Saturday, July 28, 2012


Time for a summer break, I shall be keeping my opinions to myself until September. That's the theory, anyway.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lecture Church, Seminar Church, Tutorial Church

Just finished reading George Lings latest 'Encounters on the Edge' about Crossnet in Bristol. These are always worth reading, and there was one section which particularly leapt out at me. Here's an abridged version of what Lings says:

One source of education is the lecture, a presentation made by an expert in their field, disclosing prior assumes that giving information, but a motivated and able teacher, leads to positive change in students. There are obvious links to the sermon and the role of preaching. The results, in both contexts, seem to me to be extraordinarily variable. A few are deeply inspired and changed, some love the system while others merely endure it, and some even skip it. However in the church there is litle structured equivalent to the required reading that supports the lecture method, much less producing an essay demonstrating learning and engagement with the topic.

I am then not suprised that lecture church may breed preachers, but it is long doubted that by itself if produces disciples

In recent years, this has been supplemented by seminar church. At worst these are simply groups of passive participants who hear more lectures, perhaps further enlivened with visuals or story. At best this includes dialogue, group work, Q&A with the seminar leader etc. Alpha and many other process evangelism courses are positive examples of this.

Once again, weaknesses can include almost total lack of prior preparation by the 'students'. Information can trump transformation.

The pattern in Crossnet is most akin to tutorial church. In Oxbridge this system requires prior engagement by the student, followed by presentation of that learning. which is then dissected and evaluated by the tutor on a 1 to 1 basis. There is nowhere to hide. It is the most labour intensive and searching of the threee methods and (deemed to) produce higher quality results. It is not possible to do that with very large numbers. Itis a trajectory of high investment in the small because of its power to transform and to send out.

Thought: how many of us 'preachers' would like to get away from 'lecture church' models, but believe that either our congregations, our inherited practices, or our diaries won't let us?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer Holiday Music

I've no idea who these people on the video are, but thought I'd share one of my favourite songs, enjoy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

4 Goes Mad

TV scheduling dilemma of the week is the clash of the final episode of the glorious TwentyTwelve with one of this weeks '4 Goes Mad' documentaries on OCD. Channel 4 have a series of programmes planned at 10pm on weekday evenings on mental health and the stigma associated with it. This just about atones for inflicting Big Brother on the world. Almost. Worth watching, even if it's something you've never experienced, as 1 in 4 of the rest of us have.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Custody Chaplains

A town centre chaplaincy in Weston Super Mare has been invited into a new venture by the local police:

The latest step has come at the request of the Police for us to provide a team of ChAt (Chaplaincy About Town) Custody Chaplains to visit any detainee at Weston-super-Mare Police Station. After months of planning and training the team, which includes both ChAt Chaplains and Street Pastors, the project was finally operational on 16 April 2012. We went to Weston Police Station for the launch at 8.00am. Before 8.30am the first detainee asked for support and I was in a cell! Less than an hour later, the detainee, who had been held for most of the night, was focussed and calm, had a plan to seek professional help on returning home, and was in a much better state of mind for the police interview.  

We have these encounters at a crucial point in the life of an offender, a time of regret, remorse, shame, and a time of longing to make life-changing decisions. Through good listening and signposting the person is empowered, lives can be transformed and new beginnings made.

We come to every listening session with faith that three people are present – the speaker, the listener and God; it is His presence and peace in the session which makes these encounters different from those with other professional aid agencies.

With the Custody Chaplains as a pilot scheme in Weston-super-Mare, the Police hope it may be possible for the service to be offered in other custody suites in the Avon and Somerset area in due course.

Read the rest of it here
, as told by Lead Chaplain Gill Putnam. Weston was the first place in Somerset to pilot Street Pastors, and it's good to see them pioneering this. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Church in Wales: radical overhaul on the cards?

The Church in Wales has just published a radical report on how to restructure for the future. The BBC report on it has this helpful summary:

The review's findings have been compiled in a report which makes 50 recommendations, including:
  • Replacing parishes with larger "ministry areas", each containing around 25 parishes, which would mirror the catchment areas of secondary schools, where possible. They would be served by a team of clergy and lay people. The report said that small parishes are no longer sustainable, with some priests having to serve as many as 10 parishes, "with all the extra attendance at meetings and administration this involves".
  • Training lay people to play a greater part in church leadership.
  • Engaging more with young people by working more closely with all schools, not just church schools, along with using social media and training people in the church who can relate to them
  • Developing new forms of worship to reach out to those unfamiliar with church services, such as holding them at times other than Sunday morning, perhaps in other buildings like schools.
  • Using some church buildings for use by the whole community, while possibly closing others that are not needed.
  • Selling parsonages so that clergy can buy or rent their own homes.

The review group included a former CofE bishop, and entrepreneur and author Charles Handy. The press release from the Church in Wales is here, and gives more background and details on the report.
Thanks to a link from Thinking Anglicans, my post on restructuring the CofE 'The Leading of the 5,000', this week became the most viewed and most commented on piece I've ever blogged.  It's good to see that a similiar denomination is having these thoughts before it's too late to do anything about them. Are you watching CofE?
Sermon prep and other commitments mean I won't be reading and blogging in depth about the Wales report for a few days, but if you want to beat me to it, please go ahead, it'll save me a few hours work!!
Archdruid Eileen has further, um, 'comment'.

South Somerset Local Plan - last chance to comment

In local news....

The nearly final version of the South Somerset Local Plan for 2006-28 is up for consultation, before it goes to a government planning inspector (this autumn) then comes back for approval in 2013.

You can comment online here, either through printing out a comments form or going to the plan itself and commenting on the relevant section. Comments close on August 10th,

A few thoughts from me:
 - Each version of the plan has become successively vaguer about community provision in new housing areas. This one commits to schools, health centre, employment land and green space in a large 'Urban Extension' (2500 homes) but leaves everything else up for grabs. There are phrases about what the council  'considers necessary' (Policy SS6), which is a blank cheque to planners.

 - 234 homes are planned to be crammed in to existing Key Sites (Wyndham Park, Lufton and Brimsmore). There are already 150 extra homes planned on Wyndham Park on top of the initial 700, and I must admit it's hard to see how they could be more densely packed in than they already are. But is the council getting any more money out of developers for these? It doesn't look like it.

 - The 'Sustainable Urban Extension' (SUE) is billed to start in 2016, or 2017, depending which bit of the plan you read. With 2 estates 1/3 the size of this still waiting to begin 15 years after they were first mooted, this just seems unrealistic.

 - Along with proposals for the SUE is an 'Infrastructure Delivery Plan'. Pages 28-9 recommend setting aside some land for 'faith infrastructure' within the new estate. That's encouraging, but nearly everything in the report is conditional on finding the money.

 - One of the more striking stats in the report is that the ratio of house prices to incomes rose from 3.86 in 2000 to 10 in 2006, and has only drifted down slightly since then. Now that the property is back to being a home, rather than an investment, I can't see how the housing market will recover until the ratio is significantly lower than it is at present. Which will be painful for anyone in the housing market already.

 - Demographically, South Somerset is a pretty good place to live: lower than the national average on crime, unemployment, children at risk, and life expectancy 4 years higher than the national average. We have less deprivation, and more retired people than the average: one challenge for the plan is to keep attracting younger people to the area through creating jobs, to keep the population in balance as it steadily ages.

 - The first of the councils 9 'Strategic Objectives' is Safe, resilient, socially just, inclusive and sustainable communities providing employment, homes and services in close proximity with strong networks and confident people sharing respect for each other. Strip away the jargon and hopefully that's something we can all support.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Did the Helicopter Say to the Vicar?

A group of vicars had the opportunity to tour Westland, our local helicopter firm in Yeovil. It lies behind security guards and gates and is a bit of a mystery to folk like me who've never been inside. It wasn't fascinating. We were taken round a couple of hangars, one an assembly line for the Lynx Wildcat, one effectively a giant garage for refits and repairs to various Sea Kings and other aircraft.

We learnt a lot, most startling to me was that some of the choppers have been in service for 40+ years, and are still going strong. To keep them airworthy, they're regularly brought in for a refit, keeping the chassis but updating the equipment, adding on a radar here, damping the vibrations there, or completely gutting and refitting the craft. A group of helicopters for Afghanistan had been modified so that they could cope with both heat and altitude.

There are parallels to what we're doing in the church. We have the chassis: the established CofE, parish system, ancient buildings, parish boundaries - things which have been around for ages, and would take a long time to redesign (as does a helicopter). So the best thing to do often is to refit the chassis, either by adding on a few things (new styles of music, new facilities, stronger lay ministry), or by gutting and rebuilding all the internals whilst keeping the outer forms the same.

There is always the question, at what point does a longserving chassis no longer serve the purpose it was designed for, or take too long to repair? Some of the newer craft we saw had been designed to take fewer man-hours to assemble, and to have fewer joints and places where rust, cracks and decay could set in. There comes a point where you spend more time fixing the thing than using it. There's a time either write off or pension off models which have had their day, and develop something new.

The overall vision remains the same: to provide something that will carry people through the air, for transport, attack, defence, rescue etc., without needing a runway (I'm sure there's a snappier way of putting this at Westlands itself). This is the end, and the helicopter is the means. Trouble comes when we become so sentimental about, or attached to, the means, that we are no longer achieving the end.

The other thing they were exploring was creating a suite of helicopters which were easy for pilots to fly: once they had learned to fly one, they could fly others in the same group, rather than having to retrain in a major way. There's another parable here about creating forms of church which don't require a selection conference, 2-3 years in theological training and 3 years as a curate before you can run them.....

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stephen Covey

Having cited Stephen Covey in a sermon on Sunday, I was sad to hear (via Twitter, sign of the times), that he has just died, aged 79. If I had to list the books which have influenced me the most, his '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' would be pretty near the top.

Here are the habits (note, reading this doesn't mean you've read the book! A bit more exposition here)

1. Be Proactive (take responsibility for yourself, your life, your direction)
2. Begin with the end in mind (work out what's most important to you)
3. Put First things First (see 2, then make it a priority)
4. Think Win-Win (prioritise relationships, success by co-operation, not competition)
5. Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood (empathy, listening, the more you appreciate people, the more they appreciate you)
6. Synergise (build on strengths, work in a team)
7. Sharpen the Saw (take time out for personal renewal, mind body and spirit)

There are several bits of the book that have really helped me:

Quadrant 2: everything that needs to be done is either urgent or non-urgent, important or not important. So everything falls into 1 of 4 categorites:
Urgent and important:  e.g. meeting my boss in 5 minutes
Non-Urgent and Important: e.g. my marriage
Urgent and not important: e.g. most email
Non-Urgent and Not important. watching TV

Covey puts these into a matrix of 4 boxes, and argues that Quadrant 2, the important but non-urgent, is what is most easily neglected. This includes things like relationships, skill development, prayer, rest, and most of the things that actually make us function well and grow. Without setting aside time for these things (and being accountable for that), they're easy to neglect. I've found this really helpful and try to book into the diary the people and things which, left from one day to the next, won't get the attention they deserve.

Circle of Concern: we have a 'circle of influence'  - you're in it now, because you're reading this. And a 'circle of concern', which is the things we're aware of,  and concerned about. The problem is that my circle of concern is bigger than my circle of influence. I'm concerned about the state of the UK, but I can only influence a very small part of it. Identifying and focusing on my circle of concern means I end up doing what I can do, rather than fretting about what I can't.

Sharpening the Saw: a woodcutter who stops to sharpen his saw every so often is more effective than one who just keeps hacking away. Plodding on wearily is less effective than being fit, fully rested, mentally alert and well informed etc. This is all 'work smarter, not harder' stuff, but also affects the quality of my family life, relationships, personal mood etc. And in terms of discipleship I'm going to follow Jesus better if I'm sharp than if I'm blunt. So I try to read, stay fit, take time out on retreat, be accountable to others etc. Emphasis on the word 'try' !!

update: how could I forget Putting the Big Rocks in First.......?

The best way to honour his memory? Throw away your 50 Shades of Grey and read 7 Habits instead.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Onward Chris Froome Soldiers

Seeing two British riders leading the Tour de France at the moment is superb. But even more amazing is the job being done by one of them, Chris Froome.

Although Bradley Wiggins is leading, Froome is just 2 minutes behind, and has done most of the donkey work, dragging Wiggins up mountain after mountain in his slipstream. It's all part of a superbly worked out strategy which Sky are delivering to perfection. It's also clear that (so far) Froome is just as strong a challenger as Wiggins.

But Froome is playing the John the Baptist role: 'he must increase, I must decrease', sacrificing his own chance of glory so that Wiggins can win. A few days ago Froome sprinted clear, realised Wiggins hadn't followed, and dropped back again to see him to the line. It's not only a wonderful exhibition of riding talent, it's a wonderful display of character too. Without Froome, and the rest of his team, it would be hard for Wiggins to contemplate winning the Tour. Even with his massive talent, he needs the team around him to get him through.

Which has set me wondering how much better we do as Christians with a Chris Froome, someone to drag us over the mountains, to keep our pace steady, to keep us in the race, when left to our own devices we'd level out or drop out. Time after time in the Bible, it's when left to their own devices that leaders fall apart: Elijah on his own against the King, Saul without Samuel to guide him, King David separated from his armies and advisors, Peter on his own in the high priests courtyard. By contrast, Paul has Barnabas, Timothy has Paul, Jesus surrounds himself with a team and with people who will pray for him (however badly).

Having just joined a gym in one of my repeated attempts to get fit, I know I'll get more out of it with a training partner, with someone to drag me down there when I don't feel like it, to hold me accountable. If it's up to me, its easy not to bother, to find something else to do, to let entropy set in. That's what happened on every previous occasion anyway. We can motivate and encourage and inspire people as much as we like through our sermons, but that will just get people out of the saddle for a few moments. In the long race, every disciple needs a Chris Froome. And we need to play that role for others: 'it takes more grace than I can tell to play the second fiddle well', but investing in someone else's greatness of character is a vital calling.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Invisible Vicars

This post about the future of the CofE has attracted several fascinating comments, and getting on for 2000 readers so far. Most are worth highlighting in a post by themselves, but here's just one:

One further observation from someone who has been a priest in chaplaincies/cathedrals/outside the parochial system nearly all his ministry- Many clergy seem to be disregarded when they leave those bits the hierarchy can manage (the parochial system). This can be to the detriment of both them and the church- especially as many minister (e.g. in armed forces or education) disproportionately to those outside the church.

Also, I suspect the numbers of clergy that are simply not accounted for is greater than many might imagine. Has anyone ever studied what I think in other professions is called "wastage"? Have we statistics? I was shocked to discover how many I was at theological college had quietly drifted out of ministry altogether.
Might many of the clergy at the edges have something special to contribute to the shrinking core, if ever they chose to, or were asked to?

There are some stats in the official figures about clergy leaving and rejoining parochial ministry, but (as with many of the stats) there's no analysis or asking of questions. It's very easily to quietly drop out of the CofE, as many former members and former clergy could tell you. And clergy in chaplaincy roles are mostly invisible to parishes unless there's concerted effort on both sides to integrate.

Who is looking out for the invisible clergy, or (as I suspect), do we all just have to look out for ourselves? And before I get too accusatory, I need to remember that there are former members of my church here in Yeovil who are still waiting to hear from the vicar....

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Shades of Tory

After quietly sending 'we're all in this together' to the political landfill, secret memos reveal Government attempts to use another popular phrase to boost popularity. Variations currently being explored are:

50 Shades of Orange: a vulnerable political party signs up to a 5 year agreement which involves regular public humiliation over electoral reform, and being put in a series of awkward positions.

47 Shades of Grey: With the combined effects of austerity and efficiency savings, this government has been able to reduce overall greyness. Under Labour, there would have been 55 shades, and 11 would have been borrowed. In the long term we hope to reduce to 1 shade of grey, and allow the private sector to provide the rest.

50 Shards of Gary: Pop singers begin to explode as a tax avoidance scheme goes horribly wrong.

40 Shares of Gross: only available to those earning over £100,000 a year.

50 Grades of Shay: Goalkeeper Shay Given is recruited by Michael Gove to demonstrate that GCSEs are too easy. Given will attempt to take, and pass, all 50 subjects currently available in a period of 10 weeks.

50 Shades of Puce: Conservative backbenchers during the debate on Lords reform.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What the Bishops Did Next

Just had this from our Diocese:


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Dear Colleagues,

You will have heard through the media of the vote at General Synod in York on Monday morning. I wanted to be in touch as quickly as possible to let you know how things stand.

In May, the House of Bishops chose to make two amendments to the legislation that 42 Diocesan Synods had supported. General Synod has decided, after considerable debate, to refer one of the amendments back to the Bishops. It is, in the jargon, para 5(1)(c), which puts into the Measure specific mention of how arrangements can be made for a parish to request alternative Episcopal oversight. It had attracted considerable criticism from supporters of women in the episcopate, although it had been seen as giving some comfort to those opposed, whether traditionalist catholics or conservative evangelicals.

The Press will probably treat this as a fudge and signs of indecision. Having sat through the debates, I think that is unfair. It was quite clear that everyone - including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Steering Committee - recognised that the amendment had not been subject to sufficient scrutiny and gave rise to serious concerns. There was no prospect that the Measure, as amended, would get the necessary 2/3 majorities in each of the three Houses of Synod as it stood. Had it been voted on, and rejected, then the whole women Bishops legislation would have failed, and it could not be re-introduced until a new Synod meets in 2015.

The timetable now is this. The House of Bishops will meet in September to further revise the Measure. Clause 5(1)(c) will have to be rewritten to avoid the current pitfalls, and the draft Code of Practice will have to be further developed to clarify the arrangements that will be put into place. That revision will be brought to an extra meeting of General Synod, to be held in November.

I hope this will be done in conjunction with the interested parties, rather than by Bishops alone. The Bishops must approach the further revision in a spirit of listening to the various sets of opinions. Exactly how the Measure will be further amended I cannot say, but I believe the leading constituencies in this matter (WATCH, Forward in Faith, and Reform), as well as key individuals, will be using the time to try and ensure the revised version is one that can gain the required majority, while offering the best possible safeguards to those opposed on theological grounds, so that we can move forward towards consecrating the first women Bishops as soon as possible: something that almost everyone now regards as desirable.

I will be meeting with representatives of our women clergy, traditional anglo-catholics and conservative evangelicals over the next few weeks. I will also speak about the situation at Diocesan Synod to be held at Millfield School on Wednesday evening next week.

Please join me in prayer for continued patience and a spirit of discernment among us all.

PS: Archbishop Rowan’s remarks on the situation can be seen on his website at (scroll down the page).
Helpful to know what's going on, the original Bishops amendment might have had a better hearing with some more background like this. A few thoughts:
 - I'm concerned that the various pressure groups are being given what looks like priveliged access to the process. Fair enough, they represent 'constituencies', but they also have a life of their own, and a lot of folk in the CofE are not represented by these people. Is General Synod supposed to function as a representative democracy, with individual delegates taking soundings from their own Dioceses, or in this case has it turned more into the House of Commons with whipped 'parties' supporting one line or another, plus a few crossbenchers? I personally wonder whether the time between now and November would be better spent in prayer, rather than rounds of press releases and position statements designed to influence the process and the outcomes.
 - I wonder if the trouble started with the motion the Dioceses were asked to consider and report back on: it referred to a Code of Practice which didn't yet exist, and left vague the question of how people who opposed women bishops would be accomodated (or not). So, if you were in favour of women bishops, but also in favour of accomodation for traditionalists, did you vote for the motion or against it?
 - As I said earlier this week, there is a deeper problem of lack of trust. A family only needs to resort to law and codes of behaviour if relationships have broken down. Traditionalists fear that WATCH stands for Win And Treat Conservatives Harshly, and that without explicit safeguards they will be simply be marginalised. If most of the parties are spending their time in conference with like-minded people within their lobby groups, and not with one another in an attempt to listen, understand and love, then I can't see the entrenchment slacking off.

Gutsy Faith

The BBC has a piece today about the role of the stomach in emotions and mood

all those neurons lining our digestive system allow it to keep in close contact with the brain in your skull, via the vagus nerves, which often influence our emotional state.

For instance when we experience "butterflies in the stomach", this really is the brain in the stomach talking to the brain in your head. As we get nervous or fearful, blood gets diverted from our gut to our muscles and this is the stomach's way of protesting.

Which suggests that the Greeks were right to locate the emotions in the bowels. About the only word I stil remember from learning New Testament Greek at college is splanchnathizomai (or something like that), meaning 'his bowels turned over'. It's translated as 'moved with compassion' in modern Bibles, but that's a pale shadow of the visceral and literally gut-wrenching emotions experienced by Jesus, among others.

Thinking more about sport and peak performance, the stomach seems more and more important: control of diet and of mood are vital. And I'm now thinking back over large parts of my Christian formation which seemed to assume that the brain was the only organ we had. Enough knowledge, enough truth, and behavioural change and Christlikeness would automatically follow. That now seems like the pastoral equivalent of Quantitative Easing. The Bank of England's pumping of money into the economy to stimulate growth has been described as 'pushing string' - yes you're doing something, but the link between cause and effect is very weak.

Legend speaks of a new vicar, who preached a very good sermon on his first foray into the pulpit. The congregation made approving noises afterwards. The following week he preached....exactly the same sermon. And again the week after that. Finally someone plucked up the courage to ask him why he was preaching the same sermon every week and he replied "as soon as people start doing the things I encouraged them to do in this sermon, I'll come up with something else." Our knowledge is way out of proportion to our obedience, and obedience is what counts: "we know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands...this is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:3-6)

One of our biggest local discipleship groups is Weight Watchers, a fellowship which meets to learn, encourage, hold one another to account, and be motivated to fight the good fight against the flab. It works. Why? because it pays close attention to behaviour, to the body, to how people feel about their bodies, and assumes that people are there because they want to change. The accountability is also key.

So maybe our preaching team needs a few weeks observing Weight Watchers, to see if there's a better route to discipleship and obedience than simply 'exhorting', and speaking only to the brain. Talk to the bowels, 'cause the brain's full.

Monday, July 09, 2012

General Synod: When is a Decision Not a Decision?

'The perfect forum for those who want to avoid decisions'. That description of the Church of England General Synod was penned back in February by Andrew Brown of the Guardian. On first reading, it would seem ever closer to the mark today. A few thoughts:

 - Is the glacial decision making process of the CofE born out of a desire to get things right, a fear of getting things wrong, or a deadlock brought on by competing lobby groups taking up the ground normally occupied by leadership and vision? Is it another symptom of the weakness of the overall CofE leadership model?

 - This was supposed to be the day when the key vote was taken. Instead it's now delayed until November, and who knows what will happen then? It's better to take our time to make the best decision, and we should applaud synod for not sacrificing accuracy for speed, despite pressure from people like me to 'just get on with it'. But the longer this drags on the more sapping it becomes. A delay of 4 months isn't much in the 2000 year history of the church, but the delay itself is the result of an intervention by the Bishops which seemed to upset a lot of people. I think their motivations were right, but the result was a flurry of press releases disagreeing with them, and todays adjournment of the debate.
I'm not sure if it's fair to describe the governance of the CofE as dysfunctional, but something has gone seriously wrong here. Once this is done and dusted (as far as it can be) we need to ask some serious questions about CofE processes. We talk about ourselves as an episcopal church, we're looking to accept women into the episcopacy, but we don't seem that keen on episcopal leadership. I hate to say it, but we seem pretty confused about what bishops are for. To take a chess metaphor, we only seem to want bishops who will move sideways one space at a time, unless we agree with them, in which case we want them to move straight ahead as fast as possible.

 - The sad thing for me is that the desire for finely-tuned legislation is a symptom of a deeper problem. Normally, if a family has brought in the lawyers it's a sign that the relationship is struggling. We only resort to law to codify our relationships when love, trust and community have broken down, it's an external sanction on behaviour. It's apparent that many Anglicans don't trust each other sufficiently to live without safeguards. Whether that mistrust is well grounded, I don't know. But it doesn't look like people are willing to take the risk of finding out.

History may show that the delay has some wisdom to it. We may find a glorious way to please everyone. I just wonder how many other organisations could take this long, be this confused, and still survive. But maybe family rather than organisation is a better metaphor, and if the CofE is an organism, then in comparison with evolution we're going at lightening speed.

For a fascinating inside view of all this, have a look at Stephen Lynas' blog from synod.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Peak Performance

Sad to see Andy Murray lose this afternoon, but whatever the post-match analysis, he gave it all he had and prepared as well as he could have done. There's been plenty of comment on Murrays physical training, but also about his mental and emotional readiness for a big game like today.

Disciples of Jesus are called to peak performance - we are called to imitate Christ, to be as much like Jesus as we can possibly be. That's an incredibly high benchmark. Top sportsmen don't just rely on talent and ability to hit peak performance when they need to, they prepare physically, mentally and emotionally so that they're as ready as they can be when peak performance is called for.

If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then we have to get into training as well. 'Prepare your minds for action', 'train yourself to be godly', 'fix your minds on....' 'abstain from....', the training regime for discipleship isn't massively different from that of a top sportsman, though the goal is very different.

 - Mental training: filling our minds with God's truth, wrestling with what it means and how it applies, being careful what we fill our thoughts with (I met someone the other day who's abandoned watching all soaps because they find them too depressing. They weren't a Christian, but maybe are more discerning than some Christians I know). See last weeks discussion about 50 Shades...

 - Physical training: training our bodies not to be slave to our appetities, being physically fit so that we can give our best, be alert, make the most of the life God has given us. Learning not to get too comfortable - I'm startled by how reluctant I am to go under canvas, despite having done lots of it as a teenager, because I'm now too used to my home comforts.

 - Emotional training: knowing how we tick, how we're likely to respond, what we get tempted by, being in control of anger, being practiced in loving, forgiving, showing compassion and mercy, being able to control ourselves in situations where that's needed etc.

I've been struck in recent years by Dallas Willards writing on the spiritual disciplines, a couple of quotes:

"Asking 'what would Jesus do?' when suddenly in the face of an important situation simply is not an adequate discipline or preparation to enable one to live as Jesus lived."

"we so devoutly believe in the power of effort-at-the-moment-of-action alone to accomplish what we want, and completely ignore the need for character change in our lives as a whole. The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit ourselves to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right.... the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We intend what is right, but we avoide the life that would make it reality." (the Spirit of the Disciplines)

I've just re-signed to a local gym, because my physical condition isn't what it should be, and will get a gym card and workout pattern. I wonder what a spiritual gym card would look like?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Obstacles, a 30 second tutorial.

Enjoy. I'm sure there's a great parable in this somewhere. Will probably get an airing at tomorrows Cafe Service Sports Day, alongside Chariots of Fire.  Ht CVMs' 'Man Friday' ebulletin.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Ebuzzing top blogs for July (aka June) 2012

Time for that monthly plunge into the mysterious world of the Ebuzzing rankings for religion & faith blogs. I've given up trying to understand how they work, but if nothing else it's a good way of finding other blogs. As has become the tradition (i.e. I've done it a couple of times before), the top 15 is followed by a carefully selected cross section of other blogs. Because it's July, it's the turn of 27, 37 and the rest. Happy browsing.

1 The Freethinker
2 Thinking Anglicans must be some kerfuffle about women bishops going on.
3 eChurch Blog
4. Anglican Mainstream. You know what I'm going to say.
5. BIGBible project
6. iBenedictines
7. God and Politics in the UK
8.  Adrian Warnock
9 Krish Kandiah
10 Peter Saunders - Christian Medical Comment surprised, I would have expected this to rise in the month of the BMA conference
11 Apologetics 315 looks like a US site, so not quite sure what it's doing here, but hey...
12 Barthomews Notes on Religion
13 Nick Baines
14 Vicky Beeching
15 The hermeneutic of continuity

and this months specials
17 Peter Ould still exercising the fundamentals of orthodoxy. Rivals 15 for most baffling title.
27 Ismailmail
37 Maggi Dawn
47 Dean Roberts - he seems to make this section every month, cunning chap.
57 Purple Words on a Grey Background nothing to do with Shades of Grey. At least I hope not.
67 The remarkable Steve Tilley
77 New Kid on the Blog
87 The Urban Pastor
97 Transforming Grace

Thursday, July 05, 2012

High Church Higgs Boson Joke

thanks to Nige on Facebook for this one. For all my Anglo Catholic friends. Ok, for both my Anglo Catholic friends. Former friends. Whoever.

Fresh Expressions in Liverpool: lay led, midweek, no church building, and growing.

In a timely response to my post yesterday on Fresh Expressions in the CofE, the Sheffield Centre have published a study on Fresh Expressions in Liverpool Diocese.

Liverpool are one of the 2 Dioceses quoted by a CofE paper this week as having 10% or more of their members belonging to a 'fresh expression' of church. The other is Canterbury. As Laurence commented yesterday, the study shows up a certain flakiness in the reported figures - around 40% of things reported to be 'Fresh Expressions' weren't. What's remarkable is that, with 202 parishes and 78 confirmed new churches, around 1/3 of Liverpools churches are church plants. They only equate to 10% of the Diocesan membership, but that's growing: these churches were planted with a combined total of 570 people, and now have a membership of over 2800.

Other interesting stats: 60% don't use a church building, only 29% meet on a Sunday, and a large proportion are lay-led, rather than clergy led. It's a very encouraging report to read, and hopefully the kind of thing that will have the bishops of the CofE sidling up to James Jones over the weekend and asking how they went about it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

If it's 3% Fresh, is it Fresh?

One of the papers for General Synod this weekend looks at the impact so far of Fresh Expressions:

The movement has produced over 1,000 fresh expressions of church in the Church of England and nearly 2,000 in the Methodist Church. The new people attending fresh expressions in the Church of England account for 3% of our national attendance figures; these are people who were not previously attending “inherited churches” (i.e. established patterns of church life and worship). In two dioceses in the Church of England, where the planting of fresh expressions has been adopted as a clear part of their growth strategy, 10% or more of their attendance figures are those attending fresh expressions of church.

Synod has a debate on the 'ecclesiology' of fresh expressions - I would argue we need to question the ecclesiology of all our other expressions of church too - but there seems to be a commitment to ongoing church planting and development of FX in the Anglican church.

A couple of things struck me about this:
 - how come the Methodists, a significantly smaller church, have got twice as many? It's reminiscent of 2020 cricket, invented in England but then England quickly got left behind as others realised more quickly the potential of the game. The CofE has 13,000 parishes, and only 1 in 13 (probably less, some churches will have several FX) has developed a new form of church. What can we learn from the Methodists?

 - our Messy Church is probably one of those 1000, but it happens monthly, with a month off in the summer, and whilst it has some of the features of the church 'event', it's not a congregation of Christian disciples. It might be called 'church', but it's not a new, self-sustaining congregation, it's series of branded events which might form a gateway to Christian faith for some. I wonder how many more of the 1000 are Fresh Expressions, but these are more expressions of outreach than of viable churches. Or am I being unfair?

 - I'd love to know who the identity of the 2 Dioceses mentioned in the last sentence. Again, strategic question: will other Dioceses be encouraged to take the same approach? How committed are we to this stuff? Will the national CofE step in if Dioceses are failing to plant new churches or promote mission? If we recognise that what we currently do is culturally limited, and tends only to connect with those who already have a church background (30% and shrinking), then as a mission strategy we need to be looking more at 50-70%.

It's a start, but there's plenty still to do.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Pastoral Grey Area

So, there's this bestselling book around, which over 1m people in the UK have bought, which means several hundred people in my neighbourhood, and possibly a few connected to my church as well.

As someone who likes to be vaguely aware of what's going on, I'd normally dig around a bit to find out more about the book, or even borrow a copy. After all, that's what I did with the Hunger Games trilogy a few months ago. If anyone wants my copy of Mockingjay.... (See Mark Meynell for some comment on this. That's a whole different dilemma: by buying the book, I was consuming entertainment based on young people killing each other, which itself was trying to make the point that entertainment based on young people killing each other was a bad thing. Confused yet?)

Anyway, I got as far as Wikipedia, and immediately hit a few snags. To find out anything about 50 Shades of Grey means getting into accounts of sexual activity which would make Caligula blush, and which as a husband and as a Christian, I would want to steer well clear of. There are some things I don't want in my head, and graphic descriptions of abusive sex are one of them. But not to find out anything about 50SOG would mean being unable to say very much about it.

Trouble is, the more mainstream pornography gets, the more urgent the need to work out how to respond to it as a Christian. At the overt end are books like this and the 'adult' channels dumped into your TV set by Freeview, at the covert end is sexualised fashion, pop culture, media, and 9 year old girls singing 'sexy and I know it' in the school playground.

There are a few Christian thinkers and writers addressing this, but not many. Ed Stetzer has highlighted a study on pornography, which finds:
■Pornography is addictive, and neuroscientists are beginning to map the biological substrate of this addiction.
■Users tend to become desensitized to the type of pornorgraphy they use, become bored with it, and then seek more perverse forms of pornography.
■Married men who are involved in pornography feel less satisfied with their conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their wives. Wives notice and are upset by the difference.
■Pornography use is a pathway to infidelity and divorce, and is frequently a major factor in these family disasters.
■Among couples affected by one spouse's addiction, two-thirds experience a loss of interest in sexual intercourse.

So I'm struggling with how, as a church leader, to engage with this stuff in a way that will help my congregation, but without having to actually read/look at any of it. Any helpful thoughts?

Monday, July 02, 2012

CofE Mission Fund: £45m + 43 Dioceses = ?

Hidden in the background papers for this weekends General Synod is some analysis of how £45m of mission development money is being spent in the CofE. The Fund has been in place since 2002, and is used in a widely varying way between the 43 Dioceses. 10 years in, and we are just about to get some evaluation of how well this money is being spent. Ah well, the CofE never did things in a rush.

The totals by diocese are here, and a project-by-project breakdown for 2011 is here. (and if we can get a full run-down of all the 2011 projects and their funding by June 2012, why can't we do the same with membership data?)

There seem to be 3 different approaches to using the money
 - significant funds for a small number of strategic projects, usually a mixture of Diocesan and local (e.g. Bristol, London, Southwell & Nottingham)
 - fund a lot of small projects in as many corners as possible (e.g. Bath and Wells, Durham)
 - fund strategic Diocesan posts and initiatives to resource mission across the whole Diocese (e.g. Exeter, Ely)

There's an impressive array of different things going on and being tried out, as well as one or two things where it looks like money is being spent either on things which should already be in the budget, or things which aren't obviously to do with mission start-up costs.

It's obviously harder to evaluate lots of smaller projects than it is to evaluate one or two big ones. But it's also indicative of the way the CofE works. I can guarantee this: even if the evaluations demonstrate that one of the above 3 approaches is far more effective than either of the other two, the vast majority of Dioceses will carry on doing what they currently do. Why? Because the CofE may offer plenty of scope for experimentation, but there is no robust system for identifying, and then implementing, best practice. Every Diocese is its own kingdom, and every parish within them is a mini-Diocese.

Stop me if I've said this before, but until the CofE develops, and learns to accept, strategic national leadership, we will not make the best of the current window of opportunity for mission which the Mission Fund and Fresh Expressions gives us. If you want to get into that debate, look at the comments on this post from last week, on projections of vicar numbers.

Novel ideas - death, crisis and transformation: or not.

"(the funeral director) told me that most people who come to arrange services don't believe in anything. He said that if he's leanred anything from doing his job, it's that if you don't have a spiritual practice in place when times are good, you can't expect to sudddenly develop one during a moment of crisis. He said we're told by TV and movies and Readers Digest that a crisis will trigger massive personal change - and that those big changes will make the pain worthwhile. But from what he could see, big change almost never happens. People simply feel lost. They have no idea what to say or do or feel or think. they become messes and tend to remain messes. Having a few default hymns and prayers at least makes the lack of crisis-born insight bearable.

The man was a true shepherd of souls." (Douglas Coupland 'The Gum Thief')

still thinking this one through...

Sunday, July 01, 2012

How To Fix Everything

We must have a :
  • full public enquiry,
  • an independent judicial review,
  • a select committee report,
  • an internal review,
  • an external preview,
  • a police investigation
  • a poll of Daily Mail readers
  • a Twitter hashtag
  • a text exchange with a representative of Rupert Murdoch
to work out which of the above options is the most effective in getting things sorted out. Then we need one of those into everything else:
  • the banking crisis
  • politicians
  • journalists
  • supermarkets
  • Lords reform
  • the Euro
  • the omission of David Beckham from the Olympic team
  • the omission of Seb Coe from the Olympic team
  • why an event devoted to sporting excellence, physical activity and health has a giant Macdonalds in the middle of the site.
  • why Andy Murray only ever gets to the semis at Wimbledon
  • the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey
  • who ate all the pies?
  • the weather
  • where be yon blackbird to? (an ancient Somerset riddle)
and then everything will be fine. The British public demand it, and we won't settle for anything less.