Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Centre for Church Growth at St. Johns Nottingham

My old college, St. Johns Nottingham is launching a new 'Centre for Church Growth' - it's almost as though they read this blog. It looks like Bob Jackson will be heading it up, and it will deliver teaching as part of the college programme (hooray! Can we backdate it for people who were there in 1996?), conferences, consultancy, and research. This is great news, if Dioceses and the CofE are ready to take it seriously.

There's a conference for Dioceses in the Midlands and North this September, looking at Diocesan church growth strategies, what works and what doesn't, and it includes a panel of clergy from growing churches talking about what parishes need from their Dioceses. If you're in this part of the country, then the head honchos and honchettes at your Diocese will be getting invitations, do pester them to book their places. I look forward to something for us Southerners before too long.

Bob Jackson's introduction to the new centre reminds us:
Archbishop Rowan recently suggested that the top priority for the Church of England over the next five years was ‘to take forward the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church of England, including the growth of its capacity to serve the whole community of this country.'

Having mentioned Sheffield last week, we can maybe add Chelmsford to the list of Dioceses which are taking this challenge seriously. If you're in the CofE, what's your experience?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Return of the Mouse

This whole women bishops thing must be serious, even Church Mouse has broken cover from his nest in the vestry, to encourage the CofE to get on with it. It looks like it's a one-off squeak, but worth reading just the same.

I must confess this is one area of church politics I've avoided on this blog, partly out of frustration that we spend more time talking about sex than mission, and partly because the CofE position on ordination is such a mess. We proclaim a 'threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons' which bears minimal resemblance to the ordering of ministry in the Bible, and don't even follow through on it. In most places, deacons are just a priest in short trousers, waiting for 12 months to elapse so that they can take communion services. The New Testament depicts 'bishops' (overseers) as part of the team leadership of a local church, which is a far cry from what they've become in the CofE, never mind the Roman church.

Which is why I can't actually get that political about whether or not we have women in a role that isn't sanctioned by the Bible in the first place. And everyone else will probably be thankful that, with a theology like this, I go back to avoiding the topic.

(And I haven't even got started on the way we've created a sacramental theology which bolsters this structure and makes it almost impossible to question or unpick. )

Motivational Signs for Teenagers

Reminds me of a quip attributed to Mark Twain, which goes something like "when I was 14, my dad was so stupid I could hardly bear to have him around. By the time I was 21 I was surprised by how much the old guy had learned in 7 years."

thanks to various people on Facebook for this one.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

parishbuying.org.uk - new CofE co-operative purchasing website.

The new Parish Buying website goes fully live tomorrow, though it seems pretty functional already. The aim is for the 13,000 parishes of the CofE to save £10m a year between them by co-operative purchasing. The site covers energy, IT, office supplies and equipment, and fire safety. Individual churches, church schools, cathedrals etc. can order through the site, but pay at discounted rates because they're one of hundreds ordering through the same source. 

from the press release:
Favourable deals have been negotiated on a range of products and services including gas and electricity, heating oil, photocopiers, stationary, IT software and fire safety, by the Church's two National Procurement Officers.

"This is not just about saving money, although we are aiming for annual savings of £10 million," says Dr John Preston, National Stewardship Officer. "The Parish Buying service will help parishes both to buy with confidence, knowing contracts have been professionally negotiated, and to be better stewards of their spending."

good bit of work, well done to those who've set this up. If they could cover Fair Trade coffee and decent biscuits, then we really would save a packet (sorry). I wonder if there's a way of extending it to non-CofE churches?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

South Somerset Core Strategy - Schedule for Open Meetings

This came through earlier in the week:

South Somerset District Council - Draft Core Strategy Committee Meetings Timetable

I am writing to respondents to the public consultation on the Draft Core Strategy (incorporating Preferred Options), October 2010 and also to those who have expressed an interest in the Core Strategy. Over recent months officers have been considering and responding to the issues that arose during the consultation process. Their findings and recommendations will be reported to and considered by the Council's Area Committees and the District Executive during February and March before consideration by Full Council in April. The timetable of meetings is set out below:

Area North   22 February 2012  1.30pm, Edgar Hall, Somerton, TA11 6SB. (Say hello to my fellow blogger Muck and Brass if you go to that one. )

Area South 7 March 2012 10.00am The Gateway, Yeovil, BA20 1QN

Area East 14 March 2012 10.00am Memorial Hall, Wincanton, BA9 9JF

Area West 21 March 2012 4.00pm The Shrubbery, Ilminster, TA19 9AR

Special District Executive 26 March 2012 10.00am The Gateway, Yeovil, BA20 1QN

Full Council 23 April 2012 6.00pm The Gateway, Yeovil, BA20 1QN

Please Note:

1) The dates for the Special District Executive and Full Council are provisional at this stage. You will be informed in advance if there are any changes to these dates.

2) Each Area Committee will only actively consider those development proposals within their area boundaries.

3) The timing of consideration of the Core Strategy is subject to other agenda items.

All meetings are open to the public and you are welcome to attend. Agendas and Reports will be available 5 working days before each meeting on-line at http://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/councillors-and-democracy/meetings-and-decisions/agendas-and-minutes/ and in Council Offices. The Minutes will also be published on-line and made available in Council Offices. For further information please contact the Committee Administrator for the relevant Committee on 01935 462462.

The most talked about aspect of this is the plan for an 'Eco Town' to the south of the town centre, which has been the focus of intensive lobbying in some quarters. I hope that the final outcome reflects what's best for the whole community, including those who will eventually live in the eco town.

And if you're going to the meetings at the Gateway, do give yourself time to visit the excellent coffee shop.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Coming Soon - The Beatbox Passion

Beatbox Vicar Gavin Tyte was at the Christian Resources Exhibition this week talking about the amazing success of the Beatbox Nativity rap, and mentioned that there is a Beatbox Passion in the pipeline.

Regular news and updates on the Beatbox Bible website. There also seem to be plans for a print edition later this year, covering the whole of Luke's gospel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Painful Truths, Awkward Questions

In the last couple of days I've posted some breakdown of the Church of England attendance data for 2001-2010. Compared to the 1990s, it shows a continued, albeit slower, decline across the CofE. Only London diocese has seen its adult numbers rise from 1990-2010, every other one of the 43 dioceses has seen a decline. It's only slighly better with under-16's, with 3 Dioceses showing an increase in 1990-2010 (London, Canterbury and Southwark).

There are some truly frightening figures here. My own Diocese, Bath and Wells, is one of at least 6 which have seen a fall in adult numbers of over 30% in that 20 year period. Yes we have been sailing into some pretty strong headwinds: membership of all sorts of voluntary groups has been declining, culture is changing, Sundays have vanished as a day of leisure etc.

But, but..... we need to inspect some of those bullet wounds just below the ankle. Is it just possible that we may have got some things wrong? Like:
1. The parish communion movement. The CofE has developed a 'norm' of communion being held in every parish on every Sunday. As parishes have been amalgamated, this has put great pressure on clergy to run around dispensing holy wafers, and stood in the way of churches developing worship to reflect a changing culture. In turn it has become a totem, with many local churches fiercely protective of it. (I know vicars who bear the scars from relatively tame attempts to try somthing different) The original Lords Supper (correct me if I'm wrong) was a Passover meal. These weren't celebrated by a priest bussed in from Jerusalem, but by the head of a household. Once a year. How we got from that to where we are now is, well, too complex to go into. But we need a complete rethink, and yes I'm absolutely fine with so called 'lay presidency' at communion. It would set our clergy and our local churches free.

2. The parish system: there is more than one way for the CofE to be a mission presence in every community, and we don't need to have a building to do it. There are other ways, I think one is called 'people'. We could even (careful now) do this in partnership with other churches, rather than trying to do it all ourselves.

3. I'm afraid we have to ask questions about the quality of leadership in the church, both at local level, but nationally. What have our bishops and archbishops been doing? I applaud George Carey's 'decade of evangelism' in the 1990s (which is seen as a failure, but laid the foundations for some of the best work of the last 10 years) and Rowan Williams championing Fresh Expressions. And yes, the CofE is an impossible beast to lead. But what has our church leadership been doing whilst all this is going on, and how do we hold them to account for it? What is the point of the next General Synod holding 4 (count them) debates on women bishops, if the only decision the first female Archbishop will have to make is who will switch off the lights as they leave the building? Where is the sense of urgency?

Even from down here in Somerset I can smell the breath of fresh air which is Steve Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, making his principal focus as leader of the Diocese mission and church growth. But how many of his colleagues are doing the same? How many of our bishops and Archdeacons ever led a growing church? How many of our Dioceses make it a policy to only train curates in growing churches? And a hundred more questions.

My point is this, if we don't get our finger out on this one, there will not be much point in the church of England debating anything else. With the Ordinariate, we seem to have got more upset over a couple of dozen Papally inclined clergy following through the logic of their theology, than we have over hundreds of thousands of Christians who have lost their faith, left the church, dried out, burnt out or dropped out. And that's not to mention the millions that we've not reached at all.

If any Anglicans have got this far, next time you see your bishop, a question for him: "what are you doing to grow the church in this Diocese?" If he sticks around for a supplementary, then David Cooke has plenty more. And if you're reading this and you're on General Synod, then how about every February synod devoting a session to considering the mission stats that come out every January, and coming up with a plan of action in response?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Diocesan Attendance 2001-10 for adults and children.

Here are the tables for adults and childrens attendance for the 2001-10 decade, based on 'average weekly attendance'. The original data is here on the CofE website and was published last week. I blogged the chart for the combined 'all age' figure yesterday.

First the adult attendance. Some headlines:
1. Only 6 out of 43 Dioceses saw an increase in adult numbers. But that's an improvement on the 1990s when London was the only one, and it's good to see that London is still growing (though more slowly)

2. The overall picture is still of shrinkage, but more slowly than in the 1990s, when the average Diocese was losing 12-15% of adult members, and the worst lost 28%

3. Each of these figures masks as much as it reveals. For example, Bristol Diocese saw its adult numbers drop from 15,400 to 12,600 in 2001-8. Since then they've grown again, to 14,200. So an 18% drop, followed by a 13% rise in 2 years shows as a 7.8% fall overall. Nearly all the growth in London happened in the early part of the decade, since when attendance has actually fallen off slightly.
Now the childrens chart. This is better:
1. 15 out of 43 Dioceses have seen growth here. It would be interesting to correlate this to spending from the money released by the Church Commissioners for mission. Quite a lot of this has gone on local children and families worker posts, are we seeing an effect? (and if so, would we see an effect if we released lay ministry into other age group specialisms, like the over-65s?)

2. The overall numbers here are smaller to start with, so change is generally more volatile, hence the bigger percentage swings compared to the adults.

3. This is an even more significant improvement on the 1990s, when only London saw a rise in numbers, and that was fairly small (4%). To put it in perspective, my own Diocese, Bath and Wells, which is 23rd in the table, would have been 5th in the 1990s table on these figures.

4. But we are seeing the virtual disappearance of the CofE presence among children in some places. Blackburn and Liverpool now have around 45% of the under-16s they had 20 years ago. Church schools do not compensate for this. If only they were as succesful at discipling children as the National Secular Society would have people believe they are.

If you're wondering where the 90s stats are from, the source is Bob Jacksons 'Hope for the Church' (synopsis by Alison Morgan here), which I sense has still not been fully read and digested by the powers that be.

My fear is that bishops/synod/etc. will look at these stats and say 'oh hurrah, things are getting better'. Well, they are, in the sense of a man who has one leg amputated one week and only has to have half a leg amputated the following week.

Some more commentary tomorrow, if I can restrain myself that long!

Monday, January 23, 2012

All Age Attendance 2001-2010, by Diocese

This is a bit of a test post, since I've had to use 4 different file types* to come up with the above table, starting with last weeks Church of England attendance stats for 2010 (pdf). I'm planning a post for Wednesday with the data for adult and childrens attendance separately, and perhaps a bit of commentary.

If there's any other amateur number crunchers out there, it would be helpful to combine these figures with Bob Jacksons for the 1990s to give the cumulative 1990-2010 figure. My sense is that a drip drip of yearly declines of 1-2% is never enough to distract General Synod from talking about sex for long enough to engage with mission (alert: tongue in cheek comment) (no, not tongue in cheek in that sense, please concentrate).

At least one Diocese has seen adult attendance shrink by 20% in both decades, a cumulative 36% drop. It would be bonkers if they were still trying to make things work in the same way as back in 1990, wouldn't it? ...........?

For info, this is based on the 'average weekly attendance' figure, which is the headline one the CofE likes to use. I'm sure that's nothing to do with the fact that it's higher than the other ones, and so keeps the headline figure above the 1m mark. There doesn't appear at first glance to be a massive difference in the outcomes by the different measures, but life's too short for me to do a thorough comparison by diocese!

(*Geek corner: pdf to Excel - almost by hand - for number crunching, Excel to powerpoint slide, powerpoint slide to Word, saved as picture from Word. There must be an easier way)

Sunday Times At War With Reality

Under the headline 'Bishops at War with Coalition', the Sunday Times led yesterday on an interview with Ian Duncan Smith, in which he takes issue with the CofE Bishops in the house of Lords for opposing certain benefit cuts.

IDS is quoted as saying: "The question I'd ask these bishops is, over all these years, why have they sat back and watched people being placed in houses they cannot afford? It's not a kindness.

"I would like to see their concerns about ordinary people, who are working hard, paying their tax and commuting long hours, who don't have as much money as they would otherwise because they're paying tax for all of this."

This is IDS politely but firmly asking the bishops to think again, and see the other side of the argument. But as far as I'm aware there are no ecclesiastical tanks in Downing Street, nor a concerted attempt to oust the government by the men in purple. This is part of ongoing concerns about the Welfare reform bill, shared by the Childrens Society, that the reforms will tip some children into poverty.
I agree that having families on benefits earning £35k a year or more when the average wage is far below that is absurd, and the idea of a cap makes sense, but if it needs some of the 'blunt instrument' edges taking off it, then the bishops intervention makes sense. What makes no sense at all is the Sunday Times standing on the sidelines shouting FIIIIIIGHT! like the journalistic equivalent of Harry Hill, or, more accurately, like kids in a playground. Get a grip please, I thought broadsheets were written for people who at least had an attention span, and the ability to follow an argument? Or did I miss something?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beer Festival in a Church

This from the Church Times

Clergy from Holy Trinity Hull, one of the largest churches in England, plan to hold monthly Sunday services in the pub The Mission; and, in April, the nave of Holy Trinity will become a bar for a three-day real-ale festival.

The pub is in a converted Seafarers’ Mission, and has a spire, stained-glass windows, and pulpit. It will be “a pub in a church and a church in a pub”, the Priest-in-Charge of the Grade I listed church, the Revd Dr Neal Barnes, said.

“It’s the idea of our Pioneering Minister, Matt Woodcock, who’s here to reimagine how the church should be in the 21st century. A lot of people have difficulty going into a church for some reason; so we thought: ‘Why not go into a place which is more familiar, where they are more at home?’ It will be a livelier, less formal service, and could include a band, videos, guest speakers, and refresh­ments — but no alcohol.”

I wonder why not? Apart from licensing laws, would the odd pint be a problem? After all, many medieval monasteries functioned primarily on beer, drunk supposedly because it was less likely to do you mischief than the questionable local water supply. Mind you, the result of a Europe of sozzled monks was the Reformation. And Leffe. So on balance all worth it.

Meanwhile there are plans for the beer festival:

Dr Barnes is preparing for the arrival of about 100 beers and ciders in his church for the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA’s) festival in the spring.

“We are primarily a place of wor­ship, looking to give people spiritual sustenance, but we feel very much that we should be blessing the community and opening up the church,” he said. “So we have got a succession of different events: a fashion show, a music festival, a Christmas fair, concerts, and exhibi­tions.

“They are all ways we can invite people into the building to interact with it — not just in a spiritual sense, but also in a cultural and community way. It will not clash with services, and there will still be spaces for people to come in for prayer and quiet.”

I'd hope there are also places for raucous singing and hugging of best mates. Wonder if Prezza will be pulling the first pint?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

50 worst countries to live as a Christian

Open Doors has published its updated 'World Watch List' of the 50 countries which have the worst record on persecution of Christians.

God and Politics in the UK looks at the £1.5bn in UK government aid given to several of these countries, and asks whether we're doing enough to put pressure on them to change.

Cranmer notes that all bar 1 of the top 10 are Islamic countries: While His Grace doesn’t wish to cause offence, he’d very much like to know what is to be made of the appalling statistic that 76 per cent of the world’s fiercest oppressors and persecutors of Christians are culturally, politically and religiously Islamic? Have they all misunderstood the Religion of Peace? Are they torturing and murdering their cousins – the People of the Book – in error and in contravention of quranic precepts? How could so many be so wrong in their interpretation of the sharia? Or misapplication of sharias? What does Allah think of it? Would Mohammed approve of the systematic persecution, imprisonment, torture and slaughter of those who follow the prophet Isa?

And must we remain silent about this? Must we take tea with the Taliban and sell arms to the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia out of tolerance and respect? While we happily take their oil money and permit them to build mosques and open their free schools, they murder our brothers and sisters in Christ – reserving the most appalling torture and suffering for those who have rejected Islam and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

Here's the list

1. North Korea
2. Afghanistan
3. Saudi Arabia
4. Somalia
5. Iran
6. Maldives
7. Uzbekistan
8. Yemen
9. Iraq
10. Pakistan
11. Eritrea
12. Laos
13. Northern Nigeria
14. Mauritania
15. Egypt
16. Sudan
17. Bhutan
18. Turkmenistan
19. Vietnam
20. Chechnya
21. China
22. Qatar
23. Algeria
24. Comoros
25. Azerbaijan
26. Libya
27. Oman
28. Brunei
29. Morocco
30. Kuwait
31. Turkey
32. India
33. Burma (Myanmar)
34. Tajikistan
35. Tunisia
36. Syria
37. United Arab Emirates
38. Ethiopia
39. Djibouti
40. Jordan
41. Cuba
42. Belarus
43. Indonesia
44. Palestinian Territories
45. Kazakhstan
46. Bahrain
47. Colombia
48. Kyrgyzstan
49. Bangladesh
50. Malaysia

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Latest CofE Attendance Stats (2010): the Snooze Button Buster Remix?

The latest batch of attendance stats from the CofE has come out today, and it's not for those of a nervous disposition. The trend of decline is still there, and showing no signs of bottoming out or reversing. The only glimmers of light are an upward blip in weddings (early impact of the Weddings Project and their excellent website?) and baptisms (which are replacing weddings as the first public rite of passage for a new family, possibly because they don't cost so much).

Press release
stats on Fresh Expressions nicely presented in a series of powerpoints. There's estimated to be 30,000 people who are part of a Fresh Expression, but who wouldn't otherwise be part of a church.

As and when I get time, there'll be an update here of the Diocesan 'league table'. Only 10 dioceses have shown an increase in adult attendance in 2008-10, and the overall picture is pretty grim. From 2000-2010 CofE adult attendance on Sundays fell 11%, that of children and young people fell by 23%. The only consolation is that this is marginally better than the 1990s (14%/28%)

And it's not that people are moving to midweek or monthly patterns of attending either: 'weekly' attendance is dropping faster than Sunday attendance for adults (-13%) and monthly attendance is -11% over the decade. So whichever way you look at the CofE cookie, it's crumbling.

Public Memo to General Synod: how about handing over one of the 4 allocated slots for debating women bishops to debating this stuff? After all, what would be the point of a perfect gender split in the house of bishops if the only thing they have left to debate is who will switch the lights off? At what point is this a wake up call, or will we just hit the the 'snooze' button again until next years stats?

Update: a very positive take on the stats at the Guardian, reflecting the good work done on the Weddings Project.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shock Decline in Liturgists Spells Disaster for Church of England

An email today from LinkedIn, the social networking site, reports a 3% decline in those who have the 'skill' of 'Liturgy'. There are various explanations:

1. At the cutting edge of social networking and new media, liturgists are deserting LinkedIn for sites that are more hip and with it.

2. Through the regular practice of liturgical prayer, liturgists are becoming more humble, and so less likely to report that they have a particular 'skill'.

3. 3% of those who reported they have the skill of 'liturgy' have been rumbled by other LinkedIn users who have been to one of their services.

4. Bosco Peters campaign for world domination.

5. The staff of St. Pauls removing themselves en masse from LinkedIn to avoid getting rude messages from Occupy London Stock Exchange (now rebranded to Occupy London in 2011's Golden Globe winner for mission creep).

6. The staff of St. Pauls removing themselves en masse from LinkedIn so that people couldn't see how many contacts they had in Finance, Shares, Stock Market, Hedge Funds, Gambling With Other People's Money,  and Ha Ha Ha You Should See My Bonus.

7. 3% of Liturgists being removed from claiming Liturgy as a skill following reassesment by a government expert.

8. 3% of Liturgists being removed from active ministry following capability proceedings by CofE parishioners, who realised that simply being a vicar doesn't make you a gifted worship leader.

9. A new year purge of web use by people like me who joined LinkedIn because everyone was talking about it, still haven't worked out how to use it, and needed to cut down on the number of email updates they were getting.

10. A rise in the unemployment rate among liturgists, mirroring that in the general population, without the private sector having created enough liturgical posts to offset austerity measures in public worship.

11. The entire newsroom of a UK broadsheet adding 'Liturgy' as a skill, then removing it, thus creating an artificial fall in the headline numbers, and the opportunity for a 'Church in terminal decline' headline. Like the one above - made you look, didn't it?

12. The death metal group Liturgy calling it a day in July 2011.

13. LinkedIn selling 3% of its database to Mark Driscoll, in return for information about the number of UK based bible teachers, and how many connections they have.

14. A global resurgence in etymology: since 'liturgy' means 'work of the people', it's actually nonsense to put it down as a skill.

15. Having made contact with fellow liturgists, a growing number of liturgists realise that there are more fun/interesting/(fill in your own) people to be connected with on LinkedIn, so they delete it as a skill to avoid more long debates about use of the Book of Common Prayer in 1880s East Anglia.

16. Archdruid Eileen and her multiple alter egos have left LinkedIn.

I reckon it's probably an equal number of each. By the way, if you are one of the 2,627 skilled liturgists on LinkedIn, please do add a comment. As long as it's not about the BCP. As opposed to the other BCP.

Monday, January 16, 2012

More Details of the Church of England Church Growth project

I posted a few days ago that the CofE was looking to research the causes of church growth, in a project which seemed to signal that, at last, the CofE was taking this subject seriously. Start the Week has published more details, including the remit of the research, and who to contact.

Here's an excerpt:

The Church of England invites interested parties to tender for an exciting research programme investigating factors relating to spiritual and in particular numerical church growth within the Church of England. This 18 month programme will involve:

•Preparation of the church’s attendance and other data and analysis of these existing data sets to test hypotheses around factors relating to church growth.

•In depth profiling of a sample of growing churches (and a randomly selected control group).

•A study of factors relating to growth at cathedrals, church planting and the impact of amalgamation of benefices and the use of different patterns of deployment of ministers.

or use the comments thread if you think you know the answers to these questions already!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Respectable is the Salvation Army?

A film has been made about riots in Eastbourne back in the early days of the Salvation Army. This is a bit of recent history I didn't know much about, though I had heard of the 'skeleton army' formed to disrupt Salvation Army rallies:

Music was initially used to drown out the voices of hecklers, but was soon seen as a more effective way of carrying the Christian message.

But by the early 1890s persecution of the Salvation Army in various towns had increased so much that a bylaw was passed in Eastbourne making it illegal for the army to march and perform its music.

The Salvationists defied the ban, much to the anger of locals who formed a "skeleton army" with the aim of attacking them and destroying their instruments.

Many people were injured and many Salvationists were jailed in Lewes Prison for their defiance.

From the article, it sounds like rioting was just as much a spectator sport then as it is now, except now we can let the media film them for us. Might be a good discussion starter on what constitutes persecution, when it's right to make a stand, and what we do to bring it on ourselves in the first place.

And how things have changed: this Christmas the Salvation Army Carols at our local Octagon Centre sold out, whilst only about 1/3 of the tickets were sold for Richard Dawkins visit. I wonder if the early Salvationists would be pleased that their successors are seen as respectable, with people flocking to hear the music, rather than to see the confrontation. Though we should be thankful the policing costs are lower.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Mission Priest Job in Yeovil


St Michael and All Angels Church, Yeovil


We are seeking a Priest firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition with a heart for mission. The Post will be divided between parish and mission work.

Parish (50%): Worship, occasional offices, pastoral work and working with the incumbent, guiding the existing congregation in a process of change and spiritual renewal: The Altar/The Confessional/The Family Home.

Mission (50 %): Evangelism and outreach principally aimed at those in the 16-30age group, developing "fresh expressions of church" from an Anglo Catholic perspective: The Street/The Pub/The Community.

More details here on the Church Times website. I know a few things about the post, but anyone who's interested should follow up the contacts there. It's a very exciting new post, in a challenging area.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Keep Calm and Be Forgiven

I was reminded earlier this week of what a superb gospel message the Queen gave on Christmas day. Thanks to James Doc for this graphic, via the very promising God and Politics blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Queens Diamond Jubilee: Say Thankyou and Tuck In

A couple of simple, but very good ideas for local churches to mark the Diamond Jubilee later this year:

The Big Jubilee Thankyou - neat twist on the book of condolence concept, but instead you have churches and cathedrals open all round the country with a thankyou letter to the Queen, and the chance for people to add their own words.

The Big Jubilee Lunch Sunday 3rd June, during the Jubilee weekend. Basically a big community party with lots of food. Around 2m went to a Big Lunch last year, and in the light of what I posted yesterday about community and belonging, it sounds like an ideal way to bring a neighbourhood together.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is the Church of England finally getting serious about growth?

This advert has just gone up on the Church of England website

Researchers are being sought for an 18 month project which will aim to provide a comprehensive study of the causes of church growth.

The research programme from the Church of England being advertised this week contains three main strands:

Extensive analysis of existing data to test hypotheses around factors relating to church growth.

In depth profiling of a sample of growing churches (from a wide variety of contexts and traditions) and a randomly selected control group. It will involve a comprehensive investigation into the wide range of factors which might encourage or prevent growth.

A study of factors relating to growth at cathedrals, church planting and the impact of amalgamation of benefices and the use of different patterns of deployment of ministers.

The focus for the new research project is based on the Archbishop of Canterbury's strategic goals to the new General Synod in 2010 - to take forward spiritual and numerical growth in the CofE for all communities.

The new research programme is part of a wider area of work around research and development (2011-13).

That sound you can hear is me picking myself up off the floor.

In part this reflects what's happening on the ground - there's an excellent Diocesan strategy in Sheffield, based around church growth, and initiated by Steve Croft. But it's great to see the beginnings of national leadership on this issue.

....though I'm still not sure if the above is an advert or a press release. It's not clear who any potential researchers are supposed to contact, if they're interested in being part of the project.

When I Needed a Neighbour, You Were There, It's Just That Up To That Point We'd Never Spoken

The Observer published a major study of identity, belonging and UK attitudes at the weekend, a couple of the charts struck me:

Whether British citizens are born here or not, their weakest sense of belonging is with their local neighbourhood. Around 40% of the people who live around you don't feel like they belong.

For nearly 20% of people, they never feel part of their neighbourhood, and for another 18% there is at least 3 years of loneliness and alienation to get through before they feel that they belong and are accepted.

Here is a twofold challenge for the church, particularly the Anglican church, which works very much on neighbourhoods and the local setting:

 - If you base your identity, appeal and mission on being 'the parish church for x', and then find that 20% of your parish residents don't feel like they belong to x, and a further 20% have, at best, a very weak sense of belonging, what does that do to your mission and ministry in this area?

 (And on a wider front, if the CofE is based on the parish system, in turn premised on a sense of local belonging, and that sense of belonging is missing or tenuous for 40% of the population, then what does that say about the parish system?)

 - How can the local church enable people to feel a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood?

According to the data, (p104) the groups which feel least sense of belonging to their neighbourhood are 25-35s, working people (as opposed to non-working) and white people. The sample sizes start to get a bit small at this level, but this raises a separate question. Does a group who wants to build community (church or otherwise) try to get these groups interested in their neighbourhood, or would they naturally find a sense of community somewhere else (e.g. workplace, club scene, sport)?

not that the church should be organised based on the latest opinion poll, but then neither should it be organised as if it operates in a historical and cultural vacuum. Plenty of chewy questions here...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How To Welcome New People

I guess this would apply to any group, not just churches.

This video is brought to you by the Ministry of the So Blindingly Obvious It Shouldn't Need Saying But Unfortunately It Does, via Church Sofa.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Rev: Mystery of Greenbelt Footage Solved

Having seen Tom Hollander and the Rev. crew filming around the Greenbelt festival site last  year, many were expecting footage to crop up in the latest series. But where was it? In the end Rev. Adam Smallbone and Alex (Mrs Vicarage) camped in their front room. Olivia Colman reveals why:

The popularity of the BBC's Rev, in which she plays the wife of Tom Hollander's vicar, Adam Smallbone, has brought a new breed of fan. "We tried to do some guerrilla filming for the series at the Greenbelt religious festival, but in the end we couldn't use any of the footage because it was like being the Stones. We were mobbed by people saying they loved what we had done with Rev. They are normal human beings, after all, and fed up with constantly being portrayed as starchy."

Colman adds that, while she is not a believer, she is happy that the show is good PR for the church. "Adam Smallbone is an everyman: good, kind, worried and troubled. I have enormous admiration for people that do believe. Maybe one day I will take that step."

from an interview in the Observer yesterday.

Lesson: if you see a film crew at your favourite Christian festival, avoid them, otherwise you'll be costing someone some valuable free publicity. Calm down everyone, it's only a TV programme.

Update: I'm now wondering why, after just a few hours, this post has already had more hits than the combined totals of last weeks pieces on depression, pro-euthanasia bias at the BBC, and persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. Isn't Greenbelt all about a social conscience? (ducks)

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Depression is not a Choice

This is all over Facebook at the moment

People who think Depression is a choice, take a second to think. How would it feel to think that time is just passing by with no real reason? To feel so alone even when you are sitting in a room full of people? To have to put on a face and hide your feelings because in your mind you think no one would care anyway? To lose friends because you can’t find the strength to go out and you can’t physical......ly be ‘happy’? To cry yourself to sleep, hoping you wouldn’t wake up then when you do you are exhausted from the night before, and it all starts again? You try to hide your feelings hoping no one would notice. Now tell me why someone would choose that? Depression is an illness, not a choice.

Repost this, if you have, or you know someone who suffers from depression
As regular readers will know, this is a topic I keep coming back to. There's a lot of web campaigns and material aimed at ending stigma around mental health and depression, and rightly so.
But I have a question: how much of a stigma is there? When you're low, it can be easy to imagine that nobody will understand if you tell them about it, or that people will judge you for being depresssed or mentally ill. There's a survey here which reports both on people's experience of stigma, and their fear of it (the two are different), showing that both have a significant impact on sufferers.

See also these links at echurch blog

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Wikio/Ebuzzing top blogs for January

The latest list is just out, here's the top 5

1. Islam in Europe
2. Echurch blog
3. The Freethinker
4. Anglican Mainstream (not a blog)
5. Thinking Anglicans

and for something a bit different, numbers 20-30.
20 Richard Littledale's Preachers A-Z
21 Tall Skinny Kiwi
22 Peter Ould
23 Krish Kandiah
24 Dreaming Beneath the Spires
25 Elizaphanian (Sam Norton)
26 Maggi Dawn
27 Adrian Warnock
28 Catholic and Loving It!
29 pmphillips posterous
30 Charlie Peer

Rankings are for blogs registered with Ebuzzing (or Wikio as it used to be called), and are based on links from other registered blogs, and retweets. It's not an exhaustive list, but it'll do.

2 other blogs which have a strong 'religion' content but aren't in this subgroup are Cranmer (who would be runaway no. 1) and Heresy Corner, who would slot in at no 8 just above Peter Saunders 'Christian Medical Comment blog - probably one that will rise next month with all the euthanasia debate earlier this week.

Sadly with Lesley having ceased blogging, her amazing graphs of female bloggers in this list are no more. Unless someone else picks up the baton on that one...

Friday, January 06, 2012

Christians: The Arab Winter

Last week Tim Montgomery challenged the UK government to do more to stick up for Christians persecuted by Muslims, and listed just a few of the atrocities recently perpetrated to the glory of Allah

Islamic persecution of Christians is a massive global issue. It has grown with instability across the Middle East. The Middle East Forum's record of violence and intolerance in November alone includes:

  •  In Nigeria, "Islamic militants shouting "Allahu Akbar" carried out coordinated attacks on churches and police stations, including opening fire on a congregation of "mostly women and children," killing dozens";
  • Also in Nigeria, "the Muslim militant group, Boko Haram, executed two children of an ex-terrorist and "murderer" because he converted to Christianity";
  • In Ethiopia more than 500 Muslim students assisted by Muslim police burned down a church, while screaming "Allahu Akbar";
  • In Algeria five Christians were jailed for "worshiping in an unregistered location";
  • In Kashmir "Muslim police arrested and beat seven converts from Islam in an attempt to obtain a confession against the priest who baptized them";
  • In Kenya, "suspected Islamic extremists, apparently angered at the use of wine during communion—Islam forbids alcohol—threw a grenade near a church compound killing two, including an 8-year-old girl, and critically wounding three others"...

 It follows a piece by Fraser Nelson just before Christmas on the same topic. It's good to see a few of the UK commentariat weighing in on this one, something which Christian commentators have been noting for years (or, in the case of Andrew White in Baghdad, experiencing at first hand).
There are some exceptions - the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has announced it will protect Christians as they celebrate Christmas this weekend (the Coptic calendar has Christmas on 7th Jan). It would be fantastic if the Arab spring yielded something better than the sickening violence repeatedly seen against Christians in Pakistan, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia etc. But how likely?
There is a chance, with the Arab spring, for Muslim majority states to do something different. It would be a grim indictment of the new governments if history showed that Saddam, Gaddafi and Mubarak had a better record on religious tolerance than their successors. At the moment it could go either way.

I'm currently reading Tony Blairs 'A Journey', very much with my spin detectors on. He writes at length about Iraq, and argues that much of the violence and death there post-Saddam has been the result of outside elements who don't want to see a stable, prosperous democracy emerge in the Arab world, as it will demonstrate what is possible when you oust a dictator and edge 'West'. He particularly fingers Iran and al Quaeda, and the argument makes a lot of sense, espeically if you look at what's happening in Nigeria at the moment. I don't know enough about what's happening in North Africa to know if the same groups are using the uprisings as cover for anti-Christian violence, or whether the removal of represseive state control is merely allowing 'normal' prejudice and hatred to come to the surface. Either way, there's a lot to pray about, and a lot more our government could do in word and deed to nudge this issue up the agenda.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

BBC campaign for assisted suicide continues

Update: looks like the coverage on the radio was even worse.

Click onto the main BBC page at the time of writing and ' 'Strong case' for assisted dying' is the main headline alongside the continuing story of the Stephen Lawrence investigation. Thinking that maybe this was some key report by the BMA, I clicked through to the story. It's no such thing.

The story itself is about a report by a 'group of experts'. It turns out the 'group of experts' are a group of supporters of euthanasia, gathered together by Charlie Falconer (who's twice tried to get assisted dying put into law via the Lords) and funded by Terry Pratchett, a noted public supporter of assisted dying.

This is the equivalent of the church of England appointing a group of bishops to investigate whether praying is a good thing, and reporting back that, well I never, actually it is.

There's a fairly direct statement already up on the Church of England website in response to the report, it begins:
The 'Commission on Assisted Dying' is a self-appointed group that excluded from its membership anyone with a known objection to assisted suicide. In contrast, the majority of commissioners, appointed personally by Lord Falconer, were already in favour of changing the law to legitimise assisted suicide. Lord Falconer has, himself, been a leading proponent for legitimising assisted suicide, for some years.

Rarely is the CofE press machine so quickly out of the blocks. The main issue is whether a system of safeguards can be created which enables assisted suicide for those who want it, whilst protecting those who might be vulnerable. Buried away in the BBC report is a statement from the BMA, which doesn't support assisted suicide. One might have thought their opinions would be nearer the top of the page.

Which brings me back to the BBC. They've been very careful not to step over the line on this one, but here we have a public service broadcaster, financed by the license payer. Whenever there has been an attempt in Parliament to get pro-euthanasia legislation passed, the BBC has put up a cluster of sympathetic programmes. The most recent, and most blatant, was the Terry Pratchett letter, chaired by the Dimbleby dynasty, to an audience of the great and the good. No questions, no debate, no alternative view put forward. And with the arguments being presented very personally, that makes it very hard to dispute them without looking heartless and mean. But there's no question that the BBC has an agenda here, and it's systematic enough to reach the headline writers for their web page.

Other links
Piece from the Independent earlier this week, in favour of the proposals, and focusing on Lord Blair, former police chief and commission member. A Carers Journey picks out some of the key bits.
Care not Killing on the makeup of the commission, and response to the report.
Same Difference blogging on disability.
Glyn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire
Digital Nun on what this, and the Lawrence trial, say about our attitudes to life and death.
Cranmer, writing yesterday.
Vic the Vicar - very good and thoughtful piece.
Nick Baines

The Benefits of Meditation

BBC report here on 'mindfulness meditation' and scientific research into the parts of the brain affected by it. Results include a reduction in pain, and a reduction in activity in the 'ego' part of the brain.

I keep coming across 'mindfulness' in literature on anxiety, OCD and mental health, as a non-chemical strategy for calming your thoughts and improving mental health. I'm still not sure if it's just the 'latest thing', or a proven and effective practice. Having said that, it shouldn't be surprising that an ancient spiritual practice turns out to be good for us.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Been to any good funerals lately?

It's good to hear that the CofE is extending the work it did on the Weddings Project to baptisms and funerals. There's a (false) assumption that, just because vicars do a lot of baptisms, weddings and funerals, that we're good at them. Now the CofE is to find out what people really value (or otherwise) in the way we handle these important and sensitive times in people's lives.

The Independent has a slightly more jaundiced take on it. Yes of course, if the church starts doing things better, one side-effect may be an increase in demand, but I hope that's not the main reason. With around 140,000 baptisms and 175,000 funerals done by churches each year, it makes perfect sense to look at how we can do better, and identify 'best practice'.

It would also be fab if some decent new baptism preparation resources emerged from this. There is precious little out there at the moment - I've long since given up on the CPAS baptism video, and am still experimenting with different approaches to help people talk about what baptism means to them and what kind of faith they have.

Having a third party gather feedback will be invaluable - I try to find out how people engaged (or otherwise) with the services I lead, but to be honest you're not going to tell the vicar to his face that he was awful are you? Are you?

PS in respect of the title, I think you can have a 'good funeral', and that's its possible to die well and grieve well. All of it is painful, but it can be an occasion for grace too. I'm not sure where exiting the crematorium to Tom Jones singing 'Sex Bomb' falls in all of that, but I certainly remember it...