Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent and Christmas Links

4 good collections of links and resources for your perusal:

Jonny Baker, including beach hut advent calendars, advent tweets, videos, art etc.

Christine Sine, always excellent, lots of good Advent resources, meditations, poems, videos

Internet Evangelism Day, all sorts of bits and bobs, including the splendid Beatbox Nativity

Evangelical Alliance has a compliation of Christmas quotes, research and statistics, including how much people plan to spend, attitudes to Christmas cards, including one survey which has the majority of respondents declaring that Christmas is overrated, primarily for children, and that Jesus is irrelevant to how they spend it. Also surveys on mental health, debt, and a startling mince pie.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stan Collymore on what it's like to have depression

If you've never had depression, then this vivid account by footballer Stan Collymore may help you understand a bit more about what it's like. If you have had it, then you might be able to relate to what he says. (update: Steve Tilley has drawn my attention to the blog Lets Talk About Depression, which is also worth a look)

If you're thinking 'oh no, a footballer trying to write' then don't. Just read it:

I'm typing and my brain is full,cloudy and detached but i know i need to elaborate on what i'm going through because there are so many going through this that need to know it's an illness,just an illness.Not bad,mad,crazy or weak,just ill,and that with this particular illness,for its sufferers,for family and friends who are there but feel they can't help,you can!

Patience,time,kindness and support.That's all we need.No "pull your socks up",no "get out of bed you lazy git",just acknowledge the feedback the sufferer gives,get them to go to the GP asap,and help them do the little things bit by bit.

That may seem simple but in my experience,and currently as we speak,having a bath,walking for 5 minutes in the fresh air,making a meal,all things that days before were the norm,seem alien,so friends and family can help ,just by being non judgemental,and helping in the background to get the sufferer literally back on their feet.

At an evening with Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass last week, two of the funniest Christian communicators in the UK, both spoke about their episodes of depression. It can happen to anyone, no matter how jolly or otherwise they appear on the outside.

which sets me thinking again about whether we need a 'Blue Christmas' service in the area this year, for people who find this season particularly hard and dark. I've posted about this before (see tags) but still not done anything about it, to my shame.

(this was originally written on Saturday, since when we've had this awful news about Gary Speed. I did wonder about removing the post, but it seemed right to leave it up.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Conspiracy: Death and Presents or........?

[AC] Promo 2011 from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

warning: sermon to myself follows.
40% of us are planning to spend less this Christmas. What if the other 60% could spend less and give away the balance? The average household spent over £600 on Christmas gifts last year. There's got to be a bit of slack in there somewhere, especially since that was the highest spend in Europe on Christmas gifts. That might just mean we're really generous, or it might just mean that we've forgotten how to express ourselves in any other way than shopping. Probably a mixture of both.

I was reading the story of the widows mite the other day: someone with virtually nothing, who gave out of her poverty, and is commended by Jesus. It would be wonderful to hear that divine 'well done' extended to a nation which chose life over Littlewoods. A nation which bailed out lives as well as banks. Because we will have to explain ourselves one day, and we'll look pretty silly holding a £350 Xbox surrounded by the graves of children whose lives could have been saved for a few quid.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Back to Church Sunday - feedback from 2011

Initial responses from Back to Church Sunday this year are encouraging - the CofE is reporting roughly 14,000 guests at BCTS services among a sample of churches who took part in it*. Over 4,000 took part in it overall, and the report extrapolates the sample figures to estimate that nearly 80,000 extra people turned up on that Sunday. I imagine the actual figure is slightly less: churches reporting back are more likely to be those who had a succesful day (!) but that's still pretty good going.

I'd be intrigued to know if this is the kind of thing which works better when done every year, or more intermittently. It's only going to engage with people who once went to church (a sizeable, but shrinking number), but experience seems to show that if those people find a church which is relevant, accessible and welcoming, then many of them join it.

Here is one way to do BCTS, and do it well:
St Mary the Virgin, Yaxley, in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, is an example of a church where Back to Church Sunday is part of a successful mission strategy: regular Sunday attendance has nearly quadrupled from nine to a viable 35, thanks to personal invitations from church members, and the pioneering work of the Revd Tiffer Robinson, who knocked on every door in the village of 400 people to personally invite everyone back to church.

In fact, why save it for September. I'm sure there are plenty of occasions during the year which people could be invited to. Let me think, there's something happening in December isn't there?

*Can I commend whoever is behind the information gathering. The CofE is often painfully slow at gathering stats - I guess there are other things to be getting on with! - but it's good to have qualitative feedback in time for it to make a difference. In case this dizzying speed is all too much, don't worry, in January 2012 it'll be back to normal, when we get the attendance data for 2010.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Nativity Factor - The Christmas Preachers Dream Site

Thanks to Phil Ritchie for pointing out The Nativity Factor, an ITN competition to find a good modern retelling of the Nativity story. There are some really good ones up on the site, the one below is probably my favourite - it's been produced by ITN themselves, along with several other examples. There's also a dedicated Youtube channel: at time of writing there's something like 58 vids uploaded. The problem now is going to be choosing which one(s) to show, but with roughly 20 Christmas services to deal with, it's a fantastic little video library to have.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The One Question the Church Must Engage With

David Cooke is asking it:

"Ultimately, each church will be evaluated by only one thing - its disciples. Your church is only as good as her disciples. It does not matter how good your praise, preaching, programs, or property are; if your disciples are passive, needy, consumeristic, and not radically obedient, your church is not good." (Neil Cole)

Cooke writes:
I have been asking people/Vicars (who are people too:) that question of 'How' and have yet to find anyone who can give me an adequate answer to the question of what their plan is for encouraging and equipping disciple-making.

This is my experience too. We've been discovering that nearly everything we need to grapple with as a church comes back to discipleship. In my limited searching, I've not yet found another church which has calibrated its life to any great extent around the Great Commission 'go and make disciples'. The nearest is probably Exeter Network Church, whose 4mation groups look like a great model for mutual discipleship, and who manage both to engage with their community as well as to gather apart from it.

So if you're out there, and you've had a go at this question, then I'd love to hear from you...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to Save Money on Christmas Lights

This is doing the rounds on Facebook, and rightly so.

In the meantime, if you want to watch something guaranteed to put you off Christmas shopping, then watch the Littlewoods advert. I think I only found one thing there that costs less than £100. The slogan should read "Littlewoods, we'll bankrupt you before Cameron does." And this is the kind of thing I'd probably write about it if I wasn't a vicar.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Should I Quit and Become a Banker?

An Oxford ethicist is arguing that graduates who want to make a difference should look at a career in banking, rather than in aid work. With Ian Hislop's programme on ethical banking in the 19th century showing this evening, Will Crouch argues that an investment bank with a policy of philanthropy could make a bigger positive impact than an aid agency.

Mr Crouch says that when looking at careers choices, young people are missing the point if they see banking as a less ethical option.

He argues that someone becoming an investment banker could create sufficient wealth to make philanthropic donations that could make a bigger difference than someone choosing to work in a "moral" career such as an aid charity.

"The direct benefit a single aid worker can produce is limited, whereas the philanthropic banker's donations might indirectly help 10 times as many people," says Mr Crouch.

Looking at typical incomes in investment banking and the cost of treating tuberculosis in the developing world, he calculates that an ethically inclined banker who donated half their income could save 10,000 lives.

At time of writing there isn't much detail about this at the 'Uheiro Centre', the ethics institute where Will Crouch is based, but there is a bit more background here. Crouch is part of Eighty Thousand Hours, an ethical career advice service. It's a great concept - deliberatly pick a high earning career so you can give most money away. Or as John Wesley put it "make all you can, save all you can, give all you can." from Philip Panchenko on Vimeo.

The Sermon Burp

Excellent post by Steve Tilley on how to avoid indigestion in teaching settings:

A colleague of mine used to say that discussion groups after a talk were a good opportunity for people to 'burp'. He drew the analogy of a baby being fed - after a while the infant needs to be winded and then some more food can be inserted into the gap. Without being winded a small child will feel full before it is.

It said a lot about that teaching style. The speaker has the food and people need feeding; almost force-feeding.

I have always been a great enthusiast for teaching in a dialogue. I am not anti-input. I do have some resources, training and skills which equip me with stuff to pass on. But the assumption about dialogue (Greek: dia logos = through word(s)) is that I will be as helped by the listener as the listener by me.

Worth reading the whole piece. I find it very challenging as a preacher/teacher: there's usually far more material for a sermon/teaching slot than I've actually time to deliver, and it's hard enough sacrificing chunks of a sermon to trim things down to the usual 20 minutes. But maybe we need to be a bit more joined up, and instead of the traditional launch straight into the Nicene Creed, or whatever, to think about the 5-10 minutes after the sermon as processing time. Or even to split it into several chunks throughout the service, all-age style .

Monday, November 21, 2011

Round up of Roundups

Somewhere in the blogosphere is an exhaustive list of other people's lists. This isn't it. As someone who doesn't often do lists of links, I'm very grateful to those who do, and save me masses of time trawling the net in the process. Here's some links to recent roundups from the blogosphere I've enjoyed (or which, to be honest, I stumbled across because they linked here).

Mark Meynells Treasure Maps, from his Quarentia blog. They come out monthly, and have all sorts in. Great stuff.

Dreaming beneath the Spires

David Cooke's Saturday Blog Sweep.

Bible Gateway link roundup, for people into Bible-related stuff. And even people who aren't.

The Church Sofa weekly roundup.

Seekers Friday Five

If you like American leadership blogs where everything is presented in list form, then here's one from Perry Noble.

If you don't then you're probably hoping that Lesley will reinstate her Wednesday roundup, in between offereing a running commentary on all things to do with women bishops.

And for something completely different, try the Giants Shoulders Blog Carnival, a monthly round up of blog posts on the history of science. Latest one at Early Modern Experimental Philosophy (now that's a blog title), Octobers at Gurdur.

And whilst paying homage to lists, thankyou to Tim Chesterton and Vic the Vicar, who've both said kind things about this blog when listing some of the blogs they enjoy. Apologies to Vic that I've not yet taken up his challenge of dishing out my own 'versatile blogger' award. Maybe one day!

There must be dozens of others. If you know of them, let me know. I'm always up for a few more short-cuts...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sheep and the Goats and the Bishops

Church of England bishops have descended en masse upon the Governments Welfare Reform Bill, and its plan to cap household benefits at £500. A joint letter to the Observer spells out their concern at the impact upon children:

While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children's Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.

This is about as trenchant as the men in purple get, (though I can think of a couple of outspoken exceptions!) Five amendments have been tabled by the bishops, to be debated in the Lords this week. Here's the original response from the Childrens Society to the proposals.

It may just be that that good bishops have been taking their sermon preparation seriously this week. Todays set reading for CofE services is Matthew 25:31-46, the 'sheep and goats' picture of the judgement scene. The criteria for separation between the rightous sheep and the excluded goats is acts of compassion towards the vulnerable. Strictly speaking, it's acts of sacrificial service to fellow Christians, but the principle extends beyond the church (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan) to any neighbour in need.

As James says, there's no point talking about faith unless it issues in action. There's no point talking about justice unless you do something about it. At times I wonder whether bishops in the Lords is a bit of a luxury for the CofE and an anachronism for the state. But I'm happy to suspend that thought for this week.

At the other end of the age range, if you want to help older people, and have the means to do so, and are over-65, then donate your Winter Fuel Payment to the Surviving Winter appeal. Because it's not means tested, the payment goes to all pensioners, whether they need it or not, and this campaign is a great way to help to target this money at those who need it. "I was cold, and you paid my fuel bill."

update: the BBC has also picked up the story.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Church as Puppy Class - A Model for Unity?

A very good piece by Madpriest this week on church unity, and how to get along with those you disagree violently with but who (like it or not) are still part of the body of Christ:

The experience of the Church of England since the days of Elizabeth I has shown that people of, what amounts to, different faiths can exist together in the same church. Of course, there will be squabbling. There is squabbling in the dog club I belong to but this doesn't mean its members don't all love dogs (we may hate each other at times but we never stop loving our canine companions and if that is not a perfect metaphor for the Anglican Communion I don't know what is) and the arguments rarely lead to people storming off in a huff to set up their own dog club somewhere else. Different dog clubs have different constitutions, different priorities, different ways of doing things. But this doesn't mean that we are not all united by our affiliation to the Kennel Club. It doesn't stop us all competing at the same dog shows run under the auspices of the Kennel Club.

The same can be true for different congregations and provinces affiliated to the Anglican Communion. The same has been true for many years. There is no need to mend something that isn't broken, especially when such tinkering will lead to more damage not less.

There is a lot of energy being spent on what actually constitutes 'affiliation to the Kennel Club', because many Anglicans think that there has to be more to it than adherence to the Nicene Creed, recognition of your diocesan bishop, and a tradition of worship. But how much do we add to the basics before it becomes almost impossible for everyone to stay affiliated, or even to keep up with all the rules and regulations?

There's also a difference between organic and institutional unity. I'm part of the institution of the CofE, but in reality, on a day to day basis, work just as closely (if not more so) with non-Anglican churches who share the same values of worship, community, mission and discipleship. However, there are 'economies of scale' in an institution, but with those come the small print. Is it even possible to have one without the other?

Friday, November 18, 2011

#Occupy Christmas - a sermon idea

"The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us" (John 1:14)

For the #Occupy Christmas sermon you will need:

 - the above Bible text
 - a tent
 - a suitable banner ('what would Jesus do?' etc.)

and a sermon incorporating some or all of the following ideas:
 - the Incarnation as a protest camp
 - the Incarnation as a public conversation about change and justice
 - attempts to evict Jesus by the ruling powers as he was getting in the way of normal commerce and politics
 - Jesus' plan to Occupy everything and everyone
 - the question of how many of us have pitched our tent next to Jesus, but then gone back home because it's more comfy there.

I have the first two items on this list, still working on the rest. Any thoughts welcome!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ian Hislop: a modern Ezekiel?

For the 2nd week in a row, the Radio Times is asking questions about faith. Last week Tom Hollander, this week Ian Hislop. Hislop is following up his excellent series on the Victorian 'do-gooders' with a progamme on 'When Bankers Were Good'. With all the talk about putting a new ethical basis at the heart of banking, perhaps Hislops programme should be required watching in the Square Mile.

Hislop is also quizzed about his faith:

Hislop, who was at the helm of Private Eye when it portrayed the then prime minister as a trendy Church of England vicar, described himself as "an occasional Anglican".

He said: "I'm not sure that a lot of what I do is particularly charitable or Christian, so that worries me. I remember being in church and the vicar noticed I was there and included me in a rant in his sermon against those who bear false witness. That put me in my place. So I am pretty confused about my position. But I go."

I was wondering if Hislop is too hard on himself, and was put in mind of the prophet Ezekiel. Here is someone who cooks over dung to make a public point, graphically compares Israel to a prostitute, and repeatedly satirises and slams the rulers of Israel for their vices and sins. Part political commentator, part performance artist, Ezekial would have worried the lawyers at Private Eye, and been post-watershed material on Channel 4.

Though I guess if the CofE embraced Hislop too openly, that might devalue his currency as a commentator and prophet. After all, if you want people to hear you speak from the church steps, not the vestry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Place of Beer in Spiritual Warfare

Internet Monk caught my eye yesterday with this piece about Martin Luther and the devil. Luther had a 'robust' approach to dealing with temptation, possibly a reaction against being over-scrupulous in his younger life. Luther struggled with depression and intrusive thoughts, but taught that the best way to deal with these was to distract yourself by having fun and downing a pint or two with the lads:

Be strong and cheerful and cast out those monstrous thoughts. Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try to conscientiously not to sin at all.

So when the devil says to you, “Do not drink,” answer him: “I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” One must always do what Satan forbids. What other cause do you think that I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely and making merry so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me.

The Monk himself concludes

Once we truly grasp God’s grace toward us in Christ, we will not live timidly or refuse to relish our Creator’s good gifts. For heaven’s sake, life is hard enough, sad enough, stressful enough. The world, the flesh, and the devil exert their pressures on our spirits every day. The remedies that bring us relief are not always “spiritual.” How could that possibly be? Our Savior, who had a reputation among the righteous as a glutton and winebibber, a friend of “sinners” who loved to party and enjoy gaiety and laughter around the table, won’t stand for it. (my emphasis)

On a similar theme, here's a piece on the place of beer in evangelism. Sort of.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Proost Advent Resources

There's lots of good stuff out there for Advent, Proost are one of my favourites, and they now have an Advent Calendar too, courtesy of Si Smith. Here's a few of their bits and bobs:

Advent Calendar - 25 images by Si Smith, plus a meditation for each day, available electronically.

Nativity Figures - these are really good, download the images then print them out on white card. Had great fun making these a couple of years ago in a Christmas service.

9 lessons and carols animations - by Jon Birch (ASBO Jesus), flash animations to show during the readings of the traditional 9 Christmas readings. Youtube preview here.

Silent night movie, also by Jon Birch.

nine - 9 artistic pieces to go with the 9 lessons and carols.

All available for download.

Or use the 'Advent' tab below to browse resources from other places.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Is It Wrong to Change Gender?

I missed this at the time, but a few months ago Channel 4 ran a series of short pieces about transgender people, from a religious viewpoint. You can see all 7 (very short) videos here: one is by a vicar, and they don't all agree.

This is something I'm trying to think through at the moment, and found Peter Oulds thoughts very helpful. He writes:

I have to be totally open and honest with you (and my other readers) at this point and admit that I am currently engaged in a rethink on this issue of transgenderism. When we lost our second son to a chromosomal disorder (in his case Trisomy 18 – Edwards Syndrome), I spent quite a bit of time exploring issues around chromosomal disfunction and other gender issues. I’m still in the middle of that exploration, but at the moment my position can be summarised as follows:

•If we lived in a perfect, Edenic, un-fallen world then issues of Transgenderism wouldn’t occur. That is to say, I am convinced that transgenderism is a result of the Fall.

•However, if transgenderism is simply one variant expression of the brokeness of all humanity, we cannot (as you rightly point out) make its experience in and of itself as disbar to ministry of any kind. We are in a sense driven back to the behaviour / orientation distinction in the issue of homosexuality.

•My current issue therefore is what “behaviour” in the life of those who have transgender issues is sinful and what isn’t. For homosexuality I think we have clear Scriptural guidelines on sexual expression. For those with transgender issues we do not.

•My key current concern is whether in assuming that the displayed sex of a person (i.e. that which they appear to be biologically) is the “correct” sex, are we actually missing the truth of the situation for some people? For example, I assume Susannah that if you are a male to female transexual, your sex chromosomes are XY. A traditional conservative approach would be to argue that since you present as biologically male that is your true gender and any attempt to deny it is to embrace fallenness rather than to reject it.

•However, might it actually be the case that your true gender is female and that the development of your sex chromosomes as XY is actually a result of the Fall (in the same way that my son having a third 18th chromosome was fallen, not “good”). If this is the case then helping you transit from male to female is actually a “good” thing rather than a “bad” or sinful thing.

•At the same time, I am aware of a number of cases where those who have presented with very clear sex/gender self-divergences have, through bringing areas of emotional and relational brokeness to God in prayer and allowing him to heal them, have seen their self-perceived gender realign with their biological sex.

I’m not decided yet on this issue, but I am in a position where I am not prepared to condemn those who have transited sex to their self-understood gender. Certainly, I cannot see the experience of transgenderism itself as a disbar to employment in a church, though I can understand why some churches would be hesitant to employ someone who has actually transited.

This whole issue is particularly hard when other people are involved, and (as the last of the 7 videos shows) it can have a devastating effect on family members. There has to be a limit on how far other people pay the price for individuals being 'true to themselves'. At the same time, it's not good enough to say that, because the whole issue makes us feel uncomfortable, there's no discussion to be had.
Channel 4 are currently showing a series 'My Transsexual Summer', which follows 7 people going through the process of changing gender. As someone who wouldn't want to be seen on TV making a cup of coffee, I admire the courage of people who let the cameras in on such a life-changing and intimate issue. I was worried that this would be a Channel 4 freak show (they do have a track record), but it isn't: these are real people, and its an uncomfortable education listening to their stories and experiences.
So, what would Jesus do? Are we made male and female, end of story? Does fallenness mess that up? Does the removal of the dividing wall between male and female have anything to do with this? Is it a symptom of an over-sexed and individualised society, or a hidden struggle that's always been there? Is it wrong to change gender, or does that depend on who else is affected?
Sorry to land this one on you on a Monday morning....

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What To Do Today

The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done....The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Did We Used to Do Before Social Media?

Saw this graphic on BigBible. If we had this much time, information, creativity and computer power to allocate as we pleased, without preconditions, is this what we'd want to allocate it to? Anyway, on with the blog....
(apologies for the size, Blogger doesn't seem to want to let me make it any bigger. Never mind, not having to read all that small print will save you valuable time)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wikio Top 'Religion and Belief' Blogs, November 2011

Here's the latest top 15 from the Wikio rankings, which work by links between sites registered with Wikio, rather than traffic levels. Judging by one or two of these, they need to add 'Unbelief' into the category title:

1. The Freethinker
2. eChurch Blog
3. Islam in Europe
4. Phil's Treehouse
5. Thinking Anglicans
6. Anglican Mainstream (not a blog, it's a news aggregator)
7. iBenedictines
8. The BIGBible Project
9. Of Course I Could be Wrong
10. Nick Baines
11. Bishop Alan
12. Epiphenom
13. The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
14. Lesleys Blog
15. Peter Saunders - Christian Medical Comment.

The top blog here is 209 in the general rankings. As you can only be included in one category, there's no sign of Cranmer (36) in this list, otherwise that would be far and away the top ranking Religion blog.

For those interested in life outside the ghetto, the top 3 blogs overall are Liberal Conspiracy, Left Foot Forwards (politics) and Sticky Fingers (parenting).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

'Wounded Churches' Russ Parker healing seminar in Wells.

This recently arrived in the Inbox. Short notice I know, but I've heard good things about Russ Parker, so if you're in the area then it might be worth a visit.

“Wounded Churches: pain as a catalyst for life.”

Saturday 12th November  0930 – 1300  St Thomas Church , Wells

Led by Revd Dr Russ Parker, Director of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation. This event will be a combination of teaching and workshops. It will look at ways of transforming unhealed issues from the past which still impact our Christian Communities.

Revd Dr Russ Parker has been Director of Acorn Christian Healing Foundation (ACF) since 1995. ACF exists to resource and educate the Church in all denominations in the Christian Healing Ministry. Russ travels extensively around the UK and abroad, teaching and working in issues connected with Christian healing and healthcare, reconciliation and church transformation. He is author of ‘Healing Wounded History’, and his other books include ‘Healing Dreams’, ‘Wild Spirit of the Living God’ and ‘Healing Death’s wounds’.

You are invited to attend this open meeting and we look forward to seeing you.

The programme starts at 9.30am, and includes 2 main sessions:
1. How do the unhealed issues of our Christian communities affect our mission as a Church today?
2. A suggested model for praying into wounded history

Monday, November 07, 2011

Church of England Vital Statistics: Time to Call the Nurse? Or the Surgeon?

A few years ago, Bob Jackson, Archdeacon of Walsall, produced a minor earth tremor in the Church of England with his book 'Hope for the Church'. For the first time, the stark reality of the decline of the CofE was painted in painful facts and figures.

As the title suggests, 'Hope for the Church' wasn't all doom and gloom - in among the decline were signs of what the CofE could do to put things right, from smarter deployment of ministers, to better use of tools like Alpha and small groups.

The first two columns in the table above are taken from Jacksons book. The final one I've added myself, based on the latest Church of England statistics, published roughly a month ago.

In recent years, decline in attendance has slowed, but the above figures make pretty grim reading. Despite Fresh Expressions, a renewed emphasis on church planting, a plethora of Diocesan initiatives, mission fund money etc., there is no obvious and decisive turnaround in the fortunes of the Church of England.

The real danger is that the remaining pockets of health in the CofE are gradually eroded by the weight of the rest of it. Look at that 'churches open' figure. There are still around 16,000 Anglican churches, not far off the number in 1980, but run by 30% fewer clergy, and paid for and supported by 30%+ fewer adult members. With each church comes an obligation to retain a regular pattern of worship, the legal business of PCCs and AGMs, building maintenance etc. There is very little spare time and energy left for the average vicar after you've had to sort all this out for 6 churches.

In the meantime, those churches that are growing get hit with higher bills. Our Diocese has frozen its budget for 2011-12, which is good news. However, our church has grown slightly, and the vast majority of the other Anglican churches in Bath and Wells have shrunk. So any church, like ours, which holds or increases its membership, ends up paying more to compensate for those which have shrunk. There's a good principle there of the strong supporting the weak, which is fine. But how much weight can the healthy limbs of a tree support before they suffer damage themselves? There are plenty of good things going on in the CofE, hundreds of new church plants, lots of innovation, and the decade has seen a sea-change in attitudes towards mission, with a corresponding change in policies and deployment. But whilst the outlying vessels are going at a rate of knots, the main ship is looking very creaky.

Back in the summer, Andreas Whittam Smith of the Church Commissioners said this to General Synod:
“I have seen large companies perfectly and impeccably manage themselves into failure. Every step along the road has been well done.

“Every account is neatly signed off.”

Then finally they find they have “gone bust”, he said. “I sometimes feel the Church is a bit like that.”

He added: “I wish that all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this.”

At what point does the Church of England call time on a system set up in the Middle Ages, but increasingly no longer fit for purpose? At what point do we declare that the burden of maintaining 16000 historic buildings is no longer an asset to mission, but an impediment? At what point do we press the red button, and try to do things differently, rather than squeezing more out of less and hoping that somehow everything will get better?

Judging by these stats, the Church of England is a frog in the long slow process of being boiled. How hot does it have to get?

Update: if you need something slightly less depressing along similar lines, try this excellent post from David Cooke.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sentamu: Take Pride in your Tax Bill

Provocative article in the Yorkshire Post by John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, yesterday. It opens:

With renewed public outrage at the excesses of the financial sector and the huge inequalities in wealth it has helped to generate, we are being confronted daily with new evidence of extremes of wealth and poverty, demonstrating how scandalously unfair our society is. But how is this to be addressed? This is the urgent task for us all.

The news that Chief Executives (CEOs) of the FTSE 100 companies last year received average pay increases of almost 50 percent adds urgency to our cause. Typically these CEOs receive 300 times as much as the least well paid British employees in their companies. If they have a responsibility to their staff, it is hard to imagine a more powerful way of telling some people that they are of little value than to pay them one-third of one percent of your own salary. (emphasis mine)

Sentamu argues that a change in attitudes towards wealth and inequality will drive a change in practice, and suggests a couple of reforms that might help to trigger the change in attitudes. One is to withhold royal honours from those who've awarded themselves large salaries, or whose companies have a big wage gap between the best and worst paid. The other is making public the amount of tax we pay, (voluntarily) to encourage people to take pride in the contribution they make, through tax, to the country.

Behind both of these is a desire to change values, to see pay not simply as an issue of economics, but of the fundamental value we place on one another, and on what we do for one another with our money.


Because changes in public attitudes can take place quite quickly. Over the last few decades racism has lost its respectability and is seen as unacceptable. The same applies to homophobia (the irrational fear of homosexuals) and discrimination against women. My belief and trust is that a society which has shown itself capable of making such rapid changes to attitudes in these areas will also prove capable of recognising that our society will work best when we recognise that as human beings we are all, fundamentally of equal worth and members of one society.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Rev. trailers now up

and you can find them all here. If anyone can tell me how to embed clips from Iplayer into Blogger, that would be very helpful.

update: aha, here goes...

thankyou Banksyboy!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday St. Pauls Singalong

Ht The St. James Church Daily/Jonathan Bartley Think it must be U2 on the soundtrack. Best version of this I ever heard was by local Somerset band 'Why?' on their live album 'Jig at a Why? Gig'. If anyone knows what Ant Parker and the lads are doing now, I'd love to know.

For Friday afternoon, there appears to be a Fantasy St. Pauls Cathedral thingy going on on Facebook. When I last looked, someone was campaigning for me to be made Dean of St. Pauls, but I'm hoping there's been a coup and someone else is in line, otherwise I shall have to resign in anticipation of possible violence.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Rev. Series 2

Next Thursday evening, for the first time in weeks, the steps of St. Pauls will be clear of clergy. I've lost count of the number of vicars who've dropped in on the protest, or been hauled onto the radio to comment about it, or found themselves in Facebook campaigns to land one of the now-vacant posts.

Yes, it's the new series of 'Rev.', the BBC comedy starring Tom Hollander as an inner city priest. In a peculiar case of art imitating life, the first episode stars Lord Voldemort as the Bishop of London. If you happen to be involved in an Anglican church meeting next Thursday, rejoice, as the vicar will have at least one eye on finishing for 9pm.

There's an interview with Hollander in this weeks Radio Times, here's a few snippets which caught my eye:

on researching the series "We spent time with vicars and discovered how interesting it was that they sat right in the middle of society, althought everyone think sof them as marginal, because we are a secular society. But the church is still right at the heart of it, with weddings, funerals and schools.
    You can look at what is going on in our lives through the perspective of the priest, because he has access to everything. Also their lives are full of tragi-comic stories and their beleaguered status seems to chime with our feelings about ourselves as a nation. From looking at the Church of England it's not so very far to seeing where we are with ideas about England."

on vicars reactions "People we have met in the Church since have said 'thank you for making me look normal'. Because they're used to being treated as weirdos, the moment they start talking about faith or a belief in God, people start to behave as if they have got the plague."

on his own beliefs "I believe in the idea of God now. Since doing Rev I believe in what the idea of God represents, but I can't say anything more concrete than that. ... since we stopped shooting I look forward to poking my nose in (to a church) without it being work. I went to Brompton Oratory a couple of years ago and watched a Latin mass where they were facing the altar, clouds of incense and all that. It was very powerful. I thought if there was a supernatural presence, I'd find it more convincing that the spoke a language I didn't really understand."

on life "I've certainly got more interested in religion as I've got older, and that's to do with my own awareness of the fragility of my own existence. Life has a way of making us look silly, so you have to think beyond the limits of your own capabilities. A scientist can tell you about stuff that is clearly measurable, but for stuff thats in the realms of hope, fear and speculation you'd be better off with a priest."

If you ring and get the answerphone between 9 and 9.30 next Thursday, you'll know the reason why!

PS todays comment about the Occupy London protest: I heard 3 protesters interviewed on 5 live this morning, and none of them had any concrete policy suggestions. They celebrated the absence of a command structure in the Occupy protests, but that very lack of leadership also makes the message much harder to hear.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Unfamiliar Sound of the CofE Getting its Act Together

Update: good interview with Rowan Williams by the BBC.

The Diocese of London finally got on the front foot yesterday with this statement/action about the St. Pauls situation. Amongst other things, it notes the re-engagement of Giles Fraser in the process, and the appointment of Ken Costa to investigate reconnecting finance and ethics. Alongside came the Archbishop of Canterburys statement, which appears to endorse the 'Robin Hood tax' and speaks of the 'idolatry of high finance'.

Fraser first: good news, this enables the CofE to get one of its more media-savvy clerics back on the front line, to share duties with Pete Broadbent, Sally Hitchiner and others. It also, more importantly, may allow for the publication of the St. Pauls report into City of London ethics, which was due to be published last week until Frasers resignation. Since it was put together by an institute which he ran, it wouldn't have made sense to make it public at the time, but perhaps now it can be.

Ken Costa: most well known for his connections with Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha Course, Costa is also behind the excellent God at Work course/book, which seeks to help Christians reconnect faith and work in a number of practical ways. He's been quite busy of late, and his recent speech in the City of London about capitalism and morality is well worth reading, for a flavour of the kind of critique we might see more of from CofE sources:

Morality is both taught and caught. But that means it can also be forgotten and lost. Whatever the reality is, the perception is certainly that the financial world has forgotten or lost moral moorings, and there is deep public anger at this.

My feeling is that governments will not long be able to ignore or resist this anger, and will be compelled to respond to some of the more ambitious calls for intervention and regulation. And, well-intentioned as these may be, it is unlikely to be successful.

If you want a briefer version of his argument, try this piece in last weeks Financial Times. Costa is no anti-capitalist. He believes that a fundamentally capitalist economy can be redeemed, but only by recovering a sound ethical basis. I'm not sure I'm with him on that, but one step in the right direction is better than none. And, more importantly, he can make this argument in a way which makes sense to the financial and business sector, rather than in a way they can simply dismiss as a bunch of anarchists in tents.

The 'Restoring Trust in the City' initiative, which Costa was addressing, is looking at 'ethical behaviour' in the City, but to be honest it looks pretty weak. Any moral critique of mammon which doesn't mention the word 'justice', and have a pretty robust understanding of it, isn't going to float very far. We don't need codes of practice, we need justice and love in place of greed and individualism. That's where the Robin Hood tax perhaps comes in, depending on how the proceeds can be used.

By putting both Costa and Fraser into the mix, the Diocese of London looks like it's trying to have a foot in both camps (literally). Costa is a son of the City, Fraser is probably more at home on St Pauls steps than in its vestry. That could be a classic Anglican recipe for compromise, or it might actually be incredibly fruitful. Watch this space.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Snapshots of churches serving their communities.

Community Engagement from Newfrontiers NORTH UK on Vimeo.

good little vid sent my way recently, 5 good examples of churches responding to community need in creative and helpful ways.

ChurchCheck: Hire your own Mystery Worshipper

Christian Research are offering some quality control to churches who'd like to be welcoming but suspect they may not be....

Christian Research in partnership with Retail Maxim is now giving churches the opportunity to see themselves through the eyes of a newcomer. ChurchCheck is designed to evaluate and assist the improvement of churches through a professional worship assessment service.

ChurchCheck evaluators are trained to assess factors such as the state of the notice board , warmth of welcome and length of the sermon through to the after service conversation and evidence of fair trade.

All ChurchCheck Visitors are fully trained in assessing church services, based in all regions and will visit churches of any denomination.

To arrange a ChurchCheck for your church or if you want any further information, click the following link
Or you could do what one vicar did (I think this really happened, rather than being an urban myth), which is pay a few folks at the local pub £10 each to come along to church one morning, then chat about it over a pint afterwards. My question here is: will a Christian visitor pick up everything that needs to be picked up?
Or save yourself some cash, and see if the original Mystery Worshipper has been already. The entry for St. Pauls Cathedral earlier this year makes interesting reading.