Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bible in a Minute

If you're a bit stuck for content for Bible Sunday tomorrow. No, of course, not, you're fully prepared aren't you?

Why isn't church more like Alpha?

Dave Walker spot on again. If we followed through on the logic of things like the Alpha course, our main meetings would be very different. The good news is that a high percentage of Anglican churches are already small enough to meet round someones dining table, and can easily do away with that big expensive building up the road. So we've got a head start on everyone else. Bring on the pasta!

Dave is putting up several cartoons from 'the exciting world of churchgoing', so it's worth popping over.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who is more like Jesus, your gym coach or your vicar?

Excellent post at Vic the Vicar on the comparison of churches to gyms, and whether their model of discipleship is actually closer to that of Jesus than the one the church uses.

People who join a gym (and see it through) know what they want and are willing to do what it takes to run the race and reach their goal.

People who join a church are similar but we don't challenge them to ascertain how they might make their commitment reality  and how we can aid this (so how are you going to come of a Sunday - and if you can't when would you like us to be open for you?).

The road to hell is paved with good intentions (and unused gym memberships) - the reason for this is that we all like the idea of a sound and fit body but intentions and practice are rarely one and the same thing unless we have desire and people who will challenge, demand and, most importantly, provide the place, means and relationships to make our intentions concrete.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

From Dropping In to Staying In

Bob Jackson claims in his excellent 'Everybody Welcome' course that if churches could simply retain more of the people who come to visit, most of the would be growing not shrinking. What we need is not necessarily more mission activity, but to be better at integrating new members and helping them to belong.

A recent 'Resourcing Mission Bulletin' from the CofE had a study from Canterbury Diocese on churches that did well at retaining new members of all ages. Here are 10 factors which were seen as significant -

What was it about these churches that helped these newcomers not only to become committed members of their faith communities, but also be transformed from churchgoers into disciples of Christ? Interestingly, the same factors which help adults to do this also help teenagers and children:

1. The children were happy and enjoyed their activities:
Briony (11): It's nice doing all the activities every Sunday with your friends and you have a lot of fun. And you have fun and you're still learning.

2. The quality of the welcome they received overcame their initial nervousness:
Carl: It was very laid-back and very welcoming. I had a lot of fears of what it would be but they were kind of not there when I actually came to it and I actually sat down and walked around and people were talking to me, it was a very nice, great atmosphere.

3. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere, even where the worship was more formal:
Mary: It's very friendly and welcoming and easy to feel that you’re a part of; it's not that you've got to work at it. It's very comfortable.

4. The Christian faith was taught well and made relevant to life and its questions:
Chris: You can kind of slot in what the Bible's saying and what you're being taught into your life. I think that's quite important. I don't think that I would go if it had no relevance to my life at all.

5. Existing church members enfolded newcomers into their friendship networks:
Richard: My first impressions of going to a house group was they were nice; nice people. And some of them I've stayed in contact with I am real solid good friends with.

6. Newcomers were invited not only to participate in the life of the church, but to take on responsibilities of many different kinds:
Ben (16): Before it had been, like, ‘Oh I'm still giving this a try’; after three or four months they decided to lend me a drum kit? And then, like, apparently I was pretty good, so they drafted me into one of the bands? And that kind of kept me going out of duty, but then I also loved doing it at the same time?- so it was a sense of ‘I like doing this; I want to be here’.

7. After initial questions were resolved, new questions of faith were constantly raised and addressed:
Liz: He said to me: ‘You have to read it in the context in which it is written’. And so my reading started to expand and, subsequently, I read the Bible in the context in which it is written, and I still do to this day. Question things constantly.

8. Worship was inspiring, though very different in each faith community:
Lily (14): It helps me, like, focus on God. It gets rid of other distractions. 

9. Children began to make friends and grow into a faith of their own:
Maggie: With Macey (7), if she's upset or someone gets hurt, she'll quite often say, ‘Oh, can we pray about it’… she's learning to build a relationship with Jesus even though he's maybe not aware of that.

10. New members ended up with a new sense of identity, as a Christian who belongs to a particular faith community:
Kate: It's not just about Sunday morning for two hours; as well, it's very much a whole lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Church reorganisation plans - what happens next?

The Baptist Council is meeting in a couple of weeks time, with the 'Baptist Futures' process as the main part of the agenda. They seem to be one of many churches which is responding to a different cultural and mission context by looking again at structures, resources, priorities etc:

At the heart of these proposals is a desire to become a Union that is responsive to local need and vision, flexible in approach, and harnesses the skills, talents and vision of everyone in our Baptist family. If this is to really happen, then the focus of our shared life needs to be local; we do not want to draw all of our resources into a central vision. Our Union needs to be relatively simple and straightforward so that the energy, vision and commitment of our Baptist community can be invested in local mission

There seems to be a lot of this about - last year the Methodist church had a big focus on being 'a discipleship movement shaped for mission', and is talking a good game about restructuring and changed priorities. Earlier this year the Church in Wales recieved a report on reorganisation in the face of declining numbers, fewer clergy and new mission challenges. 

Not every problem has an organisational solution, but I heard the following quote recently: "show me a vicar who's been in post over 7 years, and I'll show you a building project" - sometimes the 'results' of ministry are so intangible that part of us yearns for something more (literally) concrete, even if that's not actually what's required. For national leaders, who don't even have a specific church to care for, is organisational tinkering the equivalent of building projects? 

Church structures are like clothes on a growing child, sometimes they need taking in, or letting down, and sometimes we have to recognise that they don't fit and need ditching entirely. Either that, or it becomes more and more difficult to walk without pain, to live within the structures, and not to look stupid. Of course the growth doesn't come from the clothes themselves, it comes from other things. The CofE, which I'm part of, is still by and large wearing the outfit it assembled in the Dark and Middle Ages. Sooner or later, we'll need to do what these other churches are doing, and look in the mirror. Here's one example of an Anglican Diocese (not in the UK) which is actually doing some serious recalibration. 

But...... I'm still hearing more about reports than I am about actual change. The CofE itself has been there and done that, producing radical ideas then quietly shelving them. At what point will the pain of not changing outweigh the percieved pain of doing things differently? Words are one thing, but what is required for them to become actions?

update: hello to all the baptists who've been popping in to this post, what's your take on what's going on in the Baptist Union? What do you see happening as a result of it? Is it something that other churches need to wrestle with too?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Here's a report from the Christian New Media Conference at the weekend: a snippet - 
Social media consultant Bryony Taylor shed some light on how the Twitter hash tag #prayForMuamba sparked prayer across the nation for footballer Fabrice Muamba who collapsed during a game earlier this year.
She said: "Twitter seems to have broken a barrier in talking about praying. ‘Pray For Muamaba’ was not the only hash tag with the word ‘pray’ in it . There was a ‘pray for Japan’ hash tag last year after the earthquake. It seems to me that it’s become a copied phrase, a normal response to a crisis on Twitter."
Between March 17 and 19 there were over 600,000 tweets with the hash tag ‘Pray for Muamba’ in it. Among those were tweets from Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney.
News publications are also picking up on trends sweeping across social networking sites. Earlier this year, the prayer tweets for Fabrice Muamba made the front page of The Sun with the headline ‘God is in control’.
"People pray, everyone prays. As it says in Ecclesiastes. God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. We have that longing for God in us," Taylor continued.
"People are looking for God and people are willing to say so on platforms like Twitter. Although we’ve seen this year some evidence of violent bullying on Twitter, the big story should be this one about Muamba."
Which makes me wonder how many people are doers of the word, and how many are merely tweeters. It was amazing to see the #prayforMuamba tag take off, and to see those prayers answered. Despite being a fairly regular tweeter, I'm still not entirely sure about it as a medium - it's hard to have any kind of nuanced conversation there, and it's easy to feel that, by retweeting a charity appeal, you've somehow 'done your bit', when all I've done is poked my keyboard. 
With so much communication going on, and both good and harm being done, I wonder how many folk actually pray for the Twittersphere itself?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bible - Visuals and Infographics

In the hunt for some good images for a Bible Sunday display, here's a few links for people who like their information in picture format:

Visual Unit: superb, maps of Bible stuff, philosophical systems, periodic table of the Bible, timelines, etc.

Tim Challies 'Visual Theology' series, nice way of presenting things.

Old and New, which is part graphics part art

and a list of other links here.

favourite so far is this one by Chris Harrison. Try and guess what it is before you see if you were right.

There must be more, any pointers?

Update: some graphics and stats here on access to the bible worldwide. Thanks to Eddie Arthur for that one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#PreOccupy Starbucks Announce New Starbucks Price List, Tax Adjusted

The revelation that Starbucks, a company so successful in the UK that it plans to open 100 new outlets in the next 5 years, has paid hardly any corporation tax, probably isn't surprising. But as a coffee shop devotee, it's led to a bit of recalculation at OpVic Central. The Corporation Tax rate for the current UK financial year is 25%, so 25p in the pound of all the profit they make from us, the customer, should be going to HMRC.

It doesn't. Starbucks has tried to justify itself on other grounds - job creation, VAT contributions (which we pay, not them) etc. But it's clear that profit is being made, otherwise they wouldn't be expanding. It's just recorded elsewhere in the supply chain so that it doesn't appear on the UK operations balance sheet.

So I can now announce #PreOccupy Starbucks, a grassroots consumer protest movement. The principle is simple. Pay only 75% of the price of anything you buy at Starbucks, and if they take issue with you, explain that you're making your contribution to them in other ways: smiling at the staff to raise morale, reducing the heating bill due to your body heat contribution to the building, making the place look fuller than it otherwise would.

The aim of #PreOccupy Starbucks is to create an even bigger queue than normal, thus adding to public nuisance, annoying the staff, but not actually achieving a great deal in practical terms. We felt this would give us a sense of common identity with Occupy movements elsewhere.

In case the maths is a bit tricky, here are some of the revised prices.

Americano: Instead of paying £3, pay $3

Grande Skinny Fairtrade Offshore Espresso £2.63 instead of £3.50

Irregular Mockery (replacing Regular Mocha) £2.24 instead of £2.99

Iced Latte Fatty Catty £1.87 instead of £2.50

If this doesn't bear much resemblance to your local, that's because Starbucks don't publish their prices on their website.

In the meantime, perhaps this is the answer (source):

Monday, October 15, 2012

'Please God, don't let me down'

“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is you want to come back alive.”

"I wish the world could see what I see. And sometimes you have to go really high to understand how small you are.”

'what went through your head today before you jumped?' "I thought 'please God, don't let me down', but if you're standing on His sons arm you know, there's nothing that can go wrong at that moment, that's what I was thinking." (the questioner had mentioned a picture of Baumgartner standing on the hand of the Christ statue in Brazil)

full press conference here. I wonder if there's anyone who wouldn't say a prayer jumping out of a balloon at 128,000 feet? 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

When liberals break cover: is an abortion debate possible?

Journalist Mehdi Hasan has written a fascinating piece for the Huffington Post on his views on abortion law:

What I would like is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists.

One of the biggest problems with the abortion debate is that it's asymmetric: the two sides are talking at cross-purposes. The pro-lifers speak about the right to life of the unborn baby; the pro-choicers speak about a woman's right to choose. The moral arguments, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre has said, are "incommensurable".

Another problem is that the debate forces people to choose sides: right against left, religious against secular. Some of us, however, refuse to be sliced and diced in such a simplistic and divisive manner. I consider abortion to be wrong because of, not in spite of, my progressive principles. That I am pro-life does not make me any less of a lefty.

Being both left wing, and 'pro-life', Hasan is rather unusual. Judging by his Twitter feed, the reaction from fellow liberals and left-wingers has been pretty nasty. In response, one of his tweets says ' am v disappointed that lefties have confirmed every rightwing prejudice today: we close down debate, we enforce orthodoxies etc

What kind of 'liberal democracy' are we, if certain debates are no longer possible? There are some issues I've decided to avoid blogging about, because the heat/light generation ratio is so dire. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Celebrities above Criticism

The grim revelations around Jimmy Saville are a reminder how toxic it is to place people above criticism, or to develop a culture where certain things are routinely shushed. I think back now to the TV of my teenage years, both BBC and ITV, which routinely depicted women as sex objects (Kenny Everett, Benny Hill) and maybe its not so surprising that female employees were treated the way they were.

Have we moved on? The pack instinct still seems to prevail when it comes to coverage of celebrity lifestyles. The National Treasure is above criticism (Claire Balding, Stephen Fry, Bradley Wiggins, Cheryl Cole), the Public Enemy can't do anything right (Kevin Pietersen, Simon Cowell). Others attempt to control their own narrative - one popular tweeter makes a habit of retweeting any criticism to their legions of followers, who then descend in an avalanche of abuse upon the victim. It's a clever method of vicarious bullying, and makes people think twice about saying anything negative.

All this is pretty dangerous. Whilst as a nation we tend towards cynicism, and hand out praise far too reluctantly, we also need to make sure that nobody is above criticism. Allowing a culture to develop around people which refuses to hear the truth at all costs is dangerous. It can happen within subcultures, within organisations, within a country. But all of us are a glorious ruin, sometimes the ruin is most obvious, sometimes the glory.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How To Advertise for a New Vicar

Thanks to Church Mouse for this. Absolutely brilliant. Deserves to go viral, especially the out-takes at the end.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

I Had a Black Dog - animation, for World Mental Health Day

To coincide with World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organization have produced an animated video about depression. The short video by Matthew Johnstone, who has written, illustrated and narrated it, features a black dog which serves as a metaphor for the mental disorder. Depression varies in severity, with episodes being classed as mild, moderate or severe.
According to the WHO, depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages and from different backgrounds. Even though there are effective treatments for depression, less than half of those affected across the world receive these treatments.
more here

The cartoon is based on the book 'I had a black dog' which is a beautiful, sad, fabulously clear and powerful explanation of what it's like to have depression.

Jesus: 4 ways to deal with conflict

We're going through Mark's gospel at the moment, and dealt at the weekend with a series of conflict situations in chapters 2 and 3. I was powerfully struck by the way that Jesus deals with them: frustratingly, it's different every time.

Scene 1: the field. The disciples are picking corn, it's the Sabbath, the Pharisees tell them off (and by extension, tell Jesus off, he's their rabbi, they should know not to work on the Sabbath).
Jesus response: remedial bible study - shows a biblical precedent for what he and his followers are doing. Interestingly, he slips in the even more shocking claim that he's Lord of the Sabbath, but the Pharisees are too busy straining out a gnat to notice.

Scene 2: the synagogue. A man with a withered hand is there, Jesus is going to heal him but knows that his opponents see this as sabbath breaking. They've not told him directly, but he's picked up the muttering and the rumours.
Jesus response: stand up to them. He could have easily put the healing off another day, after all, the bloke had probably had a bad arm for years, what difference would 24 hours make? But Jesus instead brings the muttering and rumours into the light, and exposes the toxic and inhumane attitude of the teachers.

Scene 3: the family. I had to laugh. They hear, from miles away, that Jesus is skipping meals, and set off to restrain him. After all, how can he save the world on an empty stomach? After quite a journey, the family arrive at the house where Jesus is teaching.
Jesus response: ignore them. He doesn't even go outside. 'Here's my family' he cheerfully says, gesturing to the people around him. There are some bits of opposition which we just have to let go, rather than confront. Not every hill needs to stage a battle.

Scene 4: Jesus and the devil. Unable to nail him on the law, the teachers then ascribe Jesus teachings to the devil.
Jesus response: seek a meeting. 'Jesus called them' - he seeks out the people who are rubbishing him and reasons it out with them face to face.

In between Scenes 2 and 3, Mark puts 2 other snippets. The first shows Jesus carrying on as normal, he's not being deflected from his calling and mission by opposition. The second shows him calling disciples: Jesus is not going to be isolated, he makes sure he has people with him. Both are good ways to deal with opposition, which can easily paralyse us into inactivity, or isolate us.

It's all tough stuff, even tougher is discerning which response is best in any given situation. I don't claim to be any expert on this, but it seemed to connect with some folk on Sunday so thought I'd blog it. Thoughts?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Light Relief

Long, long ago, in a Christendom far, far away, people like me had to rely on learned journals like the Winebibber for satire. Then came Ship of Fools, which, after what seems like decades, has kept its comic edge whilst at the same time feeding ideas to the mainstream: I know of at least one Diocese that now has trained Mystery Worshippers.

Here's a few other centres of light relief
The Church Sofa, which is on a bit of a roll at the moment

The New Wineskins Dictionary all those tricky churchy jargony terms explained

'Tea and Cake or Death'/Anglican Memes an evolving online collection of funny stuff.
Church Song Actions
confusingly Cake or Death cartoon site by Alex Baker

Stuff Christian Culture Likes even though its based on US Christian culture, there still far too much of it that applies to the UK.

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley one day, in 200 years time, historians will be poring over the final days of the CofE, and this will be the only thing that makes any sense.

and some old favourites
The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus  Jon Birch's cartoon site, remains prolific

Cartoon Church more of an archive site now, very much worth the £35 a year for a license to reproduce the cartoons in notice sheets, publicity, Deanery bulletins etc.

for more serious links, the Ebuzzing 'Religion and Belief' top blogs has been updated for October, the mechanics for this site seem to be seriously broken, but it's quite a good way to find new blogs.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

An Impossible Job?

I read these words about a church job that's currently vacant:

There have been two recent reviews of the post, (one states)...“The demands upon and the expectations of the role are at the very limit of what is realistic. The job is approaching the point at which it will become impossible.” Despite these reviews, too little has changed. The abilities of the last incumbent have disguised, to a degree, some of these impossibilities. The cost is incalculable, being paid in decisions made too hastily, consultations unsought, mission opportunities declined, and, of course, personal wear and tear. It is not enough to invoke the aid of the Holy Spirit in the choice of a successor, nor even to sustain whoever is chosen. The Spirit of grace and freedom has something to say, too, about the demands made upon individuals. Several recommendations from those earlier reports remain on the table. This might be time to look at them afresh, so that he who is eventually appointed may approach the office with not so heavy a heart.

It's a Church Times leading article on the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury (of course). But editing it to take out specific references to that post (as I've just done), makes me wonder how many other posts in the CofE it actually applies to. We're not far off this situation for the average vicar.

Ht Thinking Anglicans

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Post-Paralympics, what's changed?

I was quite challenged by this discussion starter on the new Church Growth Research Programme website

My team did quite a bit of research for a major Diocese, looking at the growth rates for churches that said they were more accessible for disabilities (hearing, sight, autism, wheelchair access etc). The more accessible, the faster the growth - even for small rural Listed churches. 

Why? Who knows. But it's true in outside industry that a more accessible building and warm welcome for difference is a good thing for everyone, not just the disabled person. But fascinating that at present so few churches even buy a £10 large print bible or hymn book, let alone spend £10 on tape to edge doors and steps so that those with visual impairment can see where they are. 

Clergy get no training on disability, therefore may have no clue how to maximise growth and serve their 14 million disabled parishioners well (even leaving aside the Equality Act 2010 which makes it illegal to fail to do so). 

What could we do to investigate this further, I wonder?

Hands up, I loved the paralympics, joined in the chorus of approval, but it hasn't led to me doing anything tangible as a church leader to make our church more inclusive to people with disabilities. We print off large print versions of the songs each week, but there's probably a lot more we could do.

'Keep alive a distaste for nonsense'

God and Politics has a good summary of a recent Rowan Williams lecture, with the brilliant title 'a wise man who makes my brain ache'. I was given another of his lectures to read recently, on a favourite Anglican term 'priesthood'. Don't be put off by the subject matter, and in the snippets below, for 'priest' read 'disciple':
The priest has to have the opportunity of not being so swamped with 'duties' that he or she can't maintain a sense of the whole landscape.

 Those who have preached most effectively in this and other eras are, it seems to me, those who have known how to read the surface and the depths, but have had no great interest in the shallows.

There has to be in every priest just a bit of the poet and artist – enough to keep alive a distaste for nonsense, cheapness of words and ideas, stale and predictable reactions.

Along with whatever training to lead and manage that may be given in preparation for priestly ministry, along with instruction in theology and ethics, there must be active encouragement to nourish this seeing and listening, the novel and the newspaper and the soap opera and the casual conversation– even (especially?) when it looks like wasting time from some points of view. Otherwise, what threatens is what Christianity's greatest critics (Nietzsche above all) have homed in upon – a Christian discourse that is essentially about unreal persons with unreal desires and fears

That last bit is very perceptive - within any subculture it's easy to fall into caricatures of who you are, and who other people are, rather than the messy and time-consuming business of dealing with reality. Maybe that's why so few people 'get' Rowan, his messy-looking and time consuming thought processes, and his famous nuances, are too difficult to engage with if you're used to thinking in stereotypes and categories. (e.g. see this piece by Mark Meynell on sexual stereotypes and labelling)

And if you see me wasting time, I'm just doing what my Archbishop encouraged me to do. Thanks Rowan!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Disagreeing with God

I'm preparing a sermon on conflict and opposition, and someone sent me this, which I think nails it:

whenever we criticise someone, hate someone, demean someone etc, we disagree with God about that person. God says that they are beautiful, amazing, worth dying for and remind Him of Himself. When we pull down, attack, dehumanise, criticise, and fail to love them, we put ourselves in a position where we disagree with God. That is not a good place to be.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Ed Miliband 'I am...a person of faith'

Update: more on this from Fraser Nelson in Fridays Telegraph.

Here's part of Ed Milibands speech from Tuesdays conference

...It is this upbringing that has made me who I am. A person of faith, not a religious faith but a faith nonetheless. A faith, I believe, many religious people would recognise. So here is my faith. I believe we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. I believe we cannot shrug our shoulders at injustice, and just say that’s the way the world is. And I believe that we can overcome any odds if we come together as people.

That’s how my Mum survived the war. The kindness of strangers. Nuns in a convent who took her in and sheltered her from the Nazis, took in a Jewish girl at risk to themselves. It’s what my dad found when he came to these shores and joined the Royal Navy and was part of Britain winning the war.

Now of course my parents didn’t tell me what career to go into. My late father, as some of you know, wouldn’t agree with many of the things I stand for. He would’ve loved the idea of “Red Ed.” But he would have been a little bit disappointed that it isn’t true. My mum probably doesn’t agree with me either, but like most mums is too kind to say so. And look when I was younger I wasn’t certain I wanted to be a politician. But I do believe the best way me for to give back to Britain, the best way to be true to my faith, is through politics. Now that is not a fashionable view today. Because millions of people have given up on politics, they think we’re all the same. Well I guess you could say I am out to prove them wrong.

That is who I am. That is what I believe. That is my faith.

and it's obviously a key passage for him, because he returns to it to close the speech:

Who can come up to the task of rebuilding Britain? Friends, it falls to us, it falls to us, the Labour Party. As it has fallen to previous generations of Labour Party pioneers to leave our country a better place than we found it. Never to shrug our shoulders at injustice and say that is the way the world is. To come together, to join together, to work together as a country.

It’s not some impossible dream. We’ve heard it, we’ve seen it, we’ve felt it. That is my faith.

One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.

So, translated, what is Ed Milibands faith? It's not in God, or anything supernatural, but here's my attempt state his creed:
 - Vocation: we are here to make the world a better place (though he talks of this as a 'duty' rather than a 'purpose')
 - Justice: the key principle of social order, aka Fairness
 - Hope: people have the power to do anything if they work together.

I'm not sure how coherent this is - e.g how the two stories about his family relate to these three statements. I'm not sure whether this an attempt to connect with the faith vote (though I doubt all atheists will be pleased at the way this maps the 'faith' territory), or just an interesting way of expressing himself.

For me the content falls short of the headline - is this it? They're all good principles, though unfortunately a couple of them sound a bit karaoke - make the world a better place, overcome the odds, did I hear the sound of Louis Walsh? Which leaves the justice one, which is curiously weak in its phrasing. Miliband comes from socialist stock, which had a strong and explicit faith and creed: he seems to have inherited the framework, but filleted the content.

I was listening to this on the radio with my son in the back seat, and after trying to explain to him about parties, leaders and elections, he asked 'which one's ours?' I said at the moment I had no idea, there's nobody I really want to vote for. And after that speech, to be honest I'm no clearer. A lot of us would love to be convinced by our politicians, and are finding it increasingly frustrating that they don't manage it. But I think we also know that the Hero Leader is a myth, they don't exist. Maybe, therefore, Miliband is right when he focuses on working together, but to work together you need a shared vision and goals, One Nation needs to be more than a slogan, it needs to win hearts and minds.

Chancel Repair - It's a Liability

So, how about this for a mission strategy. Everyone who moves into your parish (sorry, it's just for Anglicans), as part of buying a house, is encouraged to insure themselves against the church. Why? Because of an ancient legal provision that the church can bill people on church lands for repairs to its building.

Welcome to the batty world of Chancel Repair Liability, in which possibly thousands of local Anglican churches find their mission to the community compromised, whilst insurers line their pockets with a tidy little premium that they know is rarely, if ever, called upon.

Why not just ignore it? Again, because of the law:

A PCC (church council in a CofE church) is a charity (even if it is not registered with the Charity Commission) so its members are subject to the same general duties as charity trustees, including the duty to exercise their powers in the charity’s best interests. Where a chancel repair liability exists, the right to enforce that liability is an asset of the PCC which must be appropriately managed.

This is from some new guidance by the Charities Commission for church councils. This is coming to a head because of a deadline (October 2013) for all PCCs to establish whether local properties are liable, and to decide whether to 'register' those liabilities, or let them lapse. If we let them lapse, then there is the chance that we fall foul of the law for charities to use their assets for the best. There are also stories of churches being refused grants and other assistance for building repairs (e.g. by English Heritage) because they've not invoked chancel repair liablity.

All of this is missionally disastrous. How did we get to a place where people have to insure themselves against the church? How did we get to a place where churches have to tax local people - believer and atheist alike - to preserve an ancient church building, and where any church that doesn't  do this is acting against the law, or is penalised in grant bids? Here's just one example of what that looks like on the ground.

There's a helpful summary of the new guidance on the Law and Religion blog, which notes:

The Commission does, however, set out a useful framework for trustee decision-making which, in the Commission’s opinion, should help PCC members to act in accordance with their legal duties. Under the Commission’s framework PCC members must:
  • act within their powers, which means:
    • only making decisions which advance, or support activities that advance, their charity’s purpose for the public benefit;
So it all depends on whether, in law, the purpose of the church in mission and 'cure of souls' within a parish trumps the need to pay the bills. Church buildings are a means, not an end, they serve the mission and ministry of the church, and are therefore secondary concerns. Which is all very well for me to say, but what will the courts and grant-making bodies say?

Personally, I'd like to leaflet the whole parish explaining that we have no intention of invoking the liability, and then write to all the local solicitors encouraging them to donate the money they've made out of this to charity. Or the building fund.....

For more background, here's a really helpful page maintained by one local church, with lots of links, stories and resources for churches wanting to know more.

Update: Greg Yerbury, who's put together this help page, is hoping to publish a list of 590 parishes known to have Chancel Repair Liability later this week, so keep an eye on his site if you think it might be you!

Update 2: the lists are up, 4b and 4c in the top rhs of the Chancel Repair page, sorted by county, which is helpful.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Alpha Publicity Stunt Goes Horribly Wrong?

A man in Aberdeen was freed by firefighters after getting his head stuck in a bin

Man with head stuck in bin

speculating is mounting that this is part of an intensified Alpha publicity campaign, substituting live models for the scenarios depicted in their posters

Update: it turns out the man at the top was looking for his hat. I'm still trying to work out why he thought it would be in a dustbin, or if it was in a dustbin, why he was looking for it. Is that Dom Joly dressed as a fireman on the left?

Crown Nominations and the Goblet of Fire

It looks like the Crown Nominations Commission need a bit more time to think and pray about who's to be the new AB of C, which is fair enough. Better to take your time and get it right, though CofE notions of 'take your time' tend to go on longer than most.

But it may be that a more radical decision-making process is required. There are several other ways to go about this, or perhaps JK Rowling can help. For example:

The shortlist of candidates are pitted against each other in a series of near-impossible tasks: getting a positive story about the CofE into the national press, coming up with an agreed text for women bishops, devising an all-age service which pleases everyone. On the way they have to vanquish a  ancient foes like the Victorian Society, succesfully negotiate with an organist, and chair a church council meeting which ends on time.

The two leading candidates seize the winners cup/chalice together, and are immediately transported into a different world. Victory leads to one being finished off entirely, and the other being misunderstood for long periods, while he wrestles to master an entity whose soul is split into several pieces, most of them tied up with ancient artefacts. But, with a combination of wise mentors, loyal friends, and personal courage, he does it.

Anyway back to prayer. Or, if that's too difficult, baseless speculation on Twitter along with everyone else.