Friday, September 30, 2011

Call Waiting: A Church of England Initiative that Worked?

Back in 2008, the CofE launched the Call Waiting initiative, to encourage younger people to explore their calling and possible ordination. You can see the very good website here. A combination of demographics (an ageing church) and short-sighted policy (telling younger prospective leaders to go away and get a job for a few years and then come back to enquire about ordination when they were older - many never came back, and those who did were, well, older.) has resulted in an ageing cohort of clergy. The CofE stats published yesterday note that the average age of ordinands rose from 40 to 43 for men and 35 to 38 for women from 1999 to 2010.

That's ordinands, not clergy. 3/4 of vicars are over 50, and half of those are over 60. At 42, after 13 years of full time ministry, I'm still very comfortably a 'young vicar' in terms of age profile. And that worries me.

But now the good news. From 1998-2000 roughly 100 under-30's were ordained every year. It's not many, but it's ok. From 2001-9 it was nearer 80 a year, getting as low as 71 in some years. If you add on a 3-4 year curacy, that means only a handful who are still under 30 by the time they get their first post with real responsibility.

In 2010, out of nowhere 108 under-30's were ordained, up from 74 in 2009. That's the best figure since I was ordained in 1998. A data table tucked away on p56 of an Anglican stats report isn't exactly exhaustive evidence, but it's encouraging to think there might be a connection between the drive to recruit younger ordinands, and that starting to show up in the figures. It may, of course, be a blip. Or it may be that the CofE is at last waking up to the gifts that younger leaders have to offer.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

latest Church of England stats

Just gone up on the main CofE website. Summary is here, full 62 pages of charts etc. are here. The main new stuff (it has the attendance figures which were published earlier this year) is about giving and vocations. Parish giving has risen, bucking the general trend across the charity sector, and over 500 people were ordained in 2010. However due to lots of retirements, overall numbers of full time clergy continue to fall. This is projected to drop a further 10% in the next 5 years.

At some stage the CofE will seriously need to reckon with this: the number of churches, expectation of a weekly Sunday communion, heavy clerical dependency etc. But since the change is all incremental, it feels like a slowly boiling frog scenario, and there's a danger we don't respond until it's too late. Maybe it is too late already.

The main stats document also has lots of info on confirmations, baptisms, weddings, funerals, chaplans and cathedrals.

If I get a moment, there'll be more analysis in the next few days.

church on the streets

What would happen if the church went out onto the streets on a Sunday morning, and gave stuff away....? One church in East Anglia set up a tab behind the counter at the local Greggs bakery, and gave away 'free hugs' to passers by....

While we are merrily hugging people on Sunday morning, people also encounter a grace gift as they stand at the till ready to pay for their food at the bakery just behind us. Some people (but not a lot) come out to express their thanks. Others decline the offer and ask that the gift is used for people who need it more than they do. The ladies working in Greggs do a great job as evangelists. “would you like the Church to pay this for you?” I hear the assistant manager ask people as one after the other people come to pay.

After a couple of hours I take a break from hugging and call in at the local tattoo shop to catch up with the staff and they ask what I’ve been up to. The owner, a loving young man is touched by the simplicity of showing love to people that he thrusts £20 into my hand to refresh the money supply behind the counter of Greggs.

After giving more dosh to the staff to use to offer people a free gift I direct some guys off the streets who are homeless to choose their lunch. They express their gratitude as they leave Greggs with a hearty lunch each… Courtesy of a man who owns a tattoo shop and served by Greggs staff who explain that their lunch is a gift from the church.

more at be the light

apologies to anyone who read this before 9.30 and couldn't make sense of it, the paragraphs are now in the right order!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When Atheists Convert

A bit of original research, I haven't got the data sets but looks pretty accurate.

Sorry if you came here looking for something more profound........

from GraphJam, a while back now, but only just found it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Digital Sea Scrolls

Those of you fluent in ancient Hebrew will rejoice that several of the Dead Sea Scrolls texts can now be viewed online. 5 of the scrolls, including the amazing full text of Isaiah (a find which pushed back the date of the oldest manuscript of Isaiah by 1000 years) can be viewed here, courtesy of the Israel Museum, in collaboration with Google.

For those of us who aren't fluent in ancient Hebrew, there's some very helpful commentary explaining the background to the texts, how the Biblical versions came together, and there's a verse by verse translation, so if you click on a verse in the viewer, a translation box pops up. The non-biblical material about the Essene sect fills in some of the background to the Jewish worldview around the time of Jesus, with texts which actually date from this period.

Thankfully those daft suppression conspiracy theories that used to swill around are now only the stuff of Dan Brown novels, and these finds are also impressive evidence for the textual accuracy of the Bible. Despite a gap of 1000 years between the Qumran manuscript and the other manuscripts used by translators, there aren't that many significant differences - those that exist are mainly to do with the process of copying, rather than the text being embellished over the years by people with an agenda. The site explains "The version of the text is generally in agreement with the Masoretic or traditional version codified in medieval codices, such as the Aleppo Codex, but it contains many variant readings, alternative spellings, scribal errors, and corrections". 
This vid explains a bit more:.

Monday, September 26, 2011

That familiar Jesus/Rocket Launcher combination

This must be a spoof, surely?
I'm pretty certain this is a mock-up, as a quick bit of 'research' can't find anyone selling this, just links to the picture. However, it's still an indictment of some forms of Christianity that we think someone capable of producing this sort of thing.

The thing that gives it away as a spoof is the English spelling of 'Saviour'. Or at least, I hope so....

via 22 words.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be kind anyway....

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies; succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway…
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.”

“Smile at each other. Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other- it doesn't matter who it is- and that will help to grow up in greater love for each other.”

― Mother Teresa

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rowan "Many CofE clerics are smug, arrogant and conceited"

Here's the full quote

"I used to think that the vicars that I played or the exaggerated sketches that were written about clerics, were unreasonable satires on well-meaing individuals, but actually so many of hte clerics that I've met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness, who are extraordinarily presumptiuous about the significance of their position in society. I believe that all the mud that Richard Curtis and I threw at them through endless sketches that we've done is more than deserved."


Just to clarify, this is Rowan Atkinson*, in an interview in todays Times magazine, which you have to pay to look at. There's also a reaction piece in the main paper, which must have been one of the easiest things Ruth Gledhill has ever written: couple of bishop quotes, and then every religion correspondents speed-dial favourites, the National Secular Society (never knowingly under-quoted). 

Having had a bit of a pop at my fellow clergy (and myself) a couple of weeks ago, I can't argue with Rowan Atkinson, though I guess a vicar who's humble, loving and gracious probably wouldn't get so easily noticed. I'm re-reading Peter Kay's autobiography at the moment, and he speaks both of his faith in some kind of God, and the many aspects of his Catholic upbringing which nearly put him off completely.

Anyway, our Harvest Festival tomorrow, here's what happened to Rowan (warning: rude words)

PS What's the betting Anglican Mainstream repost this one without checking?

* you didn't seriously think Rowan Williams would say this, did you? Thought it, perhaps.....

Rowan on Fresh Expressions

Good message from Rowan Williams on Fresh Expressions, for an upcoming conference in Canada. From the fresh expressions youtube channel. It's good to be reminded what we're about from time to time.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getting Stuck In

New research from the Evangelical Alliance reveals a startling level of community engagement from Christians, compared to the general population. "Does Belief Touch Society" is part of an ongoing research project into the beliefs and practices of evangelical Christians in the UK.

The research is based on a survey of 1151 people around Easter last year, and covers social involvement as well as spiritual practices. Some of the headline figures:
25% are trustees of a charity (10 times the national figure)
9% are school governors (0.7% is the national average)
81% do some kind of voluntary work at least once a month
91% had voted or were intending to vote in local elections (the turnout was 42%)
4% are members of political parties (1.3% is the national average).

there were a cluster of questions around Easter: 41% had taken part in some kind of outreach, 57% had done something with another church (hooray!), and 65% had attended something on Good Friday - mainly older folks (which could be work pressures). We've ended up with 2 Good Friday events, a family-friendly workshop afternoon, and a churchy meditation thing, which between them seem to cover all the bases.

There's a section on social attitudes: 80% are opposed to same sex marriage, and there is a mixed picture on military action in Afghanistan and Libya. And there's also a section on beliefs, which deals mainly with the atonement: it's a shame it's quite narrow, but I guess they couldn't cover everything.

1. It's great to see that, for lots of Christians, their faith inspires them to serve their communities, and to be involved in politics and social issues. I would hate us to become like US conservatives, where there's a cultural identification between evangelical Christianity and particular political viewpoints. At the same time, is there any kind of consensus or common mind on a Christian approach to politics (with committed Christians in all 3 major parties) or social issues?

2. Nick Cleggs speech yesterday focused a lot on liberal values, and the core message was that you act true to your values, rather than true to your paymasters or public opinion ('not easy, but right'). It was a reminder to the LibDems what they stood for, what motivated them, and what battles they should be prepared to fight. It was the first time I'd even got remotely stirred by the phrase 'Social Mobility', which is a massive injustice lurking underneath an insipid label.

Clegg gets it: values drive behaviour. If you don't value others, the planet, the future, your community, yourself, then that's a toxic combination. Christian faith provides a framework for all of this, and the research backs this up by showing the fruit of that, but I sense these values are being eroded in many other places. Big Society behaviour needs more than just a slogan, it needs a foundation of values and morality. 

3. I would like to see the link between the questions the EA thought important to ask (about how the Cross works) and the involvement of people in their communities. How are churches joining the dots? And how is this reflected in the workplace? The voluntary sector is a natural place to serve and bless, but are we helping people to live differently in secular workplaces too?

Christian New Media Awards 2011

The finalists for the Christian new media awards have been unveiled, with the awards presented on Oct 14th. There's several categories: best blog, best new blog, best leadership and under-25s blog, best websites for large and small churches, best use of new media in evangelism and social action, and best mobile web use.

Good to see Vernacular Curate/Vicar in there, along with The Redeemed Mind, worship leader Vicky Beeching, and Science and Belief. The Road to Elder ado shows you can get on the list with quality rather than quantity, and I love this post at Lay Anglicana, another finalist, on alternative functions for bishops. Finger in all the Pies is good too, manages to keep blog posts to a readable length, unlike me!!

But hey, rather than me list them all, go and have a browse.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Richard Dawkins 'The Magic of Reality' Not Casting a Spell on Yeovil

Yeovil welcomes Richard Dawkins this evening to the Octagon Theatre - at the time of writing, sales for the matinee Salvation Army Christmas Carols are running well ahead of those for Dawkins, with less than half the £6 seats sold. It's maybe that sense that people still don't get it which drives Dawkins latest book. Glossy, packed with graphics and 'quirky' illustrations, 'The Magic of Reality' is yet another go at persuading people to ditch religion and embrace evolutionary science. Mind you, at £20 for the book folk maybe think they've spent enough. (Interesting that a full house spent much more than £6 a head to hear Marcus Brigstocke riffing on God questions for a night in Yeovil, can we only take information if it's packaged as entertainment? )

The thing is, it could just be a very good science book. Dawkins is good at science, it's his expertise. But it's trying to be a book on (i.e. against) religion. And it doesn't do very well. For example:

"To say that something happened supernaturally is not just to say 'we don't understand it' but to say 'we will never understand it, so don't even try' ". Well, no. People have been pointing out for years that science and religion offer different levels of explanation of the same phenomena, just as a brain scientist will describe what's happening in my head right now differently from my description as the person with the head in question. I can believe that God is the prime agent in creation, but still be staggered and enlightened by the detail science discovers about the process. Loads of scientists have understood what they do as 'thinking God's thoughts after him', and seeking understanding doesn't run in conflict with faith.

Another example: Dawkins retells various creation myths about the human race, before giving the scientific account. This presumes that creation myths and science are trying to do the same job. But are they? The early chapters of Genesis are richly theological, they do a lot more than say 'here is the sequence of events, there, Biblical science 101 lesson over'. The most important question they are dealing with is probably not 'in what order and how long ago were things made?' but 'is the universe orderly or chaotic?' 'why is there suffering?' 'what's wrong with us?' 'what does the good life look like?' questions of meaning, purpose and identity. This is what 'myths' do. To compare them directly to the scientific account as if they were equivalent texts doesn't do them justice.

And finally "If something happens that appears to be inexplicable by science you can safely conclude one of two things. Either it didn't really happen, or we have exposed a shortcoming in present-day science." (p264). Now there's a faith statement if ever there was one. And it's ridiculously over the top. I fell in love with my wife and married her. Can science offer an explanation of that? Sort of, but only a very thinned down mixture of chemistry, psychology and random probability. It doesn't explain what actually happened. The scientific account is inadequate, we need other levels of explanation to truly do this justice. There are also several remarkable events in the way we ended up together: there might be a scientific explanation for the dating of the Anglican lectionary, population shifts in Shepton Mallet etc., but 'that was all just coincidence' isn't actually very convincing.

Reviewers of 'The God Delusion' have pointed out in numbers that Dawkins grasp of theology is shakier than his grasp of science. So what is he actually trying to do?

 - he's clearly passionate about science, and doing what he does best, telling the story of the scientific worldview. It's interesting in itself that Dawkins uses story and graphics to try to grab the readers attention (also done well in Bill Brysons 'Short History of Nearly Everything'). The left brain is trying to get the right brains attention.

 - Dawkins sees religion - all types of religion - as opponents of science, and repeatedly tries to hammer home the point that any religious account of reality is wrong, because it's not scientific. At the same time he tries to expound the 'magic of reality' - that we can get all the sense of wonder and awe we need from what science tells us. So he is trying to fill the 'God shaped hole' with a scientific alternative.

There are two problems with this:
a) The 'religious' account of reality is not trying to be scientific. It's a different, and complimentary, level of explanation.
b) the scientific replacement for religion doesn't itself do the job. I know of people who've found in God a level of meaning, purpose, grace and identity they never found in science. I know of another, troubled, individual, for whom none of the answers Dawkins offers would do any good. There is a reason why so many of us are 'superstitious', and it's not just evolution. I was reading the other day about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, and how a theistic recovery programme for alcoholism has worked for many people in a way no secular approach has ever done.

There's a lot of 'magic' which does need debunking, and I would love Richard Dawkins to share a stage at the Octagon with the clairvoyants and occultists which have been such a regular feature at the place in recent years. There is bad religion, and there's bad science too. And good magic.

And of course, scientists themselves aren't all agreed about reality, as the following graphic irrefutably demonstrates: (ht labspaces, original here.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The God Complex: Who Do Time Lords Pray To?

As noted before, Doctor Who is riddled with religious references, like a U2 record but without the faith. The God Complex was, as the title suggests, even more full on, but different. The difference was that rather than deal with religious institutions and symbols (Clerics, Angels, nuns, monks) it dealt with personal faith.

Plot synopsis: the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in a hotel, which turns out to be a prison for an alien Minataur. The Minataur feeds off faith, 'an emotional energy', so the prison is regularly restocked with people who have strong faith (of various kinds). For each person, there's one room which contains their most primal fear, that throws them back on their faith, which in turn puts them at the mercy of the creature. From this point, they lose their minds and start to worship the Minataur, and to welcome death at its hands. The Doctor tries to save them, but realises that it's only by destroying people's faith in him as a saviour that he can actually protect Amy and Rory. The episode ends with the Doctor dropping A&R at a house, claiming to be saving them by leaving them alone, rather than exposing them to risk and probably death by travelling with him.

Here's a few quotes:
1. Quotes from sane characters
"why is it up to you to save us? you've got quite a God complex there" (spoken to the doctor)
"I'm a Muslim. Don't be frightened."
"It's not fear, it's faith: faith in conspiracy theories, luck, religion...." (the Doctor)
"they descend on planets and set themselves up as gods, which is fine until the inhabitants go all secular and make them a prison." (the Doctor)
"you must believe in some God or something...who do Time Lords pray to?" (Amy, to the Doctor. The Doctor is uncomforable at the question and deflects it)

2. Quotes from mad characters
"he has forgiven my inconstancy and soon I shall feast...praise him, praise him"
"the gaps between my worship are getting shorter, it's like contractions, It's all so clear now, I'm so happy, praise him, praise him."
"bring me death, bring me glory, my master,my Lord, I'm here, come to me, I'm waiting here for you, he has promised me a glorious death, praise him, praise him....I was lost in shadow but he found me. His love was the beacon that ledme from darkness to light and now I am blinded by his majesty, humbled by his glory, praise him"/'That's quite enough of that' (Doctor)
"I can feel the rapture approaching like a wave"

There's nothing crudely insulting here - the Muslim character is portrayed sympathetically enough - but look at the associations:
 - religious faith is put on a par with faith in luck and conspiracy theories.
 - faith in a saviour figure is a bad thing: even when they're out of the hotel, the Doctor wants to stop Amy and Rory depending on him or trusting him.
 - praise, worship and religious ecstasy are symptoms of madness, and the object of praise and worship is actually destructive and dangerous.

"an ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent.. for such a creature death would be a gift" This line is nominally about the Doctor, setting up the series finale, but put me in mind of the miniseries The Second Coming, starring Christopher Ecclestone (the last but one Doctor). In it, God comes to earth in human form, but eventually is persuaded to kill himself to prevent all the suffering which religion brings. The writer? Russell T Davies, rebooter of the Doctor Who franchise.

So on the surface the faith of the one religious person is respected, but beyond that any references to faith are wholly negative. Even the Doctor himself, who is the one constant saviour figure, has to try to persuade us that to believe in him is toxic. Yeah, right, and what will he do next week I wonder......? Yet Amy's question, and the Doctors discomfort, still echoes: who do Time Lords pray to? In other words, is there any higher power, is there anyone greater than you, or have you enthroned yourself?

Other reviews at vicariously (serious feminist deconstruction, a great read), not a sheep, exploring our matrix.

General observations:
 - Liberal values makes the point that there are some subtle differences in the Doctors character in this episode. Last week (The Girl Who Waited) the doctor greets Amy and Rory with the words 'in the flesh!'. I'm pretty sure that at least one of the Doctor, Rory and Amy is Flesh, a doppelganger, rather than the original. I'm guessing it's the Doctor. So the death of the Doctor in the finale/opener only takes one of them out.

 - Suddenly Amy and Rory don't seem that bothered about their lost daughter, and quite happy to let the Doctor just disappear with this elephant sized bit of unfinished business. Sorry, but that doesn't work.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Quit Marketing and Become a Vicar

According to a study in the US, clergy top the list of 10 Happiest Jobs, (ht eChurch blog), just pipping firefighters, teachers and authors. There are quite a lot of marketing and IT - related jobs in the 'most hated' top 10.

Do I agree? well, here's a few things I love about my job....
1. I'm doing what I enjoy, and getting paid for it.
2. Being involved at many key points in people's lives, beginnings, endings, new relationships, and getting to help people mark, celebrate and make sense of what's going on.
3. Seeing people discover the reality of God and the love of Jesus, sometimes over several years, but having the dog collar is often a way in to some fascinating and potentially life-changing conversations. It's amazing to get the chance to do something of such significance.
4. Flexibility: there's the chance to focus on what I do well, and (I'm blessed in being part of a very good team at a local church) to let others do the things I don't do that well.
5. We're not paid that much, and your house is chosen for you. That takes me out of a whole load of worry about housing choice and costs, and trying to find satisfaction in possessions rather than in quality of life and relationships.
6. Working from home means I get to see my kids whilst they're still awake, and don't have lots of traffic and stress to put up with.
7. Variety: an average day can take in a funeral, a new baby, a mission strategy meeting, and hooking up with people in several different setttings. It's possible to get jaded if you don't look after yourself, but it's impossible to get bored.
8. I get the chance to use most of my gifts in one way or another, and to do stuff that I'm passionate about. There are lots of jobs out there that are pretty hard to do with a passion: they pay the bills, and that's it. I honestly can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing.

There are downsides: I've only a finite amount of adrenaline and most weeks it seems to get used up, there are situations every week which cause me massive stress, at times there's a big cost to family life. Happy? yes, but there's more to it than simply happiness: calling, fulfilment, purpose, identity, significance, God, the happiness is just a by-product.

Update: I did actually do a short spell in marketing before ordination, for Clarks shoes, and it was one of the better departments in the company to work in. Some of the experiences from there were quite helpful post-ordination, and some of the marketing folk were fairly decent. Just in case you think I have a total downer on it!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How different denominations see each other

this is very, very clever. From St. Thomas the doubter, HT connexions.

would be nice if some day there was just a heart in all 25 boxes, but in the meantime I'll settle for a chuckle.

TS Eliot Holds Back the Bulldozers

Whilst TS Eliot rotates in his sarcophagus, plans for an eco town of 5000 new homes to the South of Yeovil have been taking shape. East Coker, a pretty little village (of which Somerset and Dorset have quite a few), is on the edge of the development area and claims Eliot as one of its sons - and, more recently, as poster boy for the East Coker Preservation campaign.

 Last year, the 5000 was cut to 3700 homes, after the new government scrapped regional planning authorities, and let local councils have a bit more freedom in choosing housing targets. Even on that basis, Yeovil still qualified for government funding to look at the feasibility of an 'eco town', a low-carbon housing development.

But is this still on the cards? The leader of South Somerset District Council, Ric Pallister (who until recently was in charge of Housing) recently met with the government over planning issues. I wonder if the local campaign, with some fairly high profile supporters, has gained the ear of one or two in high office - Cllr Pallister is now quoted this week in our local paper supporting a form of 'green belt' protection around the permeter of Yeovil: "It is a watered down green belt. This is something we have not been able to do before. My opinion is that a figure of between 2000 and 2500 homes is possible for the south side. That would leave us with between 1200 and 1500 homes to put somewhere else. We could put some into existing develpopments, and some incremental development to the North and East of Yeovil."

This is a sizeable revision. Only a few months ago, SSDC had decided on the 'preferred option' of expanding Yeovil to the South. But now something seems to have given: either SSDC have had second thoughts about their 'preferred option', or they've had second thoughts about the eco town - (I can't see how a development of 2000 could be planned in the way the eco town envisages). All this in the context of a big national debate over new planning laws, including the status of green belt land.

I can fully understand the campaign to protect East Coker from housing developments, but here is what an amended proposal could mean:

 - increased cramming of houses into the 3 new sites around the W, N and E of Yeovil. Each is planned for 700-ish homes, this sounds like they could get pushed to nearer 1000. And will there be any extra facilities for those communities? Too late, the legal agreements are signed and sealed, only one of the three estates looks like it has adequate facilities (Brimsmore) but that's been the victim of countless hold-ups.  And we also now know that many of these homes will be too small. That's all the more likely if they are being shoehorned into existing developments.

 - 2000 homes isn't a 'town', it's just a medium sized new estate. So bang would go the chance of designing and delivering any kind of sizeable and well-resourced hub.

(note of caution: this is an 'opinion' only, but it is the opinion of the council leader, so that's pretty significant.)
East Coker can speak up for itself, but who wll speak up for the new developments? It may be that all the population and housing projections are wrong, that the divorce and immigration rates drop (meaning we need less homes) but this is currently 8000 people we're talking about. Do we want to give them somewhere decent to live, or just find the place where least people will notice them? Say what you like about the siting of the new development, but at least it was ambitious, and paid some attention to the quality of life in the new development, not just getting as many properties into as small a space as possible.

South Somerset District Council is due to discuss some of this in October. Consultation
on the longer-term strategy is still ongoing, and due to be finalised next year. There is clearly some wiggle room still to be had. Watch this space.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Archbishop of Canterbury: The All-Woman Shortlist

Following the unexpected popularity of the list of lay candidates for AB of C, it struck me (and one or two observers) that there wasn't a single woman on the list. Time to put that right.....

Miranda: Theologically sound - has a great grasp of The Fall - and powerful enough to beat Chartres over 3 rounds. Public school background is ideal for the House of Bishops, we may be ready for a woman, ready for a layperson, but God forbid we should ever have a commoner.

Mother Teresa: saintly, appeals to those with Catholic sympathies, and with global appeal. Has the added advantage of being dead, which means she's unlikely to say anything off-the-cuff which can be misquoted by the broadsheets and mangled by their headline writers.

Dame Edna Everage: great to have a candidate from the colonies, I mean, the Anglican Communion. Dame Edna has charisma, wisdom, insight and great hair. Hang on a minute. This is a bloke isn't it? It's a bloke trying to sneak his way onto the all women shortlist! First they dress in womens clothes, then they try to take a womans job! Perhaps alternative oversight and a church all to themselves is the only way to keep the testosterone in order.

Jordan: the ideal candidate if the CofE wants to carry on being fractious and bickering, as nobody will be remotely worried about falling out with her. After all, you have to cross Jordan to get to the promised land (sorry). Might be some problems getting the vestments to fit.

Marge Simpson: presides over a nominally Christian household which is always arguing, and persistently ignores the ways of the Bible-believing family next door. Bingo. There might need to be a mitre extension to accomodate that hair, but it's a small price to pay. Minor concerns that, over 24 years, she's still not managed to get her infant daughter to talk. .She'll face the opposite problem in the CofE, which is getting fully grown males to shut up.

Claire Balding: Relentlessly cheerful and a great lover of dogs, which make up about 50% of the headcount in many rural Dioceses. Plenty of continuity with tradition, as we've had plenty of balding Archbishops already. Just don't show your teeth when taking communion

Amy Pond: companion to the saviour of the universe, is used to the passage of long periods of time without changing her dress sense, speech patterns or main residence, and is closely involved with a child born with strange powers who ends up condemned as a criminal. The fact that none of this is explicitly Christian is not really a problem, ECUSA have managed on this basis for several years.

That Girl from Outnumbered: angelic in appearance, impossible to argue with, and used to having boys trying to boss her around. Ideal.

but I'm sure you can do better than this.......

and thanks to Richard Hall and Rev Lesley for linking.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some Ideas for Sunday's Intercessions

That's the first time I've noticed product placement in a prayer. God was probably too busy choking on the exhaust fumes to hear it. As for 'my smokin hot wife'? I couldn't possibly comment.

Ht Ship of Fools.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Housing Developers Stop You Being Christian

Yesterday the Royal Institute of British Architects produced the 2nd frightening report in 2 days, following the Unicef study on UK children. They found that new homes in Britain are the smallest in Europe, with many below the recommended size for the number of people they claim to house.

some of the figures:
58% of new home buyers in 2009 found there wasn't enough space for their furniture
70% said there wasn't enough room for their possessions (I can't believe they were all downsizing, but this might not actually be too bad, as most of us own more than our fair share of the worlds stuff.)
34% had no space to have friends over for dinner
48% had no space to entertain at all.

And that's just the inside. If you look at our main local housing development, there is one (very small) area of public green space, a triangle of grass enclosed by a brick wall. There are no front gardens, and many back gardens are about 4 metres square and on a 30 degree slope. Guess what? Since there's virtually no grass, and no space to store a mower, people are digging up the grass and replacing it with paving or stones. There's no space for the community to gather, and no plans for any community facilities, shops, or meeting places. Even plans for a school look shaky. What is taking shape is an arid sea of concrete, boxed in and soulless.

But what really struck me was that last stat above. Matthew 25, the famous parable of the sheep and the goats, has Jesus speaking about people taking a stranger into their homes, and feeding the hungry. In roughly half the homes now being built, that is impossible. Our developers have designed away the possibility for families to sit together around a meal table by eliminating dining space from housing plans, and now they are making it impossible to show any kind of hospitality. That's a great way to increase isolation, and to erode a basic human grace.

"And the King will say to them 'I was a stranger, and you created homes so small that people had no space to invite me in to'."

Update: in totally unrelated news, Barratts has reported a rise in profits.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Miserable Children Surrounded By Toys

A very blunt piece from the BBC's Mark Easton, on the recent Unicef report into children's quality of life.

Unicef paints a picture of a country that has got its priorities wrong - trading quality time with our children for "cupboards full of expensive toys that aren't used".

"Parents in the UK want to be good parents, but aren't sure how," the research suggests. "They feel they don't have the time, and sometimes the knowledge, and often try to compensate for this by buying their children gadgets and clothes."

The research compares Britain with Sweden and Spain. While the UK languishes in 21st, and last, place in the child well-being table, they come second and fifth respectively.

The report argues that the pressure of the working environment and rampant materialism combine to damage the well-being of our children. They want our attention but we give them our money.

"All children interviewed said that material goods did not make them happy, but materialism in the UK seems to be just as much of a problem for parents as children," the research concludes. "Parents in the UK often feel compelled to purchase consumer goods which are often neither wanted or treasured."

It is a profoundly depressing analysis of British life, not least because it rings true.

The importance of parents devoting energy and love to the rearing of their children is accepted by political leaders from across the spectrum, but maximising income and encouraging consumption are regarded as vital components for economic growth.

In the UK, the demands of the latter often undermine the former.

Parents work all hours to increase family income but then are too exhausted or too busy to give their children the attention they need and deserve.

More on the report here, and here's the report itself. It's worth a read, there are plenty of uncomfortable home truths. Page 26 is simply frightening.

The solution has got to go beyond banning advertising aimed at children. There are lots of factors here. Notable in the report above is the loss of confidence among parents. We're desperate to do a good job but we no longer know what a good job is. Parents seem to lack the confidence to identify a set of values and stick to them, which isn't surprising, as we no longer have any framework of accepted social values.

There are all sorts of other factors too: we're propping up the league tables on families that eat together: that's partly about planning policy (many new properties no longer have a separate eating area, or are just too small), partly about the structure of work (the drive to a 24/7 society, shift work, Sunday working, and rising housing costs forcing parents into work and kids into childcare).

Possibly most concerning, is that the shape of youth culture in the UK is on a massively different trajectory to anywhere else in Europe. Less than half of our 11-15 year olds find their peers 'kind and helpful', and we are almost off the scale when it comes to 'risk taking behaviours' - ie smoking, underage sex, poor eating habits etc. Many of our teenagers are miserable, rude, confused, desperate to be happy but clueless in how to be happy because their parents don't know either. After all, we thought that what would make us happy was having those children in the first place.....

This is all a bit broad-brush, but for goodness sake lets start debating this stuff, and working out what to do about it.

The riots were the tip of an iceberg, this is the iceberg.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Archbishop of Canterbury: Runners and Riders

Update: here's the all-woman shortlist.

With the shock news that Rowan Williams may retire at some stage, and possibly be replaced by someone else, I've been drawn to deep prayer and radical thinking. Perhaps it's time for a lay Archbishop, just in case we've been getting it wrong by appointing clergy all these years. So here are a few of the possibilities:

Tim Vine: easy to quote in the media, and would cheer everybody up.

Richard Dawkins: has professed his enjoyment of singing hymns, is regularly trying to tell clergy what to do, and must be secretly disappointed that the number of kids on Christian camps outnumbers Camp Quest by 1000 to 1. Time to join the winning side Richard.

Alan Sugar: with the introduction of clergy terms and conditions and capability procedures, not to mention the reductions in clergy numbers in many Dioceses, who better to weed out the wheat from the chaff?

Jeremy Paxman: a good way to put a stop to all the childish politicking and jockeying for position. Anglican Covenant? Gay ordination? Ordinariate? FCA? Cue incredulous expression, and a disdainful 'Yeeeeeeeessssssssss'.

Eddie Izzard: likes dressing in womens clothes, and can hold an audience. And totally gets how the Church of England works. Cake, or death? Original take on church history too.

Barack Obama: I hear he may be free from the end of next year. Bags of relevant experience, as he currently holds a job where he gets to talk a lot, but can't actually make anything happen, and gets to travel overseas a lot.

Bottle Top Bill and His Best Friend Corky: childrens characters, who spend most of their time chasing The Great Wild Woolly, a bad tempered and disobedient sheep. Again, plenty of relevant experience, and would reverse the long-term decline in childrens attendance.

Cheryl Cole: apparently some people struggle to understand what she's saying, so that will give us a bit of continuity. And the prospect of those eyes welling up with tears will deter many a potential argument in Synod.

Bear Grylls: since the CofE probably needs a lesson or two in survival. And he's done Alpha.

Tony Blair: we may not have much choice in this. Frustrated that his Faith Foundation isn't actually achieving anything, Blair will start buying out some of the smaller religious operations in the next few years: the URC, Bahai, Anglican Ordinariate, Jedi. ABof C is a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal, the Global Caliphate of the Permanent Tan.

there, I think that's a pretty decent field. A bit more background here, for those of you who think this is an actual news story.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monsignor, So Much to Answer For

Once again, I find myself talking to people who used to be church members, or had a Christian upbringing, who want to explore faith again but have an entire Terminal 4 of baggage to wade through. I'm fed up with hearing the pleasant surprise of people who come to a wedding or baptism and find it much better, more friendly, relaxed and positive than the endurance feat they were expecting. I'm increasingly angered at the stumbling blocks placed between people and Jesus by the church - the 'Catholic upbringing' is the most common turn-off, but there's plenty of others.

A couple of Sundays ago, reflecting on Matthew 16, I said this in the sermon:

It’s the Romans who torture and crucify Jesus, but Jesus names the religious leades: elders, chief priests, teachers of the law as the agents of his suffering.

This hasn’t gone away. Child abuse scandals are the tip of the iceberg. About 25% of the population of this country, 1 in 4, used to be members of a local church at one point or another. And now they’re not. Some have drifted away, but many others have been hurt: by church leaders, by church members, they’ve got the message that they’re not welcome, or not important. E.g. one man, now a bishop, started attending a local church. After a couple of weeks a church warden asked him where he was from. On hearing the reply, the warden told him he was coming to the wrong church, as he lived in another parish, and that he should go somewhere else. I heard recently of a funeral where the vicar got the names wrong, another couple who were refused a church wedding in the 1950's and for 5years never came back. 

So I’d like to apologise to anyone here this morning who’s suffered at the hands of the church and its leaders. We haven’t always been good shepherds of God’s flock. As a Christian community, we’ve not been as loving as we should have been. The church has hurt people, it’s hurt you, and I apologise on behalf of my fellow church leaders for what we’ve done. Please forgive us where by sin, insensitivity, pride or laziness we’ve been a stumbling block to your faith. No church leader, no church, will ever be perfect, but we can do better. Much better.

I'm a million miles from being the perfect vicar, and there are probably dozens of people dotted around Yeovil and Darlington who bear the scars of my 'ministry'. And there may never be the chance to apologise to them in person. I just hope there's another Christian out there who gets the chance to apologise to them on my behalf. Some of that baggage is my legacy too.

(for the uninitiated, the post title is a corruption of a Smiths lyric)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Breaking up marriages for a quick buck: Global Personals.

Too much on to blog today, instead please read this. It's about an online dating site which specifically targets married people, encouraging them to have affairs, and a campaign to get them to stop.

from the link:
I think your company, Global Personals is involved in toxic work. So, I am asking people who reads this letter and agrees with me to phone your offices and ask to speak to your senior colleagues to tell them about how affairs have affected their friends or family and to ask you to withdraw your adverts. We want you to withdraw your adverts and agree to not publicly advertise these kind of websites again.

Although we want people to be polite and reasonable when they contact you, we do want you to know that we are serious about this. If you choose to try and disrupt marriages to make money then we will try to disrupt your business. Your adverts are helping to poison our communities. We want to show that belief in strong relationships and commitment is as powerful as your aim to make money by creating misery for families and children.

Friday, September 09, 2011

How To Sell Stuff to Christians

Fascinating piece on British Religion in Numbers a few days back, on how consumerist Christians manage to square the circle with themselves (ourselves, lets be honest here). This week's turned into a bit of a marketing theme....

More than 400 people living in the UK were shown an advert for the same watch that was either depicted as being an item of desire and public recognition, or as an item of functional value.

Half of the sample identified themselves as Christians believing that materialism was wrong. Although non-religious consumers did not prefer one advert over the other, religious consumers were 25% more likely to purchase the watch if they saw the advert that did not portray it as a materialistic item.

‘We found that expensive luxury watches that were advertised as being showy or an item of envy were frowned upon by religious consumers. However, when the same item was advertised as being high quality and enduring, rather than having materialistic value, the religious consumers were significantly more willing to purchase the product.’

The authors claim that the results of the study ‘help to explain how many Christians acquire and store materialistic items for themselves and their family, despite many Biblical teachings that discourage hoarding wealth.’ They suggest the findings could be used by marketers, advertisers and sales forces to drive sales up.

‘It’s important to know what type of person you’re dealing with,’ said Dr Shankar. ‘If you are talking to someone who is clearly not averse to being materialistic, then it doesn’t really matter what you say. But, if you’re targeting a high-end, expensive, flashy product to people who are put off by materialism, then you need to change your approach.’
In other words, Mammon is more subtle than we thought, and we're more materialistic than we like to think we are. At the end of the day, we still buy far more stuff than we need, and consume far more resources than our fair share as planetary citizens.

I still maintain that Christian marketing is a contradiction in terms, but con myself that our families minor victory over marketing (all of us, kids included, now automatically mute the ads on TV) represents VM day, rather than a minor skirmish. I'm still far too easily taken in by BOGOF and big discounts.

Internet Monk is also worth a read, notably on the 'Jesus junk' market, and Orthocubans response. Excuse me whilst I pin a WWJD badge to my JC/DC t-shirt. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Top 10 Tips for Welcome

Having had a dig at marketing yesterday, there might still be one or two things we can learn from it..... Found this very snappy little vid on the Baptist Union website. The site has some great resources on mission and what they call 'crossing places' - places where the church engages the community on the community's terms, rather than on church turf.

A couple of other recommended bits from the website:
'Mission scene' newsletter - subscription here - a brilliant bit of work, lots of resources, ideas, links to mission initatives, training opportunities, ideas etc. I read it from one end to the other whenever it appears, which can't be said for most e-newletters I get!!

Mission Files - brief papers on a myriad of aspects of mission, and there's a full index with a brief description of each paper here. This is the kind of stuff that's scattered across dozens of diocesan websites in the CofE, so a huge well done to the Baptists for putting it all in one place, in such a well organised and accessible way.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


I've got so used to stuff that's offensive to Christians, or just plain offensive, getting past the censors that it's quite a shock to find the Advertising Standars Authority actually banning an advert that uses a winking 'Jesus' to plug a 'miraculous' deal.

Better late than never, the judgement seems to have just been issued, even though the advert came out in April, and was aimed at the Easter season, but the company which produced it withdrew it fairly quickly after complaints.

Just makes me wonder if sometimes Christians are guilty of misusing Jesus in marketing too. I imagine Jesus is even more bothered about being associated with stuff like this than with a mobile phone company.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

That Thing We Don't Talk About

Ht Tim Chester, whose version of this pic is slightly larger and easier to read.

Chatting to someone the other day, they mentioned a computer app developed by XXXChurch, which monitors your internet use and sends a report on the sites you've visited to a group of people you've chosen (and vice versa). It's a good way to stay accountable and honest in an area that's usually very private and secretive.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Wrong Worship

Thanks to Gill for sharing this on Facebook.

"We've sung this song for years
It's now a standard here
But I still sing it
Though I don't mean it...."

'I could sing of your love forever' won't quite be the same now.....

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Busker on the Blog: Richard James

Saw this guy in Exeter on Friday, superb.

It made waiting nearly an hour for our pizza at a pavement cafe a total pleasure. I was so impressed I bought his CD, and it's excellent. Full of Cracks (listen here) is my current favourite.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Long Distance Runner

A quote from missionary E Stanley Jones
“there are scars on my faith, but underneath those scars there are no doubts. Christ has me with the consent of all my being and with the co-operation of all my life. The song I sing is a life song, not a song of youth..I’m 83 and I’m more excited today about being a Chrisitan than I was at 18 when I first put my feet upon the way.”

Friday, September 02, 2011

Time Wasting by Any Other Name

A new piece of research* reveals that the English have as many names for time wasting as the Eskimoes do for snow. Here's a few of them:
Pootling (think you need to be walking for this one)
Pottering (slightly more purposeful, bit marginal this one)
Dilly Dally
Hanging Out
Checking my Emails

I'm sure there are plenty more (comments please). For a supposedly time-poor society, we do have a lot of ways of talking about not doing much. Oh yes, blogging. Add that.

*ok I just tweeted a few people

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Transfer Window is Still Open

One head coach is apparently still looking for new players, of any ability and background.

The full transfer price has already been paid up front. There are no hidden charges, intermediaries or agents fees.

All kit is provided, including footwear.

The coach has a keen eye for potential, watching all prospective players from their first kick. He knows their game inside out, even how they think, and knows exactly which part in the team they would be best in.

The team goal is world domination, but oddly enough, losing is one of the key team tactics, and is surprisingly effective.

All team members are signed up for life, there's even a chance to become immortals of the game.

Full-time one to one mentoring is provided by the team captian, however there is a large amount of group work, much of it in groups of two or three, which the captain personally attends.

The opportunity is open until the final whistle. However, nobody, not even the team captian, knows when that will sound.

PS Apologies to those who've already had enough of cheesy football metaphors.