Daddy Cool! - a 5 session parenting programme specifically for dads and male carers.
◊ Soul Man? discussion group - a format through which men can explore basic questions of faith and spirituality.

The aim is to ‘turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children, their partners or wives and, most importantly, their heavenly Father’. From its opening in 2003, there are now 18 groups around the country, and the team at Hoole encourage and help Who Let The Dads Out? groups, as they seek to support fathers and their children in the local community.

It is free to join, but once a member, churches can use the Who Let The Dads Out? national initiative name and logo, materials, publicity, log on to the forum for ideas and download the ‘Daddy Cool!’ parenting programme.

There might be the odd mum who'd appreciate the peace and quiet too. Great name, great idea.

A Short Supply of Something. Possibly the Facts.

I was thinking about commenting on the 'sacked' Christian supply teacher story, but it's still not entirely clear what the facts are. Someone somewhere has overreacted, but it's hard to say who. But if you want to join a comments thread, then try:
Tom Harris
Iain Dale
Tabloid Watch
Bristol Evening Post (if you want to engage with a completely different set of people to the blogosphere regulars.)
depending on your prejudices. I mean, convictions.

For the record:
- pushing your faith on other people when they're not interested is socially inept/insensitive, but people do that all the time with their interest in everything from trains to the fortunes of Manchester United. They don't get sacked for it.

- however, offering to pray for a seriously ill child is more than just droning on about Berbatov. Even with my dog collar on I'm very careful what I say in situations which call for a bit more pastoral sensistivity than the average. It would, however, be interesting to know if there's been any complaints about people who've extolled the virtues of Reiki or acupuncture.

- it would be nice if we lived in a world where people could say things to each others faces, rather than staying quiet and then going to the authorities. It's surely much healthier to deal with issues adult to adult, rather than adding to a culture of complaint and litigation.

- having a faith doesn't give you a right to 'share' it. The Bible is clear: be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to explain your faith, and do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter, I think). Yes Christians are called to bear witness to their faith, but witnesses don't speak until they are called to the stand.

- there are a number of people who will assume that anyone who has engaged the services of the Christian Legal Centre is automatically wrong. There are others who assume that any story as reported by the Daily Mail is factually inaccurate. But nobody can be right 100% of the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Toy Story 2: Mr Bean's Nativity Scene

This seemed to fit with the theme of the previous post. Sort of.

Toy Story

The Guardian had a profile last week of Gary Grant, who runs the toy chain The Entertainer. It's managed to stay in business through the recession, despite not opening on Sundays and not stocking any Harry Potter merchandise.

"Last year I prayed more about my business than I have ever done and in October, for the first time, I felt God say to me 'you need to call the staff together,'" he says. "I said 'God, you're mad, I'm not doing that' – because you can have a personal conversation with God – I got to work on Monday morning and I heard God ask me again, 'are you going to call the staff together?'"

So he did. The born-again Christian – or "charismatic Christian" as he prefers – emailed workers inviting them to a "time of reflection". "Ye of little faith," he jokes. "I thought six or so would come along and sit with me and pray for Woolworths and the 28,000 people potentially losing their jobs. I got six chairs out and went to get more and when I came back there were 30 people in the room. It was very moving."

Apparently there's a global shortage of Lego. There's plenty at Legoland, or perhaps James May still has it all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christmas Forecast

as brought to you by GraphJam

Homeless and cold. But at least they've got fur.

yes, well, hmmm, this seems to be about animal homelessness. Not entirely sure I get it. However if, like me, you wonder if human compassion is sometimes too easily swayed by cute animals rather than not-so-cute real people, here's the Shelter website, which includes a feature enabling you to put Christmas decorations onto Google Streetview. Our house isn't on there yet, sadly. Sorry, thankfully. But you're welcome to have a crack at the church.

If you're anywhere near London and want to volunteer to help over Christmas, here's the Crisis site. By coincidence, potential Christmas No. 1 Rage Against the Cowell Machine are raising money for Shelter as well, but you may want to donate 100% to Shelter rather than split it with RATM. I'm guessing it's a bit too late to launch a campaign for folk to download Cliff Richards Mistletoe and Wine in an effort to keep both offences against music from the top spot.

And a Church Times report this week on rough sleepers in London.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fresh Expressions News

The easiest thing is just to cut and paste the latest FX bulletin....

Welcome to the December edition of e-xpressions. New stories on our website this month include:
Hartcliffe and Withywood Lighthouse, a fresh expression on two needy estates in Bristol.
The Terminus Initiative, a fresh expression at a bus station.
Emmanuel Café Church, a student fresh expression in Leeds 'fuelled by coffee';
Solace, a fresh expression for clubbers in Cardiff.
December's podcast has more from Solace and Emmanuel Café Church, as well as news from the Mission21 conference in Bath. You can also hear a longer interview with Graham Cray at Mission21 in our podcast extra.

From generation to generation
Fresh expressions of church are for all generations, from pre-school children and their families to the 'Jagger generation' (Old Mick is a pensioner now!) and every possible local combination. But it is particularly good to see older generations blessing God's work among younger ones.

The Methodist chapel on Polzeath beach had just four members left – the longest serving being 90 and 85 years old – when the suggestion was made that the chapel be developed as a fresh expression for the surfer community who flocked to that beach most of the year. It took them a whole thirty seconds to agree to the idea, and then to actively bless the work as it took shape as Tubestation.

A group of senior members of a Women's Institute, many in their eighties, once told me that they were worried that none of their grandchildren ever came to church. 'Do you think they would ever come to a church like ours?' they asked. When I replied that I did not think they would, they asked what could be done? There is now a monthly, all age fresh expression of church in the barn where we were meeting.

In Luke, chapter one, there is a lovely example of this cross-generational blessing when Elizabeth, 'in her old age', greeted her relative Mary, who was probably about fifteen, with wonderful Holy Spirit inspired word of praise and encouragement. 'Blessed are you'. Elizabeth thanks God for something which, she could not yet see, which would take place through some one else, and which still awaited God's fulfilment: namely the kingdom which would come through the child Mary was carrying. Then she encouraged her young relative to continue in faith – believing that the Lord would fulfil his promises.

On of the evidences of God's Spirit at work is when we can rejoice when God does something in the next generation, which we have not seen in our own, and encourage young disciples to trust God's word.

Mary's response, which we call the Magnificat, reminds us all that God's mercy is for those who fear him 'from generation to generation.'

You can watch the Tubestation story on expressions: the dvd - 2: changing church in every place.

Christmas is coming...
Christmas is a comin' in. That makes it high time for not one, but two, Advent Beach Hut Calendars – and a Christmas Day sermon by text. Last year, the Beyond group in Brighton and Hove hit the headlines with their seaside variation on the advent calendar. Each night a different beach hut opened their doors to reveal the owner’s interpretation of a favourite Christmas carol.

The seasonal success is being repeated on the Sussex seafront this year – and, for the first time, in Bridlington. Pioneer minister Ben Norton, of XY Church for Men, is using one beach hut and 24 different local community groups and individuals to tell the Good News of Christmas.

Revd Matt Ward of Leeds University's Emmanuel Café Church has also been in festive frame of mind and prepared a Christmas Day sermon to send to Café Church student regulars by text. Read the full story in our Christmas Day sermon media release.

Fresh expressions are for all generations, both young and old. This is echoed in specific pages in the guide part of Share.

Fresh expressions for under 5s and their families contains four examples of fresh expressions for this age group, including a write-up of the soft play centre, The Wesley Playhouse, which will feature in the January Fresh Expressions podcast. There are hints, tips and principles for people working with this age group and a list of suggested resources.

Children's fresh expressions contains two examples for this age group, including a Messy Church in Sheffield. Again, there are words of advice and a list of resources.

Finally, there's a page called Fresh expressions for older people which has write-ups of three
examples, a 'Things to bear in mind' section (with helpful statistics) and a list of helpful resources.

you can subscribe to the Fresh Expressions monthly e-news via

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Arrest on the flight to Egypt

Inspired by the UK Border Agency Christmas Card, Colin Alsbury has produced this, which is an early contender for the design for next years Home Office Christmas Card. Mary and Joseph flee to England, WWUKBA do?
However, it may fall foul of the unwritten policy of not having any references to Christmas on political Christmas cards.

Update: Ekklesia have a new version of the UK Border Agency Christmas Card.

Deliver us from Yeovil*

I note with profound sadness that a fellow blogger has used his/her/its public profile to cast aspersions on the good name of my home town. I can't for the life of me see why.

Given the normal style of Thomas Hardy's novels (think Ian McEwan without the upbeat optimism), siting his memorial plaque between a parking meter and a dustbin seems quite appropriate.

Hardy enthusiasts should count themselves lucky, Trevor Peacock, Ian Botham and Paddy Ashdown are all still in the queue. I guess being alive might be a problem for a memorial plaque in their cases.

Personally, I find the row of 5 urban objects quite artistic, in a slightly-down-at-heel-market-town sort of way. Given the snow forecast, those of you in the SE might be gazing longingly at that gritting bin. Hands off!

Photo: Martin Pakes, Crewkerne.

*I'm told this was an amendment to the Lords Prayer introduced by the good people of Sherborne, a royalist stronghold 5 miles East of here, across the Somerset/Dorset border. If anyone can confirm/deny the truth of this rumour, that would be helpful. This year we celebrated 1100 years since the ecclesiastical iron curtain that is a diocesan boundary came down between Bath and Wells and Salisbury Diocese. However I note with distress that several of our local people still make a pilgrimage to Sherborne Abbey for their crib and carol services. Perhaps I need to disguise myself and go spy out what they're doing right.

Irish Evangelical Alliance and Civil Partnerships

I normally avoid this sort of thing because, unlike certain sections of the Anglican communion, I'm not thinking about sex every 7 seconds. More female leaders, that's what we need.... sorry, I'll avoid that tangent for now. But this seemed worthy of note: the Irish Evangelical Alliance has recently issued a document on its response to civil partnership legislation in Ireland. Things are different over there, but I was struck by this summary on Zoomtard:

We endorse the Civil Union legislation as it stands because as evangelical Christians we recognise that we have no automatic rights to have our Biblical beliefs enacted in law. In a pluralistic society, tolerance is a two-way street. We can not demand and protect our right to religious expression and simultaneously oppose the rights of others to form significant relationships.

In a follow up post, Kevin writes
do not mistake that the EAI’s support of civil legislation and the associated extension of rights to these couples as some kind of woolly-headed rejection of Christian orthodoxy. It is not a complex idea to hold that we can wholeheartedly believe what we believe and not expect others to agree and simultaneously want to fight for the rights of people who do not agree with us.

In a way this is an easier position to come to for Irish evangelicals, because they're not a big group, and probably don't wield a massive amount of influence. At the same time, should your theology be determined by how much power and influence you have...? I guess if you have some influence and weight in society you need a theology and set of principles for how you use it.

this document is not a caving in to contemporary pressure. It is a deep theological reflection on how to live as a group of Christians in a land where plenty of people disagree with us.

"how to live as a group of Christians in a land where plenty of people disagree with us." Sounds like a pretty good place to start. You may not agree with their conclusions, but recognising that, in a pluralist society, maybe we can't just draw a straight line from the Bible to the statute book and say 'here I stand, I can do no other'. We can do other - see yesterdays post on John the Baptist for a start.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

50% of UK Christian? That would be nice. Or would it?

A trailer for some research being published in January was released this morning by the National Centre for Social Research. It's a comparison of religious attitudes in the UK and US, and leads with the finding that people defining themselves as Christian has declined from 66% to 50% since 1983. Telegraph report here.

Some of the findings.
· Seven in ten (70%) Americans are religious, in that they identify with a particular religion, believe in God and attend religious services. This compares with just a quarter (26%) of people in Britain.

· Three in ten people (31%) in Britain are not religious: they do not identify with a religion, don’t believe in God and don’t attend religious services. This compares with just four in every hundred (4%) Americans.

· Just over a third (36%) of people in Britain and a quarter (24%) of Americans have practices and beliefs that lie somewhere in between. These people – the ‘fuzzy faithful’ – identify with a religion, believe in God or attend services, but not all three.

There's also some bullet points on church and society:
· In Britain, four in five (79%) people think it provides comfort in times of trouble, as do 95% of Americans.

· The majority of people in both countries are keen to maintain a separation of religion and state. For example two thirds (67% in Britain and 66% in the US) think religious leaders should not try to influence government decision-making.
· Nearly three quarters (73%) of people in Britain and two thirds (66%) of Americans think people with strong religious beliefs are often too intolerant of others.

The paper is based on the 2008 Social Attitudes survey in the UK, but those results don't appear to be online, unless anyone is better on Google than me?

George Pitcher has responded in the Telegraph
Nick Baines, who likes the reporting (shock! horror!) and wonders if the NSS would have said the same thing whatever the figures were. The answer is possibly yes.
Church Times report, with a nice table summing things up. Statistical table, as opposed to a talking piece of furniture.

1. This sounds about right: the three groups of faithful, fuzzy and agnostic/atheist is quite a good way to characterise it. I think about 15-20% of children are currently baptised in a church, which if you exclude the churches which don't practice infant baptism, looks fairly close to these findings.

2. Identification is lagging behind reality, which continues to pose the question of Christendom institutions (established church, bishops in the Lords, etc.) and their place in a post-Christendom society. At the same time there are quite a few people who want a church that they don't go to.

3. That last bullet point needs heeding, though one suspects that an intolerant religious person makes a better news story than a loving one, just as an actual crime makes a better story than a night when everyone keeps the law. Sadly the bigoted Christian is a staple news story, and this is not all the medias doing, it wouldn't be a story if they didn't actually exist.

4. 26% of people who believe in God, attend religious services and identify with a particular faith is a fairly sizeable chunk of society. That doesn't entitle it to privileges, but I'm struggling to think of another voluntary activity which comes close to that, no doubt commenters will enlighten me.

5. There's a challenge for parents, and churches equipping parents to pass on their faith to their children (who, of course, will make their own decision anyway...)
“Two non-religious parents successfully transmit their lack of religion. Two religious parents have roughly a 50/50 chance of passing on the faith. One religious parent does only half as well as two together.” It also means that any strategy for the future of the church which is simply based on sitting there and waiting for stuff to happen is doomed to failure. The question is not whether to change, but how.

John the Baptist, Work Consultant

Most workplaces have their own moral grey areas. Our biggest local employer is Westland Helicopters, or Agusta Westland as they're now known, having been bought up by an Italian company. They make transport helicopters, as well as the Apache gunship- well known both to Palestinians (on the receiving end of those owned by the Israeli army) and the UK forces in Afghanistan (which is where the Yeovil-made ones are deployed). Judging by the latest news, there could be plenty of work for Westlands in the next few years.

Some of the folk I know who work there sometimes wrestle with this. Some are working on non-military helicopters, which means they're not directly involved with the Apache, though they still work for a company which prospers by selling machines which are designed to kill people. Some of the end uses are perhaps more difficult to justify than others.

How big a problem is that? WWJD? Here's John the Baptist in Luke 3
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"
13 "Don't collect any more than you are required to," John told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"
John replied, "Don't force people to give you money. Don't bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay."

Being a tax collector wasn't an occupation for the morally pure. Working for the occupying Roman power collecting money for them from your fellow Jews, and creaming a bit off the top for your own enrichment. A profiteering collaborator, they might have got on well with the French Vichy administration during WW2. The soldiers were possibly the enforcers for the tax collectors.

This caught me by surprise. Because I'd have expected someone as rigorous and demanding as John the Baptist to tell them to quit their jobs and do something more pleasing to God. But he doesn't. A baptised, penitent, honest tax collector/soldier can serve God where they are by living an upright life within the parameters set by the job. Does that apply to Apache gunships too? What about other weapons systems?

This of course raises a host of issues - there must be a point where you have to bail out, but then people like Schindler would have never achieved what they did without remaining in the system. There's also the question of when and how you try to reform the system itself, and a focus purely on individual morality can be quite weak at this point.

But yes, I would rather have a tax collector who doesn't overcharge me, and a criminal system which doesn't exploit its power over the weak. So maybe its better to have good people in bad jobs than to have bad people in bad jobs, which is what you'd get if all the good people quit.

Still processing this one, what do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Christmas Pudding Hedge

A local family, Mr and Mrs Holley (yes), have just unveiled their yearly Christmas Pudding hedge, just down the road in Yeovil. TV report here (one of those passers by is our childrens worker, Karen), not on Youtube yet though you can find reports on last years hedge.
If you want to know how to make one, the Telegraph has the full details. As far as I'm aware, nobody has yet asked 'do you have planning permission for that', which just shows how enlightened Yeovil people are.

A Seasonal Missage from the UK Border Agency

This is the kind of thing which makes satirists quit.

Phil Ritchie says it so much better than I can. Original source Ekklesia.

Next year's card will be a picture of a CCTV camera with the message 'Mary and Joseph, we know where you are', signed by Mr Herod at the deparment for community cohesion, with a 100 page insert detailing in complicated English how to work out your points score.

Talking of the Borders Agency, you can see video footage of St. Nicholas being turned away from the Yarls Wood detention centre, it sounds like they tried beforehand to arrange it but 'oh yes, what a great idea to brighten things up for the children' wasn't the response recieved back.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Finances, Family and Footie: What we Worry About.

this released today by the Samaritans:

Nearly half the UK population (48%) has worried this year about debt and money, according to a survey published today by Samaritans and YouGov, with almost a quarter of people (23%) describing 2009 as a bad year or their worst year ever.

The poll of more than 2,000 people asked the public to identify their five biggest worries over the past year. After money, other top-five sources of anxiety were problems in relationships with family and friends (reported by 35% of people) and physical health concerns (32%), followed by fears over job security (24%) and workplace stress (24%).

Other key findings were:
loneliness was one of the top worries amongst 21% of young people (aged 18-24) compared to only 8% of older people (aged 55 plus);

more women (25%) have worried about their appearance or ageing than men (18%);

10% of men have worried about sport and how their favourite team is doing compared to 1% of women;

people have been more worried about domestic politics (24%) and world affairs (23%) than about what was happening in their own neighbourhood (8%);

over twice as many women (23%) have worried about their ability to cope emotionally with life than men (11%);

while 23% of people described 2009 as a bad year, for 18% 2009 was a good year; 41% thought the year had been both good and bad, featuring ups and downs.

press release and link to the full survey, including a regional breakdown, here.

I wonder if the message that 'there's probably no God, now stop worrying...' would be of any help here? Probably not. For something a bit more practical, there's a few debt resources and organisations here. We've just started using the CAP Money course, 3 dvd-based sessions on finance management, and are aiming to run it regularly in the new year. A pilot in the autumn was well recieved, so it'll be interesting to see what the take-up is in 2010.

If anyone reading this feels moved to help, then why not volunteer for the Samaritans? Details at the foot of this link.

The thin pew line: drop in parish clergy not matched by dioceses.

There are regular mutterings about whether the CofE is too top-heavy, and whether the decline in paid clergy in the parishes has been matched by similar economies at Diocesan level. It seems the mutterings might have some basis in fact, based on the latest CofE stats.

Figures for 2008
total stipendiary clergy = 8346
of which
parish clergy = 7645
dignitaries* = 359
other diocesan clergy = 342

parochial clergy as % of total = 91.60
non-parochial clergy % = 8.4

Figures for 2001

total stipendiary clergy = 9352
of which
parish clergy = 8652 (according to p5, or 8538, according to page 3!)
dignitaries = 370
other diocesan clergy = 330

parochial clergy as % of total = 92.51
non-parochial clergy % = 7.49

Though the number of 'dignitaries' has fallen, the decline is by roughly 3%, compared to a nearly 12% fall in parish clergy. Meanwhile the number of clergy in diocesan posts (e.g. missioners, training officers etc.) has actually risen.

If we had the same proportions in 2008 as in 2001, there would be 625 clergy in 'dignitary'/non-parochial posts, not the 701 reported. In national terms, an extra 75 or so clergy in parish ministry rather than in central posts is a drop in the ocean, but it also bears out the instincts of the folk in the parishes who sense a certain amount of overstaffing at the centre.

I'm not sure what the national staff of the CofE is, and whether this follows the same trend.

For the record, the number of chaplains in 2001 was 1109 (page 6), the 2008 figure is 1142.

*i.e. bishops, archdeacons, deans and Cathedral clergy.

and for a really creative take on what being on the front line could involve, have a look at this on Jonny Bakers blog. A local church in London where the vicar manages the farmers market on Sunday and the congregation run the coffee stall. Great stuff.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Bath & Wells website

Update: the comms people are pretty responsive - emailed most of the following to the site, and they were happy to recieve suggestions and are working on one or two of them. Am now linked.

My Diocese has just revamped its website, the new one looks a bit more up to date than the old, and is easier to get around. Some of the sections have been tightened up, and most of it seems to work. It's a lot easier to look at too, nice bright front page, good pictures, and it has the kind of stuff you want on a front page - news, key links, events etc.

The local churches bit is better - picks up info direct from 'A Church Near You', but doesn't seem to link to the churches own websites. It's also a bit of a worry to find that I'm not listed on the staff of my own Deanery or church. Better keep my head down.

Best bit: lots of templates for employing youth and childrens workers - policies, contracts etc., and some of the childrens resources 'Seasonal Prayers for Children'. Look forward some some of the resource booklets that the Childrens Advisor puts together being made available online. They're excellent, but having to trek to Wells for hard copy means they don't get the circulation they deserve.

tricks missed? - there are lots of great resources on other Diocesan websites, and it would be good to see some of these linked. There are links back to the national CofE site, which saves some duplication, but things like mission and communication resources are a click away, and they're all here in one place to save trawling through 43 websites.

The other thing is blogs - there's an intermittent blog by the School of Formation (training department), which isn't very high profile. There aren't links to the few of us who blog out there in the wilds of the parishes. Maybe for good reason, if they've actually read the stuff that me and Steve write about. Sorry, Steve and I. No wonder we're not linked with grammar like that.

My Kind of Coffee Cup

Thanks to Eileen for sending this one in. If anyone knows where I can get one of these, please let me know.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Latest CofE stats on giving and ordinations: More is Less, Less is More

Latest CofE stats on giving, ordinations and membership have just come out. The attendance figures I think are the same as those announced earlier in the year, but with some comparison charts and tables, and go as far as 2007. Here's a couple of tables on change in attendance from 2001-7.

The figures on finance also go as far as 2007, and ordinations to 2008. Full list of tables here. Some headlines:

Ordinations - the number of clergy ordained to full time ministry in 2008 was higher than any year since 1994 (323). The total number ordained was also higher than any other year in the same period (574).

Giving levels continued to rise in real terms, despite a decline in membership.

Total Paid Clergy: projections to 2013 are for a further drop of 600, fuelled by the large blip in retirments, to 7700 in 2013. Another chart (below) projects forward to 2018 - it's hard to tell without seeing the figures it's based on, but it looks like numbers will continue to fall, and the main age group will be 50-65. Most of the drop will happen among 'younger' clergy - my back of a hymn book calculation, based on the chart, is for roughly 500 clergy under 40 in 2018. That's not very many! Having said that the age profile of clergy recommended for training has edged downwards in the last few years.

These stats have come out roughly a month later than in previous years, but from what I can see there is a bit more detail than before. For example, if you're in a diocese which you suspect of having too many people in 'senior' posts and not enough clergy on the ground, this table will tell you exactly how many paid clergy are in parish posts, and how many are 'dignitaries'. It also breaks it down into the number of male and female clergy in each diocese.

It's a mixed picture: attendance slightly down, but that masks some dioceses which are declining and others which are steadily growing. Income seems surprisingly good, though the 2008 and 9 figures, post credit-crunch, will be interesting. A good number of ordinations, but still outweighed by the retirements.

And it's still changing - the maps may tell you that Bath and Wells attendance grew from 2005-7, but our 2008 figures are nothing like as rosy. There are hopefully other Dioceses which have seen the opposite.

The challenge of that last fact is how to get ahead of the game. At the moment we're still, mostly, trying to support the system which worked with 1970 staffing levels. We need to change to the system which will work with 2020 staffing levels, and ideally before we get there, rather than 40 years afterwards. Even better, we could stop designing our system around staffing levels, and start designing it around what the church is supposed to be like (a few clues in the book of Acts) and what we're supposed to be doing (making disciples). I don't recall Jesus saying 'go and lead services for all nations', but having just done 3 carol services for a local school, I am both the pot and the kettle in conversation with each other.

Analysis of comparative figures last year 'Fewer and Older'. I think most of that still stands...

more on Monday.

Personality, or Disorder?

Update: well worth reading the comments below by bourach, who blogs at, on their experience of personality disorder, and of what aspects of church life and community they find helpful.

Thought-provoking piece by the BBC's Mark Easton from a few days ago, looking at the effects of personality disorders, and the moral questions they raise.

We don't know. Research is thin. And there are some who argue that doctors' attempts to find a therapeutic label for it are in danger of simply medicalising bad behaviour.

...But the dilemma remains. Not every trauma victim goes on to abuse. Not every neglected child self-harms. Society cannot easily forgive or excuse those that commit appalling crimes on the basis that it is a consequence of a troubled past.

The question is still unanswered. Where does personality end and disorder begin?

It's quite a long piece, but raises all sorts of issues: when is a diagnosis an explanation, and when is it an excuse? What's the effect of culture: we've become a society which is much happier about giving free reign to self-expression, but do we have the self-control to know when this is appropriate and when it isn't?

When we did the Myers-Briggs personality test at training college, one wag at the college revue coined the line 'it's not a sin, it's just my personality'. God has given us life to richly enjoy, and to live to the full, but living life to the full isn't the same as self-indulgence, and I wonder if those two ideas have become confused somewhere along the line. Jesus teaches that the two are mutually opposed.

But you can only give your life away if it's yours to give, so if a personality disorder means that you're not fully in control of your life in the first place......I'd better stop there......

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mary & Joseph, don't you flee to England.

Following the Santa/White Witch incident a few days ago, more pressure for an end to the policy of imprisoning innocent children just because they happen to be related to asylum seekers. A new report from medical professionals has called for an end to the detention of children as part of our immigration policy:

Many of the children are held at Serco-run Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire while their parents await deportation.

Children in such circumstances were already among the most vulnerable in the UK and the harmful effects of arrest and detention only added to their difficulties, the report said.

It said almost all children seeking asylum suffered injury to their mental or physical health due to being detained, some seriously. The current provision of mental and preventative healthcare was inadequate, the report said, and made recommendations for improvement.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said children in immigrant families were already disadvantaged and vulnerable.
"Detaining children for any length of time - often without proper explanation - is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences," he said. "As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services."

Full report here, one family's story here. It's a sobering thought that if Jesus family had fled to the UK in 2009, rather than Egypt in AD3 (or thereabouts), Jesus would have been locked up for up to two months in a privately-run prison. Welcome to the UK, land of the free and home of civilisation. Yes of course we have to protect our citizens against people coming here to do us harm, but there must be a better way than this.

Facebook group Maries Law was set up earlier this year to highlight the same issue.

Whose Christmas Is It?

The Blog of Kevin on the dilemma of churches up and down the land

The balance we have to strike every year is that we want people to come to our carol services; we want some contact with them, we want them to catch a glimpse and maybe even a full-on view of the real, transforming Jesus. At the same time, that is not what most people are expecting or wanting. They want Away in a Manger sung by little children, some candles a familar (short) reading and nothing more. Not even coffee and a mince pie.

So how much do ‘we’ do Christmas ‘their way’ for ‘them’, because we don’t want to alienate or upset’ them’; and how much do we do Christmas for ‘us’, real and honest and raw and authentic, brazenly mad and ridiculous and dangerous a story as it is, politically murderous (the killing of the babies), historically pertinent (Palestinian refugees from a controlling state) and socially alienating (look at the reaction to Nick’s book).

This is pretty close to the truth, if a bit overstated. For a start I'm not sure there's such a clear line between 'them' and 'us'. But the expectations of people coming to Carols by Candlelight, or a Christingle, don't allow a lot of wiggle room. Having said that, it's within the comfort of the familiar that something provocative, or challenging, or engaging, has the room to breathe and grab people.

But I take the point at the end: if we started afresh, with the Christmas story, and didn't have any of the cultural barnacles, is this how we'd authentically celebrate it, or would we do something else?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

new Twurch of England website

A large piece of cheese to Church Mouse and Peter Ould, who in their spare time (I'm struggling to remember what that is) have put together a new Twurch of England website, with live feed from CofE tweeters, list of who they are, and associated blog.

The live twitter feed only consists of clergy (does CM himself/herself qualify on this count?) at the moment, it would be interesting, though quite time consuming, to widen that out to non-clergy, but you've got to start somewhere.

They've created a copiable widget for blogs to use, and even made the Church of England happy, according to the endorsement on the site. That for me creates a whole raft of questions: can an institution be happy, or be said to have emotions? But enough of that...

One World, One Song

Great idea, one song, played by a group of individuals from dozens of countries.

more about Playing for Change. Seems appropriate for this week.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The White Witch is Alive and Well and somewhere in Yarlswood Detention Centre

Santa Claus was turned away from Yarlswood detention centre last week, after attempting to deliver £300 of gifts to the children imprisoned, sorry, detained there. Ekklesia has the full story. It appears that as well as inhumane treatment of children and residents, the detention centre is determined to detain people in a perpetual winter, and deny them Christmas.

For more on Yarlswood, see here, this is the sorry place where Elizabeth Rushamba's children have spent far more of their lives than you'd wish on anybody.

The children of asylum-seekers are the only children in this country who can be locked up without oversight of the courts and without ever having committed a crime. The government's decision to detain them is not subject to judicial scrutiny. They are the casualties of a system that demonises asylum-seekers.

Come on. You can do better than this.
Ht Paul Canning, who I assume is no relation to the Paul Canning who crops up as a minor character in the BBC political drama State of Play, which I happened to watch on DVD a couple of days ago. But you never know.

Art and Christianity Meme

Phil Ritchie, and someone else (who I've already forgotten! it's been a busy few days) tagged me with the following challenge:

To list an artwork, drama, piece of music, novel, and poem that you think each express something of the essence of Christianity and for each one explain why. Then tag five other people. Original idea from Jonathan Evens.

This is going to test my cultural horizons, but here goes.

Art: Banksy's Bethlehem murals

Not just the image - which itself connects to the message and passion of Jesus - but the location, on probably the symbolic structure of human division in the world since the end of the Berlin Wall.

Drama: Difficult, as there are stacks of films and dramas with gospel imagery. I'll plump for the Shawshank Redemption, especially the final escape, where Andy Dufresne leaves the prison, is 'baptised' in the river and the rain, and goes on to a new life with a new identity and riches already against his name in the bank, sending back a message for his friend to come and join him.

Music: 'Restore My Soul' by The Choir. One of my favourite bands anyway, full of great imagery "I come to you with 10 fingers smoking/from turning the pages of sin/with my spirit choking/from earning the wages of sin". Talks of a God who, no matter how much of a mess we make, is ready and willing to restore us.

Novel: I'm tempted to say the Harry Potter series, but I'll plump for Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis, a retelling of the gospel through a 20th century peasant village and their passion play. Lord of the Flies by Golding also crossed my mind, but it's pretty low on redemption.

Poem: God's Grandeur, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Incredibly concentrated, and bursting with imagery, it feels like the meaning is wanting to explode out of the limitations of mere words. The idea of a world charged with God's glory, like electricity, is a wonderful image.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil ;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod ?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod ;
And all is seared with trade ; bleared, smeared with toil ;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell : the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent ;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things ;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah ! bright wings.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Good News on Mental Illness support

Great to hear that the Government wants to put more resources into tackling mental illness. That announcement at least makes more sense than the idea of naming and shaming public sector employees who are overpaid - bizarre to name and shame your own employees for the money you decide to pay them, but there you go.

A very sensible 'expert' was on the air on Jeremy Vine at lunchtime: not the first one, who seemed to be making more of a political point about inequality, and then didn't stick around for the inevitable critique of her position. Yes poverty is a big factor in mental illness, but it's far more complex than that. Following on was a very sensible GP (I think), Sarah Jarvis, who is well worth a listen, nails lots of myths and makes lots of excellent points in a very succinct way. The section on depression starts at about 1 hr 9 min 15 sec in.

More on the topic in general at the BBC's Headroom site.

Seen Elsewhere: from Spare Food to Santa

Dave Walker has info on the 'Feeding of the 5000' event in Trafalgar Square, attempting to feed 5000 people on food thrown away by supermarkets.

'Regulation pop at journalists by bloggers' corner: Mark Pack suspects that Christian media outlets are perpetuating the 'Winterval' story long since the facts have departed. Meanwhile Nick Baines has a robust response to mainstream press treatment of his comments on Christmas carols, and the ides that we could think about the words we're singing.

Maggi Dawn is doing her level best to keep tabs on Advent resources and happenings. Speaking of which, here's a great Christmas poem by Gerard Kelly, 'Behold I Stand'. The link takes you to a site with several other poems, 'Christmas is Waiting', also worth a look.

When the night is deep
With the sense of Christmas
and expectancy hangs heavy
On every breath
Behold I stand at the door and knock.
When the floor is knee-deep
In discarded wrapping paper;
And the new books are open at page one;
And the new toys are already broken,
Behold I stand at the door and knock.

Abandon Image has a good piece 'Sometimes It's Easier to Worship at a U2 Concert than a Church' with the perceptive observation It hit me. A lot of U2's lyrics are words that I actually CAN say to God, whereas a lot of worship lyrics are words that I WANT to be able to say to God. While most worship songs are true, they sometimes feel dishonest.

Welcome to the blogosphere Arun Arora, who I think used to be John Sentamus comms officer and blogs at The Carpenters Apprentice

Events in Winchester diocese, with serious cuts in the diocesan budget, generated a lot of heat. Among the 'light' were good articles from John Richardson on how the CofE can deal with having fewer full-time clergy: Part 1. Part 2, Bishop Alan, and from the thick of it Dark Side of the Moon, written by Anglican chaplain Yellow, funding for whose job is one of several cut by the Diocesan budget. According to his latest post, students at Southampton Uni have already raised £1000 towards funding of the post - the money has been cut, but the post hasn't. Now that would be an interesting discipline for parishes.... If you're not a student, that doesn't stop you donating.

For the more active, good to see the churches in Taunton getting into the spirit of things as part of the late night shopping there (Ht Killing the Buddha, of all people), or if it's wet, the Ecumenism Game c/o the Beaker Folk: 'you have a monopoly on truth, go back 5'.

If you want pictures, try 'the years most amazing scientific images' (no hype then) including this one of a device to measure the methane output of a cow. Wondering about putting one on my kids...

Finally, thanks to PaxtonVic for this lovely Christmas prayer. She also has some thoughts and background on St. Nicholas, who's saints day it was yesterday (corrected - I originally said 'today', which on 7th Dec is wrong! That'll teach me to schedule posts for the day after I write them).

Walk softly, as you go through Christmas, That each step may bring you down the starlit path, to the manger bed. Talk quietly, as you Speak of Christmas that you shall not drown out the glorious song of angels . Kneel reverently as you pause for Christmas, That you may feel again the Spirit of the Nativity, rekindled in your soul. Rise eagerly, after you have trod the Christmas Path, That you may serve more fully, the one whose birth we hail.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

9 Lessons

good to see that Dave Walker is putting up a few new Christmas cartoons, if you're finding the above slightly hard to read then that might be good practice for trying to follow a small print order of service by candlelight.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Wikio Top Religious Blogs: December (i.e. November) 2009

Latest Wikio listings have gone up, here are the blogs dealing partly or wholly with faith issues that crop up in the top 250 or so. Covers the month of November, which sees the continued march of blogs telling you how to make your own cards and paper doilies. Just in case we're tempted to take ourselves too seriously.

24 Cranmer
74 Heresy Corner
110 The hermeneutic of continuity (clearly a blog name designed to communicate clearly what the blog is all about)
116 St. Aidan to Abbey Manor (ditto)
125 What Does the Prayer Really Say?
144 Thinking Anglicans
149 Bartholemews Notes on Religion
162 Gates of Vienna (didn't know Microsoft had relocated)
169 The Ugley Vicar
194 Islam in Europe
205 Anglican Mainstream. It's not a blog, and Wikio have been told. Never mind. At least it's not a card-making site.
208 Catholic and Loving It! I don't think this was set up specifically in advance of the Pope's offer to anglo-catholics, just to help things along, but you never know.
219 John Smeaton, SPUC director.
227 The Church Mouse

on a local note, Muck & Brass, Somersets most famous blogger, for a couple of days last month anyway, is at 258. Several of the South Somerset councillors are now temporary councillors at Somerton, and the Christmas lights are now up, but it's been a difficult time for that community.

For previous lists, use the wikio rankings tab at the bottom.

'Go To Your Nearest Church Sunday'

Seems like a simple way to save the planet, make new friends, and connect with people in your community. 1 Sunday a year where people go to the church which is physically the nearest to their home, which for most people will mean it's within walking distance. If you live in a town centre, or the City of London, that will mean some fine calculations with a pencil and a ball of string, but shouldn't be too tough to work out.

The previous Sunday, get everyone in church who got there by car to work out how far they've travelled, and then you can calculate the carbon footprint saved by going local. An unintended side effect might be that certain communities find they have a viable resident churchgoing population, and they decide to get stuck in to where they live, rather than where they commute to.

The only problem I can see is that not every church has a service every Sunday. Our nearest church is in the village of Thorne Coffin (yes, really), and I think they only have a service once a month. It may also mean a very quiet Sunday for town centre churches, but the odd week off won't do anyone any harm.

Mentioned this on twitter and got a couple of retweets, so we'll see if it's got legs. Even if one community, or even one person, picks it up, that's better than nothing. What do you think?

Friday, December 04, 2009


Review of this new film at Ship of Fools, and interviews/clips at Damaris.

If you're still struggling for some songs for that Christmas play, it might be worth popping along. Looks like fun.

Ship of Fools interviewed Martin Freeman, star of the movie:
I asked Martin Freeman if he saw a parallel between those pupils and the twelve disciples – hopeless-turned-heroes.

"I hadn't seen that," he admitted, "but the reason for me that any of that stuff – the religiosity – has validity is that there are some good things to give to people – like the idea of redemption; the idea that we can turn something around. If we are watching films, who do we get behind? The underdog. What the flip was Jesus if he wasn't an underdog, born in a bleedin' manger, you know what I mean?"

HT @davidmarriott

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent Meditation from Christine Sine

powerful video for the beginning of Advent from Christine Sine, ht Jonny Baker. The Christine Sine link has all the words, plus details of music, HD versions etc.

What Shall We Do with the Daft Street Preacher?

Author and Greenbelt speaker Shane Clairborne has a piece in the latest issue of mens magazine Esquire. It starts with an apology:

I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives

and illustrates this with a scene from the Philadelphia street scene

We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn't quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don't know Jesus.

Clairborne had a dilemma

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster." Maybe next time I will.

and we're reminded of what Jesus did
In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay "out there" but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, "Nothing good could come." It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society's rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.

I really really wish that all the Christians would have a moratorium on being weird, whether it's passing on conspiracy theories about a global economic order, shouting at people on street corners, or even doing those prayers which you suspect aren't really directed at God at all, but a covert form of preaching to everyone else who's listening. Maybe it's just time to shut up for a bit.

and what would you do with the street preacher? If option A is to set the Christmas Linebacker on him, what's option B?

HT Banksyboy.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It's not Christmas without the Christmas Linebacker

Sorry, I wheel this one out every year, but it's still funny. Don't try this at home.

There's Probably No Street Pastors, Now Stop Vomiting and Get Home by Yourself

Hands up who thinks this is a 'success':

I thought I would provide a small success story Westminster Unison had regarding Street Pastors, which were nearly introduced at Westminster City Council. Following a complaint made by myself, and a letter to Newsline, outlining the reasons why a local authority should not pay for the Ascension Trust, an evangelical Christian group, to patrol the streets, I was informed this week that Westminster has now withdrawn the proposal.

or this a 'victory'

After some persistence on my part, however, the Council undertook something called an Equalities Impact Assessment, which had to acknowledge the fact that, under the aims of the scheme Street Pastors could only be recruited from "individuals with a Christian Faith" and was also only open to those "whose relationship lifestyle is in keeping with mainstream Christian teaching" – i.e. no gays or lesbians, thank you.

I have just received confirmation from a slightly embarrassed Council official that the scheme will receive no further public funding, and wanted to share with your readership a small, but satisfying, victory against the encroachment of religion into public life. I would even go out on Friday night to celebrate, but the Street Pastors are still out there after my soul.

I'm caught between bewilderment and boiling blood at the sheer short-sightedness of this 'secularism at any cost' approach. The real losers will be the clubbers, who SP's are there to look out for, help where needed, and be a listening ear for. The police and emergency services jobs will get a little bit harder too. In both cases there'll probably be enough financial support from the churches to make up the difference, but there are obviously some very odd ideas out there of what the Pastors do.

In the last few months I've heard of young children found sleeping rough by SP's on a Saturday night who were got back home, someone else who was about to commit suicide who talked it through with some Street Pastors and changed their mind, fights avoided, vulnerable women protected from people trying to bundle them into cars, you name it. These are the people Street Pastors help.

At the same time if someone asks why we're doing it, they'll get an honest answer. That gives all sorts of opportunities for people to sound off about God, get into deep theological argument, or walk away - and that's completely up to them. At no point is there any attempt to evangelise or exploit people who are slightly worse for wear. If there was, the police would quite rightly tell us to go back home. As it is, police in several areas are actively inviting the local churches to set up Street Pastor initiatives, as it's recognised that they do some good.

So what's the problem? That if a group is motivated by their faith to do something of public benefit, then it shouldn't get any funding. You can be motivated by anything else, and we won't complain, but we can't have Christians doing good, because, well, they're Christians. And? We have a night shelter for the homeless in Yeovil, originally set up by Christians, now passed on to other leadership. And the Lords Larder, which gives out hundreds of food parcels in partnership with Social Services - the clue is in the name. Both work in partnership with secular agencies, and have received support from non-church sources. Does the council have to wait for agnostic charities to set up before it's allowed to fund them, or can it support positive action no matter who does it, or whether or not they are motivated by some kind of faith?

Perhaps the problem is the conviction that there must be an ulterior motive. That wouldn't be unreasonable - every other stranger who acts friendly is usually a salesman or a Scientologist. The church itself sometimes gets in a muddle over 'friendship evangelism' - friends are not friends if they're just people you are getting to know so you can invite them to church. So that suspicion is understandable. And of course if clubbers show some interest in the Christian faith, they'll be encouraged in that. A comparison: our local MP and councillors all represent political parties. They'll work on behalf of constituents of any political conviction, but if those constituents show signs of supporting the LibDems, or whoever, then that will be encouraged, but the help isn't made conditional on people's political viewpoints. Same with Street Pastors - the help isn't conditional, but enquiries are welcomed.

There are clearly a lot of myths about Street Pastors doing the rounds, so lets nail a few:
- SP's main aim is to be a pastoral presence on the streets, to look out for and help the vulnerable where appropriate. They are not 'after your soul'.

- We work in partnership with the police and council, and involve the police in the (quite intensive) training, which all SP's must complete. That includes drug awareness, conflict management, alcohol awareness, youth culture, probation, child protection etc.

- There is no attempt to 'get people when they're vulnerable'. If folk want to talk about God, the SP's are happy to listen. But there's no preaching. The proof of this is simply to see what happens where SP's are in operation - if they were going round Bible bashing people, most clubbers would either run a mile or beat them up. As well as being extremely bad practice, it would be self-defeating. We'd also not have any Street Pastors, as nobody would sign up to that sort of job description.

- People know what we stand for, it's no secret that these are people from the churches, so there's nothing covert or underhand going on.

- The point of the uniforms is so that SP's are recognisable, that there's some 'brand recognition' that these are safe people who'll look after you and make sure you're ok. There's some suggestion that SP's make too much of what they do, and that proper Christians would do it in secret. Fair point, but the uniforms are very helpful - ask anyone else who wears one as part of their work. A complete stranger with no identification turning up to 'help' a group of clubbers would be pretty suspicious.

- Each SP commits to raising the money (around £300 for training, uniforms, etc.) themselves, many are supported by churches, but we find that the local community/agencies want to support the initiative as well. We had one grant in Yeovil from a local councillor who decided to apply on our behalf. If that support is available, then great - the fact that SP's is primarily a Christian charity shouldn't prevent local authorities and agencies from supporting it. The British Humanist Association recently got a grant from national government, but not many people are suggesting they pay it back.

- SP's will deal equally with everyone they come across: male, female, gay, straight, drunk, sober etc. etc.

Meanwhile here is a long list of the awards that SP's have recieved from local communities who appreciate what they do, and here is an account from an Essex MP of what Street Pastors do in Chelmsford. Simon Burns MP quotes the following statistics:

In Lewisham there was a 30% reduction in street crime in the first 13 weeks that they were operating, in Camberwell a 95% reduction and in Peckham 74%. In Chelmsford they have made an immediate and significant impact.

a few other links
positive noises here on ConservativeHome.
Derby police nominate local SP's for award.
SP's praised by police for bringing down crime in Kingston.
Home Office paper which mentions Street Pastors as an example of good public sector/charity partnership in community safety.
Example of what's going on in Taunton, where they offer a 'safe space' for folk to wait for friends and taxis, and recover from a heavy night in a safe place, rather than in a hedge.
Good explanation of the SP ethos in this BBC Scotland report.
SP's in Bridgend praised by police and welcomed by the council.

and so on...

I don't have the stats for Yeovil yet, but we were told by the town centre beat manager a couple of weeks ago that recorded crime had been steadily dropping on a Saturday night since the Street Pastors started up here, and they're very keen for us to do Friday's too. We've just interviewed about 17 applicants to join the team, and hopefully will start doing Friday and Saturday nights from the spring of 2010.

We could run Street Pastors without funding from the council - it would make the £300 fee a bit tougher for some of the folk who do it, but many of them would probably manage to raise it anyway. Even without the funding, we want to do it in partnership with the council and the police, because that's what works best. And local councillors around the UK clearly see it as something worth supporting. Some people may be opposed in principle to anything done by Christians, but there's not much we can do about that except say: come and see what really happens, and then make up your mind.

Final point: it's been argued that Street Pastors should let folk of any faith or none sign up. In some places this happens - there are 'street angel' projects in several towns. However, it seems a little bizarre to insist that if Christians want to get together to do something of benefit to the public, that they have to let anyone else join in. Surely the important thing is that the benefit is open to all, rather than the membership.

It's a positive thing that Christians want to do this, and do it in partnership with the police and the local authority. That partnership is healthier than forcing the church to go it alone, and freezing it out of any partnership because we're motivated by a set of values and beliefs that some other people don't agree with. Even if your vision is of a secular society, that vision will only work if people with faith and people without it are able to live and work together.

PS Blogger comments has gone a bit weird, I keep getting error messages during the review process, so they may take a bit of time to appear.